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Britain before the Romans

Abstract and Keywords

Much of Britain saw significant changes in the later part of the first millennium bc, particularly in the south-east. Widespread but regionally varied changes in settlement organization resulted in the emergence of new types of sites, some of which have been termed oppida. Changes included the reappearance of gold, the adoption of wheel-turned pottery, new styles of clothes fastening, and cremation burial from Late La Tène Gaul. The burial tradition included a small number of richly furnished burials. Imports of Roman origin were transmitted through Gaulish intermediaries. After Caesar’s expeditions to Britain, the influence of Rome was much more marked and imports increased. Contacts between Britain and Rome may have included formal recognition of some rulers as client kings. Evidence suggests a limited knowledge of literacy and Latin, but the cultural significance of many Roman objects is often unclear.

Keywords: Late Iron Age, cross-channel connections, gold, silver, oppida, kings, coinage, cremation burials, Aylesford–Swarling, Roman imports


In 1849 the historian Thomas Macaulay (1849: i. 4) wrote that the inhabitants of ancient Britain were ‘little superior to the natives of the Sandwich Islands’ and ‘received only a faint tincture of Roman arts and letters’. Other authors in this volume will debate whether ‘faint tincture’ is an appropriate description of what happened after the conquest. Here I would like to consider the state of Britain immediately prior to that event. Macaulay undoubtedly intended to be uncomplimentary, but he may have made a serious misjudgement. The Sandwich Islands was the name given by Captain Cook and still in use in the 1840s for the islands now known collectively as Hawaii, which have become a classic case study of the development of a complex chiefdom society in archaeological and anthropological textbooks (Kirch 2010, 2012). At the time of Cook’s first visit in 1778 the islands were characterized by dense population, efficient irrigation and rain-fed agriculture, elite control of surplus production, divine kingship, and wealth finance based on prestige goods. In the 120 years between Cook’s first visit and the annexation of the islands by the empire of the United States in 1898, they experienced growing contact with the European world through military and naval expeditions, politicians, traders, arms dealers, and missionaries; under such external military, economic, and religious influence from the USA, Britain, and Russia, they saw the emergence of a unified political structure, largely through external support for one particular chief, new economic structures, especially for exports, as well as new forms of architecture, religion, language, and literacy (Kirch and Sahlins 1992). The parallel with the situation in Britain in the century between Caesar and Claudius is not exact, but it serves as a clear and well-documented example of how a society can be transformed by contact with very different cultural groups even before formal conquest and annexation.

(p. 151) Macaulay had little sympathy for pre-Roman Britain and certainly no notion of significant changes in the centuries before the conquest. Archaeology developed rapidly in the following decades, and by the early twentieth century an orthodoxy had emerged. Sir John Evans’ Coins of the Ancient Britons (1864), a work that laid the foundations for all future numismatic study of the Iron Age (de Jersey 2008), demonstrated clearly that coins had been minted from at least the middle of the second century bc, and that some of them showed evidence of a knowledge of Latin and the existence of the institution of kingship. When Evans and his son Arthur visited a sand quarry at Aylesford in Kent in 1888, they found evidence for cremation burials of the Late Iron Age (LIA), one of which contained an imported Italian bronze jug and pan. Arthur Evans’ eventual publication (1890: 386) of the finds traced the continental origins of LIA culture in Britain, and attributed these innovations to an ‘invasion’ by ‘an intrusive Gaulish tribe’. The cremation tradition was confirmed by the excavation of a small cemetery at Swarling in Kent (Bushe-Fox 1925), while connections with the classical world were again demonstrated by the discovery of two rich graves at Welwyn, Hertfordshire, which contained not only Roman bronze vessels and amphorae, but also a pair of Augustan silver cups (Smith 1912). Excavations in the 1930s at major sites such as St Albans (Wheeler and Wheeler 1936) and Colchester (Hawkes and Hull 1947) clearly demonstrated the Iron Age precursors of some important Roman towns and the extent of contact with the Roman world, seen especially in the presence of imported pre-conquest pottery. By that time the cross-Channel connections had been explored in detail by Hawkes and Dunning (1930), and Hawkes (1931) had published the original version of his influential tripartite scheme for the British Iron Age, later to be revised and embellished (1959); in this scheme the final stage, Iron Age C, was represented by two waves of immigration from the continent, the first into Kent and Essex and the second further west, into Hampshire, Berkshire, and Wiltshire. Though the so-called second Belgic invasion in the west never won much support, the idea of an Iron Age C culture centred on Kent, Essex, and Hertfordshire, brought by immigrants from Belgium or northern France, remained the prevailing theory for the explanation of LIA innovations in burial practice, pottery, coinage, settlement, and social organization. Behind these upheavals in north-western Europe was the expansion of the Roman Empire, first into southern France in the late second century bc, followed in the 50s by Caesar’s conquest of Gaul. The impact of Rome in the post-Caesarian period was now clear: ‘Romanization had struck deep roots before the Claudian conquest’ (Kendrick and Hawkes 1932: 207).

Much of this orthodoxy is now questioned, if not yet actually discarded: the vision of Britain as affected only by externally generated factors, the role of immigration, the geographical extent of major social changes in the later Iron Age, the chronology and pace of social change, the nature of social organization immediately prior to the conquest, and Romanization whether before or after Claudius. Some of this revision has been due to the explosion of archaeological evidence since the 1990s, some to changing modes of interpretation.

The changing modes of interpreting the evidence for the LIA will be reviewed in more detail at the end of this chapter. There is now a growing literature of critical assessment (p. 152) (e.g. Gardner 2013) and historiographical review (e.g. Hingley 2000, 2008; Hoselitz 2007) of the treatment of developments both before and after the conquest, but these studies have been conducted mainly by specialists in Roman archaeology and have focused on the dominant Roman side of the clash. By contrast, little (e.g. Webster 1996) has been written by scholars specializing in the Iron Age or from the point of view of the subaltern British. One notable exception to this is the topic of the Druids, who have been the focus for several recent studies (Piggott 1985; Webster 1999; Hutton 2007, 2009; Aldhouse-Green 2010). Smiles’ scholarly study (1994) of the ancient Britons ranges far more widely than the ‘images’ of the ‘romantic imagination’ that its title suggests, but its chronological range stops before the rise of archaeology. We still lack a thorough historiographical review of the study of the Iron Age.

