Roman London

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London’s first emergence in the history books took place during the invasion of Romans in Britain, around 43 AD. The Romans constructed a crossing over the River Thames, somewhere near the present-day London Bridge. By the 3rd century AD it was the administrative and commercial centre of Roman Britain, and a substantial town where around 30,000 residents had lived. The need of Roman troops to cross the river ended in making many roads and the London Bridge.

Just 18 years after the arrival of the Romans, Boudicca, queen of the Iceni tribe of present-day East Anglia, launched her revolt against the new rulers of Britain. The new trading centre of London was one of her key targets, and her soldiers levelled the growing city to the ground and killed thousands of the traders who had begun to settle there after realising that they could get their living from the trade.

By the middle of the second century AD, Londinium possessed the biggest Basilica (town hall) west of the Alps, a governor’s palace, a temple, bathhouses, and a large fort for the city garrison. Grace Church Street, in the City, runs through the middle of the old Roman basilica and forum (market place).

One of the finest Roman leftovers in London is the 2nd century Temple of Mithras (mithraism was a form of religion popular among Roman soldiers). It was found near Walbrook during construction work in this century, and moved to Temple Court, Queen Victoria Street. Artefacts recovered from the excavation of the temple are now safely placed in the Museum of London.

About the year 200 AD a defensive wall was built around the city. For well over a millennium the shape and size of London was defined by this Roman wall. The area within the wall is now “the City”, London’s famous financial district. Traces of the wall can still be seen in a few places in London.

London continued its growth under the late Roman Empire, and at its peak the population probably numbered about 45,000. But, as the Roman Empire squeaked its way to a tottering old age, the troops defending London’s trade routes were recalled across the Channel, and the city went into a decline which lasted several centuries.