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Roman Britain
Roman Britain
English Heritage Foundation


Roman Invasion and
Occupation of Ancient Britain — AD 43-410

This is Roman Britain and Roman civilization in Britain in a nutshell.


Let's kick off with a quote from a pro:

In the Western world, we often see ourselves as inheritors of Roman values and Roman culture.

But [...] the Romans were invaders, colonizers.

Their strategies encompassed everything up to, and including, genocide.

Dr Fraser Hunter
Curator Archaeology, Roman History
National Museums of Scotland

 

When Did the Romans Arrive in Ancient Britain? When Did They Leave?

The Romans invaded Britain in AD 43 under  Emperor Claudius.

In 410, Emperor Honorius encouraged British towns to grow a pair because Rome would discontinue all military support. Henceforth, the people of Britannia had to fight for themselves.

However, the use of the year 410 as the exact time of the departure of all Roman forces, the severance of all British ties to Rome, and the cessation of Roman longing for control over Britain would be an oversimplification of the actual events.

But thus cautioned, let's say the Roman invasion and occupation of ancient Britain stretched from 43-410.

This time period can be divided into three chapters — conquest, occupation, and settlement.

Timeline of Roman Britain
Timeline of Roman Britain
CADW

 

What About Julius Caesar's Visit to Ancient Britain?

It's true, Julius Caesar invaded Britain twice, in 55 BC and again in 54 BC. But he also left again each time soon after.

Britain did not become part of the Roman Empire as a result of Julius Caesar's invasions. Nor did the Romans follow up on his short-lived conquests. At least not for another century.

 

Did the Romans Ever Conquer Britain Completely?

They did not, as any Scot today will be delighted to point out.

Here is the map of the Roman advance in Britain:

Map of Early Britain: Stages of Roman Conquest
Map of Early Britain: Stages of Roman Conquest
Illustrating Roman conquest from AD 43-47, from 49-78, until 79, and until 80
(See more under Timeline of Roman Britain)
Early British tribes: Brigantes, Ordovices, Silures, Corieltavi, Iceni, Catuvellauni, Trinovantes, Atrebates, Dobunni, Belgae, Durotriges, Dumnonii
Encyclopaedia Britannica Map


By the way, should it be CE or AD?

 

Why Did The Romans Withdraw?

Some say that the natives were too tough to beat. Others say, the Romans could have conquered and held all of Britain but they didn't tag it as a priority. They had other fish to fry on more important frontiers of their large empire.

The truth is probably a mixture of both.

 

What Was the Northernmost Point the Romans Reached?

As far as frontier lines are concerned, the Gask Ridge frontier of AD 83 was probably the northernmost frontier. Much better fortified was of course the Antonine Wall of 142.

However, the Romans trekked all the way up to the Moray Firth. There are remains of a Roman marching camp at Bellie, and a large coin hoard was found at Birnie.
 

Map Location of Birnie and Bellie, the Gask Ridge Frontier, and the Antonine Wall

Coin Hoard at Birnie

Map Location of Birnie and Bellie

Coin Hoard at Birnie: 627 Coins

Birnie is located 10 miles west of Bellie, Moray, Scotland, UK

Two pots of coins, the latest dated to AD 193, the reign of Septimius Severus


National Museums Scotland

 

The Orkney Islands (the Orcades) were mentioned, but never occupied.


All in all, the Romans launched 3 major campaigns into modern day Scotland:

1st Campaign led by Roman's Governor of Britain Agricola (77-84)

2nd Campaign under Emperor Antoninus Pius (138-161)

3rd Campaign under Septimius Severus (193-211)

 

What's the Limes?

The plural is limites.

Originally, a limes was a path, passage, road, way, or track. Later it stood for boundary, border, or frontier.

The best documented limites in Great Britain are Hadrian's Wall and the  Antonine Wall.


Another important limes ran across the European mainland, see here:

Limes in Germany - MAP
2nd Century AD Limes in Germany

 

Britain Before Claudius' Invasion in AD 43

100 BC   The Belgae begin to migrate from Northern France and settle in Britain, pushing the native tribes further inland.

58 BC   The Gallic Wars begin. Rome vs. the tribes of Gaul.

55 BC   In August of 55 BC, Julius Caesar launches his first British invasion. He has 100 warships and 2 legions, or 10,000 troops, at his disposal.

54 BC   Julius Caesar's second and last invasion of Britain. This time he brings with him 800 warships, 5 legions, and 2,000 cavalry.

The Trinovantes become a Roman ally, and together they defeat Cassivellaunus, the king of the Catuvellauni tribe.


Here is an excerpt from Julius Caesar's notes:

. . . greater forces of the Britons had already assembled at that place, the chief command and management of the war having been intrusted to Cassivellaunus, whose territories a river, which is called the Thames, separates, from the maritime states at about eighty miles from the sea. At an earlier period perpetual wars had taken place between him and the other states; but, greatly alarmed by our arrival, the Britons had placed him over the whole war and the conduct of it.