The Evidence

With Caesar’s narrative of his cross-Channel adventures in 55 and 54 bc, Britain enters the written record of the classical world. His account (De Bello Gallico IV. 2–36; V. 8–23) is fairly brief and not without problems, but it is fuller and more detailed than the patchy record that survives for the following century before the Claudian invasion. This evidence, primarily short passages in Strabo and Diodorus Siculus and even briefer references in Suetonius and Dio Cassius, as well as some enigmatic references in the Roman poets and one incomplete paragraph in Augustus’ Res Gestae, has been reviewed by several authors (e.g. Braund 1996). There have been no additions to this corpus of sources, though new editions, especially of the Res Gestae (Cooley 2009), have clarified some issues. More important has been Woolf’s exploration (2011) of the cultural and political context in which knowledge of the west was created by the expanding Roman Empire.

By contrast, the archaeological evidence for Iron Age Britain has increased dramatically since the last decades of the twentieth century (Haselgrove and Moore 2007a; Haselgrove and Pope 2007). Some parts of this evidence will be discussed in detail later in this chapter, but particularly noteworthy has been work on some of the major centres of the LIA, such as Silchester (Fulford and Timby 2000) and Canterbury (Blockley et al. 1995), though the organization of the landscape and the pattern of ordinary rural settlement remain poorly understood. Knowledge of the burial tradition in south-eastern England, mainly cremations, has been advanced by excavation of important cemeteries (Parfitt 1995; Fitzpatrick 1997), warrior burials (Stevenson 2013), and elite cremations (Niblett 1999; Crummy 2007). The Portable Antiquities Scheme has led to the recording of a vast number of new finds of metalwork; the significance of these finds has not been fully explored, though it is clear that there is great regional variation in the types of material deposited in the Iron Age (Worrell 2007) and that detailed analysis of the finds from a specific region can produce important evidence for the circulation and deposition of coins and other metal objects (Hutcheson 2004; Farley 2012). There has been particular progress in the study of coinage: as well as more general reviews (Haselgrove (p. 153) 1987; Creighton 2000) and catalogues (van Arsdell 1989; Hobbs 1996; Rudd et al. 2010), there have been important studies of some of the regional series, including the north-eastern (Farley 2012), the East Anglian (Chadburn 2006), the south-eastern or Kentish (Holman 2000, 2005), the South Thames (Bean 2000), and the western (van Arsdell 1994).

The following sections will review how the new evidence and changing modes of interpretation have altered perceptions of the later Iron Age, with particular attention to southern and eastern England, where the first effects of contact with Rome were felt most strongly. There were important developments in the preceding centuries, which drew parts of Britain into a network of relationships with their continental neighbours, so that, when the Roman Empire eventually extended into northern France, it was more a case of transforming existing power structures than establishing completely new ones.

Changing Perceptions of the Iron Age

Since Arthur Evans’ publication (1890) of the rich LIA graves from Aylesford in Kent, it has been recognized that there were significant cultural changes in the century or two immediately preceding the Roman conquest. A distinctive late Iron Age as the culmination of the insular Iron Age sequence has been identified predominantly in the south-east of England, though the idea has also found wider application in southern and eastern England. More recently, however, archaeologists working in regions other than the south-east have tended to prefer a simpler division into earlier and later Iron Age (Haselgrove et al. 2001; Moore 2006: 214–224; Haselgrove and Moore 2007b: 1–5), with the dividing point somewhere around 40–300 bc, suggesting that the changes seen in the south-east were not reflected elsewhere, but also that internal processes of change were important over a much longer period. This vision of Iron Age developments has not gone completely unchallenged, and the reality of widespread changes in the first century bc has been reasserted; instead of steady social evolution, a pattern of punctuated equilibrium, with long periods of comparatively static social organization interrupted by brief episodes of change, has also been suggested (Barrett et al. 2011).

The question of the nature of Iron Age social organization has been the topic of recent debate, though much of the discussion has revolved around the specific issue of the extent to which society was hierarchically organized, especially in the earlier parts of the Iron Age. In much early writing about the Iron Age there is little, if any, explicit discussion of the nature of social organization or social relations, though there is an implicit concept of a hierarchically organized society, presumably derived from the authority of the classical references to chiefs and kings in the LIA, projected backwards into earlier periods. Pictorial representations of ancient Britons in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were also dominated by warriors and chiefs, as well as Druids (Smiles 1994).

More explicit discussion of the nature of Iron Age society began to appear in the latter part of the twentieth century. One influential model was derived from Cunliffe’s (p. 154) discussion of his excavations at the hillfort of Danebury. Early attempts at explaining its social role (Cunliffe 1984: 549–562) included a comparison of Iron Age society with the better-documented historical societies of early medieval Ireland, underpinned by an implicit assumption of widespread and long-term homogeneity in the nature of ‘Celtic’ society; a concept of the hillfort as the possible residence of kings or nobles; a vision of the role of the hillfort as an emerging centre of regional power and of redistribution, drawing on neo-evolutionary ideas of the role of a chiefdom; and the progression from hillfort to developed hillfort to oppidum as the material expression in settlement terms of the social evolutionary trajectory from tribe to chiefdom to state (Cunliffe 1976). These interpretations have been the subject of sustained critique (e.g. Hill 1995, 1996), as much on the grounds of the archaeological evidence as from a theoretical consideration of the appropriateness of the analogies. Various attempts have been made to draw on other models of pre-industrial social organization: Crumley’s idea (1995) of ‘heterarchy’, in which power is derived from a variety of different structures within society, has attracted some writers, such as Armit (2007) and Cripps (2007); others, looking to structural Marxist anthropology, have explored the concept of the Germanic Mode of Production (e.g. Hingley 1984; Hill 1995). In an attempt to move beyond the concepts of neo-evolutionary anthropology and structural Marxism, Sharples (2010: 292–294) has adopted Mary Douglas’ grid and group matrix for social analysis. Hill (2011) has explored non-hierarchical structures for Iron Age society, citing the concept of segmentary societies (Fortes and Evans-Pritchard 1940). He also analysed some of the possibilities for exploring elements of social organization such as households, communities, and tribes, and, as the focus of attention has moved on from the debate about hierarchical or non-hierarchical social organization in the earlier periods of the Iron Age, so these themes have been receiving more attention.

