THE PROVINCIAL HISTORY OF ENGLAND.
XL--Tas WEST DOWNS AND THE VADLEY OF THE SEVERN FROM THE ROMAN CONQUEST TO THE CtoxisOurtarrox THE Aisozo-Sexors PapiciPwrinri.
ITHE Romans held this Province in a firmer grasp than the
West Country, and over a large part of it there are still dig- -covered from time to time numerous relics of their occupation. The southern part of it was included in the province of Britannia Prima, the district to the south of the Thames and the Severn. Worcestershire, however, and a great part of Gloucestershire lell'within the province of Flavia Ca3sarieasis, while the Forest of Dean formed part of Britannia Secunda. The whole Province was traversed by several roads. There is, however, great diversityamong -antiquarians as to the nomenclature and exact direction of some of these tracks of communication. One or two of them may possibly have been British in their origin (the Ridgway, for example), but there are much more indisputable remains of great Roman roadways which may- in a general manner be said to have linked together Durnovaria (Dorchester), rechalis (Ilehester), Sor- biodunum (Old Sarum), Coriniurn (Cirencester), and Aquee Solis (Bath), with the midland and northern portions of Britain. Av.% Solis and Glevum Claudia (Gloucester) were Roman colonies. Corinium and Sorbiodunum possessed the jus Latinum. Worcestershire has fewer Roman remains than the rest of the Pro- wince, perhaps from its being thickly covered in those days with wood. But Worcester seems to have been the site of a Roman station, of which the name is lost in the Itineraries, but which, standing on the verge of the iron districts, was remarkable for its forges. "Some of the richest and most elegant mosaic pave- ments in this island were dug up at Corinium, and show its ancient .splendour ;" and Glevum was from its position near the point where the Severn begins its gradual expansion from a river to an -estuary, a place at all times of great importance. Sorbiodunum was a commanding fortification on the summit of a bold hill in the midst of a valley. There are several Remain remains at 1)urnovaria, though the ampitheatre there is perhaps of British rather than foreign architecture. "The extensive and rich dis- trict between Sorbiodunum and Glevam was covered in every -direction with magnificent villas, marking it out as the most fashionable part" of Romanized Britain. "In its centre stood a -city remarkable for its splendid edifices, its temples, its buildings for public amusement, and still more so for its medicinal baths. For
this latter reason it was called Aqum Solis the Waters of the Sun.' Remains of the Roman bathing houses have been discovered in the course of modern excavations. Among its temples was a magnificent one dedicated to Minerva, who is supposed to have been the patron goddess of the place. From inscriptions found at different periods, it appears that military commanders, high municipal officers, and other persons of rank frequented this place for the benefit of its waters." It was naturally the centre of many roads to all parts of the island. That from Corinium continued its course from Aquas Solis in a south-westerly direc- tion to another bathing town called "Ad Aquas," the modern Wells, Hence there were roads communicating to Ad Uxellam (Bridgewater) and Isca (Exeter). The road from Londinum to Aquas Solis passed by Cunetio, a town the site of which has been Oxed by Roman remains at Folly Farm, near Marlborough, and by Verlucio, the site of which similar remains fix at Highfield, in Sandy Lane, near Heddington. This road was continued from Rath in the other direction to a station on the Avon called Ad ,Aboniam or Abona, which antiquaries identify with Bitton, and thence to another post on the Avon, where that river falls into the Severn, thence called Ad Sabrinam, identified with Sea Mills, not very far from Bristol. On the opposite side of the Severn a road led to Ve,nta Silurum (Caerwent), and thence to Dee Salurum (Caerleon).