The interior portion of Britain is inhabited by those of whom they say that it is handed down by tradition that they were born in the island itself: the maritime portion by those who had passed over from the country of the Belgae for the purpose of plunder and making war; almost all of whom are called by the names of those states from which being sprung they went thither, and having waged war, continued there and began to cultivate the lands.

The number of the people is countless, and their buildings exceedingly numerous, for the most part very like those of the Gauls: the number of cattle is great.

They use either brass or iron rings, determined at a certain weight, as their money. Tin is produced in the midland regions; in the maritime, iron; but the quantity of it is small: they employ brass, which is imported. There, as in Gaul, is timber of every description, except beech and fir. They do not regard it lawful to eat the hare, and the cock, and the goose; they, however, breed them for amusement and pleasure. The climate is more temperate than in Gaul, the colds being less severe.

The island is triangular in its form, and one of its sides is opposite to Gaul. One angle of this side, which is in Kent, whither almost all ships from Gaul are directed, looks to the east; the lower looks to the south. This side extends about 500 miles. Another side lies toward Spain and the west, on which part is Ireland, less, as is reckoned, than Britain, by one half: but the passage from it into Britain is of equal distance with that from Gaul.

In the middle of this voyage, is an island, which is called Mona: many smaller islands besides are supposed to lie there, of which islands some have written that at the time of the winter solstice it is night there for thirty consecutive days. We, in our inquiries about that matter, ascertained nothing, except that, by accurate measurements with water, we perceived the nights to be shorter there than on the continent.

The length of this side, as their account states, is 700 miles. The third side is toward the north, to which portion of the island no land is opposite; but an angle of that side looks principally toward Germany. This side is considered to be 800 miles in length. Thus the whole island is about 2,000 miles in circumference.

The most civilized of all these nations are they who inhabit Kent, which is entirely a maritime district, nor do they differ much from the Gallic customs. Most of the inland inhabitants do not sow corn, but live on milk and flesh, and are clad with skins.

All the Britains, indeed, dye themselves with woad*, which occasions a bluish color, and thereby have a more terrible appearance in fight. They wear their hair long, and have every part of their body shaved except their head and upper lip. Ten and even twelve have wives common to them, and particularly brothers among brothers, and parents among their children; but if there be any issue by these wives, they are reputed to be the children of those by whom respectively each was first espoused when a virgin.


* Woad, also called dyerswoad:

(Isatis tinctoria), biennial or perennial herb, in a genus of about 80 species in the mustard family (Brassicaceae), formerly grown as a source of the blue dye indigo.


Woad (Isatis tinctoria)
National Education Network
 


The horse and charioteers of the enemy contended vigorously in a skirmish with our cavalry on the march; yet so that our men were conquerors in all parts, and drove them to their woods and hills; but, having slain a great many, they pursued too eagerly, and lost some of their men.

But the enemy, after some time had elapsed, when our men were off their guard, and occupied in the fortification of the camp, rushed out of the woods, and making an attack upon those who were placed on duty before the camp, fought in a determined manner; and two cohorts being sent by Caesar to their relief, and these severally the first of two legions, when these had taken up their position at a very small distance from each other, as our men were disconcerted by the unusual mode of battle, the enemy broke through the middle of them most courageously, and retreated thence in safety.

That day, Q. Laberius Durus, a tribune of the soldiers, was slain. The enemy, since more cohorts were sent against them, were repulsed.

Julius Caesar
On the Gallic War (De Bello Gallico)
Book V, Chapter 11-15

 

53 BC   For Britain, a stretch of nearly a hundred peaceful years begin.

50 BC   Julius Caesar has conquered Gaul. The Gallic Wars end.

49-45 BC   Roman Civil War

AD 10   Tasciovanus, the king of the Catuvellauni tribe, establishes Verulamium, today's St. Albans. Death of Tasciovanus. He is succeeded by his son, Cunobelinus.

The Trinovantes, Julius Caesar's former allies, are conquered by the Catuvellauni.

AD 42   Cunobelinus, the king of the Catuvellauni tribe, dies.

 

Timeline of Roman Britain AD 43-410

Roman Emperor
Claudius (41-54)

43   Under Claudius, the Romans invade southern England. Claudius himself takes part in the final maneuvers of his first campaign. The conquering invasion force consists of approx. 50,000 Roman soldiers. Britannia becomes a Roman province.

Some of the native tribes strike a deal with Rome, like the Dobunni of Gloucestershire, for example. Other tribes do not, and are consequently overrun by the Romans, like the Deceangli of northern Wales.

And then there are old friends, like the Trinovantes who had combined forces with Julius Caesar back in the days. After Caesar's departure, they were defeated by the Catuvellauni. Now, Claudius liberates them.


