, Ptol. 2.3.27
, Steph. B. sub voce
Londinium, Tac. Ann. 14.33
; Oppidum Londiniense, Eumen. Paneg. Const. 17; Lundinium, Amm. Marc. 20.1
), the capital of Roman Britain. Ptolemy (l.c.
) places Londinium in the district of the Cantii; but the correctness of this position has very naturally been questioned. Modern discoveries have, however, decided that the southern limits of the city, in the time of Hadrian and Antoninus Pius, extended a considerable distance into the territory of the Cantii; and Ptolemy, therefore, was not altogether unwarranted in placing Londinium in this division of Britain.
In earlier times the city was confined to the northern bank of the Thames.
The earliest mention of it is by Tacitus, in his well-known account of the insurrection of the Britons in the reign of Nero. As Britain was only fully subjugated by Claudius, Londinium must have rapidly advanced to the importance it assumes in the narrative of this historian. Although it is not mentioned by Julius Caesar or by other early writers, the peculiar natural advantages of the locality point it out as one of the chief places of resort of the merchants and traders who visited Britain from the Gaulish ports and from other parts of the continent.
At the comparatively early period in the Roman domination referred to, Londinium is spoken of as a place of established mercantile reputation.
The three chief cities of Britain at this period were Verulamium, Camulodunum, and Londinium. At Camulodunum a colony of veterans had been established; Verulamium had received the rights and privileges of a municipium Londinium, without such distinctions, had attained by home and foreign trade that pre-eminence which ever marked her as the metropolis of Britain:--“Londinium.... cognomento quidem coloniae non insigne, sed copia negotiatorum et commeatuum maxime celebre.” (Tac. Ann. 14.33
At this period we must infer that Londinium was without external walls; and this absence of mural defences appears to have been common also to Verulamium and to Camulodunum. The Britons passed by the fortified places and attacked at once the rich and populous cities inadequately defended. Camulodunum was the first to fall; Londinium and Verulamium speedily followed in a similar catastrophe.
The Itinerary of Antoninus, which is probably not later than the time of Severus, affords direct evidence of the chief position which Londinium held among the towns and cities of Britain.
It occurs in no less than seven of the itinera, and in six of these it stands either as the place of departure or as the terminus of the routes; no other town is introduced so conspicuously.
The next historical mention of Londinium occurs in the panegyric of Eumenius addressed to Constantius Caesar (100.17), in which it is termed “oppidum Londiniense.” After the defeat of Allectus, the victorious Romans marched directly on Londinium, which was being plundered by the Franks and other foreign mercenaries, who made up the greater part of the usurper's forces.
Ammianus Marcellinus, who wrote at a later period, states that, in his time, Londinium was called Augusta, an honourable appellation not unfrequently conferred on cities of distinction.
In this writer we find the word written as it is pronounced at the present day:--“Egressus, tendensque ad Lundinium vetus oppidum, quod Augustam posteritas appellavit” (27.8, comp. 28.3).
In the Notitia Dignitatum tatum we find mention of a “Praepositus Thesaurorum Augustensium in Britanniis;” and in the Chorography of Ravenna the complete form, Londinium Augusta, is given.
Monumental remains show that Londinium contained buildings commensurate in grandeur and extent with its historical claims.
The foundations of the wall which bordered the river, when laid open a few years since, was almost wholly composed of materials used in buildings which were anterior to the period when the wall was built ; but it was impossible to decide the dates of either.
The stones of which this wall was constructed were portions of columns, friezes, cornices, and also foundation stones. From their magnitude, character, and number, they gave an important and interesting insight into the obscure history of Roman London, in showing the architectual changes that had taken place in it. Similar discoveries have been made in various parts of the modern city which more fully developed the debris
of an ancient city of importance : other architectural fragments have been found; walls of vast strength and thickness have been noticed; and within the last twenty years, at least thirty tessellated pavements have been laid open, of which some were of a very fine kind. (Archaeologia,
vols. xxvii. xxviii. et seq.) Londinium, unenclosed at first, was subsequently in early times walled; but it occupied only part of the site it eventually covered (Archaeologia,
The line of the wall of Roman London is well known, and can still, in parts, be traced. Where it has been excavated to the foundation, it appears based upon a bed of clay and flints; the wall itself, composed of rubble and hard mortar, is faced with small squared stones and bonding tiles; its thickness is about 12 feet; its original height was probably between 20 and 30 feet; it was flanked with towers, and had a [p. 2.204]
least seven gates.
By the sides of the chief roads stood the cemeteries, from which enormous quantities of sepulchral remains have been, and still are, procured. Among the inscriptions, are records of soldiers of the second, the sixth, and the twentieth legions. (Col. Ant.
vol. i.) We have no evidence, however, to show that the legions themselves were ever quartered at Londinium.
The only troops which may be considered to have been stationed in this city were a cohort of the native Britons (Col. Ant.
vol. i.); but it is not known at what particular period they were here.
It is, however, a rather remarkable fact, as it was somewhat contrary to the policy of the Romans to station the auxiliaries in their native countries.
Traces of temples and portions of statues have also been found in London.
The most remarkable of the latter is, perhaps, the bronze head of Hadrian found in the Thames, and the large bronze hand found in Thames Street.
In reference to the statues in bronze which adorned Londinium and other cities of Roman Britain, the reader may be directed to a curious passage in Geoffrey of Monmouth.
That writer relates (12.13), that, after the death of Cadwalla, the Britons embalmed his body and placed it in a bronze statue, which was set upon a bronze horse of wonderful beauty, and placed over the western gate of London, as a trophy of victory and as a terror to the Saxons. All that we are called upon to consider in this statement is, whether it is at all likely that the writer would have invented the details about the works in bronze; and whether it is not very probable that the story was made up to account for some Roman works of art, which, for centuries after the Romans had left Britain, remained a wonder and a puzzle to their successors. Equestrian statues in bronze were erected in Britain by the Romans, as is proved by a fragment found at Lincoln;
but in the subsequent and middle ages such Works of art were not fabricated.
We have above referred to the “Praepositus Thesaurorum Augustensium.” Numerous coins are extant of the mint of Londinium.
Those which may be certainly thus attributed are of Carausius, Allectus, Constantinus, and the Constantine family. (Akerman's Coins of the Romans relating to Britain.
) With respect to the precise position of the public buildings, and, indeed, of the general distribution of the Roman city, but little is known; it is, however, very certain, that, with some few exceptions, the course of the modern streets is no guide to that of the ancient.
This has also been remarked to be the case at Trèves
and other ancient cities.