Wednesday, 5 August 2015

The development of an Island nation - Roman Rule.

Wow, I really have an ability to come to the party late!

The Sky Atlantic documentary series entitled "The British " is excellent stuff.

The first episode begins with the pesky Druids causing a bit of a problem for the as yet, uncontested Roman empiric domination of almost all of Europe. The premise of the show is, dramatised reenactment of the pertinent events with expert commentary by eminent historians, but two additional elements raise this programme  above the usual interesting but formulaic historical shows.

One is the random sound bites by "famous folk"  including Helen Mirren, Jeremy Irons, Ben Kingsley and most amusingly (in my opinion) the celebrity marmite that is Russell Brand. They add kind of cheery "hurrah for us" kind of feeling to the whole proceeding!

The second is the glorious narration by my favourite, The Welsh Wonder himself Mr Ioan Gruffudd. Following in the footsteps of Burton and Hopkins before him, his voice is absolutely perfect for this kind of work. Like a soft cosy blanket, his gentle Welsh lilt lifts with enthusiasm in the dramatic parts and also evokes happy memories for me personally  as he speaks of Roman Centurions and their Druidic foes. 

For those who are not aware, Ioan is also the voice of the horses in the final minutes of  the blockbuster  "King Arthur" a film in which,he also played Lancelot, indentured soldier to the last Romans as they flee their final  bastion in Britain at Hadrian's wall. The parallels with this fictionalised account of Arturius, thought to be the origin of Arthurian legend and the real historical examination of a similar scenario are startling. 

Britain was a place worthy of conquering, rich in natural resources, particularly for a nation whose army is paid and highly supplied with weaponry, every soldier carrying Short sword, javelin and steel tipped shield to into battle and the steel required to equip such an arsenal is available through Iron ore found right here in Britain.

A Great warrior is called into deal with the Woads, Celtic warriors  painted blue from the dye of a plant in the mustard family. First the action is based in Modern day Anglesey, rather than in the North. The Britain he comes to conquer is home to ancient powers from the Druidic ruling classes and sophisticated enough to build Stonehenge, a structure as ancient and symbolic as the pyramids in Egypt. Women hold equal standing in the Briton ranks, being fierce warriors in their own right.

The Romans decimate the Druids in Anglesey and any survivors flee to Scotland and Ireland for sanctuary. The brutality of the commanders onslaught on the Druids was even too much for infamous Emperor Nero, but so begins a era of massive change and development on theses Isles.

10,000 miles of roads are constructed to allow legions of soldiers to traverse the land efficiently. That is even more than our current motorways today. Wales and England are joined by these highways. Lincoln, York, Chester, Bath, Cheltenham and London, all these modern cities were once Roman Garrisons designed to house troops and towns such as Colchester are intentionally  designed with streets and districts for businesses, wattle and daub starts to give way to bricks and mortar.

Gladiatorial games become the entertainment of the masses, and the slaves who fight in the arenas are at once super celebrities where vials of their sweat and skin oils are sold to rich women as aphrodisiacs like posters and programmes are at the entertainments in the modern age. Yet these heroes still face imminent death whenever they step out in front of the baying crowds. Paid for by urbanised Celts seeking position and power, these displays offer observers refreshments in the form of fruits like apples and pears which are for the first time purposefully cultivated.

In an echo of the Celtic tradition of beheadings, failed gladiators have their heads chopped off after failing the popular vote with the wealthy purveyor of the proceedings having the final say, the likeness to modern singing competitions is striking...  A burial in York reveals eighty skeletons, all beheaded with gouges in the bone and punctures where animals have been part of the show. Rather like prime time TV, the scenes are mesmerising despite their cruelty.

In the next two centuries, our river-ways are used transport produce and large scale domestic building begins for Romans to be housed now they are entrenched. The villas they create are marvellous to behold, decorated with wonderful mosaics, contain sewerage works, plumbing and central heating through underfloor piping to ward against British inclement weather. It is the golden age of Roman rule.

By 487AD , events at Hadrian's Wall are about to change the status quo. Built to withstand the savages in the North, the wall stretches from coast to coast, with a watch tower every mile. The Pics ,the tattooed folk in the North are feared for their hardiness and strength. Scotland never risked it's independence, it's remoteness being it's strongest defence, as Roman outposts come under attack from within, the Visigoths attack and Rome falls.  The Wall falls into disrepair, funding from Rome stops and mass withdrawal takes place.

The baptism Emperor Constantine in a period of illness, had meant that the ruling elite brought Christianity to Briton and Romano Britons would hold onto this faith in discrete pockets across the nations, the chance kidnap of a man called Patrick by Irish slave ships would bring about the biggest religious conversion in British History. On escaping his captors Patrick sets about presenting the Christian Faith to the people of Celtic Britain in way that is palatable to their traditions and way of life. The design of the Celtic Cross is an amalgam of crucifix and Pagan sun symbols and an enduring image. Patrick was canonised and is the Saint Patrick we honour today, the Irish Patron Saint and architect of modern British Christianity.


  1. Emma, this was a very enjoyable & informative read! Any more ?

    1. I am happy to write up the rest of the series if you are interested enough!