The Romanization of Britain Under the Roman Empire

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RECONSTRUCTION OF THE INSCRIPTION FROM VARIOUS FRAGMENTS. (The letters were impressed by a wooden cylinder with incised lettering, which was rolled over the tile while still soft. In the reconstruction CAB in line 2 and IT in line 3 are included twice, to show the method of repetition.)]

It remains to cite the literary evidence, distinct if not abundant, as to the employment of Latin in Britain. Agricola, as is well known, encouraged the use of it, with the result (says Tacitus) that the Britons, who had hitherto hated and refused the foreign tongue, became eager to speak it fluently. About the same time Plutarch, in his tract on the cessation of oracles, mentions one Demetrius of Tarsus, grammarian, who had been teaching in Britain (A.D. 80), and mentions him as nothing at all out of the ordinary course.[1] Forty years later, Juvenal alludes casually to British lawyers taught by Gaulish schoolmasters. It is plain that by the second century Latin must have been spreading widely in the province. We need not feel puzzled about the way in which the Callevan workman of perhaps the third or fourth century learnt his Latin.

[Footnote 1: See Dessau, Hermes, xlvi. 156.]

At this point we might wish to introduce the arguments deducible from philology. We might ask whether the phonetics or the vocabulary of the later Celtic and English languages reveal any traces of the influence of Latin, as a spoken tongue, or give negative testimony to its absence. Unfortunately, the inquiry seems almost hopeless. The facts are obscure and open to dispute, and the conclusions to be drawn from them are quite uncertain. Dogmatic assertions proceeding from this or that philologist are common enough. Trustworthy results are correspondingly scarce. One instance may be cited in illustration. It has been argued that the name 'Kent' is derived from the Celtic 'Cantion', and not from the Latin 'Cantium', because, according to the rules of Vulgar Latin, 'Cantium' would have been pronounced 'Cantsium' in the fifth century, when the Saxons may be supposed to have learnt the name. That is, Celtic was spoken in Kent about 450. Yet it is doubtful whether Latin 'ti' had really come to be pronounced 'tsi' in Britain so early as A.D. 450. And it is plainly possible that the Saxons may have learnt the name long years before the reputed date of Hengist and Horsa. The Kentish coast was armed against them and the organization of the 'Saxon Shore' established about A.D. 300. Their knowledge of the place-name may be at least as old. No other difficulty seems to hinder the derivation of 'Kent' from the form 'Cantium', and the whole argument based on the name thus collapses. It is impossible here to go through the whole list of cases which have been supposed to be parallel in their origin to 'Kent', nor should I, with a scanty knowledge of the subject, be justified in such an attempt. I have selected this particular example because it has been emphasized by a recent writer.[1]

[Footnote 1: Vinogradoff, Growth of the Manor, p. 102. I am indebted to Mr. W.H. Stevenson for help in relation to these philological points.]

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roman culture