From what has been thus briefly stated, it will be at once seen that the Province we are treating of was verylargely subjected to the influences of Roman civilization and Roman colonization, and pro- bably there was no part of the island more thoroughly Roraanized than the territory of the Dobuni. Here, then, the character and even the blood of the inhabitants must have been tinged to some extent by a Roman infusion, and we shall not be surprised if we find the semi-Roman or Romanized Briton, Ambrosias Aurelianus, connected in the theatre of his greatest recorded achievement with this dis- trict, for nearly every theory as to the site of Badonicus Mons places it within this area. Here, then, in the decline of Roman Britain, the noblest inheritors of that civilization, made their last desperate rally, and carried on that heroic contest of centuries in duration which ended in the establishment of the Anglo-Saxon principalities of Wessex and Marcia. As the battle of Keltic patriotism was fought in the West Country, so Roman civilization in its highest form in Britain died sword in hand on the West Downs and in the Severn Valley, There was also the admixture here, as elsewhere, of other races within the ranks of the so-called Roman legionaries and colonists. We know that Corinium was occupied by Thracians and Indians. In the Indian cavalry stationed at that place, as we learn from an inscription found there, was one Dannicus, a citizen of
Rauricuna, in Switzerland. Another inscription at the same place speaks of a certain Sextus Valerius Genialis, a Frisian, belonging to the Thracian cavalry, and of kindred blood with the Saxons
of the mouth of the Elbe. Julius Vitalis, the fabrieiensis of the twentieth legion, commemorated in a celebrated inscription found
near Aquas Solis, was a Belgian by birth, probably a Continental
rather than a British Belga. Caius Murrius, of the second legion, buried at Aqum Solis, was a native of Foram Tulii, in Gaul (the
present Frejus). The Italian type must, of course, have been much modified by these infusions of " barbarian " blood, which so greatly affected the Roman national character in the later stages
of the Empire. But the influence of this common Roman civi- lization must have predominated altogether over the feebler force of native and local characteristics, the military esprit de corps powerfully contributing to blend all differences into certain common aspects of social life and feeling. It is, however, impossi- ble at the present day to bring back to our minds any vivid reliable
picture of Roman Britain. We may gather up the fragments of the shattered frame, and may even be able, under the guidance of an accurate antiquarianism, to reconstruct the skeleton, and clothe it in the outward garb of a long past age ; but the breath of life will be still wanting to give real existence to the resuscitated form, and though we may galvanize it into occasional imitative feats of motion and expression, we shall attain at the best but a poor and halting representation of the being that has passed away. The cleverest attempts to reproduce the life of ancient Rome, even on fields where our materials are far richer than in Britain, leave after all, very much the impression of that melancholy region in the hidden world of the classic writers, in which faint and imperfect phantoms of the old heroes wander about repeating
in a purposeless and mechanical fashion the pursuits of their earthly existence. We will not attempt, then, to repeople the
downs and valleys of Britain with these unreal and inarticulate phantoms of the past, but confine ourselves to the general impres- sion of a civilization considerable in many respects, but dis- tributed very unequallyand capriciously, as we should now consider, over the essentials of comfort and refinement, and combining the most exquisite and lavish aasthetic conceptions with the poorest and most revolting features of ignorant barbarism. Such a civi- lization, not home-spun, but induced upon native elements which were more or less absorbed, but were probably never entirely lost, was necessarily dependent for its existence to a great measure on the continuance of the idea at least of that central life of Rome and Italy, of which provincial life was after all but an imperfect image. As this central life became more and more obscured from British eyes by the clouds of barbarian invasion, and by longer and longer intervals of isolated existence, native peculiari- ties must have to some extent reasserted their power even in the most Romanized districts of Britain, and the increasing reference of all things to a British rather than an Italian standard must have thrown back almost insensibly the minds of the Romanized Britons on the relics and traditions of their earlier national existence, and thus gradually revived under Roman names and a Roman garb many of the usages and modes of life of Keltic Britain. Thus, figur- ing at first as Roman Camara and Imperators, consuls, prefects, comites, and legati, and then known by the designations of reges and tyranni, the Polyarchy of early Britain reappeared, and we find ourselves in a chaos of petty princes and indefinitely out- lined principalities, in which the decaying civilization of Rome struggled with fitful energy through an Imperial Ambrosius against the more purely Keltic characteristics of a local Gnortigern.
These last pretenders to royalty may have in some instances de- scended from the former lines of British Keltic chiefs, and in the less Romanized parts of Britain some authority may have been left in their hands during the Roman period which supplied a basis for their revived claims ; but in the other parts of the country they must either have disappeared from the front rank, or have been effectively disguised from public gaze by a long succession of Romanized names and Roman offices, for no trace of such a dis- tinctive authority is to be found in the inscriptions and coins of that period.
We have no special account of the first introduction of Chris- tianity into this Province. It would probably, from being the residence of the more cultivated and influential Romano-Kelts, be among the earliest parts of Britain to feel the influence of the new creed ; but whether its reception here was the more cordial on that account is very doubtful. If we assign an early date to the propagation of Christianity in Britain, most probably the wealthy owners of the villas of Wilts and Gloucestershire would be among the most violent opponents of a faith then occupying so low a social position. If we assign a later date, the fashionable world of Britain would probably follow quietly in the wake of the Imperial Court. There cannot be any doubt, however, that the Britons of this Province, when the Saxon conquests took place, possessed a Christianity of some sort, probably somewhat imper- fect in practical fruits, though more intelligent and cultivated than that of the adjoining West Country, which it doubtless pre- ceded considerably in point of time.
