The Iron Age in Northern Britain: Celts and Romans, Natives and Invaders


Author: D.W. Harding Publisher: Routledge Copyright: 2004 Pages: 352

Synopsis: The Iron Age in Northern Britain examines the impact of the Roman expansion northwards, and the native response to the Roman occupation on both sides of the frontiers. It traces the emergence of historically-recorded communities in the post-Roman period and looks at the clash of cultures between Celts and Romans, Picts and Scots.

Northern Britain has too often been seen as peripheral to a ‘core’ located in south-eastern England.

Unlike the Iron Age in southern Britain, the story of which can be conveniently terminated with the Roman conquest, the Iron Age in northern Britain has no such horizon to mark its end. The Roman presence in southern and eastern Scotland was militarily intermittent and left untouched large tracts of Atlantic Scotland for which there is a rich legacy of Iron Age settlement, continuing from the mid-first millennium BC to the period of Norse settlement in the late first millennium AD.

Here D.W. Harding shows that northern Britain was not peripheral in the Iron Age: it simply belonged to an Atlantic European mainstream different from southern England and its immediate continental neighbours.

Review: The book is made up of five parts and eleven chapters. Some parts have only one chapter while others have two or three chapters.

Part One: This part has only one chapter but wow, what an informative one. The author talks about the aim of the book, which is to look at Northern Britain and survey what we know about it during the Iron Age. He discusses the archeological framework that we are going to be dealing with during the rest of the book. He also discusses something very important that happens to be the Celticity of Northern Britain and the question that seems to be a favorite of the British archeologist and that is; are the Celts a modern myth? The author has a reasonable logical answer to that question AND I think that in light of what this book has to say I think that Barry Cunliffe’s theory of having the Celtic beginnings away from the Hallstatt-La Tene cultures makes a little more sense too.

Part Two: Four chapters are included in this part and it is about the earlier Iron Age. Each chapter talks about the archeological record of a part of Northern Britain, and Scotland.

Part Three: This part has two chapters, and they talk about the Roman Iron Age and its impact on northern Britain.

Part Four: Three chapters that deal with the later Iron Age starting with the borders and southern Scotland and going all the way to Atlantic Scotland.

Part Five: Only one chapter that reviews all the past chapters and makes a few conclusions that sum everything else nicely.

This book is an archeological survey of Northern Britain. It has a lot of materials and also a lot of good questions which it answers in one form or another for the most part (some questions don’t have definitive answers). I found the book very interesting if a little dry. If you aren’t interested in archeological discussions supplemented lightly with classical writing then this book is not for you. In my opinion though, it does help to support Professor Barry Cunliffe’s idea of Celtic from the west in a round about way.


2 thoughts on “The Iron Age in Northern Britain: Celts and Romans, Natives and Invaders

  1. Dafydd says:

    Nice review!

    The origins of the Celts, and whether they settled in Britain is made murkier when you consider that scholars can’t really agree on who the Picts were – Are they Celts? Did they speak a Brythonic or Gaelic language? Where did they originate?
    Hopefully this book might shed some light on some of these questions.

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