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The Romans in Britain.
Art. VII.-1. The Roman Wall: a Historical, Topographical, and Descriptive Account of the Barrier of the Lower Isthmus, extending from the Tyne to the Solway, deduced from numerous personal Surveys. By the Rev. JOHN COLLING
WOOD BRUCE, M. A. 8vo. 1851. 2. The Antiquities of Richborough, Reculver, and Lymne, in
Kent. By CHARLES Roach Smith, F.S. A. 4to. 1850.; 3. Illustrations of the Remains of Roman Art in Cirencester, the Site of Ancient Corinium. By Professor BUCKMAN, F.L. S., F.G.S., &c., and C. H. NEWMARCH, Esq. 8vo.
and 4to. 1850. 4. Description of a Roman Building and other Remains lately
discovered at Caerleon. By JOHN EDWARD LEE. 8vo.
1850. A few months ago we were walking with a reverend and
respected friend over one of the fields in his parish, when our attention was fixed on some fragments of Roman tiles scattered over the ground. A labourer came up at this moment, a man well known to our friend, who suggested to him that he might find something curious in digging in this vicinity. “Aye, 'aye,' replied the labourer, we often turn up queer old' fashioned things; t'other day Jack West and I were trenching ' in the next field, and turned up an old pickle-jar; it was all
whole and sound; we thought it was a money-pot, but deuce 'a bit was there any thing in it but a few burnt bones. I had a mind to bring it you, but Jack West kicked it to pieces.' On our expressing a wish to see all that remained of the unfortunate 'pickle-jar,' he brought us the fragments, which proved to be those of an elegantly formed Roman sepulchral urn trace of the footsteps of the conquerors and rulers of the ancient world. We could not repress an exclamation of regret at the vandalism of Jack West; upon which our rustic informant observed, · La, sir! Jack is such an ignorant fellow! I asked
him not to break it, but he would do it-there's no bounds to * his ignorance !
Such is the story, not only of the destruction of a large portion of the materials which might have thrown light on the history of a period at present most obscure, but also of the sort of false interest in such articles spread among the ignorant peasantry by injudicious collectors, which has only excited a cupidity scarcely less destructive than ignorance itself. The ignorance displayed by Jack West was no doubt boundless, but the self-imagined superior knowledge of his companion was not a
VOL. XCIV. NO. CXCI.
bit more conservative; nor can it be expected that he will ever be made to value the pickle-jar,' except with a view to its expected contents. Six or seven centuries ago our island was covered with monuments of the Roman occupation — monuments which would have told a history which is now lost; whole cities were then standing, walls, and houses, and public buildings, whose ruins had been left by the hostility of barbarian invaders, and spared long afterwards even by time itself. They might have been spared to tell their story for centuries more, but for the wanton destruction of a later age, when no antiquarian societies as yet existed for their protection. Horsley says, in his · Britannia Romana,' (1732,) that, 'according to Dr. Stukeley, a good part of the wall at Verulam was standing three years ago ; but, as he rode through the old city, he saw 'them carrying off hundreds of loads of Roman bricks to mend the highway. It would hardly be believed, were we not well certified of the fact, that within the last few weeks the act of Vandalism complained of by Stukeley, has been repeated, and that another portion of the walls of Verulamium has been wantonly demolished! What is still worse,—within the memory of man, some of our peasantry have been found ignorant and superstitious enough to break sculptures for fear they might be instruments of witchcraft, and to erase inscriptions lest they should be noxious charms. While, however, the hand of man has been occupied in obliterating the memorials of the past, the hand of time, contrary in this instance to its usual practice, has protected an important portion of them by burying them in earth, the accumulation of centuries; and it is under the surface of the ground that we have now to look for the only records which will ever throw further light on the condition of this country during the first six centuries of the Christian era.
Some of the principal cities raised by the Romans in this country are lying, at the present time, concealed under the soil
. It happened in many cases that a monastery or a castle was founded, in the middle ages, near the ruins of a Roman town, expressly because the latter furnished a ready supply of materials for the builders. Not that in the end it made any substantial difference. For, where there was no castle or abbey, these materials served for less dignified purposes. Along the line of the Roman Wall in the north, there is hardly a house, or barn, or even garden wall, the stones of which have not been squared by the hands of Roman masons.
Thus were the walls of houses and public edifices gradually broken down: but this process in general did not take place until a period when the earth had already accumulated to a considerable elevation above the Roman
Destruction of Romano-British Remains.
level; and the mediæval builders seem to have been satisfied with breaking down the walls to the surface of the ground as it then existed. According to the chronicles of the abbey of St. Alban's, the monks of that house dug to the foundations of the buildings of Verulamium in search of building materials ; but this was certainly a rare case, and even there recent excavations seem to show that the statement of the chronicles was at least exaggerated. In many cases, as at Silchester (Calleva) in Hampshire, Kenchester (Magna) in Herefordshire, and perhaps Ribchester (Coccium) in Lancashire, the floors and lower parts of the buildings of some of the most important Roman cities in the island lie at no great depth under ground, undisturbed since they were first ruined by their barbarian conquerors. In many other cases, in which the site is still occupied by an inhabited town, where earth accumulates more quickly, the old level has been seldom reached by the foundations and cellars of the houses of a later period; and the Roman remains are only accidentally brought to light on modern excavators sinking deeper than usual. This is the case in London itself. In such a place as Silchester, it would naturally require a considerable expenditure of time and money to uncover the whole area, but by so doing we should no doubt obtain a very exact knowledge of the character and appearance of a Roman city in England, - a sort of Provincial Pompeii, - how its houses and streets were distributed, what were their extent, and how they were inhabited. We should find a multitude of articles of various descriptions, — some of them perhaps remarkable as works of
, art, but all such as would throw light upon the condition and domestic manners of the inhabitants. And, what is still more important, we might probably find inscriptions which would tell us new facts relating to their history. The solitary urn is in itself of little interest, except so far as it shows that the spot in which it was found has been more or less permanently occupied by the people to whom it formerly belonged. It is by collecting and collating that we gradually arrive at more significant results, in relation first to individual localities, and then, by a more general comparison of these, to the bistory of the country at large.
