British History - Romans and Celts

The Roman period in Britain really began in AD43 with the invasion by the Emperor Claudius.
Before that Julius Caesar had mounted two expeditions to Britain but never stayed, his only intention being to enhance his reputation by preventing aid being given to the Gauls by the Britons.
Julius Caesar had this to say about the Celts in Britain:
'all Britons paint themselves with woad, which turns the skin a bluish-green colour; hence their appearance is all the more horrific in battle. They grow their hair long, and shave every part of their body except the top of the head and the upper lip.'
Roman rule extended for a period of about 400 years following the Claudian occupation.
After the invasion there followed a rapid conquest of southern Britain, during which there was a major uprising by the Icenii tribe under the leadership of Queen Boudicca. She was subsequently defeated by governor Suetonius Paullinus in a pitched battle somewhere in the Midlands.
There followed a period of consolidation and it was not until Agricola was made governor that the expansion north was continued. By AD84 the Romans had advanced in Caledonia as far north as the Moray Firth. After a victory against the Caledonians at Mons Graupius Agricola was ordered to return to Rome. The gains in Caledonia were abandoned and the border was moved south again.
The Roman Empire encompassed the entire Mediterranean Sea at its height.
The Roman Empire encompassed the entire Mediterranean Sea at its height.
An Interactive map of the
Roman Empire
There was a brief revolt by the Brigantes tribe in AD117 followed by the building of Hadrian's wall in AD122. After this there were several more uprisings by the Brigantes and another wall, the Antonine wall, was built north of Hadrian's. In AD211 all Roman troops were withdrawn from Caledonia back to Hadrian's wall.
The north continued to be troublesome on and off until, in AD367, a combined attack by Picts, Scots and Saxons overran Hadrian's wall and caused some major problems for the Romans who had to divert troops from elsewhere in Europe to control the situation.
Finally in AD407 Constantine III took most of the troops from Britain to conquer Gaul and in AD410 Honorius is said to have informed Britain to 'look to its own defences', ending nearly 400 years of Roman occupation.
The Roman Legions included many craftsmen and specialists
A legion included surveyors, builders, carpenters and other craftsmen
The Legions were what enabled Rome to conquer most of the known world. As well as being able to fight, the legionnaires were also specialists or craftsmen including:
surveyors, builders, stone masons, carpenters, medics, cooks, bakers and others.
This allowed the legions to build the many forts and roads in Britain, all of which helped them control the territory, encouraged trade and helped make Britain a wealthy and safe place to be. The Roman army would build a bridge where needed from whatever materials were at hand.
Bridges were built wherever a natural obstacle, like a river, needed to be crossed.
The Roman army would build a bridge where needed from whatever materials were at hand.
The Romans were great engineers:
  • they built roads throughout Britain
  • built bridges from wood or stone where necessary
  • carved out whole hillsides in search of metals and precious stones
  • built towns and cities at key locations
  • built aqueducts to carry water over great distances to supply the cities
  • constructed sewers to take the waste away from the cities
The Romans arrived in Britain to exploit it's wealth. To do this they had to establish law and order and introduce a sophisticated system of government to be able to manage and control the territory. This resulted in the south of Britain enjoying a period of peace and prosperity under Roman rule that would last for over 300 years.
Julius Ceasar was an ambitous Roman politician and general who was murdered by those who suspected that he wanted to become a king.
Julius Ceasar was an ambitous Roman politician and general who was murdered by those who suspected that he wanted to become a king.
Gaius Julius Caesar was born in 100BC to a family that claimed decent from the Trojan prince Aeneas; he went on to become a very successful Roman politician and general. It was Julius Caesar that conquered Gaul and led the first Roman military expedition to Britain.
During the civil war between Marius and Sulla it was perceived that Julius Caesar was a supporter of Marius and he had to leave Rome to avoid being killed by supporters of Sulla. After the civil war Caesar joined the army rather than return home and served in Asia. He finally returned to Rome after Sulla's death in 78BC and turned to a career in advocacy, at which he made a name for himself as a great speaker.
Whilst at the island of Rhodes Caesar was recalled to the army to deal with some small scale incursions into Rome's Asian territory. When he returned to Rome he was elected military Tribune and then elected Quaestor for 69BC. In 59BC Caesar was elected senior Consul of the Roman Republic and shortly after he was appointed as Proconsular Governor of Transalpine Gaul for a term of five years, which was extended for another five years in 55BC (could the first expedition to Britain have had anything to do with this?).
Caesar wanted to make an impact and, in 58BC, promptly started the Gallic Wars, in which he conquered the whole of Gaul and made two expeditions to Britain in 55BC and 54BC. In 50BC Caesar was ordered to return to Rome and disband his army because his term as Proconsul had finished. Caesar didn't trust the Senate, led by his old ally Pompey, and feared that he would be prosecuted; so in 49BC with one legion he crossed the river Rubicon, the border between Gaul and Roman territory, and started another civil war. Caesar decisively defeated Pompey and his allies and pursued Pompey to Egypt, where he found him murdered. There he met queen Cleopatra, fell in love with her and had a son, Caesarion.
Caesar returned to Rome - he was awarded many tributes and honours and started to initiate reforms of all kinds. He also made his will declaring that his adopted son, Octavian, was to be his heir. Caesar was distrusted by many members of the Senate because they though that he wanted to become king. On March 15th (Ides of March) 44BC Caesar was assassinated by a group of Senators. This led to another civil war between Mark Anthony (Caesar's chief general) supported by Cleopatra and Octavian (Caesars adopted son). Octavian was victorious and was proclaimed emperor. Mark Anthony, Cleopatra and her son Caesarion all died. So ended the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire began.

