EAST ANGLIA, ESSEX, LONDON AND JUST NORTH OF LONDON
NORFOLK AND SUFFOLK, AND THE REVOLT OF QUEEN BOADICEA
That great headland of our east coast, from the Wash round to Ipswich and Felixstowe, which forms the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk, was held at the time of the Roman conquest by the Tribe of the Iceni (pronounced Ikny).
These people appear to have been of Belgic origin: they were a warlike if not a savage race, whose chief business was horse-breeding; and from their country one of the great British roads of pre-Roman days, called after them the Icknield Way, made its devious course south-westwards through Newmarket and Dunstable, and over the Berkshire Downs, where the well-known White Horse is carved out of the turf of the hillside, into Dorset.
Villages such as Ickleton, Icklingham, Ickworth, and Ickborough are generally thought to preserve into our own times the name of these famous horse-breeders, this being but another instance of the manner in which the affairs of the present are bound up with those of our dramatic and ancient past.
For the story of the rebellion and the fall of the Iceni is indeed a dramatic episode in that age-old history of our land which we are so inclined to forget.
In the last chapter which relates how the Roman general Suetonius Paulinus, in 61 A.D., destroyed the strongholds of the Druids in Anglesey. At that time Prasutagus, king of the Iceni, had just died in Norfolk, bequeathing part of his realm to the Roman Emperor, but leaving them in the care of his widow, Boudicca (a name which is known to us in an incorrect form, Boadicea), and his two daughters.
Queen Boudicca is described by Dion Cassius as being “mighty in stature and terrible in aspect; her voice was harsh and her countenance savage; around her neck was a large golden collar or torque ; across her bosom a parti-coloured vest was tightly drawn, while over this she wore a thick mantle fastened with a brooch or clasp ; and her hair, which was yellow, fell over all down to her girdle.”
Now, one of the great men in Rome at this time was Senecca, a wealthy Spaniard who is best known to us as the stoic philosopher from whose pen came those beautiful essays about the simple life and the despicable nature of riches, but who was himself a moneylender and a hard man of business. Boudicca was one of his debtors, for he had lent her horse-breeding tribe a large sum of money; and now, on the death of her husband, he asked her to pay up.
Boudicca detested the Romans, for, as a result of her husband`s will, they had taken control of her kingdom`s affairs, and as Tacitus says, “all the principal chieftains of the Iceni were spoiled of their hereditary possessions.” She herself, in some heated quarrel, seems to have been smacked by a Roman officer, and she declared that one of her daughters had been outraged by another. Thus when Seneca presented his bill and demanded his money, she very naturally revolted.
Her rough-riding tribesmen swooped down on Colchester, which was the capital of her thoroughly Romanised neighbours, the British tribe of the Trinovantes, and was the seat of a Roman colony, a number of Roman ex-soldiers having been given lands round about. These veterans had built a temple in the city, dedicated to Claudius, and with their wives and families they were living in comfortable houses around it; but for some time they had been aware of the coming storm, and their nerves were so much on edge that rumours of strange portents, predicting disaster, were rife. It was said that ghostly whisperings had been heard in the council chamber, that a dreadful howling had frightened the audience at the theatre, that a vision of Colchester in ruins had been seen, and so forth; and then, one day, the statue of Victory, which they had set up, crashed from its pedestal.
When the hosts of the Iceni fell upon them, they rushed to the temple for safety; but after a siege of two days the rebels took the place by storm, the whole colony was massacred, and the town was burnt. The Iceni then went to St. Albans, the equally Romanised capital of the Catuvellauni, which Caesar had captured over a century before; and they destroyed that city likewise. London was now a growing place, also very Roman in its sympathies; and on this account it, too, was burnt. Altogether some 70,000 Romans and Britons are said to have been massacred by the fierce queen and her armies.
Meanwhile, the Ninth Legion, recruited in Spain and now stationed at York, hurried south, only to be nearly wiped out by the rebels; and then came Suetonius Paulinus with some 10,000 men, marching back from Angelsey to face perhaps about 150,000 exultant Iceni. The clash took place outside London on the road to Angelsey, Suetonius Paulinus selected a place where his army was surrounded by trees, leaving just the front being open, so they could not be surprised from behind or at the side. Boudicca, certain of victory, drew up her baggage-wagons in the immediate rear of her army, quite close to the Roman position, and then gave the order for a frontal attack. The Romans, however, allowed the enemy to come to point-blank range, and then, flinging a shower of spears, charged like a battering-ram into the middle, with the result that the Iceni were thrown into confusion and were chased about the field by the compact and iron-disciplined legionaries, who slaughtered them group by group, until 80,000 of them lay slain, with no more than 400 Roman dead among them. The victors then went for the baggage-wagons, and, says Tacitus, “spared not even the lives of the women nay, the very animals, pierced with spears, served to swell the heaps of the fallen.”
Thereupon, the frenzied Queen Boudicca swallowed a bottleful of poison, and that was the end. London, St. Albans, and Colchester were rebuilt in the Roman manner; and Norfolk and Suffolk were opened up, the Iceni giving no more trouble, but sullenly resuming their horse-breeding and becoming in the end peaceful members of the Roman Empire.
Their country is full of Romans remains, and in Suffolk alone there are over a hundred different sites at which buildings or objects have been found.
At Benacre a hoard of 920 silver coins was unearthed; at Icklingham 400 were discovered; at Eye 600 gold coins were found in a leaden box; and many other lesser hoards have come to light. The beautiful bronze statue, perhaps of Nero, which you may now see in the British Museum, was found at Barking Hall, and the magnificent service of pewter plate, also in that museum, was dug up at Icklingham.
At Brancaster, on the northern coast of Norfolk, stood the ancient Branodunum, where the traces of the fortress are still to be seen, and where it is known that a garrison of Dalmatian cavalry was stationed. Caistor St. Edmund, near Norwich, is thought to be the site of the Roman town of Venta Icenorum; and from this place comes the little bronze bust of Geta, the bronze figure of Bacchus, the stone head of Diana, and many other objects now in the Norwich museum.
