Category Archives: London History

DARK AGE LONDON contd.

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Another in the  series of posts taken from  my forthcoming book, “The Flower Of All Cities” …

Building Works

Within the walls of the City, the first St Paul’s Cathedral was founded by Bishop Mellitus and the Kentish King Ethelburg in 604, a matter of a few short years after the arrival of the Gregorian mission in 597.  Again as the  Venerable Bede put it:  “In the Year of our Lord 604, Augustine, Archbishop of Britain, ordained … Mellitus to preach to the province of the East Saxons … .  … [W]hen this province … received the word of truth, by the preaching of Mellitus, King Ethelbert built the church of St Paul the Apostle, in the city of London, where he and his successors should have their episcopal see … ”.  The   first cathedral  went on to be destroyed by fire in 675.  The second, “The Church of Paulesbyri”, was built during the  Bishopric of  Erkenwald, between 675-85,  and destroyed by the Vikings in 961.  The  third was built in 961, and destroyed by fire in 1087.

The church of All Hallows Barking was  originally built in  around 675.  That of St Peter-upon-Cornhill was built at least as long ago as 1038, being  mentioned in the will of Bishop Aelfric, who died in that year.  And that of St Lawrence Jewry at least as long ago as 1046, wood from a coffin in the churchyard being  dendrochronologically dated to  that year.   Many other churches are of probable or possible Saxon origin, the best substantiated being  St Benet Fink, where a grave-slab tentatively dated on stylistic grounds to  the late tenth or early eleventh century has been found.  The palace of the Mercian King Offa was originally built in the eighth century.   What is now known as Queenhithe was first recorded, as “Ethered’s Hithe”, in 898; and it is evident, from dendrochronologically-dated timbers re-used in a revetment on the river-front, that an arcaded “aisled hall” – in context most likely a royal palace or other high-status building – was built here between 956-79.  And Billingsgate was first recorded in around 1000.

Without the walls, in Southwark, the nunnery of St Mary Overie (Southwark Cathedral) was founded in 606.  In  Westminster, the parish church of St Clement Danes on the Strand, “so called because Harold (surnamed Harefoot) King of England of the Danish line and other Danes were here buried”,  was at least purportedly originally  built in wood by Alfred in the late ninth century, and subsequently rebuilt in stone by Cnut in the early tenth; and in Camden, the church of St Andrew Holborn, in wood, at least as long ago as 951, being referred to as an “old wooden church” in a Charter of that year.  Also in Westminster, the Benedictine Monastery of St Peter was founded by Bishop Dunstan and King Edgar in 960, on what was then Thorney Island (and, according to legend, the site of a church founded by Sebert in 604); and the Palace of Westminster, by Cnut, in 1016.  The Monastery was subsequently  rebuilt, as Westminster Abbey, under Edward “The Confessor”, in the years up to 1065; and the Palace was also rebuilt at this  time.   A monk of St Bertin’s Abbey wrote in 1065: “Outside the walls of London … stood a monastery [founded by Bishop Dunstan under King Edgar the Peaceable and] dedicated to St Peter, but insignificant in buildings … .  … The King [Edward the Confessor], therefore  … gave his attention to that place, for it both lay hard by the famous and rich town and also was a delightful spot, … [and] … decided to have his burial place there [he was to die in 1066].  Accordingly, he ordered that out of the tithes of all his revenues should be started the building of a noble edifice, worthy of the Prince of the Apostles … ”.

The layout  of the streets in the Saxon City of Lundenburg  was essentially  longitudinal, such as to allow easy access  to Lundenwic to the west.  The principal streets were Eastcheap to the east and Cheapside to the west, with Leadenhall Street and Cornhill to the north, and Fenchurch Street and Lombard Street to the south, of the old Roman Basilica and Forum in the centre (note in this context that the Saxons appear to have held Roman ruins in superstitious awe, a line in an Old English poem entitled “The Ruin” referring to them as “enta geweorc” or “labours of giants”).  Saxon street names were characteristically blunt, often  referring simply to available goods or services (“c(h)eap” meant  “market”).

Surviving Structures

Structures that survive from Saxon and Viking London  are extremely few and far between.

Essentially nothing now  remains of the original Saxon fabric in St Paul’s Cathedral, St Mary Overie (Southwark Cathedral),  or St Lawrence Jewry.  Nothing remains either of the palace of the Mercian King Offa, incorporated into St Alban Wood Street, in turn severely damaged during  the Blitz of the Second World War, and substantially demolished in the post-war period.  Nor anything of  Queenhithe or Billingsgate, other than the names  (and the aforementioned timbers from Queenhithe, now in the Museum of London).  Nor of the folkmoot or husting.

