Thursday 25 October 2018

Londinium - London 2018

Continuing with a series of visits, by myself and Mr Steve, to interesting and important Roman sites in Britain which now forms a series of posts here on JJ's, I got to take a look at the Roman origins of the capital this summer during a visit in August specifically to watch England vs India in the test cricket match at Lords.

Exeter - Isca Dumnoniorum
Caerleon - Isca Siluram
Caerleon Part Two
Silchester - Calleva Atrebatum, Mr Steve
York - Eboracum
York Part Two
Cirencester - Corinium Dobunnorum
Chedworth & North Leigh
Wroxeter - Viroconium Cornoviorum, Mr Steve
Chester - Deva
Chester Part Two
Wroxeter - Viroconium Cornoviorum

Sadly the cricket was a disappointment as the first day was a wash out with Carolyn getting to visit the home of cricket for the first time but not seeing a ball bowled.

However the Roman experience more than lived up to expectations and I can happily pick up the series with a look at Londinium, Roman London.

Original map created by Andrei Nacu
Not surprisingly, with the invasion of Britain in 43 AD and the rapid capture of Camulodunum that same year, the area around the Thames estuary was one of the first to come under complete Roman control and the river was a natural place for the invaders to establish a fortress as well as taking advantage of the river for landing supplies and reinforcements from the Continent.

Along with Lincoln and my home town of Exeter, London completed the trio of forts staked out across the southern part of England below the Fosse Way designed to secure the early gains with the likely establishment of the base around 50 AD.

The pattern of Roman occupation was set with these first fortresses seeing the building of the Roman main operating base close to the river to be followed later by the building of a civilian settlement close by providing victuals and other 'necessities' for the army, which in turn saw the area as a whole surrounded by a wall.

An impression of the fortress in London which was later incorporated into the wall that encompassed the modern-day City of London.

The area around the fort at Londinium backed on to the River Thames and thus the wall that was built only covered the west, north and east with the south covered by the river crossed by a single timber bridge, built in the mid first century linking it to the other bank and closely following the line of the modern day London Bridge (opposite the Roman offices/basilica and forum on the map below).

Given that our time was limited as we were visiting friends as well as intending to watch some cricket I focused the trip to looking at the section of wall close by the Tower of London and the short walk to the Museum of London which holds a lot of the finds covering the Roman city.

The Tower of London indicates the start point of the wall on the eastern side of the old city and is a good landmark to start from

Before making this visit I was very unaware of how much of the Roman city can still be seen today, despite having lived in London nearly ten years and was taken aback by the size of the wall that greets people stepping out from the tube station at Tower Hill and the imposing statue of Trajan reminding folks as to who built the place originally.

The Emperor Trajan helpfully pointing the way to Tower Hill tube station

The wall that still stands looks amazing when seen against the skyline of the modern city buildings and is a mixture of Roman and later medieval building work with the earlier Roman construction to be seen nearer the foundation with those classic strengthening red tiles placed at intervals along its lower levels.

A walk following the extensive remains of the wall forms a visit of its own with handy street maps indicating the route to follow

The illustration of the construction of the city wall shows the techniques in building and the later medieval addition

The wall is thought to have been built around eighty years after the construction of the twelve acre Roman fort sometime around 110 -120 AD and incorporated the fort into its north west corner. Interestingly the fort was preceded by a post Boudican fort built close to the south east corner of the forum sometime between 65-80 AD.

Composed of Kentish ragstone the wall incorporated twenty bastions and provided a suitable defence for the home of the Roman Governor.

Ancient and modern

Carolyn and the girls, Alex and Annie, enjoying a day out in Roman London

On future visits to the city I plan to walk the wall and see more of it which includes parts of the fortress still visible in an underground car-park.

The reproduction of the cemetery stone built into the wall, and with the original to be seen in the Museum of London 

A view of the wall that greeted those who were trying to get in

Only a short walk around the corner through the modern day City of London to get to the Museum of London

The London Museum is very close by to the Tower of London and on a pleasant sunny day made a nice walk.

Again because of limited time I focused my attention to the Roman and post-Roman items but I must say this is a very impressive museum covering the long and fascinating history of London and a museum I have bookmarked to revisit.

The original grave site monument that was found built into the Roman wall near to the Tower

One of the first exhibits on show when entering the museum is the grave monument that was highlighted in the wall close to the Tower at the top of the post.

