History of London

According to the legendary Historia Regum Britanniae, by Geoffrey of Monmouth, London was founded by Brutus of Troy about 1000–1100 B.C. after he defeated the native giant Gogmagog; the settlement was known as Caer TroiaTroia Nova (Latin for New Troy), which, according to a pseudo-etymology, was corrupted to TrinovantumTrinovantes were the Iron Age tribe who inhabited the area prior to the Romans. Geoffrey provides prehistoric London with a rich array of legendary kings, such as Lud (see also Lludd, from Welsh mythology) who, he claims, renamed the town Caer Ludein, from which London was derived, and was buried at Ludgate.

However, despite intensive excavations, archaeologists have found no evidence of a prehistoric major settlement in the area. There have been scattered prehistoric finds, evidence of farming, burial and traces of habitation, but nothing more substantial. It is now considered unlikely that a pre-Roman city existed, but as some of the Roman city remains unexcavated, it is still just possible that some major settlement may yet be discovered. London was most likely a rural area with scattered settlement. Rich finds such as the Battersea Shield, found in the Thames near Chelsea, suggest the area was important; there may have been important settlements at Egham and Brentford, and there was a hillfort at Uphall Camp, Ilford, but no city in the area of the Roman London, the present day City of London.

Some recent discoveries indicate probable very early settlements near the Thames in the London area. In 1999, the remains of a Bronze Age bridge were found, again on the foreshore south of Vauxhall Bridge.[1] This bridge either crossed the Thames, or went to a now lost island in the river. Dendrology dated the timbers to 1500BC.[1] In 2001 a further dig found that the timbers were driven vertically into the ground on the south bank of the Thames west of Vauxhall Bridge.[2] In 2010 the foundations of a large timber structure, dated to 4000BC, were found on the Thames foreshore, south of Vauxhall Bridge.[3] The function of the mesolithic structure is not known. All these structures are on the south bank at a natural crossing point where the River Effra flows into the Thames.[3]

Numerous finds[4] have been made of spear heads and weaponry from the Bronze and Iron Ages near the banks of the Thames in the London area, many of which had clearly been used in battle. This suggests that the Thames was an important tribal boundary.

Early history[edit]

Roman London (43-410 AD)[edit]

Carausius coin from Londinium mint.

Medal of Constantius I capturing London (inscribed as LON) in 296 after defeating Allectus. Beaurains hoard.

Londinium was established as a civilian town by the Romans about seven years after the invasion of AD 43. London, like Rome, was founded on the point of the river where it was narrow enough to bridge and the strategic location of the city provided easy access to much of Europe. Early Roman London occupied a relatively small area, roughly equivalent to the size of Hyde Park. In around AD 60, it was destroyed by the Iceni led by their queen Boudica. The city was quickly rebuilt as a planned Roman town and recovered after perhaps 10 years, the city growing rapidly over the following decades.

During the 2nd century Londinium was at its height and replaced Colchester as the capital of Roman Britain (Britannia). Its population was around 60,000 inhabitants. It boasted major public buildings, including the largest basilica north of the Alps, templesbath houses, an amphitheatre and a large fort for the city garrison. Political instability and recession from the 3rd century onwards led to a slow decline.

At some time between 180 and 225 AD the Romans built the defensive London Wall around the landward side of the city. The wall was about 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) long, 6 metres (20 ft) high, and 2.5 metres (8.2 ft) thick. The wall would survive for another 1,600 years and define the City of London‘s perimeters for centuries to come. The perimeters of the present City are roughly defined by the line of the ancient wall.

In the late 3rd century, Londinium was raided on several occasions by Saxon pirates.[citation needed] This led, from around 255 onwards, to the construction of an additional riverside wall. Six of the traditional seven city gates of London are of Roman origin, namely: LudgateNewgateAldersgateCripplegateBishopsgate and Aldgate (Moorgate is the exception, being of medieval origin).

By the 5th century the Roman Empire was in rapid decline, and in 410 AD the Roman occupation of Britain came to an end. Following this, the Roman city also went into rapid decline and by the end of the 5th century was practically abandoned.

Anglo-Saxon London (5th century – 1066 AD)[edit]

Until recently it was believed that Anglo-Saxon settlement initially avoided the area immediately around Londinium. However, the discovery in 2008 of an Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Covent Garden indicates that the incomers had begun to settle there at least as early as the 6th century and possibly in the 5th. The main focus of this settlement was outside the Roman walls, clustering a short distance to the west along what is now the Strand, between the Aldwych and Trafalgar Square. It was known as Lundenwic, the -wic suffix here denoting a trading settlement. Recent excavations have also highlighted the population density and relatively sophisticated urban organisation of this earlier Anglo-Saxon London, which was laid out on a grid pattern and grew to house a likely population of 10-12,000.

Early Anglo-Saxon London belonged to a people known as the Middle Saxons, from whom the name of the county of Middlesex is derived, but who probably also occupied the approximate area of modern Hertfordshireand Surrey. However, by the early 7th century the London area had been incorporated into the kingdom of the East Saxons. In 604 King Saeberht of Essex converted to Christianity and London received Mellitus, its first post-Roman bishop.

At this time Essex was under the overlordship of King Æthelberht of Kent, and it was under Æthelberht’s patronage that Mellitus founded the first St. Paul’s Cathedral, traditionally said to be on the site of an old Roman Temple of Diana (although Christopher Wren found no evidence of this). It would have only been a modest church at first and may well have been destroyed after he was expelled from the city by Saeberht’s pagansuccessors.

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