London, Seat of Power

Londinium… cognomento quidem coloniae non insigne, sed copia negotiatorum et commeatuum maxime celebre.

London… while not distinguished by the status of ‘colony’ is greatly renowned for the large number of merchants there and the volume of its trade.



LONDINIUM is like nowhere else in Britannia. The capital of the province, and Britannia’s largest and most important city, it attracts trade and commerce from all over the empire. Lying on the boundary of several ancient kingdoms, with the Catuvellauni and Trinovantes to the north and the Atrebates and Cantii to the south, Londinium holds a pivotal position at the head of a tidal river and at the intersection of key routes into the heart of the province.*1

The saying that all roads lead to Rome can certainly be adapted and applied to Londinium. Although a network of roads covering the whole province now interconnects all the chief military bases, tribal capitals, ports, towns and administrative centres of Britannia, Londinium is its undoubted epicentre and the place where all major roads—north, south, east and west—pass through or originate. In addition to its connections in the south-east with the coastal ports of Rutupiae and Dubris, and with Portus Lemanis (Lympne) on the south coast, Londinium also connects via Durovernum with the iron-working sites on the Weald and the corn-producing areas of the South Downs through which Stane Street passes on its way to Noviomagus Regnensium (Chichester).


Arriving at Londinium from the Kent ports along Watling Street, Severus’s party joins Stane Street at bustling Southwark1 on the south side of the Thames. The area south of the river is really a series of low-lying islands surrounded by marshland. Early on, the Romans set about making this area less prone to flooding so that the sandy islands could be occupied and the main route into Londinium from the south laid across the islands. But in recent decades the river level has sunk, and more land has been reclaimed, leading to further expansion, so that there is now a considerable and increasingly affluent settlement here.2 Although Southwark has only a modest timber wharf, in contrast to the massive timber quays on the opposite side of the river, it is a bustling commercial centre boasting solid oak warehouses with wooden shingle roofs, a market, many workshops, probably a mansio just off Watling Street and numerous temples to serve the needs of its cosmopolitan community.3

Amid all these buildings and this activity, the first-time visitor cannot fail to notice a palatial structure commanding a prominent position overlooking the waterfront. Were you to be admitted inside, you would find heated rooms, with interiors richly decorated with expensive materials such as red cinnabar and gold leaf. This lavishness extends to the bath house, whose walls are covered with sophisticated artwork, in which winged Cupids stand enigmatically in the centre of ethereal, festooned pavilions. This is workmanship comparable to any in Italy, commissioned by (or on behalf of) people whose status means that they can demand the sophistication of Rome wherever they might be in the empire. These baths are comparable in size to the public baths over the river at Huggin Hill.4 Such a large and luxuriously appointed building must surely be the residence of a senior official, perhaps even the imperial procurator himself.*2 And if that is so, then Maenius Agrippa will one day occupy it.

In order to cross the Thames from the south and proceed directly up to the heart of Londinium, to the forum and basilica, you must go over a narrow wooden bridge, wide enough only for one-way traffic. You might pause to make an offering or to throw a coin into the river at the shrine to Neptune.5 The river is every bit as busy as the streets of the capital. Barges, fishing boats, merchant ships from Gaul and warships of the fleet can all be seen sailing along it. Some have made long and perilous journeys from acrossOceanus to serve the demand for imported products from an increasingly prosperous and sophisticated population, which now includes native as well as foreign-born customers.

Looking left, upstream from the bridge, where the mouth of the River Walbrook meets the Thames,*3 there are extensive quays lined with stone warehouses and jetties. Downstream, east of the bridge, the port is expanding rapidly, with masonry as well as timber-framed stores, warehouses and shops alongside the quay and set back from it. Here, near the south-eastern limits of the city, are deep-water berths where the larger ships, carried up to London on the tidal stream, may dock or ride at anchor on the ebb tides.

The creation of Londinium’s port during the Flavian period (between AD 69 and 96) was a major feat of engineering, which involved terracing the steep slopes running down to the north bank of the Thames so that they could be built on. On the lower terrace, which was raised about 2 metres (6.5 feet) above flood level, revetted timber quays were laid out using huge oak timbers, alongside which jetties and landing stages were constructed.

