Simply put, this is the name London was given during Roman times (and perhaps derives from an earlier Celtic word – although this remains the matter of much speculation).
There’s no substantial evidence of a settlement where London now stands until after the arrival of the Romans in 43 AD. The location was selected for the ease with which the Thames could be bridged and two hills which stand in what is now the city of London – Ludgate Hill on which St Paul’s cathedral stands and Cornhill – which could be fortified as a military stronghold.
The fledging settlement was destroyed during the revolt of Queen Boudicca of the Iceni in 60 AD but rebuilt centred on Cornhill and the Walbrook stream. By the 70s AD, the main public buildings of the forum and basilica were placed on high ground east of the Walbrook and by the end of of the first century AD further grand buildings – the governor’s palace, amphitheatre and baths – had been added. Waterfront infrastructure for shipping – including quays and warehouses – stretched along the northern side of the river.
A fort was added and public buildings renovated before the visit of the Emperor Hadrian in 122 AD. Another fire destroyed much of the city but it was again rebuilt and late in the 2nd century walls were built around it, partially encircling a site of some 330 acres. Buildings subsequently constructed in the 3rd century included the Temple of Mithras and a monumental arch.
There were known to have been “suburbs” including at both Southwark and to the west around Trafalgar Square and cemeteries were built outside the walls.
The city’s population had already contracted somewhat by the time the legions were recalled to Rome in 410 AD. While the walls still offered the inhabitants some protection 50 years after the withdrawal of the legions, there’s scant evidence for how much longer it remained inhabited with the Anglo-Saxons known to have viewed the ruins of the Roman buildings with some trepidation.
It seems an age ago that we started this Wednesday series on some of London’s ‘battlefields’ (we’ve used quotes given many of the battlefields we’ve covered haven’t featured what we might think of as having hosted battles in the traditional sense).
But we’ve finally come to an end, so before we launch a new series next week, here’s a recap of what the series entailed and please vote for your favourite below…
In an unusual ‘Famous Londoners’, this week we’re looking at a former inhabitant of London who we still know relatively little about.
The remains of the teenaged girl – believed to have been aged between 13 and 17 years – were found in 1995 when the conically-shaped skyscraper at 30 St Mary Axe, fondly known as the Gherkin (and then formally known as the Swiss Re Tower), was being constructed.
The girl, whose skeleton was unearthed where the foundations now stand, was buried sometime between 350 and 400 AD in what appeared to be an isolated grave which would have lain just outside the edge of early Roman Londinium.
The body lay with the girl’s head to the south and the arms folded across. Pottery was found associated with the body which provided dating information.
After being exhumed, the skeleton was housed at the Museum of London for some 12 years before in 2007 it was reburied near the new building. The burial featured a ceremony at nearby St Botolph-without-Aldgate followed by a procession to the gravesite where a dedication took place which included “music and libations”. Among those who attended was the Lady Mayoress of the City of London.
There’s an inscription in honour of the girl on a stone feature outside the building in both Latin and English while a stone set in the pavement decorated with laurel leaves marks the (re)burial spot.
Other recent Roman remains found in London include the skeleton of a young Roman woman, believed to date from the 4th century, which was found still inside its sarcophagus at a site in Spitalfields and a series of two dozen Roman-era skulls which, likely to date from the first century A, were found during excavations for the Crossrail project in 2013. It has been suggested they may have been Britons executed for their role in the famed Queen Boudicca’s rebellion against the Romans in 61 AD.