Every Roman town had a forum and a basilica. The basilica was usually
the largest building in town, part town hall, part commercial centre. Archaeologists
looked for London's basilica for a century. Now it is know just what the structure was
What was found originally, in 1881, was part of the apse and part of the nave, situated
at the eastern end of the building. What was found when the task was completed, was the
largest Roman building in Britain, the largest in the northern provinces, and the biggest
thing built in this country for a thousand years.
The great civic centre complex comprised the basilica, which is a great hall. On the
northern side of the courtyard was the town hall itself, and on the other three sides of
the courtyard there were arcades of shops and so on, so that the forum was the market
itself on three sides, with the great basilica dominating on the northern side.
The basilica was in a commanding position set on top of the eastern of the two hills
that went to making up Roman London. It was the focal point of the entire British road
system. All roads in this country lead to the heart of the provincial capital.
It is now known that it was not build in AD 50, in the early part of the Roman Period,
but in AD 100, at the time when London was designated the new provincial capital. As a
consequence it had to have civic buildings to match that new status.
What the Roman
administration wished to do was to show Britons that this was the new capital, to show
their great confidence in London as the new capital by building this enormous structure,
showing that they had the prosperity and the power to stay in control of the Empire
There is a very clear design to how the basilica was decorated. Most of
the decoration, the great human figures, were in the east end where the
legal proceedings would have been held. There would have been figures of
justice, truth, equality and victory, these metaphorical figures presiding
over the court.
A visitor's eye would have been drawn to the east end of the building as
he entered the nave because the nave itself would have been decorated in a
more plain style. He would have been led to look at the antechambers and the
curia at the apse at the eastern end of the basilica where law was
Initially the policy of this construction was very successful. The Roman town of
Londinium expanded in the second century, but in the Late Roman Period, in the
third and fourth
centuries, things started to go quite badly wrong.
The town itself contracted, the
population grew smaller and smaller, and in AD 300 the basilica was demolished. Roman life
in London continued for another century without its huge town hall. This suggests that the
huge building was something of a white elephant since London could survive without it.
So the construction was mainly a result of Roman propaganda. The reality was that it
was not really needed and was quickly turned to rubble.