But change was limited. The land was impoverished and sparsely populated, and the army took what little surplus there was, so there were few of the trappings of Romanised life.
It was only in the lowland zone — south and east of a rough line from Lincoln to Exeter — where parts of Britain began to look distinctly Mediterranean. When the army moved forward, the politicians took over. Iron Age tribal centres were redesigned as Roman towns, with regular street-grids, forums market squares , basilicas assembly rooms , temples, theatres, bathhouses, amphitheatres, shopping malls and hotels.
The models of town planning and public architecture were Roman, but the people in charge were not. The towns were built by local gentry, who, in the space of a generation or two, converted themselves from Celtic warriors and druids into Romanised gentlemen. Instead of foreign overlords stirring up resentment, the native elite ran things on Rome's behalf. Blue paint and chariots were out. Gaulish wine and the Greek myths were in.
To be successful, to look sophisticated, you now had to project rank and status in the 'empire' fashion. For the rulers of the empire, changing the culture of conquered elites was good politics. The empire was ruled from the towns, where councils formed of local gentry were responsible for tax-collection and keeping order in the surrounding countryside. It was government on the cheap, but it was still highly successful. Instead of an influx of foreign overlords stirring up resentment, the native elite ran things on Rome's behalf.
And in gratitude for having their power and property preserved, they proved loyal servants. The evidence is in the enthusiasm with which they Romanised.
Most of the twenty or so Roman towns had a full set of public buildings by the mid-second century AD. Already many of the gentry had started building town houses and country villas. From this time onwards there was a full-scale housing boom at the top end of the market. Big towns like Verulamium St Albans and Corinium Cirencester soon had fifty or more grand houses and dozens of villas within a day's ride of the centre. Companies of mosaic layers, fresco painters and potters sprang up to feed the boom in luxury living, and the shipping lanes, rivers and roads were busy bringing in such specialities as fish sauce from Spain, Rhineland glassware, and Pompeian bronzes.
It could not last. The empire had been buoyed up by war booty. The end of expansion meant the end of subsidy. The emperors ratcheted up taxes. They conscripted labour. They allowed the army to 'live off the land' as it marched across the empire. The bloated imperial elite, the quarter-million-strong army, the thousands of miles of frontier to be guarded - it was a huge burden on the people of the provinces, a burden that was slowly eating away at the empire's economic vitality.
In the meantime, Rome's enemies were getting stronger, especially the Germans and Goths of central Europe, who threatened the Rhine and Danube frontiers. By the mid-third century AD, the great boom was over, and resources were ploughed into defence. Walls were built around the towns, turning them into fortresses.
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Inside, a slow decline had begun. Public buildings were boarded up and old mansions crumbled and became overgrown with weeds. Later attempts from above to revive the towns were ineffective. The Roman emperors of the later empire were more dictatorial and ruthless, aiming to centralize and streamline administration, and to dragoon the people into supporting the defence effort. Embracing Christianity was part of this programme - evidenced in Britain by a handful of late Roman churches found in excavation, some mosaics with Christian images, an occasional silver spoon or cup inscribed with Christian motifs.
But government policy generated little enthusiasm. Society became apathetic, civic spirit dwindled, the towns continued to decline, and even the villas eventually succumbed. NOOK Book. He then tackles the issues facing Britons after the absorption of their culture by an invading army, including the role of government and the military in the province, religion, commerce, technology, and daily life.
For this revised edition, the text, illustrations, and bibliography have been updated to reflect the latest discoveries and research in recent years. He lives in England.
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Roman Britain: A New History by Guy de la Bédoyère
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