Much of this recent critique has been aimed at the concept of a hierarchical structure in earlier Iron Age societies, and the attempt to find ways of discussing other forms of society in which there may have been leaders rather than rulers. There has been surprisingly little reconsideration of social organization in the final centuries of the Iron Age, especially in the south-east, when the classical authors refer to chiefs, military leaders, and kings, supported by the evidence of some of the inscribed coinage, considered further below. Hill (2007: 30) refers to kingship as ‘a novel experiment’ in the LIA of south-eastern England, but there has been little detailed consideration of the extent or the basis of such ‘royal’ power. Caesar regularly describes the political groupings of southern England in the mid-first century bc by using the word civitates, usually translated as ‘tribes’, a term that Moore (2011) has argued to be so ideologically laden as to be unhelpful and even misleading. It has also been shown that the distributions of the regional series of coins in southern and eastern England, formerly attributed to such tribes and thought to mark their distinct territories (Williams 2003, 2005a), are much more complex, revealing patterns at a variety of scales and making such an attribution very problematic (Leins 2008). Like the nature of political authority, the nature of political groupings in the LIA has become much more difficult to discern, and almost certainly much more varied; at the very least, projecting post-conquest structures back into prehistory is unwise.

(p. 155) Settlement and Economy

There is clear evidence for close contact between Britain and the continent throughout the Iron Age (Webley 2015), though the precise nature of the social relationships represented by the material is often unclear. Much writing about the Iron Age has been based on assumptions that such contacts declined after the end of the Bronze Age, that interaction across the North Sea and the English Channel was intermittent until the LIA, that these waters represented some form of cultural boundary, and that cultural innovations began on the continent and crossed to Britain. All of these propositions should now be regarded as doubtful.

Britain shared a number of significant cultural practices with the near continent at a variety of scales, such as an architectural tradition of predominantly round rather than rectangular structures, as well as the production and use of utilitarian artefacts such as triangular clay loomweights (Champion 1975; Wilhelmi 1977, 1987), bone weaving combs (Tuohy 1999), or, at a more localized scale, pottery (Leman-Delerive 1984; Hurtrelle et al. 1990; Blancquaert and Bostyn 1998). In such cases, the items form a unified cultural zone in which the Channel and North Sea did not constitute any form of cultural boundary; it is more appropriate to talk of regions of shared cultural practice than of points of innovation and areas of expansion or diffusion. In the case of other items, such as weaponry or art, discussed further later in the chapter, it may make more sense to think of a point or area of origin, and diffusion from there. The direction of such diffusion, however, was not necessarily always in a north-westerly direction from the continent to Britain: some of the earliest evidence for rotary querns currently available in Europe comes from southern England (Peacock and Cutler 2011; Wefers 2011). A clear distinction between indigenous processes of change and externally generated innovation is therefore problematic.

Indications of significant change in Iron Age economy and society can be seen from perhaps 400 or 300 bc. The patterns of change vary considerably in chronology and are highly variable regionally, being especially marked in southern and eastern England. One obvious area of innovation is in the production and usage of material artefacts. The sheer volume of such material items increased greatly, and there were important developments in the scale and specialization of production. Pottery manufacture was, at least in some areas, increasingly in the hands of more specialized producers, especially for finer wares, and their products were more standardized (Morris 1994, 1996). Quern production also became more centralized, probably through the work of specialist producers working from major quarry sites such as Lodsworth (Peacock 1987). Production of iron also increased, with the emergence of some major centres of smelting that distributed their iron for smithing in characteristically shaped bars of standardized size and weight, the so-called currency bars (Allen 1967; Hingley 1990, 2005; Crew 1994). Heavy stone weights are known from a number of sites in southern England—for example, at Danebury (Cunliffe and Poole 1991: 383); though their function is uncertain, it is likely (p. 156) that they were used for weighing out heavy or bulky items, suggesting the exchange of agricultural produce. More specialized production would have been accompanied by more complex relationships for the distribution and acquisition of products, and control over these processes of production and distribution would have provided new opportunities for the accumulation of wealth and status.

There are also developments in the nature of settlement sites, though their relationship to other changes is not always clear, and there is great regional variation. In the regions of Wessex with a high concentration of hillforts, many sites were abandoned, while a few were enlarged or elaborated to form the ‘developed hillforts’ in Cunliffe’s terminology (2005: 388–396). The term indicates a suggested role as emerging centres of regional power and economic organization, but they may alternatively be the result of a process of nucleation of a scattered population (Davis 2013). There are different histories of hillfort construction and usage in other areas: in Sussex, hillforts were built in a variety of locations and for a variety of reasons from the late Bronze Age onwards, while in Surrey and Kent the first forts were being built around the third century (Hamilton and Manley 2000). In several regions, recent research has revealed a switch from open to enclosed settlement forms (Knight 2007; Moore 2007). As well as changes in settlement types, there is growing evidence for fluctuating densities of population; areas previously densely occupied show much less evidence of activity, or less intensive usage, as activity moved into new zones.

New types of sites also began to appear, especially from the second century onwards. There is considerable variation in location, size, form, and function, as well as chronology of foundation. Some of these sites have been grouped together and classed as oppida; the term, originally applied by Caesar to some of the major defended sites in France, is applied in continental, especially German, archaeology to some very large nucleated sites of the LIA, but its usage in Britain is ‘more confused’ (Collis 1984: 6). Cunliffe (1976) has suggested a typology of oppida: his scheme includes enclosed, undefended, and territorial oppida, seen as types of nucleated centres that are different from the earlier hillforts. Nevertheless, the range of sites included in this category makes it highly problematic: some are indistinguishable from hillforts, while others that are in many ways similar to oppida are excluded. It is doubtful whether the term is of much use for understanding the actual processes of settlement development: Woolf’s critique (1993a) of the term in continental archaeology could apply equally to its use in Britain (Bryant 2007; Pitts 2010: 34–35). The enclosed oppida play an important role in Cunliffe’s model of social evolution (2005: 402–406), replacing the developed hillforts as the settlement evidence for an enhanced level of social organization and political centralization, and representing settlements that were urban or of an urban character, while the territorial oppida are seen as the centres of LIA power and authority. The fact that some of these sites later became the location for Roman towns may indicate that they were places of importance in the pre-conquest period, but cannot be used to indicate their function at an earlier date; the Roman Empire had very different structures of administrative organization.

One important development was the appearance of major sites on the coast, with a significant role in cross-Channel exchange. By the second half of the second century, (p. 157) links between south-western England and north-western France, though perhaps never totally absent, become more visible (Cunliffe and de Jersey 1997), articulated through ports such as Hengistbury Head in Dorset (Cunliffe 1987) and Mount Batten near Plymouth in Devon (Cunliffe 1988); though imported items such as coins, fine pottery, and Roman amphorae, discussed further later in this chapter, did percolate into the hinterlands, concentrations of such items at the ports suggest that they may have been places with a distinct culture. Somewhat later, exchange between the continent and south-eastern England became more prominent; sites on the east coast of Kent, known mostly from surface coin collections and small-scale excavation (Holman 2005), may have played a major role in this connection, a process beginning before the end of the second century.

