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London's First Hero?

One of the few we know the name of is someone who had an important role in building the city - Gaius Julius Alpinus Classicianus.

Londinium – the city built by the Roman’s we now call London started some time around 43AD. You can see lots of physical evidence of Londinium – parts of the City wall, tiled floors in church crypts, even the amphitheatre where gladiators fought. And there are plentiful objects from Londinium in the Museum of London. However, the names of the people who lived in Londinium are harder to find. One of the few we know the name of is someone who had an important role in building the city – Gaius Julius Alpinus Classicianus.

Londinium started with a bridge – not far from the site of modern London Bridge. If you have a bridge you need soldiers to guard it. If you have soldiers, you need supplies to keep them fed. And if you have supplies you need merchants to provide them. By 60 AD Londinium had grown into a sizeable settlement – a possibly with a population of around 40,000. Disaster struck the city with the revolt of the Celtic Queen Boudicca of the Iceni tribe attacking London on her rampage of revenge for Roman mistreatment of her people. The Roman’s had seized Boudicca’s land, raped her daughters in front of her then had Boudicca flogged in front of her people. In response Boudicca raised an army that burnt down the Roman city of Camulodonum (Colchester). She then turned her attention to Londinium.

Panic struck Londinium. Most of the Roman troops were away fighting in Wales, leaving Londinium defenceless. Those that could leave did, including the Procurator (the administrator of the city) Catus Decianus, who fled to Gaul. In the slaughter that followed everyone who remained in London was put to death and the city burnt to the ground. Roman Governor Suetonius Paulinius regrouped his soldiers and defeated Boudicca, though almost certainly not on the site of Kings Cross station as popular myth states.

Now it was time to rebuild and Gaius Julius Alpinus Classicianus became the new Procurator, but first there needed to be peace in Brittania. Gaius Julius Alpinus Classicianus is concerned that Suetonius Paulinius is taking vicious revenge upon the rest of Celtic people, leading to a cycle of violence that will never end. He decides to report Suetonius to the Emperor Nero, who fearing the collapse of the new province decided to sack Suetonius Paulinius and replace him with a new Governor who makes peace with the Celts.

Over the next 5 years Gaius Julius Alpinus Classicanus oversees the rebuilding of Londinium, making it a more permanent settlement, never to be destroyed again. On his death in AD65 his wife Jullia Pacata commissioned this impressive tombstone which you can see in the British Museum. It was found embedded in the Roman Wall not far from Tower Hill tube station, where a replica of it stands today. You can see the original on one of our British Museum tours, and the Roman Wall on one of our regular Roman London walks. As a man of peace and reconstruction I nominate Gaius Julius Alpinus Classicanus as the first London hero.

Find out more about Roman London. Book tickets for Ian McDiarmid’s Roman London Walk now. Private tour also available here.

You can also listen to our London History Podcast Episode 1: An Introduction to Roman London.

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