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18 June 2014
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Roman gravestone
Longinus gravestone in Colchester

© Colchester Museum
The first shopkeepers: Commercial life in Roman Colchester

In the beginnning

Roman soldier
© Colchester Museum
The early history of the town that literally brought the word ‘civilisation’ to Britain (from the Latin civitas, meaning ‘citizen’) was not a happy one. In AD 60, eleven years after its foundation, the first city of Colchester was razed to the ground by a vengeful army of British rebels, led by the warrior-queen Boudicca.

Its inhabitants took refuge in the temple of Claudius, built on the fortress’s old parade ground, where they were burned alive. The marks of that conflagration remain etched into the archaeological record to this day: a charred destruction layer that spreads all across the city.

It is at times like this that historians become the grave robbers of the past; for what was a disaster for Colchester’s inhabitants is a godsend for our understanding of Roman history.

The destruction of Colchester marks one of those unique moments in time, when the historical record can be matched exactly with its archaeological remains, and this coupled with other evidence can provide us with a vivid picture of the commercial life of Britain’s first ever city.

Words: Dr Mark Ibeji

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