So, What Did the Romans Do for Us?; Ross Reyburn Discovers a Wealth of Roman Archaeology in the Midlands, Including a British 'Pompeii'

Article excerpt

Byline: Ross Reyburn

Britain's most obvious debt to Italy lies in the legacy left by the Romans when they conquered these islands. The Romans brought everything from Roman baths to Christianity, noteworthy architecture to straight roads.

While a classical education is no longer the hallmark of an educated Englishman, the English language owes a considerable debt to Latin.

The name Britain itself is derived from the Latin Britannia and the name of England's capital comes from its Roman name Londinium.

Divisions of time such as the seven-day week are also a legacy, as are many of the names of months.

The Romans also brought the concept of urban living to Britain with their civitates, and in the West Midlands, the Roman ruins at Wroxeter in Shropshire and the village of Wall in Staffordshire each offer a vivid reminder of the sophistication of a great civilisation.

Unfortunately the Roman fort at Mitchell remains hidden beneath the University of Birmingham campus, but the reconstructed Lunt Roman Fort, near Coventry, offers a vivid insight into the military prowess of the Roman invaders.

The English Heritage operation at Wroxeter Roman City, not far from Shrewsbury, attracts 32,000 visitors a year, and the Wroxeter Hinterland Project, carried out for the last five years by the University of Birmingham field archaeology unit using computer technology, satellite imagery and geophysics is nearing completion.

This is just the latest example of the university's long association with the impressively located site in a rural setting just outside the small village of Wroxeter.

'This is one of the most important Roman sites in Europe,' is the way Dr Sara Lunt, English Heritage's senior curator for the Midlands region, described the site.

'It doesn't have the drama of St Albans, it doesn't have the accessibility and glamour of Bath, but the setting is very beautiful. This was the fourth largest town in Roman Britain. The city, as far as we can tell, was built as a showpiece for Roman civilisation on what was, in the early stages, the edge of the Roman world.'

The old Work, the 20ft high ruined remains of the south wall of the long basilica, offers an idea of what the Roman town of Wroxeter - known as Uriconium - was like.

The fragment of wall is one of the largest freestanding pieces of Roman masonry surviving in the western part of the Roman Empire. It could well be just a third of its original height and in its day had the proportions of a medieval cathedral nave.

Another indication of the scale and grandeur of Roman architecture lies in a ditch at Wroxeter where a long line of stone column bases stand sentry-straight. These are the remains of what would have been an impressive colonnade covering the town's forum and market.

The boundaries of the baths complex are clearly defined but just the tile pillars that supported the floor of the main heated rooms survive. …