Short URL for this page:

[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]

[image ALT: link to previous section]
This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Roman Era in Britain

by John Ward

published by Methuen & Co. Ltd.
36 Essex Street W. C., London

The text, and illustrations except as noted,
are in the public domain.


[image ALT: link to next section]

 p1  Chapter I


Politically, the Roman era in Britain began with the Claudian Conquest in A.D. 43, and ended with the isolation of the country from the rest of the decaying empire consequent upon the passing of northern Gaul into the hands of the Trans-Rhenish barbarians in A.D. 406‑410. But Roman influence through intercourse with the Continent preceded the former event, and Britain continued to be Roman after the latter event, remaining so, harassed by foes from without and probably by dissensions within, until the English conquest. Broadly speaking, the Roman era lasted 450 years.

To gauge what four-and‑a‑half centuries may mean in the history of a country, let the reader contrast the times of Henry the Sixth with our own.​a England was then without the printing-press, the newspaper, and a cheap literature; without steam-power and almost without machinery; without a postal system, railways, steamships, telephones, and gas and electric lighting; without cotton, porcelain, vulcanite, and a host of other familiar inventions. It helps one to realize what four-and‑a‑half centuries mean, when one recalls the fact that since that time twenty-three sovereigns have sat on the throne of England; and that during the interval the population has increased well-nigh tenfold, America has been discovered, our political system has been evolved, and a vast colonial empire founded. We cannot doubt that under the Romans, the greatest organizers of the ancient world, enormous changes were also wrought in this country, and this is confirmed by the verdict of both history and archaeology.

 p2  The more we contemplate the remains of Roman Britain, the more we are impressed with the high culture they betoken. But at the outset, let the reader who confines his attention to this local phase of Roman archaeology, guard himself against a mischievous bias in favour of his own country. Britain was but a small province on the fringe of a great empire, and before its conquest was probably as little known to Italy as central Africa was to us a quarter of a century ago. To the average Roman, his empire was his world, and if he troubled to think of Britain at all, he thought of it as an unexplored land on the confines of creation, wrapped in the mists of the earth-engirdling ocean, and only known through the reports of traders. From no ordinary campaign, in the estimation of his countrymen, did Claudius return in A.D. 43, to be acclaimed the Conqueror of the Ocean. "His father, Drusus Germanicus, had sailed past Friesland to visit the Baltic and to search for 'fresh Pillars of Hercules': 'our Drusus,' said the Romans 'was bold enough, but Ocean kept the secret of her and his own.' But now it was feigned that the farthest seas had been brought within the circuit of the Empire. 'The last bars have fallen,' sang the poets, 'and earth is girdled by a Roman Ocean.' 'The world's end is no longer the end of the Empire, and Oceanus turns himself to look on the altars of Claudius.' "1

As a province, Britain was never as thoroughly Romanized as Gaul. It never attained the wealth and refinement of Italy. Its architecture was crude compared with that of Rome. Its mosaic floors and wall-decorations lacked the elegance and delicacy of those of Pompeii. It had not the background of eventful history and high culture of many of the eastern provinces: it was a land wrested from nations whom the Romans were pleased to regard as barbarian. In a word, our country contrasted with the heart of the empire, much as some of our less-developed colonies contrast with England and London to‑day.

As a study, the Roman era has a peculiarity which distinguishes it from other eras through which our country has passed. Our knowledge of pre-Roman Britain depends almost wholly upon the researches of the archaeologist — he is there supreme.  p3 On the other hand, the part played by him in the elucidation of medieval times is subsidiary to that played by the historian: he illustrates the statements of history, much as the plates of a book illustrate the text. But the Roman era differs from both. The literary remains relating to Britain are too few and, as a rule, too incidental and ambiguous, for the historian to weave them into a continuous narrative; whereas the archaeologist has a growing wealth of material to work upon. It is a domain in which neither can dispense with the other; and in one highly important branch of the study — the inscriptions of tablets, altars, and tombstones — their provinces overlap. Broadly speaking, what we know of Roman Britain is the outcome of the joint labours of the two, and the student who approaches the subject in the capacity of the one will soon find himself compelled by force of circumstances to supplement his conclusions with those of the other.

