Roman britain
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Roman Britain. The History of Roman Britain.

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Roman Britain

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Roman britain

Roman Britain

The History of Roman Britain


Roman britain

“Some had been carried to Britain and were sent back by the petty chiefs. Every one, as he returned from some far-distant region, told of wonders, of violent hurricanes, and unknown birds, of monsters of the sea, of forms half-human, half beast-like, things they had really seen or in their terror believed.” (Tacitus, Annals 2.24)


Textual sources material sources

Textual SourcesMaterial Sources

  • Caesar, Commentarii De Bello Gallico

  • Cassius Dio, Roman History

  • Tacitus, Annals, Agricola, Histories

  • Suetonius, Claudius

  • Roman camps and fortifications, epigraphic evidence.

  • Roman and pre-Roman Celtic coins from c. 30 B.C. to 407 A.D.

  • Datable domestic structures (insulae) and artifacts such as pottery.


Pre roman settlement

Pre-Roman Settlement

  • Iron A: Earliest iron-age settlements date to 7th century B.C.

    • These are pastoral tribes that do not make pottery.

  • Iron B: Hill forts are characteristic of all iron age societies in Britain, and are constructed from 1000 B.C. down to the Roman invasion.

    • The Hill forts are indicative of an aristocratic society, as they decrease in number but increase in fortification after 400 B.C.

  • Iron C: Caesar attests the mass migrations of the 2rd century B.C. were the comprised mainly of an influx of Belgae from Northern France.

    • Hill fort construction ends with the incursions of the Belgae.


Pre roman contact

Pre-Roman Contact

  • Up to and after Caesar’s invasion, Britain is a mysterious, dangerous island (Plutarch, Life of Caesar 23.2; Tacitus, Annals 2.24).

  • Greek traders are present in Britain in the 4th century B.C.

  • Migration and trade between Britain and Gaul

    • Diviciacus is recorded as a powerful politician in both Britain and Gaul (BG 2.4)


Caesar s invasion

Caesar’s Invasion

  • Caesar gives pretenses for his invasion in the De Bello Gallico, namely that the revolt of the Amorica (a Gaullic tribe under Caesar’s control) received military aid from Britain.

  • Britian was thought to be wealthy: Strabo lists grain, cattle, gold, silver, iron, hides, slaves, and hunting dogs among the islands natural resources (Geography 5.2)

    • The conquest of a wealthy province, and one known to contain valuable metals like iron and tin, would have strengthened Caesar’s position in Rome.


Caesar s invasion 55 b c

Caesar’s Invasion: 55 B.C.

  • Caesar’s landing in southern Britain in 55 B.C. little more than a reconnaissance mission.

  • He had with him only two legions, and his cavalry never arrived.

  • A Large British force met the Romans on the beach. They fought from chariots in a primitive style.

  • Despite apparent failure, the fact that the Ocean had been crossed and a single battle won led to the unprecedented grant of supplicatio in Rome for 20 days.


Successes in 55 b c

Successes in 55 B.C.

Caesar knew the land was fertile enough to support an expeditionary force, as well as permanent settlement.

He now had experience against the British fighters.

He had located a suitable spot to land in the following year.


Caesar s invasion 54 b c

Caesar’s Invasion: 54 B.C.

  • Some 600 transports carry five legions and 2,000 cavalry.

    • Lost 40 ships in a storm.

  • Spent only two months in Britain, but defeated the southern Belgic tribes and exacted tribute and hostages.

  • Forced to return to Gaul before the winter began in order to prevent rebellion.

  • Britain does not become a Roman province.


Caesar to claudius

Caesar to Claudius

  • Political ties to Rome remained in place in the years before Claudius’ invasion.

    • Chief’s loyal to Rome flee to Italy in 7 A.D (Res GestaeDiviAugusti 32).

  • Strabo considers the British essentially enslaved by the heavy taxes they are forced to pay on Roman imports (Geography 4.5.3).

  • Britain remained largely unexplored at this time, but the desire to control other, unknown natural resources would soon lead to military invasion.

  • Gaius Caligula, in Gaul to suppress a rebellion, attempts an invasion of Britain in 40 A.D. This ended in fiasco.

