Yorkshire and the Romans


Roman Legionaries

The Roman invasion force of legionaries waded onto British soil in AD43, and found themselves in a land carved into a series of independent tribal territories.  The largest of these lay in the North, where a tribal federation known as the Brigantes ruled a swath of land stretching from the Trent up to where Hadrian’s Wall now stands.  Tucked into their eastern flank were the Parisi, a smaller tribe whose sway extended roughly from the Humber Estuary to the North Yorkshire Moors.

First century Britons in Yorkshire lived as elsewhere, in circular dwellings made of stone or timber, and rising to conical roofs of thatch or turf.  These round houses stood either in enclosed oval farmsteads or in grander hill-forts, whose lofty positions, defensive earthworks and ditches provided security in times of conflict.  Granaries and animal bone discoveries suggest that Brigantine life revolved around arable agriculture.

The Romans found the Southern tribes relatively easy to subjugate, but opted for a treaty with Cartimandua, Queen of the Brigantia, which left her at the helm of a semiautonomous client state.  The treaty provided Cartimandua with a strong ally during the internal struggles that punctuated her rule, and gave Rome a friendly buffer state on its northern frontier.

In AD69, Ventius, Cartimandua’s ex-husband rebelled, and legionaires marched north to quell the tribal unrest.  Ventius offensive was successful, and Rome retaliated in force.  In AD71 Governor Petillius Cerialis led the ninth legion northwards, leading to a battle where Ventius and his forces were defeated at Stanwick hill-fort.

With the region conquered, the Romans consolidated their rule over the following years by laying out a network of roads, and stippling the terrain with forts.

For many Romano-Britons, life would have altered little by the conquest.  Yet tendrils of Roman influence spread throughout the country.  Villas appeared on the landscapes, and communities grew up beside forts to service their occupants.  In Yorkshire one such village evolved into ‘Isurium Brigantum’ Brigantia’s tribal capital.


Roman Britain

Roman Britain

Although it had long been known to the Mediterranean peoples as a source of tin, Britain did not enter the Roman world until Julius Caesar’s arrival in 55 BC, a sort of afterthought to his conquest of Gaul. Caesar’s contact, however, was temporary; permanent occupation had to wait until Rome had solved more pressing problems at home.

Emperor Claudius I invaded Britain in force in AD 43, but nearly two decades passed before the Romans had captured Anglesey, headquarters of the feared Druids, and put down the revolt of Boudicca, queen of the Iceni. The Roman governor Gnaeus Julius Agricola won the Battle of Mons Graupius (AD 84), somewhere in Scotland, but the northern tribes proved hard to subdue. In 123, Hadrian’s Wall, stretching 117 km (73 mi) from Solway Firth to the Tyne River, became the northern frontier.

Britain was a military outpost, taking a tenth of the Roman army to hold it. Several towns attained a degree of Roman urban civilization, boasting baths and amphitheaters, as well as people who spoke Latin and wore togas. Numerous villas and vast estates worked by slaves and featuring sumptuous noble dwellings were also established. Beyond these, the countryside remained Celtic.

Britain in the 3d and 4th centuries felt the decline of the Roman Empire. An official known as the count of the Saxon Shore oversaw defenses against raids by Saxons and others along the North Sea coast. Would-be emperors stripped Britain of its occupying forces, moving the legions elsewhere to serve their own political ambitions. In 410 Rome abandoned Britain. After nearly four centuries of occupation, it left little that was permanent: a superb network of roads, the best Britain would have for 1400 years; the sites of a number of towns: London, York, and others bearing names that end in the suffix -cester; and Christianity.

The Anglo-Saxons, who occupied the country after the Romans left, ignored the towns, chased Christianity into Wales, and gave their own names, such as Watling Street, to the Roman roads.

Roman Britain: Burgh Castle

Burgh Castle Ruins

Burgh Castle Ruins

Situated out beyond the marshes, amongst the golden countryside, fields of ripening corn, shaded by the ruins, of the Roman Fort.  Still it sits their, elegant as ever, after centuries of decay and destruction.

