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The Romanization of Roman Britain
Romanization in Material Civilization
by Haverfield, F.


From language we pass to material civilization. Here is a far wider field of evidence, provided by buildings, private or public, their equipment and furniture, and the arts and small artistic or decorative objects. On the whole this evidence is clear and consistent. The material civilization of the province, the external fabric of its life, was Roman, in Britain as elsewhere in the west. Native elements succumbed almost wholesale to the conquering foreign influence. In regard to public buildings this is natural enough. Before the Claudian conquest the Britons can hardly have possessed large structures in stone, and the provision of them necessarily came in with the Romans. The fora, basilicas, and public baths, such as have been discovered at Silchester, Caerwent and elsewhere, follow Roman models and resemble similar buildings in other provinces. The temples show something more of a local pattern (Fig. 7), which occurs also in northern Gaul and on the Rhine, but this pattern seems merely a variation of a classical type.1 The characteristics of the private houses are more complicated. Their ground-plans show us types which, like the temples just mentioned, recur in northern Gaul as well as Britain, but which differ even more than the temples from the similar buildings in Italy, or indeed in the Mediterranean provinces of the Empire. The houses of Italy and of the south generally were constructed to look inwards upon open impluvia, colonnaded courts and garden plots, and, as befitted a hot climate, they had few outer windows. Moreover, they could be easily built side by side so as to form, as at Pompeii, the continuous streets of a town. The houses of Britain and northern Gaul looked outwards on to the surrounding country. Their rooms were generally arranged in straight rows along a corridor or cloister. Sometimes they had only one row of rooms (Corridor House, Fig. 8); sometimes they enclosed two or three sides of a large open yard (Courtyard House, Fig. 9); a third type somewhat resembles a yard with rooms at each end of it. In any case they were singularly ill-suited to stand side by side in a town street. When we find them grouped together in a town, as at Silchester and Caerwent--the only two examples of Roman towns in Britain of which we have real knowledge--they are dotted about more like the cottages in an English village than anything that recalls a real town (Fig. 10).
[Footnote 1: British examples have been noted at Silchester and Caerwent, and in many scattered sites in rural districts. For Gaulish instances, see Léon de Vesly, Les Fana de région Normande (Rouen, 1909); for Germany, Bonner Jahrbücher, 1876, p. 57, Hettner, Drei Tempelbezirke im Trevirerlande (Trier, 1901), and Trierer Jahresberichte, iii. 49-66. The English writers who have published accounts of these structures have tended to ignore their special character.]
[Illustration REMOVED: FIG. 7. GROUND-PLANS OF ROMANO-BRITISH TEMPLES. CAERWENT AND SILCHESTER.]

[Illustration REMOVED: FIG. 8. GROUND-PLAN OF A SMALL CORRIDOR HOUSE FROM FRILFORD, BERKSHIRE. (From plan by Sir A.J. Evans.)]

[Illustration REMOVED: FIG. 9. COURTYARD HOUSE AT NORTHLEIGH, OXFORDSHIRE, EXCAVATED IN 1815-16. (Room 1, chief mosaic with hypocaust; rooms 8-18, mosaic floors; rooms 21-7 and 38-43, baths, &c. Recent excavations show that this plan represents the house in its third and latest stage. See p. 31.)]

[Illustration REMOVED: FIG. 10. DETAILED PLAN OF PART OF SILCHESTER. Showing the arrangement of the private houses and the Forum and Christian Church. (From the plan issued by the Society of Antiquaries.) (See p. 31.)]

