Britain under Roman Rule

By the end of the first century, British Celts were nearly fully Romanised after years of Roman occupation.  Roman towns were springing up often built in grid designs, many close to garrisons, with streets made of gravel and side drains for drainage.

Were the Roman’s trusting to build towns, with little outer protection, or did they feel if garrisons were close by, no one would dare attack.  Whatever the reason, by the end of the first century, some had lines of ditches, earth ramparts and wooden palisades, whilst larger towns opted for stone walls.

Roman town designs were similar from one to another; a rectangular space known as the Forum, lined by shops and a basilica (public building).

In Roman times their baths were more than a place to wash, it was also a place to meet friends and conduct business.  They consisted of a Frigidarium (Cold Room), Tepidarium (Warm Room) and a Calderium (Hot Room).  These Romans rubbed their skins with oils and scraped it off using a strigil.

Larger towns also had an Amphitheatre, where cock fighting and gladiators fought to the death. 

In the latter part of the first century and early part of the second century, the Romans practised the art of cremation, and by the third century had moved on to burying their dead.

Roman Britain was an agricultural and mining land, which only saw a small number of people live in the towns.  Large towns like Colchester, London and St.Albans could have up to 30,000 residents, whilst smaller towns barely 5,000.

As with any land, you had the upper class, and Britain was no different, as rich Celts followed the Roman ways.  They built villa’s, had hypocaust central heating which seeped through the floors and walls, and employed slaves to keep it loaded with fuel.

If one had wealth, your house would be adorned with mosaics, finely carved furniture and running water.  Your children would go to school, be taught to read and write, mathematics and literature.  They would wear a Bulla necklace often made of gold; a boy would retain his until manhood, a girl would discard hers upon marriage.

The poorer children would live in plain roofed houses, heated by a brazier, and wear jewellery made from basic metals.

Romans introduced celery, cabbage and many green foods that could be grown from the land, and how foods could be cooked using charcoal stoves.

Oils and grapes were imported from the East as our climate was not warm enough to generate the heat required to ripen plants.  Roman’s had a delicacy; Oysters, which was exported back to their homeland of Italy in bulk.

These invaders built a network of roads, which criss-crossed their way across this land of ours.  The rich rode these roads upon hoseback or in covered wagons, the poor trudged these roads.

They built the “Cortia” large merchant ships designed to carry some 1,000 tons of cargo, powered by sail, and steered by oars.

Britain’s poor under Roman rule saw little difference, life continued as before, with new masters and lived in simple huts, as they had done before.

Romans kept slaves, and they were simply a piece of property which could be bought or sold.

A first century Roman legionnaire wore Armour (Lorica Segmentata) fought with a Pilum (Spear) and a Gladius (Sword) protected by a shield.  By the third century, they built forts on the shoreline to ward off raiders from the sea.

Romans had been tolerant in accepting most religions, but clashed with these Druids… for these Druids had political and social influence with the people.  For this reason they were banned from these lands.

Roman and Celtic religion was so similar, which led to temples being built and being dedicated to both faiths.  By the third century Mithraism a Roman religion was introduced into Britain, and it gained support amongst the Celtic’s.  This form of worshipping was dedicated to the God Mithras; God of Light and Sun.

Christianity arrived in Britain by the second century much to the dislike of the Romans, which led to the persecution of Christians.

St.Alban was martyred at the Roman town of Verlamium (St.Albans).

By the year 395 Christianity had become the officially recognised religion of the Roman Empire.

Roman Occupation of Britain

Britain did not enter the Roman world until Julius Caesar arrived in 55/54BC, landing at Deal and unopposed by British forces, yet it was temporary, for they didn’t stay… the time was not right for a full blown invasion of this land.

In the early part of AD43, an army consisting of four legions under the leadership of Aulus Plautius set foot on British soil at Richborough, Kent, the first step of an invasion by Rome.  They fought the British at the River Medway and defeated them after a two-day hard fought battle.

The Roman emperor Claudius arrives, to lead his Roman forces, against the British armies and captured Camulodunum (Colchester), home to the Catuvellauni tribe.  Roman forces outfought the British forces in the South-East, which led to many Kings submitting to Roman rule.

Aulus Plautius commander of the invasion was appointed by Emperor Claudius as the first Roman governor of Britain.

