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3: Rome

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It is not a spirit of adventure and daring alone that makes a nation. Rome rose to say that it must have the spirit of order and law too. It rose in the path of the nations; it built the walls of its empire, guarded by the camps of its legions, right across it. For four hundred years the wandering of nations ceased; the nations stopped— and they began to till the ground, to live in cities, to form states. The hush of this peace did not last, but the memory of it remained in the life of every nation that felt it. Unity and law tempered freedom and change.

The name of Rome was made known, and made terrible, through Wales by a great battle fought on the eastern slopes of the Berwyn. The Romans had conquered the lands beyond the Severn, and had placed themselves firmly near the banks of that river at Glevum and Uriconium. Glevum is our Gloucester, and its streets are still as the Roman architect planned them. Uriconium is the burnt and buried city beyond Shrewsbury; the skulls found in it, and its implements of industry, and the toys of its children, you can see in the Shrewsbury Museum.

The British leader in the great battle was Caratacus, the general who had fought the Romans step by step until he had come to the borders of Wales, to summon the warlike Silures to save their country. We do not know the site of the great battle, though the Roman historian Tacitus gives a graphic description of it. The Britons were on a hill side sloping down to a river, and the Romans could only attack them in front. The enemy waded the river, however, and scaled the wall on its further bank; and in the fierce lance and sword fight the host of Caratacus lost the day. He fled, but was afterwards handed over to the Romans, and taken to Rome, to grace the triumphal procession of the victors.

The battle only roused the Silures to a more fierce resistance, and it cost the Romans many lives, and it took them many years, to break their power. The strangest sight that met the invaders was in Anglesey, after they had crossed the Menai on horses or on rafts. The druids tried to terrify them by the rites of their religion. The dark groves, the women dressed in black and carrying flaming torches, the aged priests—the sight paralysed the Roman soldiers, but only for a moment.

Vespasian—it was he who sent his son Titus to besiege Jerusalem— became emperor in 69. The war was carried on with great energy, and by 78 Wales was entirely conquered.

Then Agricola, a wise ruler, came. The peace of Rome was left in the land; and the Welshman took the Roman, not willingly at first, as his teacher and ruler instead of as his enemy. Towns were built; the two Chesters or Caerlleons (Castra Legionum), on the Dee and the Usk, being the most important from a military point of view. Roads were made; two along the north and south coasts, to Carmarthen and Carnarvon; two others ran parallel along the length of Wales, to connect their ends. On these roads towns rose; and some, like Caerwent, were self-governing communities of prosperous people. Agriculture flourished; the Welsh words for "plough" and "cheese" are "aradr" and "caws"—the Latin aratrum and caseus. The mineral wealth of the country was discovered; and copper mines and lead mines, silver mines and gold mines, were worked. The "aur" (gold) and "arian" (silver) and "plwm" (lead) of the Welshman are the Latin aurum, argentum, and plumbum.

The Romans allowed the Welsh families and tribes to remain as before, and to be ruled by their own kings and chiefs. But they kept the defence of the country—the manning of the great wall in the north of Roman Britain, the garrisoning of the legion towns, and the holding of the western sea—in their own hand.

Gradually the power of Rome began to wane, and its hold on distant countries like Britain began to relax. The wandering nations were gathering on its eastern and northern borders, and its walls and legions at last gave way. It had not been a kind mother to the nations it had conquered—in war it had been cruel, and in peace it had been selfish and stern. The lust of rule became stronger as its arm became weaker. The degradation of slavery and the heavy hand of the tax-gatherer were extending even to Wales. The barbarian invader found the effeminate, luxurious empire an easy prey. In 410 Alaric and his host of Goths appeared before the city of Rome itself; and a horde of barbarians, thirsting for blood and spoil, surged into it. The fall of the great city was a shock to the whole world; the end of the world must be near, for how could it stand without Rome? Jerome could hardly sob the strange news: "Rome, which enslaved the whole world, has itself been taken."

Rome had taken the yoke of Christ; and many said that it fell because it had spurned the gods that had given it victory. Three years after Alaric had sacked it, Augustine wrote a book to prove that it was not the city of God that had fallen; and that the heathen gods could neither have built Rome in their love nor destroyed it in their anger. He then describes the rise of the real "City of God," in the midst of which is the God of justice and mercy, and "she shall not be moved."

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