“Finally, as if he intended to bring the war to an end, he drew up a line of battle on the shore of the Ocean, arranging his ballistasand other artillery; and when no one knew or could imagine what he was going to do, he suddenly bade them gather shells and fill their helmets and the folds of their gowns, calling them "spoils from the Ocean, due to the Capitol and Palatine." As a monument of his victory he erected a lofty tower, from which lights were to shine at night to guide the course of ships, as from the Pharos.” (Suetonius, Caligula 46)


The claudian invasion 43 a d

The Claudian Invasion: 43 A.D.

  • AulusPlautius brought four legions with auxiliaries, numbering nearly 40,000 men.

  • Like Gaius, Claudius’ soldiers mutinied before they would cross the English Channel, though his freedman persuaded the amassed legions to continue with the invasion.

  • “He…crossed the Channel without incident; and was back in Rome six months later. He had fought no battles and suffered no casualties, but reduced a large part of the island to submission.” (Suetonius, Claudius 17).

  • The Romans would remain until the 5th century A.D.


Britain and agricola

Britain and Agricola

The three governors after Plautius secured Britain as a Roman province, despite the revolt of Boudicca in 59 A.D.

Tacitus relates the irregular seven year governorship of his father-in-law, Agricola.

Agricola undertook six campaigns in Britain, starting in 79 A.D., and extended Roman territory beyond the 2nd century A.D. Antonine Wall. He most notably built a system of roads and forts for the suppression of northern Britain.


Hadrian s frontier

Hadrian’s Frontier

After the death of Tacitus, Juvenal is among our best sources for British history (Sat. 4.127; 14.196). We do not even know who Agricola’s successor as governor was.

Suetonius relates the murder of a governor of Sallustius Lucullus, a governor of Britian, who perhaps fomented rebellion. Our best evidence comes from inscriptions.


The britons could no longer be held under roman control

“The Britons could no longer be held under Roman control.”

The occupation of northern Britain lasted long enough for spread import of Roman culture and goods.

This was short lived. At least five forts north of Hadrian's wall were destroyed by siege.

Inscriptions indicate that legions were stationed north of what would be Hadrian’s wall during the reigns of Domitian, Trajan, and Hadrian himself.

Foreign wars would have spread the army thin. Trajan annexed Dacia after two wars, in 101-2 A.D. and 105-6 A.D.

There was continuous fighting in Britain, requiring reinforcement, into the reign of Hadrian.


Hadrian s wall

Hadrian’s Wall

  • The idea of a “frontier” is new to the Roman’s. Historically, Roman frontiers are based on natural formations, such as rivers, deserts, or militarized zones.

    • The term limes, or “path” is used for “boarder,” after roads in the provinces began to denote political boundaries.

  • The wall shows evidence of immediate improvement after it’s construction in 122 A.D. It was over 70 miles long, and ranged from 10-20ft. wide and 20ft. high. It was supported by forts and towers throughout.


The roman frontier after hadrian

The Roman Frontier After Hadrian

  • After the construction of the wall, the number of forts in the area increases from seven to eighteen.

    • The wall itself was garrisoned with over 10,000 men.

  • In 161 A.D. Fronto the orator remarks that his grandfather Hadrian had heavy losses at the hands of “Jews and Britons,” thus fighting continued in the mid second century A.D.

    • Fronto is referring to the destruction of entire legions.

  • Nevertheless, fighting had ended by the death of Hadrian in 138 A.D., paving the way for Antoninus Pius.


The antonine wall

The Antonine Wall

  • Coins indicate that Pius, through his legate LolliusUrbicus, had regained control of the land Hadrian retreated from by 143 A.D.

  • The wall was built out of turf and stood 9ft. high. It runs for 37 miles, and has less fortification than Hadrian’s wall.


New conquests in the 3 rd century

New Conquests in the 3rd Century

  • Roman troops leave and reoccupy Scotland throughout the Antonine period, though following the assassination of Commodus (192 A.D.) and then Pertinax (193 A.D.), Albinus, then governor of Britain, stood a chance to become emperor.

  • SeptimiusSeverus became the next permanent emperor instead, and his camps occupy the same area as those once built by Agricola. Caracalla continued to occupy Britain with some success until his assasination in 217 A.D.

  • After the death of Gordion III (244 A.D.), at least 55 emperors or claimants were murdered in the forty years before Diocletian took over (284 A.D.).


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