This was a history lesson delivered by a real professional. It was the story of the legacy that Rome and the Roman empire left to this country, and indeed to much of Europe. The 400 years of the Romans in Britain was much more than just an army of occupation. It witnessed the wholesale introduction of a way of life that disciplined society in a very profound way. Roman Britain was to be characterised by three principles – law, defence and communications. A system of law, Roman Law, was to be practised throughout the country, as indeed for throughout the Roman Empire. Defence against the warring tribes was afforded by the might of the Army and by a series of defensive settlements, which were in turn served by a vast communications network of roads and Bridges constructed to move the Roman army quickly. The settlements evolved into townships with a new culture of architecture, building, art and civilisation. Good communications furthered an efficient postal system, the amenity of a common currency, and all using a common language – Latin.
Britain had long been a trading country, based upon its mineral wealth and seafaring capability. But the embryo civilisation was fragmented and indefensible. Rome wanted that trade and invaded the land. Its mighty colonising power conquered the country as far north as Catterick and later Hadrians Wall. It brought communications to all parts of the country, maximising trading opportunities. It brought peace and stability. Wealth was to be built on slave labour but it accumulated as evidenced in the quality of the architecture, the heating systems and the water supply. Art was to be found in paintings, sculpture, mosaics, costume, and literature. Dr, Gibbens said that the legacy of Rome was and is well-evidenced in Yorkshire, current archaeology revealing settlements, styles of living and artefacts, suggesting that Rome sought to build good relationships with its “occupied “ peoples, treating them with dignity and fair trading. The legal system was based upon the common good, rather than providing for individual rights and concerns. The law was imposed and managed by the Romans for the Romans
Dr Gibbens made the strong point that for 400 years Britain was a stable, well-managed society living under a code that encouraged or required people to think of Rome first. But, as the Roman Empire started to decay, through incompetent and fraudulent leadership at the centre and with the disillusion of the forces on the frontiers, the edifice fell. The Legions left Yorkshire and returned home. Tribal warfare was resumed. Danes, Jutes and Saxons invaded, and colonised in places with their gods and systems. The Dark Ages had arrived. No significant developments were to evolve in industry, trade or culture for centuries.
The sting in Dr Gibbens’ lecture lay in his correlation of the collapsed Roman Empire with that of many parts of the world today. The “empires” of our past are crumbling under bad and apathetic leadership, with the re-emergence of tribal instincts, national and ideological pressures groups Are they leading us towards another Dark Ages ? He said that he had the faith that we had the knowledge base to survive such challenges!.
It was a most informative and expert presentation – too much detail, too fast for some, but the consensus was that it was a splendid morning.