The next phase of the conquest, saw General Vespasian take his Augusta Legion into Dorset, capturing hill forts and subduing rebel armies; south of the Humber River to the Severn Estuary.

Aulus Plautius returns home to Rome in AD47, to receive a heroes welcome, whilst Publius Ostorius Scapula becomes the second Roman governor of Britain.

The Iceni tribe, located in East Anglia had become allies with Rome, so the need to conqueror did not exist.  In the summer of AD47, they revolted against Scapula, when they were ordered to surrender their weapons… this minor revolt was quelled quickly.

In AD49 the Roman colony is founded at Camulodunum (Colchester) and became the Roman capital of Britain.

In AD51, the Caratacus, the British resistance leader against the Romans, and King of Catuvellauni, fled west to the Ordovices tribes and fought an effective guerrilla war until his capture.  He was sent to Italy to live out the remainder of his days.

With Caratacus who had led guerrilla forces against the Romans, now in the hands of the Romans, one would think that would see an end to these attacks.  How wrong they were, for the Silures tribe in South Wales and Gloucestershire fought on.  With the death of Governor Publius Ostorius Scapula in AD52, and Aulus Didius Gallus appointed as the new Governor, the conflict slowly fizzled out.  All that changed in AD58, when Quintus Veranius Nepos, a new breed of Roman Governor took up office, who crushed the Silures, and went on to create a network of roads, forts and garrisons.

The Druids were the priest-scholars of ancient Britain, and were known to clash with the Romans; for they resisted Roman Rule.  In AD61, Roman Governor Gaius Suetonius Paulinus subdued the island of Mona (Anglesey), but his plans were cut short by the revolt of the Iceni, under the leadership of Queen Boudicca.

The Roman army defeated Queen Boudicca and her army in AD 61, at the Battle of Watling Street, but not before they had burnt to the ground, with no survivors; Camulodunum (Colchester), Londinum (London) and Verulamium (St.Albans).  Boudicca died shortly after the battle, and was buried by her people, in a way befitting their Queen.

In June of AD68, Emperor Nero of Rome died; this led to mutiny’s across the empire, and as far flung as Britain.

Cartimandua; Queen of the Brigantes tribe and a strong Roman ally ruled with a strong arm assisted by her consort Ventius.  Caratacus, the guerrilla leader had been apprehended and handed over to the Romans by Cartimandua in AD51.  In AD69 Venutius staged a revolt against Cartimandua, whilst the Romans were in the midst of a civil war, and the attempt was successful and Cartimandua had nowhere to run to, except to her Roman allies.

General Vespasian a former legion commander had gone on to found the Flavian Dynasty in AD69… now the first emperor of this new order.  Britain had experienced little in the way of rebel revolts, since the death of Boudicca in AD61.  New conquests commenced in AD71, when Quintus Petlius Cerialis defeated Venutius, the rebel leader of the Brigantes tribe.  By AD74, the Roman army had reached Carlisle, where the last in a series of garrison forts had been built.

The new Roman Governor of Britain in AD74, was Sextus Julius Frontinus.  It took three years to defeat the Silures in South-East Wales and the Ordovices in Northern-Wales, thus completing a conquest of Western-Britain.  These new territories under Roman Rule saw auxiliary forts built… by the summer of AD78.  If any uprising were to take place, one legion at Caerleon and one at Chester, could respond to any conflicts, quickly suppressing it, before it got out of control.

In the autumn of AD78, the Ordovices tribe revolted, as a new governor took up his appointment.  So it was that Governor Gnaeus Julius Agricola showed no mercy, and crushed these rebel forces.  From there he invaded the island of Mona (Anglesey), destroying the last major druid centre.

Governor Gnaeus Julius Agricola, saw the completion of Verulamium (St.Albans) civic centre in AD79.  It comprised of a square forum, colonnaded shops, temples, making it the largest Roman town in Britain.  By AD80, he had encouraged native British aristocrats to learn Latin, wear the toga.  By the latter part of the first century Ad, southern parts of Britain consisted of Roman styled towns and villas.  It was as though you were in Rome, not Britain.

Governor Gnaeus Julius Agricola, having advanced into Scotland faced the Caledonian tribes in AD84 at Mons Graupius in the Scottish Highlands, and defeated them in battle…

With pressure mounting in other parts of the Roman Empire, they were forced into abandoning the Inchtuthill fortress in Tayside, Scotland in AD87.  By AD100 Roman troops had withdrawn from all parts of Scotland.  A new frontier was established between Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Carlisle on the Solway, it comprised of roads, forts and signal stations.