At Felixstowe the walls of the great fortress existed as late as the 19th century, but now they have disappeared into the encroaching sea. A mass of objects has been discovered here, including gold jewellery, coins, vases, glass bottles, toilet implements, a bust of Mercury, and so forth.
But the best preserved ruin in the land of this horse-loving people is that of Gariannonum, the great fortress now called Burgh Castle, four miles/6.5km from Yarmouth, where at the end of the Roman epoch a body of cavalry, the Stablesian Horse, was stationed. The ruins here are worthy of a visit, and approaching them from the neighbouring village, you will see the north and east walls standing, ivy-clad and ruinous, but still bravely resisting the siege of years. The west wall has gone, and the south is toppling, and there are now wheatfields both inside and outside the enclosure; yet, even in this condition, the place is deeply impressive.
It stands on rising ground at the edge of the wide, flat valley in which the rivers Yare and Waveney meet to go in company by Breydon Water to Yarmouth and the sea; and from the crumbling battlements you may look down upon these strangely desolate flats, or, turning about, you may gaze over the rolling country where the Roman cavalry used once to ride. But the buildings within the fort, and the cemeteries outside it, are lost under the waving wheat, until the day when the modern excavator shall hire or purchase the land, and expose them once more to view.
At Ickleton, Norfolk, a drinking cup was found in the ruins of a Roman farm, and on it was roughly scratched the words: Ex hac amici bibunt, “Friends drink from this.” It may be that it is a relic of some feast of reconciliation, at which the Romans and the Iceni had celebrated the burying of the hatchet; and in this regard it is well to remember that the blood of both races is mingled in our veins, so that we may look back to the days when these horse-breeders were the terror of the Romans, and may include both in the range of our sympathy.
Colchester in Essex
The town of Colchester, in Essex, played such a lively part in ancient British and Roman history that needs must to write of it, before dealing with other cities in Britain.
There are five main reasons why the attention of the antiquarian is at once attracted by this place, and of these perhaps the most striking is that it was the residence of no less a personage than Old king Cole, the merry old soul of our nursery days.
The legend, which was certainly current as early as Saxon times, says that Coilus, or Coel, or Cole, was a wealthy British prince who lived at Colchester and whose daughter, the famous St. Helena, was married to Constantius the son of this union being the Emperor Constantine the Great (306 A.D.) Unfortunately, under the cold searchlight of modern criticism the story shrivels into the mere probability of Coel having been an important historical character of Roman times; but that he was the parent of St. Helena seems to be unlikely, in view of the better authenticated statement that that Christian lady was a daughter of a Serbian innkeeper.
Colchester`s second claim to fame is provided by the fact that, under its ancient name of Camulodunum, it was the capital of the British King Cunobeline, the father of the great Caratacus (Caradoc) who so bravely resisted the Romans in their invasion of Britain in 43 A.D.
Thirdly, the events in its early history under the Romans are of an arresting character. The Emperor Claudius, with his army and his elephants, marched in triumph into it in 43 A.D., and established here the first official Colonia, or Roman colony, in these islands, giving grants of land to his veteran soldiers, who, so Tacitus says, much annoyed the older inhabitants by erecting a great temple to the deified Claudius. It had the distinction of being the first place attacked and burnt by the rebellious Iceni from Norfolk under their very unpleasant Queen Boudicca (Boudicea); and after the catastrophe it was rebuilt in Roman fashion, and, until it was elipsed by London, was the most important city in the country.
Next, the antiquities found here, which are now exhibited in the museum in the Norman castle, for one of the finest collections outside the British Museum; while the walls of the city, 8,000 feet/2,400m long from east to west and 1,600 feet/490m from north to south, enclosing an area of 108 acres/43ha, are justly famous as the best preserved Roman fortifications to be seen in any town in the land.
And finally the place has a call upon notoriety as being centre from which the Roman gourmets obtained some of their best oysters. These oysters are still popular, and are produced at the neighbouring mouth of the River Colne, the fattening grounds being in the Pyefleet channel, between Mersea and Brightlingsea. In the days of the Romans they were exported to Rome, for many shells recognisably belonging to this particular species have been found in the ruins of the metropolis; and Juvenal, writing about 96 A.D., says that the British oysters were much favoured there, though he refers by name only to those brought from Richborough in Kent.
If you approach Colchester by rail from London you see the town set fair and square on the slope of the long, low hill on the south side of the green valley of the Colne, through which the railway line runs; and its aspect in Roman days, as seen from a distance, must not have been not greatly dissimilar, although the town has expanded since the last war.
On arriving at the station you follow the tramway lines along the level road to the foot of the hill, although the lines were lifted up many years ago now, and there, just at the bottom of the straight street, now called North Hill, which mounts up into the town, you will see on your right, behind the cattle-market, now gone, a long stretch of the ancient Roman wall, and at once you will be carried back across the ages, and the red brick of the modern houses will fade into that of the tiles of the roofs of the vanished city, and the churches will become the grey stone temples of the forsaken gods.
You may choose to turn off from the tramway lines! And ascend the hill on the outside of the wall, following its crumbling and creeper-clad course as it turns the corner and climbs up to the top at the west end of the town. Here at the summit, behind the modern water tower!, you will come upon the ruined West Gate, now called the Balkerne Gate, which in the Middle Ages got the name of King Cole`s Castle.
This gate, built about 80 A. D., and originally one of the finest in the country, was excavated just before the war, `the First World War` and though one side of it is still buried, and, in fact, a public-house stands right on top of it, the west face has been cleared, and protected by iron palings and some very uncompromising modern brickwork. Two arches, side by side, gave entrance to and egress from the city by narrow stone-flagged carriage roads; and, outside these, two smaller arches, flanked by guardrooms, provided passage for pedestrians.
