Page:VCH Warwickshire 1.djvu/274

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A HISTORY OF WARWICKSHIRE usually commonplace. Of organized municipal or commercial or admin- istrative life we have but scanty traces. The civilization of Roman Britain was Roman, but it contained few elements of splendour. We may distinguish in this civilization two local forms deserving special notice the town and the villa. The towns of Roman Britain were not few, but, as we might expect, they were for the most part small. Scarcely any seems to have attained very great size, according to the standard of the empire. The highest form of town life known to the Roman was certainly rare in Britain : the colonlce and municipia, the privileged municipalities with the Roman franchise and constitutions on the Italian model, were represented, so far as we know, only by five examples, the colonies of Colchester, Lincoln, and Gloucester and York, and the municlpium of Verulamium, and none of these could vie with the greater municipalities of other provinces. Of other towns, probably inferior in rank, there was more abundance, especially in the south and east of Britain. These varied greatly in size. The larger ones, like Sil- chester or Canterbury or Chichester, had walls to defend themselves, and a forum built on the Roman plan and providing accommodation for magis- trates, traders and idlers ; these towns doubtless possessed some form of municipal life and may be described as country towns. Others were smaller in various degrees, and in some cases, which will concern us in Warwickshire, it is hard, on defective evidence, to decide whether we ought to use the word ' town ' at all. Outside these towns the country seems to have been principally divided up into estates usually called ' villas,' and in this respect, as in many other points, Britain resembled northern Gaul. The 'villa' was the property of a large landowner who lived in the ' great house ' if there was one, cultivated the land immediately round it (the demesne) by his slaves and let the rest to half-serf coloni. The estates formed for the most part sheep runs and corn land, and supplied the cloth and wheat which are occasionally mentioned by ancient writers as products of the province during the later Imperial period. The landowners may have been to some extent immigrant Italians, but it can hardly be doubted that, as in Gaul, they were mostly the Romanized nobles and upper classes of the natives. The common assertion that they were Roman officers or officials may be set aside as rarely if ever correct. The peasantry who worked on these estates or were otherwise occupied in the country lived in rude hamlets, sometimes in pit-dwellings, some- times in huts, with few circumstances of comfort or pleasure. Their civilization however, as we have said, was Roman in all such matters as the better objects in common use or the warming and decoration of the houses. One feature, not a prominent one, remains to be noticed trade and industry. We should perhaps place first the large farming industry, which produced wheat and wool. Both were exported in the fourth century, and the export of wheat to the towns of the lower Rhine is mentioned by an ancient writer as considerable. Unfortunately the 226