Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Roman Province of Britain

Very little is known of the history of the Roman province of Britain, except that it made considerable progress in civilisation. The Romans were great road-makers, and though their first object was to enable their soldiers to march easily from one part of the country to another, they thereby encouraged commercial intercourse. Forests were to some extent cleared away by the sides of the new roads, and fresh ground was thrown open to tillage. Mines were worked and country houses built, the remains of which are in some places still to be seen, and bear testimony to the increased well-being of a population which, excepting in the south-eastern part of the island, had at the arrival of the Romans been little removed from savagery. Cities sprang up in great numbers. Some of them were at first garrison towns, like Eboracum, Deva, and Isca Silurum. Others, like Verulamium, near the present St. Albans, occupied the sites of the old stockades once used as places of refuge by the Celts, or, like Lindum, on the top of the hill on which Lincoln Cathedral now stands, were placed in strongly defensible positions. AquƦ Sulis, the modern Bath, owes its existence to its warm medicinal springs. The chief port of commerce was Londinium, the modern London. Attempts which have been made to explain its name by the Celtic language have failed, and it is therefore possible that an inhabited post existed there even before the Celts arrived. Its importance was, however, owing to its position, and that importance was not of a kind to tell before a settled system of commercial intercourse sprang up. London was situated on the hill on which St. Paul's now stands. There first, after the Thames narrowed into a river, the merchant found close to the stream hard ground on which he could land his goods. The valley for some distance above and below it was then filled with a wide marsh or an expanse of water. An old track raised above the marsh crossed the river by a ford at Lambeth, but, as London grew in importance, a ferry was established where London Bridge now stands, and the Romans, in course of time, superseded the ferry by a bridge. It is, therefore, no wonder that the Roman roads both from the north and from the south converged upon London. Just as Eboracum was a fitting centre for military operations directed to the defence of the northern frontier, London was the fitting centre of a trade carried on with the Continent, and the place would increase in importance in proportion to the increase of that trade.

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