Living in an urban metropolis has its good and bad points obviously, but I have noticed since moving here recently that there are surprising similarities between Ancient Rome and London, which are not perhaps obvious, I will therefore give a brief description of ancient Rome and London and then a comparison of modern London to ancient Rome.
Rome was the first metropolis, growing from a small village to a large town in a short period of time, after the unification of Italy in the 4th century BC, further expansion occurred following the victory over the Carthaginians, Greeks and Seleucid’s in the mid 1st century BC. By the reign of the Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century the city had experienced an influx of immigrants from all over the empire, with a population reaching over a million.
The eternal city founded many cities next to rivers..
This included Italians, Numidians, Egyptians,Greeks,Britons,Gauls and Syrians amongst others. These all brought there own cultural traditions, such as the Egyptian goddess Isis and many other eastern cults such as Mithraism and most significantly Christianity. Rome became a centre of not only Roman culture but of different nationalities living side by side. These different nationalities would influence roman art and religious customs,
However some of these people were brought to Rome through force as slaves. Between the 3rd century BC and the 2nd century AD a huge influx of slaves were owned by wealthy Romans, a significant amount of the population were slaves.
The Greeks and Etruscans above all influenced the architecture of the city. As the Roman writer Horace once said
Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit et artis intulit agresti Latio
“Conquered Greece has conquered the brute victor and brought her arts into rustic Latium”
It is thought that the population peaked at around a million by the 130s AD. In the reign of Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Legions brought back from their wars with Parthia a great pestilence which killed a significant amount of the population, following his reign there was troubled century for the Roman Empire, and Edward Gibbons considered the reign of Commodus to be the beginning of the decline of the Roman Empire.
So what can be discern from this, Rome clearly made a significant legacy on the world we know today. In the distant province of Britannia, the small town of Londinium was beginning to grow,..
The creation of London by the Romans in the 1st century AD is perhaps one their greatest legacies to Britain.
There is of course material remains in other parts of the country, Bath, Silchester and of course Hadrians Wall. But it was the siting of the settlement of Londinium along the banks of the Thames river which really is one of its greatest legacies. For within a short period of initial growth, destruction and then a rebuilding problem, London thrived well into to later Roman period, and would one day become the world city it is today.
It was founded in the mid 1st century AD and quickly began to flourish, however in In around 60, it was sacked by Queen Boudica of the Iceni tribe who had rebelled against Rome. Proof of this revolt has been uncovered in the archaeological record which has revealed by excavations evidence of destruction by fire in the form of a layer of red ash, which has been dated to around the time of the Boudican revolt.
Following the qualling of the rebellion the city soon grew and by the reign of the Emperor Hadrian in the 120’s AD several impressive public buildings had been constructed. These included a governor’s palace, a bath house, several temples a large fort and the largest basilica north of the Alps.
By the second half of the 2nd century however the population had began to decline, perhaps this was due the pestilence which had hit Rome in the reign of Marcus Aurelius.
Troubled times lay ahead for the city as the Roman Walls built in the late 2nd century testify to an increased instability of this period.
Following the departure of the legions by 410 and the fall of Rome was a period of decline. There was a small saxon village which emerged to the west of the Roman settlement and Alfred the Great did encourage his people to settle here.
It was not till around a 1000 years later though in the 18th and 19th century that modern London began to take shape slaves were brought from Africa and it was only in the early 19th century that this was abolished. The industrial revolution brought rapid population growth and vastly increased the countrys industrial power, by 1918 London was the capital of the largest empire the world has ever known,
Comparison and Conclusion
There are similarities with ancient Rome, today the city is a multicultural hub and home to a diverse range of cultures and religions, although no longer the capital of the empire, it is know a ‘ world’ capital and home to a incredible amount of cultural attractions.
All of this may not of been possible had the Romans not decided to built a town next to the Thames 2000 years ago..