Some goods are being rolled off ships down the gangplanks, but heavier items require cranes and stevedores.6 The huge wooden barrels of wine imported via the Rhine can carry some 960 litres and weigh in when full at 1.166 tonnes.7 Pottery—such as the Samian ware shipped annually along the Loire or Gironde, and then through the Bay of Biscay and across the Channel—is, with luck, still intact. More modest quantities of wine from southern Gaul arrive in flat-based amphorae, probably carried along the Rhône and Rhine before being ferried across the Channel.8

From Spain and Gallia Narbonensis come jars of olive oil, fish sauce, wine, the grape syrup known as defrutum and olives. Each legion in the army requires about 1,370 amphorae of olive oil a year, which means that Baetica—the main source of oil for the army of the western provinces—needs to send more than 4,000 amphorae to Britain annually, the produce of more than 43,000 olive trees.9 Mainland Greece and the island of Rhodes also supply wine, reaching Britannia—as do the many visitors arriving in Londinium—by varied and circuitous routes.

The traffic is not all one way. Waiting to be loaded onto ships heading back to the Continent are consignments of wool, hide, tin and lead. There is also live cargo in the form of slaves, hunting hounds, bears and oysters. Fish is landed live here too, caught at the mouth of the Thames or in the Channel and most likely transported the 40 miles or so upstream in seawater containers. Oysters are traded immediately downstream of the bridge. Brought up from Cantium, some now with the less distorted shells which mark them as being farmed from artificial beds, they too are kept alive in salt water and then dispersed around Britannia, even as far as Hadrian’s Wall, while others are sent to the Continent.*4 Up on the Wall, oysters may well be consumed as much for their curative properties as for their taste. When boiled in their shells they are said to be good for colds, and powdered oyster shells relieve sore throats (together with abscesses and hardness in the breast) when mixed with honey. Many soldiers in Britannia this winter, despite the advantages of thick socks in their boots, might be driven to try beaten raw oysters as a cure for chilblains, though it is not clear whether the prescribed mixture is for internal or external use.10

While tastes are changing fast, Britannia does not yet produce its own fish sauce, that staple of the Roman larder, so for now the province is reliant on imports from merchants such as Lucius Tettius Africanus, who markets his bottles of liquamen to Londoners as ‘excellent fish sauce from Antipolis (Antibes)’. The best kind is garum sociorum, made from the intestines and offal of mackerel, with its most celebrated centre of production being in Spain at Carthago Nova—‘New Carthage’ (Cartagena).11 But it has a price to match its reputation. All grades of fish sauce are now to be found throughout the province: the legionary base at Deva (Chester) keeps a pungent ‘flavoured sauce of fish-tails matured for the larder’ in their mess stores.12

The banks of the Thames also accommodate shipbuilding and repair yards, and a base for the ships from the classis Britannica which are at the disposal of the governor. Perhaps among them is the Ammilla, whose ram is in the shape of a dog’s head and stem-post in the form of the swooping neck of a goose or swan.*5 Making their way slowly up the river are keel-less, flat-bottomed barges of crude design, 16 metres (52 feet) or so long and over 6 metres (20 feet) wide. They have massive timber frames and planks nailed in with huge clench nails according to the technique used in this northern part of the empire. The boats are certainly no beauties, but are built for hard work rather than leisure and need to carry loads of Kentish ragstone from quarries near Maidstone—the nearest supply of good building stone to London—up the River Medway and then along the Thames. Buried under their masts are old coins placed there for luck. One such barge has a coin struck forty years previously, at the time of Domitian, carefully positioned with its reverse uppermost, representing the goddess Fortuna holding a ship’s rudder.13


Once the road passes across the bridge onto the north side of the river, it leads straight up to the forum. It is immediately apparent that, as in Rome, the city centre is being transformed by massive public building schemes as well as by smaller-scale works, the latter partly initiated after a devastating fire about five years ago. A much larger forum—nearly four times the size of its predecessor—is being built up around, and upon, the first-century original, with ranges of rooms and porticoes around its sides. On completion, it will be the largest in the province.*6 Occupying its north side is a tremendous basilica, built of grey Kentish ragstone.14 It is enlivened by contrasting red brick courses and red roof tiles, and sections of the portico are plastered and painted.15 The basilica is the biggest building in Britannia and the largest north of the Alps.*7 When finished, Londinium’s forum and basilica will be the central focus of life for a city which is already ‘widely renowned for the number of its merchants and volume of its trade’.16 If the forum is anything like others across the empire, on completion it will be stocked full of statues of distinguished men,17 including perhaps the larger than life-sized bronze statue of Hadrian, made to commemorate his visit in AD 122.*8

