Most people probably think that London was founded by the Romans but this is almost certainly not the case, London as a major town or a city (at least by the standards of the time) must have existed before the arrival of the Romans.

None of the experts disagree that there was something like a village or a town before London became a city, and this would be true of virtually all cities. However, for contemporary experts to say that London is Roman in origin is just plain wrong, the facts do not support this.

There is only one piece of surviving Roman history that can shed any light on the origins of London and this is Tacitus’ account of the Boadicean revolt when London was brutally destroyed. First of all it is important to be clear about who Tacitus was, he was the official historian of Rome, this was no local history, an event had to be very important to be written up and appear in the Roman annals.

The first thing to note is that the attack happened in 60 or 61 AD yet the Roman invasion was in 43 AD and this gives a maximum of 18 years for London to have become this important and populous city. There were three cities destroyed with a loss to the Romans (and pro- Roman British) of up to 80,000 dead, a massive number. This alone ought to rule out London as having been founded by the Romans, how could this brand new city possibly be compared with the ancient tribal capitals of Colchester and St Albans (the figures for the dead were for the three cities combined)?

The only conceivable way that a Roman founded London could have grown so fast and that was if it had been earmarked to be the new capital of Britain and vast resources pumped in to it. This is however highly unlikely as Colchester was the Roman capital of Britain and they were in the process of enlarging it when Boudica attacked.

However, Tacitus is quite clear that London was not Roman at all but was an important trading city, famous even, but it is difficult to see how traders could have made it large and important enough in the 18 years or less of the arrival of the Romans, even if, as it is generally supposed, they built a bridge at the London site early on in the occupation.

One theory to get around this problem is that Julius Caesar had a bridge built in 55 BC when he was in Britain, there are however two problems with this theory. Although the time span is better, the reason for Julius Caesar’s campaigns was to impress the Senate back home in Rome. If he had built a bridge, you can be sure he would have mentioned it in great detail, as he did for the bridge he built over the Rhine.

Actually, London’s first bridge was probably not built until around 100 AD, remains of what appear to be a wooden bridge have been dated to this period, but this is well after the revolt. In addition, the archaeology shows that at the time of the revolt a ford would have been the most likely means of crossing the Thames as evidence of extensive burning occurs in the archaeology of both London and Southwark. This is important as Suetonius the Roman commander had arrived in London but decided he couldn’t defend it and chose to sacrifice the city in order to save the province, (again, hardly a description of a new town). Had there been a bridge Suetonius would have undoubtedly destroyed at least part of the bridge to make it unusable for the rebels. Indeed Roman Bridges even when built in stone usually had a wooden section that could be destroyed for exactly this reason.

The burning in Southwark therefore strongly suggests that a ford was being used at this period and makes it even more unlikely that a miracle new town could have been developed in such a short time. In fairness, there is an outside possibility that Boudica’s army crossed the Thames at the other ford at Westminster but this would have left them vulnerable to attack and anyway they next headed north to attack St Albans.

There is one other piece of evidence, which shows that the Roman new town hypothesis is impossible and that is the description of what happened when Suetonius abandoned London to the rebels. The able bodied had to fight their way out and the old and those so attached to the place were left to their fate – a certain and cruel death.

This is not a description of an eighteen-year-old new town, this is a description of people who had lived in the same place all their lives and had no friends or family elsewhere to flee to. No, London would have been full of burly construction workers and young professionals if we believe the current orthodoxy that London was founded by the Romans.

However, if London was there before the Romans then there ought to be some mention of it - and there is. It is mentioned far more by the early British histories than any other British city but the current crop of historians dismiss this evidence out of hand, as it was not written down at the time (but then that was true of much of Roman history). See Prince Brutus


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Pre-Roman London