`From the foregoing it will have become evident to the reader that there has never been a book devoted exclusively to the Classis Britannica; that omission has now been rectified.' (The last sentence from Chapter 1, J.P. Mason)
So has this book `rectified' the omission? Well, having scoured the corpus of English Language books on the topic, one has to say that any book specifically written in English devoted solely to the Imperial Roman Navy in Britain would fulfil that particular omission. The question to really ask is; `Is it an updated rehash of Chester G. Starr's Roman Imperial Navy'', or is this the next defining book on the subject?
The edition I had to review was a conveniently sized soft-back of just over 220 pages, with eight central colour plates, six black & white pictures and scores of maps and line-diagrams; all well executed, relevant and informative. It has ten chapters: useful separate glossaries on Greek and Latin linguistics, and on nautical terms: copious notes: academic abbreviations, bibliography and an index.
Chapter 1 deals with the historiography of the Roman navy, or lack of it, which in his eyes, justifies his quote cited above, but for an enthusiastic hungry reader could he be promising took much? Chapter 2 establishes the origins of the Roman Mediterranean, and the founding of the Imperial Navy. There is nothing new in that, but it is relevant to any not familiar with a Roman naval concept, so onward to chapter three!
Chapter 3, `Organisation and size of the Imperial fleets', just eight pages long. Making it glaring obvious how little is known about the personnel structure of the fleets! Actually, the author produces a concise useful picture of fleet size, hierarchy, status, make up of crews and training. Its length does reflect the lack of academic neglect over the last half century, but as Mason shows there is still some more data out there worth looking at. Conversely, Chapter 4 pertaining to ships and shipbuilding is over thirty pages long and is stuffed full of decades of nautical archaeological research findings. Consequently, there are many line-diagrams dimensions, facts and figures useful for devotees of the navy and model makers.
Chapters 5, is devoted to the Classis' arrival in the Atlantic, the defeat of the Veneti fleet and the Classis' uses and deployment during Caesars' forays. I learned how Caesar beached his triremes to use them as artillery platforms to protect the beachhead for his troop landings, that Octavian assembled three invasion fleets between 34 - 26 B.C.E. but could not follow through and that in 16 C.E. some Roman troops destined for the Rhine front got blow ashore in Essex, and were helped back to the Rhine by the local British Chieftain.
Chapter 6 is the Claudian invasion and the rest of the early conquest, which of course, is where any army enthusiast should get interested because Britain was a genuine example of a joined operation, and where, as Mason shows, the navy was the `bow', the army the `arrows', one is useless without the other. The author explains the politics of the conquest, legionary deployment and the progressive Roman encroachment in the South West (Vespasian), the South & East (Plautius), the Midlands & East Anglia (Scapula), South Wales (Gallus), North Wales (Suetonius), North of England (Cerialis), Central Wales (Frontinus), and Scotland (Agricola); all of which, Mason explains, was in most cases preceded by a naval build-up in the area to be conquered, followed by the establishment of naval fortresses on rivers and coastlines, then the army turns up to complete the job.