Historical Study Of Roman
Through its military expansion and strong control of the sea, the Roman Empire was able to spread its conquests to most of the Mediterranean and Western Europe, paving way to an empire rich with genetic and geographical diversity. In AD 43, Roman traders and merchants with military support established London on the banks of Thames and in AD 50 the town was given the name Londinium (Clout H. (ed) 2004. The Times History of London, 15-33). Although London is now a large, national capital, it suffered many challenges through outbreaks of diseases, invasion of foreigners, fires, etc., and was able to rebuild itself on several occasions. These circumstances created changes in the many aspects of the town including the size, political and economic policies, and diversity. These changes can be readily identified in material records and many traced back to the people of Roman London. Critically, evidence is limited and much of the evidence discovered have not been found in situ, therefore, there is a restriction to the accurate construction of the population of the inhabitants of Londinium. Nonetheless, evidence of the inhabitants of Roman London including inscriptions from tombstones, DNA, chemical and bone examinations and analysis, and discoveries of the extensive reconstructions that occurred after the Boudican revolt in AD 60 reflect the diverse and vibrant settlement of the Roman Londoners from came from all different parts of the Roman Empire.
After the destruction that had occurred due to the Boudiccan rebellion of 60 AD, there was a massive reconstruction and extension of architecture introduced into Londinium including military forts, a forum, an amphitheater, etc. Cemeteries were also established in 1 AD to give proper burial to the dead. (Redfern, 2019). These cemeteries were key to archeologists’ understanding of who was living in Londinium at the time, and often their type of burial and ceremonies were indications of the kinds of people that died. Excavation of these cemeteries showed that there were more civilians than soldiers living there at the time, especially native Britons who wanted to come to the town for a better life. There were cremations along with different burials of bodies, depending on religion and importance of the figure who died. People with high authority or from upper class families often were buried with grave goods. They had burials in sarcophagi and lead coffins as symbols of status. An example of this can be seen in the sarcophagus excavated from Southwark, which provides insight into the treatment of the dead and religious beliefs of the Romans at the time. Goods found, such as the multi-colored glass dish and a pendant shaped as Medusa’s head laid with some remains of a previous cremation excavated from Prescot Street. This was thought to protect the dead when they enter the Underworld and a symbol of the importance of the person buried. On the other hand, sinful and criminal men suffered violent deaths, which were studied through skull analysis, and were buried in pits by London Wall. Many of these skulls revealed sharp and blunt force trauma as cause of death. These pieces of evidence provide critical insight of the Roman Londoners beliefs along with their relationship with death and the afterlife at that time.
Inscriptions on tombstones are important for archeologists to figure out more about who these inhabitants were and where they came from. For example, a purbeck marble tombstone found in Bishopsgate had an inscription that stated, translated, “To the spirits of the departed and to Sempronius Sempronianus, centurion of the … legion (who) lived 51 years and to his brothers Sempronius … and Sempronius Secundus; his freedmen had this set up for their well-deserving patrons.” This was evidence that the buried were serving and retired military personnel that had high status to the Roman Londoners, who heavily upheld honorable, victorious and courageous military leaders. Other inscriptions including one found in Houndsditch was for a merchant from Antioch, Turkey while another one was found on Tower Hill which translated to say, ”Aulus Alfidius Olussa, of the Pomptine voting-tribe, aged 70, born at Athens, lies here; in accordance with his will his heir set (this) up” which revealed a man who was born in Athens, Greece. A marble plaque dedicated to Mars Camulos, excavated in what is believed to have been the temple of this Romano-Celtic deity, was written by a French Citizen named Tiberinius Celerianus. In the dedication, its translated to, “To the Divinities of the Emperors (and) to the god Mars Camulos. Tiberinius Celerianus, a citizen of the Bellovaci, moritix, of Londoners the first..” The use of the Celtic word “moritix” means seafarer and may have been an indication that he was a member of the Gaulish seafarers who made commercial trade from Gaul to Britain. Thereby showing that these inscriptions reveal that Roman Londoners were not just people who came from Rome; London was submerged with ethnic and cultural diversity with people carrying out their own beliefs and practices with some basis on their background and upbringing.
