London: A Brief History - Part 2: End of Roman London and the Vikings

London: A Brief History - Part 2: End of Roman London and the Vikings

London’s Fortune Changes: End of Roman London

Londinium boasted an amphitheatre, a temple, a palace, bath houses and a large fort at its peak but as the proverb says “every beginning must have an end”. During the visit of Emperor Hadrian in 122AD, it was estimated that Londinium had a population of about 45,000 and was largely perceived as a cultural melting point, due to its cosmopolitan mix. However, by the 3rd century, Londinium’s fortunes began to change as a result of several factors, including: political instability in the empire, recession, as well as barbarian and pirate attacks.

Over the next century, soldiers were constantly pegged away from Britannia to deal with barbarian attacks elsewhere and Emperor Constantine II recalled the last troops in 407 AD. A few years later, Emperor Honorius declined requests from Britain for military aid and this officially marked the end of Roman rule, thereby setting in motion the end of Roman London. By the middle of the 5th century, Londinium was completely deserted and abandoned.

The Viking Invasion of London

When the Romans left, London ceased to be an important town and it fell into obscurity.
But the location of London on the Thames was an important factor, so the 7th century witnessed trade expand and the city flourished once more.

The growth was stable and free flowing, so as a result, by the 9th century, London became a prosperous trading center and its affluence attracted the attention of the Danish Vikings. The Vikings were severe: in 851 the Danes attacked and destroyed the city.

The 10th century is a confusing one for historians, but it is believed that the English, Danish and then Norman kings had control of the city at different times.

By 1014, while the Danish were controlling the city, a large force of Norwegian Vikings and Anglo-Saxons attacked London, which led to the fall of the London Bridge – this is still a popular, and well-known, nursery rhyme today. When Danish King Cnut ascended to power in 1017, attacks ceased due to Cnut’s willingness to unite Anglo-Saxons with the Danes and the invitation of Danish merchants to settle in the city. Until King Cnut’s death, London prospered but his demise reverted the city back to Anglo-Saxons rule under Edward the Confessor.

London became the largest city in England and the most prosperous in Britain, but it was not the capital of the realm. Winchester held that role until the 12th century. 

Other parts in this series: 
Go back to Part 1: Roman London

Read Part 3 - Disaster Strikes


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