Governor Julius Severus, on arriving in his new capital city for the first time, will receive further welcoming parties. The most important dignitaries in the city, including members of the city council (ordo), will receive him formally in the basilica, which serves as a city hall, a council chamber and a court of law. Here the councillors (decuriones), who must first satisfy a property qualification before they are considered for election, discuss local issues, hear petitions, make dedications and organize the dissemination of imperial decrees and regulations, together with news about censuses to be held and legal rulings.*9

Members of the provincial council of Britannia will also be anxious to meet the new governor and pay him all due honours. The council’s members represent each of the civitates, the tribal states, and are leading figures in their respective communities. Councillors can invite men with powerful connections in Rome to be the province’s patron and represent their interests abroad, pleading their cause in Rome if necessary. The council can send its own embassy to Rome to speak before the Senate, or indeed before the emperor himself.18 As a body, they are entitled to present a vote of thanks—or of censure—to retiring governors, and to deliver it before the emperor. In turn, the emperor may be gracious enough to bestow on them, either as a council or as individuals, the honour of holding special ceremonies, games and gladiatorial shows.19

As at Lugdunum and elsewhere in the empire, the provincial council also has a religious function, celebrating the emperor’s divine spirit annually at a festival at which they hold sacrifices, games and banquets. Unlike their counterparts in Gaul, however, the British elite do not appear to have the same inclination to compete with each other by erecting splendid monuments.*1020

On sweeping into Londinium’s basilica for the first time, even the most jaded member of Severus’s entourage must be surprised, if not impressed, by its size as they stand in its central space: a nave flanked by side aisles, with a raised apse at its marble-lined eastern end. Both the public rooms and the offices, arranged over several floors on the northern side of the nave, are brightly decorated.

Although coloured stone and marble are used sparingly here, in comparison with buildings in Mediterranean cities, many different types from quarries all over the empire are now being imported into Londinium: white Carrara marble from Italy and from the island of Thasos in the northern Aegean; red limestone (rosso antico) from Cape Taenaros in the Greek Peloponnese; purple-veined white breccia (pavonazzetto) from Docimion in Phrygia;*11 maroon and white breccia from Skyros, together with other coloured marbles from Euboea in Greece; green and white (campan vert) and white and pink (campan rouge) breccia from Campan, on the Gallic side of the Pyrenees; and, from the eastern desert of Egypt, rare red porphyry from Gebel Dokhan.

The Greek, Turkish, Italian and Egyptian stones all come from imperially owned quarries. Most likely they are shipped to Britannia via Rome, on a consignment of ‘marble for public building works’, rather than being ordered individually and transported directly from the quarries themselves. The French stone from the High Pyrenees, which is brought to Britannia in greater quantities than the others, is more likely to be imported directly from the south-west of France, possibly via Burdigala.21

The roads being laid out around the forum have attracted new buildings, workshops and commercial premises, and the area is still a semi-permanent building site, with workers’ huts, stores for building materials and pits for mixing mortar. Once the official visit is out of the way, an endless line of pack animals will resume their labours up the hill from the river bearing the ragstone rubble from Kent. Weighed down by their loads, the pack horses’ hooves press so heavily into the ground that their imprint remains to tell the story of their toil.*12

In contrast to the exotic marbles, the brick used for public building works is made locally. Those bricks destined for official use bear the stamps ‘P. PR. BR’ or ‘P. P. BR’, often followed by ‘LON’ for Londinium. The abbreviations stand for ProcuratorProvinciaeBritanniae Londinii, roughly ‘property of the procurator of the province of Britannia at London’. Bored but literate brickies or tile makers around the capital scratch graffiti on their work to pass the time and have some fun. One inscription, written in a breezy rhyming couplet on a freshly made, still-soft building tile, records cryptically that ‘Austalis has been wandering off on his own every day for 13 days.’22 Perhaps it is an in-joke passed around the yard for Austalis’s mates to snigger at.


Despite all the building work and the flashy new forum and basilica, Londinium remains, if truth be told, a poor comparison with Rome. For anyone coming from the empire’s capital or the great Mediterranean cities, Londinium must seem tiny and irredeemably provincial. Rome squeezes around a million people into a city that stretches for about 8 square miles. By contrast, Londinium now covers a mere 330 acres (138 hectares), a fraction of the size of even Rome’s Campus Martius, and has just 20,000 inhabitants—and that by a generous reckoning.*13 Where Rome is built on seven hills, London is built on two, on the north bank of the Thames and separated by the River Walbrook.*14

Sophisticated newcomers passing through Londinium on their way to remoter parts of Britannia may be alarmed to hear that this is the most recognizably Roman of all the cities in Britannia, with the most cosmopolitan population and more well-appointed and richly decorated buildings than anywhere else in the province. Although many public buildings in Londinium are built of stone, the majority of shops, houses and warehouses are still wooden, including the bridge across the Thames. While Rome has an impressive system of aqueducts to quench its thirst, Londinium instead relies on wells that draw on a (thankfully) endless supply of natural springs.