1st Century BC - Celtic Britain and Northern Gaul - Tribes
1st Century BC - Celtic Britain and Northern Gaul - Tribes
Click to enlarge

 

Ancient Britain - Tribes
Ancient Britain - Tribes
Click to enlarge

 

Roman Governor of Britain
Aulus Plautius (43-46)

Aulus Plautius is the first Roman governor of Britain, or legatus Augusti pro praetore (propraetorian legate [or deputy] of the emperor).

Roman Governor of Britain
Publius Ostorius Scapula (47-52)

47   The Romans conquer the West Midlands.

And here is a map of Wales from AD 47:

Map of Wales, Roman Britain, AD 47
Wales AD 47, Roman Britain

49   The first Roman colony is founded at Camulodunum (today's Colchester). Here, and in line with Roman emperor worship, Emperor Claudius orders to build the Temple of Claudius.

50   Publius Ostorius Scapula defeats the Catuvellauni tribe, whose king, Caratacus, flees to the Brigantes tribe. The queen of the Brigantes, Cartimandua, hands Caratacus over to the Romans.

Roman Governor of Britain
Aulus Didius Gallus (52-57)

 

Roman Emperor
Nero (54-68)

 

Roman Governor of Britain
Quintus Veranius (57/58)

 

Roman Governor of Britain
Gaius Suetonius Paullinus (59-61)

60   The Iceni tribe, led by their Queen Boudicca, and the Trinovantes tribe revolt against Rome. Meanwhile, Governor Suetonius Paullinus wages his war on druids on the island of Mona (today's Anglesey).

The rebels take advantage of the Governor's absence and sack Camulodunum (today's Colchester).

Some residents of Camulodunum barricade themselves in the city's Temple of Claudius. The rebels besiege the temple for two days, after which they burn it, its defenders, and the entire town to the ground.


And here is
Tacitus' account of the events in 60 and 61:

Now, however, Britain was in the hands of Suetonius Paulinus, who in military knowledge and in popular favour, which allows no one to be without a rival, vied with Corbulo, and aspired to equal the glory of the recovery of Armenia by the subjugation of Rome's enemies. He therefore prepared to attack the island of Mona which had a powerful population and was a refuge for fugitives. He built flat-bottomed vessels to cope with the shallows, and uncertain depths of the sea. Thus the infantry crossed, while the cavalry followed by fording, or, where the water was deep, swam by the side of their horses.

On the shore stood the opposing army with its dense array of armed warriors, while between the ranks dashed women, in black attire like the Furies, with hair dishevelled, waving brands. All around, the Druids, lifting up their hands to heaven, and pouring forth dreadful imprecations, scared our soldiers by the unfamiliar sight, so that, as if their limbs were paralysed, they stood motionless, and exposed to wounds. Then urged by their general's appeals and mutual encouragements not to quail before a troop of frenzied women, they bore the standards onwards, smote down all resistance, and wrapped the foe in the flames of his own brands. A force was next set over the conquered, and their groves, devoted to inhuman superstitions, were destroyed. They deemed it indeed a duty to cover their altars with the blood of captives and to consult their deities through human entrails.

Suetonius while thus occupied received tidings of the sudden revolt of the province. Prasutagus, king of the Iceni, famed for his long prosperity, had made the emperor his heir along with his two daughters, under the impression that this token of submission would put his kingdom and his house out of the reach of wrong. But the reverse was the result, so much so that his kingdom was plundered by centurions, his house by slaves, as if they were the spoils of war. First, his wife Boudicea was scourged, and his daughters outraged. All the chief men of the Iceni, as if Rome had received the whole country as a gift, were stript of their ancestral possessions, and the king's relatives were made slaves.

Roused by these insults and the dread of worse, reduced as they now were into the condition of a province, they flew to arms and stirred to revolt the Trinobantes and others who, not yet cowed by slavery, had agreed in secret conspiracy to reclaim their freedom. It was against the veterans that their hatred was most intense. For these new settlers in the colony of Camulodunum drove people out of their houses, ejected them from their farms, called them captives and slaves, and the lawlessness of the veterans was encouraged by the soldiers, who lived a similar life and hoped for similar licence.

A temple also erected to the Divine Claudius was ever before their eyes, a citadel, as it seemed, of perpetual tyranny. Men chosen as priests had to squander their whole fortunes under the pretence of a religious ceremonial. It appeared too no difficult matter to destroy the colony, undefended as it was by fortifications, a precaution neglected by our generals, while they thought more of what was agreeable than of what was expedient.

Tacitus Annals 14.29-14.30

 

Before, during, or after destroying Camulodunum, the rebels completely annihilate the Roman 9th legion on their way to aid the citizens of Camulodunum.

This is the Massacre of the Ninth Legion.


AD 60 Britain

AD 60 Britain
Click to enlarge



61
   Boudica's Last Battle.

Governor Paulinus (or Paullinus) and his 14th legion march the 200 miles back from Anglesey to deal with Boudica's uprising.

