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Living on the Edge of Empire (Hardback)

The Objects and People of Hadrian's Wall

Rome Archaeology Social History

By Barbara Birley, Alexandra Croom, Jane Laskey, Dr Frances McIntosh, Tim Padley, Andrew Parkin, Elsa Price, Edited by Rob Collins
Imprint: Pen & Sword Archaeology
Pages: 168
Illustrations: 300
ISBN: 9781783463275
Published: 30th May 2020

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Dr Rob Collins and the curators of the remarkable collections from Hadrian's Wall present a striking new contribution to understanding the archaeology of a Roman frontier.

This highly-illustrated volume showcases the artefacts recovered from archaeological investigations along Hadrian's Wall in order to examine the daily lives of those living along the Northern Frontier of the Roman Empire. Presented by theme, no other book offers such a diverse and thorough range of the rich material culture of the Wall.

The accompanying text provides an ethnographic perspective, guiding us through the everyday lives of the people of frontier communities, from the Commanding Officer to the local farmer. This holistic view allows us an insight into the homes and communities, how people dressed, what they ate and drank, their religions and beliefs, domestic and military forms of security, and how they conducted their business and pleasure.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This was a really cool way to teach about life along Hadrian's Wall. I learned quite a bit... overall this was great.

NetGalley, Kennedy Penn-O'Toole

An easy to read, comprehensive and interesting look on both civilian and military life along Hadrian's Wall. Roman Britain is something that I'm personally interested about, and this book gave a great view into that side of British history in a way that was very easy to understand and made me want to learn more about it.

The pictures made it easy to visualise the finds and put them into context.

NetGalley, Sarah Matsson-Klingzell

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Living on the Edge of Empire: The Objects and People of Hadrian’s Wall is a lavishly illustrated glimpse at the daily lives of soldiers and others who lived in and along Hadrian’s Wall during the several centuries it was occupied by the Romans. While there are more academic works available, this is an excellent read for non-researchers or for those who might want an introduction to more difficult, comprehensive works, say a writer planning on setting a story in Roman Britain.

Following the introduction, Collins divides the book into eight sections: the makeup of the communities and homes, dress, food and drink, weapons and armor, daily business and entertainment, religious beliefs, “unknowns” (more on this later), and the post-Roman years of the wall. As noted, the book is chock-full of photographs illustrating the archaeological conclusions regarding types of food eaten, shoes worn, weapons wielded, etc. This is absolutely the highlight of the book. The photographic detail is vividly sharp, and while most of the objects show the expected signs of their age, some of them are in shockingly good shape, allowing the reader to fully imagine them in the hands of a Roman soldier as they drank or diced.

The text, meanwhile, is efficient, informative, and clear throughout. Collins does a good job of avoiding being overly generalizing in his approach, making necessary distinctions when necessary in terms of class or regional background, noting for instance that most inhabitants probably slept on simple floor pallets, while those who could afford more luxurious accommodations might have a bed and a hay-filled mattress, and those even further up the social status ladder would fill their mattresses with wool or feathers. One of the more fascinating sections is the religious one, as Collins goes beyond the traditional Roman pantheon most readers will already be well aware of, discussing not only nearly-as-well-known mystery cults like Mithras, but also hyper-local gods whose names are found on shrines, amulets, and the like. I also loved that Collins included the “unknowns” section, which details multiple objects whose purposes we can only guess at, such as a series of dodecahedrons whose creation required “a skilled craftsperson” (some possible uses: game pieces, part of a regularly-used scepter or standard, a surveying tool). I enjoyed this section because it showed Collins as being happy to admit that there’s a lot we don’t know, even when we have objects of study in hand.

In his introduction Collins says “it is my sincere hope that this approach will prove entertaining and illuminating, as well as injecting some humanity into our understanding of the past. Mission accomplished.

NetGalley, Bill Capossere

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Roman Britain comes to life with gorgeous photos of items excavated around Hadrian’s Wall, from everyday artifacts to items belonging to the soldiers that manned the wall. Readers get a peek into the lives of ancient Britons and the Roman soldiers living in their midst. A must for lovers of history and archaeology.

NetGalley, Rosemary Smith

About Barbara Birley

Barbara Birley is Curator for Roman Vindolanda Site & Museum and the Roman Army Museum.


About Alexandra Croom

Alexandra Croom is Keeper of Archaeology at Arbeia Roman Fort and Segedunum Roman Fort.


About Jane Laskey

Jane Laskey is the Museum Manager of Senhouse Roman Museum.


About Dr Frances McIntosh

Dr Frances McIntosh is Curator of Hadrian’s Wall and the North East for English Heritage.


About Tim Padley

Tim Padley is a retired Curator of Archaeology of Tulllie House Museum & Art Gallery.


About Andrew Parkin

Andrew Parkin is Keeper of Archaeology at the Great North Museum: Hancock.


About Elsa Price

Elsa Price crates the archaeology collection at Tullie House Museum & Art Gallery.


About Rob Collins

Dr Rob Collins is a Lecturer in Archaeology at Newcastle University.

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