WHAT HAVE THE Romans EVER DONE FOR US?

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), September 14, 2005 | Go to article overview

WHAT HAVE THE Romans EVER DONE FOR US?


Byline: By DUNCAN HIGGITT AND MARIO BASINI Western Mail

A new multi-million series called Rome hits our TV screens this autumn, the latest collaboration between the BBC and HBO. Here, Mario Basini explains why the Romans still have such an impact on our civilisation, while Duncan Higgitt wishes programme makers would concentrate on more recent history INVASIONS have had a bad press. The arrival of the Angles and Saxons in Britain around 400 AD triggered the Dark Ages and led to the tensions that still mark relations between Wales and England. The coming of the Normans in 1066 added an effete French sophistication to the rustic English and produced yet another band of foreign marauders dedicated to snatching large chunks of Wales.

Even Josef Goebbels was hard-pressed to find much to praise in the Nazi conquests of Poland and Czechoslovakia in the build up to World War Two; while the Russian tanks rumbling into Hungary in 1956 or Czechoslovakia in 1968 snuffed out flickering flames of freedom in the Soviet Empire of Eastern Europe.

But there are some invasions which, if they are not exactly welcomed with open arms by the natives, can at least be seen as being beneficial in the long term.

Our continuing fascination with the curious combination of cruel decadence and ruthless efficiency that was the Roman Empire is shown by the appearance of yet another blockbusting television series.

At first glance, the Roman conquest of Britain in 43AD matches all the stereotypes of repressive aggression we associate with invasions.

Certainly, the Romans brought their trademark ruthlessness to the exercise. They arrived on the coast of south east Britain with a massive force of 40,000 soldiers. Within 11 years they would face their stiffest challenge on these isles when the warrior queen, Boudicca led her Iceni tribe in revolt against the invaders. She and her army slaughtered thousands of the enemy and torched their proud new capital, London. The Romans put down her revolt with their own brand of bloody cruelty.

For 20 years afterwards the stiffest resistance to Roman rule came from the Celtic tribes of Wales, the Ordovices in the north and the Silures in the south. The resistance was orchestrated by the charismatic leader the Romans knew as Caratacus and the Welsh as Caradog. When he was eventually captured, the Romans paraded their prize through the streets of Rome.

British resistance was broken in 78AD when the Roman governor of Britain, Gnaeus Julius Agricola, attacked and destroyed the Anglesey stronghold of the Druids, the spiritual leaders of the Celts.

After that, the Celts now began to learn from the best aspects of the Roman culture.

It resulted in the construction of two significant cities in Wales, Venta Silurum at Caerwent in Monmouthshire and Moridunum Demetarum, on the site of what is now Carmarthen.

The Romans built the cities to persuade the Welsh of the attractions of the Roman way of life. They also acted as centres of self-government and administration for two of the major South Wales tribes, the Silures and the Demetae.

Welsh agriculture began to adapt the Roman system of the Villa, which consisted of farms clustered around a central farmhouse

A rich variety of Roman inventions would have transformed the Celtic way of life. They ranged from the building of those famously straight roads to new methods of farming such as crop rotation, improved techniques for the mining of gold, writing letters and building towns.

The Romans introduced writing to the Celts who until then had relied on word of mouth. The newcomers wrote on tablets consisting of thin slivers of wood about the size of postcards. They even had their own form of postal service.

Linguistically, British, the forerunner of Welsh, had a productive relationship with Latin. A considerable number of words of Latin origin have come down to us in Welsh. …

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