In the summer of AD122, Emperor Hadrian called for the construction of a seventy-three mile long stone wall, creating a barrier; the Roman Empire’s outer limit, and it was called “Hadrian’s Wall.”  He envisaged Britain, part of the Roman Empire, south of the wall, separating them from the barbarians north of the wall.

Following the completion of Hadrian’s Wall in AD142, the “Antonine Wall” was built from the Firth to the Clyde; thirty-seven miles of earth and timber, under the direction of Quintus Lollius Urbicus the then Governor of Britain.

In AD155, much of Verulamium (St.Albans) was destroyed by fire.

Hadrian’s Wall and Antonine Wall were both built to subdue rebel fighters and barbarians in the Northern parts of Britain and Scotland.  In AD163 the Romans retreated from Antonine’s Wall to Hadrian’s Wall.  Then in AD182 saw frequent attacks by raiders from the north along Hadrian’s Wall, and these skirmishes continued for many years.

Local towns in the vicinity of Hadrian’s Wall needed protection from these rebel fighters, and built earth and timber defences around their towns.

Changes took place within the Roman Empire when Clodius Albinius in Britain, Septimus Severus in Pannonia and Pescennius Niger in Syria, emerged as main contenders for the Emperor’s Throne.  Albinus joined with Severus in the civil war of AD192, and Severus had killed Niger, making it a two horse race.  Clodius Albinus invaded Gaul, and by autumn of AD196 declared himself as the new Emperor.

Decimus Clodius Albinus did battle with Septimius Severus at the “Battle of Lugdunum” (Lyons) where he was killed in a long and drawn out bloody battle.  Thus Septimius Severus became the sole claimant to the Emperor’s Throne in AD197.

With Clodius Albinus Governor of Britain dead, Emperor Septimius dispatched troops to rebuild northern defences and quell local tribes.  So it was in AD209 Emperor Severus led his legionnaires to subdue these Caledonian tribes, but they were clever, and avoided direct pitched battles with the Romans in favour of guerrilla warfare tactics.  Eventually peace treaties were signed and Severus retreated south, satisfied job done.  No sooner had one tribe been quelled, another popped his head up, to take their place; the Maeatae tribe revolted… the Romans faced a losing battle.

Emperor Septimus Severus, created two provinces, from the land up to Hadrian’s Wall in AD211; Britannia Superior had its capital at Londinium (London) and Britannia Inferior had its capital at Eboracum (York).

No matter how much he tried, Septimus Severus failed to crush these Caledonian tribes, and in AD211/212 he died at Eboracum (York).  His two sons Caracalla and Geta abandoned further offensives into Scotland, and returned to Rome, pressing home their right to become Emperor.

Parts of London had been protected since the early part of the 3rd century, and signs on the horizon spelt trouble.  So work began in AD255 running a wall along the River Thames making London virtually impregnable from land and water attacks.

Postumus; recognised by Britain, Gaul and Spain, the Gallic Empire, declared himself Emperor in Ad259 whilst defending the Western parts of the Empire from barbarians.  He was murdered in AD268 by his own soldiers.

The Gallic Empire, covered Britain, Gaul and Spain and had separated themselves from Rome, since AD259 when Postumus openly declared himself as Emperor.  In AD274, the third Gallic Emperor; Tetricus surrendered his provinces to Aurelan the Roman Emperor after being defeated at Gaul.

In AD287, Carausius took Britain and Gaul, in response to being accused of corruption by Emperor Maximian.  He minted his own coins, a first step in his eyes in accepting Roman Emperors Diocletian and Maximian.  Forces loyal to Rome defeated Carausius, and he was assassinated in AD293 by Allectus.

Allectus began constructing a series of coastal defences “Saxon Shore Forts” and the construction of a palace in Londinium (London).

At that time the Roman Empire was ruled by four Emperor’s known as the “Tetrarchy.”  Maximian one of the chosen four, sent Constantius Chlorus to reclaim Britain for the Roman Empire.  Constantius defeated Allectus near Silchester, and divided Britain into four provinces; Maxima Caesariensis, Britannia Prima, Flavia Caesariensis and Britannia Secunda.

In the autumn of AD306, Roman Emperor Constantius died in Northern-Britain and his son Constantine was hailed as the new Emperor. 

