Sunday, 12 October 2008

The Romans Never Left

Emperor Hadrian, who built Hadrian's Wall, Britain's most famous Roman landmark

One thing it's easy to forget is that we here in southern Britain live in one of the former Roman provinces, Britannia (although over the course of the Empire's history the province was split apart and rejoined in various ways and under various names). Once upon a time we were the north western outpost of that once mighty empire and the evidence is all around us. The village my parents live in, Lympne, was once a major Roman port called Portus Lemanis (although the sea is now nowhere to be seen!). Not far away is the fort at Richborough (RutupiƦ) and even here in London (Londinium) you need only go visit Tower Hill station and right outside is part of the old London Wall... with the bottom part being Roman (you can tell by the brick work, don't say Time Team never taught me anything!).

Of course the Romans never truly left us, by the time communication with the Empire was lost the Romans and the native population had pretty much become one culture... the Romano-British. They would eventually escape to the west and north as other waves of (violent) immigration took over the south and east of our island. The Welsh, Scottish and Cornish nations are, in effect, descendants of the Romano-British. But did our Roman forebears leave a little more of themselves behind than just their genes?

Lympne Castle is supposedly haunted by many ghosts, including a Roman. The story goes that a Roman soldier was on watch in the east tower when he fell to his death. His footsteps are often heard going up, but strangely never heard coming down.

Greenwich, my adopted home, is also home to some Roman ghostly goings on (and plenty more, I'm working on that post!). In fact here we have the classic Roman haunting.... the Roman legion.That's according to the Greenwich Phantom anyway:

The Roman Legion. Greenwich had a Roman encampment in the days before Ye Olden Days as it was on the route to Dover (there is, of course, what is assumed to be a temple in Greenwich Park) but it was with great surprise that two workmen removing an old boiler from underneath the Royal Naval College's Jacobean Undercroft a few years ago witnessed an entire legion of Roman soldiers in full uniform appear through a wall, march across the room, then disappear through the opposite wall. The boiler had been placed well under the original ground level, which accounts for the fact that their feet did not touch the ground.

An extremely similar story is told on, appropriately, about York in which a workman was happily working underground when a group of Romans walked past... but this time the old Roman road was beneath ground level so the ghosts appeared to be walking on their knees...

There's a rather amusing video on this BBC News story about the strange apparition of a Roman caught on video my a local film club (supposedly although if anything I'd say he looked more Elizabethan to me). This was obviously a tongue in cheek segment on the local BBC news show but still the video, whether of a ghost or of sun flare, is pretty cool.


Chester also seems to be a hotspot for Roman ghost activity with centurions being seen individually and en masse marching off to points unknown.

Back in Kent and at Richborough fort there have been reports of some Roman activity. During World War II the area was used for coastal defence, and those on duty reported seeing large legions of Roman soldiers marching around the area. Some have reported vague lights and orbs in the area but none have reported such large scale activity since the end of the war. Forgive me for taking some liberties but I like to think that perhaps the legions were readying themselves just in case they were called upon to defend our coasts once more against the descendants of their ancient enemies, the Germanic tribes. Once the war ended, they could rest in peace again. Hey I don't claim to believe in ghosts, but I do like to believe in romantic notions sometimes or perhaps I've just watched Bedknobs and Broomsticks once too many times...

To be honest I've found it hard not to find a Roman ghost story in pretty much every town that was in existence during Roman times, and even in many that weren't!

The Romans themselves were also ghost story lovers. The Roman poet Lucretius proposed a:

theory, commonly known as Lucretius's shell, which ghosts were a kind of shell, which diffused or splintered from the body of a dying person and lingered in the atmosphere after death, moving at will.

Just goes to show how little our ideas on ghosts have changed over the millenia.

The Roman part of our history is something we all learn about at primary school and maybe this accounts for Britons, renowned for their love of ghosts, recounting stories of Roman ghosts haunting every corner of the country from the Antonine Wall to the Kent coast.

I've used the term legion rather liberally in this post, and to pedants I apologise; I understand it's correct usage but now the term is used for pretty much any sized gathering of Roman soldiers so please don't hate me!

If you want to learn more about the very real history of Roman Britain check out

Further Reading

Roman Britain: A New History - Guy de la Bedoyere


Gee said...

That video is fascinating. Although two things work against it. One the "Ghost" doesn't move, making it far moe likely to be a sun flare. Secondly it appears to be wearing a ruff, which would have been more apt for an Elizabethan than a Roman.

And the human eye is predisposed to recognise human features, as proven countless times by Rorschach tests. Hence the reason why "faces in the smoke" footage of 9/11 is still doing the rounds.

Still I'd love to see the original video in it's entirity. Brilliant post.

The Prince of Centraxis said...

Another thing that's easy to forget is that the Romans slaughtered so many of Britain's inhabitants that the British population didn't recover to it's pre-Roman numbers until the 1800s!

The Romans were even worse than the NAZIs, wherever they went.
They were responsible for destroying so much that few have any conception of what we've lost at the hands of those prot0-multinational and monocultural imperialists.


Jae said...

Gee: I tried to find the original video on the Society's web site but no luck, it's probably on Youtube, but I'm too busy watching musical shorts from Bedknobs and Broomsticks to take the time to look ;)

The Prince of Centraxis: Oh the Romans were nothing compared to those the "English" like to idolise, the Anglo-Saxons. Now they could of showed the Nazis and Romans a thing or two about ethnic cleansing. You are quite correct though, this island, and the Continents, history is bloody indeed. But... we shouldn't hold it against the Romans, they are after all our forebears, they were no less bloody than the British, French and Spanish colonists of North America in their destruction of the native populace.