The researches of the geologist and the statements of early explorers and Roman and later writers converge to indicate how wild a country was Britain at the period of the conquest. The regions under cultivation were but a fraction of the whole, and they lay mostly towards the Continent. Dense forests in which roamed wolves, bears, wild boars, and wild cats and other animals that still survive, alternated with bleak moors and swamps. The atmosphere was more humid and the rainfall heavier, than at present. "The fallen timber obstructed the streams, the rivers were squandered in the reedy morasses, and only the downs and hilltops arose above the perpetual tracts of wood" (Elton). The Domesday Book bears witness to the extensive wastes in its day; and as recently as the reign of Elizabeth about one-third of England was still in the primeval state of nature. In medieval times the Andreas Wold of the Weald still stretched with few breaks from Kent to Hampshire, and the New Forest may be regarded as its western outlier. To north of the latter lay the forests of Speen, Savernack, and Selwood; westward were the marshes of Sedgemoor; and farther to the north-west, between the Severn and the Wye, was the forest of Dean, "great and terrible." In Warwickshire was the forest of Arden, of which it has been said, that "even in modern times a squirrel  p4 might leap from tree to tree for nearly the whole length of the county." In Worcestershire was Wyrewood, and stretching from Flintshire to Snowdonia were the forests of Denbigh. The wastes of Peakland, the forests of Sherwood and Elmet, and the marshes of the Humberhead Level, well-nigh shut off Northumbria from the south; while East Anglia was similarly isolated by the Fens, then vastly larger than at present, and by a belt of forests through Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire. So dense were the forests in earlier times that they, more than other natural features, isolated the British tribes, and even the Roman engineers sometimes found it necessary to swing their roads out of their direct courses to avoid them.

Perhaps even more remarkable are the changes which have affected the configuration of the island since the Roman era. Here, the shore has receded in consequence of the erosive action of the waves, or the depression of the land. There, where the land has risen, or low-lying stretches of silt have been deposited, it has advanced beyond the Roman line. What was a Roman port may have long since succumbed to the encroachment of the sea; or it may now be miles inland. The rivers, too, in their meanderings through alluvial tracts, have wandered from their old courses, and the declining rainfall has reduced their volume.

[image ALT: missingALT]
Fig. 1. — Physical Map of Roman Britain, showing the Forests, Marshes, And Elevations exceeding 500 ft.

The map (Fig. 1) presents the physical features of the era; and how these determined the distribution of the civilian population is indicated on the second map (Fig. 2). Here the shading represents the regions of densest population — the regions where towns, villages, and houses abounded — and it roughly coincides with the lowlands except where occupied by forests and marshes. The population and wealth of the country were thus chiefly concentrated in the southern counties from Kent to Devonshire, in the Thames basin, in Essex and the country of the Ouse and Nene, in Somerset and Gloucestershire, and about the lower Severn. This distribution differed remarkably from that of the present, as indicated in our third map (Fig. 3). Now the most populated regions are the Metropolitan area; Lancashire and Yorkshire as far east as the Don, with its constellation of large manufacturing towns, Liverpool, Manchester, Preston, Oldham,  p5 Leeds, Bradford, and Sheffield; the southern prolongation of this region from Sheffield to Derby and Nottingham; the Potteries; the Birmingham district; Glamorgan and East Monmouthshire; the Bristol district; East Durham; and the belt of country between the Clyde and the Forth, dominated by  p6 Glasgow and Edinburgh. These regions, with the exception of the Metropolitan, are where coal is found, and nearly all these towns were little more than villages two centuries ago. This shift of population is a modern phenomenon dating from the economic revolution of the 18th century. We are pre-eminently  p7 a manufacturing people to whom coal is of vital importance. The Roman-Britons were essentially an agricultural people, and the few manufactures they engaged in did not depend upon this fuel, although its use was not unknown; hence to them the rugged coal-fields were of little value.

[image ALT: missingALT]
[image ALT: missingALT]
Fig. 2. — Map showing the chief Roman Roads and Towns, and Regions of densest Romanized Population
Fig. 3. — Map showing chief Railways, Towns, and Regions of densest Population at present

 p8  The Roman towns, as will be observed on our second map, were with few exceptions confined to the more fertile lowlands and they still remain towns, although, with the exception of London, their relative importance has waned since the economic revolution. Beginning with Londinium (London), probably then, as now, the largest town and chief commercial centre, the following were of Roman importance: Durovernum (Canterbury), Verolamium (St. Albans), Camulodunum (Colchester), Venta Icinorum (Caister St. Edmunds or Norwich), Calleva (Silchester), Regnum (Chichester), Venta Belgarum (Winchester), Sorbiodunum (Old Sarum), Durnovaria (Dorchester), Isca Dumnuniorum (Exeter), Aquae Sulis (Bath), Durocornovium or Corinium (Cirencester), Clevum (Gloucester), Venta Silurum (Caerwent), Isca Augusta (Caerleon), Magnae (Kenchester), Viroconium or Vriconium (Wroxeter), Ratae (Leicester), Durobrivae (Castor), Lindum (Lincoln), Deva (Chester), Eburacum (York), Isurum (Aldborough), Luguvallium (Carlisle), and Corstopitum (Corbridge).

