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Professor Malcolm Todd's career in archaeology spanned almost 40 years, the great majority of it divided fairly equally between positions in the East Midlands and the South-West of England. Following a two-year appointment from 1963 as research assistant in the Rheinisches Landesmuseum, Bonn, his first university post in 1966 was as lecturer in archaeology at Nottingham, where he was subsequently promoted, first to Senior Lecturer, and then to Reader. In 1979 Todd was appointed the first Professor of Archaeology at Exeter where he remained until 1996 when he became Principal of Trevelyan College at Durham, and a part-time Professor in the Department of Archaeology. Increasing ill health led to his early retirement in 2000.
Perhaps more influential to the development of his research contribution than the location of the universities where he held positions was his academic background and the post he held in Bonn. His first degree in classics at St David's College, Lampeter was followed by a diploma in classical archaeology under the doyen of Roman archaeology at the time in the UK, Professor Sir Ian Richmond. That classical background undoubtedly influenced his approach to archaeology which was very largely focused on Roman Britain and is perhaps best reflected in his succinct and accessible study, Roman Britain 55 BC–AD 400. The province beyond ocean, first published by Fontana in 1981 and rapidly and widely disseminated in paperback editions, with a third edition published as, simply, Roman Britain by Blackwell in 1999. The approach taken was a narrative history of the Roman province from a Roman perspective with primacy given to the contribution of written sources and that of archaeology, particularly where it informed knowledge of the conquest of the island and the subsequent development of frontier systems in the north and in Wales. Thus, some two thirds of the book is concerned with the comparatively better documented period before the beginning of the third century. While the stimulus was probably Richmond's incisive Pelican History, Roman Britain, first published in 1955 (and later revised by Todd for the 1995 edition), there are many similarities in approach with that taken by Frere in his Britannia, first published in 1967, and Salway in his Oxford History, Roman Britain, first published in the same year as Todd's synthesis, and all three still remaining in print. Other important syntheses are his Coritani (1973), his The South West to AD 1000 (1987) and Roman Devon (2001) reflecting his time in, respectively, Nottingham and Exeter.
Todd was quick to capture some of the best of the new generation of researchers emerging from the post-Robbins expansion of Universities and digesting the first fruits of a rapidly increasing volume of rescue excavation. This focused first on the countryside with his edited volume Studies in the Romano-British villa (1978) which contained important essays on social interpretation alongside regional and thematic surveys, while the two later collections, Research on Roman Britain 1960–89 (1989) and the larger A companion to Roman Britain (2004) covered a much wider range of topics on a province-wide scale. These demonstrated the potential for Romano-British archaeology of the emerging sub-disciplines of archaeobotany, archaeozoology and biological anthropology and of quantitative approaches to material culture, when more senior Romanists of the time were somewhat sceptical of the value of these approaches. At the same time, even within the short space of some 15 years, the Companion demonstrated the need for fresh period, regional and thematic surveys which captured some of the implications of the rapidly accruing discoveries generated by development-led archaeology. Sixteen essays in 1989 had grown to 24 in 2004.
Alongside synthesis and the rapid dissemination of new research on Roman Britain, Todd also undertook small-scale fieldwork in the East Midlands and the South-West from, respectively, his university bases at Nottingham and Exeter. Of this work the excavations in Devon at Bury Barton (Todd 2002) and Hembury hillfort (Todd 1984a & b, 2007a) added important new insights into the character and chronology of the Roman military conquest of the South-West peninsula. Indeed Hembury stimulated an important paper on the way the Roman military made use of pre-existing defended Iron Age oppida (Todd 1985a) rather than on new, purpose-built forts and marching camps. These and other short papers which drew on Continental as much as British materials contain some of Todd's most original, sometimes controversial research other than that generated by fieldwork. Here one thinks of his papers on the small towns of Ancaster and Margidunum (1975), fora and capitolia of the early empire (1985b), baths or baptisteries (2005), as well as his work on coins, such as his paper on the mintages of Antoninus Pius (1966). His last fieldwork took place at Charterhouse-on-Mendip, the lead-mining centre in the Mendips, between 1993 and 1995 (Todd 2007b). This research added further evidence for the pre-Roman working of the ores of the Mendips as well as confirming Claudian military occupation and the very early Roman exploitation of the ores otherwise indicated by the previously discovered lead ingots dated to AD 49. The find of a lump of zinc also adds further evidence for the purposive production of this metal in the Roman period, in this case from a Mendip source.
The continental context is never far from Todd's work, as his re-working (1978) of Richmond's pioneer research on the Aurelianic Walls of Rome shows, but where some of the finest fruits of his time in Bonn, including his sound grasp of German, show best is in his studies of prehistoric societies beyond the Roman frontier in Central and Northern Europe between the first century BC and the early medieval period. His The northern Barbarians 100 BC to AD 300 (1975), The Barbarians: Goths, Franks and Vandals (1980) and The early Germans (1992) drew together the results of a wide range of archaeological research and remain invaluable introductions to their subjects.
Todd was not fond of administration, but he served as editor of the journal Britannia and, later, chair of the editorial committee of the Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies. He was a Commissioner of the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments (England), 1986–92, and he served on the Council of the National Trust (1987–91). He was the archaeological consultant for Durham Cathedral, 1996–2000.