Population diversity analysis requires many bioarchaeological techniques in order to make proper conclusions on ethnicity, diet, and ancestry of past inhabitants. Methods include ancient DNA analysis which is used to study population genetics to investigate DNA collected from the past that cannot be analyzed through modern methods of DNA analysis due to the damaged or dilapidated condition. This method is crucial in order to provide archeologists with insight on the existence of inhabitants who come from various populations around the world through differentiating between haplotypes in people’s genes. We can further construct our knowledge of the population of Roman Londoners from both the place of origin and the DNA results themselves, because both help provide evidence to who these people are their story.
This technique has been very useful in order to find more about the story and ancestries of the remains found of people who used to live in Londinium. For example, researchers in several London museums have worked together with scientists from universities such as Canada’s McMaster University and England’s Durham University in order to analyze DNA of the remains of several ancient people. For example, a 14 year old individual given the name “the Lant Street teenager” was a girl whose maternal DNA was similar to that of western Eurasian and southeastern European descent. She had suffered from gum disease and rickets in her short life time. Another example was of a man who researchers believe to have been a gladiator at the amphitheater that was widely popular in Londinium. DNA analysis showed he had dark brown eyes, black hair and was diagnosed with periodontal disease. It also showed that he had ancestry in Eastern Europe. DNA analysis has given us a taste of the rich multicultural diversity and ancestry that existed and flourished in Roman London.
Macromorphoscopics is a forensic ancestry method in which the the human skeletal remains are analyzed and the profile is constructed. This is done by inspecting certain morphological features of the cranium, especially the facial and nasal aperture region. Macromorphoscopics allows archeologists to collect data to compare ancient human remains to soft tissue differences in people who have past away within the time scale of 100-150 years ago. This helps assess biological distances between populations and estimate the ancestry of a specific person using population-based human variation. This methodological approach in estimating ancestry offer a numerical and statistical approach when exploring the complexities of population histories that have impacted human variation among and between different societies.
The study of “the Lant Street teenager” was able to go in further depth with this technique. Her skeletal features showed that although chemical analysis has shown she had blue eyes, she had some sub-Saharan African ancestry. This suggests she had travelled this long distance to get to London and live her life there, as many people did at that time. The gladiator mentioned previously was speculated to have died due to the violence that occurred through gladiator battles in the amphitheatre and also because of the fact that his head was found, with several prominent injuries done to the skull, in a pit near the amphitheatre. His skull features confirmed his European ancestry, with the DNA analysis further confirming his Eastern Europe descent.
Comprehension of the daily life of ancient people helps form a stronger understanding of the way society was running at that time or how different groups lived and/or what they practiced. Many archaeologists also use light stable isotope analysis to learn about diet, air quality, place of origin, and daily routines. This is done through the study of the chemicals in the remains of the body parts found from people in the past such as their teeth or their skull. Carbon and nitrogen are some of the chemicals found in the remains that can help reveal the type and quality of the food and water used to survive. Analyzing oxygen and lead levels in bones and teeth can help show the place of childhood origin.
Since foods have different chemicals and origins, the analysis of diet can give insight into the life of Roman Londoners by telling a story of their mobility and travels. Bringing back “the Lant Street teenager” analysis, her stable isotopes from her rib bone showed that she had been living in London for approximately four to five years. This was proven through the markers of certain foods found in her isotopes that were local to London. Another example of the use of this technique was when the skeleton of a Roman woman was found near Harper Road. She is thought to have been a woman with high status since she was buried in a coffin with grave goods including a mirror, dishes, and a necklace. The time she was buried was unusual because cremation was the more popular form of ceremony at that time, which also hints us at her high status in her community. Her teeth analysis indicated she was born in Britain but originated from Northern Europe and also suggested she was a first generation Londoner.
