Legionaries from Spain and Hungary met traders like Lucius Tettius, a trader from North Africa who imported the Romans’ favorite fish sauce from southern France. Disaster struck less than 20 years later – Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni, led her tribe into battle against the Romans and killed the residents of Londinium before she burned the city to the ground. After the final defeat of the Iceni, Londinium was rebuilt and soon it was booming again.
In the second century it was the capital of Britain and received, among others, Emperor Hadrian.
If you want to follow in the footsteps of the emperors, here is a quick guide to the Roman Londinium.
Roman city wall
Much of the Roman walls can be toured, but those who just want a quick look should head to Tower Hill. Right in front of the entrance to the subway station, you can see a fairly representative section of the wall in almost full height.
Surprisingly, Londinium had by the end of the 2. The revolt was quickly put down and Severus ordered walls to be built around the city to keep out any marauding locals who may have taken advantage of the time of chaos.
By the way, don’t be fooled by the Trajan statue – he never came to the UK. The council bought the statue from a junkyard and thought it would look great on the Roman wall!
If you want to see one of the remaining pieces of the Wall in an unusual location, head to the nearby London Wall car park and Bay 52, where the wall never has to pay to park.
Find it: Tower Hill, Barbican and Noble Streets
Tube: Tower hill
All Saints’ Day on the tower
The oldest church in town, All Hallows, dates back to the 7th century. Over the years it has housed the bodies of those executed by enraged monarchs in the Tower of London, including Sir Thomas More. But long before such gruesome events, this was a busy part of the Roman city. Roman tiles were reused in the Saxon masonry and in the crypt there is a small museum with finds from the 2nd century AD.
Find it: Byward Street
Tube: Tower hill
The remains of a late second century AD residence with its own private Bathhouse. Originally a luxury waterfront property, it had underfloor heating and a full suite with baths, including a warm room with a bath, a steam room and a cold plunge pool.
Find it: 101 Lower Thames Street
Tube: Monument, Tower Hill
Roman legionary fortress Barbican
Roman fortresses were shaped like a playing card with curved corners. Find out for yourself at the Barbican, where you can explore the remains of a second-century tower that marked the northwest corner of Londinium. You can also follow the line of the fortress wall, which was re-fortified as part of the city wall in the Middle Ages. The 1,000 legionnaires stationed here probably had a comfortable job most of the time – they served as bodyguards and messengers to the province’s governor rather than front line soldiers.
Find it: In the Wood Street Gardens.
St. Magnus the Martyr
There has been a church here for more than 900 years, but before the advent of Christianity, this place right on the edge of the Thames was an ideal place for Roman merchants to set up their shops and warehouses. Outside St. Magnus’s is a holdover from the very first London Bridge. Carbon dated to AD 75 and made from durable alder. It is believed to be a pile of either the bridge itself or the river wall of the nearby docks.
Find it: Lower Thames Street
On the other side of today’s London Bridge is Southwark Cathedral. In Roman times this would have been a lively settlement of locals, foreign visitors and military families. As the city grew, gentrification inevitably took place along the South Bank and fashionable mansions grew along the coast. In the aisles of Southwark Cathedral are fragments of mosaic tiles from the Roman villa that once stood here.
Find it: London Bridge
Tube: London Bridge
Roman amphitheater, London Guildhall
Eight meters below the medieval guildhall is a Roman amphitheater. The extent of the seating area is marked with a black line on the sidewalk in Guildhall Yard; below you can step onto the sand and imagine the roar of the crowd. Around 8,000 spectators could have crowded into the amphitheater and expected a gruesome, entertaining day. Animal fights took place in the morning – likely wolves, bears, or packs of wild dogs – although the Emperor Claudius brought elephants to Britain so it would have been possible to see more exotic animals. At lunchtime, the arena was then used for the executions of criminals, before the great gladiatorial fights took place in the afternoon. The funeral of a wealthy female gladiator was discovered in Southwark, who probably fought and perhaps fell in this amphitheater.
Find it: Guild yard
Tube: Bank, mansion, St. Pauls
The London stone
It’s hard to believe that this nondescript boulder inspired so much devotion in ancient times, but for centuries it was used as the medieval equivalent of Speaker’s Corner. It even played a brief role in Shakespeare Henry VI as a rallying point for actions against the crown. One thing is certain, the London Stone has been around for a long time. It is believed to have originated from the rebuilding of Londinium by Governor Julius Classicianus in the 1960s, and it is believed to have been part of the Governor’s Palace that once stood under Cannon Street Station.
Find it: 111 Kanonenstrasse.
Leave modern London behind as you immerse yourself in another era and take a look at the mysterious Eastern cult of God Mithras.
Temples of this deity were built underground or in cave-like buildings, and you will experience the awe of the initiate as you enter the shady room with its haunting experience for all the senses.
Mithraism, a secret cult only accessible to men, was popular with soldiers across the empire. An interactive exhibit helps you explore the artifacts found on site, and during a visit to the temple itself, you’ll hear whispered conversations and atmospheric lighting.
Find it: 12 Walbrook
Another location just outside of Zone 1 is Crofton Roman Villa in Orpington
Crofton, the only Roman villa to survive in London, once had an estate of 500 acres and was inhabited for nearly three centuries from the mid-second century AD. Ten of the rooms can now be seen with hypocausts and mosaic floors. Many of these large estates were built as money-throwing businesses (the Roman army ate a lot of sausages, so pig farming was extremely profitable!) As well as a place for a wealthy senator to get away from the noise of the city.
Would you like to learn more? Check out the permanent exhibits at the Museum of London, where you can see the Mithra’s head discovered in the Mithr room and leather bikini bottoms likely worn by a gladiator in the amphitheater.
There is also the permanent collection at the British Museum, which houses inscriptions and artifacts from the Roman Londinium. On Leadenhall Street, look out for the mosaic of Bacchus riding a tiger.