Elsewhere, there are signs of significant nucleation of settlement, though the chronology is often uncertain. In eastern England, occupation at large sites such as Dragonby (May 1996) and Sleaford (Elsdon 1997) had begun before the first century bc. At Winchester a large rectangular enclosure had been occupied in the second and first centuries (Qualmann and Whinney 2004). At Baldock, Hertfordshire, the main occupation had begun ‘at least by the middle of the first century bc’ (Stead and Rigby 1986: 84), and at Braughing, Hertfordshire (Partridge 1981; Potter and Trow 1988) and Heybridge, Essex (Atkinson and Preston 1998) probably soon after that; at other sites, however, such as Dyke Hills, Dorchester (Hingley and Miles 1984: 65 and fig. 4.9) and Abingdon (Lambrick 2009: 362), both in Oxfordshire, the chronology of occupation is obscure, though probably in the second or first centuries bc. These processes had clearly begun in at least some regions by the second century, but were intensified in the first, especially in the years after 50 bc.

Wealth, Power, and Ritual

As well as the similarities in architecture, pottery, and some artefact types noted above, Britain also shared in more widespread fashions for prestigious or symbolic items (Joy 2015). There are very few objects that could be actual imports, but indigenous British imitations and developments of continental styles suggest widespread familiarity with continental practice, whether in weaponry such as daggers (Jope 1961) or swords (Stead 2006), in art (Jope 2000), or in bodily adornment and clothes fastening, with the brooch replacing the pin (Adams 2014).

From the second century onwards, however, there are significant changes in the evidence. Perhaps the most important of these is the reappearance of gold in the archaeological record, especially in the form of coinage. Gold had been comparatively plentiful in the late Bronze Age, but after about 800 bc it disappears from the archaeological record in much of Britain, though recent metal-detector finds suggest it may not have been totally absent. In many parts of the central and western regions of continental Europe gold became rarer, but continued to be deposited primarily in the richly furnished (p. 158) graves of the elite in the form of personal ornaments or occasional vessels (Eluère 1987). In the fourth and third centuries large quantities of gold flowed northwards from the Mediterranean world as a result of barbarian raiding and the role of Celtic warriors as the favoured mercenaries in the Hellenistic world. This influx of wealth played a major role in the restructuring of social relationships in the barbarian world and the creation of a new set of usages for wealth; gold was preferred in the west, though silver was more common in some areas further east. From the late fourth century gold appears less and less frequently in graves and more regularly as hoards or votive deposits, most often in the form of coinage, though neck-rings, or torques, of gold are also found, sometimes in association with coins (Furger-Gunti 1982; Fitzpatrick 2005). Celtic coins were being minted from the early third century, copying Macedonian and other Mediterranean prototypes. Gold was now used not for lavish display in the form of ornaments and vessels, though torques may have been worn as a symbol of male prowess, but more commonly in the form of coins.

The earliest coins in western Europe were of precious metal, mostly gold, and were of high-value denominations. They were not used for everyday commercial exchange, but could have been used as a medium for accumulating, assessing, and storing wealth, as well as being ideally suited to use in the transfer of wealth. They are the material representation of transactions involved in a limited set of social relationships (Allen 1976; Nash 1987); these might have included payment for services rendered or tribute due to a superior, dowry or bride price, gift exchange, and other acts of generosity, including the deposition of votive offerings, which is the predominant archaeological context for their discovery. Polybius, writing in the second century, describes Celtic society thus:

Their possessions consisted of cattle and gold, since these were the only objects which they could easily take with them whatever their circumstances and transport wherever they chose. It was of the greatest importance to them to have a following, and the man who was believed to have the greatest number of dependents and companions about him was the most feared and most powerful member of the tribe.

(Hist. II. 17, trans. I. Scott-Kilvert)

At a later date, Caesar provides good evidence for the existence of such patron–client relationships in Gaul, especially in his account of the internal politics of the Helvetii (De Bello Gallico I. 4): Orgetorix escaped trial when he turned up in court with his 10,000 followers. Some powerful men maintained their own permanent retinue of armed and mounted men, such as Dumnorix of the Aedui (De Bello Gallico I. 18) or Commius of the Atrebates (De Bello Gallico VIII. 23). Internal politics was dominated by factional rivalry within the polities, often between brothers or other close male relatives in a ruling lineage, such as the brothers Dumnorix and Diviciacus of the Aedui (De Bello Gallico I. 18), and by alliances between factions within different polities, such as that between Orgetorix, Dumnorix, and Casticus of the Sequani (De Bello Gallico I. 3). Such patron–client relationships and inter-tribal alliances would have been maintained by a variety of transactions, possibly including dynastic marriage alliances and the exchange (p. 159) of gifts; in extreme cases, where alliances were called on to provide support in warfare, large quantities of gold would have been needed. In these circumstances, coinage would have provided a useful means for the new uses to which wealth could be put, especially for its transfer.

Parts of eastern and southern Britain were clearly drawn into this network of social relationships and wealth transfer, and into shared practices in the circulation and deposition of wealth. Continental coins began to appear in Britain perhaps before 200 bc, and more frequently in the first half of the following century. Some of the earliest coin types, found on both sides of the English Channel, are usually thought to have been struck in France, but it is not impossible that some were already being produced in England by the middle of the second century. Local British coin series with imagery derived from the Gaulish prototypes were being produced in southern and eastern England from the second half of the second century, but some of the earliest coins certainly produced locally were of potin, a high-tin alloy of copper, which were cast rather than being struck; the alloy and the production technology as well as the designs were copied from coin issues of the Marseilles region (Haselgrove 1988, 1995, 2006). Though not made of precious metal, they were hoarded and deposited in the same way as gold, and seem to have been used and valued equivalently. Gold also circulated and was deposited in the form of torques, especially in parts of East Anglia, as at Snettisham (Stead 1991; Hutcheson 2003, 2004), though individual items have been found much more widely throughout the country.

As well as the precious metals, other items began to appear in southern England. Among the most significant are objects ultimately from the Roman world, transmitted through late La Tène Gaul. Wine from Italy came in amphorae of Dressel 1 type: the earlier form, Dressel 1A, arriving from around 125 bc, is found in southern central England, while the later form, Dressel 1B, dating from around 8–15 bc, is more clustered in the south-east (Peacock 1971, 1984; Fitzpatrick 1985; Carver 2001). Bronze vessels from Campania (Boube 1991; Feugère and de Marinis 1991), though difficult to date precisely but quite possibly pre-Caesarian, were also found widely in late La Tène Europe (Werner 1954), and reached Britain, as shown by the jugs from Welwyn (Smith 1912) and the jug and pan from Aylesford (Evans 1890).