Where many of Rome’s buildings are ancient—or at least built and aggrandised on ancient foundations—London is a thoroughly modern city, with no building pre-dating AD 60–61. This is where Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni, having sacked Camulodunum, also wreaked vengeance on Londinium, burning the young city to the ground and massacring those of its inhabitants too weak or too reluctant to flee her merciless war bands.23

Just recently, no earlier than AD 125, the city has been devastated once again—by fire. It began west of the River Walbrook and spread eastwards, fanned by a westerly wind and devouring at least 65 acres—a much bigger area than was ravaged during Boudicca’s destruction. This most recent fire spread rapidly, possibly from near the quayside south of the forum, although the forum basilica itself escaped unscathed. It badly damaged, however, the area to its immediate east and a large number of timber and clay houses to the west. Although in AD 130 some places have not yet recovered, or are operating on a reduced scale in comparison with their pre-fire days, most areas have been quick to pick up the pieces. Some prime commercial sites have already been redeveloped.*15

Fires are a constant hazard in cities, especially as all heat and light requires a flame to be kindled, whether in the form of oil lamps, candles, braziers, open fires, under-floor heating or ovens. In Rome it is one of the duties of the prefect of the city guard to keep fires under control, with the help of the 500-plus trained vigiles urbani, or city guards. The prefect has the authority to punish people who are careless, by flogging them if necessary, and everyone is obliged to keep a supply of water at the ready in an upstairs room.24Prudent householders are also advised to keep vinegar to hand to douse fires, as well as siphons, poles, ladders and buckets.25

Londinium, though, probably lacks any trained fire-fighters. There is considerable caution about the formation of fire brigades in Rome’s more distant provinces. When the younger Pliny asked Trajan for permission to found a fire brigade in the city of Nicomedia in Bithynia (in northwestern Asia Minor), c. AD 112, the emperor refused his request, fearing that the citizens might use it to form a political club; instead Trajan advocated the provision of fire-fighting equipment that individual property-owners could make use of.26 Following the fire in Londinium, the governor of Britannia must have been concerned to make adequate provision against future outbreaks. But given that Britannia is such a troublesome place, Hadrian may well have been as unenthusiastic as Trajan was in allowing the formation of fire-fighting organizations.

The London fire does not seem to have dented confidence unduly, though, and recent post-fire buildings are noticeably smarter than their predecessors. Although still mainly built of timber and unfired clay, they are better made and more expensively decorated, with more mosaic floors and wall veneers of Continental marble on show; some even now have their own bath suites. Close to the waterfront, one new house sports a small bath house complete with a mosaic-lined plunge bath and separate latrine.27 Even modest shops and workshops are now enhanced by reception rooms with painted walls and cement floors, unheard of for this status of building before the fire, or in towns elsewhere in Britain at present.


As governor, Julius Severus and his family will reside in Londinium, as will his imperial procurator,*16 judicial legate, close advisers and a modest staff of military men, freedmen and slaves to help deal with the vast amount of administration that comes with running the province. Soldiers especially attached to the governor’s staff, including his horseguard, are billeted at the fort in the north-west of the city.

At the top of the province’s pecking order is, of course, Severus. As the emperor’s personally appointed representative, he answers directly to Hadrian. He comes to Britannia with definite orders and specific imperial instructions, and he will correspond regularly with the emperor, keeping him up to speed through detailed reports and consulting him about potentially tricky matters before taking action.28 The governor is also the only person in Britannia charged with the power to pronounce capital punishment on Roman citizens.29 In short, he is in supreme charge of both civilian and military life in the country.

Britannia hosts a very large number of soldiers, and its governorship is one of the two most senior posts available in the empire.*17 Usually, governors of provinces need only to have served as praetors first, a senior position in the career path for men of senatorial rank that is known as the cursus honorum. Governors of Britannia, however, are drawn only from men who have served in the very highest rank of senators: as consuls. Although four or five governorships along the northern frontiers are also assigned to ex-consuls, together with the plum job of governing Hispania Citerior (Tarraconensis), perhaps only Syria is considered more important for a military man.30

But to have an experienced ex-consul governing an imperial and highly militarized province is a potentially risky scenario for an emperor who himself holds the rank of proconsul for almost every province in the empire.*18 This may be why the British job is officially classified as ‘propraetorian’, even though those appointed to it are proconsuls. The governor’s title is thus legatus Augusti pro praetore, ‘the legate of Augustus with propraetorian rank’, in charge as the emperor’s deputy. Holding supreme command of the army stationed here, as well as of the government and the judiciary, any governor of Britannia needs to be both an able administrator and an effective military commander: both skills are ones at which Julius Severus excels.