As my recent post from Chester illustrated the Romans were not averse to the modern concept of recycling and some of the best examples of Roman grave monuments and stones are those that have been preserved over the centuries by their inclusion into city wall repairs when the graves were long past living memory, only to be discovered in recent times as later generations have started to look more closely at the remains of these Roman walls.

A Roman military clerk with wooden tablet in his left hand and gladius hung from his right hip

Likewise the statue seen above is a former tomb stone decoration dated to the 1st-2nd century and depicts a Roman soldier in tunic and cloak with a short sword and studded strap ending in a crescent shaped ornament. In his left hand he is carrying a wooden writing tablet and the figure is thought to depict a military clerk perhaps from the governors office. This statue ended up in wall repairs in a tower on the city wall at Camomile Street.

Emperor Claudius came to power in 41 AD as a result of a palace coup to rid the empire of the tyrant and his nephew Caius Caligula.

Claudius, immediately recognised the fragility of his regime, put in place to his surprise as much as anyone else by the palace Praetorian Guard more as a figurehead rather than a serious leader of the empire.

As a student of history he knew how important it would be for him to prove his credentials and secure his own future as a conquering Caesar and where better to conquer than where Caesar had failed, Britannia.

No military leader himself, he quite rightly left the conquering part to a person more qualified for the role in the person of Aulus Plautius; but once the southern part of the island had been occupied securely, he made sure he was there to celebrate the success in his name and to bring a few large pets with him from the arena to impress the locals followed up by naming his son Britannicus just in case anyone forgot what Claudius did for them.

The four legions that led the invasion of the island were of course II Augusta, XX and XIIII Gemina and VIIII Hispana of which three, excluding the XIIII and later seeing the VIIII replaced by the VI Victrix, would become the permanent garrison.

An amazing Roman gladius scabbard and the ornate metal work fittings 

With Londinium chosen as the centre of operations for the wider island and the city of the Roman Governor it is not surprising that the museum holds quite a few finds showing the presence of the legions.

Legionary sword handles made from bone, together with fasteners and scabbard furniture 

The circular shield boss (10) is from an auxiliary shield pattern, and the spear head next to it is likely an auxiliary weapon. Above them is a very well preserved pugio and scabbard

The slate tombstone below dates to the 3rd - 4th century period and is dedicated to soldier Flavius Agricola and was erected in memory of him by his wife Albia Faustina.

Soldiers were not permitted to marry whilst serving in the army and pre-service marriages were annulled and a 'blind-eye' turned to relationships and family's created by soldiers whilst serving in a part of the empire.

This situation changed in 197 AD when Emperor Septimus Severus finally abolished the rule.

The inscription reads "To the spirits of the departed: Flavius Agricola, soldier of the 6th Legion Victrix, lived 42 years 10 days; Albia Faustina had this made for her husband beyond compare.'

The tomb stone seen in the picture below dates from the 3rd century and is dedicated to Celsus with part of his head in relief at the bottom of the carving.

Celsus was seconded from the 2nd Legion to act as 'speculator' or military policeman on the headquarters staff of the governor.

The inscription reads "To the spirits of the departed ..... r Celsus, son of Lucius, of the Claudian voting tribe ...., speculator of the 2nd Legion Augusta Antoniniana; Dardanius Cursor, Rubrius Pudens and ..... s Probus, speculatores of the Legion set this up

In 43 AD one of the first southern tribes to ally themselves with the Romans were the Iceni, who whilst paying tribute were allowed to be ruled by their own kings.

However seventeen years later, following the death of King Prasutagus, the Romans decided to incorporate the kingdom into the new province.

This decision did not go without consequences, and when the king's widow, Boudicca protested and in response was flogged whilst her daughters were raped, the tribe rose up in revolt, overrunning Camuludunum (Colchester), Verulamium (St Albans) and of course Londinium, London.

The bitter campaign was only ended when Seutonius Paulinus leading the XX Legion back from his campaign in Mona (Anglesey) met and defeated Boudicca's army it is presumed somewhere along Watling Street.

A skull of one several supposed victims of the sacking on Londinium, found in Walbrook stream 

At the time of the uprising, Londinium was in the process of changing from principally an army supply depot at the mouth of the Thames to a centre of commerce and trade with the the wider continent but this first chapter in the city's development came to a sharp end when it was overrun by the rebel army in 60 AD.

