London during the Roman Age: A Critical Overview

Every city in the world has its foundation stones, often enfolded in legend, conjecture, traditional beliefs and odd truths (Hollis 21). In an attempt to scrutinize these stones for evidence, this essay aims to outline how London looked like during the Roman age, particularly in terms of possible layout, mode of business, size, religious orientation and other variants.

Historians are of the opinion that London emerged out of a river crossing, when merchants following the Roman soldiers fighting under Emperor Claudius settled on the Thames northern bank in AD 43 (Hollis 21).

It is imperative to note that the Roman age covers the period AD 1-200. In attempting to digest how the city of London looked like during the Roman age, extant literature demonstrate that the “…trail trenches dug in 1985 revealed distinct evidence of timber-built workshops and houses built in the period AD 60-100” (Williams 3). Other accounts demonstrate that London was built as a planned Roman town, with major public buildings, including a substantially large basilica, temples, bath houses, and a large military fortress.

Indeed, it has been claimed that the Romans transformed the city from an open commercial meeting place into an administrative centre and a military stronghold (Nicholas 58). However, this description serves to demonstrate the layout of London during the Roman age.

As reported by Roman historian Cassius Dio, the section where the merchants settled during the AD 43 war had a bridge even before it had a name (Hollis 21). It was this settlement that later came to be called the town of Londinium, but the bridge that had been constructed prior to the town’s existence, specifically in AD 55, had been build using long poles (piles) made of wood.

These piles were hammered into the soft ground until they reached the hard surface underneath to achieve stability, after which more wood was used to strengthen and reinforce the bridge (Morris 45).

Historical and archeological accounts of discovered coins demonstrate that the Roman-era merchants conducted business using currency as is normally done in present-day London. However, other accounts demonstrate that barter trade was used during this era for trade and commerce (Morris 64; Hollis 22).

The popular view among historians is that the currency trade subsisted hand-in-hand with barter trade, where people of high social standing and soldiers normally traded in currency while people in the lower echelons of society exchanged goods.

The Londinium was home to one of the largest basilicas ever to be built by the Romans (Morris 27). The presence of the basilica, along with other buildings of worship such as temples and bath houses, serve as vivid pointers to the presence of religiosity among the inhabitants of the city of London during the Roman age (Hollis 22).

Archeologists have discovered tessellated pavements and roman tombs suggestive of the fact that concrete was used to pave the streets of London during the Roman age. The great London wall built by the Romans in the 2nd century is also suggestive that knowledge on the use of concrete to built critical infrastructure was present (Morris 65).

Lastly, in size, historical accounts demonstrate that London occupied a smaller but heavily fortified area, roughly equivalent to the size of present day Hyde Park, and with a population of an estimated 60,000 inhabitants in the 2nd century (Morris 42).

Works Cited

Hollis, Leo. “Spanning Centuries.” History Today 59.7 (2009): 21-23. Print.

Morris, John. Londinium-London in the Roman Empire. London: Phoenix Giant, 2005. Print.

Nicholas, Dean. “Streetmuseum Londinium.” History Today 61.10 (2011): 58. Print.

Williams, Stephen. “New Light on Dark Age London.” History Today 36.2 (1986): 3. Print.