However, there are surviving – seventh-century and later – Saxon remains in the church of All Hallows Barking.  These include a fine stone arch possibly as old as the late seventh century, c. 675, incorporating Roman tiles; and, in the crypt, two stone crosses, one of 900 and the other of 1000, the former plain and simple, and bearing  a Saxon Runic inscription, and the latter  beautifully and intricately carved, and bearing  a symbolic depiction of Christ over beasts, a characteristic of “Dark Age” iconography.

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There is also some surviving precisely-dated eleventh-century  and  imprecisely-dated pre-eleventh-century stone-work fabric  in  the church of St Bride, off Fleet Street, the latter of which has been postulated, although not proven, to date to the late fifth or early sixth century, the church’s purported founder Bride, or Bridget, the   Abbess of Kildare in Ireland, living  from 450-525.    And in Westminster Abbey, there is a surviving eleventh-century shrine to Edward “The Confessor”.  And an eleventh-century crypt, containing the Chapel of the Pyx.

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Further  afield, there is a Saxon altar-stone in St Pancras Old Church in Camden, tentatively dated on stylistic grounds to the late sixth century, around  the time of the conversion of the Saxons by St Augustine in 597, and the construction of the first incarnation of St Paul’s Cathedral in 604 (interestingly, the land on which the church stands was granted to  St Paul’s in 604).  The  altar-stone, inlaid into  a Georgian altar-table, depicts five crosses, whose unusual forms are remarkably  reminiscent of that on the tomb on a small island in the Firth of Lorne believed to be of Columba’s mother Eithne, who died in the late sixth century.   There is also a Saxon rood (cross) in the church of St Dunstan and All Saints in Stepney, of the tenth.

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And five miles east of Epping, in a dappled clearing in the dark heart of the ancient  wild-wood that today bears its name, there is the extraordinary church  of St Andrew in Greensted. Greensted Church, as it is more commonly known, is purportedly the oldest wooden church  in the world.  The original  church on the site was probably built at least as long ago as the middle of the seventh century, the   time that St Cedd set about converting the East Saxons to Christianity from his base at Bradwell-on-Sea  (incidentally, Cedd went on to attend the Synod of Whitby in 664, and to die of the plague in Northumbria later that same year).  Sadly, though, the only remaining physical evidence as to the existence of this structure  is in the form of post-holes discovered during an archaeological excavation in 1960.  Work began on the present church in the middle of the eleventh century  (dendrochronological evidence acquired in 1995 indicating  that the trees used in its  construction were felled between 1060-3).   Nearly a thousand years later, much  of nave  still stands, incorporated into later extensions.  It  was evidently originally windowless, aside from some small “eag-thyrels” or eye-holes, and a single larger “niche”, known by many as  a lepers’ “squint”.  Rather wonderfully, scorch-marks can still be seen  on some of the wall timbers, suggesting that  the gloomy interior was once lit by wall-mounted lamps.   Adze-marks can also still be seen on some timbers.

DARK AGE LONDON contd.

Another in the  series of posts taken from  my forthcoming book, “The Flower Of All Cities” …

Social History

Everyday life would have continued to revolve around the requirement and search for sustenance for body and soul.

Saxon  women were granted some not inconsiderable freedoms in law, and although their principal responsibilities were household, they also held the rights to own land.

Religion

The early Saxons were pagan, but they later began to become Christianised from around the turn of the sixth and seventh centuries onwards.

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In 597, Pope Gregory I sent a mission from Rome to attempt their wholesale conversion, one of the members of which was Augustine, and another Mellitus, which latter went on to become the first Bishop of London in 604, and the third Archbishop of Canterbury in 615.  In 616, the previously converted East Saxons temporarily  reverted to paganism, after the death of their King. As the Venerable Bede put it in 731, in his “Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum” (“Ecclesiastical History of the English People”): “In the year of our Lord 616 … the death of Sabert [Sebert], King of the East Saxons … left three sons, still pagans, to inherit his … crown.  They immediately began openly to give themselves up to idolatry, … and … granted free licence to their subjects to serve idols.  And when they saw the bishop [Mellitus] … celebrating Mass … , filled, as they were, with folly and ignorance, they said unto him … ‘We will not enter into that font, because we … do not stand in need of it, and yet we will be refreshed by that bread’.  And being … earnestly admonished by him, that this could by no means be done, nor would any one be admitted to partake of the sacred Oblation without the holy cleansing, …  they said, filled with rage, ‘If you will not comply with us in so small a matter as that which we require, you shall not stay in our province’.  And they drove him out … and his company … from their Kingdom [Essex] … ”.

The early Vikings were pagan, but they later began to become Christianised from the ninth century onwards.