Britain also adopted other practices from the late La Tène world, including new styles of clothes fastening (Haselgrove 1997: 56–57); from c. 120 bc brooches became much more common, and new continental forms replaced indigenous ones. An important technological innovation was the first production of wheel-thrown pottery in some parts of the south-east of England, though much pottery was still hand-made (Hill 2002). The new technology was accompanied by new forms and a wider range of more specialized vessel shapes, with close similarities to those in use in northern Gaul (Hawkes and Dunning 1930; Tyers 1980). The new ceramic repertoire suggests new modes of preparing, serving, and consuming food and drink, as well as perhaps a new social setting and significance for these activities.

One context where wheel-thrown pottery is found was in cremation burials, a new rite also adopted from the continent (Collis 1977). The rite, often called the Aylesford (p. 160) or Aylesford–Swarling tradition after two of the earliest sites excavated (Evans 1890; Bushe-Fox 1925), is found most frequently in Kent, Essex, and Hertfordshire, though it extends beyond this region. It involved the burial of a portion of the cremated remains of the deceased in a pot (Fitzpatrick 2000), though occasional inhumation burials are known, as well as regional variation in the details of deposition (Fitzpatrick 1997; Hill et al. 1999). The absence of other artefacts in most of the graves makes precise dating difficult, but a small number of burials contain brooches, and the earliest such associations would now be dated to the first half of the first century bc (Stead 1976; Fitzpatrick 1997: 95–96) and the practice may have begun even before 100 bc.

Among these burials are a small number that are clearly much more richly furnished than the rest. As originally identified (Stead 1967), this group was characterized by the presence of a large rectangular burial chamber, and the inclusion of pottery, one or more imported Roman amphorae and usually some glass or metal vessels, and was distinct from another series of burials that contained metal-bound wooden buckets (Stead 1971). Subsequently discovered burials (e.g. Dorton: Farley 1983; Baldock: Stead and Rigby 1986) blurred the distinction between the groups and widened the range of grave goods that occurred. Attempts to group the burials into categories defined on the basis of wealth (Haselgrove 1982, 1984) have not been wholly persuasive. Though there is considerable variation in the actual selection of goods for deposition in the graves, there are predominant themes of feasting and drinking, with a mixture of indigenous items such as buckets, cauldrons, and firedogs with exotics such as a bear-skin rug or cloak, and imports from the Roman world, including silver cups, bronze jugs, and pans, as well as amphorae and other pottery vessels. Weaponry is notably absent, as are items decorated with so-called Celtic art; such decoration was most common in the second and the first half of the first centuries bc, and there are few dates after about 50 bc, before a revival in the middle of the first century ad (Garrow et al. 2009).

A very small number of graves are distinguished by their extreme wealth and a different burial rite, best documented at Folly Lane, St Albans (Niblett 1999), but also seen at Lexden (Foster 1986) and Stanway (Crummy 2007), both at Colchester: the deceased person was laid out in a sunken burial chamber, with a rich array of grave goods; the grave goods were then smashed, and some placed on the pyre together with the body and some animal parts; the chamber was demolished and the shaft backfilled, while a portion of the cremated remains was placed in a separate burial pit. The ritual can be paralleled in some of the richest graves of northern France (Niblett 1999: 394–404) and must represent the appropriate funerary treatment for some of the members of the most important lineages in LIA Britain. The selection of grave goods is also different from the feasting-related emphasis of the other rich graves: Folly Lane contained local and Roman horse harness, a tunic of iron chain mail, bronze and ivory furniture fittings, and many other bronze and silver items melted beyond recognition, while Lexden also included chain mail, furniture including a folding stool, and a denarius of Augustus.

The adoption of new burial rites closely modelled on those prevailing in northern France would have served to underline the social and political relationships that extended across the Channel, and to express social differences in a very visible way; (p. 161) they may also have helped to establish new relationships if the settlement evidence is rightly interpreted as indicating significant shifts in population density and new forms of landscape organization. Burial, however, was only one way in which social pre-eminence could be expressed, and the dominant theme of feasting is echoed in non-funerary contexts, suggesting its significance in LIA social relations. Feasting may have been an important feature of earlier periods in the first millennium, as at late Bronze Age ringworks (Champion 2014: 291–292) or early Iron Age hillforts (Jones 2007), based on evidence for the storage and preparation of food. Joy (2014) has also argued that cauldrons were used for the preparation of food or drink for feasts throughout the period. Much has been made of the significance of imported wine in LIA Britain (e.g. Carver 2001), but the cauldrons, firedogs, and buckets suggest an indigenous element to feasting rituals. In a survey of possible evidence for feasting in LIA East Anglia, Ralph (2007: 108) commented on the lack of evidence for drinking; but the absence of amphorae on such sites does not mean an absence of drink, only an absence of Roman drink. Pitts (2005) has argued that, in the fifty years before the Roman conquest, the regular presence of large drinking vessels, such as butt beakers, in ceramic assemblages implies communal drinking of beer rather than wine. Whatever was consumed, feasts played a major role in many societies, and the role of feasting may have changed greatly over time (Hayden 2014). Dietler (1998, 2001) has suggested several different categories of feasting that might be appropriate for LIA Britain; Fitzpatrick (2009: 397) has argued that the rich burials of the period represent the burials of the organizers of feasts of his ‘patron-role’ type, acts of conspicuous entertainment designed to attract and retain a following of clients, though Ralph (2007) has suggested a wider range of social contexts. The Greek grammarian Athenaeus, writing about ad 200 (Deipnosophistae IV. 37), quotes Posidinius’ much earlier description of the Arvernian nobleman Louernios, who rode in a chariot distributing gold and silver, and prepared a feast with a huge quantity of food and drink, to win popular support. This anecdote encapsulates some of the major themes of LIA society, if social organization was broadly similar in central France and in Britain: social difference, patron–client relationships, circulation of wealth in fulfilment of these relationships, feasting.

