Archive for the ‘Roman History’ Category

My first trip into Central London for nearly 18 months was to visit the British Museum to see a couple of exhibitions which were due to close in the next few weeks.

The first exhibition was about the Roman Emperor Nero. The traditionally held view is that he was a mad, cruel man who did anything to hang onto power, but this is largely taken from writings after his death. Contemporary evidence suggests that for much of his reign he was extremely popular with the people of Rome, if not it’s elite and nobility, from whom most history writers were drawn. One myth is that he ‘fiddled while Rome burnt’ or even that his excesses in burning Christians led to the fire. Evidence shows that Nero was not in Rome when the fire started, but on hearing of it rushed back to the city and organised the fighting of the fire and the relief effort. It is true however, that in order to deflect any blame from the Imperial authority, he did blame the Christians and instigate a harsh persecution as a punishment. In fact, in many ways, he was the Roman equivalent of some Populist leaders we have encountered in modern day history.

Eventually he lost the support of the people and the senate took this opportunity to move against him. Seeing the signs, Nero committed suicide rather than be taken by the authorities. This was the end of the Julio-Claudian dynasty and after a year during which 4 Emperors reigned, some for only a matter of days, Vespasian emerged as the strongest candidate and assumed the purple. Roman society tried to eliminate any reference to Nero, statues were destroyed or taken down and some, such as the one below, were re-carved into likenesses of the new Emperor.

Thomas a Becket was the clerk to the Archbishop of Canterbury during the reign of Henry II and eventually became Chancellor of the Kingdom. He and King Henry were good friends and worked well together. Henry had an ongoing argument with the church authorities about whether members of the church should be tried in secular or church courts and in attempting to win this he arranged for Thomas to be appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, thinking that his friend in this post would strengthen his position. He intended that Thomas should combine that role with continuing as chancellor, but to Henry’s surprise Thomas resigned his court post and argued firmly for the independence of the church courts. This led to a rapid worsening in relations between the two. On one occasion, when in France, Henry heard that Thomas had once again defied him and a small band of knights set out immediately for Canterbury. Did Henry send them or know where they had gone? Did they mean to kill the archbishop or merely to arrest him? These are questions to which the answers will probably never be known. What is known is that on the night of 29 December 1170 they arrived at Canterbury and insisted that Thomas accompany them to Winchester to answer for his actions. Thomas refused and the knights killed him in the cathedral.

Thomas was canonised by the Pope a mere two years after his death. King Henry did public penance at Thomas’ tomb but took no action against the Knights although the Pope excommunicated them. They later travelled to Rome in penance and were sent by the Pope to serve as Knights in the Holy land for a period of 14 years as their penance for the killing.

St Albans

Posted: September 11, 2020 in Hertfordshire, History, Roman History, UK
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A military installation at Portchester dates back to Roman times. Excavations have revealed what was probably a base for the Classis Britannica, the Roman fleet based in the UK. It probably dates from 285-290 AD. The remains of the curtain wall of this base can be seen at Portchester today.

The fort continued in use after the Romans left Britain, as evidenced by the presence of a 10th century Anglo-Saxon hall within the walls and in 904 records show the castle passed into the ownership of the crown. The castle as we see it today dates from the 11th century and was built by William Maudit. He sought where possible to include as much as possible of the still-standing Roman walls within his construction. In 1154 the castle passed to King Henry II and it would remain in royal control for almost 500 years. King Henry and King John were recorded as visitors and it was used to house important prisoners. In 1216, Portchester surrendered to Prince Louis of France, who commanded the French forces supporting the Barons rebelling against King John. It was recaptured by John’s son, Henry III the following year and eventually, the French forces left Britain a few months later. Portchester was important as it was an embarkation point for troops going to France to defend the royal lands there.

The castle was refortified by Edward II in the fourteenth century and it continued to be used by armies campaigning on the continent. Queen Elizabeth, I visited the castle in 1603.

In 1632 Charles I sold the castle to Sir William Uvedale. It was used as a prison, often with prisoners of war from the Anglo-Dutch war (1665-1667), the War of Spanish Succession (1702-1712) and the Napoleonic Wars (19th century).

The old part of Lincoln is situated on a hill overlooking the River and has been occupied since Roman times.

The remains of a Roman gateway to Lincoln

The old town is full of medieval buildings

The towers of the Cathedral dominate the skyline

There is evidence of Pre-historic occupation in the Derby area.

The Romans built a fort on the site in 50AD and a vicus (town) grew up around it. However when the Romans left Britain the site was abandoned.

There was possibly an Anglo-Saxon settlement in the area, but the Vikings founded a settlement in 873 which was captured by the Saxons in 917. It prospered and a mint and market are recorded in the 10th century.

Viking Sword

The Doomsday book (1086) records a population of 2000 (The average size of a village was about 100-150).  It received charters in 1154 and 1204 and a wool industry was established in the town. Despite outbreaks of the plague in 1636 and 1665, the town continued to grow. The UK’s first silk mill was opened in Derby in 1717.

Bonnie Prince Charlie

The city was occupied by the Jacobite Army in December 1745 and King George I visited in 1773 and warranted the change of name for the local china from Derby to Crown Derby (it later became Royal Crown Derby by permission of Queen Victoria). The Railway reached Derby in 1839 and the Midland Railway soon set up a depot for maintenance and construction of engines.

The Old Roundhouse from the Railway Works

In 1907 Rolls Royce opened a factory manufacturing cars and airoplane engines.

It is interesting that apart from the materials from which they were made the Roman doctor /surgeons instrument kit resembles that which was still in use up until relatively recent times

Probes, needles and sharp hooks

Probes, needles and sharp hooks

Scoops, probes and spoons

Scoops, probes and spoons

Forceps

Forceps

Catheters

Catheters

These examples all from the collection of the British Museum

Vidoeo by Alice Goss

A Roman chariot stadium in Colchester Esssex

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The Colchester Sphinx was discovered in 1821 near the Balkerne Gate, It is a small statue of a mythical creature with a human head between its claws and was carved from British stone. It is still an object of some mystery but is probably from the 2nd century AD and most recent suggestions are that it was a ‘grave guardian’ from a military tomb. It is on display in Colchester Castle Museum.

The Romans in Colchester (3)

Posted: January 15, 2019 in Essex, History, Roman History, UK
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Another thing that stood out for me from our recent visit to Colchester Museum was the examples of locally manufactured goods, particularly Glassware and pottery.

 

 

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Also some examples of fine mosaics found locally

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