Opinion: The British Empire: A legacy of violence?
THE BEGINNING of Empire was always an intoxicating mix of fantasy with reality. As the story goes, King Arthur and his court were taken by the Round Table to the island of Britain, where they were welcomed by a mysterious and ancient king. Arthur and the knights became friends, and the knights taught Arthur the power of the sword. A millennium passed, and Arthur became a king in his own right.
The knights were not alone, however. In the next millennium, Britain fell into the hands of the Romans, who set up a series of trading posts that stretched across the Mediterranean. The trade that resulted from this gave birth to the Anglo-Saxon, Roman and Norman Empires. These new rulers extended their empire into the heart of Europe, and eventually beyond the Pillars of Hercules to Spain. The first thing that the Romans built was a great wall, which separated Britain into a series of provinces. In the middle of this wall they built a palace, known as Britain’s Great Hall.
The Romans, however, were not content with a peaceful conquest, and began a programme of mass murder and torture. Every year they would erect a statue of Caesar on a plinth in the centre of the Roman City, and erect another statue of Claudius on another high plinth to the west. This is part of the historical record, but it is much easier to imagine this as what happened.
After a century of Roman rule, Britain was invaded again by a group of Germanic tribes, who were driven out of the continent by the British. The Romans could only hold the invaders at bay for so long, and soon began planning another invasion, this time of Britain.
The invaders were led by a mysterious figure called the Icenian King, who spoke a language no one in Britain could understand. The Roman forces were driven aside, but after twenty years, they were back. The Icenians had been defeated and driven back to the north of Britain, where they established a new kingdom.
As in previous invasions, the Icenians established a great stone wall, which enclosed both their new kingdom and the territory of the Britons for almost a century. The Wall was begun in AD 60, but was built with