Boudicca

Boudicca was married to King Prasutagus of the Icenii tribe that lived around present day Norfolk. When Prasutagus died in AD60 Rome annexed his kingdom and plundered its wealth. When Boudicca complained she was flogged and her two daughters were raped.
At the time the Governor of Britain, Suetonius Paullinus, and the majority of the Roman army was busy attacking the Druids at Anglesey. Boudicca took advantage of this and led the Icenii and several other local tribes in revolt. Before Suetonius could return to face Boudicca her army had burned down the capital Colchester, St Albans and London, and also defeated part of the ninth Legion from Lincoln sent to put down the revolt.
When Suetonius finally met the Celts, somewhere in the Midlands, he faced a massive army supposedly about 200,000 strong. Undaunted by such numbers Suetonius chose a strong defensive position with his flanks protected from attack by woods and prepared his forces: one and half legions (XIV Gemina, and part of XX Valeria Victrix) plus some auxiliaries totalling about 10,000 men.
Before Rome invade, Brtain was divided up between Celtic tribes.
Before Rome invaded, Brtain
was divided up between Celtic tribes.
The Celts showed little imagination in their battle plan and attacked in the normal Celtic fashion as one huge group. The Roman troops were well disciplined and trained and knew exactly how to deal with this type of attack. They held their line and then started to push the Celts back so that they became a seething mass, most of whom could not get near the Romans. The Celts had brought their families to watch and they were at the back of the army with their wagons and horses. As the Celts were pushed back on to these wagons they became disorganised and found it almost impossible to escape. The battle turned into a massacre as the Romans sensed victory. Boudicca fled the battle field and, with her two daughters, later committed suicide by taking poison.
Suetonius took an awful revenge on the Icenii and brutally put down the rebellion. It was only when a tax official realised that there was going to be a financial disaster, and reported it back to Rome, that Suetonius was ordered to stop.
The outcome of the revolt was that Rome took a much more lenient approach in dealing with the Celts.

Forts

Where ever the Roman legions went they would always make a defensive camp for the night . Usually this was rectangular in shape and consisted of a wooden palisade on top of a mound made from earth surrounded by a ditch. This camp would have two roads running through it connecting four entrances.
This same layout was used for the permanent forts and fortresses that the Romans built around Britain. The early forts were made from wood and turf and later ones were made of stone. A fort was usually occupied by a Cohort of auxiliaries and a legion would normally be stationed in a fortress. The best known fortresses in Britain are at Isca Silurum (Caerleon), Deva (Chester) and Eboracum (York). Lincoln and Colchester were also used as bases for the legions during the very early years of the roman occupation.
A Roman fort would be home to a Cohort of about 500 auxiliary soldiers. Many towns grew up around these forts
Each Fort would have:
  • a headquarters building
  • a commanders house
  • a Granary or two
  • workshops
  • stores
  • barrack houses
  • a bathhouse either inside the fort or more often outside to avoid the possibility of a fire inside the fort
Some would also have
  • a stable
  • a hospital
The buildings and entrances were in more or less the same position in every fort or fortress so that somebody visiting any one of them could easily find their way around.
The inside a Roman granary would be dry raised above the ground to discourage pests like rats.
The inside of a Roman granary would
be dry, raised above the ground
to discourage pests like rats.
Agricola built many forts to protect the territory he had conquered during his term as Governor of Britain. The forts were secure bases from which the troops would perform their daily duties such as patrols, they were never primarily intended to be defended from the walls - Roman troops were trained to fight in the open and preferred to do this even when outnumbered.

Hadrian's Wall

When the Hadrian came to power in AD117 his strategy was to consolidate the empire around the gains made by his predecessor Trajan.
Hadrian's Wall formed a barrier between the northern part of Roman Britain and the more affluent southern part.
Hadrian's Wall formed a barrier between the northern part of Roman Britain and the more affluent southern part.
He decided that the the river Rhine would be the frontier in northern Europe and in eastern Europe it would be the river Danube. In Britain there was no natural geographic feature that was suitable to form a boundary; so he ordered that a wall be built from coast to coast to control the movement of the northern tribes in and out of the Empire.
The Roman built straight roads across Britain, often following earlier Celtic roads but better engineered
 