The rebels go on to sack and burn Londinium (London) and then Verulamium (St Albans).

The Romans are on the brink of losing Britain.


Boudica and her army march north on what will become known as Watling Street. They clash with the Romans about 100 miles north of London. The exact location of the battle is unknown.

The Romans are outnumbered by at least 3 to 1. Yet, they are victorious and crush Boudica's rebellion. How was this possible?


Although outnumbered, Paullinus had the advantage of choosing the battlefield. And he chose wisely. They met on a field that was wide at one end (where Boudica would line up her army), narrow at the other (where he would place his troops), and framed by woods on the sides.

There was not much room to maneuver a superior sized army on this terrain. And there was no way to outflank the Romans.

Additionally, after charging, the Romans had two spears per person that they could launch, and then, in close combat, they had the advantage of a short sword. The Brits were equipped with longer swords that were more difficult to wield in the thick of things.

Boudica's army started to retreat, but they encountered a self-made obstacle. They ran right into a wagon line that they had circled themselves previously. Here, their women and children had assembled to cheer their men's certain victory.

The Romans pushed back, squeezing the Natives between enemy and baggage trains. The rest was a hacking fest. The Romans didn't spare a soul.

There are two versions of how Boudica perished. She either died in battle or she took poison.

If we want to believe Tacitus, Boudica's army suffered a loss of 80,000 men from this battle and the Romans lost only 400 men. These numbers are exaggerated, of course, seeing that Tacitus wrote with a Roman viewpoint. But historians today still believe that Boudica lost thousands, whereas the Romans lost only hundreds.

Either way, this Roman victory marks the end of effective resistance in Britain. The Britains have been conquered by Rome.

Furthermore, this rebellion will qualify as the most successful revolt in the entire history of Roman Britain. In effect, by quelling this revolt, the Romans secured their possession of Britain. At least for the next 350 years.


Prompted by the recent outbreak of hostility, the Romans build a series of fortifications across the Midlands including the Lunt Fort at Coventry.

Reconstructed Timber Gate of the Lunt Fort
Reconstructed Timber Gate of the Lunt Fort
Roman Fort at Baginton, Coventry, West Midlands
G.M. Sherring-Lucas / Warwickshire County Council

 

Roman Governor of Britain
Publius Petronius Turpilianus (61/62-63)

 

Roman Governor of Britain
Marcus Trebellius Maximus (63-69)

 

Roman Emperor
Galba (68-69)

 

Roman Emperor
Otho (69)

 

Roman Emperor
Vitellius (69)

 

Roman Governor of Britain
Marcus Vettius Bolanus (69-71)

 

Roman Emperor
Vespasian (69-79)

69   The Brigantes tribe, led by Venutius, oust their pro-Roman Queen Cartimandua. Venutius not only rebels against his queen, she was also his ex-wife. In fact, her divorcing him was the final straw that led to this insurrection.

Governor Marcus Vettius Bolanus has to rescue Cartimandua from the mob.

Roman Governor of Britain
Quintus Petillius Cerialis (71-73)

71   Cerialis has more troops at his disposal than did his predecessor Marcus Vettius Bolanus. He takes advantage of this, moves swiftly, subdues the Brigantes tribe, and builds a fortress at Eboracum or Eburacum (York).

Roman Governor of Britain
Sextus Julius Frontinus (73-77)

74   Frontinus builds a fortress at Caerleon.

76   The Romans pick Deva (Chester) to become one of their main strongholds.

77   By the end of his governorship, Frontinus has defeated the strong Silures tribe of southern Wales. He has also fought the Ordovices of northern Wales with much success, but failed to conquer the tribe completely.

Roman Governor of Britain
Gnaeus Julius Agricola (77-84)

78   Agricola conquers the island of Mona (today's Isle of Anglesey) and finishes the conquest of Wales (the Ordivices) and northern England, including the Brigantes.

79   Thirty-five years after landing in England, the Romans march into Scotland. The new Roman frontier is a line between the Firth of Clyde and the Firth of Forth.

Roman Emperor
Titus (79-81)

80   The amphitheater at Isca Silurium (Caerleon) is completed.

Roman Emperor
Domitian (81-96)

83   The Romans cross the Forth River. After subduing the Lowlands, Agricola aims for the Highlands.

83 or 84   Battle of Mons Graupius. Roman victory over the Caledonians. This is the first recorded battle on Scottish soil. The battle takes place somewhere in the coastal plain of north-east Scotland, but the exact location is unknown. Agricola wins an important victory.

The Romans establish the Gask Ridge frontier along the Grampian Mountains, also called the Highland Line, as their first northern frontier. See also What Was the Northernmost Point the Romans Reached?

Muir o' Fauld Roman Signal Station is set up, a Roman watch tower on the Gask Ridge.