Most of these towns may be conveniently classed as 'civil.' York, Chester, and Caerleon were legionary stations, and probably Carlisle and Corbridge from their vicinity to the Wall had a marked military character. At an early period, Colchester, Lincoln, and probably Gloucester were legionary stations, as probably also some of the southern towns for a briefer interval, for each advance of the frontier would necessitate an advance of the legions, the conquered territory behind being left in charge of garrisons to maintain order. But, whether civil or military, all the towns were planned more or less on the military model.

The garrisons were stationed in forts or castella, of which there were a large number. These in the earlier days of the era were unevenly scattered throughout the province; but, as the natives became Romanized, the garrisons were as a rule withdrawn to the less Romanized and the frontier town regions, and the vacated castella remained abandoned or continued as posting-stations and developed into small towns. Some of our old towns, as Manchester and Newcastle, were originally Roman castella. In later times the garrisons were distributed chiefly in the north, especially along and in the vicinity of the Wall of Hadrian, and on the eastern and southern coasts, to protect the province  p9 from external enemies; hence in these regions the military remains are conspicuous.

The Roman hold upon the country once established, the great works which had in view the development of its natural wealth were immediately put in hand, and chief of these was a magnificent system of durable roads and posting-stations. Under the security of the imperial rule the rural population steadily increased, and the zenith of prosperity was reached in the Constantine period. The houses of the country squires — spacious, comfortable, and now and again on an almost palatial scale — were a marked feature of the fertile lowlands, each with commodious farm-buildings, and, like the medieval manor-house, the centre of community of peasantry. Villages there were, and the sites of some have been excavated. That wheat was grown in abundance is indicated by an incident of the 4th century. Agriculture in the Rhenish countries being interrupted by the barbarians, the Emperor Julian arranged for the import of cornº from Britain, and no less than 600 vessels were employed for its transit. The rearing of sheep and the manufacture of cloth from the wool were important industries, and contributed to the export trade of the country. British cloth was widely esteemed, and its importation into the East is referred to in an edict of Diocletian.

The mineral resources were early exploited. In the quantity and quality of its lead, Britain stood second to no other province. Its chief mining centres were the Mendips in Somerset, the Peak of Derbyshire, Shropshire, and the district of Holywell in Flintshire, in all of which are extensive ancient workings. More definitely the inscribed pigs of lead, which have been found in and around these regions, bear witness to Roman enterprise. The earliest dated examples show that lead-working was in full swing on the Mendips in A.D. 49, and in Flintshire fifteen years later. The mines were the property of the state and were at first worked by the officials, and subsequently — sometime in the 2nd century — were leased to private individuals. Curious circular pigs of copper with Roman inscriptions prove that this metal was worked in North Wales and Anglesey, apparently at first under the same conditions as lead. Gold was obtained from  p10 the quartz rocks near Lampeter in West Wales. Inscribed silver ingots found in London and Richborough, and the remains of a silver-refinery at Silchester testify to the production of that metal, which was probably obtained by the cupellation of copper and lead. There is also evidence that tin was worked in the Roman era in Cornwall, especially in the 3rd and 4th centuries. Iron was used in abundance for a great variety of purposes, and its chief sources were the Forest of Dean and Sussex, where immense deposits of slag bear witness to an enormous output of the metal. Coal was also used, for it has been frequently observed on Roman sites, and coal-pits apparently of Roman age have been noticed at Werneth, Lancashire.

Pottery was manufactured on an extensive scale in the Nen Valley in Northamptonshire, along the south side of the Medway between Sheerness and Chatham, and in and about the New Forest; and in many other parts of the country have been found the remains of kilns and other evidences of pot-works. Whether the fine wares of the Nen and Medway potteries were exported is uncertain; but there was a considerable importation of pottery from Gaul and the Rhine, and this included the well-known red-glaze or 'Samian' ware, which is found on almost every Roman site. Traces of glass-works have been noticed at Wilderspool near Warrington. In the production of bronze and silver brooches and other small objects, and in the art of enamelling, the British worker probably excelled his Continental brother; and in the 4th century, British artisans were engaged upon public works in Gaul on account of their superior skill.