If you now walk eastwards through the middle of the town you will come at length to the Norman castle which stands overlooking the open ground sloping down to the valley, this area being laid out as a public park. Here, below the castle, you will again come upon a long stretch of the Roman wall, much battered, it is true, but still standing to a considerable height.
There is a bandstand in the park, between the wall and the castle, and on either side of it there are the ruins of Roman houses, the mosaic floors lying exposed and the outlines of the rooms being still clearly defined. They are the only visible remains of a whole street, with its open drain running along one side, having then been cleared but afterwards filled in again. The evidence showed that the row of houses had been built at about 75 A. D., over the ruins of an earlier row burnt down probably in 66 A. D., at the time of Boudicca`s rebellion.
Beneath the Norman castle itself a series of vaults was opened up some four years ago (about 90 years – 2015), and these are likewise of Roman work, apparently having formed the crypt beneath the temple dedicated to Claudius of which Tacitus speaks. An official guide will take you down into these damp and insufferably gloomy chambers, where you may look up at the great vaulted arches of rubble and cement, dimly lit by electric light, and may marvel at the durability of the work of your Roman ancestors, trusting that it will survive yet a little while longer, till you are safe out from under it.
Such are the chief structural remains of Camulodunum still to be seen; but in the museum there are many beautiful mosaic pavements and a mass of smaller objects found in the town. A curious piece of statuary which, to my mind, is one of the greatest works of art that the Romans have left in our country is here to be seen; it represents a winged female sphinx crouching over the remains of a fat bones and elderly man whom she was devoured, only a few bones and his two hands and his head being left. This head is obviously a portrait – a terribly realistic piece of work, with the mouth drooping open in death and the flesh flabby; but who he was or what his fate may have been is wholly unknown.
They you may see the fine tombstone of a centurion of the Twentieth Legion, who is represented as a stern old man in full military dress; the famous “Colchester Vase,” with its representations of a gladiatorial show; a fine bronze bust in miniature of the Emperor Caligula; bronze figures of gods; an astonishing group of comic figures; a number of toilet utensils, such a ear-picks, nail-cleaners, tweezers for removing superfluous hair, pocket-mirrors, and so forth; jewellery, strings of glass beads, much beautiful glass, including fragments of the rare dark-blue variety like Bristol-glass; gold and silver coins, pottery, and much else.
Far away in Italy, in the museum of the Vatican, there is the statue of a certain officer named Bassus, and in the dedicatory inscription it is stated that he was commander of the 2nd Cohort of Asturians, a Spanish force. He is also called “Controller of the Census of the Colony of Camulodunum which is in Britain,” and thus to this day you have the name of Colchester recorded in Rome for all to see, and, reading it, you may pay your tribute to the memory of that wide spread Empire of which we British once formed so important a part.
Great Chesterford, Saffron Waldon, Bartlow, Lexdon and other sites in Essex.
In the previous chapter there was a given account of Colchester (Camuldunum), originally the royal city of the Trinovantes, and later a wealthy and prosperous Roman “colony”; and now must be added something about those other parts of Essex in which Roman remains have been found. There are, however, over 150 of these in the county, and therefore anything like a general survey of this region is here impossible.
Next to Colchester, the most important city in Roman Essex was that which stood on the site of the present Great Chesterford, four miles/6.4kms north of Saffron Walden, on the borders of Cambridgeshire. Its ancient name is now lost, and there is now nothing Roman for the visitor to see; but as late as the eighteenth century the walls of the city, enclosing an area of about 50 acres/20ha, were still visible, and mention is made in early books of many mosaic pavements which had been found on the spot, and of numerous finds of small objects.
About the middle of nineteenth century extensive excavations were carried out, and many discoveries were made, which proved that the place was of importance throughout the Roman epoch, and also long before that age.
Some of the objects found are now to be seen in the Saffron Walden museum. This is an astonishing place – astonishing because so fine a museum is not looked for in a sleepy little old-world town in an out-of-the-way corner of the county. It is an ordinary creeper-clad residential house, standing amidst mown lawns and gardens, but stacked to the roof with valuable antiquities, works of art, and curiosities of all kinds. In one of the crowded rooms, amidst a most instructive collection of plans, drawings, paintings, photographs, and so on, there are some showcases full of Roman antiquities from all over this neighbourhood; and there you may study the Great Chesterford finds, if you are not disconcerted by a stark row of skulls from an Anglo-Saxon graveyard in Saffron Walden itself, which stare critically at you from the next case. You will have for company. Moreover, three or four full-length skeletons from the same cemetery, one of which is that of a woman who has her poor bits of barbaric jewellery still beside her bare bones. She and these others were Rome`s enemies, of course, and conquerors of Roman-Britain; but we of today have the blood of both races in our veins, and both are entitled to our blessings.
On the walls of this room you will see plans and pictures of Roman “Villas” found in the neighbourhood: one at Hadstock, four miles/6.4km to the north-east; another at Ashdown, four miles/6.4km to the east; another at Ickleton, adjoining Great Chesterford itself; another at Wenden, three miles/4.8km to the south, where some good mosaics were discovered; and yet another at Bartlow, six miles/9.6km to the north-east. The country around here, in fact, is dotted over with these fine Roman houses, but they are all buried now, or destroyed; and these plans alone remain to tell of their vanished magnificence. It could be said that throughout England more Roman structural remains have been lost by the carelessness of past amateurs than will ever be found by the diligence of future experts.
Saffron Walden gets the first half of its name from its ancient industry, which was the cultivation of the `crocus sativus,` or saffron crocus, a purple flower which the Romans brought to Britain from Greece or Asia Minor. Parts of the pistols of these flowers are of the bright orange-colour, and from them the saffron was obtained, which, in ancient times, was used as a medicine, the occulists of Roman days employed it, also, as a salve for sore eyes. The industry was in full swing in Essex down to the seventeenth century, but now it is a thing of the past.
