Romans Changing Britain

From my previous post, it is clear that Romans changed little in the overall landscape of Britain, ie they did not do much deforestation. The Britons had already cleared much of the woodland, and developed a sophisticated agricultural system with different crops on a range of soils, and their methods were continuing to change and expand.

The Romans introduced a range of new plants, some of which feel like they should have been here already, such as apples, medlars and plums, but also grapes and cherries, so orchards were planted by them.  they also brought many garden plants such as asparagus, beet, cabbage, carrots (purple ones of course) and celery.

The other big change was a totally new framework of movement through the countryside.  We know about the roads and bridges, but this meant that heavy traffic was directed along major routes. the building of forts markets, towns and religious centres brought increasing population, but also more uniform traffic, which suited the Roman obsession with control.

Though the Iron Age Britons had small hamlets, they had not developed towns; approaching them would bring into view new industrial suburbs, cemetaries, and possibly aqueducts, especially if the town had public baths, and drains, all new features in the landscapes.

It is often assumed that there was a clear demarcation between Roman stone villa style buildings and the less durable British roundhouses, but this is far too simplistic.  Roundhouses were incredibly sophisticated structures, which could be as big as 16m in diameter, so allowing plenty of interior space for socialising, rituals, or whatever, and given the notorious weather in these isles made more sense than public spaces, especialy for relatively small groups.

Vilas and round houses were often on the same site, a similar situation to that of the local chieftain’s residence, as described by Nelson Mandela in his memoirs. The guardian’s farm in Transkei of Jonginnba who was recognised by the British authorities was made up of two rectangular whitewashed buildings with tin roofs and a number of rondavels, or sophisticated roundhouses. The former was used for entertaining people while the others were for more domestic use.  It is possible this is how teh different building types wer used by the Britons.

It is generally assumed that there was a desire by Britons to become like the Romans, but this seems to have been unlikely.  Roman architecture evolved in a hot dry climate, a far cry from that of Britain, and it is increasingly clear the Britons were never impressed with the Romans or their lifestyles. The British had their own rectangular houses from the first century, whereas villas took off from the 2nd to the 4th centuries, so it is unclear whether such shaped buildings after the invasion were continuations of their own traditions, adaptations of the new styles, or complete change.  some of these rectangular buildings were of timber and daub, the most popular style being that of the aisled hall. From the 2nd century there was an increasing inclusion of mosaics and bath suites. 

The British tended to live in fenced enclosures with several round or other houses, suggesting groups of clans up to and beyond the Roman period.  British towns did not decay when the Romans withdrew; they were in decline for at least a century before this, but this was in part due to the switch from paganism to Christianity, and the general lack of money for new public buildings such as Christian churches to replace the shrines.

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