Under Another Sky: Journeys in Roman Britain


“This was not the Rome I thought I knew.” Charlotte Higgins’ travels through Roman Britain, both on foot and in a rickety campervan, yield glorious descriptions of the present state of our Roman remains. There is a useful section on ‘Places to Visit’, but it is the fruits of her travels through libraries and museums that truly fascinate. This is a book about how we understand Roman Britain, and about the pioneers who led the way: explorers united in passion, if not in opinion. We meet the fraudster who filled gaps in the material with swathes of highly plausible ‘facts’ of his own invention, and a startling document that turned out to be much less startling when it was read the right way up. In passing we learn why the Pennines are so-called, and how a misprint in an edition of Tacitus led to the naming of the Grampians.

There is much food for thought here. As Higgins observes, “each generation makes a slightly different pattern from the fragments.” In a tradition that stretches back to the aforementioned Tacitus and forward to recent controversy over human remains in York, we see how our view of Roman Britain becomes a reflection of ourselves: “a place where we may play out our uncertainties and anxieties about the perils of empire.”

Finally, to anyone who’s ever wondered if there is a tune to Auden’s Roman Wall Blues – there is. You’ll find it on page 124. Marvellous stuff.

Share this review

Now available in paperback (UK) or on Kindle

Jenny Barden's masterful novel about the lost colony of Roanoke.


Online Exclusive




(UK) £20.00

(UK) 9780224090896




Appeared in

Reviewed by