In this museum there is a picture of a twisted bar or torque of gold, weighing about eight pounds/3.6kgs, which was found at Great Chesterford, and another picture shows a Roman cat-o`-nine-tails made of bronze wire, also found at that place, together with coins of the Emperor Theodosius (378 A. D.). The originals cannot be found! In the British Museum there is a bronze key attached to the finger-ring also discovered in Great Chesterford amongst other Roman remains; and in that collection there is a stone octagon from the same place, which had upon it the sculptured busts of the gods of the eight-day week. Mars for Tuesday, Mercury for Wednesday, Jupiter for Thursday, and Venus for Friday, still survive, but the others are lost, these being Saturn for Saturday, Sol for Sunday, Luna for Monday, and Fortuna for the eighth day.
Close to the villa at Bartlow mentioned above three large and obviously artificial mounds, and four smaller ones in front of them, were an enigma until they were excavated nearly a century ago, when burial were found within them, containing a great many Roman objects and coins of the time of the Emperor Hadrian (about 120 A. D.) which settled the question of their date and purpose. They were evidently the tombs of a family of great British princes who lived a more or less Roman life, but were buried, like their ancestors, under the traditional “barrows” or sepulchral-mounds. Quite possibly these princes were of the royal line of the Trinovantes, the descendants of Imanuentius and Mandubracius, the kings of that tribe who lived in the days of Caesar`s invasion; or they may have been descended from Cunobeline, the Cymbeline of Shakespeare, who ruled the Trinovantes just before the Roman conquest of Britain in 43 A. D.
At any rate, here we have the great burial-mounds of a British family of high importance, whose wealth and standing were not affected by the presence of the Romans in their country; and this is one of the many indications that the Britons were not a people subordinate to a foreign tyranny, but were the colleagues of the Romans. Tacitus says of the Britons that “they cheerfully submit to taxes” (how little we have changed!), but unjust treatment “they bear with impatience, their subjection only extending to obedience, not to servitude”; and we are entitled to regard the British princes and nobles under Roman rule as having great weight in the councils of the nation, and as being loyal liegemen of the Emperor.
We read in Tacitus, also, how the great governor of Britain, Agricola, encouraged the British nobles to adopt Roman ways.
The many objects found in these mounds at Bartlow, including a most beautiful bronze vase enamelled in green, red and blue, were for the most part destroyed or damaged in a disastrous fire at the house in which they were on exhibition; but in the Saffron Walden museum you may see good paintings and some replicas of them, and in this regard we must be thankful for small mercies, though we may express the hope that ultimately the law will decree that historic objects of national interest such as these, shall be properly housed in fireproof buildings.
Mention here that similar “barrows” of British work, but of Roman date, have been found elsewhere in Britain. At Rougham in Suffolk, for instance, four of them in line, near the ruins of a Roman-British mansion, were opened in 1844; and in one of these there was a brick chamber, in the wall of which an iron spike was stuck, having an iron lamp hanging from it, with the wick burnt out, as though it had been left alight at the time of the funeral. In another there was a glass vase containing the ashes of the dead man, while some pottery and a coin lay near by; and in yet another there was a square jar of green glass likewise containing the ashes from the cremation.
Speaking now of a most interesting discovery made near the village of Lexdon, close to Colchester. Here a great mound was recently! Opened mainly at the expense of the Corporation of Colchester, and in it several objects, some of Roman workmanship, were found, including a silver disc having upon it a profile head thought to be that of the Emperor Augustus, who was reigning in the period just before the conquest of Britain by the Romans. Now at this time Cunobeline (Cymbeline) was king of the Trinovantes, and lived at Colchester; and this mound was traditionally known as “Cunobeline`s Circus,” which suggests that here was the actual tomb of this famous British monarch.
Cunobeline was a sovereign of very high standing, and the wealth of his kingdom is vouched for by the extraordinary number of his gold coins which have turned up in different places. The Romans spoke of him as the Rex, or “King,” of Britain, as though he were overlord of the whole country; and it seems that he was a friend of the Romans in general and of Augustus in particular.
In the grave under this mound, fragments of cloth-of-gold were discovered, and there were traces of another garment studded all over with discs of bronze, and yet another covered with little silver spangles; and thus one is to picture the dead man carried to his burial, robed in most splendid garments.
By his side were many objects: a number of bronze discs, a beautifully modelled bronze boar, a bronze bull, a bronze griffin, a bronze figure of Eros, and pieces of other statuettes, fragments of what may have been a chariot, the bosses of shields, a bronze stand or low table, and several other articles. One cannot speak with certainty, but it seems highly probable that these things were the burial-equipment of the great Cymbeline himself, the last independent king of the Trinovantes.
There is no space here to say no more than a word or two about two other Essex sites where the world of Rome is to be met with: namely, Chelmsford, which was the ancient Caesaromagus, and at which another “villa” was discovered nearly a hundred years ago (1944); and Bradwell-juxta-Mare, seven miles/18km from Southminster, known in Saxon times as Ythancestir, where the Roman fort of Othano was situated. Othano was abandoned by the Romans when the East Saxons (from whom the name Essex is derived) invaded these shores; but in 654, only about seventy years later after the last of the Roman-Britons went down before the Anglo-Saxons, St. Cedd erected here a little Christian church, when he came to restore the faith which the Saxon invasion had driven out. This building, called St. Peter-on-the-wall, still stands: it was used as a barn before 1914, and after that as a military post; but now, it has been restored to its ancient use. It ought to be one of the most venerated shrines of the Church of England.
The History of Roman London.
Although London was a British town or village of no importance when Julius Caesar passed by it in 54 B.C., on his way to St. Albans (Verulam) it had already become, as Tacitus tells us, a place much frequented by Roman merchants in the early years after the conquest of the country by the Emperor Claudius in 43 A.D. It was well situated on the north side of the river, being built on the two hills separated by the now underground Wallbrook, a tributary stream which flows under the Bank of England and discharges itself into the Thames close to Cannon Street station. Thus, half the town lay to the east of the Bank, extending as far as Tower Hill, and the other half lay west of the Bank, extending as far as the top of Ludgate Hill, overlooking here the little Fleet River which now runs subterraneously under Ludgate Circus, joining the Thames near Blackfriars Bridge.
