Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Book Review: Daily Life in Arthurian Britain


Deborah J. Shepherd, Daily Life in Arthurian Britain (Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood/ ABC-CLIO, 2013, ISBN 978-0-313-33295-1).

 Here’s another title from the new books section of my university library.  I picked it up because I was once quite interested in Arhuriana and also because a number of my gaming and blogging friends are interested in Dark Ages Britain, particularly thanks to Too Fat Lardies’ Dux rules.  Also, I was procrastinating on getting those term papers finished.

It would probably be more honest if the title was called “Daily Life in Post Roman Britain” or “Daily Life in Fifth and Sixth Century Britain”, but I suppose it’s always a better marketing move to put King Arthur in the title if you can.   The book focuses on the geography, people, and social and military organization of Britain in its long and gradual transition from Roman to Anglo-Saxon dominance.

The author is a well-published archaeologist specializing in Dark Ages Britain and Finland.  Dr. Shepherd’s knowledge is considerable, but the book is pitched at the introductory level, intended for beginners to the period and high school and college students.  Wargamers will be especially interested in Chapter 7, “Keeping Order”, which describes the gradual replacement of Roman military organization by a native British one.   This chapter taught me that by the fourth century the Romans would have recruited their auxiliary troops from the northern native British population, who would have consolidated in fortified places and remained there after Roman administration gradually fell away.   These former Roman garrisons would have had a symbiotic relationship with the local farmers and gradually morphed into hereditary ruling families leading their war bands.  “The situation could scarcely have been better tailored by the Romans beforehand for the reconstruction of native British society” (199).

Wargamers probably have many more detailed and technical books to draw on for the military detail they need, but I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to get a better feel for post-Roman British society and culture.

Speaking of the Dark Ages, Mdme. Padre and I are almost finished watching Season 1 of the History Channel series The Vikings.   I know little about Viking culture, but it seems to be well researched and has the feel of history rather than fantasy.   We are quite enjoying it.  However, after watching Northumbrian soldiers getting butchered like sheep, Mdme Padre asked “Was it only the Vikings who knew how to fight?”.   It was a good question.  The actors playing the Vikings all look like extras from the 300 movie, only blonder, whereas the non-Vikings all looked pale, pudgy, and faintly ridiculous in their armour, and seemed to look at their weapons with befuddlement before being hacked down.    I suspect, if Anglo-Saxon poems like “The Battle of Maldon” are any guide, that they were tougher opponents than that.  Still, terrific fun, but not enough to make me want to go and buy Dark Ages figures.   I have enough periods, and Dark Ages battles simply don’t look that interesting to me.  De gustibus non disputandum set and all that.

Blessings to your brushes and die rolls!



  1. And that, Padre, is why we game in a pseudo-Tolkien world. Just get a bunch of Vikings and call them Wild Men of the woods or some such.

    1. Thomas, weren't you involved in the Vikings TV series in some way?

  2. Sounds like an interesting book.

  3. The book doesn't sound too bad. Thanks for the pointer.

  4. Thanks for the heads up- it's a period I enjoy reading about but am adamant that I won't start to game (well hopefully not)....

    I'll pass the recommendation on to some friends of mine too- the reenact the dark ages to may well be of interest to them.




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