Thursday 20 December 2012

Rome's Wild West

It's kind of hard to imagine modern day England and Wales in the same way Hollywood has depicted the 19th-century American west, but for all intents and purposes, the two places would have seemed very similar to a 1st-century Roman. Those paved highways and stone buildings didn't pop up overnight. Yes, when the Romans arrived to stay in 43AD there were already some sophisticated trading cities and villas on the England's south coast, but British 'civilisation' didn't reach far in those days. Most Britons still lived in wattle and daub roundhouses - just as they had since the end of the last ice age - and about the only things built of stone were the already ancient bronze-age monuments such as Stonehenge. Of course, there's no doubt the Romans got to work pretty quickly to bring 'modern' urban life to Britain, but it was a big job. For at least the first forty years of this new Roman province, most of the new Roman towns looked like any Wild West Saloon street - houses and shops built out of slab or sawn timber, forts and stockades looking as ready for Union Cavalry as they did for a Roman cohort. Bars, shanties and tents surrounding the semi-permanent army camps as Romans, Gauls and Germans flocked to this new 'gold' rush province to make a quick buck. It might seem a stretch, but if everyone in HBO's 'Deadwood' series was dressed up in tunics and Celtic trousers, then you'd have a pretty credible take on life in early Roman Britain.

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