Although these techniques, including studying inscriptions, have provided proof of the cosmopolitan and diverse nature that existed in Londinium, these methods are very limited and only provide evidence for reconstruction of the Roman London population to an extent. For example, the massive size of the Roman empire creates a large limitation for modern day archeologists because it is difficult to pinpoint the origins of Romans when they come from such diverse areas all over the Roman Empire. Evidence is limited due to the popular use of cremation at the time and therefore, the few skeletal remains and inscriptions that are found will not capture the entire picture of the population and diversity of ancient London. Also, many chemical and DNA samples often fail to produce results unless the evidence found was properly preserved. Evidence that do not exhibit great preservation have the risk of containing contaminated evidence or exogenous DNA. This can create faulty and inaccurate conclusions, which is why these techniques require very careful analysis strategies that can become very costly, especially depending on the preservation quality of the evidence.
Inscriptions can also be deceiving and must be interpreted with great care. For example, the tombstone fragment found in Castle Street, now Goring Street, Houndsditch was for a woman named Tullia Numidia. Researchers suggested that she is linked to the previous population of Numidia (now Tunasia and Algeria), but that suggestion should not be fully trusted because the name does not necessarily prove the woman came from that specific region of the Roman Empire. None of the inscriptions discovered have been found in situ, therefore, researchers cannot be fully reliant on the evidence, which is why chemical evidence and DNA analysis of skeletons have been proven more accurate in terms of discovering who lived in Londinium and the intriguing stories that come along with it.
Roman tools, goods, and other artifacts also play a huge role in filling the missing puzzle pieces to how these Roman Londoners lived. Daily life was difficult and many Roman Londoners worked many long hours, but there were also many festivals and ceremonies in which people can relax and honor the gods. There were also baths, taverns, and the amphitheatre used for entertainment and social purposes. Insight into their daily life include deed from the early second century for the selling of a slave by the name of Fortunata, who was bought by another slave. This was an indication of status and the social ladder that existed in Londinium. Slaves were on the bottom of the social ladder with non-citizens being slightly higher. This evidence showed that even slaves were able to rise into higher, more respected positions by working in different government positions and owning their own slaves. Remains of leather shoes, pottery, etc. as well as the excavation of the forum shined a light to the types of work that commonly existed at the time. Roman Londoners would sell foods and ornament-like things in forums. There were many shops and craft working stores, which can be proven by evidence from materials that required glass working, leatherworking, shoemaking, and pottery skills. Many jobs came from the rebuilding of London after the Boudican revolt, such as the need for construction work including painting and making buildings and furnitures.
Remains from perfumed oils in which the Roman Londoners contained in iron strigils with glass bottles along with iron strigils were evidence of the baths that were commonly used at that time. Many used baths to clean up and then used iron strigils as scrapers to exfoliate, and then use perfumed oils in these glass containers to add a fresher aroma. Many marble heads of Gods were also discovered, which showed the heavy reliance the Roman Londoners had on the divine power and deities. Gods and other religious beliefs were influential and often took part in many decisions as well as helping people heal, asking for forgiveness, and giving luck. Sacrifices and ceremonies at temples were common, and many feasts were held there to worship the gods. A marble head of the God, Mithras, from the second century was excavated in the Temple of Mithras, along with many other artefacts underneath the city of London. Artefacts found in this temple included a ceramic open lamp and copper-alloy candleholders which were needed for important rituals and ceremonies. Silver cups and iron dagger blades, which were also used for Mithraic rituals were found. Although these objects cannot tell us the full story on what went on in these temples, they do provide a glimpse of the types of ceremonies and rituals that may have occurred along with understanding the Romans’ strong emphasis on pleasing the Gods and their importance in Roman Londoners’ everyday lives.
Londinium was indubitably a cultural melting pot with a population that included many natives from Britain along with people from all regions of the Roman empire. It was a mix of families, sailors, soldiers, slaves, etc. Archeologists have been able to uncover many of the secrets of the past from excavating the left over evidence ranging from inscriptions and skeletons to remains of the rebuilding after the Boudican revolt. Although there are many limitations, especially issues with preservation, archeologists are still able to paint a picture, that continues to become more detailed with more findings, of what ancient London was and who were the people who helped make London what it is today were. The database of evidence based on studying written records, chemical analysis, and remains of goods and architecture continues to expand in order to figure out why and how London developed in the way that it did.