Amongst the huge stacks of reading material that I always seem to accumulate, even while traveling, I have just picked up a copy of Philip Parker’s new book The Empire Stops Here. In a nutshell, the book documents Parker’s epic tour around the former edge of the Roman empire, “visiting all its astonishing sites, from Hadrian’s Wall in the north of Britain to the desert cities of Palmyra and Leptis Magna,” the book jacket explains. We’re reminded that “the Empire guarded and maintained a frontier that stretched for 10,000 kilometres, from Carlisle to Cologne, from Augsburg to Antioch, and from Aswan to the Atlantic.” So why not explore the whole thing?
[Image: Hadrian’s Wall].
On page one Parker writes that “I have concentrated deliberately on the edge of the Roman world, on the lands that promised victory, booty and glory and yet so often left the bitter taste of compromise or defeat instead. Here, unique societies developed, distinct from that of the mother-city” – frontier micro-cultures amidst border country that, even today, remains populated with architectural and anthropological evidence of these long-ago evaporated Roman outposts. Outpost tourism, perhaps. Edge-traveling.
It would be a curious project, indeed, to try something similar for a nation-state today, when borders are often fluid and even exportable. In fact, I’m reminded of a plan to “take the UK border overseas,” as the Times reported last year, dematerializing the actual national border and replacing it with a series of offices and points of entry maintained far away in the country of origin. Right when you think you’ve found the perimeter of Britain, it’s relocated yet further away, pushed to an airfield or embassy two thousand miles in the distance.
For now, Parker’s book only seems to be available in the UK – but I’ve got high hopes for it and plan to report back as I read further. You can listen to a brief interview with the author here.