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1 August 2012

At www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2012/jul/31/silchester-iron-age-roman-britain?INTC… … excavations at Silchester have revealed the Atrebates tribe were living a fairly Roman like kind of lifestyle and diet 50 odd years before the Romans actually got here. Either that or the C14 dating methodology has a problem. Shellfish, cows, pigs, chickens, geese, wild fowl, wheat, apples, blackberries, cherries and plums were all on the menu. They used plates to eat their food and flavoured it with poppy seeds, coriander, dill, onion, celery, and fennel. They drank wine and cooked with olive oil – even olives were consumed. They made use of glass drinking vessels and jugs, Irish gold, jewellery made of bronze, and had a cosmopolitan range of weapons and pottery. Their towns were also planned – just like a Roman town. They even built roads and lived in regular house plots. All this, up to a 100 years prior the arrival of such delights with the coming of the Romans. So what was going on?

According to Michael Fulford of Reading University, Silchester was founded in 50BC by Commius, a contemporary of Caesar – but apparently forced out of Gaul, or so the story goes. He popped over the channel and built Silchester and one of his sons, harassed by the locals, fled back to Gaul and encouraged the Romans to invade – in AD43. Somewhat later, the town was burnt, reputedly by Boudicca and the angry crowd of natives that had rushed to her side. This incident was followed by a rebuilding of Silchester with additional Roman features such as temples, market and basilica.

So, we a French city established in Britain prior to the Romans, and the orientation of Silchester appears to have remained Celtic in nature until around 260AD when trouble and strife struck the known world – and Britain had become part of the known world. After this interruption, and the possibility plague had decimated the population of the empire at large, Silchester was rebuilt from a Roman orientation. It succombed sometime between the 5th and 7th centuries for reasons not properly understood. One view is that it was abandoned when the Romans left – or a short time thereafter. However, according to excavators the city had deteriorated to the degree that civic buildings had become cattle sheds, its walls had been used as a quarry, and there is evidence that fires were lit on top of once magnificent mosaic floors, causing scorch marks and cracking. Wells were reused as latrines and windblown soil clogged up ditches and covered roads, and eventually the grass grew over the courtyards and it became an agricultural field. Other Roman towns survived, after an interval, such as Winchester, Dorchester, Cirencester, Leicester, London etc. The town of Reading grew up several miles away from Silchester, on the side of a major river (where the Kennet meets the Thames).

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