A Roman Villa
Forty-three years after the birth of Christ the finest soldiers the world had known came against the ancient Britons and conquered their land. These soldiers were called Romans, after their chief city Rome in Italy. They ruled Britain for nearly four hundred years & have left many traces behind them. While in Britain, one can still see the remains of their splendid roads, the ruins of the forts they built and parts of the great walls they erected to defend their towns. In the southern parts of the country homes called villas have been found.
Villas are not great castles with thick walls & towers built as a protection against enemies, but simple dwelling - houses unfitted for defense. That shows how peaceful the country was when first these villas were built under Roman rule.
On the heights of Greenwich Park overlooking the Thames there is a piece of pavement about two feet square. It was once part of the floor of one of these country houses. It is made of small pieces of red tile, each about a square in size, set in a bed of cement. No one can tell what part of the is belonged to; perhaps, it was a bit of the floor of a room, or a passage or even of a stable.
What did the Roman villa look like from the outside? We can scarcely tell. Perhaps, it was a long whitewashed building with a corridor running its whole length. Or, perhaps, it stood round two sides of a square or round three, and had the corridor on its inner side. Some people think that only the lower walls of villas were built of stone, while the upper walls were made of rough plaster held together with a framework of wood. The roof was made of red tiles or slabs of gray stone. The floors of the lower rooms were raised a little on pillars, so that hot air from a furnace might circulate underneath. And their were special pipes in the walls, so that the hot air might rise through the walls, so that the hot air might rise through the walls and warm them. The Romans brought this way of warming houses from their old homes in Italy, & they found it very useful in the cold climate of Britain. The rooms on the ground floor were paved with small pieces of tile laid very closely together in cement. By using pieces of different colors, pictures were made on the floors of the living rooms. Some of these have been dug up today & can be seen in museums. They are called mosaics. The walls of the rooms were decorated with painted pictures. Somewhere in the villa the was a bath, for the Romans were very careful to keep themselves clean. And certainly, too, there would be statues, either roughly made in Britain useful or brought by merchants from Italy, where the best sculptors were. Then the owner bought these statues to decorate his villa. And beautiful dishes of red pottery would be seen everywhere in the house. Some of them would be used for decoration, & some for eating from or for holding things. And in the grounds near the house there would be an orchard, for the Romans loved orchards. Their were fond of growing trees of all kinds, so their would be cherry trees & apples trees. The Romans were the first to grow cherries in England.
Let us pretend we are visiting a Roman villa many years after the conquest. A great many trees have been cut down since the Romans first come to Britain, so there is more room to grow corn then there used to be in the time of the ancient Britons. And many Romans who leave near the villa we are reading about have made much money by exporting corn to Roman armies quartered on the Continent. Their owner of the villa does the same us his neighbors. He has many labourers who help him to till his lands. He doesn’t pay wages, as modern farmers do, but in return for work he gives his labourers piece of land, on which they can grow corn for themselves. Today labourers can leave their master & go to another or if they like. But none of these labourers who work for the master of the villa are allowed to do that.
They lived in huts not far from the villa. The man who makes ploughs & hoes that are used on the farm & shoes. The farm horses lives in one of these small houses. He gets his wood from the great forest and his iron from the district that we now call Sussex. The man living in the neighboring hut is the cobbler, who tells leather & makes shoes & sandals for everyone one the estate, and harness for the horses. There is a joiner, to who is skillful in building barns and cowhouses, as well as in making carts. Sometimes however, things for the farm & the house are bought in London, & when anything requiring great skill has to be done, clever workers are send for from there. The master has slaves, too, & the work for nothing.
We can imagine the owner of the villa strolling round his orchard in spring. He looks at his blossoming apple trees & wonders whether the cherry trees that his grandfather brought from the Continent will have a good crop this year. When he looks across river he doesn’t see any buildings. There is only the marshy land, which is sometimes covered with water at high tide. And further of he can see forest. The merchant’s boats from Gaul are drafting up the river with the tide. And higher up are London Bridge and the red roofs of London. London, which the master of the villa looks at, has become a much bigger place than it was at the times of the ancient Britons. At has wharves & many warehouses. Its streets are noisy. There are huge buildings, such as temples & baths; and the inhabitants have lately built themselves a wall, because they fear that times of trouble are coming, & that all the wealth that they have collected will be in danger. But if you & I could see that Roman London, we should think it a very small places indeed.
The villa is not far from the Roman road from Dover to London. The road is making for the southern and of London Bridge. The owner of the villa has seen Roman Emperors ride a long this road at the had of armies, and often he hears the steady tramp of squads of recruits, who have been sent to Britain from all parts of the world to fill gaps in the Roman garrisons. They are mere lads thinking of homes on the Rhine and the Danube, which they will never see again. Sometimes their officers ride up to the door of the villa to beg a night’s lodging, especially in winter time. They have nothing like the long nights of winter in their southern homes. Our friend of the villa takes them in, for he has a boy of his own serving as an officer with the armies in the north of Britain & likes to send him messages, & parcels as well, on the baggage carts.
The officers & he talk a good deal together. He wants to know the news from other parts of the Empire, & they wish to know something of the land to which they have come. He tells them that he supplies corn to the great armies lying on the Rhine, & that the chief trouble of this part of Britain comes from the Saxon pirates, who sometimes capture his ships, raid to the coast, & even threaten to plunder London. Since the citizens have built their wall, his wife has never ceased to beg him to give up the villa & live always in London. She says she cannot sleep peacefully at nights for fear of the pirates. In winter time the owner of the villa lives a good deal in London, partly because of his wife’s fears, & partly because there is more company there.
He is careful about religious things & attends the services at the temples. Occasionally he goes to the little Christian church built in his father’s days. The Romans of an earlier time worshipped many strange gods, & our friend has some images of them in his hall. But missionaries of the Christian religion have been preaching in Britain for many years, & his always willing to talk to them & listen to readings from their books about Christ. In his grandfather’s time many Christians were persecuted
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