Most of the towns were British oppida, remodelled on Roman lines. At Colchester, St. Albans, and Silchester may still be traced the British defences enclosing larger areas than the Roman towns which succeeded them, and we know that these oppida were respectively the 'caputs' of the Trinobantes, Catuvelauni, and Atrebates. The Roman names of some other towns, as Venta Belgarum, Isca Dumnuniorum, Venta Icinorum, Venta Silurum, and Isubrigantum (a variant of Isurium), indicate that they were respectively the chief towns of the Belgae, Dumnonii, Iceni, Silures, and Brigantes.​2 The British oppidum was  p11 not a town as we understand the term. It was a fortified tribal camp, but it probably contained a small settled population whose huts tended to cluster round the house of the chief or regulus. The Romans adopted the tribal territory as the unit of administration, and with it the tribal capital. Thus was kept up a link with the past, and to this was due in great measure the rapid acquiescence of the natives in the rule of their conquerors. How far the old machinery of administration was modified is uncertain, but undoubtedly it received a Roman form.

[image ALT: missingALT]
Fig. 4. — Plan of Calleva Atrebatum, Silchester

 p12  The systematic excavations at Silchester, during last twenty years or more, have afforded an insight into a Romano-British town. Calleva was surrounded with a strong wall, in which were four principal gates and several posterns. Its streets were in two sets cutting one another at right angles, as in many a modern American town. In the centre was a magnificent forum and basilica; elsewhere, four temples, public baths, a large hospitium, and a small church. Unlike a modern town, as also Pompeii and ancient Rome, its houses were not packed closely together, but were, as a rule, separated by yards and gardens; and they were of rural type and mostly of a goodly sort. The population probably never reached 3000. Although planned early in the era, there still remained considerable spaces unbuilt upon at its close, and there is no evidence of extramural suburbs. A few trades, and notably that of the dyer, were carried on within the walls, and there were shops for the sale of commodities around the forum, which with little doubt presented an animated scene on market days. Calleva, however, can hardly be called a commercial centre: it rather appeals to one as a residential town. The basilica with its courts and offices was altogether on too large a scale for the municipal needs of so small a place, but probably large enough to have included the administration of the territory — the Civitas Atrebatum — of which Calleva was the capital.

Venta Silurum (Caerwent) was a smaller walled town, with two great and two lesser gates, one main street, and many lanes which divided the area into rectangular insulae, a central forum and basilica, and a temple. Houses and shops crowded the sides of the main street, many of them with verandas or porticoes that covered the side walks, and behind these were houses, several of a size and sumptuousness such as would befit the officials of the local government and other substantial folk attracted by the social conditions of the local capital. Here an imperfect monument has been unearthed, which was erected ex decreto ordinis reipublicaeº civitatis Silurum — by order of the senate of the state or canton of the Silures — to an Imperial legate. The forum, basilica, and public baths — an extensive group of buildings — have been opened out on the site of Viroconium (Wroxeter); and the exploration of Corstopitum (Corbridge)  p13 is bringing to light public and other buildings of unusually strong and good construction.

Britain shared in the religious complexity of the Roman world at large. For this side of our subject we have to rely chiefly upon the testimony of the monuments — especially the inscriptions of altars and tablets — and in less degree upon that of the better-known conditions on the Continent. But as the monuments were mostly raised by the soldiers, who at first were a foreign element in the population, worshipping under the toleration of the empire the gods of their native lands, their testimony is necessarily one-sided. With the conquest came the invocation of the gods of the Graeco-Roman pantheon, but many altars are inscribed to deities bearing Celtic and other barbaric names. We know too little of the religions of pre-Roman Britain to estimate how far the latter deities were indigenous and how far imported by the military. As polytheism has unlimited elasticity, these barbaric deities were identified with the Roman. The expansion of the empire favoured syncretism. It brought the subject-peoples into closer touch with one another, and with Roman civilization. The men who were levied in every province officially recognized the Roman state gods and raised altars to their own wherever their lot was cast, and thus the surrounding provincials were familiarized with strange gods and cults, and soon learned to recognize that the same god might be worshipped in different lands under different names. "The altars and images were used indifferently by worshippers under many creeds; the titles of Jupiter covered gods as far apart as 'Tanarus,' the German thunder-god, and Osiris,º 'the nocturnal sun,' who ruled the world of the dead. . . . Apollo represented all bright and healing influences, and under the name of Mars, the soldiers from every province could recognize their local war-god" (Elton). At Bath, Sulis, the nymph-goddess of the hot-springs, was invoked as Sul-Minerva, and in the north, the Celtic Belatucadrus, 'the brilliant-in‑war,' as Mars Belatucadrus.

