The Romanization of Britain Under the Roman Empire

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Art shows a rather different picture. Here we reach definite survivals of Celtic traditions. There flourished in Britain before the Claudian conquest a vigorous native art, chiefly working in metal and enamel, and characterized by its love for spiral devices and its fantastic use of animal forms. This art--La Tène or Late Celtic or whatever it be styled--was common to all the Celtic lands of Europe just before the Christian era, but its vestiges are particularly clear in Britain. When the Romans spread their dominion over the island, it almost wholly vanished. For that we are not to blame any evil influence of this particular Empire. All native arts, however beautiful, tend to disappear before the more even technique and the neater finish of town manufactures. The process is merely part of the honour which a coherent civilization enjoys in the eyes of country folk. Disraeli somewhere describes a Syrian lady preferring the French polish of a western boot to the jewels of an eastern slipper. With a similar preference the British Celt abandoned his national art and adopted the Roman provincial fashion.

He did not abandon it entirely. Little local manufactures of pottery or fibulae testify to its sporadic survival. Such are the brooches with Celtic affinities made (as it seems) near Brough (Verterae) in Westmorland, and the New Forest urns with their curious leaf ornament (Fig. 14),[1] and above all the Castor ware from the banks of the Nen, five miles west of Peterborough. We may briefly examine this last instance.[2] At Castor and Chesterton, on the north and south sides of the river, were two Romano-British settlements of comfortable houses, furnished in genuine Roman style. Round them were extensive pottery works. The ware, or at least the most characteristic of the wares, made in these works is generally known as Castor or Durobrivian ware. Castor was not, indeed, its only place of manufacture. It was produced freely in northern Gaul, and possibly elsewhere in Britain.[3] But Castor is the best known and best attested manufacturing centre, and the easiest for us to examine. The ware directly embodies the Celtic tradition. It is based, indeed, on classical elements, foliated scrolls, hunting scenes, and occasionally mythological representations (Figs. 15,

  1. . But it recasts these elements with the vigour of a true art and in accordance with its special tendencies. Those fantastic animals with strange out-stretched legs and backturned heads and eager eyes; those tiny scrolls scattered by way of decoration above or below them; the rude beading which serves, not ineffectively, for ornament or for dividing line; the suggestion of returning spirals; the evident delight of the artist in plant and animal forms and his neglect of the human figure--all these are Celtic. When we turn to the rarer scenes in which man is specially prominent--a hunt, or a gladiatorial show, or Hesione fettered naked to a rock and Hercules saving her from the monster[4]--the vigour fails (Fig. 17). The artist could not or would not cope with the human form. His nude figures, Hesione and Hercules, and his clothed gladiators are not fantastic but grotesque. They retain traces of Celtic treatment, as in Hesione's hair. But the general treatment is Roman. The Late Celtic art is here sinking into the general conventionalism of the Roman provinces.

[Footnote 1: For the New Forest ware see the Victoria Hist. of Hampshire, i. 326, and Archaeol. Journal, xxx. 319. The Brough brooches have been pointed out by Sir A.J. Evans, whose work on Late Celtic Art is the foundation of all that has since been written on it, but have not been discussed in detail.]

[Footnote 2: Victoria Hist. of Northamptonshire, i. 206-13; Artis, Durobrivae of Antoninus (fol. 1828).]

[Footnote 3: For the Belgic 'Castor ware' see the Belgian Bulletin des commissions royales d'art et d'archéologie (passim); H. du Cleuziou, Poterie gauloise (Paris, 1872), Fig. 173, from Cologne; Sammlung Niessen (Köln, 1911), plates lxxxvii, lxxxviii; Brongniart, _Traité des arts céram., pl. xxix (Ghent and Rheinzabern). M. Salomon Reinach tells me that the ware is not infrequent in the departments of the valleys of the Seine, Marne, and Oise. The Colchester gladiator's urn mentioning the Thirtieth Legion (C.R. Smith, Coll. Ant., iv. 82, C. vii. 1335, 3) may well be of Rhenish manufacture.]

[Footnote 4: This, or the corresponding scene of Perseus and Andromeda, is a favourite with artists in northern Gaul and Britain. It occurs on tombstones at Chester (Grosvenor Museum Catalogue, No. 138) and Trier (Hettner, Die röm. Steindenkmäler zu Trier, p. 206), and Arlon (Wiltheim, Luciliburgensia, plate 57), and the Igel monument. For other instances see Roscher's Lexikon Mythol., under 'Hesione'.]



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