Food and Drink

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Evidence from finds from Saxon rural occupation and riverside fish-trap sites in the Greater London region, within a 25 kilometre  (16 mile) radius of the City,  indicates that the  agricultural economy centred on the production of cereal crops, including  wheat, barley, oats and rye, and of cattle, presumably for milk as well as meat. Pulses, nuts, fruit and berries were also produced and consumed.

Note in this context that plant- and animal- based remedies featured prominently in early Medieval medicine.  The Old English text in the mid tenth-century “Bald’s Leechbook” describes, among other things, how  salves  and potions were used to treat not only injuries and infections, but also, rather wonderfully, visitations from elves (aelfcynne), night goblins (nihtgehgan) and devils (deofol).   And the Old English and Latin text and accompanying illustrations in an anonymous early eleventh-century herbal indicate that both parsley (peterslilie) and sweet basil or “snake plant” (naedderwyrt) were used to treat snake bites.

Population

The population of Saxon London is estimated to have been at the most several thousand (that is, significantly less than that of Roman London).

Administration and Governance

Saxon London was for the most part only a  regional rather than a national administrative centre, as the “Seven Kingdoms” only finally  united to become England under Alfred’s grandson Athelstan in 924 (the “Seven Kingdoms”, also known as the  “Heptarchy”,  comprised East Anglia, Essex, Kent, Mercia, Northumbria, Sussex and Wessex; of these, Essex, Mercia and Wessex in turn held  sway over London).  Nonetheless, it was the site of both the folkmoot, or outdoor assembly, thought to have been on a site near the Medieval (St) Paul’s Cross;  and the husting or indoor assembly, thought to have been on a site near the Medieval Guildhall.  Saxon society was comparatively democratic, and any free man  was entitled to voice his opinion at the folkmoot (and, as noted above, Saxon women were also granted some freedoms in law).  However, only a noble  ealdorman, or earl, appointed by the King could attend the husting,  and only Kings, greater nobles and bishops the peripatetic Witanagemot or Witan.    Saxon Society was also comparatively meritocratic,  and permissive of a measure of mobility, albeit within an overall  hierarchy (note that although Kings were elected, they  were elected from  within the ranks  of the nobility).  The highest among the free men were the thanes, or knights, the lowest the various classes of ceorls, or peasants (whence Cerle-ton or Charlton in south-east London).  Below them were the theows, or slaves.

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Perhaps the most famous law-giver of Saxon times was Alfred, who in the late 880s or early 890s established a new code of law, based on Christian principles, and enshrined in the so-called  “Domboc”.  The code established  folk-rights and privileges.  Judicial  courts ruled  on cases of alleged breaches, and meted  out such fines or corporal or capital punishments as were deemed appropriate.  Some of the punishments appear barbaric by modern standards, such as the possible judicial  drowning of a  Saxon woman whose skeleton has recently been excavated  at Queenhithe (by the mid-tenth century, a woman could be punished by drowning either for  theft, according to laws laid down between 924-39, or for witchcraft, as mentioned in a charter of 963-75).  That is not to mention the supposedly “oath-helping” Ordeals by Fire, Iron or Water!  Athelstan passed laws relating specifically to the governance of London in the succeeding early tenth century (he reigned from 924-39).  His “Judicia Civitatis Londoniae” makes explicit reference to a governance structure comprising a single governor, or in effect a mayor (in place of a bishop and port-reeve), “eorlish” aldermen, and “ceorlish” commons.

Trade and Commerce

Foodstuffs continued to be brought into Saxon  London from the immediate hinterland.  Other goods continued to be  brought in    by boat from all around northern Europe, including the Low Countries and Scandinavia, and also, in the case of precious stones, gold, silk and other luxuries, even further afield.

DARK AGE (SAXON AND VIKING) LONDON  

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Another in the  series of posts taken from  my forthcoming book, “The Flower Of All Cities” …

History

Considerably less is known about this period of history than either the succeeding or indeed even the preceding one, such that it is often referred to as the “Dark Ages”.  One of the reasons we know so little is that the Saxons appear to have built almost exclusively using perishable materials such as timber, wattle-and-daub, and thatch, which typically leave very little archaeological record.

What is known is that there was essentially a hiatus in the occupation of London between when the Romans left, in the  fifth century, and when the Saxons arrived in numbers at the turn of the sixth and seventh (archaeological evidence points to a Saxon presence in the city, although not a full-scale occupation, from around 430-450).

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When the Saxons did arrive, they chose for some reason to make  their principal  settlement about a mile to the west (upstream), and without the walls, of the  old Roman City of Londinium, around what is now Aldwych in the City of Westminster, and they named it Lundenwic.