Around this time, the Romans commence the construction of Inchtuthil on the River Tay, in today's Perthshire, west of Dundee and 10 miles north of Perth. This will be the Roman's northernmost legionary fortress.

As opposed to smaller sized and temporary forts, a legionary fortress covers around 20 hectares / 50 acres. This is 10 times the size of the London Olympic stadium.

Inchtuthil will also be the fort that the Romans will occupy for the shortest amount of time. After just a few years, Inchtuthil will be demolished and evacuated even before the temporary quarters of the commanding officer could be replaced by a fitting permanent version.

Agricola is recalled to Rome, receives great honors, and retires.

Roman Governor of Britain
Sallustius Lucullus (84-96)

85   Around this time the fort at Ardoch is set up. Ardoch is located next to today's Braco, Perthshire, Scotland, UK.

Roman Fort at Ardoch
Roman Fort at Ardoch
At the time, the fort was surrounded by many temporary camps. No stones remain, but apparently, this is the best preserved Roman earthwork in the Roman Empire.
Google Map



Also around this time, the fort at Stracathro is built. This will be the northernmost Roman post for a while.

87   The Roman Empire is threatened on other frontiers in mainland Europe, esp. on the Danube River. Roman forward movement into Scotland comes to a standstill, then they draw back. The Romans evacuate their fortress at Inchtuthil. The Highlands are left to be conquered another day.

90   All forts north of the Earn River are evacuated. The Romans will withdraw all the way back to the Tyne-Solway line.

Roman Emperor
Nerva (96-98)

 

Roman Governor of Britain
Publius Metilius Nepos (96-?97)

 

Roman Governor of Britain
Tiberius Avidius Quietus (?97-?100)

 

Roman Emperor
Trajan (98-117)

 

Roman Governor of Britain
Lucius Neratius Marcellus (?100-103)

 

Roman Governor of Britain
Marcus Appius Bradua (?115-118)

 

Roman Emperor
Hadrian (117-138)

This map shows Hadrian's Roman Empire in 117, illustrating its extension, legion headquarters in Britannia at Eboracum (York), Deva (Chester), Isca (Caerleon), Roman roads, and fortified frontiers.

Roman Empire AD 117 - MAP
AD 117 Roman Empire (USMA)

Roman Governor of Britain
Quintus Pompeius Falco (118-122)

 

Roman Governor of Britain
Aulus Platorius Nepos (122-?125)

122-128   The Romans build Hadrian's Wall, a permanent northern frontier of Roman Britain that is 73 miles or 118 kilometers long, 15 feet high, and built of stone. It runs between the Rivers Tyne in the east and Solway Firth in the west. Building of the wall takes 6 years.

Here are the maps:

Map of Hadrian's Walla - Limes in Britain AD 122
AD 122 Limes in Britain, Hadrian's Wall
Illustrating Hadrian's Wall and Roman Camps in Britannia
Click to enlarge

 

Map of Hadrian's Wall
Map of Hadrian's Wall
Click to enlarge


In charge of the construction work is the former governor of Lower Germany, Aulus Platorius Nepos. In July 122, he was transferred to Britain.


Hadrian's Wall
Hadrian's Wall
English Heritage Foundation


Hadrian's Wall
Hadrian's Wall
BBC Scotland


Hadrian's Wall, Northumberland, England
Hadrian's Wall, Northumberland, England
National Education Network


Housesteads Fort was one of the Roman outposts along Hadrian's Wall:

Aerial View of Housesteads Roman Fort / Hadrian's Wall
Aerial View of Housesteads Roman Fort / Hadrian's Wall
English Heritage Foundation

 

Banks East Turret, Hadrian's Wall
Banks East Turret, Hadrian's Wall
Cutaway reconstruction drawing by Philip Corke

 

Roman Emperor
Antoninus Pius (138-161)

 

Roman Governor of Britain
Quintus Lollius Urbicus (139-142 or 143)

142   Under Antoninus Pius, the Romans push further north once again, abandoning Hadrian's Wall. They return to Perthshire and rebuild some of their former forts, Ardoch for example. They also build a new wall some 100 miles north of Hadrian's Wall, the Antonine Wall. In charge is Quintus Lollius Urbicus.

The wall is made out of turf and timber and runs 37 miles or 59 kilometers long. It stretches coast-to-coast and connects today's Bo'ness on the Firth of Forth in the east with Old Kilpatrick on the Firth of Clyde in the west.

This wall marks the farthest extent of Roman occupation in ancient Britain, and is therefore also called Rome's Final Frontier.

Here is the map:

Map of the Antonine Wall, Its Forts, Fortlets, etc.
Map of the Antonine Wall, Its Forts, Fortlets, etc.
Click to enlarge


14
4   Construction of the Antonine Wall is finished.


