Or a brief summary of the historical events that followed after the Claudian invasion of Britain in 43 AD to the final revolt of the British in the year 409.

Background

Julius Caesar of course was to famously claimed to have came, seen and conquered when he led his two expeditions to Britain in the years 54 and 55 BC. Although there was to be no permanent occupation of Britain as a result of these expeditions it drew at least southern Britain within the Roman orbit. Britain remained a patchwork of tribal kingdoms, but through the medium of trade Roman influence began to make itself felt, and in the hundred years or so after Caesar's expeditions the interplay between these kingdoms became dominated by the question of their attitudes towards Rome.

The Roman Invasion of Britain

The growth in trade between Britain and the Empire (and more importantly the revenue generated from trade tariffs) may well have convinced the Romans that the island of Britain was worth adding to their empire. Augustus is believed to have contemplated an invasion in 26 or 27 BC, Gaius Caligula certainly did so in 40 AD but it was left to Claudius to actually carry out the invasion in 43 AD.

The immediate pretext for the invasion was that the Catavellauni tribe had driven out the king of the Atrebates, Verica, who promptly fled to Rome and appealed for assistance. (Although this is the last we hear of him, and off course the emperor Claudius had reasons of his own.)

Claudius assembled a formidable force under the command of Aulus Plautius comprising four legions which together with auxiliary forces and cavalry numbered in total some 40,000 to 50,000. After establishing a beachhead at Rochester, Aulus Plautius won a few minor skirmishes and moved north seeking to engage the British in battle. The resulting Battle of the Medway was one of the most significant battles ever fought on British soil - with victory for the Romans followed soon thereafter by the capture of Camulodunum, capital of the Catavellauni.

Within a year or so of victory at the Medway the Romans had pushed west to a line from Exeter to Lincoln and established an embryonic new province of Britannia, based largely on the old tribal kingdom of the Catavellauni.

Resistance and Rebellion

With the initial invasion successfully completed Aulus Plautius returned to Rome and was replaced by Publius Ostorius Scapula as governor of Britannia but despite the initial success of the invasion opposition continued.

Caratacus, one of the kings of the Catavellauni who had led the native forces at the Battle of the Medway, refused to surrender despite the conquest of his kingdom. He moved to the south west and continued to organise raids against the Romans. Faced with continued resistance Scapula sought to disarm those tribes that lived within Roman controlled territory and provoked the previously pro-Roman Iceni to revolt.

Scapula was able to subdue the revolt and establish control of the south west; Caratacus however simply relocated to the territory of the Silures in what is now Wales and fought on until finally defeated in the year 51 in a battle somewhere in central Wales.Caratacus fled to the land of the Brigantes, perhaps hoping to continue the struggle there, but he was betrayed by Cartimandua queen of the Brigantes and delivered to the Roman authorities in chains.

The capture of Caratacus did not however, bring an end to resistance. The Silures continued a guerilla war against the Romans. Eventually this led the Romans or more particularly the then governor, Gaius Suetonius Paullinus, to rather over-employ their hand against the Iceni after the death of king Prasutagus in the year 60 which prompted his widow Boudicca to lead the tribe in a rebellion against Roman authority.

During this second revolt of the Iceni, better known as the Boudiccan Revolt, a vexellation of the Legio IX Hispania was wiped out, and Camoludunum was sacked and burnt as was Verulanium and Londinium, various atrocities were committed and the fledging province of Britannia almost destroyed. Only after the defeat of Boudicca at a battle fought somewhere in the midlands, (believed to be in the vicinity of Mancetter) was stability restored and disaster averted.

Paullinus was replaced by a more conciliatory figure in Publius Petronius Turpilianus. The Silures were eventually subdued, the Ordovices of north Wales were contained if not defeated, and the northern Brigantes ruled by the pro-Roman Cartimandua; the Romans controlled most of Britain south of the Humber and could rightly claim that their conquest had been secured.

Expansion north

To the north of the river Humber lay the territory of the tribal federation of the Brigantes; Roman policy in regard to the Brigantes was quite simple, they wished to ensure that Brigantes were ruled by a friendly and pro-Roman regime and maintain the kingdom as a 'buffer state' to protect their northern frontier. In this they were initially successful as queen Cartimandua, who delivered the rebel Caratacus into their hands, proved a faithful ally.

