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Chapter 2

THE ROMANS IN BRITAIN. A.D. 41--418.


It was nearly a hundred years before any more of the Romans came to Britain; but they were people who could not hear of a place without wanting to conquer it, and they never left off trying till they had done what they undertook.

One of their emperors, named Claudius, sent his soldiers to conquer the island, and then came to see it himself, and called himself Brittanicus in honor of the victory, just as if he had done it himself, instead of his generals. One British chief, whose name was Caractacus, who had fought very bravely against the Romans, was brought to Rome, with chains on his hands and feet, and set before them emperor. As he stood there, he said that, when he looked at all the grand buildings of stone and marble in the streets, he could not think why the Romans should want to take away the poor rough-stone huts of the Britons. The wife of Caractacus, who had also been brought a prisoner to Rome, fell upon her knees imploring for pity, but the conquered chief asked for nothing and exhibited no signs of fear. Claudius was kind to Caractacus; but the Romans went on conquering Britain till they had won all the part of it that lies south of the river Tweed; and, as the people beyond that point were more fierce and savage still, a very strong wall, with a bank of earth and deep ditch was made to keep them out, and always watched by Roman soldiers.

The Romans made beautiful straight roads all over the country, and they built towns. Almost all the towns whose names end in chester were begun by the Romans, and bits of their walls are to be seen still, built of very small bricks. Sometimes people dig up a bit of the beautiful pavement of colored tiles, in patterns, which used to be the floors of their houses, or a piece of their money, or one of their ornaments.

For the Romans held Britain for four hundred years, and tamed the wild people in the south, and taught them to speak and dress, and read and write like themselves, so that they could hardly be known from the Romans. Only the wild ones beyond the wall, and in the mountains, were as savage as ever, and, now and then, used to come and steal the cattle, and burn the houses of their neighbors who had learnt better.

Another set of wild people used to come over in boats across the North Sea and German Ocean. These people had their home in the country that is called Holstein and Jutland. They were tall men, and had blue eyes and fair hair, and they were very strong, and good-natured in a rough sort of way, though they were fierce to their enemies. There was a great deal more fighting than any one has told us about; but the end of it all was that the Roman soldiers were wanted at home, and though the great British chief we call King Arthur fought very bravely, he could not drive back the blue-eyed men in the ships; but more and more came, till, at last, they got all the country, and drove the Britons, some up into the North, some into the mountains that rise along the West of the island, and some into its west point.

The Britons used to call the blue-eyed men Saxons; but they called themselves Angles, and the country was called after them Angle-land. Don't you know what it is called now? England itself, and the people English. They spoke much the same language as we do, only more as untaught country people, and they had not so many words, because they had not so many things to see and talk about.

As to the Britons, the English went on driving them back till they only kept their mountains. There they have gone on living ever since, and talking their own old language. The English called them Welsh, a name that meant strangers, and we call them Welsh still, and their country Wales. They made a great many grand stories about their last brave chief, Arthur, till, at last, they turned into a sort of fairy tale. It was said that, when King Arthur lay badly wounded after his last battle, he bade his friend fling his sword into the river, and that then three lovely ladies came in a boat, and carried him away to a secret island. The Welsh kept on saying, for years and years, that one day king Arthur would wake up again, and give them back all Britain, which used to be their own before the English got it for themselves; but the English have had England now for thirteen hundred years, and we cannot doubt they will keep it as long as the world lasts.

It was about 400 years after our Lord was born that the Romans were going and the English coming.


Charlotte M. Yonge