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Julia Velva, A Roman Lady from York (Hardback)

Her Life and Times Revealed

British History Yorkshire and Humberside Rome Archaeology Social History Women of History England

By Patrick Ottaway
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 312
ISBN: 9781526710970
Published: 28th May 2021

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£30.00


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Video review by Dr Alexander Clarke

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The tombstone of Julia Velva, one of the best-preserved examples from Roman Britain, was found close to a Roman road just outside the centre of York. Fifty years old when she died in the early third century, Julia Velva was probably from a wealthy family able to afford a fine monument. Patrick Ottaway uses the tombstone as the starting point to investigate what the world she lived in was like.

Drawing on the latest archaeological discoveries and scientific techniques, the author describes the development of Roman York’s legionary fortress, civilian town and surrounding landscape. He also looks at manufacturing and trade, and considers the structure of local society along with the latest analytical evidence for people of different ethnic backgrounds. Aspects of daily life discussed include literacy, costume, cosmetics and diet. There are also chapters dedicated to the abundant York evidence for religion and burial customs. This book presents a picture of what one would have found on the edge of a great Empire at a time when York itself was at the height of its importance. Illustrated with dozens of photographs, specially prepared plans and illustrations, this is an excellent study of one of Roman Britain’s most important places.

Enhanced for academia and the non-specialist general reader with an interest in the subject, "Julia Velva, A Roman Lady from York: Her Life and Times Revealed" is enhanced with the inclusion of numerous illustrations, twenty-two pages of notes, a fifteen page bibliography, and a four page index.

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Midwest Book Review

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Video review by Dr Alexander Clarke

Julia Velva, A Roman Lady from York, is a vehicle for Patrick Ottaway to convey the Roman history of the city of York in the second and third centuries. Julia Velva and her husband were well off citizens of York in its Roman heyday as a Roman garrison city. Mr. Ottaway takes the reader through all aspects of life in the city through the archeological remains of pottery, grave sites, walls and housing goods. Very interesting.

NetGalley, Elizabeth Ridler

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

A very interesting, well researched and detailed book about life in Britain during the Roman age.
It's not the usual informative book but a serious book for archaeologist (or so I think).
I found it interesting and recommend it.

NetGalley, Anna Maria Giacomasso

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Roman Britain has always been a mystery to me. I always felt a draw to the place and time and couldn't understand how Rome could have such a strong effect on the Celts of the time. Besides military power why did the people adopt Roman customs in many cases? After reading this very interesting and well written book by Mr Ottaway I have a firm understanding of the people and times of Old York. To think a headstone could lead to so many valuable ideas about the past seemed like a detective mystery to me. In many cases it is a good sleuth that puts together the past. Julia was not your average Roman citizen but probably one of more means and power. When she died York had been Roman for 100 years already! That amazed me to think that the York area was already very Romanized . York had been a military encampment to begin with and as the years passed a center for Government and peoples of the area to do business and also socialize.I loved this book because I often think about the peoples of the past and what they did and why they did it compared to todays world, Much is explained and the pictures and illustrations add greatly to an already well sequenced and interesting look at the person named Julia and the tribes that inhabited York long ago.

NetGalley, Patrick Carmen

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Well written and engaging, the story and history written about by the writer were very entertaining. Loved it!!

NetGalley, Heather Bennett

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


The author, Dr. Patrick Ottaway, is an academic and this is what I would call a layman accessible academic treatise of Roman York, its culture, and history. As an academic work, it is *full* of tables and statistics and maps and minutiae (in a good way). The author definitely shows his work. I loved poring over the illustrations along with the exhaustive bibliography and full chapter notes and annotations. The notes and references are likely worth the price of admission for anyone interested in the subject and there's obviously been a swoon-worthy amount of time spent on research and resource gathering on the part of the author. He has taken care to explain new concepts and words in context (no Latin proficiency needed to access and enjoy the read).