By the year 69 however, anti-Roman elements within the tribe led by Cartimandua's husband Venutius came to the fore; Cartimandua was deposed and Rome was faced with a hostile power on the frontier of their newest province. Therefore the governor Quintus Petillius Cerealis led a series campaign against Venutius and the Brigantes in the years 71-74 and established the legionary fortress at Eboracum pushing the frontier of the province further north.

These territorial gains were consolidated by his successors in particular by Agricola who completed the conquest of the territory of the Brigantes and pushed northwards in a series of campaigns against the Caledoni culminating in the battle of Mons Graupius in the year 83 (location uncertain, but somewhere in the Grampian mountains.)

Although Mons Graupius was a Roman victory, with some 10,000 British killed, the remaining 20,000 melted back into the Caledonian highlands and there was clearly more fighting to be done. Agricola obviously had the intention of completing the conquest of Britain; a legionary fortress was established at Inchtuthil on the river Tay and a series of forts were completed to block access from the highland glens to the coastal lowlands.

Agricola was however back in Rome in 84, but his successors do not appear to have abandoned Caledonia, the legionary fortress at Inchtuthil remained occupied until at least the year 86. The territorial gains in southern Caledonia were probably not abandoned until after the year 87 a major rebellion in Dacia forced the withdrawal of the Legio II Adutrux to help quell the revolt on the Danube frontier. With the strength of the occupation force reduced to three legions, none of his successors was in a position to contemplate further advances in the north.

There was a gradual withdrawal from Caledonia in the 90s and the destruction of many forts in the years 100-105 may well indicate further trouble with the Brigantes. By the time of Trajan established the Romans had established the Stangate frontier across Britain between the Tyne and the Solway and appear to have abandoned ideas of any permanent military occupation of the far north.

The Second Century

Around the year 117, during the governorship of Pompeius Falco, there is further evidence of fighting indicating another revolt of the Brigantes tribe in the north. This may well have been the reason why, in the year 122, the emperor Hadrian visited Britain and ordered the governor Aulus Platorius Nepos to begin the construction of a wall across Britain along the line of the Stanegate frontier.

The first decades of the second century marked a period of retrenchment in the Roman Empire, and the emphasis moved to defending existing frontiers. The construction of Hadrian's Wall was very much in keeping with this philosophy but Hadrian's successor Antoninus Pius decided on a re-occupation of much of the territory previously abandoned. Antonius Pius ordered the construction of a further wall in the year 142 along the more northerly Forth-Clyde line between the Clyde Rock and the Firth of Forth. Hadrian's Wall was itself abandoned and the focus switched to the more northerly Antonine Wall.

There was however a revolt by the Brigantes sometime in the years after 150; several forts in the north show signs of fighting and of destruction by fire and coins were minted at Rome which celebrated a significant victory in Britain around the year 155.); as well as further fighting in the early 160s under the governorship of Sextus Calpurnius Agricola. By 163 it was decided to reoccupy Hadrian’s Wall and abandon the Antonine Wall.

The late second century; Clodius Albinus and Septimius Severus

As the second century drew to a close there was further trouble in Britain; the years 180 to 184 saw another revolt in northern Britain which was suppressed by the governor Ulpius Marcellus; according to Dio Cassius a general was killed and the revolting tribes ravaged widely. The emperor Commodus ordered the usual retaliatory campaign in the years 184/185. The following year there was a mutiny amongst the legions put down by Pertinax, which seems to have encouraged further trouble as a subsequent governor Virius Lupus was forced into the expedient of buying off the Caledoni to secure peace.

These events were only a precursor to a period of instability that began in 192 as a result of the successive assassinations of Commodus and Pertinax and the auctioning off of the imperial purple to the senator Didius Julianus by the Praetorian Guard. The result was civil war within the Empire as a number of rival emperors appeared.

In Britannia, Clodius Albinus became the first of many Roman commanders who would use the available military resources of the island to launch their own attempts at empire. Clodius Albinus was ultimately unsuccessful, defeated by his rival Septimius Severus near Lugdunum in Gaul.

Severus re-occupied Britannia and initiated a programme of rebuilding and reform generally known as the Severan reconstruction. Severus also undertook a number punitive expeditions against the troublesome tribes of the northern frontier, culminating in a massive military expedition that penetrated deep into Caledonia in 208.

