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