Also in the gift of the emperor is the procuratorship, the most senior post in Britannia available to an eques, or member of the equestrian order—and it will be one that will fall to Maenius Agrippa, after his service as prefect of the classis Britannica. The main duty of the procurator of an imperial province is to oversee the collection of revenues on behalf of the Fiscus (the emperor’s personal treasury). The procurator has his own staff, some of them brought with him and others already working in the province. As well as supervising the collection of taxes, the procurator oversees the pay of the military and the administration of imperial property, such as estates and mines.31

The relationship between procurator and governor is, though, a notoriously tense one, not least because the procurator is expected to keep a check on the province’s finances while being subordinate to the provincial governor. Although both men are appointees of the emperor, they are of different social rank and on different pay scales (the governor being a senatorial posting and the procurator an equestrian one). They are also appointed at different times, so one always has the advantage of having settled into a province before the other.32

Although the highest-ranking positions in the administration are now reserved for men of equestrian rank, especially after Hadrian’s reorganization of the imperial secretariat,33 freedmen still hold many posts, including less important procuratorships.34 Within the hierarchy of administration in Britannia are many sub-groups, including whole social structures of slaves. Take, for example, the imperial slave Montanus, who works in London and employs an assistant slave called Vegetus. Vegetus can afford to pay 600denarii—the equivalent of two years’ gross salary of a comparatively well-paid legionary soldier—for a slave girl from Gaul known as ‘Fortunata’, a girl recorded as being ‘in good health and with no history of running away’. Work, even for a slave within the imperial administration in Britannia, is clearly lucrative.35 Slaves are commodities—to be bought and sold, and on which tax must be paid. If you need the money, then you can always sell them on again: ‘take due care to turn that girl into cash’, is the advice given to one inhabitant of Londinium.36

An important duty of a governor is to head the judiciary and to hear legal cases. But with the north of Britannia effectively under martial law and periodic violence flaring up, governors spend a considerable amount of their time on military matters rather than on civilian ones. For this reason Julius Severus will have an imperial judicial legate (legatus augusti iuridicus) to assist him, a post first appointed under the Flavian emperors. This is also a very senior position, being assigned to someone of senatorial rank who has already served as a legionary legate and who will expect to go on to govern a province. If necessary, he will be able to deputize for the governor. As the title suggests, his primary duty is to preside over legal cases, such as those concerning inheritance and property disputes.37 One such legatus iuridicus is Marcus Vettius Valens,*19 seemingly well respected, who will agree to become ‘patron of the province’—a title conferred on him by Britannia’s provincial council, who look on him to defend their interests in the wider empire.38

Some of the most imposing offices for imperial staff are located in an impressive stone building overlooking the river, to the west of the bridge over the Thames.*20 The procurator’s staff will consist of a greater proportion of imperial freedmen and slaves39—men such as Montanus and Vegetus—in addition to soldiers seconded from auxiliary regiments in the army. Some are skilled in shorthand (exceptores), others at financial accounts or tax collection. They scribble away, sometimes on expensive imported papyrus, but mainly writing and filing memos on official-issue wooden tablets bearing stamps from their respective offices along the lines of: ‘issued by the imperial procurators of the province of Britain’.*21 Secretaries take notes on wooden tablets made of thin rectangles of imported silver fir, which are coated in wax and written on with a stylus.40 These can be reused by warming the wax or erasing the letters with the flat end of the stylus. More permanent records are made on specially prepared wooden tablets, written upon with bronze quill or reed pens with split nibs. At their desks the secretaries and clerks keep small metal or pottery pots containing ink made from the pigment lamp-black. Letters and memos are dictated, so secretaries need to be able to write quickly and on the hoof if necessary. Unsurprisingly, if working in a rushed or noisy environment they may sometimes mishear the odd word or phrase, or anticipate incorrectly. Was that et hiem (and winter) or etiam (even)? 41