The Caledonian tribes remained restive however and it was Caracalla who led a further punitive expedition into Caledonia in 210 laying waste to the land and slaughtering all he came across. Caracalla may well have had the intention of completing the conquest of Caledonia, but in the February of 211 his father Septimius Severus died at Eboracum(York). Caracalla rapidly concluded a treaty with the northern tribes and concentrated his efforts on securing the empire for himself. However, the combination of the campaign of 210 and the subsequent treaty appears to have been sufficient to secure peace in the north for the remainder of the century.

It was Caracalla who also instituted the division of Britannia into two provinces (presumably in an attempt to prevent it's governor from becoming too powerful and replicating the career of Clodius Albinus); Britannia Superior, comprising the south and west, with the legionary fortresses of Caerleon and Chester and Britannia Inferior, comprising the north, with the fortress at York and the frontier system at Hadrian's Wall.

The third century

The killing of the emperor Alexander Severus in the year 235 was followed by half a century of chaos and confusion within the Roman Empire. Pressure from the Germanic tribes on the Rhine frontier increased, Persian power revived in the east and the authority of the centre began to waver.

One of those who sought to take advantage of the situation was Marcus Cassianius Latinius Postumus, who declared himself emperor of an independent Roman state known as the Gallic Empire. With Augusta Trevivorum as its capital, the Gallic Empire comprised the Gaul, Iberia and Britannia. Britain therefore passed outside the control of Rome until the year 274 when Aurelian finally succeeded in bringing the Gallic Empire to an end.

It was not until the accession of Diocletian in 284 that the 'third century crisis' came to an end and ushered in a period of stability that was to last until the death of Constantine in 337. Diocletian instituted a reform of the Roman civil administration and established the diocese of Britannia divided into the four provinces of Britannia Prima, Britannia Secunda, Flavia Caesariensis and Maxima Caesariensis.

These reforms had scarcely taken time to take hold before Britannia once again slipped away from the authority of Rome. This time it was a gentleman by the name of Carausius who established himself in the year 287 as emperor of an independent Britain. Carausius and his successor Allectus maintained their independent rule until the year 296 when Constantius Chlorus invaded and re-united Britannia with the Empire once more.

Despite these political upheavals Britannia remained a rather stable and prosperous part of the Empire. Britain suffered from its share of trouble, specifically from piratical raiders known as Saxons who began raiding the east coast. Towards the end of century this appears to have led to the development of a coastal defensive system known as the Saxon Shore. Whilst these raids were unwelcome, they were nowhere near as destructive as experienced on the continent, and left Britain as something of a safe haven in a time of trouble.

The fourth century

In the year 305 Constantius Chlorus returned to Britain with his son Constantine and undertook a campaign in Caledonia about which no details are known, but which was celebrated as a Roman victory. Constantius Chlorus was at Eboracum when he died in the year 306 which is where his son Constantine was to declare himself emperor shortly afterwards.

After his victory at the Milvian Bridge in 312, Constantine was able to secure sole control of the empire. However on the death of Constantine in April 337 the Empire was divided up amongst his three sons: Britannia, together with Gaul and Iberia came under the rule of Constantine II, whereas brother Constans got Italy, Africa and Central Europe and Constantius II, the Eastern Empire.

Constantine II and Constans argued; Constantine II invaded Constans' territories but was defeated and killed, allowing Constans to unite the Western Empire under his control. Constans was however, a generally unpopular and disliked ruler and one Magnentius, who may well have been of British origin, led a rebellion against Constans in Gaul, succeeded in killing his rival and declared himself emperor, eventually winning control of the entire Western Roman Empire.

Although Magnentius' rule was brief, (defeats by Constantius II prompted him to commit suicide in 353) the strength of his support in Britain prompted Constantius II to despatch an agent by the name of Paulus Catena to root out any disloyal elements. The resulting reign of terror, whereby the slightest suspicion of disloyalty could result in imprisonment and execution may well have destabilised the Roman administration in Britain.

This was probably a factor in the collapse of Roman government in Britannia that arose as a result of the Barbarian Conspiracy of the year 367, when Britannia was beset by combined attacks from the Scots of Ireland and the Picts from north of the walls, whilst northern Gaul suffered from raids by the Germanic Saxons and Franks.

The emperor Valentian sent a major military expedition under the command of the comes (and future emperor) Theodosius, to re-establish Roman control of Britain. Theodosius set about the business of clearing the countryside of bandits, driving out the Scots and Picts and generally restoring order to Britannia. By 369 he was busy restoring military fortification and encouraging the building of town walls and defences.

