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When the Romans invaded Britain in AD43, they moved north from the Kentish Coast and traversed the Thames in the London region, clashing with the local tribesmen just to the north. It has been suggested that the soldiers crossed the river at Lambeth, but it was further downstream that they built a permanent wooden bridge, just east of the present London Bridge, in more settled times some seven years later. As a focal point of the Roman road system, it was the bridge which attracted settlers and led to London's inevitable growth. Though the regularity of London's original street grid may indicate that the initial inhabitants were the military, trade and commerce soon followed. The London Thames was deep and still within the tidal zone: an ideal place for the berthing of ships. The area was also well-drained and low-lying with geology suitable for brickmaking. There was soon a flourishing city called Londinium in the area where the monument now stands. The name itself is Celtic, not Latin, and may originally have referred merely to a previous farmstead on the site.

In AD 60, London was burnt to the ground by the forces of Queen Boudicca of the Iceni tribe (from modern Norfolk), when she led a major revolt against Roman rule. The governor, Suetonius Paulinus, who was busy exterminating the Druids in North Wales, marched his troops south in an attempt to save London but, seeing the size of Boudicca's approaching army, decided he could not mount an adequate defence and evacuated the city instead. Not everyone managed to escape though and many were massacred. Though the governors' military duties kept them mostly on the British frontier, it seems likely that they spent the winter months in London, the most convenient city from which to reach any part of Britain or the continental Empire. From the 250s, an altar inscription records that Governor Marcus Martiannius Pulcher rebuilt the Temple of Isis in the city; and a speculator, from his or a subsequent governor's staff, was buried on Ludgate Hill. An elaborate late 1st century building, with large reception rooms and offices, has been partially excavated beneath Cannon Street Station. It may have been the Governor's Palace. A second palatial building was recently discovered in the smaller trading settlement at Southwark, in the marshes south of the river.

The financial and economic equivalent of the governor was the procurator and there is clear evidence that the offices of this official lay somewhere within the city of Roman London. The Procurator, Gaius Julius Alpinus Classicianus who rebuilt the city after Boudicca's rebellion and promoted London trade, died and was buried there. Parts of his monumental tombstone have been dug-up and are on display in the British Museum. Bricks and writing tablets have also been found stamped with such messages as 'issued by Imperial Procurators of the Province of Britain'.

The major symbol of Roman rule was the Temple of the Imperial Cult. Emperor worship was administered by the Provincial Council whose headquarters appear to have been in London by AD 100. A member of its staff, named Anencletus, buried his wife on Ludgate Hill around this time. Pagan worship flourished within the cosmopolitan city. A temple to the mysterious Eastern god, Mithras, was found at Bucklersbury House and is displayed nearby. Traditionally, St. Paul's stands on the site of a Temple of Diana. Other significant buildings also began to appear in the late 1st century, at a time when the city was expanding rapidly. The forum (market-place) and basilica (law-courts) complex, at Leadenhall Market, was erected and then quickly replanned as the largest such complex north of Alps. The forum was much bigger than today's Trafalgar Square. Procurator Agricola encouraged the use of Bath Houses and a grand public suite has been excavated in Upper Thames Street. They were as much a social venue as a place to bathe.

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