A Roman Villa.

Forty-three years after the birth of Christ the finest soldiers the
world had known came against the ancient Britons and conquered their
land. These soldiers were called Romans, after their chief city Rome in
Italy. They ruled Britain for nearly four hundred years & have left many
traces behind them. While in Britain, one can still see the remains of
their splendid roads, the ruins of the forts they built and parts of the
great walls they erected to defend their towns. In the southern parts of
the country homes called villas have been found.

Villas are not great castles with thick walls & towers built as a
protection against enemies, but simple dwelling — houses unfitted for
defense. That shows how peaceful the country was when first these villas
were built under Roman rule.

On the heights of Greenwich Park overlooking the Thames there is a
piece of pavement about two feet square. It was once part of the floor
of one of these country houses. It is made of small pieces of red tile,
each about a square in size, set in a bed of cement. No one can tell
what part of the is belonged to; perhaps, it was a bit of the floor of a
room, or a passage or even of a stable.

What did the Roman villa look like from the outside? We can scarcely
tell. Perhaps, it was a long whitewashed building with a corridor
running its whole length. Or, perhaps, it stood round two sides of a
square or round three, and had the corridor on its inner side. Some
people think that only the lower walls of villas were built of stone,
while the upper walls were made of rough plaster held together with a
framework of wood. The roof was made of red tiles or slabs of gray
stone. The floors of the lower rooms were raised a little on pillars, so
that hot air from a furnace might circulate underneath. And their were
special pipes in the walls, so that the hot air might rise through the
walls, so that the hot air might rise through the walls and warm them.
The Romans brought this way of warming houses from their old homes in
Italy, & they found it very useful in the cold climate of Britain. The
rooms on the ground floor were paved with small pieces of tile laid very
closely together in cement. By using pieces of different colors,
pictures were made on the floors of the living rooms. Some of these have
been dug up today & can be seen in museums. They are called mosaics. The
walls of the rooms were decorated with painted pictures. Somewhere in
the villa the was a bath, for the Romans were very careful to keep
themselves clean. And certainly, too, there would be statues, either
roughly made in Britain useful or brought by merchants from Italy,
where the best sculptors were. Then the owner bought these statues to
decorate his villa. And beautiful dishes of red pottery would be seen
everywhere in the house. Some of them would be used for decoration, &
some for eating from or for holding things. And in the grounds near the
house there would be an orchard, for the Romans loved orchards. Their
were fond of growing trees of all kinds, so their would be cherry trees
& apples trees. The Romans were the first to grow cherries in England.

Let us pretend we are visiting a Roman villa many years after the
conquest. A great many trees have been cut down since the Romans first
come to Britain, so there is more room to grow corn then there used to
be in the time of the ancient Britons. And many Romans who leave near
the villa we are reading about have made much money by exporting corn to
Roman armies quartered on the Continent. Their owner of the villa does
the same us his neighbors. He has many labourers who help him to till
his lands. He doesn’t pay wages, as modern farmers do, but in return for
work he gives his labourers piece of land, on which they can grow corn
for themselves. Today labourers can leave their master & go to another
or if they like. But none of these labourers who work for the master of
the villa are allowed to do that.

They lived in huts not far from the villa. The man who makes ploughs &
hoes that are used on the farm & shoes. The farm horses lives in one of
these small houses. He gets his wood from the great forest and his iron
from the district that we now call Sussex. The man living in the
neighboring hut is the cobbler, who tells leather & makes shoes &
sandals for everyone one the estate, and harness for the horses. There
is a joiner, to who is skillful in building barns and cowhouses, as well
as in making carts. Sometimes however, things for the farm & the house
are bought in London, & when anything requiring great skill has to be
done, clever workers are send for from there. The master has slaves,
too, & the work for nothing.

We can imagine the owner of the villa strolling round his orchard in
spring. He looks at his blossoming apple trees & wonders whether the
cherry trees that his grandfather brought from the Continent will have a
good crop this year. When he looks across river he doesn’t see any
buildings. There is only the marshy land, which is sometimes covered
with water at high tide. And further of he can see forest. The
merchant’s boats from Gaul are drafting up the river with the tide. And
higher up are London Bridge and the red roofs of London. London, which
the master of the villa looks at, has become a much bigger place than it
was at the times of the ancient Britons. At has wharves & many
warehouses. Its streets are noisy. There are huge buildings, such as
temples & baths; and the inhabitants have lately built themselves a
wall, because they fear that times of trouble are coming, & that all the
wealth that they have collected will be in danger. But if you & I could
see that Roman London, we should think it a very small places indeed.

The villa is not far from the Roman road from Dover to London. The road
is making for the southern and of London Bridge. The owner of the villa
has seen Roman Emperors ride a long this road at the had of armies, and
often he hears the steady tramp of squads of recruits, who have been
sent to Britain from all parts of the world to fill gaps in the Roman
garrisons. They are mere lads thinking of homes on the Rhine and the
Danube, which they will never see again. Sometimes their officers ride
up to the door of the villa to beg a night’s lodging, especially in
winter time. They have nothing like the long nights of winter in their
southern homes. Our friend of the villa takes them in, for he has a boy
of his own serving as an officer with the armies in the north of Britain
& likes to send him messages, & parcels as well, on the baggage carts.

The officers & he talk a good deal together. He wants to know the news
from other parts of the Empire, & they wish to know something of the
land to which they have come. He tells them that he supplies corn to the
great armies lying on the Rhine, & that the chief trouble of this part
of Britain comes from the Saxon pirates, who sometimes capture his
ships, raid to the coast, & even threaten to plunder London. Since the
citizens have built their wall, his wife has never ceased to beg him to
give up the villa & live always in London. She says she cannot sleep
peacefully at nights for fear of the pirates. In winter time the owner
of the villa lives a good deal in London, partly because of his wife’s
fears, & partly because there is more company there.

He is careful about religious things & attends the services at the
temples. Occasionally he goes to the little Christian church built in
his father’s days. The Romans of an earlier time worshipped many strange
gods, & our friend has some images of them in his hall. But missionaries
of the Christian religion have been preaching in Britain for many years,
& his always willing to talk to them & listen to readings from their
books about Christ. In his grandfather’s time many Christians were
persecuted & awful tales are still remembered. But people & more
tolerant now, & the Christians have built themselves at church, in which
the Christian faith is taught.

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