Home » HISTORY: BRITAIN » Roman Occupation of Britain

Roman Occupation of Britain

julius-caesar

Julius Caesar

Britain did not enter the Roman world until Julius Caesar arrived in 55/54BC, landing at Deal and unopposed by British forces, yet it was temporary, for they didn’t stay… the time was not right for a full blown invasion of this land.

In the early part of AD43, an army consisting of four legions under the leadership of Aulus Plautius set foot on British soil at Richborough, Kent, the first step of an invasion by Rome.  They fought the British at the River Medway and defeated them after a two-day hard fought battle.

The Roman emperor Claudius arrives, to lead his Roman forces, against the British armies and captured Camulodunum (Colchester), home to the Catuvellauni tribe.  Roman forces outfought the British forces in the South-East, which led to many Kings submitting to Roman rule.

Aulus Plautius commander of the invasion was appointed by Emperor Claudius as the first Roman governor of Britain.

The next phase of the conquest, saw General Vespasian take his Augusta Legion into Dorset, capturing hill forts and subduing rebel armies; south of the Humber River to the Severn Estuary.

Aulus Plautius returns home to Rome in AD47, to receive a heroes welcome, whilst Publius Ostorius Scapula becomes the second Roman governor of Britain.

The Iceni tribe, located in East Anglia had become allies with Rome, so the need to conqueror did not exist.  In the summer of AD47, they revolted against Scapula, when they were ordered to surrender their weapons… this minor revolt was quelled quickly.

In AD49 the Roman colony is founded at Camulodunum (Colchester) and became the Roman capital of Britain.

In AD51, the Caratacus, the British resistance leader against the Romans, and King of Catuvellauni, fled west to the Ordovices tribes and fought an effective guerrilla war until his capture.  He was sent to Italy to live out the remainder of his days.

With Caratacus who had led guerrilla forces against the Romans, now in the hands of the Romans, one would think that would see an end to these attacks.  How wrong they were, for the Silures tribe in South Wales and Gloucestershire fought on.  With the death of Governor Publius Ostorius Scapula in AD52, and Aulus Didius Gallus appointed as the new Governor, the conflict slowly fizzled out.  All that changed in AD58, when Quintus Veranius Nepos, a new breed of Roman Governor took up office, who crushed the Silures, and went on to create a network of roads, forts and garrisons.

An Arch Druid

Druid

The Druids were the priest-scholars of ancient Britain, and were known to clash with the Romans; for they resisted Roman Rule.  In AD61, Roman Governor Gaius Suetonius Paulinus subdued the island of Mona (Anglesey), but his plans were cut short by the revolt of the Iceni, under the leadership of Queen Boudicca.

The Roman army defeated Queen Boudicca and her army in AD 61, at the Battle of Watling Street, but not before they had burnt to the ground, with no survivors; Camulodunum (Colchester), Londinum (London) and Verulamium (St.Albans).  Boudicca died shortly after the battle, and was buried by her people, in a way befitting their Queen.

In June of AD68, Emperor Nero of Rome died; this led to mutiny’s across the empire, and as far flung as Britain.

Cartimandua; Queen of the Brigantes tribe and a strong Roman ally ruled with a strong arm assisted by her consort Ventius.  Caratacus, the guerrilla leader had been apprehended and handed over to the Romans by Cartimandua in AD51.  In AD69 Venutius staged a revolt against Cartimandua, whilst the Romans were in the midst of a civil war, and the attempt was successful and Cartimandua had nowhere to run to, except to her Roman allies.

General Vespasian a former legion commander had gone on to found the Flavian Dynasty in AD69… now the first emperor of this new order.  Britain had experienced little in the way of rebel revolts, since the death of Boudicca in AD61.  New conquests commenced in AD71, when Quintus Petlius Cerialis defeated Venutius, the rebel leader of the Brigantes tribe.  By AD74, the Roman army had reached Carlisle, where the last in a series of garrison forts had been built.