As a port it was conveniently placed for the trade with the Continent; for ships coming from France had only to face the open sea as far as Dover, after which they skirted the British coast to a point between Deal and Ramsgate, where they passed into the now dried up waterway which cut off the Isle of Thanet from the mainland, and, coming out near Herne Bay, soon entered the Thames Estuary, the whole journey from the French coast to London being of about 90 miles/144km, only a quarter of which distance was not traversed close to the shore. At the same time, as a market centre, London stood just at the point where the territories of the Trinovantes of Essex, the Cantii of Kent, and the Catuvallauni of
Hertfordshire, met together, and so could be compared with Rome, which was situated at the junction of the lands of the Latins, Sabines and Etruscans.
Our modern pronunciation of the name London as Lund`n was very possibly exactly that of its pre-Roman inhabitants of over 2,000 years ago, the word probably being derived from the name of some now forgotten chieftain; and the Romans latinised this into Londinium.
The first town was burnt during the rebellion of Queen Boudicca (Boadicea) in 61 A.D., and its ashes are still sometimes laid bare when excavations for some purpose or other cut down through the later city into virgin ground. The rebels were incensed by the Roman character of the places and its Roman sympathies, and their treatment of those of the inhabitants who had not fled is summed up by Tacitus in the four dread words `massacre, gallows, fire and crucifixions.` But after the suppression of this revolt the city was laid out in Roman fashion, though many of the streets seem to have been more crooked and narrow than the town-planners would have made them had they been dealing with the open ground; and gradually the place grew to be the greatest city in the country.
Its history was peaceful, except that in 279 A.D., it fell into the hands of a band of Frenchmen who had been in the service of the usurper Allectus, and was only saved from destruction by the timely arrival of part of the fleet of Constantius; and again in 368 A.D., in the reign of the Emperor Valentinian, it was assaulted by a combined force of French, Scots, and Saxons, and was once more saved, this time by the able Roman general, Theodosius, a man of Spanish origin, who was afterwards responsible, it would seem, for the building of the great wall around it, parts of which still exist.
This wall ran from the Tower northwards to Aldgate, thence to Bishopsgate and along London Wall, after which it passed southwards to a point just east of Aldesgate, thence westwards to Christ`s Hospital, and so southwards again to Ludgate, and back along the river`s bank to the Tower. It seems to have been about 20 to 25 feet/6 to 7.6m in height, and was over three miles/4.8km in circumference, enclosing an area of about 235 acres/95ha, this being greater than that of any other city in Britain. The wall survived until the year of 1766, when most of it was destroyed, on the grounds that it obstructed the passage of fresh air, and was detrimental to the health of the people.
There was a powerful wooden bridge across the Thames, following the same line as the mediaeval London Bridge, and though no actual remains of it have been found, a great many deposits of coins, pottery, brass medallions, and bronze figures have been recovered from the bed of the river, into which they have been dropped for religious reasons, and these serve to mark its course. The colossal bronze head of the Emperor Hadrian, now in the British Museum, was also found here in the water, and seems to have belonged to a statue standing on the bridge.
The famous highroad, afterwards called Watling Street, connecting London with Canterbury and the Kentish ports, entered the city over this bridge, as also did Stane Street, the great highway from Chichester. The road to Colchester and Norfolk left the city by way of Aldgate; the main highway to the north passed out by Bishopsgate; and from Newgate ran the road now marked by Holborn and Oxford Street, which led to the south-west of England, and joined Watling Street on its way to Wales.
Towards the end of the Roman epoch the Governor General of Britannia Prima, that is to say all Britain south of the Thames, was resident in London; and at that time the city must have been full of great buildings and rich houses. Sometime between 330 and 367 A.D., it was given the additional name of Augusta; and though the prestige of Rome was failing, and the coasts of Britain were constantly being raided, London itself seems to have attained at this time the height of its wealth and glory.
Even after the legions were withdrawn it maintained its existence, and, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, was still a Roman city in 457 or thereabouts; but by about 570 it had passed quietly into English hands, and its first greatness was gone. Later, when Saxon churches and buildings began to be erected, the fact that new building-stone had to be brought from a distance induced the masons of that day to pull down the Roman structures and to use them, so to speak, as quarries, with the result that hardly anything of a monumental character now survives.
Still later, the place was so thickly populated, and new houses was erected in such thousands, that gradually such Roman ruins as remained were crushed and trampled out of sight; and now the whole level of the city is high above that of its earlier history, and it is only when cellars or foundations are being built or deep sewers and the like are being laid, that the glories of the London Roman days are exposed.
These chance discoveries, however, are countless, and in the next chapter some will be described. Meanwhile, let us bear in mind that Roman London, although the largest city in Britain, was not as big as the cities of the first magnitude in some other parts of the Roman Empire. It extended along the river only from Tower Bridge to Blackfriars Bridge, and inland as far back as about Finsbury Circus; but within this area enclosed by its mighty walls it was a maze of densely populated streets and crowded houses, amidst which rose splendid temples and public buildings, centring upon a great Forum of which it may well have been proud.
Let us remember, that though it was full of Romans drawn from every part of the Empire, its citizens were largely of British stock; and let us remember, too, that we of today are descended from the blending of these races, to which the later Anglo-Saxon strain was added. The British, the Romans, the Anglo-Saxons, and still later the Normans, have combined to produce the modern Londoner; and the Cockney of today is as much Roman as he is anything else.
Discoveries in Roman London.
More relics of Roman days have been discovered in London than at any other site in Britain, and wondering how best to impress this fact upon the London readers, so that they may realize the greatness of the history of the metropolis, and may get some inkling of the mass of buildings and objects still hidden beneath the city offices so many of them work in, and the streets they tread.
