1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Britain/Roman

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I. The Roman Conquest.—The conquest of Britain was undertaken by Claudius in A.D. 43. Two causes coincided to produce the step. On the one hand a forward policy then ruled at Rome, leading to annexations in various lands. On the other hand, a probably philo-Roman prince, Cunobelin (known to literature as Cymbeline), had just been succeeded by two sons, Caractacus (q.v.) and Togodumnus, who were hostile to Rome. Caligula, the half-insane predecessor of Claudius, had made in respect to this event some blunder which we know only through a sensational exaggeration, but which doubtless had to be made good. An immediate reason for action was the appeal of a fugitive British prince, presumably a Roman partisan and victim of Cunobelin's sons. So Aulus Plautius with a singularly well equipped army of some 40,000 men landed in Kent and advanced on London. Here Claudius himself appeared—the one reigning emperor of the 1st century who crossed the waves of ocean,—and the army, crossing the Thames, moved forward through Essex and captured the native capital, Camulodūnum, now Colchester. From the base of London and Colchester three corps continued the conquest. The left wing, the Second Legion (under Vespasian, afterwards emperor), subdued the south; the centre, the Fourteenth and Twentieth Legions, subdued the midlands, while the right wing, the Ninth Legion, advanced through the eastern part of the island. This strategy was at first triumphant. The lowlands of Britain, with their partly Romanized and partly scanty population and their easy physical features, presented no obstacle. Within three or four years everything south of the Humber and east of the Severn had been either directly annexed or entrusted, as protectorates, to native client-princes.

A more difficult task remained. The wild hills and wilder tribes of Wales and Yorkshire offered far fiercer resistance. There followed thirty years of intermittent hill fighting (A.D. 47-79). The precise steps of the conquest are not known. Legionary fortresses were established at Wroxeter (for a time only), Chester and Caerleon, facing the Welsh hills, and at Lincoln in the northeast. Monmouthshire, and Flintshire with its lead mines, were early overrun; in 60 Suetonius Paulinus reached Anglesea. The method of conquest was the establishment of small detached forts in strategic positions, each garrisoned by 500 or 1000 men, and it was accompanied by a full share of those disasters which vigorous barbarians always inflict on civilized invaders. Progress was delayed too by the great revolt of Boadicea (q.v.) and a large part of the nominally conquered Lowlands. Her rising was soon crushed, but the government was obviously afraid for a while to move its garrisons forward. Indeed, other needs of the empire caused the withdrawal of the Fourteenth Legion about 67. But the decade A.D. 70-80 was decisive. A series of three able generals commanded an army restored to its proper strength by the addition of Legio II. Adiutrix, and achieved the final subjugation of Wales and the first conquest of Yorkshire, where a legionary fortress at York was substituted for that at Lincoln.

The third and best-known, if not the ablest, of these generals, Julius Agricola, moved on in A.D. 80 to the conquest of the farther north. He established between the Clyde and Forth a frontier meant to be permanent, guarded by a line of forts, two of which are still traceable at Camelon near Falkirk, and at Bar Hill. He then advanced into Caledonia and won a "famous victory" at Mons Graupius (sometimes, but incorrectly, spelt Grampius), probably near the confluence of the Tay and the Isla, where a Roman encampment of his date, Inchtuthill, has been partly examined (see GALGACUS). He dreamt even of invading Ireland, and thought it an easy task. The home government judged otherwise. Jealous possibly of a too brilliant general, certainly averse from costly and fruitless campaigns and needing the Legio II. Adiutrix for work elsewhere, it recalled both governor and legion, and gave up the more northerly of his nominal conquests. The most solid result of his campaigns is that his battlefield, misspelt Grampius, has provided to antiquaries, and through them to the world, the modern name of the Grampian Hills.

What frontier was adopted after Agricola's departure, whether Tweed or Cheviot or other, is unknown. For thirty years (A.D. 85-115) the military history of Britain is a blank. When we recover knowledge we are in an altered world. About 115 or 120 the northern Britons rose in revolt and destroyed the Ninth Legion, posted at York, which would bear the brunt of any northern trouble. In 122 the second reigning emperor who crossed the ocean, Hadrian, came himself to Britain, brought the Sixth Legion to replace the Ninth, and introduced the frontier policy of his age. For over 70 m. from Tyne to Solway, more exactly from Wallsend to Bowness, he built a continuous rampart, more probably of turf than of stone, with a ditch in front of it, a number of small forts along it, one or two outposts a few miles to the north of it, and some detached forts (the best-known is on the hill above Maryport) guarding the Cumberland coast beyond its western end. The details of his work are imperfectly known, for though many remains survive, it is hard to separate those of Hadrian's date from others that are later. But that Hadrian built a wall here is proved alike by literature and by inscriptions. The meaning of the scheme is equally certain. It was to be, as it were, a Chinese wall, marking the definite limit of the Roman world. It was now declared, not by the secret resolutions of cabinets, but by the work of the spade marking the solid earth for ever, that the era of conquest was ended.

