Much of Roman Chester has been lost through post-Roman dismantling and `recycling' of building materials, though excavations over recent years have added substantially to our knowledge of the town known as Deva. In this companion volume to Chester: AD400-1066, David Mason traces the early history of this military stronghold: the construction and early years of the fort, and the development of the garrison town and the surrounding civilian settlement. This is essentially the first study to focus solely on Roman Chester, other than excavation reports, and it represents a well-written informative history of the rise, burgeoning and decline of the Roman town and its inhabitants.
David Mason has been involved in the investigation and research of Chester's archaeology and history for more than 30 years. He directed excavations in the 1970s that discovered the first Anglo-Saxon buildings to be found in Chester. He is the author of the widely acclaimed "Roman Chester: AD400-1066." He lives in Caergwrle, Flintshire, just outside Chester.
Mason provides here a very important addition to understanding the Roman Empire and especially Roman Britain. His work gives a chronological analysis of the foundation, growth and decline of the Roman fortress and town throughout and just after the Roman period, and provides a context by discussing what was happening in Britain at the time. Mason's book is not for the uninitiated - you have to have some knowledge of Rome and how she was governed and defended before approaching this book but, once you have that knowledge, you will find reading this book a very rewarding experience, as Mason comprehensively details the life and times of the Roman garrison and later town at Deva.
The author strikes a good balance between fact and discussion; the narrative is coherent and logical. The chapters, arranged chronologically, trace Chester's history from early fort through Legionary fortress to late Roman settlement. An "interlude" on the organisation of the Roman army (Ch.3) is a considerate inclusion, and a good piece of reference in its own right. Mason tackles Chester's items of "special" interest - the Elliptical Building and the harbour works for example - maturely; other authors may have devoted too much time to these to the detriment of good discussion on other remains.
If you are simply looking for a guidebook to the town this may not be for you as you will have to skip through large amounts of facts, figures, measurements, etc, etc. However, for the academic this is an excellent text giving detailed plans, construction figures and reconstructions. The information on archaeological excavations in the area is incredibly extensive and detailed, unsurprisingly considering how much the author was involved in them, and can give excellent assistance to anyone researching the area.
Book: Roman Chester
Author: David Mason
Review by Joe Medhurst