As you walk the streets of London, intent upon your business, it’s easy to overlook the clues to London’s astounding beginnings. Not many cities retain the archaeological discoveries of their two thousand years’ past; London builds upon hers. It’s a fantastic story, loaded with battles, skulls, fires and armed women in rebellion. Remains of Roman-style amphitheaters, Mithras-worship temples and the old Roman wall may still be seen around “the square mile” today. So, tell us, what do you know about Roman London?
Where It All Began
Picture in your mind a vast expanse of densely wooded land crossed by numerous streams and rivers. In widely spaced cleared lands appeared villages. Agriculture wasn’t as big here as on the continent. There appeared to be no religious exercises, and the people didn’t indulge in the games with which the Romans were familiar. The natives did dance and have a good time, but only at celebrations honoring the changing of the seasons.
This is what the Romans would have seen when they debarked beside the River Thames. It was apparent that some commerce did occur along the vast river bordering the countryside. Off-loading of wine amphoras, jewels, spices, cloth and pottery had been taking place along the coast long before Rome was even founded. The Romans, taking all this into account, didn’t invade until 43 AD when the Emperor Claudius came to call.
The People of Roman London
The end of the Ice Age netted Britian several groups or tribes of people settled widely over the southern half of the country. What would become Scotland and Wales didn’t even enter the picture. Each group or tribe had a name such as Iceni, Trinovantes, Silures and so forth. They each had a queen, a forum in which socialization and commerce were conducted and such religious rites as were peculiar to each tribe. Not one of them called themselves Celts or Britons.
When Claudius invaded in AD 43, no Romans except the army accompanied him. Brittania, as it was called then, remained indigenous. The Romans used the natives to establish law and order, Roman-style, by making the tribal leaders the constables, judges and tax collectors. The Romans intermarried with the natives, thus convincing more of the island to accept Roman rule. Around AD 60 or 61, Queen Boudica revolted against the Romans, who had caused trouble in her home area and raped her daughters. The Romans had settled somewhat in Londinium, the site of present-day London. Boudica wiped them out and then committed suicide.
Londinium was rebuilt ten years following the sack of London by Boudica. It grew to about 60,000 people, but did not grow beyond that. The city burned some time in the first half of the second century, but was, again, rebuilt. From here until the end of Roman rule, the peoples of Britian remained largely the same. Merchants from all over the known world swelled their ranks, as did invading Picts, Saxons, Jutes and those from the low countries of Europe. They still did not call themselves Celts or Britons.
Where is Roman London Now?
The Roman Wall was built to protect the city, now the financial district of Old London, from invasion by the “barbarians”. Traces of the wall and what remains of the fort can be found by walking along the aptly named London Wall Street. Parts of the fort can still be seen today in Noble Street. One of the greatest finds, though, is to be found under Guildhall in Guildhall Yard. The remains of a Roman amphitheatre, built in AD 70, can be seen there. Be sure to ask about skulls found in the Walbrook dating from Boudica’s time.