Londinium: all the fun of the Roman fare

From time to time groups of men make a breakthrough, they find some power on earth, when harnessed allows them to rise above their fellow men. In such a situation an irresistable urge to use that power to smite, rape and pillage, to induce a delusional sense of invulnerability and Godliness wells up. It is well known that of human kind one can say power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

And for those whose power arises from the simple fact of being the biggest and ugliest group in town, this may be the end of the story, true Vandal style. However for those whose power arises from discovery, invention and industry, a further ambition comes into view, colonisation and controlled exploitation. The desire to colonize is a more sophisiticated and long-term enjoyment of one’s powers, and involves engagement with rather than the destruction of others. Here the dominant group seeks to use their resources to empower their neighbours, enrolling them into projects and training them in their ways, so they might be exploited, so their neighbours might allow the dominant group to stand upon their shoulders. In this way empires are built and the leaders of such empire enjoy the social status and resources, the product of the labour of their subjects.

Two thousand years ago it was the Romans, who by dint of technological and militaristic advances, attained a position of superiority, which propelled them to build an empire. Part of this empire building involved the invasion and colonization of England and Wales. The colonization of England and Wales was said to be principally to boost the ego of the then Emperor of Rome, there was no material or militaristic advantage to be gained.

However, arriven on the British Isles the Romans used the land to feed and embellish the Roman Empire. The country was mined for tin and taxation used to suck the blood and energy out of the indigenous populations. The Roman’s aided this exploitation through the construction of a network of roads the paths of which, still guide the direction of some of Britain’s major roads today. They also established settlements and fortresses, which still exist today. Furthermore they incorporated and elevated some part of the indigenous population into their social structures.

Like this England and Wales were incorporated into the Roman Empire, bought closer to Rome, which allowed rivers of resources to flow between the two. When the Romans first arrived they tended to enter the country through the River Medway, which sits just south of the Thames. However the Roman’s capital city, Colchester, was located just north of the Thames, and the traditional treck from the banks of the Medway to the Colchester, required several bridges to be built over the Thames, the first in the area, which is now known as the City of Westminster and the second a few meters away from the current London Bridge, which connects what we now call Southwark with the City of London.

The Roman London Bridge prompted the establishment of a port and a small market town, which grew in size as it became the hub for goods sucked out of Roman Britain and channelled to Rome and the rest of the Empire. In this way, the Romans created a psychogeographic space, one which both helped realise but also celebrate the avaricious ambitions of the Roman Empire, one in which material goods abounded and washed around.

They had created a honey pot, whereby anyone interested in material gain was likely to gravitate, further reinforcing the gravitational pull of the place on the resources from all around it. In this way, this market town, known as Londinium, and at some point as Augustus, after a Roman Emperor, rose up to become the flagship store for Roman Britain PLC, even if the capital city remained in Colchester. By the second century AD, Londinium was said to have possessed the largest town hall outside Rome, a governor’s palace, a temple, bathhouses, and a large fort for the city garrison. Such were the privileges to be enjoyed by the inhabitants of this market town, that some of the indigenous population were elevated to the status of citizens of the Roman Empire.

 A historically contingent dynamic then, describes how, even after the Roman Empire had subsided, this burning sun of avarice and consumption continued to burn, and whilst sacked and devastated on several occasions, the embers and ashes of the city always seemed to survive, rekindling once again this place as a market place, a black hole for goods and resources produced all around the world. This dynamic has reinvented itself over the years, at some point being a hub in the Hansiatic League, Europe’s premiere trading network, connecting various northern European ports, during the Middle Ages. Later on during the nineteenth century being the centre for the British Empire, at which point the reach of London reached far beyond that of the Roman Empire, and then, thanks to the zeal of Queen Margaret, being one of the world’s great centres for the trading of financial, accounting and investments instruments. Now the goods flow into and out of the city over electronic and digital rivers, rather than on Old Father Thames.

Given the influence of the Romans one wonders what might might have become of this place, had the first conquering army with the ability and motivation towards empire, been Viking rather than Roman. Perhaps the centre of the new empire might have been Edinborough or Hull, leaving this place north of the Thames to develop into a small city or provincial town, miles away from the metropolis.

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