The Last of the Romans
CARACTACUS was dead, Boadicea was dead, many other brave British leaders were dead, but the Britons still continued to give the Romans a great deal of trouble.
At last Vespasian, who was then Emperor of the Romans, sent a general called Julius Agricola to see if he could subdue the people and govern the island of Britain.
Julius Agricola was a very clever soldier and a wise man. When he had gained one or two victories over the Britons, he tried what kindness would do. This was something the Romans had never done before.
Julius Agricola tried to understand the people. He was just and fair. He not only took away many of the heavy taxes which the Romans had made the British pay, but he built schools and had the people taught to read and write. For up to this time the Britons had had no teachers and no schools. None of them could read or write, and perhaps there was not a single book in the whole island.
Of course, books in those days were quite different from what they are now. There was no paper, and printing was unknown, so when people wanted to make a book they wrote upon strips of parchment, which was made from the skins of animals. These strips were then rolled up, and looked very much like the maps we hang upon the wall, only they were smaller.
Besides building schools, Agricola built public halls and courts where the people might come and ask for justice, whenever they had been wronged. He taught the Britons what obedience, law and order meant, and in every way tried to make them live good lives.
Soon the Britons began to understand that the Romans could give them some things which were worth having. So there was much more peace in the land.
Julius Agricola also built a line of forts across the island from the Forth to the Clyde. He did this to keep back the wild Picts and Scots, or people of the north. For as they could not be brought under Roman rule nor tamed in any way, he thought it was better to try to shut them into their own country. Later on an emperor, called Antonine, built a great wall along the line of Agricola's forts for the same purpose.
But while Julius Agricola was doing all this good work in Britain, the emperor who had sent him died, and another ruled instead.
This emperor was jealous of Agricola because he managed the people of Britain so well. He was so jealous that he told Agricola to come back to Rome, and sent another man to govern Britain instead of him.
It was very foolish of a great emperor to be angry with his general because he did his work well. He ought rather to have been glad.
The people of Britain soon showed him how foolish he had been, for they once more rebelled against Roman rule.
Later on another great emperor who was called Hadrian reigned, and he himself came to Britain. He found the wild people of the north very troublesome, so he built a wall across Britain from the Tyne to the Solway. He did not try to drive these wild people so far north as Agricola had done. The wall which Hadrian built is still called by his name, and is still to be seen to this day; so you can imagine what a very strong wall it was and what a fierce people they were who lived beyond it.
Hadrian was wise as Agricola had been. He taught the Britons many things which were good and useful to know. But very soon after he left the island, the people rebelled again.
And so it went on until, at last, nearly five hundred years after the first coming of Julius Cæsar, the Romans gave up and left Britain altogether. That was about the year 410 A.D. The wonder is that they had stayed so long, for the Britons had certainly given them a great deal of trouble.
But after all, although the Britons always fought against the Romans, they had learned many things from them.
Before the Romans came, the Britons had been very ignorant and wild. In many parts of the country they wore no clothes at all. Instead, they stained their bodies blue with a dye called woad. Their houses were only little round huts, with a hole in the middle of the roof which let some light in and the smoke of the fire out. There were no schools, and little boys and girls were taught nothing except how to fish and hunt, and how to fight and kill people in battle.
There were hardly any roads and there were no churches.
The ancient Britons were heathen. They worshipped the oak-tree and the mistletoe.
The British priests were called Druids. It is said that they received their name from Druis, who was a very wise king of Albion in far-off times.
The Druids were the wisest people in the land. When any one was in doubt or difficulty he would go to them for advice. They were very solemn and grand old men with long white beards and beautiful robes. There were no churches, as I said, but the people worshipped in dark hollows in the woods and in open spaces surrounded by great oak-trees. Some of the teaching of the Druids was very beautiful, but some of it was very dreadful, and they even killed human beings in their sacrifices.
But the Romans taught the Britons many things. They taught them how to build better houses and how to make good roads, how to read and write, and much more that was good and useful. And presently priests came from Rome, bringing tidings of a new and beautiful religion.
They came to tell the people of Britain how the Son of God came to earth to teach men not to hate and kill each other, but to love each other, and above all to love their enemies.
It is difficult to understand what a wonderful story this must have seemed to the wild island people. For they were a people who were born and who lived and died among wars and hatred. Yet many of them believed and followed this new religion. Gradually the Druids disappeared, and the priests of Christ took their place.
Although the religion of Christ came from Rome, the Romans themselves were nearly all pagans. And one of the last Roman emperors who tried to rule Britain hated the Christians very much. He forbade the worship of God and Christ, and killed and tortured those who disobeyed his orders.
But the people who had once become Christian would not again become heathen. They chose rather to die. A person who dies for his religion is called a martyr.
In the next chapter is the story of the first Christian martyr in Britain.