On the edge of the Roman Empire

Published in Issue 3 (May/June 2012), Letters, Pre-Norman History, Volume 20

Sir,—Your March/April issue was a blockbuster! My favourite was the first article, about how the Romans in England saw Ireland. I had long wanted to know how close we were to becoming part of their empire. Now I know that they seriously considered invading us, but backed off because they could make more money by continuing to trade with us than by invading us. I noticed that, when they did consider invading us, it was from the south of Scotland to the north of Ireland. This makes sense, because the passage from there to here is the shortest from the British mainland (but, of course, they could have just as easily invaded us from the Isle of Man).

 

On the other hand, I had already learned that they had considered invading us from Chester (their ‘Deva’), but had to send their soldiers from Britain to the east of Europe in the hope of blocking the invasion of the barbarians from there. I learned this titbit during a visit to Chester, which I considered to be a really beautiful little city. Sometime after the departure of the Romans, the city had built a protective wall, and they had used the gravestones of the Roman soldiers who had died there. Ironically, this usage preserved the gravestones, and the epitaphs on them, from the eroding weather of centuries. They have since been excavated and restored, and some are exhibited in the local museum. The exhibition contains an outline map of the whole Roman Empire at its largest, and even a bit further east. On this map are shown the birthplaces of some of the soldiers who had died in Chester, which is as far west as the empire extended. It brought tears to my eyes to see that one of the soldiers had been born on the eastern coast of the Caspian Sea, which is nearly halfway to China. When he was a young lad there, little did he know that he would live, probably marry a local girl and leave his bones—and his children—on the very westernmost edge of the whole great continent.—Yours etc.,

 

COLM CULLETON

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