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What have the Romans ever done for us?


They’ve bled us white, the bastards. They’ve taken everything we had. And not just from us! From our fathers and from our fathers’ fathers.
– And from our fathers’ fathers’ fathers.
– Yeah.
– And from our fathers’ fathers’ fathers’ fathers.
– All right, don’t labour the point.
– And what have they ever given us in return?
– The aqueduct?
– What?
– The aqueduct.
– Oh. Yeah, they did give us that. That’s true, yeah.
– And the sanitation.
– Oh, yeah, the sanitation, Reg. Remember what the city used to be like?
– I’ll grant you the aqueduct and sanitation, the two things the Romans have done.
– And the roads.
– Yeah, obviously the roads. I mean the roads go without saying, don’t they? But apart from the sanitaion, the aqueduct and the roads…
– Irrigation.
– Medicine.
– Education.
– Yeah, yeah, all right, fair enough.
– And the wine.
– That’s something we’d really miss, Reg, if the Romans left.
– Public baths.
– And it’s safe to walk in the streets at night now.
– They certainly know how to keep order. Let’s face it, they’re the only ones who could in a place like this.
– All right, but apart from sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh-water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?
– Brought peace?
– Oh, peace. Shut up!


Civilisation is built on the roads, the¬†infrastructure, the railways, the public health and the sanitation….

The light-hearted look on the benefits of foreign rule by the Monty Python team here in this clip is one that should be remembered when thinking about and studying Empires. Any Empire – whether Roman or British.

The point is that despite the suffering inflicted during foreign rule, benefits do exist.

So. The question can be turned to ‘What have the British ever done for us/others?’

And answers are pretty much reflected in the clip. Watch it again and think about the question from a British Empire focus.

Infrastructure, hospitals, railways, trade networks, medicine, public health and sanitation, roads, irrigation and other improvement farming techniques, and education…

Granted most of the improvements were driven on some level by economics, but isn’t everything. But the thing to remember is that improvements were made, that may not have been made so quickly without British rule. I’m not saying that some of the countries that Britain ruled would not have developed these things in their own time, but what Britain did for them was put them on the road to development. Many of the countries were vast, with little or no means of covering the vast distances, and were deeply divided by the differences between the groups that lived there, before the British came. Gradually over time, as distances shrunk, and opportunities arose, national identities were moulded, and nationalism grew. But this sense of nationalism which paved the way to independence and the eventual end of the British Empire, was put in place by the benefits that Empire brought. Railways and the telegraph, ensured that travel and communication over distances was possible, trade networks opened the world to each other, irrigation meant better yields and a stronger market economy, education meant that groups now developed ideals of freedom and self-determination, and they had the educational powers to act upon them; as a result nationalism grew, and independence was gained.

Britain came and conquered. True we enslaved. True we stopped any political developments, and told people what crops to plant and where. But improvements were made. The British Empire did not neglect the need for ‘civilisation’.

As you can tell from this post and from some of my previous ones, I’m passionate about the study of the British Empire – all its sides, both positive and negative.

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