Tuesday, April 24, 2012


The Romans Set Fire to the Temple of Claudius, Killing all Inside

Hello My Friend and Welcome.  

Today we’re looking at two ancient cities in Roman Britannia, Camulodunum (present day Colchester) and Londinium (present day London). They shared a common fate; during Queen Boadicea’s revolt against the Romans both of them were destroyed. [If you missed the first post on Boadicea, you can find it HERE.]  

Both cities were rebuilt, of course, but the rebuilding process altered the relationship between them in interesting ways. Before we’re through we’ll also examine a possible origin for the Arthurian Legends and what some people have speculated may have given rise to them.
Cities seem to have a life of their own. They rise, fall, and sometimes rise again. And then, sometimes they don’t. We recently examined the slide of Antioch into near oblivion, a city once known as The Queen of the East, and compared it to the other two great cities of the Roman Empire: Rome and Alexandria. You can find the Antioch post HERE. 

Based on writings by Pliny the Elder, Cunobelinus (Colchester) is reputedly the oldest recorded town in Britain. Before the Roman conquest of Britain it was already a center of power for Cunobelin, king of the Celtic tribe, the Catuvellauni (5 BC - AD 40).  

Interestingly enough, Cunobelin appeared as Cymbeline in the Shakespearean play by the same name. In the play, Cymbeline, King of Britain, takes a new wife who has an arrogant son called Cloten. Cymbeline's lovely daughter Imogen is expected to marry Cloten. Instead Imogen marries the brave, but poor Posthumus Leonatus. Cymbeline is furious when he finds out about the marriage and banishes Posthumus. The couple have time to exchange love tokens and Imogen gives Posthumus a diamond ring and he gives her a bracelet. The villain of the plot is Iachimo who bets 10,000 ducats against Posthumus's diamond ring that he can seduce Imogen. 

Cunobelinus is better known by its Celtic name, Camulodunum, meaning fortress of Camulos, the Celtic War god. This is undoubtedly due to the fact that the Romans retained the name after their conquest of Britain in AD 43 and established a legionary fortress there. Later, when the Roman frontier expanded and Legio XX moved to the west, Camulodunum became the provincial capital of Roman Britannia. A large, and elaborate, Temple to the Divine Claudius was built in the city. It was there that thousands of Romans took refugee when Boadicea’s troops attacked the city. They all died when the rebels set fire to the Temple. And that is when Camulodunum’s, or Colchester’s, fate was sealed.

Remnants of the Wall the Romans Built Around Their Fortress
Boadicea’s fires had the strange effect of baking the wattle-and-daub buildings of Camulodunum into a solid mass. You might say the fire became an impromptu kiln. Because of this, the lower two feet of the Roman fortress survived and eventually became the underpinnings of the rebuilt colony. The town might have remained the financial capitol of Britain had the Romans not chosen to build their Colonia Victricensis, City of Victory, on the foundations of a fortress alongside the Colne River. The river’s marshy upper reaches made it nearly impossible for large merchant ships to reach the Roman settlers. In order to meet the demand for imported goods, shipping moved to the deeper waters of the Thames. And Londinium, which had previously been an insignificant trading center, grew to become the island’s center of commerce. 

Colchester Castle Dates to the 11th Century
Dr. John Morris (1913-1977) an English historian who specialized in the study of the institutions of the Roman Empire and the history of Roman Britain, suggested in his book The Age of Arthur that as the descendants of Romanized Britons looked back to a golden age of peace and prosperity under Rome the name Camelot of the Arthurian legends was probably a reference to Camulodunum, the city of the Iceni god Camulos and capital of Britannia in Roman times.

Boadicea Window in Colchester City Hall
 Studies say that Colchester (Camulodunum) was abandoned as a settlement after the sixth century. Sometime over the next three hundred years it underwent a revival. When and how is unclear. However, the ninth-century Historia Brittonum, mentions the town, which it calls Cair Colun, in a list of the thirty most important cities in Britain.  The tenth-century Saxons called the town Colneceastre, which eventually became Colchester.  

Two thousand years ago, Camulodunum was the center of everything and Londinium was a backwater trading outpost. The current population of Colchester is 160,000, which is dwarfed by London’s 7.6 million. How far the mighty have fallen. 

On Thursday, we’ll visit the myth and facts surrounding King Solomon's Mines. Look out Allan Quatermain, here we come!

Until then, we wish you Peace and Blessings. 

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