The end of Roman Britain

Despite the success of Theodosius in re-establishing Roman control of Britannia the, Empire itself was coming under increasing pressure from the Germanic insurgents and central authority, in the west at least, was beginning to crumble.

In Britain trouble with the Picts continued and Magnus Maximus commander of the Roman army in Britain, campaigned against them in 382. With a victory achieved and with the examples of Clodius Albinus, Carausius and Magnentius before him, Magnus Maximus declared himself emperor in the year 383, and moved his forces to the continent to where he challenged for control of the Empire until his defeat and death in 388.

By the year 400 the threat from Alaric, leader of the Visigoths was threatening Italy. The Roman army in Britain clearly lost confidence and chose a series of candidates as rival emperors before finally deciding on Constantine III in 407. Constantine followed the by now well trodden path to Gaul in pursuit of the dream of empire.

In the year 408, as the Gallic Chronicles record, Britain suffered from a serious Saxon raid, Alaric was laying siege to Rome itself, and it became abundantly clear to the native Romano-British that the authorities in Rome were unable to offer any protection from such raids. In the year 409, with Constantine III defeated, after three and a half centuries the British kicked out the remaining Roman administrators.

It is doubtful whether Rome itself saw it that way, but the Empire was never again in the position to contemplate the recovery of Britain. Rome was sacked in 410 and by the middle of the century there was no Roman army in the west to speak of and Roman power in the west rapidly evaporated thereafter.


There are no contemporary histories of Roman Britain, and its history can only be pieced together through references by the historians of Rome itself, to whom Britannia was a relatively unimportant provincial backwater only worth mentioning when there was some fighting going on.


SOURCES

Sourced mainly from - Peter Salway Roman Britain Oxford University Press (1991) - plus various facts extracted from previous submissions on Carausius, Constantius Chlorus, Battle of the Medway, Caratacus, Boudicca, Boudiccan Revolt, the Saxon Shore, Cnaeus Julius Agricola, Clodius Albinus, the Gallic Empire, Caurasius, Allectus, Roman Governors of Britannia and Britannia.

To what extent was Britain romanised?

'Romanisation'?

Britain was under continuous Roman control from 43 - 410 CE, and there is evidence of contact, particularly in the form of trade, before this. The effects of this occupation have long been debated by historians. However, before we explore the degree to which roads can be considered as romanisation, and how much influence Latin has on the English language, we need to evaluate what 'romanisation' actually is.

If you consider the Roman Empire as a whole, it becomes obvious that there was no specific policy of 'romanisation'. What was far more usual was the amalgamation of aspects of Roman and indigenous culture. For example, the goddess worshipped at Bath was Sulis Minerva: a conglomeration of the Celtic goddess Sulis and the Roman goddess of wisdom, Minerva. Sulis Minerva was specific to Britain, but combinations of Roman deities with local gods and goddesses were not unusual throughout the empire.

Certain Roman ideals were 'imported' into the provinces, for example the idea of the forum, the basilica, the baths, and the amphitheatre. Generally, these were to enable efficient government and give the Roman officials some form of comfort and familiarity. For members of the local communities who wished to advance in Roman civic life, these tools of government and amenities would become pivotal to their lives.

So, 'romanisation' is actually a very loose term that varied from province to province. It was about convincing the locals that they were 'Roman' by converting them — to whatever extent was feasible — to Roman customs and manners. The most obvious aspects of Roman life that were customarily stamped on provinces were associated with the elite, who would generally but not exclusively have been from Roman stock.

Town and Country

Towns were very much a Roman introduction to Britain. Camulodunum (Colchester), Eboracum (York), and Londinium (London) were Roman developments. The town served a variety of purposes for the Romans, most of which are also recognisable in modern society. It acted as a centre for administration, trade, religion, and entertainment. It was also where the elite conspiciously consumed goods and services in competition with each other.

The physical presence of the town remained following the Roman withdrawal, and although long-term it can be seen that towns have returned to something similar to the Roman lines on which they were originally modelled, in the short-term the Roman impact was minimal as towns went into decline. There was no state level administration owing to the loss of the administrative hierarchy. The elite no longer competed with each other for social recognition. Markets became a peripatetic affair, rather than a fixed institution. At the time of the Norman Conquest, over 90 percent of England was a rural economy.