The evidence of destruction by fire and burning together with the human remains underlines the graphic description from Cassius Dio of the excess violence inflicted on those caught up in the destruction and sounds like an ancient version of the 'Rape of Nanking' perpetrated by another rapacious barbarian mob in more modern times;

"The women had their breasts cut off and stuffed into their mouths, and stakes were thrust lengthwise through their bodies."

The 17 coins found in a dish in King William Street show evidence of burning as do the bowl and samian ware dish close by

The new city of Londinium that gradually replaced that destroyed by Boudicca's army picked up where the old one left off with a growing centre for commerce and trade and the necessary facilities to allow that to happen.

Those facilities included the docks and storage warehouses along the river front seen in the model below close to the bridge and a fort built close by somewhere between 65-80 AD, later replaced by the larger permanent stone structure indicated on the maps and incorporated into the city wall, probably built around the time of Hadrian's visit in 122 AD

The bridge shown in the model follows the line of the modern day London Bridge and a wooden box like structure has been discovered near the north bank and thought to have been one of the original piers.

The wood has been dated to 85-90 AD and it is estimated that twenty such piers would have supported the bridge possibly with a draw-bridge close to its centre to allow the passage of ships in the river.

In 50 AD the river was 328 yards wide at low tide compared to 110 yards today, and at high tide the river would have been about 1100 yards wide with much of modern day Southwark on the south bank under shallow water.

Any self respecting Roman town needed to have a forum, especially where you might expect to bump into the governor of the province and the model below gives a vivid impression of the one in Londinium, as it might have looked around 150 AD, with the basilica at one end of the square towering over the other buildings in the city.

Model depicting the partial remains of a triumphal archway

Whilst viewing the models depicting the remains of Roman London. a quick glance from the windows gives another view of the standing remains of the city wall close by.

Any visit to a major Roman centre of occupation will soon reveal the Roman love of bathing and sweating out a hard day in the forum, and several public bathhouses have been uncovered in the city.

The model below depicts one in Upper Thames Street dating to around 120 AD, and situated close to the river to allow easy disposal of waste water.

Of course where you find baths you tend to find the impedimenta that goes with them such as these strigils, various jars for oils and other grooming kit.

In addition to baths the Romans are well known for their plumbing, using materials such as lead, wood and terracotta clay.

As the city grew and the locals started to enjoy the fruits of civilisation the finer houses started to display the new found wealth and comforts as depicted in these reconstructions based on floors and decorative walls found in the city over the years.

The glorious mosaic floor seen below is the Bucklersbury mosaic discovered in the City in 1869, complete of course with under floor heating.

The discovery of the floor in 1869 obviously caused a lot of interest.

Thought possibly to represent a muse from the Nine Muses, the painted wall plaster below depicts a female figure clothed in a high neck light green tunic and red-brown sash and cloak and is thought to date from about 120 AD.

One of the Nine Muses?

The floor seen below, excavated at Watling Court, is thought to date from around 100 AD and is one of the earliest mosaics discovered in the city.

The walls are based on a design found in Southwark and with no under floor heating the room is kept warm with a fire in the metal brazier.

The City of London has a long association with money and finance going back to its founding and is well illustrated by these amazing finds illustrating perhaps the legitimate gains from trade and commerce and the certainly illegitimate ones through criminality - what's changed you might ask?

These beautifully preserved gold aurei are in such good condition that they look freshly minted and the images of the various emperors are simply stunning considering how old they are.

The forty-three gold coins contained in this hoard represents about ten years pay for an infantry soldier of the time

Religion dominated life in the Roman world as amply demonstrated by the finds held in the museum, combining as they do the seemingly relaxed attitude of the Roman authorities to embrace a multitude of deities as well as mystic cults such as Mithraism.

Impression of the London Mithraeum by Judith Dobie
The City of London Mithraeum was discovered during building works in the city in 1954 and has led to the piecing together of other Mithraic finds in previous years.

The centrepiece find is the Tauroctany seen below with a fascinating inscription applied on a panel indicating the strong following of Mithras in the Roman army;

"Ulpius Silvanus, veteran of the second Augustan legion, paid his vow: he was initiated at Orange"

The reference to Silvanus' initiation is unclear as to if that was to the army or into the cult of Mithras in Orange in Southern France.

The Tauroctany, displaying figures representing the sun and moon together with two wind gods and surrounding signs of the zodiac. The centre piece shows Mithras stabbing the bull

The head of Mithras

The River God

The four mother goddesses seen below seem very familiar and I am sure I have seen them depicted on previous visits to York and Cirencester.