Britain roman.png

But empires move, though rulers bid them stand still. Whether the land beyond Hadrian's wall became temptingly peaceful or remained in vexing disorder, our authorities do not say. We know only that about 142 Hadrian's successor, Antoninus Pius, acting through his general Lollius Urbicus, advanced from the Tyne and Solway frontier to the narrower isthmus between Forth and Clyde, 36 m. across, which Agricola had fortified before him. Here he reared a continuous rampart with a ditch in front of it, fair-sized forts, probably a dozen in number, built either close behind it or actually abutting on it, and a connecting road running from end to end. An ancient writer states that the rampart was built of regularly laid sods (the same method which had probably been employed by Hadrian), and excavations in 1891-1893 have verified the statement. The work still survives visibly, though in varying preservation, except in the agricultural districts near its two ends. Occasionally, as on Croyhill (near Kilsyth), at Westerwood, and in the covers of Bonnyside (3 m. west of Falkirk), wall and ditch and even road can be distinctly traced, and the sites of many of the forts are plain to practised eyes. Three of these forts have been excavated. All three show the ordinary features of Roman castella, though they differ more than one would expect in forts built at one time by one general. Bar Hill, the most completely explored, covers three acres—nearly five times as much as the earlier fort of Agricola on the same site. It had ramparts of turf, barrack-rooms of wood, and a headquarters building, storehouse and bath in stone: it stands a few yards back from the wall. Castle Cary covers nearly four acres: its ramparts contain massive and well-dressed masonry; its interior buildings, though they agree in material, do not altogether agree in plan with those of Bar Hill, and its north face falls in line with the frontier wall. Rough Castle, near Falkirk, is very much smaller; it is remarkable for the astonishing strength of its turf-built and earthen ramparts and ravelins, and for a remarkable series of defensive pits, reminiscent of Caesar's lilia at Alesia, plainly intended to break an enemy's charge, and either provided with stakes to impale the assailant or covered over with hurdles or the like to deceive him. Besides the dozen forts on the wall, one or two outposts may have been held at Ardoch and Abernethy along the natural route which runs by Stirling and Perth to the lowlands of the east coast. This frontier was reached from the south by two roads. One, known in medieval times as Dere Street and misnamed Watling Street by modern antiquaries, ran from Corbridge on the Tyne past Otterburn, crossed Cheviot near Makendon Camps, and passed by an important fort at Newstead near Melrose, and another at Inveresk (outside of Edinburgh), to the eastern end of the wall. The other, starting from Carlisle, ran to Birrens, a Roman fort near Ecclefechan, and thence, by a line not yet explored and indeed not at all certain, to Carstairs and the west end of the wall. This wall was in addition to, and not instead of, the wall of Hadrian. Both barriers were held together, and the district between them was regarded as a military area, outside the range of civilization.

The work of Pius brought no long peace. Sixteen years later disorder broke out in north Britain, apparently in the district between the Cheviots and the Derbyshire hills, and was repressed with difficulty after four or five years' fighting. Eighteen or twenty years later (180-185) a new war broke out with a different issue. The Romans lost everything beyond Cheviot, and perhaps even more. The government of Commodus, feeble in itself and vexed by many troubles, could not repair the loss, and the civil wars which soon raged in Europe (193-197) gave the Caledonians further chance. It was not till 208 that Septimius Severus, the ablest emperor of his age, could turn his attention to the island. He came thither in person, invaded Caledonia, commenced the reconstruction of the wall of Hadrian, rebuilding it from end to end in stone, and then in the fourth year of his operations died at York. Amid much that is uncertain and even legendary about his work in Britain, this is plain, that he fixed on the line of Hadrian's wall as his substantive frontier. His successors, Caracalla and Severus Alexander (211-235), accepted the position, and many inscriptions refer to building or rebuilding executed by them for the greater efficiency of the frontier defences. The conquest of Britain was at last over. The wall of Hadrian remained for nearly two hundred years more the northern limit of Roman power in the extreme west.

