In Search of the Romans in Britain

People are not generally aware that the Romans ruled Britain for close on 400 years, from just after the birth of Christ to 400 AD. Much of this history, for some reason, is not really spoken of here in the same way as Britains colonial history is not spoken of (especially in the light of closing borders to migrants.) I have yet to discover why the Romans receive short shrift. One reason given to me is that Britain has so much history to preserve, and spend a lot on preserving castles and manor houses, the resources have to be spread out, but I still wonder why more is not put into Roman artifacts.

Britain is a Roman name.  Roman civilization can still be seen in the British outlook, engineering, law, language, mathematics, money, religion, and writing. (This is shared with all the other countries which were once part of the empire.) perhaps the greatest effect is in outlook.?

Before this,  Britain was a disparate set of peoples with no sense of national persona but took after that of their localized tribe. Iron age Brits lived in these kind of houses!

This is a Replica Iron Age British round house from Butser Ancient Farm (Hampshire). Photo Simon I. Hill, Butser Ancient Farm. Look like any thing you know?!

And so I went in search of Romans (not Romance, unfortunately) in Britain..well at least in the Cotswolds..

Rome can be said to have colonised Britain,( itsself the great world coloniser)! is   this a similarity in outlook? Romans tried to influence the beliefs of Britons, outlawing Druidic practice, which constituted the main religion in Britain at the time similar to the attempts of nineteenth century British colonialists in Africa, who tried to Christianise Africa (explaining their supposed main motivations were bringing Christianity to the non-Christian natives there.) the main purpose, however, was control of a disparate population. to that effect, many neolithic sites were removed. (see my previous post)

The Roman influence on British history is not acknowledged as well as the Later histories of Britain, and you can see this by the way that Roman artifacts are treated. (They are covered over by grass, supposedly to protect them!) I was shocked to hear that after uncovering an intricate mosaic of a Roman villa, it was covered up again with sand and grass. Minchinhampton common, where I live,  is another example. It is riddled with Roman artifacts, but is covered in grass, used as a golf course, and 20151017_143921
where all the local cows graze.



Here is
is Roman trench peopled by golfers. 20151101_112034

This is the Amphitheatre in Cirencester
that I went past three times before I realised what it was.20151024_131720



This is a drawing of what it used to look like. It was uncovered and then covered up again.
20151024_132041                                                    This is a Mump (halfway between a mound and a hump that was built by the Romans near Glastonbury, with a Christian church on top.

The reality is that despite the fact that the Romans made up only a small proportion (5-10 percent) of the population ,  their physical and cultural influence was enormous.

The Romans were an urban people, and they created scores of towns and cities. Among these were London (Londinus), York, and Bath. Others were Gloucester, Cirencester, Chester, Colchester, and all the other towns with caster or chester in them (castra was Latin word for camp).

Wealthy Romans also built large country houses called villas, many decorated with beautiful mosaic floors and central underfloor heating and indoor toilets and plumbing , things Britain forgot about until the 19th century. The Romans also built a network of paved roads across Britain. Although they were badly neglected after the Anglo-Saxon invasions, they remained the best roads in England even today.

So I found what is called the Fosse road that stretches from Exeter to Leicester. Roman roads are STRAIGHT, while the rest of Britain goes round in circles, and the road have lasted because they cleverly dug trenches one metre on either side to drain the roads. (Most roads in Britain are narrow, have no verges and often no pavements..but that is another story). I decided to go along the Fosse road to Stratford on Avon to visit the home of William Shakespeare (another Roman? Shaca Speari)

On the way, I found a sign to a Roman Villa. Not believing that anything was there, I followed a long winding road and finally came across it.20151031_123752

I was impressed to see that it was well preserved (well no roof but only walls and one area had an entire air conditioned building over it to protect the mosaics) and was amazed at the Roman technology. (It cost about R180 to get in to see, though! (9 pounds x2020151031_131113 .



This is what it would have looked like. But its just low walls mostly

Bathing was a big factor, and here are some of the hot and cold baths that take up much of the villa, and apparently much of their days. 20151031_131253

Food is another important factor. This is the dining area, showing elaborate mosaics and underfloor heating..those are channels under the floor. 20151031_130910Fires were lit outside and channelled in. Pilae were little pillars that held up the floor while allowing heat to go under them.20151031_125500




This is where the fire is made outside.





20151031_130955Uncovering the floors with a fine tooth comb.




20151031_130249This is a sacred spring where the water still comes from.

The list of vegetables introduced to Britain by the romans includes garlic, onions, shallots, leeks, cabbages, peas, celery, turnips, radishes, and asparagus. (The leeks’ importance as a part of the staple diet of the British population is illustrated by the fact that national emblem of Wales is a leek! Amongst the many herbs that they introduced to Britain were rosemary, thyme, bay, basil and savoury mint. They also introduced herbs that were used in brewing and for medicinal purposes.

The Romans also brought new farming practices and crops. They introduced more productive grains and bread became a more important part of the British diet. Believe me, it is a very important part of the British diet..I have never eaten so much bread as here. 20151021_144333

Walnuts and sweet chestnuts were another Roman introduction. They also introduced a wider variety of fruit that was brought into cultivation rather than growing wild. This included apples (as opposed to crab apples..these are small..but I must say delicious fruit..but you cant eat too many as they are very sharp)20151031_114534, grapes, mulberries and cherries. Apples are the staple fruit in Britain. there are so many apples that people leave them at the side of the road in boxes.  here is some apple jelly I made from apple peels left over from a night of making chutney, apple curd, apple apple.20151018_133320

The Romans introduced new breeds of farm animals, such as the prized white cattle. Archaeological evidence suggests that guinea fowl, chickens and rabbits were probably introduced as farmyard animals.  The Romans also brought new species of game into Britain including the brown hare and pheasants. Maybe thats why pheasant hunting is a sport here.

Samian bowls, which were popular at the Romano-British dining table, often depicted scenes of dogs hunting hare or deer..a treasured British pastime. I wonder what was indigenous, and if anyone remembers or cares? Which set me wondering who are the real indigenous Britons? Do they exist, and what is really British?



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