Even though there is firm evidence that Stone, Bronze and Iron Age settlements existed in the area, Southampton’s recorded history started with the Romans, when they established a permanent settlement, which they named Clausentum, on the banks of the River Itchen in 43AD. Clausentum became and remained a large trading port, serving the large Roman towns of Salisbury and Winchester, until it was abandoned around the year 410AD when the Roman Legions were called back to defend Rome against marauding Visigoths and Vandals.
The arrival of the Saxons to the area, around the year 530AD, saw the formation of a new settlement on the banks of the River Itchen, only this time further down towards the sea than the Roman settlement had been. More specifically, it was centred around what is now the St Mary's area of the city. The settlement was known as Hamwic, which evolved into Hamtun and then Hampton.
The Viking King C(a)nute the Great took over the Anglo Saxon throne following the death of Edmund Ironside, (Ethelred the Unready's son), and is thought to have been proclaimed King here in 1016. It is also believed that his fabled attempt to command the tide to halt may have taken place in Southampton, in an area now known as Ocean Village.
Following the Norman Conquest in 1066, Southampton became the major port of transit between Winchester (then the capital of England) and Normandy. By the 13th Century, Southampton had become a leading port, and was particularly involved in the trade of French Wine in exchange for English cloth and wool.
As the town grew in prosperity and size, matched by a rapidly increasing population, it evolved into a place with many shops and warehouses, five churches, a friary and a medieval hospice within its walls. There were also productive agricultural and livestock fields outside of the walls. Its population was also progressive and compassionate enough to have founded a leper hospital, about 1 kilometre to the north of the northern town wall, in an area which we now know as ‘Marlands’.
After a long drawn-out period of economic decline in the 17th and 18th centuries the town gained new life as a Spa with the discovery of a Chalybeate spring and the emergence of the popular notion that sea-water bathing was good for one’s health and wellbeing. During this period the town had associations with the Royal Family of King George III and the novelist Jane Austen, as well as many other celebrities of that period.
The Spa period, in turn, declined but with the advent of steam powered ships, coupled with Southampton’s steam railway links with London, the bases were laid for docks and railway associations that were to make the town a very important commercial and passenger port.
Despite being heavily bombed in the Second World War the town retained its importance, to the extent that it was selected by the Allied High Command to become one of the most important embarkation points for the liberation of mainland Europe. This importance was particularly marked by the presence of the American 14th Major Port of Transportation and the work carried out here in preparations for D-Day and up to the end of the war.
Post war rebuilding was followed by the granting of city status in 1964 and there has been substantial development both to the docks and the city centre in recent times, as shown in Southampton - In Brief.