II. The Province of Britain and its Military System.—Geographically, Britain consists of two parts: (1) the comparatively flat lowlands of the south, east and midlands, suitable to agriculture and open to easy intercourse with the continent, i.e. with the rest of the Roman empire; (2) the district consisting of the hills of Devon and Cornwall, of Wales and of northern England, regions lying more, and often very much more, than 600 ft. above the sea, scarred with gorges and deep valleys, mountainous in character, difficult for armies to traverse, ill fitted to the peaceful pursuits in agriculture. These two parts of the province differ also in their history. The lowlands, as we have seen, were conquered easily and quickly. The uplands were hardly subdued completely till the end of the 2nd century. They differ, thirdly, in the character of their Roman occupation. The lowlands were the scene of civil life. Towns, villages and country houses were their prominent features; troops were hardly seen in them save in some fortresses on the edge of the hills and in a chain of forts built in the 4th century to defend the south-east coast, the so-called Saxon Shore. The uplands of Wales and the north presented another spectacle. Here civil life was almost wholly absent. No country town or country house has been found more than 20 m. north of York or west of Monmouthshire. The hills were one extensive military frontier, covered with forts and strategic roads connecting them, and devoid of town life, country houses, farms or peaceful civilized industry. This geographical division was not reproduced by Rome in any administrative partitions of the province. At first the whole was governed by one legatus Augusti of consular standing. Septimius Severus made it two provinces, Superior and Inferior, with a boundary which probably ran from Humber to Mersey, but we do not know how long this arrangement lasted. In the 5th century there were five provinces, Britannia Prima and Secunda, Flavia and Maxima Caesariensis and (for a while) Valentia, ruled by praesides and consulares under a vicartus, but the only thing known of them is that Britannia Prima included Cirencester.

FIG. 1.—Plan of Housesteads (Borcovicium) on Hadrian's Wall.

The army which guarded or coerced the province consisted, from the time of Hadrian onwards, of (1) three legions, the Second at Isca Silurum (Caerleon-on-Usk, q.v.), the Ninth at Eburācum (q.v.; now York), the Twentieth at Deva (q.v.; now Chester), a total of some 15,000 heavy infantry; and (2) a large but uncertain number of auxiliaries, troops of the second grade, organized in infantry cohorts or cavalry alae, each 500 or 1000 strong, and posted in castella nearer the frontiers than the legions. The legionary fortresses were large rectangular enclosures of 50 or 60 acres, surrounded by strong walls of which traces can still be seen in the lower courses of the north and east town-walls of Chester, in the abbey gardens at York, and on the south side of Caerleon. The auxiliary castella were hardly a tenth of the size, varying generally from three to six acres according to the size of the regiment and the need for stabling. Of these upwards of 70 are known in England and some 20 more in Scotland. Of the English examples a few have been carefully excavated, notably Gellygaer between Cardiff and Brecon, one of the most perfect specimens to be found anywhere in the Roman empire of a Roman fort dating from the end of the 1st century A.D.; Hardknott, on a Cumberland moor overhanging Upper Eskdale; and Housesteads on Hadrian's wall. In Scotland excavation has been more active, in particular at the forts of Birrens, Newstead near Melrose, Lyne near Peebles, Ardoch between Stirling and Perth, and Castle Cary, Rough Castle and Bar Hill on the wall of Pius. The internal arrangements of all these forts follow one general plan. But in some of them the internal buildings are all of stone, while in others, principally (it seems) forts built before 150, wood is used freely and only the few principal buildings seem to have been constructed throughout of stone.

We may illustrate their character from Housesteads, which, in the form in which we know it, perhaps dates from Septimius Severus. This fort measures about 360 by 600 ft. and covers a trifle less than 5 acres. Its ramparts are of stone, and its north rampart coincides with the great wall of Hadrian. Its interior is filled with stone buildings. Chief among these (see fig. 1), and in the centre of the whole fort, is the Headquarters, in Lat. Principia or, as it is often (though perhaps less correctly) styled by moderns, Praetorium. This is a rectangular structure with only one entrance which gives access, first, to a small cloistered court (x. 4), then to a second open court (x. 7), and finally to a row of five rooms (x. 8-12) containing the shrine for official worship, the treasury and other offices. Close by were officers' quarters, generally built round a tiny cloistered court (ix., xi., xii.), and substantially built storehouses with buttresses and dry basements (viii.). These filled the middle third of the fort. At the two ends were barracks for the soldiers (i.-vi., xiii.-xviii.). No space was allotted to private religion or domestic life. The shrines which voluntary worshippers might visit, the public bath-house, and the cottages of the soldiers' wives, camp followers, &c., lay outside the walls. Such were nearly all the Roman forts in Britain. They differ somewhat from Roman forts in Germany or other provinces, though most of the differences arise from the different usage of wood and of stone in various places.

