Intrusive Ideology

How pre-Modern ideologies have coloured our perceptions on Roman History

written by Felix Paulinski

Haverfield,roman historian, roman history

“Our civilization seems firmly set in many lands; our task is rather to spread it further and develop its good qualities than to defend its life. If war destroys it in one continent, it has other homes. But the Roman Empire was the civilized world; the safety of Rome was the safety of all civilization.” (Francis Haverfield, 1915, 11).

So far, the emphasis of this paper has been weighted more towards narrative history than archaeological theory. In the course of this, it has become apparent that, through emphasis and omission of their subject matter, both Gibbon and Mommsen use Rome as a peg on which to hang their own experiences and interpretations. What I would like to do now, however, is something different. Instead of using the research of Francis Haverfield (1860-1919) as a means reiterating the material above, I would like to use the tide of recent research studies on his work to illustrate how, even in our own age, we are not exempt from viewing the past from the perspective of the ‘here and now’; this shall be achieved by investigating the extent to which these recent studies are heavily linked with the interrelated fields of ‘postcolonialism’ and ‘deconstructionist theory’. Nevertheless, before these issues are tackled, Haverfield, Romanisation and it cultural-historical context must first be surveyed.

Widely considered to be one of the most, if the most, influential figure in forging the theory of ‘Romanisation’, Francis Haverfield was a giant of his field. His work, which has been subjected to much longevity, has had much application to the word of Romano-British archaeology. The term Romanisation itself is subject to a variety ‘loaded’ definitions and spellings, but in order to avoid confusion, I need only state that it was for Haverfield – among other things – a process whereby the native society of Roman Britain were transformed, both culturally and socially, by means of Rome herself (Hingley, 2000, 111). By its very nature, the cultural baggage placed alongside Haverfield and Romanisation is, to say the least, a complicated assortment of discourses and perceptions. For the sake of simplicity, however, I have singled out three topics that were fundamental in the development of Haverfield’s work: New Imperialism, assimilation with the ‘other’ in the British Empire, and the concept of ‘progress’.

The concept of imperialism in nineteenth-century Britain was by no means a static concept. While historians have generally agreed that Britain had been an ‘imperial’ nation since the fifteenth century (Webster, 1996, 2), the concept was not widely embraced by the national consciousness until the 1870s (Judd, 1996, 139). Prior to this, imperialism was used as a derogatory term, in reference to the imperial expansionist policies of France’s Napoleon III – it was a term which embodied both despotism and ostentatious displays of power (Hingley, 2000, 19). Through his emulation of Caesar, Rome was often equated with the same forms of despotism as Napoleon (Gouch, 1928, 463). However, with Queen Victoria being crowned Empress of India in 1876 (the reasons for which cf Judd, 1996, 130-53), and with her Golden and Diamond Jubilees in 1887 and 1897 respectively, positive, or New Imperialism, began to permeate into the psyche of Britain, and remained an active concept until the 1930s (Hingley, 2000, 22). For it is around this point that the British Empire largely viewed itself as a civilising entity. It is also during this period that Ancient Rome became a popular analogy for issues relating to the British Empire: these found their home in historical writing (Hingley, 2000, 14) and the British Empire’s civil service (cf Majeed, 1999). Critically, the parallels drawn between Britain and Rome were highly selective (Webester, 1996, 4), and the adoption of the Rome-Britain parallels was not always uniform (Hingley, 2000, 23). However, with Britain beginning to identify with Rome from 1870s, it is easy to place Haverfield’s Romanization of Roman Britain within its socio-historical context.

Among fulfilling a number of other roles within the Victorian and Edwardian positive imperial discourse, the concept of Romanisation linked itself with the concept of assimilation. That is, by means of Romanisation, it was believed that the conquered inhabitants of Roman Britain would become integrated with the Roman way of life (Hingley, 2000, 115). One could argue that behind this staple element of Romanisation lies a parallel with British India. For the issue of assimilation between native Indians and the English was an oft-express concern: in fact, Haverfield himself argued that the study of Romanisation had application to British Imperialism (Hingley, 2000, 129).

Among the final set of cultural baggage associated with the theory of Romanisation is the notion of progress and social development. It must be noted that Haverfield’s contribution to the theory of Romanisation was made in an age when simple models of social development were dominant, and it was through these models that many theorist believed that man made the transition from primitive savage to civilised being (Johnson, 1999, 135-37). Haverfield’s theory was by no means an exception to this (Hingley, 2000, 145).

While these are but just three facets which embody the complex cultural-historical context behind Haverfield and Romanisation, they illustrate only a few examples of the manner in which the works of Francis Haverfield have been deconstructed. But as already mentioned above, it is the purpose of this chapter to highlight the simple truism that recent studies on both Haverfield and Romanisation are as imbued with the author's own cultural zeitgeists as the nineteenth-century architect of Romanisation.

In recent years, much research has been carried out on the cultural context in which Haverfield conceived the notion of Romanisation (Freeman, 1996; Freeman 1997; Hingley, 1997; Hingley 2000; Hingley 2001) – the above account of Haverfield essentially summarises this. Alongside this, much has also been written on the deconstruction of Romanisation itself (Woolf, 1998; Mattingly, 1996). It is in these studies that role of the so-called ‘imperial discourse’ of Romanisation has been questioned by means of another, namely the colonial discourse. With the fall of the European empires from the mid-twentieth century onwards, newly sanctioned ideas from newly independent countries emerged in the form of colonial discourse, whereby texts written by Westerners about colonised countries were subject to scrutiny (Webster, 1996, 6) – no other study embodies this notion more than Edward Said’s (1978) Orientalism. Increasingly, many, including Said, have suggested that Western imperialism has developed a chronic state of under-development in their former provinces (Hingley, 2000, 153).

But how has this colonial discourse affected stories of Roman archaeology? Firstly, the notion of progress, as the case is in many other areas of archaeology (cf Johnson, 1999), has been called into question. The idea that Rome is the high epoch of human development is being increasingly queried. Accordingly, studies have emerged that either dub Romanisation as a two-way process between Roman and native (cf Millet, 1990, 1-3), or question the adequacies of the theory in general (cf Clarke, 1996). Either way, there is certainly some form of divorce being enacted in the theorising surrounding Roman Britain. In the same vein as this, issues around native exploitation has also been recently explored. For instance, David Mattingly’s An Imperial Possession (2006), among other things, creates a picture of Roman Britain that is very much from the perspective from the native Britons.

Another anachronistic trait that is often present to critical assessments of concepts such as Romanisation (this one included) is the use of deconstructivist theory – the theory that all forms of knowledge are firmly rooted in the time and culture which produced them (Terrenato, 2001, 71-2). Deconstructivist theory is largely connected with postmodernism, and by its very nature, postmodernism is one of, if not the, defining ‘ism’ of our time (cf Johnson, 1999, 162-75).

We can thus see an almost sardonic irony hanging over the highlighting deconstructing the anachronism of the past; in trying to highlight the cultural-historical context of both Haverfield’s research and the cultural context of Romanisation, many scholars have turned to defining concepts of our time. Should we despair at this entrapment of our own age? The answer to this has to be no; the past has too many benefits and lessons to teach us. Ultimately, however, it acts as a rostrum for our own concerns – the debatable benefits for which are not the subject of this paper.

back to Chapter II
continue to the Conclusions

Dissertation Index:

  • Introduction
  • Chapter I
  • Chapter II
  • Chapter III
  • Conclusions
  • Appendix
  • Discussion