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Lundenwic became  subject to increasingly frequent and savage raids by the Vikings in the ninth century.  On the wings of dragons  they came in 839, axes agleam, and according to the Old English “Anglo-Saxon Chronicle”, went  only after “great slaughter”.  And back they came in 851 “and stormed … London”, and again in 872 “and there chose their winter-quarters”.

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Then in 878, Alfred the Great emerged from the fastnesses of Athelney to defeat the Vikings at the Battle of Edington in Wiltshire, and subsequently to force them to withdraw into what became known as the Danelaw in the  north and east of the country  (east of the River Lea in London).   Eight years later, in 886, according to Asser, a monk and later Bishop of Sherborne, in his “Life of King Alfred”, written in 893, he “restored the [Roman] city of London [Londinium] … splendidly … and  made it habitable again … ”; and moved the  Saxon settlement to within its perimeter and river walls, and renamed it Lundenburg.  In the process, he  set out the street plan that still in essence survives to this day.  He then “entrusted it  [and command of its burgwara or militia] to the care of [his son-in-law] Ethe(l)red, ealdorman of the Mercians”, to hold it under him.

The raids continued, though.  In 994, again according to the “Chronicle”, “[the Danish King] Swein [Forkbeard] came into London …  with 94 ships, and they proceeded to attack the city stoutly and wished also to set it on fire … .  But the holy Mother of God showed her mercy to the citizens on that day and saved them from their enemies”.

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In   1013, the city fell again to the Danish Vikings, albeit again only temporarily, being retaken in 1014 by the English King Ethelred “The Unready”, in alliance with the Norwegian Viking Olaf, Olav or Olave  Haraldsson.  According to the Norse “Olaf Sagas”, Olaf  destroyed the Saxon incarnation of London Bridge and the Danish  Viking army assembled on it by pulling it down with ropes tied to his long-boats.  The  court poet Ottar Svarte wrote, in the eleventh century, and Snorri Sturluson rewrote, in the thirteenth: “London Bridge is broken down.|Gold is won, and bright renown.|Shields resounding, war-horns sounding,|Hild is shouting in the din!|Arrows singing, mail-coats ringing-|Odin makes our Olaf win” (many believe this ode to be the origin of the much-loved nursery-rhyme “London Bridge is falling down”).   Olaf later converted to Christianity, and, as King Olaf II, introduced the religion to Norway in 1015.  He went on to be martyred fighting heathen Danish Vikings at the Battle of Stiklestad in 1030, and to be canonised by the  English Bishop of Selsey, Grimkell or Grimketel in 1031 (the local canonisation was later confirmed by Pope Alexander III in 1164).  In the later Middle Ages, his tomb, in the most northerly cathedral in Christendom, in Nidaros [Trondheim], became an important pilgrimage site, and the centre of a widespread “cult of Olav”.  Interestingly, a  number of churches in and around the City of London are  or were dedicated to him,   including  St Nicholas Olave, St Olave Broad Street, St Olave Hart Street, St Olave Jewry and St Olave Silver Street in the City, St Olave in Southwark, and St Olave in Rotherhithe.

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Then, in 1016, the Viking Cnut, son of Swein Forkbeard, son of Harald Bluetooth, decisively defeated in battle the Saxon Edmund “Ironside”, son of Ethelred and Aelgifu of York,  to become King of England as well as Denmark; and in 1017 he married Ethelred’s widow, Emma of Normandy, one of the more remarkable women of the age, wife of two Kings, mother of two more, and in her own right an influential political as well as an important dynastic figure, as described in the “Encomium Emmae Reginae”.  Cnut was in turn succeeded by Harold “Harefoot”, his son by Aelgifu of Northampton, in 1035, and  Hardicanute, his son by Emma,  in  1040.

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Finally, the Saxon Edward “The Confessor”, son of Ethelred and Emma,   became King when the Viking Hardicanute died, leaving no heir, in 1042; and the ill-fated Harold Godwinson, Harold II, in 1066.

ROMAN LONDON contd.

Another in the  series of posts taken from  my forthcoming book, “The Flower Of All Cities” (most images courtesy of the Museum of London) …

Building Works

Restoring the mosaic of Roman London from the  isolated “tesserae” that remain is a challenging task.

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The Roman London Bridge and embryonic Port of London was   originally built in c. 50.

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A recently-discovered post-Boudiccan fort on   Mincing Lane  was built in c. 63, although it appears to have been out of use by c. 80.

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The  “Governor’s Palace” was built during the Flavian period of the late first century, c. 69-96, on the then-waterfront, which was much further north in Roman times than it is today, and it remained in use throughout the  second and third, before being substantially demolished at the turn of the third  and fourth, the remains being discovered during   the nineteenth.