Forts of this kind were dotted all along the military roads of the Welsh and northern hill-districts. In Wales a road ran from Chester past a fort at Caer-hyn (near Conway) to a fort at Carnarvon (Segontium). A similar road ran along the south coast from Caerleon-on-Usk past a fort at Cardiff and perhaps others, to Carmarthen. A third, roughly parallel to the shore of Cardigan Bay, with forts at Llanio and Tommen-y-mur (near Festiniog), connected the northern and southern roads, while the interior was held by a system of roads and forts not yet well understood but discernible at such points as Caer-gai on Bala Lake, Castle Collen near Llandrindod Wells, the Gaer near Brecon, Merthyr and Gellygaer. In the north of Britain we find three principal roads. One led due north from York past forts at Catterick Bridge, Piers Bridge, Binchester, Lanchester, Ebchester to the wall and to Scotland, while branches through Chester-le-Street reached the Tyne Bridge (Pons Aelius) at Newcastle and the Tyne mouth at South Shields. A second road, turning north-west from Catterick Bridge, mounted the Pennine Chain by way of forts at Rokeby, Bowes and Brough-under-Stainmoor, descended into the Eden valley, reached Hadrian's wall near Carlisle (Luguvallium), and passed on to Birrens. The third route, starting from Chester and passing up the western coast, is more complex, and exists in duplicate, the result perhaps of two different schemes of road-making. Forts in plenty can be detected along it, notably Manchester (Mancunium or Mamucium), Ribchester (Bremetennacum), Brougham Castle (Brocavum), Old Penrith (Voreda), and on a western branch, Watercrook near Kendal, Waterhead near the hotel of that name on Ambleside, Hardknott above Eskdale, Maryport (Uxellodūnum), and Old Carlisle (possibly Petriana). In addition, two or three cross roads, not yet sufficiently explored, maintained communication between the troops in Yorkshire and those in Cheshire and Lancashire. This road system bears plain marks of having been made at different times, and with different objectives, but we have no evidence that any one part was abandoned when any other was built. There are signs, however, that various forts were dismantled as the country grew quieter. Thus, Gellygaer in South Wales and Hardknott in Cumberland have yielded nothing later than the opening of the 2nd century.

FIG. 2.—Hadrian's Wall. From Social England, by permission of Cassell & Co., Ltd.

Besides these detached forts and their connecting roads, the north of Britain was defended by Hadrian's wall (figs. 2 and 3). The history of this wall has been given above. The actual works are threefold. First, there is that which to-day forms the most striking feature in the whole, the wall of stone 6-8 ft. thick, and originally perhaps 14 ft. high, with a deep ditch in front, and forts and "mile castles" and turrets and a connecting road behind it. On the high moors between Chollerford and Gilsland its traces are still plain, as it climbs from hill to hill and winds along perilous precipices. Secondly, there is the so-called "Vallum," in reality no vallum at all, but a broad flat-bottomed ditch out of which the earth has been cast up on either side into regular and continuous mounds that resemble ramparts. Thirdly, nowhere very clear on the surface and as yet detected only at a few points, there are the remains of the "turf wall," constructed of sods laid in regular courses, with a ditch in front. This turf wall is certainly older than the stone wall, and, as our ancient writers mention two wall-builders, Hadrian and Septimius Severus, the natural inference is that Hadrian built his wall of turf and Severus reconstructed it in stone. The reconstruction probably followed in general the line of Hadrian's wall in order to utilize the existing ditch, and this explains why the turf wall itself survives only at special points. In general it was destroyed to make way for the new wall in stone. Occasionally (as at Birdoswald) there was a deviation, and the older work survived. This conversion of earthwork into stone in the age of Severus can be paralleled from other parts of the Roman empire.

FIG. 3.—Section of Hadrian's Wall.

The meaning of the vallum is much more doubtful. John Hodgson and Bruce, the local authorities of the 19th century, supposed that it was erected to defend the wall from southern insurgents. Others have ascribed it to Agricola, or have thought it to be the wall of Hadrian, or even assigned it to pre-Roman natives. The two facts that are clear about it are, that it is a Roman work, no older than Hadrian (if so old), and that it was not intended, like the wall, for military defence. Probably it is contemporaneous with either the turf wall or the stone wall, and marked some limit of the civil province of Britain. Beyond this we cannot at present go.

III. The Civilization of Roman Britain.—Behind these formidable garrisons, sheltered from barbarians and in easy contact with the Roman empire, stretched the lowlands of southern and eastern Britain. Here a civilized life grew up, and Roman culture spread. This part of Britain became Romanized. In the lands looking on to the Thames estuary (Kent, Essex, Middlesex) the process had perhaps begun before the Roman conquest. It was continued after that event, and in two ways. To some extent it was definitely encouraged by the Roman government, which here, as elsewhere, founded towns peopled with Roman citizens—generally discharged legionaries—and endowed them with franchise and constitution like those of the Italian municipalities. It developed still more by its own automatic growth. The coherent civilization of the Romans was accepted by the Britons, as it was by the Gauls, with something like enthusiasm. Encouraged perhaps by sympathetic Romans, spurred on still more by their own instincts, and led no doubt by their nobles, they began to speak Latin, to use the material resources of Roman civilized life, and in time to consider themselves not the unwilling subjects of a foreign empire, but the British members of the Roman state. The steps by which these results were reached can to some extent be dated. Within a few years of the Claudian invasion a colonia, or municipality of time-expired soldiers, had been planted in the old native capital of Colchester (Camulodūnum), and though it served at first mainly as a fortress and thus provoked British hatred, it came soon to exercise a civilizing influence. At the same time the British town of Verulamium (St Albans) was thought sufficiently Romanized to deserve the municipal status of a municipium, which at this period differed little from that of a colonia. Romanized Britons must now have begun to be numerous. In the great revolt of Boadicea (60) the nationalist party seem to have massacred many thousands of them along with actual Romans. Fifteen or twenty years later, the movement increases. Towns spring up, such as Silchester, laid out in Roman fashion, furnished with public buildings of Roman type, and filled with houses which are Roman in fittings if not in plan. The baths of Bath (Aquae Sulis) are exploited. Another colonia is planted at Lincoln (Lindum), and a third at Gloucester (Glevum) in 96. A new "chief judge" is appointed for increasing civil business. The tax-gatherer and recruiting officer begin to make their way into the hills. During the 2nd century progress was perhaps slower, hindered doubtless by the repeated risings in the north. It was not till the 3rd century that country houses and farms became common in most parts of the civilized area. In the beginning of the 4th century the skilled artisans and builders, and the cloth and corn of Britain were equally famous on the continent. This probably was the age when the prosperity and Romanization of the province reached its height. By this time the town populations and the educated among the country-folk spoke Latin, and Britain regarded itself as a Roman land, inhabited by Romans and distinct from outer barbarians.