The new Roman Governor of Britain in AD74, was Sextus Julius Frontinus.  It took three years to defeat the Silures in South-East Wales and the Ordovices in Northern-Wales, thus completing a conquest of Western-Britain.  These new territories under Roman Rule saw auxiliary forts built… by the summer of AD78.  If any uprising were to take place, one legion at Caerleon and one at Chester, could respond to any conflicts, quickly suppressing it, before it got out of control.

In the autumn of AD78, the Ordovices tribe revolted, as a new governor took up his appointment.  So it was that Governor Gnaeus Julius Agricola showed no mercy, and crushed these rebel forces.  From there he invaded the island of Mona (Anglesey), destroying the last major druid centre.

Governor Gnaeus Julius Agricola, saw the completion of Verulamium (St.Albans) civic centre in AD79.  It comprised of a square forum, colonnaded shops, temples, making it the largest Roman town in Britain.  By AD80, he had encouraged native British aristocrats to learn Latin, wear the toga.  By the latter part of the first century Ad, southern parts of Britain consisted of Roman styled towns and villas.  It was as though you were in Rome, not Britain.

Governor Gnaeus Julius Agricola, having advanced into Scotland faced the Caledonian tribes in AD84 at Mons Graupius in the Scottish Highlands, and defeated them in battle…

With pressure mounting in other parts of the Roman Empire, they were forced into abandoning the Inchtuthill fortress in Tayside, Scotland in AD87.  By AD100 Roman troops had withdrawn from all parts of Scotland.  A new frontier was established between Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Carlisle on the Solway, it comprised of roads, forts and signal stations.

In the summer of AD122, Emperor Hadrian called for the construction of a seventy-three mile long stone wall, creating a barrier; the Roman Empire’s outer limit, and it was called “Hadrian’s Wall.”  He envisaged Britain, part of the Roman Empire, south of the wall, separating them from the barbarians north of the wall.

Following the completion of Hadrian’s Wall in AD142, the “Antonine Wall” was built from the Firth to the Clyde; thirty-seven miles of earth and timber, under the direction of Quintus Lollius Urbicus the then Governor of Britain.

In AD155, much of Verulamium (St.Albans) was destroyed by fire.

hadrians-wall

Hadrian’s Wall

Hadrian’s Wall and Antonine Wall were both built to subdue rebel fighters and barbarians in the Northern parts of Britain and Scotland.  In AD163 the Romans retreated from Antonine’s Wall to Hadrian’s Wall.  Then in AD182 saw frequent attacks by raiders from the north along Hadrian’s Wall, and these skirmishes continued for many years.

Local towns in the vicinity of Hadrian’s Wall needed protection from these rebel fighters, and built earth and timber defences around their towns.

Changes took place within the Roman Empire when Clodius Albinius in Britain, Septimus Severus in Pannonia and Pescennius Niger in Syria, emerged as main contenders for the Emperor’s Throne.  Albinus joined with Severus in the civil war of AD192, and Severus had killed Niger, making it a two horse race.  Clodius Albinus invaded Gaul, and by autumn of AD196 declared himself as the new Emperor.

Decimus Clodius Albinus did battle with Septimius Severus at the “Battle of Lugdunum” (Lyons) where he was killed in a long and drawn out bloody battle.  Thus Septimius Severus became the sole claimant to the Emperor’s Throne in AD197.

With Clodius Albinus Governor of Britain dead, Emperor Septimius dispatched troops to rebuild northern defences and quell local tribes.  So it was in AD209 Emperor Severus led his legionnaires to subdue these Caledonian tribes, but they were clever, and avoided direct pitched battles with the Romans in favour of guerrilla warfare tactics.  Eventually peace treaties were signed and Severus retreated south, satisfied job done.  No sooner had one tribe been quelled, another popped his head up, to take their place; the Maeatae tribe revolted… the Romans faced a losing battle.