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The first undoubted Basilica and Forum were built in c. 70 (there may have been earlier ones, destroyed during the Boudiccan Revolt of 60 or 61), and rebuilt and considerably extended in c. 100-30, before being substantially demolished in c. 300,  the remains being discovered during   excavations at 168 Fenchurch Street  in 1995-2000.

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The Amphitheatre was originally built in timber in c. 75, rebuilt in stone in the second century, and renovated in the late second to early fourth, before falling into disuse, and eventually being substantially demolished, in the late fourth, possibly around 365,  the remains coming to light again during   excavations on the site of the Medieval Guildhall in 1987.

The City wall, incorporating the early second-century fort at Cripplegate to the north-west, was originally built in the late second to early third century, from east to west;  extended  from  the  mid to late  third onwards,  when a river wall was added; and strengthened  in the mid fourth,  when bastions were added (the original wall cuts through, and thus  post-dates, a deposit containing a coin of Commodus dating to 183-4, and  is in part contemporary with a deposit containing a coin of Caracalla dating to 213-7).    There being no local source of stone, the wall was constructed  out an estimated 85000 tons of Kentish Ragstone, quarried near Maidstone and transported down the Medway and up the Thames to London on barges, the remains of one of which  have been found at Blackfriars, with its 50-ton cargo intact.

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The  Temple of Mithras on the Walbrook was originally built in the early third century, c. 220-40, and abandoned in the fourth, when Christianity came to replace paganism throughout the Roman Empire, the remains being revealed  during the bombing of  the Blitz of the Second World War.  The Temple of Mithras was reconstructed on Queen Victoria Street in 1962, and reconstructed again – inside a specially designed  space – in the Bloomberg Building on Walbrook in 2017.  Some of the finds from the recent archaeological dig on and around the temple site may be viewed in the Bloomberg Space (other finds, from the original post-war dig, including a marble bust  of Mithras in his distinctive Phrygian cap, may be viewed in the Roman gallery in the Museum of London).

There was probably also a  Temple of Isis on the Thames in the third century, as indicated by the finding of a re-used altar stone dedicated to the goddess in Blackfriars.  And plausibly a Temple of Diana on Ludgate Hill, as indicated by the finding of a bronze statuette of the goddess somewhat to the south-west of St Paul’s Cathedral, between the Deanery and Blackfriars.  (No Temple of Cybele has as yet been found, although the worship of that goddess was evidently practised in Roman London, as indicated by the finding in the Thames of a curious  piece of liturgical equipment, interpreted by some as a “castration clamp”, featuring figures of her and of consort Atys, and also by the findings at various locations in the city of figurines of Atys).

An  enigmatic, only partially excavated, building, variously interpreted as a late Roman Basilica or – on the basis of similarity to the Basilica di Santa Tecla in Milan – a “palaeo-Christian” church or cathedral, was built  in the south-east, between  Pepys Street and Trinity Square, sometime in the fourth century.  Note also that a late Roman, fourth-century origin has been postulated, although not proven, both for the church of St Peter-upon-Cornhill in the City,  and for St Pancras Old Church in Camden. Perhaps significantly in this context, the present church of St Peter-upon-Cornhill lies,  and presumably the previous one(s) lay, within the footprint of the disused second – to third- century Basilica, possibly at least in part adopting its form, as was common practice in the early Christian church.  In the case of St Pancras Old Church, there is clearly recognisable Roman tile incorporated into the surviving Norman north wall, which could indeed  have been robbed  from a Christian church that once stood on the site – or perhaps from a pagan compitum or shrine (such as was often located on such prominent  ground adjacent to a water-course).  The  local historian Charles Lee went so far – in other words possibly too far – as to suggest a date, “possibly as early as 313 or 314” (313 was the year of the issuing of the Edict of Milan, which ensured tolerance of Christianity; and 314 was the year of the Christian Council of Arles).  Coincidentally or otherwise,  the patronal Pancras was martyred on the orders of the Emperor Diocletian in 304.

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The pattern of the Roman roads within and outwith the City may best be described as radiating out from the Basilica and Forum toward and beyond the various City Gates, which were, anti-clockwise from the east, Aldgate, Bishopsgate, Cripplegate, Aldersgate, Newgate and Ludgate (Moorgate, between Bishopsgate and Cripplegate,  was a  later addition). Interestingly, the Romans do not appear to have had names for their roads. Ermine Street, which was the main south to north route of Roman Britain, linking London to Lincoln and York, takes its name from the Saxon Earninga straet, after one Earn(e).  Watling Street, the main east to west route, linking  Richborough on the Kent coast to London, and London to Wroxeter, takes its name from the Saxon Waeclinga straet, after one Waecel.