For as long as the Roman Empire, ruled this land of ours.  Burgh Castle, towered as an impregnable fort, which formed part of the Saxon Shore System, stretching from North Norfolk along the coast to Suffolk – Essex – Sussex and round to Hampshire.  Built by the Romans during the 3rd, century too guard against Saxon marauders.

The remnants of this fine old fortress, with its imposing flint walls, bonded together with narrow layers of brick, covers six acres.  Where once a legion of 1000 fully trained troops were based here, to seek out and destroy the enemy’s forces, so the sword has yielded, to the plough.  The blood of those who built, and manned these walls, is buried deep in the soil of this land, as the corn ripens above, and spreads a mantle of oblivion over much, that they built.


Roman Legionaires

Where once Caesar’s legions occupied this fort, these old walls, constructed of rubble, flint, brick and concrete, now fifteen feet high and ten feet thick in places, is a tremendous monument to their building design.  The east wall, along with most of the north and south walls, the colossal gateway, and round defences, plus external bastions, remain to this day.  These bastions, are fourteen feet in diameter with hollow tops, and at one time housed their beacons or their catapults, from which they hurled boulders, at their aggressors.

Burgh Castle Ruins - Norfolk

Burgh Castle Ruins

The Fort now more than three miles inland, would have, at the time of its construction, commanded access by water, and excavations over the years have discovered flint, and oak piles by the outer walls, suggesting that there was once, a quay used by the Romans for landing horses, stores and troops.

This mighty fortress, once thought to be impregnable, was manned by Roman Legionnaires and  Cavalry recruited from Russia, Balkands, Pelusium and beyond.  When the Barbarians were thundering at the gates of Rome, they sailed off to her rescue, leaving their British wives and children, mourning their departure.  They had expected to return after a brief campaign, but alas, they came no more this way.

Like so many other citadel’s built by a pagan Empire, this Roman castle’s history, closed its history, when in the 7th century an Irish Saint founded a monastery within the walls, and the monks sang matins, vespers and songs of Zion here for many years.

As one wanders round these Castle remains, you can’t help but admire, and pay tribute to the grandeur of Rome.  This building feat by the Romans, has lasted to this present day.  Much remains hidden beneath the ground, but that which survives above ground, is the finest example of the genius of the master builders, of the ancient world.

Britain under Roman Rule


Roman Town House

By the end of the first century, British Celts were nearly fully Romanised after years of Roman occupation.  Roman towns were springing up often built in grid designs, many close to garrisons, with streets made of gravel and side drains for drainage.

Were the Roman’s trusting to build towns, with little outer protection, or did they feel if garrisons were close by, no one would dare attack.  Whatever the reason, by the end of the first century, some had lines of ditches, earth ramparts and wooden palisades, whilst larger towns opted for stone walls.

Roman town designs were similar from one to another; a rectangular space known as the Forum, lined by shops and a basilica (public building).

In Roman times their baths were more than a place to wash, it was also a place to meet friends and conduct business.  They consisted of a Frigidarium (Cold Room), Tepidarium (Warm Room) and a Calderium (Hot Room).  These Romans rubbed their skins with oils and scraped it off using a strigil.

Larger towns also had an Amphitheatre, where cock fighting and gladiators fought to the death.

In the latter part of the first century and early part of the second century, the Romans practised the art of cremation, and by the third century had moved on to burying their dead.

Roman Britain was an agricultural and mining land, which only saw a small number of people live in the towns.  Large towns like Colchester, London and St.Albans could have up to 30,000 residents, whilst smaller towns barely 5,000.

Roman Villa

Roman Villa

As with any land, you had the upper class, and Britain was no different, as rich Celts followed the Roman ways.  They built villa’s, had hypocaust central heating which seeped through the floors and walls, and employed slaves to keep it loaded with fuel.

If one had wealth, your house would be adorned with mosaics, finely carved furniture and running water.  Your children would go to school, be taught to read and write, mathematics and literature.  They would wear a Bulla necklace often made of gold; a boy would retain his until manhood, a girl would discard hers upon marriage.

The poorer children would live in plain roofed houses, heated by a brazier, and wear jewellery made from basic metals.

Romans introduced celery, cabbage and many green foods that could be grown from the land, and how foods could be cooked using charcoal stoves.

