National Geographic : 1949 Apr
© National Geographic Society 446 Painting by William iB11l Scutt, A. I. S. A. First Engineering Works in Britain Were Walls Built by Roman Conquerors O F THE CELTIC people who inhabited England, Scotland, and Wales before the Christian era little is known except that they were courageous fighters and friends of the Gauls whom Julius Caesar was subduing on the European Continent. They so annoyed Caesar by constantly skipping across the Channel in cockleshell boats to harry his legions that he led punitive expeditions into their country in 55 and 54 B. (. Wild, blue-eyed barbarians, they wore garments of hides and carried skin shields so tough that an arrow could hardly pierce them. Caesar found them living in thatched huts in heavy forests and swampland near the site of present-day London. Nearly a hundred years later the Emperor Claudius overcame them and made southern England a province of Rome. Later the Romans continued their northward advance. The occupation forces, however, were never able to keep peaceful the land they had won. To hold back the fierce Picts and Scots who from northern mountain fastnesses made frequent surprise raids, they erected high barriers across the island-one 73 miles long from Bowness to Wallsend, and a second 36 miles between the Firths of Forth and Clyde. South of the ramparts the Romans built a network of roads and some 56 walled towns. They taught the Britons to grow barley, oats, and wheat, and introduced Christianity to some extent, after stamping out the native Druidical worship. Though the Britons were under Roman influence for more than three centuries, few save those who lived in the towns learned the Latin language. In the beginning of the fifth century when the Roman legions withdrew, Germanic peoples, Angles, Jutes, and Saxons, invaded the country. It was against these heathen hordes that legend says King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table fought. The picture "Building a Roman Wall," by William Bell Scott (1811-90), is from a mural owned by Sir Charles Trevelyan, Bart., who gave permission for its reproduction. The original is in Wallington Hall, Northumberland.