The Empire Stops Here


This fascinating book follows the frontiers of the Roman Empire, and Philip Parker is an excellent guide: knowledgeable, accessible and with a dry wit. He argues that the frontier was rarely fixed – even Hadrian’s Wall had Roman outposts beyond it. It was more a sphere of influence than the modern definition of a frontier. Major rivers like the Rhine or Danube separated the empire from the barbarians but the Romans had no hesitation in settling the other side if those barbarians were troublesome.

As well as examining the history, he takes us there physically. We follow him through dreary Eastern European housing estates and behind dodgy cafés to track down bits of crumbling Roman wall. He is also interested in the various countries’ responses to their Roman heritage. Germany looks after its ruins meticulously. Others, like Romania, although officially interested, often neglect them in practice. Algeria now allows foreign visitors to visit its splendid sites, but Parker still met with occasional suspicion and obstruction.

I learned a lot from this most interesting and enjoyable book. I’m ashamed to say I had no idea that parts of Austria and Switzerland ever belonged to the Roman Empire. I recommend it.

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