One other practice involving many of these elements was the ritual deposition of wealth. Coins, whether found singly or in hoards, as well as other wealthy items such as the gold jewellery in the Winchester hoard (Hill et al. 2004), are very rarely discovered in settlement sites. More often they are from isolated findspots where little is known about their context, though those places may have been significant in the Iron Age landscape; nor, of course, is there any evidence of the people who carried out the deposition or the rites associated with the act. Occasionally, it is possible to see that there were sacred places or even shrines, as at Snettisham in Norfolk (Stead 1991). At Hallaton, Leicestershire (Score 2011), a hill-top shrine of the conquest period was the site of multiple deposits including over 5,000 coins and a Roman silver-covered cavalry helmet; large quantities of pig bones suggest feasting on the site. At a few of these sacred sites a structure interpreted as a temple was built (Haselgrove 2005). The best documented is at Hayling Island, Hampshire, where an Iron Age predecessor underlay a (p. 162) later Romano-Celtic temple and was the focus for deposits of coins, brooches, and other ornaments, horse gear and chariot parts, as well as spearheads and chain mail (King and Soffe 1994, 2008). One other frequent context for the ritual deposition of artefacts was water, continuing a tradition with a long history in Britain (Bradley 1998): in eastern England from the Thames northwards the predominant context for Iron Age swords is rivers such as the Thames and the Trent (Stead 2006), while the Thames was also the context for items such as the Battersea shield (Stead 1985). Springs and ponds may also have been the location for deposits. Ritual activity, including deposition of coins, had begun at the source of the Ebbsfleet river in Kent before the conquest, foreshadowing the later religious complex at Springhead (Andrews et al. 2011).

By the middle of the first century bc, therefore, large parts of Britain had been incorporated into the west European network of wealth circulation and deposition, and a smaller part of south-eastern England had started to produce its own wealth items, with some regional variation in preference for coins or torques, gold or bronze. An even smaller region had begun to bury its dead according to continental practices, with some marked evidence of social differences. Quite how this had happened is still in need of detailed explanation, but it should be borne in mind, as noted above, that close relationships across the North Sea and English Channel had existed earlier in the Iron Age, so that it was more a case of transforming existing links than creating new ones. Though the historical record is minimal, Caesar’s account of Britain suggests that, at least in south-eastern England, similar political structures may have existed to those he had encountered in Gaul and that political alliances or dependencies may have linked Britain and Gaul. An enigmatic reference to Diviciacus of the Suessiones (De Bello Gallico II. 4), who is said to have exerted some form of political authority across the water into England, suggests the possibility of political alliances, whether between partners of nominally equal status and authority or between those in a relationship of dominance and dependence. It is also clear that such alliances could be called on to provide military support; again Caesar provides the evidence, with references to support from Britain for his opponents in almost all his battles in Gaul (De Bello Gallico IV. 20). The leaders of the Bellovaci fled to Britain, suggesting some form of real or potential alliance (De Bello Gallico IV. 20). The numerous coins of Gallo-Belgic E type appearing in Britain in the Caesarian period are generally interpreted as payment for British involvement in the opposition to Rome. This represents not so much an unusual event as an extreme example of the operation of social and political relationships through which people and goods regularly crossed the Channel.

From Caesar to Claudius: Britain and Rome in the Final Iron Age

When Caesar first set foot in Britain in the late summer of 55 bc, it was Rome’s first direct encounter with Britain, but perhaps not with Britons. Rome had entered into a (p. 163) world where there was an existing network of frequently shifting political relationships, whether alliances or antagonisms, and proceeded to play its part as a powerful new force, with a mixture of diplomatic and military strategies. By the time of Caesar’s second invasion in 54 bc, Rome was seen as a potential ally in the political rivalries of south-eastern England; Cassivellaunus had killed the king of the Trinovantes and Mandubracius, the son of the dead king, had crossed the Channel to seek Caesar’s support (De Bello Gallico V. 20).

Caesar’s expeditions across the Channel undoubtedly boosted his reputation in Rome, even if they did not result in formal conquest and incorporation of any part of Britain. Despite some doubts about the effectiveness or permanence of Roman control, it does look as though the arrangements that Caesar made in 54 bc, including a demand for annual payments and the taking of hostages, did establish the principle of Roman authority in Britain. The historical and archaeological evidence gives some insight into how this may have worked. Rome continued its policy of recognizing client kings outside the empire, though the details of any formal alliance are sparse. Caesar had installed Mandubracius as ruler of the Trinovantes after his father’s death (De Bello Gallico V. 22), and he may also have set up Commius as a ruler in central southern England. The historical record is problematic (Bean 2000: 115–117; Williams 2005a: 74–75): Caesar made Commius king of the Atrebates in northern France in 57 bc, and he served Caesar well in his expeditions to Britain, but subsequently joined in the Gallic revolt of 52 bc, before moving back to Britain; the name Commius appears on coins of southern England, and Creighton (2000: 59–64) has argued that Caesar established him as a king in southern England, despite his rebellion. These Caesarian arrangements may have laid the foundations for the emergence of two major polities, termed the Eastern Kingdom and the Southern Kingdom in southern East Anglia and southern central England respectively.

At a later date, Strabo (Geog. 4.5.3) refers to British rulers sending embassies to Augustus and making dedications on the Capitol in Rome; there are no details of the date or the circumstances, but Braund (1996: 85) has argued that one likely context could have been the formal recognition of client kings. Whether or not they were formally recognized as client kings, some British rulers, like Mandubracius before them, regarded the Roman emperor as a powerful ally, especially at times of factional competition: Augustus (Res Gestae 32) records that two British rulers, Dumnobellaun[us] and Tincom[arus], fled to him, while Adminius, son of Cunobelin, was banished by his father and fled to Rome (Suetonius, Caligula 44.2) and Verica did the same shortly before the Claudian invasion, ‘having been driven out by an uprising’ (Dio Cassius, Hist. lx. 19).

Despite Caesar’s demand for annual payments, the archaeological evidence suggests that wealth was flowing from the Roman world to Britain. In the decades after his expeditions, there are significant changes in the coinage of south-eastern England. The gold coins of the pre-Caesarian period are rarely found in association with later issues, and may have been deliberately withdrawn from circulation. Instead, new series began to be produced from a different stock of metal, made from a different gold alloy and visible in a change of colour from a yellow gold to a red gold: the source was no longer the (p. 164) wealth of the LIA barbarian world, but that of the Roman world (Creighton 2000: 68–74). Large quantities of silver also began to appear, again deriving from Roman bullion and coinage, and this was the source of new silver coin issues in many parts of south-eastern England (Farley 2012: 34–130); some silver circulated in other forms, such as the Augustan silver cups found in the Welwyn and Welwyn Garden City burials (Smith 1912; Stead 1967).