The country estate was another Roman introduction that fell from use after their withdrawal. There is archaeological evidence to suggest that when the Romans moved out of their villas, several families and their animals moved in. The villa was another elite idea; after the loss of the administrative hierarchy, the elite faded from view, along with their trappings.

Army

At the time of the Boudiccan Rebellion in 61 CE, there were four standing legions in Britain. Throughout the second century, Britain supported three legions. What was it that necessitated such a strong military presence on such a small island? Not only that, but these were legions commanded by crack generals. When rebellion stirred in Judaea in 135 CE, a general from Britain was brought over to lead its suppression. If the island was restless enough to warrant that degree of army involvement, how far could 'romanisation' have penetrated? Furthermore, the heavy military presence, especially in the north around Hadrian's Wall, would have prevented the growth of an administrative elite and its urban development and associated institutions. As soon as the army withdrew from Britain, all vestiges of 'romanisation' went with it.

Roman veterans who had served in Britain would probably have settled there in their retirement and married into local families, which could possibly have brought a degree of 'romanisation'. However, just as they brought Roman values and practices with them, it is also likely that they would have adopted local customs, too. Therefore, rather than bringing 'romanisation' what emerged was a cultural amalgam.

Religion

Religion is perhaps the hardest aspect of romanisation to determine. We know that Sulis and Minerva were amalgamated in the Bath area. We know that the Druid priests resident on Mona (Anglesey) were annihilated by Suetonius Paulinus in 61 CE. We know that there were some churches by the time of the withdrawal, at which point the official religion of the empire was Christianity. However, we do not know to what extent Christianity had spread throughout Britain and to what degree the old pagan rites continued to be practised.

All Roads lead to Rome?

Well, in Roman Britain, the majority of roads led to London. There is a strong legacy of 'romanisation' in the form of roads throughout Britain. What used to be known as Watling Street is now known as the A5, running through central London and heading north to St Albans (Roman Verulanium) and Chester (Roman Deva). What is now the A1 used to be known as Ermine Street and linked York to London.

Geography

Britain was geographically remote and isolated from the empire, meaning that it received fewer cultural influences to draw it into the empire, but actually needed more of them to give it a sense of belonging. The experiences needed for 'romanisation' were always going to be weaker in Britain. This weakness would have been compounded by the invasions that Britain suffered following the Roman withdrawal. Britain was invaded by groups of people that were also culturally removed from Rome, thereby Britain was distanced yet further from Roman influence.

Language

English is a hybrid language: lots of Germanic influences, some Latin, and even a bit of Greek. The evidence suggests that at the time of the Roman invasion, various forms of Celtic language were spoken in Britain, and Old English, that was spoken upto the Norman invasion, was predominatly a Germanic language. This Old English was a language found previously in areas of what is now Germany that the Romans never conquered. The Latin influences that can be found in modern English are mostly derived from Norman French that was amalgamated with Old English after 1066. Rome's linguistic influence did not take root in Britain for 500 years after its withdrawal. Given that language was key to the principle of cultural assimilation and thus that Latin was essential to romanisation, this suggests limitations to the romanisation of Britain.

Conclusion

It seems to me that 'romanisation' in Britain was a rather superficial affair, as opposed to a deeply ingrained cultural superiority or amalgam. Without a directed policy from Rome, there was no homogenous provincial ideal. When the major aspects of 'romanisation' were aimed at the administrative layer of society, these would only last as long as the hierarchy demanded organisation. Yes, Rome did leave a legacy, but aside from the roads, it seems to have been somewhat retrospective. The attitude towards empire in the 18th and 19th centuries drew a great deal from the Roman version. Latin was incorporated into English as the result of another invasion. Britain — or Albion — seems very much to have maintained an individuality, throughout and beyond Roman occupation. Perhaps occupation is the key word.




Building blocks:

  • Osborn, G: Hadrian's Wall and its People (forthcoming).
  • Oxford Classical Dictionary.
  • Eck, W: 'The Bar Kokhba Revolt: The Roman Point of View', Journal of Roman Studies LXXXIX 1999, pp.76-89.


Many thanks due to aneurin.

Auduster points out that prior to the Roman invasion there was a flourishing cottage industry in Britain, producing metal and ceramics. The Romans wiped this out by importing their own cheaper and better-quality products. However, the industry revived and self-sufficiency returned after Roman withdrawal.

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