|When you have to deploy the extra chairs, you know that you have a popular speaker. Peter Denison-Edson was on top form last night at The Buck Hotel, and his brilliant take on What is Roman about Romano-British Swaledale? was enjoyed by an audience of over 40 members and visitors.
He began by posing the question, What do we mean by British? The familiar map of British Tribes is a construct based on the work of Roman historians such as Suetonius, Tacitus and Cassius Dio. It is doubtful whether the indigenous population would have recognised these orderly territorial borders or subscribed to the implied cultural similarities. The Bronze Age and Iron Age peoples of Swaledale have left their mark in the form of co-axial field systems and the mysterious Maiden Castle. Population levels would have been similar then to modern times, around a thousand souls in this one dale. Yet we know so little about how they lived, except as reflected through the biased testimony of the invader.
So then, what do we mean by Roman? Roman influence locally seems to have remained military in nature: a rural landscape of forts and road-building rather than the urban development of towns and villas. Peter showed how a north/ south divide developed and continued throughout the years of Roman occupation. Julius Caesar may have failed to invade British territory in 54 BC but contact and trade continued to develop with the tribes of the South and East. They were early adopters of Roman ways, trading in coin for luxuries such as wine and olive oil, aspiring to a villa lifestyle. When the mothership landed in Kent with the Claudian invasion of AD 43, it received a warm welcome from some. By mid-empire, forts were being abandoned up to and including Lincoln and Wroxeter while troops continued to be stationed at Catterick, Bainbridge and on The Wall. Swaledale remained a military zone.
Soldiers need clothing and feeding; supplies of woollen cloth, cereals and meat for example would have been essential. A large settlement like Catterick would have sucked in local resources like a black hole, and perhaps The Hagg was a kind of trading hub for local farmers. Perhaps taxes were also involved; the Caracalla Edict of AD 212 made everyone in the Roman Empire a citizen, which also made them liable for Roman taxes. Much of this was paid as Annona: in goods.
This was a fascinating look at Romano-British Swaledale by a master of the subject, and Peter ended his talk to a warm round of applause from a packed and enthusiastic audience.
Ave, Magister, Petrus Denarius- Editus!