The civilization which had thus spread over half the island was genuinely Roman, identical in kind with that of the other western provinces of the empire, and in particular with that of northern Gaul. But it was defective in quantity. The elements which compose it are marked by smaller size, less wealth and less splendour than the same elements elsewhere. It was also uneven in its distribution. Large tracts, in particular Warwickshire and the adjoining midlands, were very thinly inhabited. Even densely peopled areas like north Kent, the Sussex coast, west Gloucestershire and east Somerset, immediately adjoin areas like the Weald of Kent and Sussex where Romano-British remains hardly occur.

The administration of the civilized part of the province, while subject to the governor of all Britain, was practically entrusted to local authorities. Each Roman municipality ruled itself and a territory perhaps as large as a small county which belonged to it. Some districts belonged to the Imperial Domains, and were administered by agents of the emperor. The rest, by far the larger part of the country, was divided up among the old native tribes or cantons, some ten or twelve in number, each grouped round some country town where its council (ordo) met for cantonal business. This cantonal system closely resembles that which we find in Gaul. It is an old native element recast in Roman form, and well illustrates the Roman principle of local government by devolution.

In the general framework of Romano-British life the two chief features were the town, and the villa. The towns of the province, as we have already implied, fall into two classes. Five modern cities, Colchester, Lincoln, York, Gloucester and St Albans, stand on the sites, and in some fragmentary fashion bear the names of five Roman municipalities, founded by the Roman government with special charters and constitutions. All of these reached a considerable measure of prosperity. None of them rivals the greater municipalities of other provinces. Besides them we trace a larger number of country towns, varying much in size, but all possessing in some degree the characteristics of a town. The chief of these seem to be cantonal capitals, probably developed out of the market centres or capitals of the Celtic tribes before the Roman conquest. Such are Isurium Brigantum, capital of the Brigantes, 12 m. north-west of York and the most northerly Romano-British town; Ratae, now Leicester, capital of the Coritani; Viroconium, now Wroxeter, near Shrewsbury, capital of the Cornovii; Venta Silurum, now Caerwent, near Chepstow; Corinium, now Cirencester, capital of the Dobuni; Isca Dumnoniorum, now Exeter, the most westerly of these towns; Durnovaria, now Dorchester, in Dorset, capital of the Durotriges; Venta Belgarum, now Winchester; Calleva Atrebatum, now Silchester, 10 m. south of Reading; Durovernum Cantiacorum, now Canterbury; and Venta Icenorum, now Caistor-by-Norwich. Besides these country towns, Londinium (London) was a rich and important trading town, centre of the road system, and the seat of the finance officials of the province, as the remarkable objects discovered in it abundantly prove, while Aquae Sulis (Bath) was a spa provided with splendid baths, and a richly adorned temple of the native patron deity, Sul or Sulis, whom the Romans called Minerva. Many smaller places, too, for example, Magna or Kenchester near Hereford, Durobrivae or Rochester in Kent, another Durobrivae near Peterborough, a site of uncertain name near Cambridge, another of uncertain name near Chesterford, exhibited some measure of town life.

As a specimen we may take Silchester, remarkable as the one town in the whole Roman empire which has been completely and systematically uncovered. As we see it to-day, it is an open space of 100 acres, set on a hill with a wide prospect east and south and west, in shape an irregular hexagon, enclosed in a circuit of a mile and a half by the massive ruins of a city wall which still stands here and there some 20 ft. high (fig. 4). Outside, on the north-east, is the grassy hollow of a tiny amphitheatre; on the west a line of earthworks runs in wider circuit than the walls. The area within the walls is a vast expanse of cultivated land, unbroken by any vestige of antiquity; yet the soil is thick with tile and potsherd, and in hot summers the unevenly growing corn reveals the remains of streets beneath the surface. Casual excavations were made here in 1744 and 1833; more systematic ones intermittently between 1864 and 1884 by the Rev. J.G. Joyce and others; finally, in May 1890, the complete uncovering of the whole site was begun by Mr G.E. Fox and others. The work was carried on with splendid perseverance, and the uncovering of the interior was completed in 1908.

