Chapter II, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 1 page 5
How frequently do we read, in the history of the world, of a nation urged by an irresistible, though unknown principle, to pursue the path of conquest, not for their own advantage, but for the ultimate benefit of the people whom they subject. Such was the result of the Roman invasion of Britain, which proved neither profitable nor advantageous to the conquerors.
Appianus of Alexandria, who flourished a.d. 123, wrote a history of all the nations which Rome had subdued, in twenty-four books; he says: "The Romans have penetrated into Britain, and taken possession of the greater and better part of the island; but they do not desire the rest, because that which they already possess is not of the slightest benefit to them."
The historian was right, for, despite the taxes, the produce of the mines, and the exportation of corn, the island could never have been a source of great profit to the victors; notwithstanding which we trace them, urged by a resistless combination of events, progressing step by step, till the greater part of the country was subdued. Fortunately, they sowed the seeds of a civilisation more endurable than their dominion.
For nearly a century, the portion of Britain which had submitted to their yoke formed but a single province; it was first separated into two during the reign of the Emperor Severus. This division was afterwards extended to five: -
1st. Flavia Caesariensis, which consisted of the western portion of the island.
2nd. Britannia Prima, the country between the Thames and the Humber.
3rd. Britannia Secunda, lying between the Severn and the sea, now known by the name of Wales.
4th. Maxima Caesariensis, lying to the north of the two preceding ones, extending to the Wall of Severus, between the Tyne and the Solway.
5th. Valentia, comprising the lands from the Wall of Severus to the Forth and Clyde.
The conquests of Agricola, which extended to the Grampians, although dignified by the rank of a province under the name of Vespasiana, remained but a short time in the possession of the Romans.
The limits of the Roman provinces in the island have given rise to many discussions amongst the learned. We have taken them as laid down by Richard of Cirencester, De Situ Britain. Each of these provinces had a separate ruler, subject to the governor-general of Britain, who was named by the emperor under the title of prefect. He exercised all but sovereign authority, and united in his hands both the military and judicial power. Under him was a procurator, or questor, who levied the taxes, and administered the revenues of the island.
The principal sources of revenue were a poll tax, a tax on funerals and inheritances, on slaves, on all public sales, and an impost upon cattle and agricultural produce.
The tax upon cattle, which was called scriptura, from the collectors visiting the pastures and writing down lists of the number and kind which each estate nourished, was particularly oppressive to the Britons, and one of the most frequent causes of revolt.
In addition to these burdens, the Romans levied imposts upon merchandise, either imported or exported, which formed a considerable item in their revenue, the commerce between the empire and Britain having been greatly extended. Agriculture also made immense progress in the island, in which cities of considerable importance were built.
Of these the most important, in a commercial point of view, were Clausentum and London.
In the second century, Britain contained upwards of a hundred cities; the principal were London, Colchester, Bath, Gloucester, Caerleon, Chester, Lincoln, and Chesterfield; most of them built upon lands which the emperors had bestowed upon the veterans of those legions whose descendants formed the greater part of the population. The larger cities, about ten in number, enjoyed the jus Latii, which conferred, amongst other privileges, the right of electing their magistrates. The inferior ones, called stipendiaries, paid tribute to the emperor, and were governed by officers under the authority of the prefect.
Thus we perceive that Britain owed to Rome, not only her first steps in the path of civilisation, but her municipal government, a code of written laws, judges to interpret them, and civil instead of priestly tribunals; whilst, at the same time, her arts and refinements gradually wrought a change in the savage but warlike character of its inhabitants, who, previous to their invasion, lived in a state of barbarism, inhabiting wretched huts, built in the rudest form. Their progress in architecture must have been rapid.
<<< Previous page <<<
Pages: 1 2 3 4 <5>