Whilst archaeological excavations have uncovered evidence of periodic settlement around London dating back to the prehistoric era, it was the Romans who first kick started and shaped the development of London into becoming the sprawling city that we know today.
By 56BC, with the Roman legions under Julius Caesar all but conquering the Gauls, his attentions turned to subduing the Britons and Celts across the Channel in Britain. As both tribes had already sided with the Gauls against the Romans, Caesar was well aware that, unless they were subjugated, each would continue to act as a destabilizing force within the Empire. Caesar's strategy also extended to the Druidic religions (who were already a well-established and influential force in Britain), as the Roman's were extremely fearful of their mystical and superstitious rites.
Having organised a sizeable invasion fleet, Caesar set sail a year later from Boulogne. Well aware of his plans, the Britons massed their forces at Dover and waited patiently for the Roman legions to arrive. A combination of bad weather (and the unnerving sight of thousands of aggressive Britons ready to wage battle) led Caesar to land further up the south coast at Albion. After some initial difficulties, his soldiers managed to establish a foothold ashore, but continued to be harried by the Britons who were determined to repel their Roman invaders.
Consequently, Caesar decided to withdraw, taking with him plunder and prisoners. A year later, Caesar tried once more, but found resistance even more stubborn than on his first campaign. As this second foray also coincided with a revolt in Gaul, Caesar was again forced to abandon his expansion plans. Indeed, he was never to return and it was only in 43AD (under the Emperor Claudius) that Rome attempted another invasion.
This time Claudius's legions faired better as the Britons were taken completely by surprise. Divisions among the Briton tribes also impaired their fighting ability and the Romans were able to exploit this tactical advantage to the full. With both the Britons and Celts forced largely to fight an ongoing guerrilla war, the Romans managed to consolidate their position in south-east England and Anglia. The seat of Roman power was at this time Colchester (Camulodunum), although they had also formed a settlement in London (Londinium) which made use of the Thames as a port facility. The river was deeper and much wider in Roman times and effective use of the tidal current meant that shipping could travel a long way inland, thereby giving much needed logistical benefits to the hard pressed legions.
As great innovators, the Romans also built a fixed wooden crossing across the Thames near what is now London Bridge. Archaeological evidence also suggests that an additional crossing point near to Lambeth Palace - where the Thames is quite shallow - was also in use. Port activity, which was centred on what is today the Pool of London, was largely confined to military operations, although it's clear that a fair degree of commercial trade was also taking place here.
Despite their gradual consolidation over increasingly large parts of Britain, the Romans suffered a major setback in AD55 when Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni tribe led her people in a rebellion against their rule. With a number of other tribes joining her effort, she promptly headed for Colchester, where her forces plundered the city and set about massacring its inhabitants. The same fate also befell London in AD60, the task made easier this time by the tactical withdrawal of Roman military forces from the area (the Roman General in command, Suetonius, wisely realised that his 15,000 strong army could not hope to defeat Boudicca's forces, which now numbered over 200,000).
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