Then came the era of invasions from the sea-board and river mouths between the Rhine and the Baltic, included in their most successsul stage under the general name of "Anglo-Saxon." From their position the West Downs and the Valley of the Severn would not be much exposed to the attacks of the northern Britons, nor would they probably have to encounter the first storms of Anglo- Saxon invasions, which we should naturally look for rather in the easterly parts of Britain. We have already shown how entirely unreliable the dates of these earlier Teutonic or Scandinavian con- quests are, and we shall not therefore delude our readers by any affected history of the conquest of this Province. It was pro- bably achieved during the course of the seventh century, —and two nations or two confederations of tribes seem to have been the chief agents. Dorsetshire, Wiltshire, and Somerset, after a prolonged struggle, divided by the battle of Badonicus Mons into two portions, thefirst ending in the repulse and temporary expulsion of the invaders, and the second commencing not earlier than the year 560, fell under the dominion of the Gewissas or West Saxons, as we have already stated. Gloucestershire, to the east of the Severn and Worcestershire (except the north-west corner), formed with part of Warwickshire the kingdom of the Hwiccas, or Wiccii, as they are variously called. The territory of these Hwiccas is again mentioned as part of the land of the Magesaetas, of which the territory of the Hecamas (the old bishopric of Hereford) con- stituted the remainder. Whence these Hwiccaa or M.agesaetas came we have no information. Their capital is by some said to have been at first Warwick, and by others (probably when the kingdom was established in its full extent) to have been Worcester. This latter city bears in Domesday Book the name of Wirecestre, though it was Latinized into Wigorniia. The most probable conjecture as to the origin of this name connects it with Wyre Forest, which very likely then extended southwards over Worcestershire. In a. charter of King Edgar's we find the eastern part of the Cotswold range, near Blockley and lecumb, called Mons Wiccissa, evidently preserving the name of the old conquering tribe. At an early period Wirecestre became the seat of a bishopric, and the holders of this see appear to have, sometimes at any rate, exercised civil authority also, under the title of "Dux Wicciorum." This appellation is given to a man of the name of Huctred in the time of King Offa, of Mercia (the latter half of the eighth century), and other names are mentioned as successors to him. The king- dom of the Hwiccas, during the struggles of what is called the Heptarchy fell under the yoke successively of Mercia, North- umbria, Mercia again, and lastly, the Danes and Wessex. Wilt- shire meanwhile formed part of the diocese of Sherborne, and at one time, as such, belonged also to Mercia ; but after the Norman. Conquest a separate see was established, of which the seat varied considerably at first, but ultimately became fixed at Salisbury. Wells became at an early period (the reign of King me) the seat of a bishopric, detached from the bishopric of Sherborne. Glouces- tershire remained attached to the see of Worcester till the reign of Henry VIII., thus forming the last relic of the old organization. which united those two counties under the sway of the Hwiccas.
The Province of the West Downs and the Valley of the Severn. could, as we said, scarcely have encountered the earliest and rudest shocks of foreign invasion. The Gewissas and Hwiccas had probably been to some extent modified in their original characteristics before they established themselves so far west. But still the struggle must have been to a great extent one of extermination, lasting as it did over so many years, and renewed again and again with such per- tinacity on both sides. We can give no credit to the idea that the Romanized Britons survived the conflict in these districts in such numbers as to give a predominant character to the subsequent population. In the kingdom of the Hwiccas especially we know from the history of Mercia—on which it became dependent—that the struggle must have been accompanied and followed by an almost equally exterminating contest between Paganism and Christianity, in which the Kelto-Roman Christians would be sure to be among. the greatest sufferers. There must have been a considerable difference in this respect between the fate of the Britons of the West Country, conquered by the Gewissas, when the latter were Christianized and considerably civilized, and those of this Pro- vince, and it is a delusion to draw the same conclusion in both. cases as to the amount of Keltic blood which blended with that of the Teuto-Scandinavian occupiers. All we can say is, that the- larger proportion of this infusion was probably in Wiltshire and Somersetshire rather than in Gloucestershire or Worcestershire- The Province must have suffered considerably both in wealth and population during the protracted struggle between the Mercians- and the West Saxons, much of which took place within its limits.. Of this struggle we need only say that fortune gradually leant to the side of the West Saxons till the great Offa gave it for the time a decided turn in favour of the Mercians, Wiltshire,. if not Dorsetshire, falling under his yoke. Egbert of Wessex. restored the balance in favour of that kingdom, but this ascendancy was not maintained under his successors, and the Danish invasions, found the province still divided between these two great southern principalities of England ; nor was it till, overwhelmed in the com- mon submersion of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms under the great flood of Northman invasion, it was reconquered almost mile by mile, by the energy of Alfred and his successors, that the West Downs. and the Valley of the Severn became an integral part, not of the kingdom of the Mercians, or the kingdom of the West Saxons, but of the kingdom of England under the Royal House of Wessex.