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How Lincoln grew from a retirement settlement for Roman soldiers...

By Lincolnshire Echo  |  Posted: December 29, 2012

  • Remains: An aerial view of remains of Roman villa buildings in Long Leys Road

  • Gateway: Newport Arch

  • History: Part of a Roman mosaic floor now on display in Lincoln Cathedral

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The Romans conquered this part of Britain in 48 AD and remained in occupation for more than five centuries. Here, James Baggley takes a look at that part of the city's history...


The city we know today was forged through a long and turbulent history.

But it was the Romans and, in particular, Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (41-54 AD), 4th Emperor of the Roman Empire, who gave us Lincoln.

In the first years of the first century AD, the place we now call Lincoln was deserted, consisting of only a few houses in a wild and wooded land.

This changed quite quickly following the invasion of Claudius in 43 AD, who sent four Roman legions to Britannia, looking for slaves and wealth from the country's rich natural resources.

"Lindum" was the first Roman name for Lincoln and it referred to a fortress set up at the top of a hill above the River Witham.

The original fort was strategically situated on what we now call Ermine Street, which was the great north road built by the Romans between Londinium (London) and Eboracum (York).

This fortress existed to keep the route between these two important towns free and clear for the safe transport of goods and people. It was initially held by the 9th legion and later by the 2nd legion. Lindum quickly grew to cover around 41 acres.

The fortress location was chosen as it was difficult for enemies to attack and yet was close to the river, allowing for goods to be transported.

However, within a few decades the soldiers had moved on to other more rebellious areas of the country, leaving the Lindum fortress unmanned.

In around 100 AD, when the locals had become less hostile, Lindum became a "colonia", which was a retirement settlement for Roman soldiers. Setting up a colonia in the area was advantageous to Rome in two respects.

Firstly, it offered a home to Romans who might not have wanted to travel all the way back to their original home within the great empire.

Secondly, it meant that Rome had a group of trained military men on hand should any further uprising of the local tribes occur.

Within 50 years the town had sprawled out from the fortress and down the hillside to occupy an area of approximately 100 acres.

There are few written records of life in Lindum Colonia and what little information is available is derived mainly from archaeological evidence.

One such record comes from an excavation in the area of Monson Street in 1859. The tombstone of a freed slave who lived in the settlement was found and his name was Marcus Aurelius.

He had formerly been owned by Marcus Aurelius Maxuminus who was a member of the 14th Legion of the Roman army.

As a retired soldier in the 14th Legion of the Roman army, it is probable that Marcus Aurelius Maxuminus would have served in the army for approximately 25 years and would have spent some of that time based at a fortress in the north west of Britannia, near what is now Manchester.

He would have played his part in quelling local uprisings and in helping to maintain order within the fortress.

Military service came at a cost in ancient Rome. It was forbidden for any soldier serving in the army to marry.

When Marcus Aurelius Maxuminus was finally discharged from the army in around 200 AD he had presumably decided not to return to Rome; but instead like many Roman soldiers, he chose to settle permanently in this most recently acquired outpost of the Roman Empire.

After all, Marcus probably had no family to return to in Rome and besides, he would have spent most of his adult life in Britannia and come to know and respect the local culture of the indigenous tribes.

He therefore chose to settle in the recently founded settlement of Lindum Colonia, in the north east heartland of Britannia.

As an ex-serviceman, Marcus Aurelius Maxuminus would have been entitled to live within the fortified walls of the colonia, which was exclusively reserved for ex-militia.

Part of Marcus Aurelius Maxuminus' settlement package could have included a home within the walls of the upper part of the town where the fort had originally been situated, along with a farm or villa on lands outside the settlement's walls.

This land within the area surrounding the colonia was known as the "territorium" and it was used to feed the inhabitants of the settlement.

The farms would have been used for both livestock and arable farming, growing crops such as wheat and cabbages, as well as containing orchards of apples and pears or even vineyards.

It is believed that the climate at this time was warmer than today, with lengthier and hotter summers which meant that there were believed to be grapes grown in the area.

To run a farm, an ex-soldier would have needed to own many slaves to work the land. Marcus Aurelius Maxuminus would have needed someone intelligent and hard-working whom he could trust with the post of farm manager.

This position would involve overseeing the other workers, ensuring the farm ran smoothly, and reporting to his master every night on the progress of the work.

Slaves for this work would be taught reading, writing and arithmetic in order that they might accurately keep records of the farm's productivity.

It was sometimes known for Romans to free their slaves at the time of their death and even to leave a financial legacy for them.

It seems that at some point the Lincoln Roman, Marcus Aurelius Maxuminus, gave Marcus Aurelius both his name and his freedom.

At the death of Marcus Aurelius Maxuminus, paid mourners would have been hired to weep loudly at the funeral and they, along with his slaves, would have accompanied the funeral procession.

This was an important part of the funeral ceremony and the procession was called "a funalibus" and is presumably where our word "funeral" comes from.

Like the ancient Greeks, Romans believed they needed to pay the ferryman when journeying into the underworld after death, and a coin was often placed in the mouth of the dead man to enable him to cross the river Styx and enter the land of the dead.

Cypress branches would be hung to show the house was in mourning and, once the body was cleaned and prepared, the funeral procession would set off from the home of the deceased.

For Marcus Aurelius Maxuminus this is likely to have been from his residence in the upper part of the walled town and on to Ermine Street, which passed through the middle of Lindum Colonia on the site now occupied by Bailgate and the High Street.

The funeral would then head south along this road, past the Forum building in which the government of the region was administered.

Passing through the South Gate near the top of Steep Hill, the cortege would go down the hill and out of the newly-built Lower South Gate of the settlement, passing many shops and traders in the lower part of the town along the way.

Then passing over the River Witham the procession would come to rest at one of several burial grounds which served the community, all of them set outside the fortified walls.

Having seen the last journey of Marcus Aurelius Maxuminus, Marcus Aurelius, the freed slave would perhaps have returned to the town through the Lower South Gate and headed to the Temple of the Fates which it is believed stood near the site of St Swithin's Church.

There he might have made a votive offering to the Fates, who were believed at the time to have great power over life and death.

His offering was part of a bargain with the Fates – in return for the offering he would ask for a long life and future success and perhaps strong descendents who would continue to live in this amazing city.

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  • Angela222  |  January 13 2013, 9:01PM

    Great article. It would be great to have more. I had no idea the 9th legion were stationed in lincoln. Thank you.

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