FIG. 4.—General Plan of Silchester (Calleva Atrebatum).

The chief results concern the buildings. Though these have vanished wholly from the surface, the foundations and lowest courses of their walls survive fairly perfect below ground: thus the plan of the town can be minutely recovered, and both the character of the buildings which make up a place like Calleva, and the character of Romano-British buildings generally, become plainer. Of the buildings the chief are:—

1. Forum.—Near the middle of the town was a rectangular block covering two acres. It comprised a central open court, 132 ft. by 140 ft. in size, surrounded on three sides by a corridor or cloister, with rooms opening on the cloister (fig. 5). On the fourth side was a great hall, with rooms opening into it from behind. This hall was 270 ft. long and 58 ft. wide; two rows of Corinthian columns ran down the middle, and the clerestory roof may have stood 50 ft. above the floor; the walls were frescoed or lined with marble, and for ornament there were probably statues. Finally, a corridor ran round outside the whole block. Here the local authorities had their offices, justice was administered, traders trafficked, citizens and idlers gathered. Though we cannot apportion the rooms to their precise uses, the great hall was plainly the basilica, for meetings and business; the rooms behind it were perhaps law courts, and some of the rooms on the other three sides of the quadrangle may have been shops. Similar municipal buildings existed in most towns of the western Empire, whether they were full municipalities or (as probably Calleva was) of lower rank. The Callevan Forum seems in general simpler than others, but its basilica is remarkably large. Probably the British climate compelled more indoor life than the sunnier south.

2. Temples.—Two small square temples, of a common western-provincial type, were in the east of the town; the cella of the larger measured 42 ft. sq., and was lined with Purbeck marble. A third, circular temple stood between the forum and the south gate. A fourth, a smaller square shrine found in 1907 a little east of the forum, yielded some interesting inscriptions which relate to a gild (collegium) and incidentally confirm the name Calleva.

FIG. 5.—Plan of Forum, Basilica and surroundings, Silchester.

3. Christian Church.—Close outside the south-east angle of the forum was a small edifice, 42 ft. by 27 ft., consisting of a nave and two aisles which ended at the east in a porch as wide as the building, and at the west in an apse and two flanking chambers. The nave and porch were floored with plain red tesserae: in the apse was a simple mosaic panel in red, black and white. Round the building was a yard, fenced with wooden palings; in it were a well near the apse, and a small structure of tile with a pit near the east end. No direct proof of date or use was discovered. But the ground plan is that of an early Christian church of the "basilican" type. This type comprised nave and aisles, ending at one end in an apse and two chambers resembling rudimentary transepts, and at the other end in a porch (narthex). Previous to about A.D. 420 the porch was often at the east end and the apse at the west, and the altar, often movable, stood in the apse—as at Silchester, perhaps, on the mosaic panel. A court enclosed the whole; near the porch was a laver for the ablutions of intending worshippers. Many such churches have been found in other countries, especially in Roman Africa; no other satisfactory instance is known in Britain.

4. Town Baths.—A suite of public baths stood a little east of the forum. At the entrance were a peristyle court for loungers and a latrine: hence the bather passed into the Apodyterium (dressing-room), the Frigidarium (cold room) fitted with a cold bath for use at the end of the bathing ceremony, and a series of hot rooms—the whole resembling many modern Turkish baths. In their first form the baths of Silchester were about 160 ft. by 80 ft., but they were later considerably extended.

5. Private Houses.—The private houses of Silchester are of two types. They consist either of a row of rooms, with a corridor along them, and perhaps one or two additional rooms at one or both ends, or of three such corridors and rows of rooms, forming three sides of a large square open yard. They are detached houses, standing each in its own garden, and not forming terraces or rows. The country houses of Roman Britain have long been recognized as embodying these (or allied) types; now it becomes plain that they were the normal types throughout Britain. They differ widely from the town houses of Rome and Pompeii: they are less unlike some of the country houses of Italy and Roman Africa; but their real parallels occur in Gaul, and they may be Celtic types modified to Roman use—like Indian bungalows. Their internal fittings—hypocausts, frescoes, mosaics—are everywhere Roman; those at Silchester are average specimens, and, except for one mosaic, not individually striking. The largest Silchester house, with a special annexe for baths, is usually taken to be a guest-house or inn for travellers between London and the west (fig. 6). Altogether, the town probably did not contain more than seventy or eighty houses of any size, and large spaces were not built over at all. This fact and the peculiar character of the houses must have given to Silchester rather the appearance of a village with scattered cottages, each in its own plot facing its own way, than a town with regular and continuous streets.