Perhaps a straightforward catalogue of a few of the more interesting discoveries will carry the greatest weight, and in this chapter, therefore, I will give a broad list of these finds, selected more or less at random from my notebooks. I will not, however, mention the mosaic floors which have been unearthed, for these are numerous enough to fill a chapter in themselves: they have been discovered in all parts of the city, and are eloquent of the wealth and luxury of the houses which lie buried deep beneath the present level of the streets. Nor can I speak of the mass of small objects that have come to light on all sides – coins, keys, lamps, pots and pans, glass, knives, forks, spoons, kitchen utensils, tools, weapons, spinning implements, jewellery, toilet articles, shoes, sandals, horseshoes, harness, dice, counters and so forth. They are without end.
In Playhouse Yard, Blackfriars, a funerary monument was found, having an inscription reading: “Dedicated to the Shades (for) Valerius Celsus, son of Lucius, of the Galerian family, Scout of the Second Legion. His heirs, scouts of the same Legion, erected this monument.” In Trinity-House Square many objects were discovered, including a handmill for grinding grain, made of lava-stone from the Rhine, and a sepulchral monument erected to Aulus Alfidius Olussa, of the Pomptine family, who was born at Athens. In Haydon Square, near the Tower, a fine sarcophagus came to light, richly sculptured, and having the lid clamped down by iron bands. It contained a lead coffin, in which was the skeleton of a boy. In another coffin, found in Cannon Street, there was the skeleton of an elderly Roman, and between his teeth there was a copper coin of the time of Domitian, which was his fare across the Styx.
In Tottenham Court Road the tombstone of a Greek gladiator was found; in Camomile Street a fine statue of a military officer was discovered; and at St. Martin`s Church, Ludgate, another military statue was unearthed with the inscription; “Vivius Marcianus, soldier of the Second legion: his most dutiful wife, Januaria Martini erected this memorial.” In Burlington House is a monument of a soldier of the Sixth Legion who is described as an incomparable husband. From Drury Lane comes the sepulchral monument of a boy named Dexios, dedicated by his mother, who has caused the one sad word `Farewell` to be written upon it. At Ludgate Hill a tombstones was dug up stating that Claudia Martini, the most affectionate wife Anencletus Provincialis, lay there, having died at the age of nineteen.
In Blackfriars over 200 bronze pins and needles came to light; and in Coleman Street there was a find if pins, needles, hairpins, buckles, tweezers, ear-pricks and a comb. A great quantity of writing materials has come to light, including a bronze pen, with a modern looking split nib, found in London Wall. Near St. Paul`s a pottery lamp was dug up, having upon it a pretty little view of Roman London as seen from the river. Near the modern Mint, three gold coins and a stamped silver ingot weighing 1lb/.45kg. troy were
discovered, which suggests that the Roman Mint was also in this neighbourhood. A pewter jug found in London Wall; fine big bronze bowls came from Cheapside and Nicholas Lane; and a very perfect bronze dish was discovered in Queen Victoria Street.
Between London Bridge and Arthur Street a bed of oyster shells, 7feet/2.1m thick, was found, dating from Roman times, and indicating that here was an oyster shop. Several steelyards and flesh-hooks as used in the shops have been found.
At London Bridge a small silver statuette of the Egyptian god Harpocrates, of charming workmanship, was discovered; and also a number of other figures of the gods, including Jupiter, Apollo, Mercury, and Ganymede. In Bond Court, Walbrook, a beautiful head of a river god, probably the deified Thames, was found; and also a headless statue of Bonus Eventus (good fortune); here, too, was found a piece of sculpture representing the god Mithras, and inscribed: “Ulpius Silvanus, discharged soldier of the Second Legion, discharged at Orange (in Southern France), pays his vow.” This is the only Mithraic monument found in London, and it seems to suggest that there was a temple to that popular deity here on the bank of the Walbrook. Elsewhere in the city, a figure of Atys, the shepherd priest of the nature goddess, Cybele, was discovered.
In Aldgate a piece of sculpture was unearthed, showing three satyrs drinking. At Goldsmith`s Hall, Foster Lane, an alter was found, having upon it a charming figure of Diana and her greyhound. Tradition says that St. Paul`s Cathedral was built on the site of a temple if Diana, and this may well be true. From Liverpool Street comes a nice little terra-cotta Ceres; in Hart Street, Crutched Friars, figures of the three mother goddesses, a trinity much worshipped in Britain, were found; and an inscription fond at Southwark speaks of a temple of Isis, the Egyptian goddess, whose worship was very popular amongst the Romans.
In Queen Street a most beautiful bronze figure head of Hadrian was found in the river at London Bridge. In Lower Thames Street a bronze arms on the same scale came to light, which may have belonged to the same statue. A statue of a lion standing over its prey was found in Camomile Street, Bishopsgate.
From the Thames at London Bridge comes the bronze model of the prow of a galley, inscribed Ammilla Augugusta Felix, the vessel`s name and appellations. The wreck of an actual galley was found on the site of the new County Council buildings, this being the earliest battleship of the British Navy in existence. The timber of part of the Thames embankment of Roman times, consisting of whole trees, locked by cross-beams, has been found in good condition behind King William Street.
In Southwark a gladiator`s trident and dagger were found, and it may be that the amphitheatre was situated here, just across the bridge from the city. Traces of bath-houses have been found just within Ludgate, in Lower Thames Street, in Cannon Street, in Threadneedle Street, and at No. 5 Strand Lane, opposite Bush House. The houses round about Threadneedle Street, with their elaborate central heating arrangements, their splendid mosaics, and their wall-paintings, seem to have been built to carry four or five storeys. In the case of a house in Leadenhall Street, many fragments of beautiful green porphyry were discovered, indicating magnificent decoration; and from this mansion came the famous Bacchus mosaic now in the Guildhall. It has been suggested that this was Government House.
