A free market in goods and services extended from Wales in the west to Syria in the east, and from Northumbria in the north to Egypt in the south. London's cosmopolitan population attracted some of the Empire's finest craftsmen: mosaicists; mural artists; glass-blowers; and stone-masons.
|Mosaic from Roman London, Museum of London. Photo: Udimu (licensed under GNU).|
The defensive wall around the city of London was not built until around 200 AD, and probably had as much to do with policing and surveillance in the capital as with defence from external threats, which did not loom on the horizon for some decades afterwards. Such policing and surveillance were important, because the city served as a base, not only for the province's Governor and Procurator (finance minister), but sometimes even for the Emperor. Hadrian was here in 122 AD, and Septimius Severus from 208 to 211 AD: both were concerned primarily with consolidation and conquest in the north of Britain, but, in their presence, much of the business of the governance of Empire is likely to have been centred on Londinium.
|London in c 200 AD. Image: Udimu (licensed under GNU).|
|Section of Londinium's defensive wall, Tower Hill. Photo: Nessy-Pic (licensed under CCA).|
|Head from a bronze statue of the Emperor Hadrian, found in the Thames, Museum of London. Photo: FollowingHadrian (licensed under CCA).|
Bernardine Evaristo's novel, The Emperor's Babe, set in 211 AD, is a novel in verse, tells the story of Zuleika, a woman of Sudanese parentage brought up in London, and married off at an early age to a much older man of senatorial rank (she is a fictional character, but people of African and Asian heritage were certainly present in Roman Britain, and most of them were probably not slaves; we even know some of their names). Zuleika's husband, Felix, has political and business interests in Rome itself, and is often absent, and, when a chance encounter brings her to the attention of Emperor Septimius Severus, she enters into a dangerous liaison.
|Septimius Severus, who reigned as Emperor from 193 AD, and died at York in 211 AD, Glyptothek Munich, Inv. 357. Photo: Bibi Saint-Pol (image is in the Public Domain).|
"One minute it's hopscotch in bare feet,
next, you're four foot up in a sedan in case
your pink stocking get dirty. No one
prepared me for marriage. Me and Alba
were the wild girls of Londinium,
sought to discover the secrets
of its hidden hearts, still too young
to withhold more than we revealed,
to join this merry cast of actors ...
... Some nights we'd go to the river,
sit on the beach, look out towards
the marshy islands of Southwark,
and beyond to the jungle that was Britannia,
teeming with spirits and untamed humans.
We'd try to imagine the world beyond the city,
that country a lifetime away that Mum
called home and Dad called prison;
the city of Roma which everyone
went on about as if it were so bloody mirabilis ...
... The white stucco villas of Cheapside
are usually out of bounds to scallywags
like me and Alba. Guards shoo us away.
(She has not been invited). Today
they bow as if I were the emperor's wife,
when my horse-drawn carriage, if you please,
arrives at a villa with its own latrina.
And enough rooms to fill the Forum."
The narration hop-scotches elegantly, and often hilariously, between the Londinium of Zuleika's era, and the London of our own, as one critic has suggested, "like an episode of Sex and the City written by Ovid."
Mark Patton is a published author of historical fiction and non-fiction, whose books can be purchased from Amazon.