The Roman state worship had little power to satisfy the intellect or to inspire devotion, but it had less when laden with a multitude of new gods and cults; and this paved the way for  p14 the widespread acceptance of various cults of eastern origin, which by their monotheistic strain, their underlying mysticism, and their offer of divine illumination through penitence and expiation, promised a satisfaction which the current paganism failed to give. Chief among these was Mithraism, of which there are many traces in Britain, and almost as popular was the worship of the Egyptian Isis and of the Great Mother of Phrygia. These in their turn paved the way for Christianity, itself an eastern religion, which undoubtedly had a firm hold upon Britain before the close of the era, in spite of conflicting evidence.

The map of Roman Britain is in the main the outcome of a comparison of the evidence of the archaeologist with the statements of ancient geographical writers whose works have come down to us. Five of these works are of special value. The Geography of Claudius Ptolemy, who wrote about the middle of the 2nd century, is mainly a catalogue of places with their latitudes and longitudes, and considering that he had to rely upon the statements of travellers who were not provided with the various instruments that are now considered indispensable, his results remarkably approximate to the truth. A map of Great Britain compiled from his data is on the whole easily recognized; but Scotland is curiously turned to the east, and it has been suggested​3 that Ptolemy or a predecessor worked from sectional maps of the British Islands, and inadvertently placed that peninsula the wrong way. In comparing maps from his tables with the modern, it is necessary to remember that his degrees of longitude are one-sixth less than ours; also that the degrees are divided into twelfths. Some of the bays, estuaries, promontories, and cities are easily identified; and the latitudes and longitudes of others give their approximate positions; but his blunders and the possibilities of textual corruption must be constantly kept in mind.​b The Peutinger Tabletº is a 13th‑century copy (now preserved at Vienna) of a Roman itinerarium pictum or pictorial road-chart. It depicts in diagrammatical form the ancient world, greatly elongated to suit a narrow roll of parchment and to display the roads with panoramic effect, the distances being inserted in  p15 numerals; but unfortunately only the south-east portion of Britain is shown, the extreme left section of the roll being lost. The Itinerary of the Provinces of Antoninus Augustus is a list of roads, or more strictly routes, giving the names of places upon them and their distances apart. In the Britain section, fifteen routes are given,​c most of which can be identified by existing remains. Its title connects it with one of the four emperors who bore the name of Antoninus (A.D. 138‑222). The Notitia Dignitatum is an official register or calendar of the civil and military establishments of the empire, and is a document of high historical value. Its topographical information is incidental, consisting mainly of the names of the places where the garrisons were stationed, forty-six of which are given in the portion relating to Britain. This return appears to have been drawn up about the beginning of the 5th century. The Ravenna Chorography was the production of an anonymous writer of the 7th century, who described the world, which he regarded as extending from India to Britain, with much rhapsody and appeal to Scripture. In the British section he enumerates the various cities, rivers, islands, etc., probably taken from some Imperial road-chart like the Peutinger Tablet, but he gives them in little apparent order, and his spelling is very corrupt.

In these works over five hundred names of towns, stations, bays, promontories, and rivers are given; but probably not more than a seventh or eighth have been located with any degree of certainty. This is owing to three chief defects — the ambiguity of the writers, their blunders, and the corruption of their text in its transmission to us. Many of the names lack any hints as to their whereabouts; and the whereabouts of others — and this represents the majority — are vague. We can assign, for instance, a series of names to a certain region, but beyond this we cannot go. The archaeologist may point out a number of sites in that region, but we have no means of identifying the several names with the several places. Textual corruption is responsible for such vagaries in the spelling of the names that the collation of the various lists presents insurmountable difficulties. Still, the data supplied by these writers are of inestimable value.

 p16  The modern bibliography of Roman Britain is very copious. From Camden downwards, the remains have engaged the continuous attention of antiquaries, and never more critically than during the last half-century. For reasons already given, it is hardly possible to pursue the archaeological side of Roman Britain without invading that of the historian, consequently the works that are wholly confined to one or the other province are comparatively few. A full list of the works that are specially useful to the archaeologist would greatly exceed our space, but a short notice of some of the more important will be helpful to the beginner. It is almost unnecessary to say that some which will be referred to are both costly and difficult to obtain. Still, most of them are to be found in our chief provincial libraries, and if these fail, there remains that dernier ressort of the literary man, the British Museum Library.