Records are kept scrupulously and there is a mass of filing to do in vast archives. Every governor is expected to keep records of his work, not only in correspondence with the emperor but also in the form of commentarii—accounts of day-to-day operations and observations on events and individuals—and acta, the records of official decisions and directives. For their work, governors, procurators and iuridices need reference libraries containing law books, regulations, records of military promotions, works on tactics,itineraria and maps. (Certainly, while governor in Bithynia, Pliny the Younger found he had to go through the edicts and letters of Augustus, Vespasian, Titus and Domitian.42) Papyrus letters are docketed upon receipt with the day, month and year listed in full, with single letters being glued together to make a roll for filing. Official legal documents are written on wooden wax tablets (tabulae) before being duly signed and sealed.43

The governor, who has an estimated 200 men working in his office,44 is served by legionaries seconded to him from elsewhere in Britain. They act not just in military roles or as bodyguards, but in administration.45 Some men from auxiliary units are seconded to London to serve as singulares, men ‘singled out’ as the governor’s bodyguards in the form of horse and foot guards. They are ‘the governor’s own’, who take part in official ceremonies in the capital. Others have policing roles (speculatores), whose duties include executing condemned criminals,46 while the beneficiarii consularis (beneficiaries of the governor) are legionaries with a status just below the rank of a centurion, possibly about 180 in number.47 These troops are dispatched on special duties outside the capital and are to be found all over the province.48 The stratores consularis, or grooms of the governor, have the job of provisioning the army with horses rather than just looking after them. They are auxiliaries, as are the actual grooms (equisiones) for the governor’s horses.49

The thousand or so soldiers on duty in London are housed in a large stone fort in the north-west of the city, built in the early years of the century. Apart from the headquarters of the classis Britannica in Dubris, it is probably the only permanent fort in the south of the province.*22 Its four gates, each with entrance towers, enclose an area of about 12 acres. It is therefore much smaller than, for example, the legionary fortresses at Isca Augusta (Caerleon, at 50 acres) or Deva (Chester, at 56 acres), and more in keeping with the largest auxiliary forts.


Adjacent to the fort lies the amphitheatre, which has also benefited from the burst of activity generated by Hadrian’s visit eight years ago. Like the fort, it has been rebuilt in stone. Hadrian, who is passionate about both hunting and the military, knows how to use gladiatorial weapons and frequently attends shows, ‘in almost every city erecting some building and giving public games’.50 He may well have presided over ones in Londinium in AD 122. In his beloved Athens, a few years ago, he staged a spectacular hunt (venatio) involving a thousand wild beasts,51 and in Rome’s Circus he has provided many shows involving wild animals, often including a hundred lions.52

London’s arena may not see many lions but, unlike amphitheatres elsewhere in the province, which are often peculiarly British in form, it is typical of others throughout the empire. It reflects the city’s status as a provincial capital with a cosmopolitan population. Its decoration is, though, somewhat less flamboyant than some of its Continental counterparts: its walls do not boast the elaborate scenes of animals, gods and fights that characterize amphitheatres of Mediterranean towns, or the magnificently elaborate stucco work of Rome’s Colosseum. Londinium’s arena is, instead, plastered and painted with a rather more modest fake-marble effect, and the wall is topped by iron railings.

Unless there are pressing military matters up north, it will do Julius Severus no harm soon after his arrival to host shows and games. Surrounded by his senior staff and guests, he will be able to preside over the games from a box (tribunal) situated over the amphitheatre’s south gate, the more elaborate of the four entrances.53 Other VIP seats are accorded to the city magistrates and the sponsors of particular games. These high-ranking spectators will ensure that they have good seats reserved at the ringside in the widest part of the arena (on the line of the short axis). In Londinium there might also be special covered seating available on the north side, opposite the governor’s box. It is important to be seen in the right seats wherever in the empire you are. When German envoys in Rome during Claudius’s time saw the Parthian and Armenian envoys sitting among the senators, they caused a stir (showing ‘naive self confidence’, according to Suetonius) by moving from their seats among the common people to which they had been shown. In protesting that their merits and rank were not in any way inferior to those of other emissaries, their chutzpah paid off and Claudius allowed them to sit among the VIPs.54

While Rome’s Colosseum has an estimated capacity of 50,000—some say more—Londinium’s amphitheatre, which is 100 metres (330 feet) wide at its maximum extent, can hold about 7,000 spectators, the majority of whom sit on wooden seats. Hadrian, attempting to instil a sense of public morality (as his idol Augustus had done more than a century before), has decreed that men and women should be segregated in the theatre and circuses.55 Augustus, who had stopped men and women sitting together at shows, had apparently relegated women to the back rows and excluded them altogether from athletic contests, perhaps because the athletes performed naked, in the Greek habit.56 The women of Londinium attend the performances nonetheless, losing hairpins and jewellery in the process through being jostled in the crowds—or possibly from jumping up and down with excitement.57