Distance Slab from the Antonine Wall
Distance Slab from the Antonine Wall
National Museums Scotland

 

Altar to Diana and Apollo, Antonine Wall
Altar to Diana and Apollo, Antonine Wall

It reads: DIANAE APOLLINI M COCCE(I) FIRMVS > LEG II AVG

In other words: For Diana and Apollo, Marcus Cocceius Firmus,
centurion of the Second Augustan Legion.

Altar stone made of sandstone, 0.72 x 0.31 x 0.22 m

From the Auchendavy Roman Fort and Settlement,
3 kilometers east of Kirkintilloch, on the Antonine Wall

University of Glasgow

 

The Antonine Wall is well fortified. A field of defense pits filled with sharp wooden stakes, hidden with branches and covered with foliage, was created in front of a massive ditch, 9 meters (30 feet) across, 4 meters (13 feet) deep, filled with thorn branches, followed by a nearly vertical wall, 4 meters (13 feet) high, with palisades on top of the wall and Roman soldiers behind them.

Here is a sketch:

Drawing of the Defense System at the Antonine Wall
Drawing of the Defense System at the Antonine Wall
Historic Scotland

 

And here are the defense pits at Rough Castle:

Roman Defense Pits, Rough Castle, Antonine Wall
Roman Defense Pits, Rough Castle, Antonine Wall
RCAHMS

 

Roman Field Fortifications
See also Roman Field Fortifications

 

158   The Romans have pushed all the way up north to Bertha. But now the forward movement comes to a halt because Roman troops are again needed elsewhere in the Empire. They begin to retreat.

Roman Emperor
Marcus Aurelius (161-180)

167   The Antonine Wall is abandoned a little more than 20 years after its construction. The Romans withdraw back to their former frontier, Hadrian's Wall.

Roman Emperor
Commodus (180-192)

190s   Coin hoards at Birnie, 40 miles east of Inverness. Here is the picture.

Roman Governor of Britain
Decimus Clodius Albinus (191-197)

 

Roman Emperor
Pertinax (January - March 193)

 

Roman Emperor
Didius Severus Julianus (March 28 June 1, 193)

 

Roman Emperor
Septimius Severus (193-211)

208   Roman Emperor Severus commences the third and last major Roman invasion into today's Scotland. He is ready to conquer Caledonia once and for all.

211   Severus dies at York. This concludes his campaign in Scotland.

Roman Emperor
Caracalla (211-217)

Caracalla, instead of continuing his father's Scotland campaign, makes peace with the natives and returns to Rome.

212   Caracalla grants Roman citizenship to all free inhabitants of the empire. This is the Edict of Caracalla.

213   Around 213, Britain is divided into two provinces, Britannia Superior (capital: Londinium / London) and Britannia Inferior (capital: Eboracum / York).

Upper Britain, Lower Britain, and Caledonia (Scotland)
Upper Britain, Lower Britain, and Caledonia (Scotland)
Click to enlarge

Also illustrating: Hebudae (Hebrides), Vararis Aestuarium (Moray Firth), Taexalorum Promontorium, Clota Aestuarium (Clyde Firth), Bodotria Aestuarium (Forth Firth), Itunae Aestuarium (Solway Firth), Segedunum (Wallsend), Monapia (Isle of Man), Mona (Anglesey), Abus (Humber), Metaris Aestuarium (The Wash), Sabrinae Aestuarium (Bristol Channel), Vectis (Isle of Wight), Tamesa (Thames)
 

Roman Emperor
Macrinus (217-218)

 

Roman Emperor
Elagabalus (218-222)

 

Roman Emperor
Alexander Severus (222-235)

 

Roman Emperor
Maximinus (235-238)

 

Roman Emperor
Gordian I (March - April 238) jointly with his son
Gordian II

 

Roman Emperor
Pupienus Maximus (238) jointly with
Balbinus

 

Roman Emperor
Gordian III (238-244)

 

Roman Emperor
Philip (244-249)

 

Roman Emperor
Decius (249-251)

 

Roman Emperor
Hostilian (251)

 

Roman Emperor
Gallus (251-253)

 

Roman Emperor
Aemilian (253)

 

Roman Emperor
Valerian (253-260)

 

Roman Emperor
Gallienus (253-268)

 

Roman Emperor
Claudius Gothicus (268-270)

 

Roman Emperor
Quintillus (269-270)

 

Roman Emperor
Aurelian (270-275)

 

Roman Emperor
Tacitus (275-276)

 

Roman Emperor
Florian (276)

 

Roman Emperor
Probus (276-282)

 

Roman Emperor
Carus (282-283)

 

Roman Emperor
Carinus (283-285)

 

Roman Emperor
Maximian (286-305)

297   First written record of the Picti (Picts) by a Roman writer who describes the people living in Scotland / or north of Hadrian's Wall.