Nearly opposite St. Peter`s Church, Cornhill, the massive foundations of a building which may have been the Basilica, a sort of town hall, were found; and I need not remind the reader of the recent! Discovery of part of the Forum, about which much was written at the time. A Roman mile-stone is now preserved outside St. Swithen`s Church, Cannon Street.
In concluding this brief summary, I may mention a little piece of writing which was found in Warwick Lane, scratching on a pottery tile, and which strikes a very human note. It reads: “Austalis has been wandering about by himself day after day for eight days.” Who Austalia was, or why he thus wandered, or for what reason the fact was scribbled down, must remain one of the streets of Roman London.
Verulam (St. Alban`s) in Hertfordshire.
The city of St. Alban – twenty miles/32km north of London – which has grown up beside the abbey church of the Middle Ages, stands boldly on the high ground at the northern side of the valley of the Ver, a peaceful little stream meandering through pleasant pastures and under the shade of spreading trees. On the other side of this valley the ground gently rises again, and here stood the ancient British city of Verulam or Verulamium, as the Roman called it, which had run the whole course of its long history before a stone of St. Albans was laid on the opposite hill.
Verulam was the capital of the British King Caswallon in the days when Julius Caesar made his expeditions to Britain, and the reader may recall that it was captured by the latter, but, in the century which elapsed before the final conquest of our country in 43 A.D., it became so very Romanised that shortly after that year it was made a `municipium`, that is to say, a municipality whose citizens were deemed worthy to receive political franchise and to enjoy the privileges of self-government. In 61 A.D., however, it fell a victim to the fury of Boudicca, Queen of the rebellious Icena, who burnt it to the ground on account of its Roman sympathies, and massacred its inhabitants; but when the Legions had once more restored order, it was laid out anew on the gridiron pattern which the Romans favoured, and therefore began its four hundred years of prosperous history as a thoroughly “modernised” and elegant city.
The circuit of its walls was about two miles/3.2km, and the area thus enclosed covered some 200acres/80ha. In it were the usual Forum, public buildings, temples, and so forth; and it possessed the best theatre in the country. The main street of the city, running east to west, was none other than a part
of the great Watling Street, the high road which led from the Channel ports by way of Canterbury to London, and thence, passing here through Verulam, went on to Chester, Manchester, and the far north; and thus there must always have been a great coming and going of troops on the march, companies of merchants and business men, and the equipages of important generals, governors, and high officials.
An event which at the time must have seemed to be of minor interest, proved to be the most important occurrence in the city`s whole history. At the beginning of the Third Century A.D., there lived a Christian deacon at Verulam, named Amphibalis, and when, in 303, the Emperor Diocletian ordered all loyal Romans to stamp out this growing sect, the unfortunate deacon was given shelter by a young Roman legionary of the name of Albanus, or Alban, who, being converted to the new faith, finally disguised him in his own military dress and sent him off along the Watling Street into Wales.
At length, so the story goes, Amphibalus was captured, and brought back to Verulam, where he was executed at the spot where the village of Redbourn now stands, four miles/6.6km from the city, and was buried in the middle of what is now the village common. Shortly before this Albanus was arrested and, on his refusal to pay his devotions to the gods of his Emperor, was marched out of the north gate of the city and across the river Ver to its northern bank, where, on the rising ground below the later abbey, he was beheaded.
The citizens could still remember this unfortunate young soldier in the days when Christianity came to be recognised, and they erected a little shrine over his supposed grave, which was seen by the Christian Saint Germanus of Auxerre, who visited Verulam in 428 A.D. During the days of the Anglo-Saxon invasions the city was largely deserted and when at length the invaders, too, became Christians a monastery was founded about 793, near what was believed to be the scene of the execution, and the disinterred bones of the martyred Roman legionary became the sacred and miracle-working relics in this institute.
Later on the great abbey-church which now crowns the hill was built, the materials used being mainly carted across from the deserted ruins of the Roman city; and, as you may see at the present day, the mighty tower of the abbey is entirely faced with Roman tiles. At the beginning of the Twelfth Century a beautiful shrine was erected here, in which the relics were deposited, but this was smashed to pieces at the Reformation.
The fragments, however, were discovered not long ago and were put together again, so that the shrine is still to be seen, though the relics are lost, and now the city of St. Albans, named after the Roman martyr, proudly rises above the supposed place of execution, while Verulam is lost beneath the parklike fields and woods on the other side of the valley.
Today, if you walk down the hill from the abbey and cross the little river, you will see here and there amidst these rich fields and luxuriant trees a battered fragment of the Roman walls of old Verulam still defying the ages. Nearly in the middle of the lost city stands the little church of St. Michael, half hidden by the trees, and to the south of its quiet graveyard is the vicarage with its old-world garden and orchard, beyond which again is a sequestered field.
Here the ground was turned up some years ago, and beneath the now replaced turf the ancient Forum was discovered, an open are measuring 215feet/65.5m by 308feet/93.8m, surrounded by colonnaded walks and handsome houses and public meeting.
On the other side of the church there is the main road from St. Albans, and from this, running westward, branches the carriage-drive leading to Gorhambury, the house where lived the great Sir Francis Bacon, who was made Lord Verulam and St. Alban, and was here buried. This drive marks the course of Watling Street, the high street of the city; and in a field close to the church the buried ruins of the Roman theatre were found in 1847.
There are many amphitheatres in England, but this is the only known theatre where plays were performed. A semi-circular auditorium, 190 feet/57.9m in diameter, was excavated, and at the back of this were the raised tiers of seats, with an arched corridor behind, and over this the gallery; while in front was the stage, a platform 9 feet/2.7m wide and 46 feet/14m long, with the green-room and dressing-rooms behind. Portions of the frescoed walls and many coins lost from time to time by members of the audience and others were here unearthed, but now the ruins are again buried beneath the grass.
