Precious little of Roman London survives and the destruction of Roman levels continues fast as new office foundations are sunk ever deeper into ancient levels. In recent years the close attention of the archaeologists of the Museum of London, encouraged by the cooperation of City developers, has allowed the detailed recording of much that is being lost. In just four years, from 1986 to 1989, work was started on about 200 archaeological sites in the City, and many others were dug in the neighbouring boroughs. Every year a mountain of new information and material is added to the stores of the Museum of London. Far too many new data are coming in for them all to be studied properly, with much being stored against the day that time and money can be found to permit more leisurely analysis.
The first purpose of this book is to bring together as much as possible of this new information, in the hope that it will allow progress to be assessed and new questions asked. It is also written with certain specific problems in mind. Much of the fascination of Roman London derives from its history of extremes; it burst into life with extraordinary vigour and quickly became one of the largest cities in the Roman west but boom seems rapidly to have turned to bust. After a short period of readjustment, which saw a sharp decline in population, a new but very different Roman town spread over the ruins of the old. This town was in turn to fade and fail, leaving little behind but its walls and name. How could a city grow so fast, change so much and fall so far? These are the questions that this work attempts to address.
This book is necessarily a personal interpretation, one particular view of how London rose and fell, but it owes an enormous amount to the generous help of many friends and colleagues. My greatest debt is to Tim Williams, a constant source of advice and encouragement, and I owe very special thanks to David Bentley, Trevor Brigham, Frances Grew, John Shepherd and Brian Yule for having given so freely of their ideas and time. I am also most grateful to Nick Bateman, Gary Brown, Mark Burch, Sue Cole, Barbara Davies, Geoff Egan, Jenny Hall, Julian Hill, Cath Maloney, Dick Malt, Marie Nally, Beth Richardson, Sue Rivière, Peter Rowsome and R.S.O. Tomlin for keeping me up to date on recent