The Archaeologia of the Society of Antiquaries, and the Journals of the Archaeological Institute and of the British Archaeological Association, are grand repositories of papers on Roman Britain; as also are some of the publications of the provincial societies. The Index of Archaeological Papers from 1665 to 1890, and its annual continuations from the latter date, published under the direction of the Congress of Archaeological Societies in union with the Society of Antiquaries, places the student en rapport with this valuable source of information. The late Charles Roach Smith's Collectanea Antiqua, 1848‑80, contains many important articles on this subject.

The works that treat of Roman Britain in general are few. Foremost among them is Horsley's Britannia Romana, a valuable conspectus of knowledge at its date, 1732, and still a useful book of reference. The last edition of Wright's The Celt, the Roman, and the Saxon is useful, but is disappointing in some respects. Scarth's Roman Britain, 1885, is also disappointing; and its successor, Conybeare's Roman Britain, 1903, leans more to history. The Roman section of Traill's Social England, 1902‑4, should be carefully studied. The following are useful works of reference — Stukeley's Itinerarium Curiosum, 1776; Gough's Camden's Britannia, 1789; King's Munimenta Antiqua, 1799‑1806; the Gentleman's Magazine  p17 Library (Romano-British Remains), 1887; and Clark's Military Architecture in England, 1884. Among the many works which treat wholly or partially on Roman Britain, but less from an archaeological point of view, the following may especially be mentioned — Elton's Origins of English History, 1889; Coote's Romans of Britain, 1878; Petrie, Sharpe, and Hardy's Historia Britannica, 1848; Mommsen's Provinces of the Empire, 1886; Babcock's Two Last Centuries of Roman Britain, 1891; Bury's Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 1896; Rhys' Celtic Britain, 1904; Hogarth's Authority and Archaeology, 1899; Oman's England before the Conquest, 1910. The works that treat of some particular phase of Romano-British archaeology are more numerous. Hubner's Inscriptiones Britanniae Latinae, which forms a volume of his great and costly work on the epigraphy of the empire, is of such importance that no reference library can be said to be complete without it. For inscriptions overlooked or discovered since its date, 1873, recourse must be had chiefly to the papers of the late Mr. Thompson Watkin and subsequently to those of Dr. Haverfield, in the Archaeological Journal. McCaul's Notes on Roman Inscriptions, found in Britain, 1862, is useful, but scarce. Morgan's Romano-Britain Mosaic Pavements, 1886, the only manual on the subject, contains much information, but fails to attain the promise of its opening paragraphs. Lyson's costly Reliquae Britannicae Romanae, 1813‑15, and other works, including his Woodchester, 1797, are noteworthy for their sumptuous plates of mosaics; as also is Fowler's scarce series of twenty-six plates. The roads are the subject of Codrington's Roman Roads of Britain, 1905, and of Forbes and Burmeister's Our Roman Highways, 1904, two useful and inexpensive books.

But the largest, and on the whole the most important element in the bibliography, is the topographical literature. The Wall and its contiguous Roman remains have been and are still a fertile theme of inquiry. Warburton's Vallum Romanum, 1753, was the first important monograph on the subject. Bruce's Roman Wall, of which there have been several editions, the last and largest, that of 1867, being one of the chief descriptive works on English archaeology ever produced, but naturally  p18 some of its conclusions are rendered untenable by recent researches. His Handbook to the Roman Wall, the last edition of which was revised by Mr. Robert Blair, F.S.A., is essentially an abridgement. Maclauchlan's great works, The Roman Wall, with its Memoir, 1858, and his Eastern Branch of the Watling Street in Northumberland, 1864, are especially noteworthy for their engraved plans. Hodgson's History of Northumberland is a mine of valuable information, and the volume treating on the Roman remains was published separately under the title of The Roman Wall and South Tindale, 1841. Neilson's Per Lineam Valli is one of the best of the more recent works, 1891. Hutton's History of the Roman Wall, 1802, is worth mentioning for its quaint and gossipy reading. Dr. Haverfield's Reports on the Five Years' Excavations on the Roman Wall, conducted by the Cumberland and Westmorland Archaeological Society, 1894‑99, can be obtained as reprints with a summary, and are valuable for the new light thrown on the history of the Wall. Dr. Budge's Roman Antiquities in the Chesters Museum, 1903, is more than a catalogue: it contains chapters on the whole subject of the Wall.

Scotland has given rise to several important works — Gordon's Itinerarium Septentrionale, 1726; Roy's Military Antiquities of the Romans in North Britain, 1793, which is particularly valuable for its large plans of camps; Stuart's Caledonia Romana, 1845; and the Antonine Wall Report, an account of the excavations made by the Glasgow Archaeological Society, 1899. The Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, contain reports on the exploration of Scottish Roman forts, and Curle's Roman Fort of Newstead, shortly to be published, promises to be a highly important work.

