Book 1, Chapter 5, 296 AD to 410 AD – The Romans Leave Britain – Continued
Britain was not now in the state in which the Romans had found it. Its towns were no longer barricaded forests, nor its houses wood cabins covered with straw, nor its inhabitant’s naked savages with tattooed bodies, or clothed only with skins. It had been for above three centuries the seat of Roman civilisation and luxury. Roman emperors had been born, and others had reigned in it. The natives had not only built houses, temples, courts, and market places, in their towns, but had adorned them with porticoes, galleries, baths, saloons, and mosaic pavements, and had emulated every Roman improvement. Some of them had distinguished themselves as legal advocates and orators, and by their study of the Roman poets. Their cities had been made images of Rome itself, and the natives had become Ro-mans. The description of Caerleon in Wales is applicable to many others in Britain. Giraldus has left this account of its remains in the twelfth century. “It was elegantly built by the Romans with brick walls. Many vestiges of its ancient splendour yet remain, and stately palaces which with gilt tiles, displayed the Roman grandeur. It was first built by the Roman nobility, and adorned with sumptuous edifices, with a lofty tower, curious hot baths, temples now in ruins, and theatres encompassed with stately walls, in part yet standing. The walls are three miles in circumference, and within these, as well as without, subterranean buildings are frequently met with, as aqueducts, vaults, hypocausts, etc.”
It is mentioned by the orator Eumenius, that when the father of Constantine the Great rebuilt Autun, he was chiefly furnished with workmen from Britain, “which abounded with the best builders.” The ruins of Verulam, near St. Albans, exhibit analogous signs of splendour and luxury; and the numerous remains of habitations or towns built in the Roman fashion, which casual excavations are even yet disclosing to view, show that Britain, at the time of the Saxon invasion, had become a wealthy, civilized, and luxurious country. These epithets, however, whenever used, are but comparative phrases; and their precise meaning varies in every age, from the dawn of Egyptian civilization to the present day. Britain did not in the fifth century possess its present affluence and refinement, but those of a Roman province at that epoch. It had not our mind, or knowledge, or improvements, but it shared in all that Rome then possessed or valued.
The Roman accounts of British transactions cease when the imperial troops finally quitted the country; and any native traditions which were handed down must have become greatly corrupted, while others were wholly lost in the turbulence and strife of the ensuing period. The historian is bewildered by the mystical and fabulous statements concerning it, many of which must be ascribed to the imaginations of monkish chroniclers, who in their solitary cells long afterwards wrote works in which fable largely mingles with fact; and often in a way that defies the selection of the one from another. Many occurrences, treated by them as national, were evidently only local and tribal; for it is clear from what Zosimus states that the old tribal distinctions had never been abolished; there was no merging into a national life, properly so called; some kind of authority must have been exercised by some one or more in the colonies and municipia, which the Romans had founded; individual strength, skill, bravery (and often, less worthy qualities) must have exerted their influence; a number of petty chiefs sprung up, leading to inevitable rivalry, jealousy, intrigue, and strife, and the result of all this was internal dissension, weakness, and poverty. Besides this there was a Roman party, comprising citizens or the descendants of such as had removed to Britain for purpose of commerce, or had been banished thither at former times for political offences; and there must have been a considerable offspring of mixed marriages and connections, whose sympathies were more Roman than British, and all of whom formed a large party, whose leader or head was Aurelius Ambrosius. Thus disunited, the country was preparing for another great change; and it was, indeed, time for a new people to enter upon the stage, in order that fresh elements might be introduced in the construction of the future national character.
Chapter 5, Christianity in Britain
Chapter 5, Decline of the Roman Power
Chapter 5, The Romans Leave Britain
Condition of the Country and People When the Romans Left
Categories: Book 1