Friday, October 6, 2017

Londinium Falling - 61AD

by Tim Walker

With some historians now casting doubt on whether Julius Caesar ever actually came to Britain in 55 BC (could it really have been Roman fake news - a PR campaign by his supporters?), greater importance is now placed on the invasion by the forces of Emperor Claudius in 34 AD. An army of eight legions (40,000 men) that included cavalry and elephants, led by General Plautius, established a foothold on the south coast before pushing northwards towards the River Thames.

Imagine Iron Age fishermen, open-mouthed to see Roman galleys, rowed by slaves, moving up the River Tamesis (as the Romans would name it), and dropping anchor at their village - a place the Romans would turn into the port and fortified town of Londinium. These Romans were the first of many men of vision who would come to shape the city we see today - but not before disaster struck one fateful day in 61 AD.

Londinium soon became a bustling garrison town, from where new roads radiated north and west towards frontier towns. A wooden bridge was built across the river and a settlement sprang up in what is modern-day Southwark. General Plautius soon made peace with the local Catuvellauni tribe, and occupied their town of Camulodenum (modern day Colchester in Essex and some people’s tip for the source of the name ‘Camelot’ – King Arthur’s fabled fortress). This became the capital of the new province of Britannia and its administrative headquarters, some 60 miles north-east from the port of Londinium.

Plautius and his successor, Paulinus, did not have an easy job of subduing their new province. The Briton tribes put up fierce resistance, their blue-painted faces terrifying even seasoned legionaries as they ran screaming from the dense forests with their primitive weapons. They were whipped-up into a frenzy by their religious leaders – The Druids – whose liking for human sacrifice helped them keep a powerful grip over the locals.

In the year 61, when General Paulinius was in the north-west with most of the ninth legion chasing druids, there was a revolt. Prasutagus, the king of the Iceni, was a friend of the Romans. When he died, he left half his kingdom to the Roman emperor, then Nero, and half to his wife, Queen Boudicca. The Romans, however, wanted it all. They also wanted extra taxes and they wanted Boudicca to give up her throne.

Boudicca was humiliated and publically flogged for voicing her objection to being disinherited, and her two daughters were raped by Roman soldiers. Well, this would be enough to raise anyone’s hackles, and soon she had an army baying for Roman blood. They first swooped on the Roman capital, Camulodenum, killing all and burning it down, before turning their attention towards Londinium.

There may only have been one or two cohorts (between 500 and 1,000 men) to defend Londinium. At that time there was no stone defensive wall – most likely just a ditch and earth bank, with perhaps a wooden stockade. It is now a known fact that Boudicca’s army swept the defenders aside and burnt the town down, killing all who stood in their way.

This day of murder and mayhem is the subject of my historical fiction story, Londinium Falling, in my book of short stories, Postcards from London. My research took me to the excellent display in the British Museum, and on a tour of the London Wall. The Romans returned to the ruins of Londinium some time after the Britons had returned to their tribal lands, and set about re-building it, this time surrounded by a wall of stone.

The city of London has suffered many fires in its history – most notably the Great Fire of 1666 and the Blitz of the 1940s – both of which cleared the way for new building to spring up around the site of St Paul’s Cathedral that miraculously survived both events. But it’s first major calamity and destruction by fire occurred in 61 AD at the hands of Boudicca’s tribal revolt.

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Tim Walker is an independent author and former journalist based near Windsor in Berkshire, UK. Born in Hong Kong, he grew up in Liverpool and studied in South Wales, before gravitating to London where he working in newspaper publishing for ten years. In the mid-90s he went to Zambia in Africa to do publishing-related voluntary work. Following this, he stayed on and set up his own publishing and marketing business, before returning to the UK in 2009.

His publications include Thames Valley Tales, a collection of fifteen contemporary stories, a near-future/dystopian thriller novel Devil Gate Dawn, a children’s book, co-written with his 12-year-old daughter Cathy, called The Adventures of Charly Holmes. In September 2017 he published a collection of short stories, Postcards from London. Currently, he is writing an historical fiction series, A Light in the Dark Ages. The first two parts, Abandoned! (a novella) and Ambrosius: Last of the Romans (a novel) are now available from Amazon in e-book and paperback formats. Part Three, Uther’s Destiny, should follow in early 2018.

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Book Links:
Postcards from London
Abandoned
Ambrosius
Devil Gate Dawn
Thames Valley Tales
The Adventures of Charly Holmes

4 comments:

  1. Surely druidic human sacrifice has been discredited?

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    Replies
    1. The same thought me thought occurred to me!
      One might come to the conclusion the author is sympathizing with the romans because of their technics, organization and "culture".
      In general I find it very amazing to adore a people for their culture when the culture only exists on the fact of raiding and oppressing other peoples.

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  2. I am not an expert in this area but I thought that druids did make human sacrifices - have not bodies been found in peat bogs from that era that seemed to support this? Could you provide the sources that discredit this theory.

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  3. I believe old St Paul's, the medieval cathedral, was destroyed in the great fire of 1666. The present domed cathedral was built after the great fire.

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