The origin of these northern house-types has been much disputed. English writers tend to regard them as embodying a Celtic form of house; German archaeologists try to derive them from the 'Peristyle houses' built round colonnaded courts in Roman Africa and in the east. It may be admitted that the influence of this class of house has not infrequently affected builders in Roman Britain. But the differences between the British 'Courtyard house' and that of the south are very considerable. In particular, the amount of ground covered by the courts differs entirely in the two kinds of houses, while for the British houses of the plainer 'corridor' type the Mediterranean lands offer no analogies. We cannot find in them either atrium or impluvium, tablinum or peristyle, such as we find in Italy, and we must suppose them to be Roman modifications of really Celtic originals. This, however, no more implies that their occupants were mere Celts than the use of a bungalow in India proves the inhabitant to be a native Indian.1
[Footnote 1: Vict. Hist. Somerset, i. 213-14. A few Romano-British houses at Silchester (in insula xiv. (1), see Archaeologia, lv. 221) and at Caerwent (house No. 3, see Arch. lvii, plate 40) do bear some resemblance to the Mediterranean type, as I have observed in Archaeol. Anzeiger, 1902, p. 105. But they stand alone. Similarly, parallels may be drawn between Pompeian wall-paintings of houses and certain 'villa' remains in western Germany, as at Nennig; see Rostowzew, Archaeol. Jahrbuch, 1904, p. 103. But these again seem to me the exception.]
The point is made clearer by the character of the internal fittings, for these are wholly borrowed from Italian sources. If we cannot find in the Romano-British house either atrium or impluvium, tablinum or peristyle, such as we find regularly in Italy, we have none the less the painted wall-plaster (Fig. 11) and mosaic floors, the hypocausts and bath-rooms of Italy. The wall-paintings and mosaics may be poorer in Britain, the hypocausts more numerous; the things themselves are those of the south. No mosaic, I believe, has ever come to light in the whole of Roman Britain which represents any local subject or contains any unclassical feature. The usual ornamentation consists either of mythological scenes, such as Orpheus charming the animals, or Apollo chasing Daphne, or Actaeon rent by his hounds, or of geometrical devices like the so-called Asiatic shields which are purely of classical origin.1 Perhaps we may detect in Britain a special fondness for the cable or guilloche pattern, and we may conjecture that from Romano-British mosaics it passed in a modified form into Later Celtic art. But the ornament itself, whether in single border or in many-stranded panels of plaitwork, occurs not rarely in Italy as well as in thoroughly Romanized lands like southern Spain and southern Gaul and Africa, and also in Greece and Asia Minor. It is a classical, not a British pattern.
[Footnote 1: It has been suggested that these mosaics were principally laid by itinerant Italians. The idea is, of course, due to modern analogies. It does not seem quite impossible, since the work is in a sense that of an artist, and the pay might have been high enough to attract stray decorators of good standing from the Continent. However, no evidence exists to prove this or even to make it probable. The mosaics of Roman Britain, with hardly an exception, are such as might easily be made in a province which was capable of exporting skilled workmen to Gaul (p. 57). They have also the appearance of imitative work copied from patterns rather than of designs sketched by artists. It is most natural to suppose that, like the Gaulish Samian ware--which is imitative in just the same fashion--they are local products.]
[Illustration REMOVED: FIG. 11. RESTORATION OF PAINTED PATTERN ON WALL-PLASTER AT SILCHESTER. Showing a purely conventional style based on classical models. (P. 34.) (From Archaeologia.)]

Nor is the Roman fashion of house-fittings confined to the mansions of the wealthy. Hypocausts and painted stucco, copied, though crudely, from Roman originals, have been discovered in poor houses and in mean villages.1 They formed part, even there, of the ordinary environment of life. They were not, as an eminent writer2 calls them, 'a delicate exotic varnish.' Indeed, I cannot recognize in our Romano-British remains the contrast alleged by this writer 'between an exotic culture of a higher order and a vernacular culture of a primitive kind'. There were in Britain splendid houses and poor ones. But a continuous gradation of all sorts of houses and all degrees of comfort connects them, and there is no discernible breach in the scale. Throughout, the dominant element is the Roman provincial fashion which is borrowed from Italy.
[Footnote 1: R.C. Hoare, Ancient Wilts, Roman Aera, p. 127: 'On some of the highest of our downs I have found stuccoed and painted walls, as well as hypocausts, introduced into the rude settlements of the Britons.' This is fully borne out by General Pitt-Rivers' discoveries near Rushmore, to be mentioned below. Similar rude hypocausts were opened some years ago in my presence at Eastbourne.]

[Footnote 2: Vinogradoff, Growth of the Manor, p. 39.]
We find Roman influence even in the most secluded villages of the upland region. At Din Lligwy, on the northeast coast of Anglesea, recent excavation (Fig. 12) has uncovered the ruins of a village enclosure about three-quarters of an acre in extent, containing round and square huts or rooms, with walls of roughly coursed masonry and roofs of tile. Scattered up and down in it lay hundreds of fragments of Samian and other Roman or Romano-British pottery and a far smaller quantity of ruder pieces, a few bits of Roman glass, some Roman coins of the period A.D. 250-350, various iron nails and hooks, querns, bones, and so forth.1 The place lies on the extreme edge of the British province and on an island where no proper Roman occupation can be detected, while its ground-plan shows little sign of a Roman influence. Yet the smaller objects and perhaps also the squareness of one or two rooms show that even here, in the later days of the Empire, the products of Roman civilization and the external fabric of Roman provincial life were present and almost predominant.
[Footnote 1: E. Neil Baynes, Arch. Cambrensis, 1908, pp. 183-210.]
[Illustration REMOVED: FIG. 12. NATIVE VILLAGE AT DIN LLIGWY, ANGLESEA.]

[Illustration REMOVED: FIG. 13. LATE CELTIC METAL WORK, NOW IN THE BRITISH MUSEUM (1/3). (Boss of shield, of perhaps first century B.C., found in the Thames at Wandsworth, a little before 1850.)]

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