Following Civil War within the Empire, Constantine defeated Maxentius at the “Battle of Milvan Bridge” in AD312, and restored rule of a single Emperor in the west and disbanding the Tetrarchy System.

Constantine legalised Christianity and Paganism.  Christianity was first introduced into the lands of Scotland around AD205, and spread through, Britain, Wales and Southern-Ireland by the 5th century.

Barbarian raiders launched an attack on Roman Britain in AD367, from Scotland, Western Isles, Ireland and Anglo-Saxons from Germany, overwhelming coastal defences.  This event allowed these invaders to plunder at will, with little opposition, for these Romans had not expected such an organised attack.

Theodosins was sent to Britain to regain control of Britain, which he undertook in AD369, driving out these barbarians and restoring order.

Magnus Maximus Governor of Britain, went on to defeat Emperor Gratian of Gaul, Britain and Spain.  Then drove Emperor Valentinian from Africa and Italy to be hailed by his army in Britain as Roman Emperor.  He secured his position in Rome for five years before being defeated and executed by Emperor Theodosius I, in AD383/388.

In AD400 Roman troops were recalled to Italy to defend their country against possible invasion by “Alaric the Goth.”  This left Britain with only a token force… no match for barbarian raiders.

The Rhine frontier had been breached, and Italy was in trouble, they had stretched their forces too far across the Roman Empire.

General Constantine III was proclaimed Emperor by Britain’s garrisons, and he crossed the continent only to be defeated by the armies loyal to Theodosius.

Britain had been left to fight off raids by Saxons, with little help from the Romans and bin AD409 the Romans left Britain.  With incursions attacking Britain, a plea was sent to Rome begging for help against these raiders from the seas and Scotland.

Emperor Honorius, refused help, ending the Roman occupation of Britain.

Roman Britain Timeline

55 BC: Julius Caesar led the first Roman military expedition to Britain, checking out its inhabitants, for a conquest in later years.

54 BC:  Julius Caesar’s made a second expedition to Britain.

27 BC:  Augustus becomes the first Roman emperor.

AD 43:  The Roman Emperor Claudius orders four legions to conquer Britain, and in the august capture the capital of the Catuvellauni tribe, Colchester.

AD 44:  The Romans capture the hills forts of Dorset, which included Maiden Castle.

AD 48: The Romans conquered all territory between the Humber Estuary and the Severn Estuary, leaving Cornwall, Devon, Wales and parts of the North West still under British control.

AD 47: The Romans force their allies, the Iceni tribe of East Anglia, to relinquish all of their weapons, they revolted, but it was short lived.

AD 49: The Romans founded a colony (or colonia) at Colchester for retired soldiers. This was to be the first civilian centre of Roman Britain and temporary capital of the territory.

AD 51: The leader of the exiled Catuvellauni tribe; Caratacus, is captured. He had led a protracted guerrilla war against the occupying Roman forces for years, but was eventually brought to battle by the Roman governor Publius Ostorius. Caratacus spent the remainder of his days in retirement in Italy.

AD 60: The Romans attacked the Druid stronghold of Anglesey. The campaign to occupy Wales was however cut short by the Iceni revolt in south east England.

AD 61: After attempting to fully annexe East Anglia, Boudica leads a rebellion of the Iceni against the Romans. After burning down Colchester, London and St Albans, Boudica was eventually defeated at the Battle of Watling Street.

AD 75: The building of Fishbourne palace commence.

AD 80: London has grown in size to the point where it now housed a forum, basilica, governor’s palace and even an amphitheatre.

AD 84: The Romans engaged the Caledonians in battle at Mons Graupius, in Scotland. Although actual location of battle is unknown, it is believed to be in Aberdeenshire.

AD 100: By this time some 8,000 miles of Roman roads had been completed across Britain, allowing troops and goods to travel easily across the country.  The new Roman emperor, Trajan, also orders a complete withdrawal from Scotland and the construction of a new frontier between Newcastle-on-Tyne and Carlisle.

AD 122: To strengthen the border between Roman-occupied Britain and Scotland, Emperor Hadrian orders the construction of a wall. Interestingly, many of the early forts along Hadrian’s Wall face south into Brigantian territory, showing the ongoing threat posed by northern England tribes.

