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The outpost which would become London first appears in history as a small military storage depot employed by the Romans during their invasion of Britain, which began in A.D. 43. It was ideally located as a trading center with the continent and soon developed into an important port. It had already become the headquarters of the Procurator, the official in charge of the finances of Roman Britain,when Boudica, the Queen of the Iceni, a native British tribe inhabiting East Anglia, burnt it to the ground in A.D. 61 in the course of her bloody revolt against Roman rule. It was rebuilt by the year 100, and first appears as "Londinium" in Tacitus's Annals. It rapidly became both the provincial capital and the administrative, commercial, and financial center of Roman Britain. Its population bythe middle of the third century numbered perhaps 30,000 people, a number which grew in fifty years to nearly twice that number. They lived in a city with paved streets, temples, public baths, offices, shops, brick-fields, potteries, glass-works, modest homes and elaborate villas, surrounded by three miles of stone walls (portions of which still remain) which were eight feet thick at their base andup to twenty feet in height.
During the course of the fourth century, however, as the Roman Empire began to collapse, Roman Londinium fell into obscurity as its protective Legions withdrew; history records no trace of it between 457 and 600. During that time, however, it gradually became a Saxon trading town, eventually one of considerable size. In the same century Christianity was introduced tothe city (St. Augustine appointed a bishop, and a cathedral was built), but the inhabitants resisted and eventually drove the bishop from the city. It was sacked and burned by the Danes in the ninth century, but was resettled by Alfred in 883, when the Danes were driven out, the city walls were rebuilt, a citizen army was established, and Ethelred, Alfred's son-in-law, was appointed governor. Itcontinued to grow steadily thereafter, though because most of its buildings were constructed of wood, large fires took place with unsettling regularity.
Lunduntown (as it was now called) retained its preeminence after the Norman Conquest, which began in 1066. Though William the Conqueror had himself crowned at Westminster Abbey, he distrusted the Saxon populace of the city, and constructed a numberof fortresses within the city walls, including still extant portions of Westminster Hall and the Tower of London. In 1176 work began on a new stone bridge to replace the wooden one which the Romans had built a thousand years before. The new bridge (which, in its turn, acquired the name of Old London Bridge) was completed in 1209, and would be in existence until 1832, remaining the only bridgeacross the Thames until 1750.
The city became a true capital under Edward III, who placed the royal administrative center at Westminster during his reign in the fourteenth century. London was the only British city in mediaeval times which was comparable in size to the great cities of Europe. Between 1500 and 1800 it grew steadily in size and prominence, though during the middle ages its populationnever reached the levels it had attained in Roman times. Its population increased, however, from perhaps 50,000 in 1500, to 300,000 in 1700, 750,000 when George II assumed the throne in 1760, and 900,000 in 1800, in spite of living conditions which, over the centuries, were so unhealthy that the rapid increase in population could be sustained, in the face of an enormously high death rate, only by asteady influx of immigrants from other parts of Britain. [The death rate in the city, well into the eighteenth century, was twice the birth rate. The average life span of an Englishman, during the early eighteenth century, was 29 years, and in London the average was considerably lower.] The streets, since medieval times, had always been filthy, filled with mud, excrement, and offal; the water...