Surviving Structures

Essentially the only structures that survive from Roman London  are parts of the “Governor’s Palace”, the Basilica and Forum, the Amphitheatre, the City wall, and the Temple of Mithras.  The “Governor’s Palace” forms a  Scheduled Ancient Monument substantially buried beneath  Cannon Street Station (the  so-called “London Stone” that stands opposite the station is likely a relic of the palace).     A pier base from the Basilica can be seen in the basement of No. 90 Gracechurch Street.

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The  Amphitheatre and associated artefacts can be viewed in the basement of the Guildhall.

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The best-preserved sections of the City wall are near the Museum of London  on London Wall to the west, and around Tower Hill to  the east.

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As noted above, the recently-reconstructed  Temple of Mithras may be viewed inside the Bloomberg Building on Walbrook.

It will be noted that, with the sole exception of the wall,  all of these structures, are below – and indeed 20’ or more below – modern street level.  Over the two millennia of London’s existence, street level has risen at an average rate of  1’ per 100 years – simply through the accumulation of demolition rubble.

ROMAN LONDON contd.

Another in the  series of posts taken from  my forthcoming book, “The Flower Of All Cities” …

Social History

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Everyday life in London in Roman – as indeed in all other – times would have revolved around the requirement and search for sustenance for body and soul.

Religion

The predominant religion during the early part of the Roman occupation was pantheistic paganism, which perceived deities in all things, abstract as well as tangible; and during the later part, Christianity.  The principal funerary rite was cremation, although this later gave way to inhumation.  Remains were typically buried outside the city limits, for example, just outside Aldgate, Bishopsgate, or Newgate, or beside the Walbrook in Moorfields, or on the south side of the Thames in Southwark.  One particular fourth-century Roman woman was buried in Spitalfields, just outside Bishopsgate, in a decorated lead coffin inside a plain stone sarcophagus, resting on a bed of laurel leaves, shrouded in damask silk interwoven with gold thread, covered in an Imperial Purple robe, and accompanied by  further high-status grave goods, including delicately wrought  glass vials that once contained oil, perfume, and possibly wine,  and a carved jet box and hair-pins.  Isotopic evidence  from her teeth indicates that she may actually have come from the imperial capital of Rome itself.  A facial reconstruction of her can be seen in the Roman gallery in the Museum of London.  Interestingly, at least one woman buried in the southern cemetery in Southwark has been determined on morphometric and isotopic evidence to have been  of Black African origin.  And a further two individuals  buried in  Southwark have been determined to have  come from  the Han Empire in what is now China.

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Mithraism, the practice and mystery cult of worship of the god Mithras, was one of the many forms of paganism evidently  in existence  in Roman London, where there was  a  dedicated Temple of Mithras, or Mithraeum.   It originated in Persia, where Mithras was one of many gods in the Zoroastrian pantheon, arrived in Rome in the first century BC/BCE, and spread throughout much of the Roman Empire by the first century AD/CE, becoming most widespread in the third.  According to the Roman version of the MIthraean creation-myth, Mithras was ordered by the god of the Sun, Apollo, to slay the bull of the Moon, to release its vital-force, in order to bring life to the Earth (carved reliefs of the bull-slaying – or “tauroctony” – are  characteristic  features of Mithraean iconography).  He   eventually came to be identified with the Sol Invictus, or Unconquered Sun, and to epitomise the moral virtues of fidelity, loyalty and obedience (whence, presumably, his supposed popularity with Roman soldiers).  As intimated above, Mithraism was practised in dedicated Mithraea,  each representing the heavens, with stars and zodiacal symbols painted on the ceilings.  Many Mithraea, including that in London, were at least partly underground, because Mithras slew the  bull underground (in a cave).

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Christianity arrived in the late Roman period, after the conversion of Emperor Constantine in 312, and the passage of the Edict of Milan, which ensured tolerance of Christianity,  in 313 (at least one representative from Londinium, named Restitutus, attended the Christian Council of Arles in 314).    There is little surviving evidence of Christian worship in Roman London, and less of the existence of Christian places of worship.  However, a metal bowl inscribed with the Christian “Chi-Rho” symbol has been found in Copthall Close in the City, and in the River Walbrook; and a number of ingots also inscribed with the “Chi-Rho” symbol,  together with the words “Spes in Deo” (Hope in God), in the River Thames near Battersea Bridge.