Roman Emperor
Constantius I Chlorus (305-306)

 

Roman Emperor
Severus (306-307)

 

Roman Emperor
Maxentius (306-312)

 

Roman Emperor
Constantine I (312-337)

 

Roman Emperor
Constantine II (337-340)

 

Roman Emperor
Constans I (337-350)

 

Roman Emperor
Constantius II (337-361)

 

Roman Emperor
Julian (361-363)

 

Roman Emperor
Jovian (363-364)

 

Roman Emperor
Valentinian I (364-375)

367/368   The Picts push the Romans back from Hadrian's Wall.

Roman Emperor
Gratian (367-383)

 

Roman Emperor
Valentinian II (375-392)

 

Roman Emperor
Theodosius I (392-395)

 

Roman Emperor
Honorius (395-423)

395   The Roman Empire splits permanently into East and West.

410   Emperor Honorius receives a request for military aid from Britannia. His answer is a negative. This reply is also known as the Honorian Rescript. The exact role that this decree plays in the closing stages of Roman Britain is debated.

In any event, by the year 411 Rome was unable to enforce its control in Britain.

On August 24, 410, the Visigoths, led by Alaric, enter Rome. They will loot the city for three days.


Here are the maps illustrating the situation in Britain at the end of the Roman occupation:

Roman Britain Circa 400. Inset: Kent at the coming of the Saxons in 525
400 Roman Britain
Click to enlarge

 

Roman Britain 410
410 Roman Britain
Click to enlarge

 

See also Governments of Rome.

And maybe Roman Empire.

 

And More Maps
 

Map of Roman Britain
Map of Roman Britain

Illustrating: coloniae and principal centers, other populated centers,
fortresses and forts, mines, frontier walls, roads

Further illustrating: Antonine Wall, Hadrian's Wall, Firth of Clyde, Firth of Forth, Ireland, Solway Firth, Tyne, Isle of Man, Irish Sea, Isle of Anglesey, North Sea, The Pennines, Catterick (Cataractonium), York (Eboracum), Humber, Derbyshire, Lincoln (Lindum), Flintshire, Chester (Deva), Fosse Way, Severn, Leicester (Ratae Coritanorum), The Wash, Cirencester (Corinium), Gloucester (Glevum), Caerleon (Isca Silurum), Cotswold Hills, Oxford, Thames, Colchester (Camulodunum), St. Albans (Verulamium), London (Londinium), Rochester (Durobrivae), Lullingstone, Medway, Canterbury (Durovernum), Richborough (Rutupiae), Chichester (Noviomagus Regnensium), Isle of Wight, Hinton St. Mary, Mendip, Bristol Channel, Exeter (Isca Dumnoniorum), English Channel, Gaul
Encyclopaedia Britannica

One of the main Roman roads was Fosse Way, connecting Exeter and Lincoln. In fact, Fosse Way marked one of the earliest Roman frontiers even before AD 47.

 

Map of Britain  Imperial Province, Rome's Expansion 264 BC - AD 180
Map of Britain — Imperial Province, Rome's Expansion 264 BC - AD 180
Click to enlarge

 


The Roman Army

Composition, organization, and formation of the Roman military changed over time. But for the sake of a quick mental grasp, let's say that,

Roman Soldier

A centuria comprised 80 to 100 troops. Their leader was the centurion.

A cohort comprised 400 to 500 troops. Five to six centuriae made a cohort.

A legion comprised 5,000 to 6,000 troops. Ten cohorts, or sixty centuriae, made a legion.

 

For the native eye, marching Roman soldiers must have been quite impressive. When 20,000 troops were on the move, for example, their entire convoy could be 5 miles long.


Not all Roman soldiers came from the motherland. In fact, many had never seen Rome.

The Roman Empire recruited men from all its conquered territories. Thus, Roman soldiers who fought in Scotland, for instance, could very well be natives of North Africa, Belgium, England, or France.

 

Main Roman Towns in Ancient Britain A-Z

Calleva Atrebatum (Silchester in Hampshire)

Camulodunum (Colchester in Essex)

Corinium Dobunnorum (Cirencester in Gloucestershire)

Deva (Chester in Cheshire)
   Permanent legionary base

Durnovaria (Dorchester in Dorset)

Durovernum Cantiacorum (Canterbury in Kent)

Eboracum (York in North Yorkshire)
   Permanent legionary base

Isca Dumnoniorum (Exeter in Devon)

Isca Silurium (Caerleon in Gwent)
     Permanent legionary base

Isurium Brigantum (Aldborough in North Yorkshire)

Lindinis (Ilchester in Somerset)

Lindum Colonia (Lincoln in Lincolnshire)

Londinium (London)

Luguvalium (Carlisle in Cumbria)

Moridunum (Camarthen, exact location unknown)

Nervia Glevensium (Gloucester in Gloucestershire)

Noviomagus Regensium (Chichester in West Sussex)

Ratae Coritanorum (Leicester in Leicestershire)

Venta Belgarum (Winchester in Hampshire)

Venta Silurum (Cearwent in Gwent)

Verulamium (Saint Albans in Hertfordshire)

Viroconium Cornoviorum (Wroxeter in Shropshire)

 

Roman Ruins

Traces and archaeological remains from 365 years of Roman occupation are abundant. There are over 125 known forts, many fortlets, and mile castles or signal posts. Very often, the military presence encouraged civilian settlements in the immediate neighborhood.
 


