Wednesday, December 3, 2014


Rob Collins, Frances McIntosh (ed.), Life in the Limes: Studies of the People and Objects of the Roman Frontiers. Oxford, Philadelphia: Oxbow Books, 2014. Pp. ix, 238; 16 p. of plates. ISBN 9781782972532. £45.00.

Reviewed by Duncan B. Campbell, Glasgow (

Version at BMCR home site


Festschrifts are curious publications. The fact that contributors are required to produce something rapidly, to coincide with the honorand's birthday or retirement (or both), can lead to variations in quality and in the degree of relevance to the chosen theme. Indeed, it has been observed, somewhat unkindly, that Festschrifts can often become a convenient means for contributors to present papers whose publication would otherwise be hard to justify. On the other hand, the Festschrift format can afford contributors the opportunity to personalise their paper, tailoring it to fit in with the honorand's interests, and even allowing readers a vicarious glimpse of the honorand's personality.

The recipient of this Festschrift, Lindsay Allason-Jones, is well known from her many Romano-British small finds reports and her studies extrapolating the people from the objects, so the general theme is clear, as spelled out in the subtitle: 'studies of the people and objects of the Roman frontiers'.1 Most of the twenty-six essays address this theme, some more successfully than others and some more entertainingly than others. The volume is nicely produced, although the frequency of spelling errors and oddities of punctuation in both main text and captions suggests that it may have been rushed through the press. Equally, infelicities of expression and bibliographic anomalies suggest that the editors have exercised a light touch. There is no index and no list of illustrations, so readers may easily overlook the sixteen colour plates at the end.

The back-cover blurb informs the prospective purchaser that the volume is 'divided into thematic sections', and this was perhaps the publisher's intention, but no internal divisions are in evidence. Instead, readers are treated to a medley of miscellaneous items, ranging widely in subject-matter and length, from Andrew Parkin's two-page note on an Etruscan mirror in the Great North Museum, Newcastle upon Tyne, to Jon Coulston's fourteen-page discussion of military sculptures on the northern frontier of Britain.

Some contributions centre on one particular artefact, such as Iain Ferris' pipeclay pseudo-Venus figurine from Binchester, or Alexander Meyer's copper-alloy fragment of a 'calendar' from Vindolanda. Other contributions attempt to place a particular artefact in the context of other similar items, such as Simon James' parade-style helmet from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, or the zoomorphic key handle from Wales, which Nina Crummy and Mark Lodwick compare with similar Continental examples. In the same way, Hilary Cool takes a seemingly unpromising bead from Housesteads and finds some late Roman parallels, while Carol van Driel-Murray compares the Museum of London's 'leather bikini' with other known finds and offers some new interpretations.

A number of contributors have taken the opportunity to present syntheses of particular types of object, which specialists in their respective fields will no doubt find useful. Fraser Hunter presents a catalogue of finds from Scotland made from jet-like material; Martin Henig surveys the finds of Roman gems from northern Britain; Jennifer Price discusses decorated mould-blown glass from northern Britain; and Ralph Jackson presents a catalogue of mouse figurines from across the Roman world.

Five contributors concentrate instead on particular assemblages of artefacts: Alex Croom catalogues a group of finds from outside the fort at South Shields; Ian Haynes discusses the items from the sanctuary of Liber Pater at Apulum in Dacia; Rob Collins lists Roman objects found to the north of Hadrian's Wall; Frances McIntosh traces the origins of the Clayton Collection at Chesters Roman fort; and Mike Bishop, revisiting the 'Corbridge Hoard' (which he originally jointly published with Lindsay Allason-Jones in 1988), makes some interesting observations on the so-called lorica segmentata armour that was found within.2

Besides the objects, the people of the Roman frontier are discussed in terms of their footwear by Elizabeth Greene, while Bill Manning presents evidence of smiths in the Roman army. Paul Bidwell restores a worn altar from South Shields to suggest that the third-century garrison were known as Lugdunenses ('the men of Lugdunum'), Roger Tomlin deciphers the long-awaited Greek text of an amulet from London, intended to protect its owner from the 'Antonine plague' of AD 166,3 and Nick Hodgson presents a useful survey of the evidence for soldiers' wives within Roman forts in Britain, in response to a paper published by Lindsay Allason-Jones in 1999.4

Other contributors have taken a broader view of the volume's theme to present papers on more general aspects of the northern frontier. David Breeze takes the sculptural depiction of an unusual domed building as evidence of possible victory monuments along the line of Hadrian's Wall; Tony Wilmott explains why antiquarians once believed in an amphitheatre at Housesteads; Rebecca Jones stresses the difficulties in estimating the capacity of Roman temporary camps; and W.S. Hanson restates his thoughts on the function of Roman frontiers.

As this brief survey of the diverse contents shows, this is not a volume that can easily be browsed through. Individual readers may find half a dozen papers of particular interest, depending upon their field of study, but the volume will find its natural home on the shelf of a specialist library It must be admitted that the editors have compiled a fitting tribute to the work of Lindsay Allason-Jones by her colleagues.


1.   A bibliography of Lindsay Allason-Jones' work appears on pp. 232-238, divided into notes, small finds reports, journal articles, contributions to edited volumes, and monographs.
2.   L. Allason-Jones and M.C. Bishop, Excavations at Roman Corbridge; the Hoard (London, 1988), reviewed in Britannia 20 (1989), pp. 350-351.
3.   Long-awaited, as publication was first announced in Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 115 (1997), p. 291 n.1. The item has now been 'officially' published as Britannia 44 (2013), p. 390 no. 21.
4.   L. Allason-Jones, 'Women and the Roman army in Britain', in A. Goldsworthy and I. Haynes (eds.), The Roman Army as a Community (Portsmouth, RI, 1999), pp. 41-53. Readers might like to know that the routine accommodation of women in Roman forts was already doubted by D.B. Campbell, "Women in Roman forts: residents, visitors, or barred from entry?" in Ancient Warfare Vol. 4.6 (2010), pp. 48-53. However, Hodgson's perceptive questioning of the identity of the second-century building within the fort at Vindolanda that produced quantities of small-sized footwear, hitherto claimed as a barrack-block, changes the entire character of the debate.

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