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Stage 28: Imperium. Interpreting the Evidence: Our Knowledge of Roman Britain. Interpreting the Evidence: Our Knowledge of Roman Britain. There are three ways we learn about the Roman occupation of Britain: 1) literary evidence: what the Greeks and Romans wrote about Britain

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stage 28 imperium

Stage 28: Imperium

Interpreting the Evidence:

Our Knowledge of Roman Britain

interpreting the evidence our knowledge of roman britain
Interpreting the Evidence: Our Knowledge of Roman Britain
  • There are three ways we learn about the Roman occupation of Britain:

1) literary evidence: what the Greeks and Romans wrote about Britain

2) archaeological evidence: what archaeologists have discovered from excavations

3) inscriptional evidence: inscriptions in Latin (and sometimes Greek) from tombstones, altars, public buildings, and monuments, and from private objects such as writing tablets, defixiones, etc.

literary evidence
Literary Evidence
  • Two well known texts

tell us about Roman

Britain: Julius Caesar’s

account of his brief mission to the southeast coast of Britain in 55 BC and his return in greater force the following year when he stormed the fortress of a British king and Tacitus’ biography of his father in law, Agricola. Much of this account is based on his career in the army and his campaigns as the governor of the province.

Julius Caesar


literary evidence cont d
Literary Evidence cont’d
  • The problem with these two texts is that they are biased accounts. Caesar wrote his in order to justify his actions to the Senate in Rome and place himself in a favorable light, and Tacitus wanted to honor the memory of his father in law and to praise his success as a soldier and governor. Agricola appears to be too good to be true, while the Emperor Domitian appears jealous of his success and anxious to bring his downfall.
archaeological evidence
Archaeological Evidence
  • Archaeologists strive to uncover and explain the remains of the past.
  • Excavations take place at a place already known but not finished, or by accident
  • 1962 a workman digging found a mosaic floor which led to the discovery of the palace at Fishbourne.
  • During an excavation the archaeologists look for the existence and position of any building foundations, and the way in which the various levels or layers of earth change color and texture. They can develop a picture of the main features on the site using this method.
  • Soil is also examines for smaller pieces of evidence, like bones, pottery, jewelry, coins, and other small objects. These help to give archaeologists an idea of who lived in those areas and perhaps what happened to them.
  • Coins are used for dating fairly accurately because they have emperors’ heads on and names stamped on them. They can also help to date the level of soil being excavated.
  • Pottery styles and patterns also help because they are made from a durable material that does not rot-this also gives clues to trade and travel in the area
what it all means
What it all means…
  • Layers of ash, charred pottery, and other burned objects indicate a destruction by fire; a mass of broken rubble may suggest a building was demolished, maybe to a larger one
  • Many sites show development from simple timber-framed farmhouse buildings to a larger stone house to a grander, multi-roomed mansion with baths, mosaic pavements, and colonnades.
  • The villas were in the southeast, which means the military fortresses were in the north and west. This suggests peace in the south and trouble with hostile tribes in the north.
  • Many roads were found
  • Parts of towns have been found showing extensive forums, grids of streets, large buildings like temples with altars and inscriptions, theaters, and amphitheaters, and city walls.
  • Excavation of military sites, forts, camps, and fortresses, shows the importance of their presence in keeping the peace and protection for the province.

Coin of Vespasian c. 73 AD

Mosaic from Fishbourne Palace

inscriptional evidence
Inscriptional Evidence
  • Most of the inscriptional evidence comes from the tombstones of soldiers. The below is an inscription from a tombstone of a soldier buried at Deva:







deciphering the tomb
Deciphering the Tomb
  • Inscriptions follow a standard pattern which makes deciphering easy.
  • There is a pattern to the order:

1. The dedication at the top –D M – abbreviation for Dis Manibus (to the spirits of the departed)

2. The praenomen. The first of the citizen’s three names and is abbreviated-L-Lucius

3. The nomen. Always in full-Licinius

4. The father’s name. An abbreviated letter before an F (for filius). Here-L F- Lucii filius

5. Tribe. Roman citizens were a member of one of 35 tribes used for voting and abbreviated. Here-TER-for Teretina.

6. The cognomen. Last of the three names, given in full-Valens.

7. Birthplace. A town in the Roman empire, ARE is Arelate (modern Arles in the south of France)

8. Rank and legion. Both abbreviated-VETERAN for veteranus (a retired soldier or one about to retire)); LEG XX VV for legionis XX Valeriae Victricis (20th Legion Valeria Victrix)

deciphering the tomb cont d
Deciphering the Tomb cont’d

9. Age. Represented by an AN or ANN for annorum followed by a number, usually rounded to a multiple of 5. Sometimes VIX is included for lived before the AN

10. Length of service. Represented by STIP followed by a number, e.g. STIP X for stipendia X (ten years experience)

11. The final statement. Abbreviated and usually H S E for hic situs est (is buried here) or H F C for heresfaciendum curavit (his heir had this stone set up)

what the tomb says
What the Tomb Says







This stone is dedicated to the spirits of the departed. Lucius Licinius Valens,

son of Lucius, of the Teretine tribe, from Arelate, veteran of the Twentieth

Legion Valeria Victrix, aged 45, is buried here.

  • Literary evidence-written evidence
  • Archaeological evidence-evidence discovered by archaeologists during excavations
  • Inscriptional evidence-evidence from inscriptions in Latin and sometimes Greek on buildings, tombstones, etc.
  • Dis manibus-D M-to the spirits of the departed
  • Lucius-L-praenomen
  • Licinus-nomen
  • Lucii filius-L F-fathers name, son of Lucius
  • Teretina-tribe
  • Valens-cognomen
  • Arelate-birthplace
  • Veteranus-rank-veteran
  • Legionis XX Valeriae Victricis-legion
  • Annorum-years
  • Vixit-lived
  • Stipendia X-years in the service
  • Hic situs est-is buried here
  • Heres faciendum curavit-his heir had this stone set up