I found the entire book quite fascinating. It is admittedly a niche book and will appeal to readers interested in cultural anthropology, but might not appeal to readers looking for an easy read. I found this one so engaging that I'm going back to try to acquire some of the author's other work; he is a gifted writer and brings ancient history to life.

Five stars. This is well and deeply researched and interesting.

NetGalley, Annie Buchanan

This is a very detailed study of Roman York from mid 1st century to early/mid-2nd century through the gateway of the tombstone of Julia Velva, one of the elite of the city; it would do any academic scholar proud. It covered everything from the geographic and geological nature of the area to the founding of the city, to the administrative, military, economic, social and material culture of the above-mentioned time period. Ottaway discussed medicine, jewelry, imported fabric and hair styles in this academic work.

Ottaway’s book was a study, not just of any Roman provincial town, but specifically York. He prominently used archaeological finds with illustrations and photographs along with specific locations where items were discovered in his book. It was almost a guide book to Roman York.

This book would not be for the casual reader or an introduction to Roman history. This is for a person who is interested in the details of a Roman town life and for lovers of the city of York. Your will never see York quite the same again.

NetGalley, Juliane Silver

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

It's incredible that an entire book can be written based on the tombstone of one woman in York! I love that. But that one tombstone says so much and we know quite a lot about Roman life in general. Not only does the author describe the tombstone dating back to about the third century AD in detail but the meaning of Julia Velva's name.

The author explains the history of Roman York from about 71 AD including archaeological finds of graves with vessels, ancient walls and sewers. We learn about the impacts of physical environment, the Roman Army, rise and fall of York's population, York's grid system and infrastructure, road surfacing, diet, baths, deity shrines, reigns of Constantine and Septimius, the division of England by Caracalla, identifying information from seeds and minerals, a discovered coin hoard, gardens and plants, the importance of spelt wheat, mortality rate and food mills. Other things described in detail include religion, cattle, stone quarrying, kilns, crafting, cult rituals, health, education, status of women, textiles and where different minerals were found.

Julia's life is unknown to us but books like this make me wonder what she and those around her were like. As her family was able to afford a tombstone (and probably show off his status with it) she was wealthy. The author tells us what she could have done with her time based on history. Makes it very personal.

York is one of my favourite cities...next time I will be armed with so much more information. I did not realize that the fortress walls are built in trenches, not just on top of the earth as they are in some places. Decurions' duties are new to me as well. Another thing I hadn't thought of before was that the Romans were successful partly due to literacy and ability to track supplies and movements. It seems they were organized and great at administration. I like that new technology used on discoveries is described, too.

My sincere thank you to Pen & Sword and NetGalley for the privilege of reading this informative book. I highly recommend it to those who are intrigued about the lives of Romans in general but especially in York. Well worth reading.

NetGalley, Brenda Carleton

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I wish I had read a copy of it eighteen months ago before visiting York on holiday and I am sure many people will find it an informative read before they visit the city... The book is well illustrated with pictures and maps and I can recommend it unreservedly.

NetGalley, Heather Rogers

A wide range of topics are discussed from the geography of the area, buildings and décor to deadly nightshade and portrait medallions worn by the women.Each topic is deeply detailed, informative and I'm sure the product of years of extensive research. My favorite sections were about the people of York, their dress, jewelry and funerary practices. I also very much appreciated the photos and drawings which definitely breathed life into this work.

NetGalley, Julie Hall

About Patrick Ottaway

Patrick Ottaway has been an archaeologist for over 40 years, first in Winchester and subsequently in York where he was manager of the fieldwork team at York Archaeological Trust. Latterly he has been a consultant for commercial clients and public bodies on archaeological and cultural heritage matters. He has a doctorate in archaeology at York University, has been a tutor in archaeology for Hull, Leeds and York universities and is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. He is the author of Roman York (History Press, 2004) and Roman Yorkshire (Blackthorn Press, 2013) as well as numerous academic reports and journal articles.

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