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British Archaeological Association.
"OLD LONDON" IN PRE-ROMAN TIMES.
Its Italian and Greek Colonists; also in Caesar's time—his fording the Thames at Chelsea. Discovery of the beautiful Roman
Pagan Temple at Westminster.
Read September 23rd, 1896, in the Clothworkers' Hall, London.
BY J. S. PHENÉ, LL.D., F.S.A., F.R.G.S., F.R.I.B.A.
AM glad to see the number of three hundred guests and members on the present occasion, which out of fifty-three Congresses of the Association is the first Metropolitan one. As Warden of the Company, I echo the Master's welcome,
and propose to read a Paper on Old London, illustrated by plans and drawings of PreRoman and Roman London, as now before you, with examples of beautifully sculptured architectural enrichments of the date of Roman London, exhumed by me, with other Roman remains, from the site of the traditionary Roman pagan temple at Westminster, and never before exhibited. I consider it an unparalleled privilege to have the honour, on the eve of one of the most auspicious days in the life of the great and beloved Queen of this realm, to announce the discovery of this
interesting relic, of what, from the enrichments exhibited, must have been a most ornate edifice, on a site so near the Royal residence, the Houses of Legislature, and the superb Abbey in Westminster. It seems as if the previous pre-historic discoveries I have made in Scotland, Ireland, and this country, on the estates of many of the noble Vice-Presidents of the Congress, culminated in this, and its announcement at such a moment of interest.
I hold it to be a great honour also, at such a time, to read to you Caesar, as he should be read—not piecemeal, as is the usual method, but consecutively, as the first and greatest historian of Europe, as it was in his time described by him from his personal observations and repeated journeys to parts the most distant from Rome. If thus read, it will be seen that, so far from being a country of naked savages, as the school histories of our childhood have taught us, Britain was then, as now, a great commercial country; a land of high agricultural occupation, of mines, mining, and metallurgy, using Greek money, Greek customs, and Greek literature; that its schools of law, religion, and philosophy made it a central light to Northern Europe, as Iona became in the Middle Ages; that pure birth, consanguinity, and womanly honour were then held in high estimation, as they are now; that the religion was of the highest type, and embraced some of the grandest tenets now held; that the country entered into international compacts, and had a direct trade with Rome ; had densely populated cities, with multitudes of superior buildings; was supplied direct from the Mediterranean with articles of “luxury” and “civilization”; and, in short, was great then, and in advance of its compeers, as at present; that the people were brave, fearless, free and independent, governed by kings and subject to laws.
To understand the capital of a country, we must know something of the people and their surroundings. Not topographical surroundings, but that broad cast of thought which Caesar was the first to exercise, and which, like the press of to-day, gave a knowledge of Europe at a glance. It is very
well for us to know what is going on in Kent, Surrey and Yorkshire; but unless we also know what is
going on in Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Petersburg and New York, we should very soon be a tributary people.
It seems now generally conceded, by historians and antiquaries alike, that in olden times there must have been two cities in this central part of British commerce : one on the south and one on the north of our noble river.
A moment's consideration will show that this must have been so, at a period when bridges were the exception to the rule, and where the great span of the river, multiplied by its lateral lacustrine areas, north and south, would render that exception next to impossible in primitive engineering at this place.
A glance at the map of Roman London will show that the two sides of the Thames had been embanked, probably when the wall of the northern city was constructed, and that the openings for the Fleet and Wall Brook in the northern bank formed commodious havens for the ferry-boats by which communication was maintained between the two cities. Bridges had not yet been built, but the embankment on the south side is fair evidence that the great quasi-lake between the river and the southern town had already been drained, probably by letting the water out at low tide, and stopping the return by locks or sluice gates; and this, no doubt, preparatory to bridge-building, as an apparent pier of Roman construction, of or for a bridge, was found some years since.
An inquiry into the modes of conveying merchandise in those days brings the above condition of the two cities into almost absolute certainty.
The period to which I refer is one antecedent-probably very long antecedent—to the invasion of Britain by Caesar ; for in his day, and particularly prior to such invasion by him, bridges were fairly understood. We learn from his own Commentaries that there were bridges crossing many of the chief rivers in Gaul, as the Aisne, Rhone, Loire, Allier, Seine, etc., which bridges formed the continuity of the still-existing and traceable respective roads of commerce which the rivers intercepted; and which roads of commerce were at places opposite those British ports to which the great British roads led, the Foss Way, Ermine Street and Watling Street. Caesar himself, with almost incredible rapidity—i.e., in ten days, including those for collecting timber-erected a bridge over the Rhine strong enough to transport his army to the opposite shore. But the difficulties of constructing a bridge over the Thames, in face of the large area of water on the south side of the river, must have continued till long after his invasion. On the continent, bridges were absent where there were marshes or morasses between towns and rivers at that date. The old map of London shows the position of the ferries and the embankments on both sides of the Thames.
The navigation of the Thames must have been difficult from shoals and sand-banks, which no doubt occasioned the two roads of commerce on the north and south sides of the Thames estuary respectively, which were also no doubt regarded favourably by the inhabitants of both parts of the great city, or rather of the two cities, at a time when piratical expeditions were as usual with seafaring people as commerce itself; while the minor inlets on each side of the great river estuary would form safer havens for the small craft of those times than the continually changing stream, and the danger from exposure to severe weather in the broad and
river. Ptolemy, treating its position geographically, places Londinium in Kent; that is to say, treats the southern city as the first, probably on the ground of its being first reached from the south coast ; and the researches of my old friend the late Mr. Roach Smith, and others, show that in the time of Hadrian and Antoninus Pius southern London extended considerably into Kent, and must have been south of the great lake which lay between the Thames and the south city.
This fact, then, that there were two such cities long prior to their bearing the name of London, i.e., Londinium, opens a view to the habits and customs of their inhabitants, through their channels of communication and ways of traffic.
One popular fallacy should be removed at once, to make the matter in any degree comprehensible.
Historians have to a great extent created this fallacy : amongst others Strabo, though only by omission, not by denial of Caesar's statement; though Strabo never visited Britain and Julius Caesar did. The first wrote from hearsay, the other from personal observation, and his-Caesar's-statement is detailed and emphatic.
Strabo, whose very name and family are unknown, perhaps received that appellation, which is not a nameStrabo, “squint-eyed”—from his treating the works of Herodotus, Caesar, and other careful authors in the same slighting manner. We have his own statement—though he calls himself a great traveller—that the coasts of Italy formed the northern and western limits of his travels, so he could not have approached Britain either by sea or the overland river route. It is unhappy that great men will condescend to such littleness, merely to indicate the superiority of their own writings. One of our best living writers on Egypt treats Herodotus, when it answers his purpose, with the almost exact contempt that Strabo did, and apparently out of personal pique to a rival Egyptologist.
T'he fallacy as to Caesar's writings is this :
It is commonly supposed, even in these days of reading, that the inhabitants of Britain lived in the woods, and, by forming strong barriers with felled trees, protected themselves and called these places “towns”, or, to use Caesar's word, "oppida”.
This is a most careless reading of Caesar. These places, which he so describes were, as he distinctly states (B. v, ch. xxi), defences sought during warfare, evidently from the inability of their cities of residence to defend the occupants from military attacks. It is, indeed, probable that when attacked the whole of the inhabitants of each district would resort to such defensive protections, carrying with them their goods and valuables, and abandoning their slight wooden houses to the invader, or personally delivering them to the flames.
The towns in Britain, even as late as the taking of Camulodunum and the Roman cities of Verulamium and Londinium, were clearly not made defensible by walls; as the native States would still follow their former system of defence, and the Romans never anticipated a native