From c. 20 bc there were two other significant changes in the coinage of the Southern and Eastern Kingdoms. The imagery on the coins adopted a new set of motifs, closely following the coinage of Augustus (Creighton 2000: 80–125). Some issues also began to carry inscriptions: the meaning of all the inscriptions is far from clear, but some are the names of rulers known from other sources. A small number of issues bear the name with the Latin title rex. Others have the Latin formula for claimed ancestral descent, F (for filius) and a personal name in the genitive. Thus, in the Eastern Kingdom, some coins bear the inscriptions cunobelinus and tasciovani f: Tasciovanus is known only from such coins, but Cunobelinus is the person known to us from Suetonius as rex Britannorum (Caligula 44.2) and from Dio Cassius (Hist. lx. 20). In the Southern Kingdom several rulers are described as sons of Commius. Whether such relationships were actual biological ones or more like claims to ideologically important ancestry is not clear, but these inscriptions show a familiarity with Latin and with Roman usage. These developments in the imagery and inscriptions of the coinage of the south-east demonstrate a close connection to Rome, and Creighton (2000: 117–124) has suggested that this was due to the recognition of the rulers of the region as client kings and the practice of members of those ruling dynasties spending time in Rome as guests or hostages.

The historical sources, together with the archaeological evidence of the coins and the burials, clearly demonstrate the existence of powerful ruling lineages in south-eastern England, but the precise nature of that power is unclear. The classical sources naturally concentrate on their relationships with Rome, and so we know that they were able to raise and lead armies, to negotiate peace and give and take hostages; power could be inherited within the lineage and was the subject of factional competition, so Rome could be a powerful ally for those under internal pressure. What is not clear is how these lineages had achieved such positions, or the real extent of their powers: the use of the title rex and the occasional reference to them as kings in the historical sources says more about the classical perception of such rulers than about the reality of their rule. The concept of the Eastern and Southern Kingdoms is rooted in the distribution of coins, but the relationship between coins and rulers, or between coins and polities, is uncertain.

Some of the coins also bear inscriptions that can be interpreted as the names of places, whether of mints or of other significant locations. In the Eastern Kingdom, Camulodunum (Colchester) and Verulamium (St Albans) are named, and in the Southern Kingdom, Calleva (Silchester). These were unlike the nucleated centres of population such as Braughing. They were important new sites, apparently founded in the second half of the first century bc, apparently in areas with little previous occupation. At Colchester (Gascoyne and Radford 2013), large parts of the enclosed area were (p. 165) unoccupied; there was a probable area of industrial production at Sheepen (Hawkes and Hull 1947), and rich burials at Lexden (Foster 1986) and Stanway (Crummy 2007), but the function of the Gosbecks complex in the Iron Age is unknown, despite its significance in the Roman period (Creighton 2006: 61–64). Verulamium was very different (Haselgrove and Millett 1997): activity around a marshy river valley included the minting of coins and the deposition of burials, especially the large cemetery at King Harry Lane (Stead and Rigby 1989) and the rich Folly Lane cremation of the conquest period (Niblett 1999).

In the Southern Kingdom, an area around Chichester was enclosed by a series of embankments that may have been begun in the middle Iron Age (Bradley 1971), but despite an assemblage of fine pre-conquest ceramic imports there is no structural evidence for occupation (Davenport 2003); a suggested focus of activity at Selsey is more likely to be the result of multiple ritual deposits than domestic occupation (Bean 2000: 269–271). The case is very different at Silchester, where excavation has produced unique evidence for the adoption of new forms of settlement and living (Fulford and Timby 2000). Below the later forum was part of a rectilinear street grid laid out in the late first century bc, flanked by rectangular structures. With imported amphorae that had brought wine and olive oil from Italy and Spain, as well as food remains including oysters and a high percentage of pig, it shows a remarkable contrast with contemporary sites in southern England and much closer similarities to Gallo-Roman sites in northern France (Fulford and Timby 2000: 545–564).

Other sites were founded at this period and went on to be important later, though their status in the LIA is still obscure. At Canterbury structural evidence is fragmentary but includes a triple-ditched enclosure (Blockley et al. 1995), but, on the basis of coins (Haselgrove 1987: 139–145) and amphorae (Arthur 1986), the site may have been founded in the middle of the first century bc. The coin evidence, however, now suggests that it was one of several important sites in East Kent in the pre-conquest period (Holman 2005). Leicester too was an important centre before the conquest, with imported pottery and evidence of coin production (Clay and Mellor 1985).

Apart from the gold and silver, other items from the classical world also reached Britain. Italian wine had been imported from the late second century, as noted earlier, but the volume of imported ceramics grew considerably towards the end of the first century bc. Wine from Italy and Spain, and olive oil from Spain, were reaching south-eastern England (Carver 2001; Fitzpatrick and Timby 2002). The silver cups from the Welwyn and Welwyn Garden City burials may have been used for drinking such wine. Other imports included flagons from central Gaul and Italian-type terra sigillata, but the largest volume of imports came from the Gallo-Belgic industries founded in northern Gaul after about 15 bc. These products represented a fusion of Roman and late La Tène types, such as platters and beakers; they were startlingly different from the products of the indigenous tradition and were widely copied in Britain. The distribution of Gallo-Belgic imports shows marked concentrations in central southern and in south-eastern England, roughly coincident with the Southern and Eastern Kingdoms defined by the coinage, but with other clusters in south-western and eastern England, where the (p. 166) imports may have arrived independently or have been distributed onwards from the south-east (Fitzpatrick and Timby 2002: figure 14.4).

Though most attention has been paid to the amphorae and other ceramics, other innovations suggest a more complex pattern of interactions across the Channel. The inscribed coinage shows a familiarity not only with Latin (Williams 2007), but also with literacy more generally. Other signs of literacy in pre-conquest contexts exist, though they are not frequent, including styli and graffiti on pottery, and a probably just post-conquest grave at Stanway, Colchester, which contained an inkwell (Crummy 2007); Williams (2001) has argued that literacy and its uses must have been familiar to Britain through contact with the literate societies of Roman Gaul, but that it was adopted only on a limited basis. Another innovation in Britain was the adoption of Roman-style toilet equipment; this suggests a new concern with the adornment of the body, though the precise form that that took is uncertain (Hill 1997).

Changing Models of Interaction

The evidence cited demonstrates clearly that there was close contact between Britain and the continent during the two centuries or more before the Roman invasion of ad 43. The nature of that contact, and the resulting processes of cultural change in Britain, have been conceptualized in changing ways since the later nineteenth century. The idea that prevailed then, and well into the twentieth century, of migration or invasion from the continent, has now been largely rejected. Too much attention has been seduced by Caesar’s reference to a migration from Belgium (De Bello Gallico V. 12: ‘qui … ex Belgio transierant’) as a historical event in need of archaeological substantiation or as an explanation for cultural change; there is much to be said for Williams’s suggestion (2005a: 75) that it is an echo of an indigenous tradition, perhaps an origin myth. Invasion hypotheses in general have gone out of favour, but there are more detailed objections in the case of the LIA. The long chronology of cultural change that is now evident is not compatible with a single causal event, or even with a small number of such events; in any case, the idea of a migration does not of itself explain the adoption in Britain of new cultural practices, and the rejection of others. A much longer history of interaction is required, and a scenario that envisages regular cross-Channel communication, with people crossing the water for very different reasons. Some people may have crossed and returned, perhaps on many occasions, but others may have crossed and settled. It is the nature of these crossings and their cultural consequences that is at the heart of the debate.

