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The Roman Province of Britain


11 2008. : tutor
The Romans were in Britain for over 350 years - very long time in the history of any country. In the north and west they remained an occupying army, keeping grip on an often hostile people; but Lowland Britain (most of England) was thoroughly Romanized. The effects of the occupation were surprisingly small in the long run, but Roman rule certainly changed the lives of the British.

The greatest blessing of Roman rule was the Romana, 'Roman peace'. Tribal wars in Lowland Britain stopped, and the attacks of outsiders, like the Picts from the north and the Saxons from overseas, were resisted. The Romans set up law courts and enforced justice, though their idea of justice was not the same as ours and their punishments, which included execution by crucifixion, were cruel.

 The Romans built the first towns. London was the largest, with about 30,000 people. Colchester and St Albans each had about half as many, but most Roman towns had only 3,000 or 4,000.

The typical Roman town was surrounded by defensive wall, and was entered through stone-towered gateways. Streets were laid out in squares, and many of the ordinary houses and shops were made of timber and plaster. Larger, stone houses belonged to local leaders, government officials or merchants. The centre of the town was the marketplace, or forum, and nearby were town hall, several temples, public baths (the Romans were fond of bathing and even had type of sauna), and an inn or two. Some buildings, such as the amphitheatre where plays were performed, were outside the defensive walls.

Roman towns in Britain were less grand than towns nearer the heart of the empire, but they included fine marble buildings decorated with sculpture, and advanced engineering works, like the water supply and drainage system f Lincoln.

Lincoln's water was pumped - uphill - from spring two kilometres away, through pipe protected by concrete, to reservoir inside the wall. There was enough water to provide sluice or flush for each house. drain carried water into the sewers, stone tunnels large enough for a child to walk along, which ran under the main streets, with manholes at regular intervals.

As well as the first towns, the Romans built the first English country houses, or villas. W know the sites of about 600 villas (many can be visited), and more will undoubtedly be discovered. Unlike the Roman villas of southern Europe, which were weekend retreats for the rich, villas in England were usually working farms. The old Celtic leaders did not like the new-fangled idea of towns, and preferred to live on their estates.

Some villas were small farmhouses and others were grand palaces. The Romans, more sensible than later builders, usually chose good, sunny places. The villa had glass windows, something not seen again for thousand years, and was decorated with paintings, mosaics and sculpture. Although 20th-century family would miss some comforts, like electricity, few people today live in so pleasant house.

Large villas were for the wealthy few. W should not forget that the estate was run by slaves. and that at one villa archaeologists found the skeletons of seventy new-born babies - unwanted slave children put outside to die.

,  Of all the relics of Roman Britain, the roads lasted best. Their routes can still be seen from the air, and many modern roads follow them. Roman roads were built straight, going over hills rather than around them, because their purpose was the swift movement of soldiers. They were also built to last, with massive stone foundations. The Romans built everything that way, thinking their empire would continue for ever.

Like all imperialists, the Romans were interested in their colony for what they could get out of it. Metals were Britain's most important product from Roman point of view, and Britain provided lead (from which silver was obtained), copper, and other useful metals. There was even gold mine in Wales. Britain also exported jet and pearls, which came from oysters (the fish-and-chips of ancient times), bearskins and sealskins, corn, and slaves. British hunting dogs (the ancestors of our bulldogs and greyhounds) fetched good prices in Rome.

But in Roman times, as now, Britain probably had an 'unfavourable balance of payments', meaning more imports than exports. Though the British were great beer-drinkers, wine was big import item, and so was olive oil. Most luxury goods came from abroad because British products were inferior. The rich man's silver, bronze-ware, glass and pottery came from older parts of the empire, although such things were made in Britain too. Egyptian papyrus (for writing on), spices and incense were the kind of goods that had to be imported.

The Romans brought new developments to British farming. They built watermills fr grinding corn, and used iron ploughs (Celtic ploughs were wooden, though iron-tipped). New crops were introduced: rye, oats, flax, cabbages, parsnips, turnips and many other vegetables. The Romans brought larger horses and cattle, new fruit trees, perhaps including apples, and many flowers that we think of as typically British, like the rose. They were the first bekeepers in Britain, and the first to eat home-reared roast goose.

The Romans also brought their gods to Britain. There were an immense number of them, and they often became merged with local Celtic gods. Especially popular with Roman soldiers was the worship of Mithras, originally Persian god, one of whose temples was found few years ago buried in the heart of London. Another new religion was Christianity. Christians were intolerant of other religions, especially the Romans' worship of their emperor, and until 313 they were persecuted in Rome. The British also disliked emperor-worship, which was one of the causes behind Boudicca's revolt, and Christianity seems to have been established in Britain by about 150.

In spite of all the Roman improvements, the mass of the British may have been worse ff under Roman rule. Tribal wars in Lowland Britain could have ended without the Romana. Towns did nt suit the simple British economy, and the villa was diterranean house, which was nt ideal fr Britain's colder, wetter climate. Farmers may have grown mr food, but they had to pay imperial taxes, which ate up their prfits. Public buildings and roads were all very well, but their cost-inlabour as well as cash - was heavy. Mining expanded, but Cornish tin-mining, Britains greatest industry in pr-Romn times, was stopped because the Romans did nt want it to compete with Spanish tin production.

Britain existed to serve Rome. In doing so, it gind benefits but also suffered from disadvantages. Were the benfits greater than the drawbacks? The answer would depend on whether you were prince or peasant.

History of Britain ( )