Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Myth of Roman Britain? - Part One

This journey will begin at the end. Roman Britain was a period where the Classical world smashed into the Celtic, creating a culture that was unique and wonderfully absorbing.
In the minds of many, quite wrongly, it is when the history of Britain truly began. Druidic cults would come face to face with the grandeur of Roman polytheism; roads would be slammed onto the landscape to allow the ferocious war machine of Rome to alleviate the Brits of their freedom with brutal efficiency and speed. Stone and glorious marble would replace tired wood, and Rome would slide its fingers around Britain's throat whilst distracting it with death and gold.

This is the popular public view, the Romans came in 43 AD, saw, conquered, had an alarmingly close call with the fiery haired Boudicca, built lots of nice things and we basically just held hands for three hundred and sixty seven years in a lovely peace. The Romans gave us roads right? Not exactly true, examples have been found of a reasonably efficient road system already in place. They brought law and order, again, quite wrong; most of the evidence we have for law and order in the Roman style is from the very last convulsions of the empire. In addition and more importantly of course they brought civilisation. Well, that would depend what one would mean by 'civilisation'.

When the Romans left these shores in 409 or 410 AD, the province alarmingly quickly reverted back to a system of rule and culture that had not changed much since before the conquest. In effect, the native Britons simply seemed to have shrugged off those pesky Romans. A mere hundred years after the Romans departed on a doomed mission to resuscitate an empire choking on its own neglect, the Britons had adopted a system of law that bore no resemblance to its Latin forbear, unlike in Gaul and Spain where the Goth and Vandal Latinised system of law prevailed.