By indexer
3 years ago

Roman Leicestershire

The city of Leicester was an important place in Roman Britain, and the countryside around it was settled by people who became Romanized and contributed to the support of the Roman colony.

There was a Celtic settlement at Leicester before the Romans arrived during the first century AD, this being known as “Caer-leirion” or the camp of the Ligore. The name of the river that flowed past the gravel terrace on which these early settlers had their camp was the Leir, although it is now known as the Soar. The name stuck as “Leicester”, the citadel by the Leir, after the Romans left.

Leicester is situated on the Fosse Way, which was the Roman road that ran almost in a straight line (never deviating by more than six miles) between Exeter (to the south-west) and Lincoln (to the north-east). This road marked the boundary of Roman Britain for a time, before the legions pushed further west, and so linked a string of frontier forts and towns.

A vital town in this push west and north was Chester, near the wild country of Wales, and the road that linked Chester to the oldest Roman town of Colchester, in the south-east, was the Via Devana. Leicester lies at the crossing point of these two important routes. Other important roads in the vicinity were Watling Street (which still forms the boundary between Leicestershire and Warwickshire) and Ermine Street.

At first, the town established by the invaders would have been no more than an earth embankment within which the soldiers (probably of the 9th and 14th Legions) pitched their tents, but this later became a regional capital with all the trappings of a Roman “civitas”.

The name used by the Romans was “Ratae Corieltauvorum”, or “Ramparts of the Corieltauvi”, this being the name of the local Celtic tribe.

By the third century, Ratae had stone walls, a forum, a basilica, temples, and a large bath-house. Very little remains to be seen of any of this, apart from the bath-house. On one side of the bath-house site is the so-called “Jewry Wall”, although this never had any connection with a Jewish community in Leicester. In fact, this wall, which is about 70 feet long and 30 feet high, is one of the tallest pieces of free-standing Roman masonry in the country and is useful for understanding Roman building methods.

Next to the wall are the excavated foundations of the bath-house, which are free to visit. Alongside, in the Jewry Wall Museum, can be seen a number of items from the Roman period that have been found by archaeologists both here and throughout the city.

Excavations for modern building developments have revealed another “Jewry Wall”, this being a collapsed stretch of wall that had fallen on top of an even earlier wall.

Country living

Beyond the city, a network of villas worked the land, concentrating on food crops for the city and its garrison, and producing wool for export. The villa owners were probably local people who were descended from the original Celtic inhabitants of the area but who had become Romanized and taken Roman citizenship. The estate workers would have included slaves and peasants who lived in circular huts near the villa.

The word “villa” can give the impression of luxurious living, and indeed some Roman villas, lived in by tribal “kings”, were palatial in their size and furnishings. However, most villas in Leicestershire were relatively modest, being sparsely furnished farmhouses together with their outbuildings. There are some examples of mosaic floors and evidence of wall painting, these dating from the later Roman period when some of the owners had acquired wealth from their trading activities.

The Romans brought knowledge of improved farming methods with them, such as heavy ox-drawn ploughs, as well as introducing food crops that would have been new to the British, such as peas and beans. Many sherds of Roman pottery have been discovered that would have been used as a means of giving better structure to the somewhat heavy clay soils that are typical of the lower-lying parts of the county.

During the “pax Romana” up to the late third century, the wealthier inhabitants of Leicestershire would have enjoyed luxuries from abroad that came their way from being part of a European empire. These included wines from Germany and fish paste from Italy, as well as objects such as ivory carvings and stone figurines that were either of religious significance or purely decorative. This was, generally speaking, a safe time in a safe part of the province of “Flavia Caesariensis”, as “Britannica Secunda” became known.

Leicestershire during the decline of Roman Britain

However, it could not last for ever, and the Roman Empire was on the defensive against various threats from the mid third century onwards. There were upheavals at the heart of the Empire and invasions from outside, particularly the Germanic tribes that included the Angles and Saxons. Being in the centre of England, and therefore a long way from trouble, Leicestershire’s inhabitants were not directly affected, although they would doubtless have been aware of the increased troop movements along the Roman roads that criss-crossed the area.

But in the year 410 AD the situation had become so serious that Emperor Honorius had to write to the Roman cities in England, including Leicester, to tell them that they could no longer count on support from Rome and they were now on their own. They had already lost their permanent garrisons in 383, when general Maximus ordered the soldiers to go to other parts of the Empire where their presence was needed, but now any hope of defence was dashed.

The change in Leicestershire was a gradual one, and the ordinary farmer would have noticed little difference in his daily way of life. Not every Roman left the country, and many retired soldiers would have continued to live in the city of Leicester, or on the farms they had bought on their retirement, having married local women and raised families of their own. Romanized Britons continued to exercise law and order through the institutions set up by the Romans and life would have gone on smoothly enough for most people, for some considerable time.

Leicestershire’s Roman legacy was therefore a positive one, with the patterns of farming, trade and civic life established by the Romans being apparent for many centuries to come.

3 years
Faith Nice and informative article.
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OlgaLifeLover This wall is looking interesting
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Justin Very intetesting👍👍👍👍
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soncee Wonderful artikle
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indexer @OlgaLifeLover I see it quite often - it is close to where I get off the bus when going into Leicester.
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faithfilia great
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