Roman Britain

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Roman conquest of Britain.

Roman Britain was called Britannia. This was Britain as part of the Roman Empire, from 43 AD to 410.[1]

Julius Caesar was the first commander to invade Britain, in the days of the Roman Republic. He defeated the dominant Catuvellauni tribe in 54 BC at what is now Wheathampstead in Hertfordshire. Their local capital was taken over by the Romans.[2] Trouble in Gaul prevented Caesar from staying in Britain, and the full conquest of Britain had to wait for almost a century.[3]

In 43 AD, the Emperor Claudius sent an invasion force.[4] Aulus Plautius, a distinguished senator, was given overall charge of four legions, totalling about 20,000 men, plus about the same number of auxiliaries. The legions were:

The II Augusta is known to have been commanded by the future emperor Vespasian. Three other men of appropriate rank to command legions are known from the sources to have been involved in the invasion.

The invasion was arguably one of the most significant events ever to happen to the British Isles. After four centuries of rule Roman legions withdrew from Roman Britain in 410 AD. For approximately another two centuries existed the Subroman Britain until the beginning of the seventh century, with survival of Roman culture (and probably a neolatin language) in an increasingly anglosaxon Britain.

Just before the last of the Roman legions left Britain, the administration of the country was taken over by prominent local chieftains and other native civic leaders.

Technology[change | change source]

Although the Romans brought some technology, much British technology was well advanced and the Romans tried to improve on the existing skills. Although the invention of concrete is sometimes attributed to the Romans there is evidence that it was already in use in a limited form in Britain during the first century BC.

The British were skilled in the arts and produced ornamental jewelry and pottery which had been exported to Europe. They had constructed defensive structures such as hill forts. They were proficient in warfare with spears, bows and arrows. Small round stones found in such sites indicate the use of slings or catapults.

To maintain control, a number of forts and garrisons were established throughout Britain and the existing roads improved where necessary to facilitate the rapid deployment of troops and the distribution of supplies. The local population were required to maintain the road system and received tax relief for their efforts. The presence of these forts and garrisons required the provision of food and other services and vast areas were required to produce these goods. For example the often flooded Somerset levels was like a huge market garden that provided supplies for the garrisons at Exeter, Gloucester, Bath and the forts in between. Local fishermen were contracted to supply fresh fish, and farmers contracted to grow sheep, pigs, cattle and poultry to service these establishments.

Paganism[change | change source]

Initially efforts to paganize the country were attempted but later abandoned. Jewish Christian missionaries from Gaul began to mission the West country and before the end of the first century AD had established a Church of Celtic Christianity that spread such that by the mid second century much of Cornwall, Devon, Western Dorset, and South Somerset had adopted Christianity and subsequently the spread of Christianity continued eastward and strongly northward into Wales through the next two centuries, especially after the adoption of Christianity by Rome. The Romans had built shrines and temples to their pagan gods and continued to patronize these, even after the adoption of Christianity by Rome. Such a temple was located on the end of Brean Down on the north coast of Somerset.

References[change | change source]

  1. Hornblower, Spawforth eds. 1998. The Oxford Companion to Classical Civilization. Oxford University Press, 129–131.
  2. The Romans called it Verulamium, and it is modern St Albans.
  3. Robinson, Cyril E. 1932. A history of the Roman Republic. London: Methuen, p376/8.
  4. Dio Cassius, Roman History 60.19-22

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