AD 139/40: The Antonine Wall in Scotland is built, dramatically shifting the northern border of Roman occupied Britain. This new wall is built of earth and timber, and is strengthened by a series of forts along its length.

AD 150: Villas start appearing across the British countryside. Compared to their southern counterparts, are of modest design, with only a few containing mosaic floors.

AD 155: St Albans in Hertfordshire, one of the largest towns in Roman Britain, is destroyed by fire.

AD 163: The order is given to abandon Antonine Wall and for Roman troops to withdraw back to Hadrian’s Wall.  It is believed that an uprising by the Brigantes had forced the retreat.

AD 182: The Brigantes, along with other tribes of southern Scotland and northern England, start revolting against the Romans. Fighting continued for many years along Hadrian’s Wall, with towns further south building preventative defences should the rioting spread.

AD 197: After a period of in-fighting within Rome, a series of military commissioners arrive in Britain looking to purge any supporters of the recently ousted usurper, Decimus Clodius. They also look at rebuilding Hadrian’s Wall after over 15 years of clashes with the northern tribes.

AD 209: After years of protracted conflict with the northern tribes, the Romans lead an army to Hadrian’s Wall border to engage the Caledonians. With the Romans aiming to meet the rebels in pitched battle, the Caledonians instead opt for guerrilla warfare. This forces peace treaties to be signed between the two parties.

AD 211: Britain is divided into two separate provinces; the south was to be called “Britannia Superior” (superior being in reference to the fact that it was closer to Rome), with the north being named “Britannia Inferior”. London was the new capital of the south, with York the capital of the north.

AD 250:  New threats to Roman Britannia emerge as the Picts from Scotland, as well as the Angles, Saxon and Jutes from Germany and Scandinavia, start threatening Roman lands.

AD 255: With the increasing threat from seaborne Germanic tribes, London’s city wall is completed with the final stretch along the north bank of the Thames.

AD 259: Britain, Gaul and Spain split from the Roman Empire, leading to the creation of the ‘Gallic Empire’.

AD 274: The Gallic Empire is re-absorbed into the main Roman Empire.

AD 287: Carausius, admiral of the Roman Channel fleet declares himself Emperor of Britain and Northern Gaul and starts minting his own coins.

AD 293: Carausius is assassinated by Allectus, his treasurer who quickly starts work on his palace in London to solidify his claim to authority. He also starts building the ‘Saxon Shore Forts’ along the coasts of Britain, both to strengthen defences against the Germanic tribes to the east but also to prevent Rome from sending a fleet to recover Britain for the empire.

AD 296: The Roman Empire recaptures Britannia and Allectus is killed in battle near Silchester. Britain is then split up into four provinces; (1) Northern England up to Hadrian’s Wall, (2) South of England), (3) Midlands and East Anglia (4) Wales.

AD 314: Christianity becomes legal within the Roman Empire.

AD 343: Probably in response to a military emergency, Emperor Constans makes a visit to Britain.

AD 367: Barbarians from Scotland, Ireland and Germany co-ordinate their attacks and launch raids on Roman Britain. Many towns are plundered throughout the province, and Britain falls into a state of anarchy.

AD 369: A large force from Rome, led by military commander Theodosius, arrives in Britain and drives back the Barbarians.

AD 396: Large scale Barbarian attacks on Britain start up again. Large naval engagements are ordered against the invaders, with reinforcements arriving from other areas of the empire.

AD 399: Peace is fully restored throughout Roman Britannia.

AD 401: A large number of troops are withdrawn from Britain to assist with the war against Alaric I, who is attempting to sack Rome.

AD 406: For the past five years, Roman Britannia has suffered frequent breaches of its borders by Barbarian forces. With the Roman Empire focused on the more serious threats at home, reinforcements have stopped and Britain is left to its own devices.

AD 407: The remaining Roman garrisons in Britain proclaim one of their generals, Constantine III, Emperor of the Western Roman Empire. Constantine quickly pulls together a force and crosses the English Channel to invade Gaul, leaving Britain with only a skeleton force to defend itself.

AD 409: After throwing off their allegiance to Constantine III in 408, the local British populace expel the final remnants of Roman authority in 409.

AD 410 – With increased incursions from the Saxons, Scots, Picts and Angles, Britain turns to the Roman emperor Honorius for help. He informs them to look within themselves to defend their own lands, as he refuses to send help, and so ended the period of Roman occupation of Britain.

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