Emperor Septimus Severus, created two provinces, from the land up to Hadrian’s Wall in AD211; Britannia Superior had its capital at Londinium (London) and Britannia Inferior had its capital at Eboracum (York).

No matter how much he tried, Septimus Severus failed to crush these Caledonian tribes, and in AD211/212 he died at Eboracum (York).  His two sons Caracalla and Geta abandoned further offensives into Scotland, and returned to Rome, pressing home their right to become Emperor.

Parts of London had been protected since the early part of the 3rd century, and signs on the horizon spelt trouble.  So work began in AD255 running a wall along the River Thames making London virtually impregnable from land and water attacks.

Postumus; recognised by Britain, Gaul and Spain, the Gallic Empire, declared himself Emperor in Ad259 whilst defending the Western parts of the Empire from barbarians.  He was murdered in AD268 by his own soldiers.

The Gallic Empire, covered Britain, Gaul and Spain and had separated themselves from Rome, since AD259 when Postumus openly declared himself as Emperor.  In AD274, the third Gallic Emperor; Tetricus surrendered his provinces to Aurelan the Roman Emperor after being defeated at Gaul.

In AD287, Carausius took Britain and Gaul, in response to being accused of corruption by Emperor Maximian.  He minted his own coins, a first step in his eyes in accepting Roman Emperors Diocletian and Maximian.  Forces loyal to Rome defeated Carausius, and he was assassinated in AD293 by Allectus.

Allectus began constructing a series of coastal defences “Saxon Shore Forts” and the construction of a palace in Londinium (London).

At that time the Roman Empire was ruled by four Emperor’s known as the “Tetrarchy.”  Maximian one of the chosen four, sent Constantius Chlorus to reclaim Britain for the Roman Empire.  Constantius defeated Allectus near Silchester, and divided Britain into four provinces; Maxima Caesariensis, Britannia Prima, Flavia Caesariensis and Britannia Secunda.

In the autumn of AD306, Roman Emperor Constantius died in Northern-Britain and his son Constantine was hailed as the new Emperor.

Following Civil War within the Empire, Constantine defeated Maxentius at the “Battle of Milvan Bridge” in AD312, and restored rule of a single Emperor in the west and disbanding the Tetrarchy System.

Constantine legalised Christianity and Paganism.  Christianity was first introduced into the lands of Scotland around AD205, and spread through, Britain, Wales and Southern-Ireland by the 5th century.

Barbarian raiders launched an attack on Roman Britain in AD367, from Scotland, Western Isles, Ireland and Anglo-Saxons from Germany, overwhelming coastal defences.  This event allowed these invaders to plunder at will, with little opposition, for these Romans had not expected such an organised attack.

Theodosins was sent to Britain to regain control of Britain, which he undertook in AD369, driving out these barbarians and restoring order.

Magnus Maximus Governor of Britain, went on to defeat Emperor Gratian of Gaul, Britain and Spain.  Then drove Emperor Valentinian from Africa and Italy to be hailed by his army in Britain as Roman Emperor.  He secured his position in Rome for five years before being defeated and executed by Emperor Theodosius I, in AD383/388.

In AD400 Roman troops were recalled to Italy to defend their country against possible invasion by “Alaric the Goth.”  This left Britain with only a token force… no match for barbarian raiders.

The Rhine frontier had been breached, and Italy was in trouble, they had stretched their forces too far across the Roman Empire.

General Constantine III was proclaimed Emperor by Britain’s garrisons, and he crossed the continent only to be defeated by the armies loyal to Theodosius.

Britain had been left to fight off raids by Saxons, with little help from the Romans and bin AD409 the Romans left Britain.  With incursions attacking Britain, a plea was sent to Rome begging for help against these raiders from the seas and Scotland.

Emperor Honorius, refused help, ending the Roman occupation of Britain.

Images: Wikipedia

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