Food and Drink

The diet of the average citizen of Roman London would appear to have been a surprisingly healthy one.  There were evidently numerous shops both within the Forum and lining the roads leading to and from it, where all manner of imported as well as locally produced foodstuffs could be bought, including olives, olive oil, wine, grape juice, dates, figs, salted fish and fish sauce, from all around the Empire.  The remains of a   bakery and hot food shop  have been unearthed on Poultry; those of further bakeries on Pudding Lane and Fenchurch Street; and those of a    mill on Princes Street.   The remains of two  “water-lifting machines”, one of 63 and the other of 110, have been unearthed on Gresham Street; and those of a system of water pipes on Poultry.

Sanitary conditions were also conducive to good public health.  There were numerous bath-houses intended for daily use, for example, public  ones on Cheapside and Huggin Hill, dating to the late first or early second century; and a private one in Billingsgate, dating to the late second to third.  There was even a rudimentary drainage and sewerage system.

Population

The population of Roman London is estimated to have been at most a few tens of thousands, essentially the same as that of Pompeii, a provincial town in Italy.  In contrast, that of the coeval imperial capital, Rome itself, was of the order of one million.

Administration and Governance

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The province of Britannia was governed centrally  from Rome, and neither it nor its provincial capitals, including London, had much in the way of locally devolved power.  Nonetheless, Londinium  had become a comparatively important administrative centre by the turn of the first and second centuries.  Its principal public building, possibly the largest north of the Alps, was the Basilica.  Also here was the “Governor’s Palace”.

Trade and Commerce

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Roman London  was more important as a  commercial and trading centre, with the port at its heart.  Tiles stamped CLBR have been found in London, suggesting at least some link between the port and the  Classis Britannica or “British fleet”, which was the part of the  Roman imperial navy  responsible for  supplying the Province of Britannia with personnel and materiel.  Foodstuffs  were brought into the port-city  by boat from all around the Empire, in pottery “amphorae”.  Pottery, notably “Samian Ware” was also brought in from what is now France (and was then Gaul); brooches from Belgium; amber from the Baltic; millstones from the Rhineland; decorative marble, bronze table-ware and lamps from Italy; marble also from Greece  and Turkey; glassware from Syria; and emeralds from Egypt.  Slaves were also brought into London, to be sold at markets like those known to have existed on the water-front, and then put  to work (in the worst cases, either effectively as draught-animals, for example, turning water-wheels; or else as concubines or prostitutes).  A recently-discovered writing tablet of c. 80 records the sale of a Gaulish slave-girl called Fortunata – “warranted healthy and not liable too run away” – to a senior imperial slave called Vegetus  for 600 denarii.  This was a substantial sum, approximately equivalent to two year’s wages for a skilled labourer.

 

ROMAN LONDON

Another in the  series of posts taken from  my forthcoming book, “The Flower Of All Cities” …

History

Rome under Claudius invaded  Britain in 43AD/CE, and Roman London, or Londinium, was founded in c. 47-8, as evidenced by dendrochronological or  tree-ring dating of timbers from a Roman drain uncovered during archaeological excavations at  No. 1 Poultry.  The city was sited in a strategic position on high ground overlooking  the Thames, at the lowest crossing-point on the river, and at a point at which it  was also still tidal, enabling easy access to the open sea, and the empire beyond the sea  (note that there is some evidence that the tidal head moved downstream in the later Roman period, and that some port facilities followed it, from the City eastward toward  Shadwell and Ratcliff).

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If Rome was built on seven principal hills, Roman London was built on two, Ludgate Hill to the west, and Cornhill to the east, with the valley of one of the “lost” Thames tributaries –  the Walbrook – in between.

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The early  Roman city was razed to the ground  by revolting ancient Britons under Boudica or Boudicca (Boadicea of the Victorian re-imagining), the   Queen of the Iceni,  in 60 or 61, while the legions under the Governor Suetonius Paulinus were away attacking  the druid stronghold on  Anglesey.  Tacitus wrote:  “The inhabitants … who stayed because they were women, or old, or attached to the place, were slaughtered … .  … For the British … could not wait to cut throats, hang, burn and crucify – as though avenging, in advance, the retribution that was on its way” (at the so-called Battle of Watling Street, one of the many purported locations for which  is Ambresbury Banks).

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After the Boudiccan revolt, the city was rebuilt, initially by the Procurator Julius Alpinus Classicianus under the Emperor Nero, and subsequently under the Flavian, Trajanic and Hadrianic emperorships, in the late first to early second centuries, only to be partially destroyed again by the so-called “Hadrianic fire” in c. 125.

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The enclosing wall was built at the turn of the second and third centuries.

