Farewell Britannia: A family saga of Roman Britain, By Simon Young

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The Independent Culture

Britain was a part of the Roman Empire for nearly 400 years. The withdrawal, when it came, was cataclysmic; Roman civilisation vanished virtually overnight. In Simon Young's memorable phrase, "History descended on the island like a blade."

He tells the story of those years of occupation, bringing to life such major events as the revolt of the Iceni (Young is especially good at describing battles), as well as domestic incidents such as one involving an upwardly mobile Roman housewife trying to impress her husband's boss by serving imported roast flamingo for dinner.

The tale is told using two framing devices: firstly, as the saga of the Roman-British family the Atrebates, narrated by one of its last surviving members after the Roman withdrawal. Then, in propria persona as a historian, Young reveals the documents on which it's based – a sneaky peek behind the scenes at the way historical narratives are constructed.