Within a few years, much has been done in this way in producing materials for a new and more satisfactory history of the Romans in Britain. The first steps towards this great object must necessarily be taken by local inquirers, and we here feel the advantage of encouraging the formation of local museums and local societies. By collecting and preserving antiquities in the district to which they relate, we give them an interest which
they would not possess elsewhere; and mere catalogues of local collections of this kind would be of great value to those whose studies enable them by such means to clear up the portions of the history of the country to which they refer. But when we are so fortunate as to meet with gentlemen on the spot who possess both opportunity and inclination to investigate local antiquities of this description, as well as the talents and knowledge requisite to lay the results of their investigations effectively before the public, the interest is increased tenfold: And it is one of the satisfactory results of the antiquarian agitation of late years that many such local investigators have been brought into existence, and that their number is multiplying daily.
We have a substantial proof of this in the four books now lying before us, and we certainly know of no instance in which any one year, or even, we may venture to say, any ten years, have produced an equal number of similar publications distinguished by so much sterling merit. Mr. Collingwood Bruce is a clergyman of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, an active member of the Newcastle Antiquarian Society, who has spent several years in investigating the gigantic remains of the Wall of Hadrian, the most famous boundary of Roman Britain to the north. About two years ago a party of Newcastle antiquaries, under the guidance of Mr. Bruce, made a pilgrimage along the whole line of the Wall, from Bowness on the west (Tunnocelum) to its other extremity at the now celebrated locality of Wallsend (Segedunum). Their tour, obtaining publicity through the newspapers, called general attention to this remarkable monument of Roman power and enterprise; and Mr. Bruce has ably illustrated it in the book of which the title heads the present article. Mr. Lee is a gentleman of Caerleon, in Monmouthshire, a small town occupying a part of the site of the Isca Silurum of the Romans, once a city of great importance. In 1845 he published a quarto volume of . Delineations of Roman Antiquities found at Caerleon,' a very interesting book in consequence of its site, especially for the inscriptions. To this his · Description of a Roman Building and
other Remains lately discovered at Caerleon,' forms a supplement, and it is published solely for the benefit of the museum which owes its existence to Mr. Lee's zeal and liberality. Professor Buckman, in conjunction with Mr. Newmarch, another gentleman of Cirencester, has devoted what leisure he could spare from professional occupations to examining into its antiquities. It is the site of Corinium, one of the richest and most fashionable of the Roman inland towns; and their volume, as becomes the former glories of Corinium, is certainly the handsomest of them all. In honour of many of the subjects described, and especially
Numerous Recent Publications.
the tesselated pavements, it is properly entitled · Remains of • Roman Art;' and it is eminently valuable for the chemical investigation of the Roman materials. Of Mr. Roach Smith we need only say that he has been for some time generally known as the soundest scholar of the day in the Roman antiquities of Britain, and that his character is well sustained by his recent inquiry into the · Antiquities of Richborough, Reculver, and Lymne.' If we add to the works already enumerated, Wellbeloved's • Eburacum' (on the Roman antiquities of York), and the • Caledonia Romana' of the late Robert Stuart, of Edinburgh *, we shall have a series of volumes on the Roman antiquities of particular sites in this country, all (except Wellbeloved’s • Eburacum') published within some half-dozen years, far superior to any thing of the same kind that England had produced before, and equal to the best works of the continental archæologists. Nor ought we to omit the mention of a still more recent publication t, • The Archæology and Prehistoric Annals of * Scotland,' by Daniel Wilson, Hon. Secretary of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland; although the Roman period occupies only a comparatively small portion of the whole. Mr. Wilson has undertaken a very large and elaborate classification of the earlier antiquities of Scotland. It is a very instructive and interesting, as well as very handsome book : and, out of a wide range, all of which is well deserving the attention of the antiquary, he has devoted one chapter to the traces which the Roman invasion left behind it. These are more numerous than we should have expected, and are sufficient to show that the conquerors, in spite of their precarious tenure, had time to plant between the Walls some portion of their civilisation and their love of the arts.
It is not, however, in towns and cities alone that the Romans left marks of their footsteps. We can hardly find a spot of ground in England, hill or valley, field or wood, even what is now solitary and uncultivated heaths, but we tread upon sites where Roman hands have been busy. In investigating these numerous traces of antiquity, and placing our investigations together, we become aware that Britain under the Romans was a country abounding not only in flourishing
. Since the above was written, a new edition of Stuart’s ‘Cale*donian Romana' has been announced: it is to be published, we understand, for the benefit of his widow, and will contain additions of his own as well as those of the editor.
† Edin. 1851. (Part iii. chap. 2., The Roman Invasion, pp. 363— 407.)