Lancashire and Cheshire are fortunate in the late Thompson Watkin's Roman Lancashire and Roman Cheshire, two thorough works on their Roman remains up to the years of their issues, 1883 and 1886. Whitaker's History of Manchester, 1773, devotes much space to these remains in the vicinity of that city. Roeder's Roman Manchester, 1900, and Bruton's Roman Fort at Manchester, 1909, bring Whitaker and Watkins up to their dates. Smith and Short's History of Ribchester gives much information  p19 of the Roman remains there. The excavations at Wilderspool are the subject of May's Warrington's Roman Remains, 1904. Roman York is treated on in Drake's Eboracum, 1785, and Wellbeloved's Roman York, 1812; and Aldborough in H. Ecroyd Smith's Remains of the Roman Isurium, 1852. Derbyshire has yielded Melandra Castle, 1906, edited by Prof. R. S. Conway. Lincoln, considering its Roman importance, has not given rise to much literature. The Roman city at Wroxeter, Shropshire, was the theme of several pens in the 'sixties,' and these were followed by Wright's Uriconium in 1872. Gloucestershire and Somerset, from their richness in remains of this age, have yielded a considerable output, as Lyson's Woodchester, already referred to; Bathurst and King's Roman Remains in Lydney Park, 1879; Buckman and Newmarch's Illustrations of Roman Art in Cirencester, 1850; Beecham's History of Cirencester and the Roman City of Corinium, 1886; and Witt's Map and Archaeological Handbook, 1880 (?).​d Bath is treated in Scarth's Aquae Solis, and Lyson's Two Temples and other Buildings discovered at Bath, 1802. Monmouthshire was the scene of much archaeological activity in the middle decades of the last century, and this resulted in Lee's Delineations of Roman Antiquities found at Caerleon, 1845, and Isca Silurum, 1862, a well-illustrated catalogue of the museum there; and in Omerod's Memoir of British and Roman Remains illustrative of Communications with Venta Silurum, 1852, and Strigulensia, 1861. Ward's Roman Fort of Gellygaer, 1903, is an illustrated report on the exploration of that site in Glamorgan. A. C. Smith's large and detailed map with its accompanying Guide, 1884, presents the Britain and Roman remains of a hundred square miles round Abury in North Wiltshire; and this county was the scene of most of the excavations of General Pitt-Rivers, which are described in his four profusely illustrated volumes.

Roman in common with other early remains in Dorset are described in Warne's Ancient Dorset, 1872; and the mosaic pavements at Frampton are the subject of one of Lyson's monographs. The Isle of Wight has contributed Nicholson's Account of the Roman Villa near Brading, 1880, and Price's Description of Roman Buildings at Morton near Brading, 1881. The excavations  p20 at Silchester during the last twenty-one years have resulted in a series of important reports in Archaeologia, most of which may be obtained as reprints.

The Roman coast-forts of Kent and Sussex — Reculvers, Richborough, Lympne, and Pevensey — were ably described by C. Roach Smith, both in his Collectanea and in separate works, Excavations on the Site of the Roman Castrum of Lymne in 1850, Excavations at Pevensey in 1852, and Antiquities of Richborough, Reculver, and Lymne, 1859. From the same pen issued Illustrations of Roman London, 1859, with many plates. Roman London was also the theme of several well-illustrated monographs by J. E. Price — Description of the Roman Tesselated Pavement found in Bucklersbury, etc., 1870; Roman Antiquities discovered on the site of the National Safe Company's Premises, 1873; On a Bastion of London Wall, 1880. Various excavations at and in the vicinity of Chesterford and Audley End in Essex about the middle of the last century were described by the Hon. R. C. Neville, afterwards Lord Baybrook, in his Antiqua Explorata, etc., mostly privately printed, and scarce. Much about Roman Colchester is to be found in Strutt's History and Description of Colchester, and in Buckler's and in Jenkin's Colchester Castle, 1869 and 1877, respectively. The coast-fort of Burgh Castle is the subject of I've's Garianonum of the Romans, 1803; and Castor and its Roman potteries are illustrated in Artis's The Durobrivae of Antoninus, etc., 1828, now very scarce.

In the Victoria History of the Counties of England, descriptive articles on the Roman remains of the following counties have appeared — Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Derbyshire, Hampshire, Herefordshire, Northamptonshire, Norfolk, Nottinghamshire, Somerset, Staffordshire, Leicestershire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire, and Shropshire. These are all, except one, from the pen of Dr. Haverfield, and are of inestimable value to the student.