The limestone relief depicts the four ladies sat on a bench, one holding bread and fruit, one a suckling pig, one a dog and the other a basket of fruit.

The Four Mother Goddesses

Alongside religion, the matter of death and a person's recorded passing is another really interesting aspect of Roman life.

With Roman law directing that burials could only be done outside of the city wall or boundary this has given archaeologists a bit of a head start into where to look for likely burial sites often being placed close to a road exiting the city gates.

Extensive Roman burial sites have been discovered north, south, west and east of the city, with cremation and the placement of remains in a jar or urn for burial being the most common practise until the 3rd century.

Late Roman burials were sometimes placed in wood or lead coffins and stone sarcophagi such as the young woman excavated in the north of the city in Spitalfields.

The woman above was estimated to have been about 25 when she died and she was laid in the lead coffin within the stone tomb on a bed of bay leaves.

DNA analysis suggests she was born in southern Europe, possibly Spain.

Alongside the young woman were burial objects, one being the finely decorated glass phial seen below and a jet ring and pin thought to be hair ornaments, indicative of her wealth. In addition some of the bay leaves and some textiles are seen in the little perspex boxes, bottom right.

The River Thames has over the centuries proved a gold mine in terms of discoveries relating to the history of the city, with a common find being discarded weapons.

With a new series of 'The Last Kingdom' beckoning and London very much featuring in the struggle between Wessex, Mercia and the Norsemen I felt rather compelled to keep the camera clicking on some of the later finds and in particular the weaponry given up by Old Father Thames.

Swords and spear points dating from 500s-700s all discovered in or close to the river

Disc brooches dating to the 500s

The gilded shield mounts seen below date from the 500-600s and would have decorated the more wealthy warriors shields. The top one is thought to depict a fish and is plated in gold and silver and was given up by the river at Barnes.

Gilded shield mounts

A warriors sword is shown below, discovered in a grave site at Mitcham in Surrey, alongside examples of shield bosses from the 6th century.

The battles with the Vikings along the river is thought to explain why these Viking spear heads, swords and fighting knives, dating from the 700s-800s were found in it.

The sword shown below dates from the 800s with silver and brass gilt decoration on the handle and is thought to belong to a high status warrior. This weapon was found in the Thames near Charring Cross.

The two pieces numbered '4' in the picture below are bone or antler sword pommel and cross piece dating to the 700's and thought to be from an Anglo-Saxon sword.

Axes were a favoured weapon of the Vikings and the two axe heads below were also pulled out of the Thames together with the weighted end of a large drinking horn common to Norway and possibly belonging to the Vikings who attacked Londonwic in the 800's.

The silver pennies seen directly below the Viking drinking horn piece were minted under King Burgred of Mercia, as Londonwic was part of the Mercian Kingdom until the Vikings drove them out in 874. These coins are thought to have been hidden from those raiders.

The other group of coins at the bottom of the picture are known as 'stycas' , a small coin issued by the Kings of Northumbria and they were buried in Londonwic about 851 during the Viking raid and were perhaps hidden by a Northumbrian trader caught up in the fighting.

The fantastic brooch seen below was buried with a wealthy woman in Covent Garden and dates from around 650.

The sword hilt seen below is a replica of an original held by the British Museum and together with the gold ring and glass bowl seen below it are earlier finds from Londonwic dating to the 600-800s.

Finally an Anglo-Saxon cemetery in Mitcham was the site of this amazingly well preserved shield boss dating to the 500s.

The Museum of London is an absolute treasure trove of historical artifacts relating to London and British history and this visit really only scratched the surface.

Don't be surprised to see a post on another visit to this great museum and more on other Roman sites in London greatly helped by my picking up a fantastic map and guide to the city that superimposes the Roman find sites over the modern day city together with lots of excellent information to guide the visitor interested in finding out more.

Oh and did I mention the joys of following test cricket?

Carolyn's first visit to the hallowed home of the great game, and not a ball bowled!

Ah the joys of English weather at not quite its best, particularly frustrating as we had a 'scorchingly' hot summer this year.

Oh well, here's looking forward to welcoming the Aussies back here for another Ashes tour next summer. Just hope we can get some tickets.

Lots to come on JJ's as I have been a bit busy sorting out stuff for the recent Kickstarter and big changes to the wargames room with the new Romano-Dacian collection continuing to grow.

Not to mention trips to South Wales looking at Roman towns and Marcher castles plus some local history looking at the Royal Marines in WWII.