The majority of spectators throng through the east entrance, passing temporary wooden stalls erected outside the amphitheatre, some of which tempt with hot snacks cooked in ceramic portable ovens (clibani),58 others with souvenirs of the show. Samian-ware cups depicting scenes from the arena are popular. One shows a man with a ridiculously tiny rectangular shield facing a charging bull, surrounded by three lifeless bodies: possibly it depicts prisoners condemned to the beasts.59 Inside the arena, such brutal scenes are played out for real.*23 While the crowds in Rome are treated to lavish shows with hundreds of exotic beasts, native-born animals such as bears, stags and the bull depicted on the cup are the staple fare in Britannia. The animals arrive at the amphitheatre in crates, driven or wheeled into the beast pens (carceres) situated at the entrance passages into the arena (on the long axes of the amphitheatre). When their turn comes, they are released into the arena through the vertical sliding trapdoors.60

While everyone looks forward to an exciting show with plenty of action, safety measures are in place to keep crazed animals and desperate combatants from climbing over the walls of the arena and into the laps of the front-row VIPs. In Rome’s 48-metre-high Colosseum, there is about a 4-metre (13-foot) drop between the front-row seating and the arena floor. Additional protection for spectators is available in some places in the form of ivory inlaid rollers around the arena walls, as well as additional fences laid inside the arena, with netting across them.61

So that animals and humans in the show can move about easily, the surface of Londinium’s arena is hard, made of rammed gravel mixed with pink mortar. But it is covered with a layer of sand, which provides a cushioning layer for falls, not to mention its utility for the mopping up of blood and gore. Appearing on the programme might be armed men fighting animals, or different sorts of beasts pitted against each other. Sometimes the latter are in ‘amusingly’ odd combinations, such as a bear and a python, or a lion and a crocodile—in those parts of the empire with better access to such exotica. More common in Britannia are a bull and a bear, the latter brought down from Scotland and the far north of England. The animals are tethered together by means of an iron ring in the centre of the arena.62

Criminals condemned to the punishment known as damnatio ad bestias (condemnation to the wild beasts) might also form part of the day’s entertainment. To add to the amusement, prisoners are sometimes forced to participate in little tableaux, occasionally with elaborate props and machinery. In the first century AD the poet Martial pictured a scene in the Roman arena, in which a Caledonian bear was brought on to attack a condemned criminal—all part of a re-enactment of a popular story about the robber Laureolus, who was devoured by a bear while being crucified.63 In Apuleius’s fiction Metamorphoses (The Golden Ass), a woman who has poisoned members of her family is condemned to the beasts and forced to have sex with an ass on a large bed in the centre of the arena. The ass—really a man turned into a beast by magic—elsewhere has no qualms about making love to women in his animal form; but he is unable to bear the shame of being exposed in the arena in this public ‘marriage’, not to mention fearful of being torn apart by a wild animal while in flagrante, and so he escapes. Martial, describing games and shows in the Colosseum, also urged his audience to believe the story of the legendary Pasiphaë, wife of King Minos of Crete, who lusted after a bull by whom she conceived the minotaur: ‘whatever story you’ve heard about, you can see it in the arena—the old legends here gain credibility’.64

If the beast shows in Londinium’s amphitheatre are not entertaining enough for you, then there are other amusements to be had. Bored soldiers use animals grazing in the open pasture on the edge of the city as target practice, and there is good hunting in the surrounding woods and fields.*24 The city also boasts several public baths, all sited by the natural springs that provide them with a ready water supply. An old baths complex, first built around AD 70–90 and terraced into the steep hillside, is now being extensively remodelled: a further caldarium (hot steam room) is being built, the underfloor heating system is being redesigned and new timber-lined drains are being inserted, while the interior decoration is also being updated with imported marble. Accessible directly from the river, and a short stroll away from the government offices, the baths afford pleasant views overlooking the Thames.*25 Here, too, men and women might have to bathe separately—another of Hadrian’s efforts to improve public morality.

At the baths—or simply strolling around the streets—more Latin will be heard in Londinium than elsewhere in the province, where Brittonic, the native Celtic language, is the norm. But you will also hear many other languages, such as the Gaulish of the not-so Fortunata slave-girl or Greek from the lips of men such as Aulus Alfidus Olussa, born in Athens.65 The port of London is the place of arrival for people from diverse lands, who will make the city and the wider province their base. They may be travelling on business or serving in the army, and their stay may be temporary or last many years. They may come from elsewhere in Britannia too, drawn to the capital by the opportunities to trade or serve the imperial cause. Everyone can obtain food and drink to appeal to their native palates, and everyone can worship their native gods in the many temples in the city.