Oils and grapes were imported from the East as our climate was not warm enough to generate the heat required to ripen plants.  Roman’s had a delicacy; Oysters, which was exported back to their homeland of Italy in bulk.

These invaders built a network of roads, which criss-crossed their way across this land of ours.  The rich rode these roads upon hoseback or in covered wagons, the poor trudged these roads.

They built the “Cortia” large merchant ships designed to carry some 1,000 tons of cargo, powered by sail, and steered by oars.

Britain’s poor under Roman rule saw little difference, life continued as before, with new masters and lived in simple huts, as they had done before.

Romans kept slaves, and they were simply a piece of property which could be bought or sold.

A first century Roman legionnaire wore Armour (Lorica Segmentata) fought with a Pilum (Spear) and a Gladius (Sword) protected by a shield.  By the third century, they built forts on the shoreline to ward off raiders from the sea.

Romans had been tolerant in accepting most religions, but clashed with these Druids… for these Druids had political and social influence with the people.  For this reason they were banned from these lands.

Roman and Celtic religion was so similar, which led to temples being built and being dedicated to both faiths.  By the third century Mithraism a Roman religion was introduced into Britain, and it gained support amongst the Celtic’s.  This form of worshipping was dedicated to the God Mithras; God of Light and Sun.

Christianity arrived in Britain by the second century much to the dislike of the Romans, which led to the persecution of Christians.

St.Alban was martyred at the Roman town of Verlamium (St.Albans).

By the year 395 Christianity had become the officially recognised religion of the Roman Empire.

Wikipedia Images

Who Were the Picts? — Creed of Caledon

As one of the peoples that contributed to the genetic and cultural lineage of Scotland, the identity of this enigmatic folk has been a mystery that has been debated for decades. Details about their language have proved elusive, and they have been associated with various cultural practices that put them at odds with their neighbours. […]

via Who Were the Picts? — Creed of Caledon

Roman Britain: Rise of the Picts

Celtic Picts of Scotland

4th century Roman Britain, saw the rise of the Picts, a band of savage warriors, created from the tribes of Caledonia.  These picts tattooed their bodies and embellished themselves with war paint.

To the Picts, the Romans were their enemy, and any chance they had, they stormed Hadrian’s Wall, creating a serious threat from the north.

Constantius Chlorus campaigned through the land designated as Pictland in 305.  His sons Constantine marched north in 312 and Constans in 342, and still the Picts kept coming.

In 360 the Picts and Scottish forces breached Hadrian’s Wall, over-run Roman Britain and reached Londinium in the south.

The year 367 proved to be a disastrous year for Romans in Britain: Picts and Scottish forces headed south, crossing over Hadrian’s Wall and into Britain, whilst Scotii from Ireland, crossed the Irish Sea attacking western Britain.  The south and eastern coasts came under attack by Saxons and franks.

Roman forces were unable to withstand attacks from all sides at the same time.

Social order in Roman Britain collapsed, as Roman slaves took their revenge; plundering Roman buildings, and setting them alight.  Many inhabitants lost their lives to attacking warriors.

In 369, General Theodosius was commissioned to regain Roman presence, and carry out repairs to Hadrian’s Wall.

By the end of 370, order had been restored to Roman Britain.  Coastal forts, towers and beacons were installed along coastal areas.

In 382, Emperor Maximus believed he had routed out the Picts and destroyed them all… how wrong he was!

In 383 Hadrian’s Wall was breached again by the Picts.

In 407 the Western Empire of Rome suffered onslaughts of their own by the Goths and Huns.  As the Roman’s left, the Picts openly crossed Hadrian’s Wall in their hundreds into Britain.

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Roman Britain: Antonine’s Wall

Antonines Wall

Antonine’s Wall

Antonine’s Wall, located in Scotland, measuring some 37 miles in length, built out of earth and timber around AD142.  It stretches from the Firth it the Clyde, crossing the narrowest part of Britain (Bowness on the Firth of Forth to Old Kilpatrick on the Clyde) with ramparts and ditches protected by small forts.

By AD163, the wall had been abandoned in favour of the larger Hadrian’s Wall.

Wikipedia Image