Map of Britannia - Principal Roman Sites in Ancient Britain
Illustrating: Hadrian's Wall, Hardknott, York, Caernarfon, Chester, Wroxeter, Caerleon, Caerwent, Cirencester, St. Albans, Colchester, Bath, Silchester, London, Richborough, Fishbourne, Portchester, Pevensey

See more from James Eason

 

Roman Army Museum, Greenhead

You can visit the Roman Army Museum, located at Greenhead, at the site of Carvoran Roman Fort on Hadrian's Wall.


 

Just a tad to the east of Greenhead
are the remnants of the
Roman military post
 Vindolanda.

Vindolanda, Hadrian's Wall


One car hour southeast of Edinburgh, or 15 km / 9 miles south of Jedburgh, you will find Pennymuir Camps, linear earthwork outlining Roman marching camps, or temporary camps.

Pennymuir Camps were a pit stop on Dere Street, a Roman road that connected Eboracum (York) with the northern border of the Empire.
 

Burnswark Hill, Roman Camps

Two miles southeast of Lockerbie you will find Burnswark Hill, which was the location of a large native hill fort.

This hill fort was sandwiched by two military encampments or siege camps.

Image: Google

It is disputed whether or not the hill fort had been abandoned by the time the Roman siege forts were set up.

Depending on that answer, Burnswark Hill was either used as practice or training grounds for Roman soldiers, or this was the real deal and a wicked siege took place at this address. Some called it Scotland's own Massada.

Either way, this is a remarkable site.

Image: RCAHMS


Burnswark Hill, map

 

Hardknott Roman Fort, Cumbria

Hardknott Roman Fort is located in the beautiful Cumbrian Mountains. It was founded under Emperor Hadrian.

Remains of the headquarters building, the commandant's house and the bath house can be visited. And 218 yards / 200 meters to the east lies the parade-ground.

Image: Google

 

Roman Britain — Literary Sources

Julius Caesar lived 100-44 BC

Caesar wrote On the Gallic War (De Bello Gallico).
For the section on Britain see Book IV, chapter 20 to Book V, chapter 23.


Tacitus lived 56-120.

He was the son-in-law of Gnaeus Julius Agricola, a Roman general who served as governor of Britain from 78-84. Tacitus wrote Agricola's biography, De vita Julii Agricolae, his first published work.


Suetonius lived 69-after 122

Here is the English translation of The Lives of the Twelve Caesars by Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, provided by Gutenberg. Suetonius, by the way, had a knack for gossip and knew how to report it with great skill.


Dio Cassius
lived 150-235

Dio Cassius, or Dio Cocceianus, wrote in Greek. Here you can read the English translation of Dio's Rome in 6 volumes.

 

What Came Next in British History?

The Angles, Saxons, Jutes, and Frisians kept on coming. This immigration of the Anglo-Saxons overlapped with the departure of the Romans.

Here is a map of Kent:

Map of Kent at the coming of the Saxons in 449
Map of Kent at the coming of the Saxons, 449
Click to enlarge


And with regards to later migration see this map:

Map of the Germanic Migrations and Conquests, 150-1066
Map of the Germanic Migrations and Conquests, 150-1066
Illustrating: Scots, Northmen, Picts, Britons, Angles and Saxons, Danes, Normans, Jutes, Vinland (Leif Eriksson's America) 1000, Greenland 982, Iceland 867
Click to enlarge

 

British Archaeology

To put Roman Britain into context, here are the dating periods in British archaeology:


Prehistoric
 

   

Mesolithic

10,000 - 3,500 BC

   

Neolithic

3,500 - 2,000 BC

   

Stonehenge, by the way, was built in six stages between 3000 and 1520 BC.

   

Bronze Age

2,000 - 700 BC

   

Iron Age

700 BC - AD 43

   

 

 


Historic
 

   

Romano-British

AD 43 - 410

   

Early Medieval
(Saxons, Vikings)

410 - 1066

   

Medieval (Normans)

1066 - 1540

   

Early Post-Medieval

1540 - 1700

   

Post-Medieval (agricultural, industrial revolutions)

1700 - 1900

   

Modern

1900 - today

 

As ancient describes the historian what refers to the time period from the beginning of civilization until the fall of the Western Roman Empire in AD 476.

Hence, Roman Britain is the last chapter in the history of Ancient Britain.

 

See also Archaeology in the History Dictionary.

 

 

 

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