The city then declined through the “crisis” of the third century, and into the fourth, during which time the Roman Empire as a whole came under increasing attack from within as well as without – Britain was ruled by its own rival Emperors Clodius Albinus in the late second century, and Carausius and Allectus in the “Carausian Revolt” of the third, after which latter, it was retaken by the Emperor Constantius Chlorus in 296.   It appears that many of Roman London’s  public buildings, including the “Governor’s Palace”, and the Basilica and Forum,  were  substantially  demolished at the turn of the third and fourth centuries  – perhaps as punishment for its perceived support of the “Carausian Revolt”.  “Barbarian” raids – by Picts and Gaels, and by Saxons and other Germanic tribes – began in the fourth  century.   The city  finally fell, and was essentially abandoned,  in the early fifth, around 410, after  the occupying army and the civilian administration, the instruments of Empire, were recalled   to Rome to assist in its defence against the encroaching Barbarians (on the orders of the Emperor Honorius).

PREHISTORIC LONDON

The first in a series of posts taken from  my forthcoming book, “The Flower Of All Cities” …

There is  archaeological evidence from a number of localities around London for at least transient settlement and associated activity, by Ancient Britons or Celts, in  the Bronze Age, in the  third and second millennia BC/BCE, and in  the Iron Age, in  the first millennium BC/BCE.

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Bronze Age timbers still survive at Plumstead, together with a number of Bronze Age burial mounds, including  the so-called “Boudicca’s Grave” on Parliament Hill, and the “Shrewsbury Tumulus” on Shooters Hill.

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And a number of   hill-forts or  enclosures survive from the Iron Age, including   “Caesar’s Camp” on Wimbledon Common, and Ambresbury Banks and Loughton Camp, both in the timeless wilds of   Epping Forest.

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“Grim’s Dyke”, an intermittently-preserved bank-and-ditch earthwork running  for a distance  of some miles through North-West London, from Pinner Green, or possibly Ruislip, to Harrow Weald Common, or possibly Stanmore, also survives from the Iron Age. It is thought to have  marked the  boundary of the territory occupied by a tribe of Ancient Britons or Celts known as the  Catuvellauni, which had its heartland on the north side of the Thames, in and around London and the northern Home Counties, and its capital at Verlamion (modern St Albans in Hertfordshire).   The Catuvellaunian tribal territory was bordered to the north and east by those of the Corieltauvi, Iceni and Trinovantes, to the south by those of the Cantiaci and Atrebates, and to the west by that of the Dobunii.

Incidentally, it is not known for certain what the Ancient Britons called London.  Coates has suggested “Lowonidonjon”, meaning something like “settlement on the Thames”, and deriving in part from a pre-Celtic name for the  London section of the Thames, “Plowonida” (“river too wide to ford”).

According to the antiquarian John Stow, in his magisterial “Survay of London, written in the Year 1598”: “ …   Geoffrey of Monmouth … reporteth that Brute [Brutus of Troy], lineally descended from the demi-god Aeneas, the son of Venus, daughter of Jupiter, about the year of the world 2855, and 1108 before the nativity of Christ, built this city near unto the river now called Thames, and named it Troynovant [New Troy] … ”.   And: “King Lud … afterwards … increased the same with fair buildings, towers and walls, and after his own name  called it Caire-Lud … .  This Lud has issue two sons, Androgeus and Theomantius, who being not of an age to govern at the death of their father, their uncle  Cassibelan took upon him the crown:  about the eighth year of whose reign, Julius Caesar arrived in this land with a great power of Romans to conquer it … ”.

Sadly, Geoffrey of Monmouth has since been thoroughly discredited, not least for “interlacing divine matters with human, to make the first foundation …  more  … sacred … ”.  Cassibelan, or Cassivelaunus, though, was an actual historical figure, and most likely belonged to the Catuvellauni (see above).   The Catuvellauni are  documented as having resisted the Roman invasion under Caesar in 55-4BC/BCE, and are speculated to have engaged them in battle at  Brentford as they attempted to cross the Thames from south to north.

Equally sadly, the only actual archaeological features  from the Bronze or Iron Ages still surviving  in Central London are  some  enigmatic pits and post-holes interpreted as representing the sites of former homesteads or farmsteads,  in Leicester Square in the West End, near the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, and south of the Thames in Southwark, and the remains of a bridge or jetty at Vauxhall.  There are no features  at all  in the City of London, perhaps at least in part because, again as Stow put it, “ … the Britons call that a town … when they have fortified a cumbersome wood with a ditch and rampart … ”.  This period of the city’s history remains shrouded in mist and mystery.

Important archaeological finds  from the Bronze or Iron Ages include much equipment associated with horses and chariots, a horned helmet recovered from the Thames at Waterloo, and an ornate shield recovered from the Thames at Battersea (possibly  offered as a plea to the gods of the river at the time of the Roman invasion),  as well as more or less everyday items such as worked flints, pot-sherds, and coins, some of them from Cannon Street in the City.