We turn now to another important source of information about Roman Britain — museum collections. Most of our museum contain objects of Roman age, and these, as a rule, have been found in the districts of their present resting-places. As might be expected, the chief collections are in or near the sites of the more important Roman towns and populous regions, so that  p21 their distribution somewhat coincides with the distribution of the civil and military population. The Romano-British collections of the York Philosophical Society and of the Reading and the Colchester museums are large and varied. That of Reading is mainly derived from Silchester, and its value is enhanced by models of some of the buildings of the ancient city. The exploration of Caerwent has given rise to another important collection, most of which is stored in a temporary museum on the site, the residue being in the Newport Museum. The numerous objects found at Wroxeter are in the Shrewsbury Museum, and those found at Bath, Caerleon, and Cirencester are in the museums of these places, all being important collections. The British Museum collection is not so large as would be expected, but it contains many rare objects from various parts of the country. The Grosvenor Museum, Chester, is notable for its tombstones and other lapidary remains, and these are also a conspicuous feature in the Leicester Museum. In the Wall country are three important collections, those of Tullie House at Carlisle, of the Blackgate Museum at Newcastle-on‑Tyne, and of the Chesters Museum, the last being a model of good arrangement and exhibition. The notable feature of the collection of the National Museum of Antiquities at Edinburgh is the finds from the exploration of Roman forts and other sites in Scotland.

Besides the museums just named, those of South Shields, Warrington, Taunton Castle, Bristol, Maidstone, Devizes, Gloucester, Cardiff, Canterbury, Dorchester, Chichester, St. Albans, Oxford, Sheffield, Hull, Norwich, Durham, and some others contain Romano-British collections of greater or less interest.

The Author's Notes:

1 Elton, Origins of English History, p307.

2 Not necessarily on the sites or within the lines of the British oppida.

3 Archaeologia, XLVIII, p379.

Thayer's Notes:

a To gauge what four-and‑a‑half centuries may mean in the history of a country: for us who are reading this on the World Wide Web in the early 21st century, the differences are pretty much as in the text (except that by 1550 the printing press was in use, and in 2003 vulcanite is no longer a familiar invention and gas lighting has vanished along with the British Empire): only more so — radio, television, computers, airplanes, spaceflight, and huge strides in medicine.

In 1550 the territory of the United States was sparsely populated by prehistoric hunter-gatherers; the Moslem invasions of Europe had just shifted gears from West to East, having just been repulsed in Spain but on the offensive in the Balkans; and Christian Europe was governed by unholy combinations of religious and political authority, only just beginning to fall apart.

b problems with Ptolemy: Ward has been obliged here to simplify the situation drastically.

Ptolemy himself, a scientist of genius (as his Almagest amply proves, see especially Toomer's edition) is the least of our worries. The Geography was in fact an atlas, to which we have lost the maps and have only the index; Ptolemy himself predicted the maps would be corrupted or lost and advised us to redraw them from the index.

The medieval transmission of all those numbers and proper names of obscure places — the two very types of information most likely to be corrupted in copying, owing to the lack of any context to keep the copyist in line — is the source of much error.

But Ptolemy could only work with the data he could get, and had to rely on collecting disparate reports from many different sources and kinds of sources, each with its own unreliabilities and errors. He also lived in an age without clocks, therefore of the Longitude Problem, so that while latitudes are usually rather accurate, longitudes suffer from distortions both systematic (as mentioned by Ward, simplifying again, mind you) and local. Britain is in fact a very good indicator of the various problems involved in reading Ptolemy; see my own notes to the map, for example.

The (partial) edition of the Geography on this site is in English: sadly, its only merit; I know of no other edition in English, though. On the other hand, the Greek one needs to have to read an index is negligible; I would therefore encourage the gentle reader with an interest in Ptolemy to find a copy of Karl Müller's superlative edition of the Geography, the original Greek text with a facing Latin translation and a massive critical apparatus that goes far beyond mere textual criticism, and does much to solve the many conundrums posed by Ptolemy's text as we have it. Prof. Müller died when he had completed about 80% of the work, but we have all of Europe and the entire Roman world.

c the fifteen British routes of the Antonine Itinerary: They are given in Codrington's Roman Roads, Chapter 1.

d Witt's Map and Archaeological Handbook, 1880 (?): Properly, the author's name is Witts; the work is onsite in its entirety. It is undated, but at one point Witts states he is writing in 1882.

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 14 Dec 20