Traces of another important building were found, but not closely examined, on the other side of the street; and the church itself appears to have been built on the site of one of the temples of the place; but otherwise the whole city lies lost under the gracious sweep of fields and woods, and though you may be sure that the roots of the trees are entwined about the mosaic pavements and stout foundations of long-forgotten buildings, though it is certain that here lie hidden the temples and mansions, the streets and houses, of the once-busy city, no further attempt has yet been made to disinter the desolation of their forgotten glories from under the kindly covering of the landscape of today.
Letchworth. Baldock and other sites in Hertfordshire.
In the previous chapter I desrcribed the city of Verulam, adjoining the modern St. Albans, which was the capital of the Catuvellauni, whose king, Caswallon, was Caesar`s chief opponent in 54 B.C.; and though this is the most important Roman site in the county, there are over seventy other Hertfordshire villages and towns in which remains of the Roman epoch have been found. Apart from the St. Alban`s museum, however, the well-arranged collection exhibited in the smart little museum at Letchworth affords the most convenient means of studying the Roman period in this part of Britain.
Letchworth itself, by which I mean the well-known Garden City of that name, is laid out upon ground wherein coins and other objects belonging to that age are constantly being found, for this whole district was thickly populated both in British and in Roman times. The ancient highroad from the land of the Iceni of Norfolk and Suffolk to the south-west of Britain runs right through the Garden City; and it is with quite a thrill that one sees the romantic words “Icknield Way” posted up as a modern street-name, and used as an address by the tenants of modern villas.
Many British remains from 1000 and 1500 years before the Roman conquest have been found hereabouts, and are to be seen in this Letchworth museum. There are, for example, two fine specimens of early sepulchral urns, dating from about 1000 B.C., and still containing the remains of the cremated bodies of two of our remote ancestors; and there is also a very elegant urn of about 100 B.C., which is one of the best specimens of its kind now known. The Romans, and, indeed, the British also, so often buried the ashes of their beloved dead in the soup-tureen or the salad-bowl or any handy pot or jar or glass decanter from the dining-room table, that it is quite a change to see a real funerary-urn of beautiful shape such as this.
At Biggleswade, just over the Bedfordshire border, some eight /12.8km or nine miles/14.4km from Letchworth, a series of burials came to light which clearly show the antiquity of the neighbourhood. About a foot beneath the surface of the ground there was a burial consisting of vases and cups dating from the height of the Roman period, between 100 and 200 A.D.; beneath this were cinerary urns of native British ware, but showing Roman influence, and dating from 50 A.D.; under these there was an early British burial of about 1500 B.C.; and beneath this again, at a depth of three and a half feet/1m, there were prehistoric remains; so that you have here in epitome the whole history of Britain.
At Letchworth a good specimen of the gold British coinage turned up, dating from perhaps 100 B.C.; in the neighbouring village of William over twenty coins were found, one being a silver piece of the time of Crassus, 87 to 97 B.C.; and from Braughing , between Letchworth and Bishop Stortford, come many gold coins of Cunobeline, who reigned just before the Roman Conquest.
Excavations, under the direction of Mr. W.P.Westell, are now proceeding at Baldock, close to Letchworth, where a Roman cemetery and rubbish heap are being worked through, and the ruins of the ancient town itself are hopefully being looked for. The site is in a field in the angle formed by the meeting of the Icknield Way with the ancient high road Colchester via Baldock to Leicester and Lincoln, the latter being marked by a row of great elm trees; and the town must have been important as a junction-station. Its ancient name is lost, and “Baldock” is only a corruption of “Baghad,” which the Knights Templars dubbed it for some obscure reason.
Some twenty complete burials have already been unearthed in the present year, each group consisting of a few pots and vases surrounding the vessel in which the ashes were contained; and these groups are well exhibited in the Letchworth museum. In the rubbish heap stacks of oyster-shells and bones of animals have been found – the remains of Roman meals; and broken fragments of over a thousand pots and pans have been collected. I should like, by the way, to put on record the fact that the work has been much aided by the magnanimity of Mr. W. Hart, the tenant of the land, who has demanded of the excavators no great consideration for his Brussels sprouts. He sees, where so many farmers are blind, that since the genius of England is rooted in her British and Roman past, the dead who lie beneath his fields have a claim upon him both as a man of understanding and as a patriot; and he is willing to sacrifice something of his vegetable crop for their sake, and for that revelation which they supply of the incalculable ages of civilization whereon the Britain of today is founded like a rock.
The visitor to the Letchworth museum will also find here a burial group from Welwyn, in which there is a charming little pipe-clay bust of a woman or goddess, buried with the dead man no doubt because it was a prized possession of his. Welwyn, I may mention, had also produced a rich find of British objects of about the time of Caesar`s invasion, including bronze bowls, a wooden tankard with a bronze handle, and a fine bronze jug.
At Great Wymondley, near Letchworth, a Roman house was unearthed many years ago, and the usual collection of coins, keys, nails, glass, pottery, animal-bones, oyster shells, etc., was found; but the site is buried again, and there is nothing to be seen on the spot. A fine mosaic pavement was also discovered near here; and another was dug up at Boxmoor, near Hemelhemptead, in the ruins of a Roman house, from which many objects were recovered including the dinner-bell.
From Barking, near Royston, a dozen miles/19km north-east of Letchworth, comes a bronze statue of Mars, now in the British Museum; and in that museum there are also some silver plates from the same site, which were parts of votive offerings, and have dedications inscribed upon them, one to Mars-Toutates (Toutates being a British deity identified with the Roman war-god), and another to Mars Alator, the Avenger.
Various hoards of money have been found in the county: at Aldbury a hoard of 118 coins was discovered; at Kempton another of 230 silver pieces came to light; at Brickendon 450 were found; and so on. But I must not be beguiled into detailing such discoveries, for they are innumerable, and the space at my disposal is limited; moreover, every county in England had provided treasures such as these, and I have not spoken of them in this little book.
One has to select and be brief, for the story of Roman-Britain is endless.