The cosmopolitan nature of London and its multicultural appeal is nowhere better demonstrated than in the dedication by a certain Tiberinius Celerianus, a merchant shipper, in the precinct of a temple in Southwark. It is made on marble imported from north-western Turkey and dedicated to Mars Camulos and the Imperial Spirits—Mars Camulos being a hybrid deity formed from the great Roman god of war, Mars, conflated with the Celtic deity Camulos, much worshipped in northern Gaul, from where the merchant originates.*26 Despite his Roman names (although ‘Tiberinius’ is a bit of a concoction), Celerianus is from the Bellovaci, a Celtic tribe, and his inscription uses colloquial Celtic rather than the standard Classical Latin to describe his profession: moritix, or merchant seafarer.*27

But the most striking part of his dedication is the fact that Celerianus declares boldly that he is Londoniensium primus—‘first of the Londoners’. It is not clear what he has been the first to do, yet this, the earliest surviving inscription to describe Londoners, is created by a man who—despite his Gallic origins—counts himself proudly as one of them.66

*1 There is no epigraphic evidence to indicate London’s formal civic status. It seems likely that by the Hadrianic period it was at least a municipium, a town which had been granted a charter based on the constitution of Rome itself. It later seems to have been promoted to the highest rank of colonia.

*2 The palatial building stood on the site of Winchester Palace. It is not known who resided here. The bath house wall-painting depicting the Cupid has been restored and is on display at the Museum of London.

*3 Just west of Canning Street railway bridge.

*4 Oysters found at Benwell are thought to have been harvested in southern England.

*5 Ammilla is the name of a ship found on a miniature bronze prow inscribed ‘AMMILLA AUG FELIX’, perhaps commemorating a victory in a race.

*6 Evidence from excavations of the Leadenhall Court site was sufficiently detailed to identify many features of a building site, including workers’ huts and stores, mortarmixing pits and hoof prints of pack animals bringing ragstone rubble from the waterfront at the foot of the hill.

*7 By comparison, St Paul’s Cathedral is some 174 metres (574 feet) long, including its portico. Corinium (Cirencester) held the prize for the second-largest basilica in Roman Britain.

*8 It is speculative that the statue of Hadrian was in the forum and that it was made to commemorate the visit, though both scenarios are possible—the head alone survives, which was found in the River Thames.

*9 No details about the London council are known.

*10 It is unknown if the British centre of the cult’s activities was transferred to Londinium, as seems likely, or remained at the original provincial capital and imperial cult centre of Camulodunum (Colchester), whose temple had been sacked and the colony’s inhabitants massacred during Boudicca’s destruction of the city in AD 60–61.

*11 In what is now Turkey.

*12 After two millennia, the hoofprints were excavated in Leadenhall.

*13 That said, this figure represents a density of population that was not reached again for a thousand years.

*14 The western hill corresponds to modern Ludgate Hill, with St Paul’s Cathedral on top of it, and the eastern hill to Cornhill, topped by Leadenhall Market.

*15 In the vicinity of Newgate Street.

*16 The identity of the imperial procurator is unknown for the period AD 130–133.

*17 Later, the province was divided into two, at around the end of the second century AD, and into four in the fourth century.

*18 The emperor was technically appointed by the Senate and people of Rome as proconsul of nearly every province, except those peaceful provinces of long standing that did not need a strong military presence.

*19 He was serving in the early 130s, possibly under Julius Severus.

*20 On the site of Cannon Street station. It was clearly an important building, but its exact status is conjectural.

*21 Only a few fibres of Roman papyrus have survived in damp Britain.

*22 These are the only two known permanent forts for the period.

*23 Archaeological finds from a timber drain in the arena include the remains of a bull. The distal humerus of a brown bear was also found, together with the remains of deer, horses and dogs. Human bone has been located too, but it is not clear whether this is associated with activity in the amphitheatre.

*24 An ox tibia found with an iron ballista (catapult) bolt shot through it is evidently the work of a soldier manning the defences of late Roman Londinium, on the site of what became the Tower of London.

*25 The baths were sited on what is now Upper Thames Street.

*26 Around modern Beauvais.

*27 Mor means ‘sea’ in modern Welsh.

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