Roman Britain

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Part 2: Settling in

First and foremost, the Romans built roads, lots of them, more than 6,000 miles of roads. Some survive to this day.

Roads made it easier and faster to transport goods and people and horses and, of course, soldiers.

The Romans also built aqueducts and bridges. More properly, in many cases, the Roman soldiers directed the building of these things. As elsewhere in the Empire, much of the backbreaking work was done by slaves.

Romans also built towns, which looked suspiciously like most towns elsewhere in the Empire, highlighted by a Forum lined with shops and a basilica, baths and temples and markets and theaters, and villas to house the rich – villas filled with murals and mosaics and furniture and glass windows.

Some villas had central heating and piped water. One of the largest Roman villas was near the sea. It had about 100 rooms and tons of mosaics. Some of it still exists today, at Fishbourne.

Roman towns had streets covered in gravel, with drains on the sides of the streets, all in a grid pattern, surrounded by earthen banks. Some towns in Roman Britain were surrounded by stone walls. Some towns were planned. Others grew out of collections of outbuildings near Roman forts.

The Romans also introduced a centralized administrative framework, involving the local tribal aristocracies in the process.

Children of the wealthy went to school and learned to read and write, in Latin. They also studied history and mathematics. They wrote on wax tablets, using a stylus.

The Romans brought new foods to Britain: vegetables like cabbage and cucumbers and celery, treats like olives and grapes and figs. Richer Romans enjoyed multiple meals a day, full of breads and eggs and exotic meats and cheeses. Ice cream was not uncommon. Lettuce would have been served at the end of the meal, to help people sleep. These meals were prepared, of course, by slaves.

The poor, of course, ate what they had been eating – bread and porridge and sometimes vegetable soup. Meat was a luxury. Besides, most poor homes didn’t have a kitchen.

Life for the poor and the enslaved was harsh. They lived not in fancy villas but in thatched roundhouses and continued to tend to their farms, as they had been doing.

Part 3: Struggling on

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David White