6. Industries.—Shops are conjectured in the forum and elsewhere, but were not numerous. Many dyers' furnaces, a little silver refinery, and perhaps a bakery have also been noticed.

FIG. 6.—Plan of supposed Inn and Baths at Silchester.

7. Streets, Roads, &c.—The streets were paved with gravel: they varied in width up to 28½ ft. They intersect regularly at right angles, dividing the town into square blocks, like modern Mannheim or Turin, according to a Roman system usual in both Italy and the provinces: plainly they were laid out all at once, possibly by Agricola (Tac. Agr. 21) and most probably about his time. There were four chief gates, not quite symmetrically placed. The town-walls are built of flint and concrete bonded with ironstone, and are backed with earth. In the plans, though not in the reports, of the excavations, they are shown as built later than the streets. No traces of meat-market, theatre or aqueduct have come to light: water was got from wells lined with wooden tubs, and must have been scanty in dry summers. Smaller objects abound—coins, pottery, window and bottle and cup glass, bronze ornaments, iron tools, &c.—and many belong to the beginnings of Calleva, but few pieces are individually notable. Traces of late Celtic art are singularly absent; Roman fashions rule supreme, and inscriptions show that even the lower classes here spoke and wrote Latin. Outside the walls were the cemeteries, not yet explored. Of suburbs we have as yet no hint. Nor indeed is the neighbourhood of Calleva at all rich in Roman remains. In fact, as well as in Celtic etymology, it was "the town in the forest." A similar absence of remains may be noticed outside other Romano-British towns, and is significant of their economic position. Such doubtless were most of the towns of Roman Britain—thoroughly Romanized, peopled with Roman-speaking citizens, furnished with Roman appurtenances, living in Roman ways, but not very large, not very rich, a humble witness to the assimilating power of the Roman civilization in Britain.

The country, as opposed to the towns, of Roman Britain seems to have been divided into estates, commonly (though perhaps incorrectly) known as "villas." Many examples survive, some of them large and luxurious country-houses, some mere farms, constructed usually on one of the two patterns described in the account of Silchester above. The inhabitants were plainly as various—a few of them great nobles and wealthy landowners, others small farmers or possibly bailiffs. Some of these estates were worked on the true "villa" system, by which the lord occupied the "great house," and cultivated the land close round it by slaves, while he let the rest to half-free coloni. But other systems may have prevailed as well. Among the most important country-houses are those of Bignor in west Sussex, and Woodchester and Chedworth in Gloucestershire.

The wealth of the country was principally agrarian. Wheat and wool were exported in the 4th century, when, as we have said, Britain was especially prosperous. But the details of the trade are unrecorded. More is known of the lead and iron mines which, at least in the first two centuries, were worked in many districts—lead in Somerset, Shropshire, Flintshire and Derbyshire; iron in the west Sussex Weald, the Forest of Dean, and (to a slight extent) elsewhere. Other minerals were less notable. The gold mentioned by Tacitus proved scanty. The Cornish tin, according to present evidence, was worked comparatively little, and perhaps most in the later Empire.

Lastly, the roads. Here we must put aside all idea of "Four Great Roads." That category is probably the invention of antiquaries, and certainly unconnected with Roman Britain (see ERMINE STREET). Instead, we may distinguish four main groups of roads radiating from London, and a fifth which runs obliquely. One road ran south-east to Canterbury and the Kentish ports, of which Richborough (Rutupiae) was the most frequented. A second ran west to Silchester, and thence by various branches to Winchester, Exeter, Bath, Gloucester and South Wales. A third, known afterwards to the English as Watling Street, ran by St Albans Wall near Lichfield (Letocetum), to Wroxeter and Chester. It also gave access by a branch to Leicester and Lincoln. A fourth served Colchester, the eastern counties, Lincoln and York. The fifth is that known to the English as the Fosse, which joins Lincoln and Leicester with Cirencester, Bath and Exeter. Besides these five groups, an obscure road, called by the Saxons Akeman Street, gave alternative access from London through Alchester (outside of Bicester) to Bath, while another obscure road winds south from near Sheffield, past Derby and Birmingham, and connects the lower Severn with the Humber. By these roads and their various branches the Romans provided adequate communications throughout the lowlands of Britain.

