Life in a Roman Legionary Fortress by Tim Copeland
Book Review by Thomas A. Timmes
Tim Copeland is no stranger to publishing. He has authored a few dozen pamphlets and books on a variety of archeological subjects within Britain and Wales that range in size from two to 200 pages. He taught archeology at the University of Bristol and Gloucestershire and served as Chairman of the Council of Europe’s Cultural Heritage Committee and Council for British Archeological Education Committee.
Britain, Scotland, and Wales provided a rich and abundant treasure trove for Roman archeologists and enthusiasts. These areas were occupied for over 300 years by Romans and their non-Roman Auxiliaries. Scotland had a Roman presence from 71 AD to 213 AD, Britain from 43 AD to 409 AD, and Wales from 48 AD to 383 AD. Scattered throughout the countryside are hundreds of Legionary Marching Camps, Legionary Forts, Vexillation forts (part of a Legion), Auxiliary forts, and fortlets.
In Britain alone, there are at least 12 Legio-size forts, which have been excavated in varying degree of detail. Modern encroachment has prevented complete excavation of some of the forts while others have been fully explored. In that regard, there are dozens of books and pamphlets that explain the findings from these digs. A pamphlet may cover a single aspect of a fort such as its bath while other publications provide a detailed description of the entire fort’s internal layout.
In his current book, Life in a Roman Legionary Fortress, Mr. Copeland narrows his focus and description to essentially one Roman fort.
“This book is largely based on the Roman fortress of Isca, the administrative headquarters of the Second Augustan Legion (Legio II Augusta).... Vital evidence will be used from the sites of the other permanent legionary fortresses in the Province of Britannia at Deva/Chester, the base of Legio II Adiutrix and later Legio XX Valeria Victrix, and at Eboracum, now present-day York, the home of Legio IX Hispana followed by Legio VI Victrix.”
This 96 page book is well populated with 26 diagrams and illustrations and 18 photographs of Roman remains from Isca. Unfortunately, not all the diagrams of the inside of the fort are easy to understand. The reader must constantly flip pages to relate the diagram to the discussion. Even the photographs, which may show several intersecting stone walls over a fairly large area, are described as the Centurion’s quarters, or washing facilities, or cook house. Without additional explanation or an overlay, it is difficult to discern what is what!
In the beginning of the book, the author cites the Latin term for a room, function, or duty and faithfully follows it with the English word in parenthesis. On subsequent pages, he uses the Latin exclusively. Without a good memory, readers have to flip pages to get back to the English meaning.
For U.S. readers who are still wedded to inches, feet, yards and miles, this book presents a challenge. Mr. Copeland cites all measurements in millimeters, meters, and kilometers. Thank goodness for Google’s conversion tool! Similarly, U.S. readers may be unfamiliar with terms such as “withies and wattle” and have to resort to a search engine.
Regardless of the difficulties outlined above, the book contains a wealth of information about the design of a Roman fortress and the extensive and varied activities conducted within its walls. For readers with little knowledge about a Legionary fortress, this book is an excellent primer. For readers who already have an in depth knowledge of Roman forts, I would suggest a book with a broader scope and diagrams that are easier to follow
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I personally learned a great deal of information from this book about life in a Roman fortress and will happily add it to my collection. Thomas A. Timmes is the author of Legio XVII: Roman Legion at War. Historical fiction, written by a 28 year U.S. Army veteran, follows Rome’s Legio XVII from its creation to final battle and puts you in the minds of Praetor Manius Tullus and his Centurions as they plan and fight their way across Northern Italy and Austria.