Welcome to Londinium
The Roman outpost of Londinium, a lonely collection of cottages along the banks of a dark and unknown river, was typical of a Roman armed camp in hostile territory. The Romans expected trouble from the natives, and they got it. In the 160 years of Roman occupation, the city was attacked countless times and burned down twice. Let’s take a walk down the muddy streets of Roman London, a frontier town in a very dangerous neighborhood.
The English Countryside In the Time Of The Romans
A wide and lazy river winds through a lonely forest. Bears, stag, and even forest lions still roam these hills, beautiful and green in the summer but bitter and cold the winter through. There is good fishing and swimming, and the southern bank of the river is close enough that they might build a bridge there someday.
Just a little downstream of where the Fleet River joins the Thames, between Walbrook Creek and the marsh, there are two small hills by the river. Between them is an open field, and it is here that the Romans have built their settlement.
Roman Living in Celtic England
Danger is the first thing on everyone’s mind here. There are watchtowers on the hills and the Romans have cleared the tree line far back. This is conquered territory, and the Iceni tribesmen who once ruled here still lurk in the forest and swear revenge. After they cleared the trees, the Romans used the timber to build a wall. The wall runs where London Wall Road is today, and the moat that they dug, now called Houndsditch, was the town dump.
Sitting with its back to the river, the little fort of Londinium is not more than a couple hundred meters across. The bank of the Thames is a steep cliff, and the marsh downstream floods with every high tide. The spot where the camp lies is high above the unhealthy marsh, dry, fertile, and well defended.
Inside their wall, the Roman cottages are clean and orderly, huddled behind their low earthen wall. They have a meeting hall, a forge, a temple to Mithra, and even a bathhouse. The roads are straight and clear, a hallmark of Roman civilization, and they are being paved with cobblestones of the local rock. Fresh water comes from Walbrook Creek, the fish, eels, and oysters in the Thames provide food, and firewood is plentiful in the forest. They keep signal fires burning all night, but when those long winter evenings fell it was easy to feel alone in a cold and lonely part of the world. It is a very long way from here to Rome, and everyone is afraid that the Iceni tribesmen are plotting against them.
Many of the Iceni hold a grudge against this armed outpost on their ancestral land. Although they could not help but interact with the Romans, tensions run high and will break out at least twice more. Ten years after the foundation of Londinium the Iceni will attack and burn the fort to the ground, completing their revenge. Though they are bitter enemies now, the children of Iceni and the Romans will someday trade together, live together, and eventually grow to become the English people.
Maria Jakobson is a travel writer and journalist that grew up in London and now lives in the Netherlands. It was while staying at the Lancaster London that she imagined what living in this city must have been like in Roman times.