IV. The End of Roman Britain.—Early in the 4th century it was necessary to establish a special coast defence, reaching from the Wash to Spithead, against Saxon pirates: there were forts at Brancaster, Borough Castle (near Yarmouth), Bradwell (at the mouth of the Colne and Blackwater), Reculver, Richborough, Dover and Lymme (all in Kent), Pevensey in Sussex, Porchester near Portsmouth, and perhaps also at Felixstowe in Suffolk. After about 350, barbarian assaults, not only of Saxons but also of Irish (Scoti) and Picts, became commoner and more terrible. At the end of the century Magnus Maximus, claiming to be emperor, withdrew many troops from Britain and a later pretender did the same. Early in the 5th century the Teutonic conquest of Gaul cut the island off from Rome. This does not mean that there was any great "departure of Romans." The central government simply ceased to send the usual governors and high officers. The Romano-British were left to themselves. Their position was weak. Their fortresses lay in the north and west, while the Saxons attacked the east and south. Their trained troops, and even their own numbers, must have been few. It is intelligible that they followed a precedent set by Rome in that age, and hired Saxons to repel Saxons. But they could not command the fidelity of their mercenaries, and the Saxon peril only grew greater. It would seem as if the Romano-Britons were speedily driven from the east of the island. Even Wroxeter on the Welsh border may have been finally destroyed before the end of the 5th century. It seems that the Saxons though apparently unable to maintain their hold so far to the west, were able to prevent the natives from recovering the lowlands. Thus driven from the centres of Romanized life, from the region of walled cities and civilized houses, into the hills of Wales and the north-west, the provincials underwent an intelligible change. The Celtic element, never quite extinct in those hills and, like most forms of barbarism, reasserting itself in this wild age—not without reinforcement from Ireland—challenged the remnants of Roman civilization and in the end absorbed them. The Celtic language reappeared; the Celtic art emerged from its shelters in the west to develop in new and medieval fashions.


The principal references to early Britain in classical writers occur in Strabo, Diodorus, Julius Caesar, the elder Pliny, Tacitus, Ptolemy and Cassius Dio, and in the lists of the Antonine Itinerary (probably about A.D. 210-230; ed. Parthey, 1848), the Notitia Dignitatum (about A.D. 400; ed. Seeck, 1876), and the Ravennas (7th-century rechauffé; ed. Parthey 1860). The chief passages are collected in Petrie's Monumenta Hist. Britann. (1848), and (alphabetically) in Holder's Altkeltische Sprachschatz (1896-1908). The Roman inscriptions have been collected by Hübner, Corpus Inscriptionum Latin. vii. (1873), and in supplements by Hübner and Haverfield in the periodical Ephemeris epigraphica; see also Hübner, Inscript. Britann. Christianae (1876, now out of date), and J. Rhys on Pictish, &c., inscriptions, Proceedings Soc. Antiq. Scotland, xxvi., xxxii.

Of modern works the best summary for Roman Britain and for Caesar's invasions is T.R. Holmes, Ancient Britain (1907), who cites numerous authorities.

See also:

  • Sir John Evans, Stone Implements, Bronze Implements, and Ancient British Coins (with suppl.).
  • Boyd Dawkins, Early Man in Britain (1880).
  • J. Rhys, Celtic Britain (3rd ed., 1904).

For late Celtic art see J.M. Kemble and A.W. Franks' Horae Ferales (1863), and Arthur J. Evans in Archaeologia, vols. lii.-lv. Celtic ethnology and philology (see CELT) are still in the "age of discussion." For ancient earthworks see A. Hadrian Allcroft, Earthwork of England (1909).

For Roman Britain see, in general, Prof. F. Haverfield, The Romanization of Roman Britain (Oxford, 1906), and his articles in the Victoria County History; also the chapter in Mommsen's Roman Provinces; and an article in the Edinburgh Review, 1899.

For the wall of Hadrian see John Hodgson, History of Northumberland (1840); J.C. Bruce, Roman Wall (3rd ed., 1867); reports of excavations by Haverfield in the Cumberland Archaeological Society Transactions (1894-1904); and R.C. Bosanquet, Roman Camp at Housesteads (Newcastle, 1904). For the Scottish Excavations see Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, xx.-xl., and especially J. Macdonald, Bar Hill (reprint, Glasgow, 1906).

For other forts see R.S. Ferguson, Cumberland Arch. Soc. Trans. xii., on Hardknott; and J. Ward, Roman Fort of Gellygaer (London, 1903). For the Roman occupation of Scotland see Haverfield in Antonine Wall Report (1899); J. Macdonald, Roman Stones in Hunterian Mus. (1897); and, though an older work, Stuart's Caledonia Romana (1852). For Silchester, Archaeologia (1890-1908); for Caerwent (ib. 1901-1908); for London, Charles Roach Smith, Roman London (1859); for Christianity in Roman Britain, Engl. Hist. Rev. (1896); for the villages, Gen. Pitt-Rivers' Excavations in Cranborne Chase, &c. (4 vols., 1887-1908), and Proc. Soc. of Ant. xviii.

For the end of Roman Britain see Engl. Hist. Rev. (1904); Prof. Bury's Life of St Patrick (1905); Haverfield's Romanization (cited above); and P. Vinogradoff, Growth of the Manor (1905), bk. i.

(F. J. H.)