Subsequent explanations have, to some extent, followed contemporary archaeological fashions. The heyday of processual archaeology can be seen in studies of LIA Britain, emphasizing trade as the mechanism of change (Haselgrove 1982, 1984). These were embedded in a spatial model of core and periphery, where the core (Rome) was the active force in cultural change in an expanding periphery (the provinces), driven (p. 167) by trade in prestige goods that allowed the indigenous elites to accumulate wealth and power. The problems with this vision were that it placed too little weight on the political connections that were implied by the historical evidence and the coinage, and gave an exaggerated role to trade, both in its social significance (Woolf 1993b) and in its volume (Willis 1994). The early trade was mostly confined to amphorae of wine, and did not include other items such as Campanian ware, and only comparatively modest quantities reached Britain, to be used and deposited in a variety of ways appropriate to indigenous society. Nor were there clear signs of direct trade with Rome; without a historical record or an agreed archaeological methodology for recognizing Roman traders in Britain, claims for their presence, as at Braughing (Partridge 1981: 351), are not totally convincing.

Nor did the concept of Romanization before the conquest (Kendrick and Hawkes 1932: 207; Haselgrove 1984) stand up to scrutiny. It became increasingly clear that many of the innovations in LIA Britain were derived from contacts with the late La Tène world of continental Europe, whether coinage, burials, or pottery. As already argued, even the objects of Italian manufacture such as amphorae and bronze vessels were common in the late La Tène world and could have been transmitted from there (Millett 1990: 38–39). When, after 15 bc, larger quantities of ceramic finewares were imported, they were from the Gallo-Belgic industries of northern Gaul, very different from the wares that were supplied to Roman sites after the conquest (Pitts 2005). As Gosden (2004: 109) wrote, ‘South-eastern Britain was as much Gallicised as Romanised in this period, with the potentates of northern Gaul vital intermediaries for Mediterranean influences.’

More recent discussion has moved away from large-scale models of interaction to consideration of the processes of cultural change involved, with particular attention to the active decisions of the indigenous populations as conscious agents, and to the meaning of the material culture involved. It is clear that there was regular traffic across the Channel and that people in south-eastern England would have been well aware of social practices and material culture on the continent. The nature of the connections are inevitably somewhat speculative, but political alliances, marriage ties, and military support are likely, first with the polities of northern Gaul and then with Rome. There are some hints of the possibilities: a late La Tène helmet from a cremation burial near Canterbury (Farley et al. 2014) and the Roman military horsegear in the Folly Lane burial. The magnificent Roman cavalry helmet from Hallaton, Leicestershire, may have been captured after the invasion, but could equally well have been the result of pre-conquest service in the Roman army or a diplomatic gift (Score 2011). Many people may have crossed and returned, others may have settled permanently: settlers from Gaul have been suggested for the foundation of Silchester (Fulford and Timby 2000: 563–564).

These contacts would have been accompanied by the exchange of material items, most importantly the Roman gold and silver that was transformed into insular coins; they would also have given the opportunity of knowledge of continental practices, some of which were adopted or imitated in Britain. Such adoption, however, was very variable. It varied geographically: coins, for example, were widely distributed in Britain, but only (p. 168) regularly used in southern and eastern England; cremation burial was adopted in an even more restricted region, and perhaps by only part of the population. Other things, such as Latin and literacy, were known, but used only in minimal ways in restricted regions. Even where there are definite imports, their cultural significance and the social context of their use may have been shaped by indigenous customs. Wine was certainly imported, but its acceptability may have been because it fitted local practices of feasting, alongside other drinks such as beer (Williams 2005b); its inclusion in burials in Britain was most un-Roman.

To try to explain this clash of cultures, a number of scholars have found an instructive parallel for the interaction of Rome and the non-Roman societies of north-western Europe in the confrontation of European and non-European societies in the early modern period. They have looked not to Macaulay’s Sandwich Islands, but to the east coast of North America, and in particular to the work of Richard White (1991) and his concept of the ‘middle ground’ to describe the relatively stable world that was formed for a century or more in the Great Lakes region as the British and French penetrated deeper into the territories of the native Americans. It was a world in which the old cultural norms had been fatally disrupted, but neither side had established a new permanent social or political order; in which conflicting languages, religions, technologies, modes of exchange, and patterns of social relationships were accommodated. The exchange of material items such as furs and iron axes was an important part of this interaction. In a brief discussion, Gosden (2004: 110) envisaged the interaction of the Roman and non-Roman worlds as a series of middle grounds beyond the contemporary frontier, ‘bringing new sets of cultural resources … which could be used, refused or subverted’. Woolf (2011) also drew on the concept of the middle ground to explore how the classical world tried to come to terms intellectually with its barbarian neighbours in Spain, Gaul, and Britain. Within a relatively short period, new stories were created, drawing on classical and native sources, to create a new hybrid body of historical and ethnographic knowledge. We may never know how the pre-conquest inhabitants of Britain conceptualized their new Roman neighbours, but the classical literary tradition illuminates the reverse process.

Williams (2005b: 37–38) has also looked to North America as a comparative case, in particular to the successful integration of imported alcohol into indigenous social rituals. In the case of LIA Britain, he emphasized that, if we are looking for the meaning of innovations, we must look ‘within the changing circumstances of Britain itself’. The most extended discussion of North American parallels has been by Farley (2012: 131–183), who has contrasted different phases of European and native American interaction: an earlier phase where attempts to understand each other led to confusion and frequent misunderstandings, followed by a phase in which a hybrid world of meaning had been negotiated.

The problem of understanding this clash of cultures in LIA Britain can be exemplified by the imported Italian bronze vessels, such as the jug and pan first identified by Evans at Aylesford that began this debate. In the classical world such vessels are interpreted as parts of a set for the washing of hands (Nuber 1972; Bolla 1991; Feugère and de (p. 169) Marinis 1991), but their association with evidence of feasting in elite burials in England has suggested to some (e.g. Carver 2001; Ralph 2007) that they were used for the service of wine. What did they mean in LIA Britain? Were they simply strange exotics, valued for being exotic? Or did they signify the adoption of Roman dining rituals among the British elites? Or were they incorporated into local feasting practices, and perhaps used in very different ways from their original function?


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