Year
BC
55 Julius Caesar mounts his first expedition to Britain with two legions. The expedition ends inconclusively and Caesar returns to Gaul.
54 Caesar mounts his second British campaign. This time he takes four legions and some cavalry, resulting in the surrender of Cassivellaunus, who promises to pay annual tribute to Rome.
44 Julius Caesar is assassinated by Brutus, Cassius and other conspirators. Civil war rages and Octavian, the great-nephew and adopted heir of Caesar, succeeds as Emperor.
34 - 26 Octavian plans three expeditions to Britain but non take place due to events elsewhere in the Empire.
AD
40 Caligula organises a campaign against Britain, but the legions never actually leave Gaul.
41 Caligula is assassinated and Claudius is acclaimed emperor.
42 Verica, king of the pro-Roman Atrebateans is ousted by Togodumnus and Caratacus of the Catuvellaunian tribe and flees to Rome.
43 On the orders of Claudius, the Romans invade Britain with four legions led by Aulus Plautius; II Augusta, IX Hispana, XIV Gemina and XX Valeria. The landing was unopposed, but the Romans fought a running battle against Celts mounted in chariots led by Togodumnus and Caratacus. The Celts are defeated at a decisive battle on the River Medway, during which Togodumnus is killed and
43 - 47 Plautius follows up the capture of Camulodunum with the subjugation of lowland Britain; Flavius Vespasianus (Vespasian), the future emperor, and Legio II Augusta is sent south-west to subdue the hostile Belgae and Durotriges. Legio IX Hispana goes north and Legio XIV Gemina advances north-west into the Midlands, and then on into Gloucestershire.
47 Aulus Plautius is recalled to Rome and is replaced as governor by Ostorius Scapula, who instigates the disarmament of all British tribes, quells the resulting revolt led by the Icenii and sends troops into Wales to fight against Caratacus and his allies the Silures.
51 Caratacus is defeated by Ostorius Scapula and escapes north-east to the Brigantes, whose queen, Cartimandua promptly hands him over to the Romans. Caratacus is taken in chains to Rome and displayed
54 Claudius is poisoned by his wife Agrippina and her son Nero becomes emperor.
60 Prasutagus, king of the Icenii dies, dividing his kingdom and wealth between his two daughters and Rome. The Romans demand it all and when Prasutagus' wife, Boudicca, complains she is publicly flogged and her daughters are raped.
61 Boudicca leads the Icenii, the Trinovantes and other British tribes in revolt destroying the major towns of Camulodunum , Verulamium (St. Albans) and Londinium (London) before being finally defeated by Suetonius Paullinus in a pitched battle in the Midlands.
69 The Year of the Four Emperors. Following the death of Nero, Rome again entered into a period of civil war during which three men Galba, Marcus Salvius Otho and Lucius Vitellius. The eastern legions, being unhappy with the choice of Vitellius, proclaimed Vespasian as emperor. The eastern army marches into Italy and defeats the forces of Vitellius outside Cremona.
78 Vespasian appoints Gnaeus Julius Agricola as governor of Britain. Agricola's first campaign in North Wales concludes with the defeat of the Ordovices and the conquest of Anglesey.
79 Agricola advances northwards advancing by the western route from Chester and York. He secures North-west England by building a network of forts.
80 Agricola advances by the eastern route as far north as the Tay.
81 Agricola establishes the Forth-Clyde line during his fourth campaign season, by building a line of forts.
82 Agricola advances along the west coast of Caledonia (Scotland). He considers a plan to invade Hibernia (Ireland) but does not action it.
83 Agricola advances through coastal areas around and to the north of the Tay, with the co-operation of the British Fleet. A cohort of auxiliary Usipi mutinies and sails around the north coast of Britain.
84 Agricola advances to the Moray Firth, but, after the decisive victory over the Caledonian tribes at Mons Graupius, he is ordered back to Rome by Domitian where he receives triumphal regalia.
86 Legio II Adiutrix is withdrawn from Chester in Britain and posted to Dacia.
90 - 107 A period of consolidation where Caledonia is abandoned and many of the forts and fortresses in England and Wales are rebuilt in stone.
Legio XX Valeria Victrix return to Chester.
Legionary fortress at Isca Silurum (Caerleon) is rebuilt in stone.
Legionary fortress at Deva (Chester) rebuilt in stone
Legionary fortress at Eburacum (York) rebuilt in stone.
117 The Brigantes tribe of north Britain rise in revolt.
122 Britain is visited by the Emperor Hadrian who brings with him Legio VI Victrix to replace the Ninth legion at York. The construction of Hadrian's Wall from the Tyne to the Solway is started.
138 - 139 A revolt of the Brigantes is crushed.
139 The Antonine Wall is built.
155 The Brigantes tribe revolt again but are defeated
180 - 184 Another revolt in North Britain is suppressed by governor Ulpius Marcellus.
196 Northern tribes take advantage of the withdraw of troops from Britian by governor Clodius Albinus and cause serious problems.
197 Governor Virius Lupus restores order in Britain, and rebuilds many forts.
Britain is divided into two provinces: the Romanised Britannia Prima in the south, and the military Britannia Secunda in the north.
208 Emperor Septimius Severus and his sons Caracalla and Geta arrive in Britain.
209 Severus and Caracalla attack and defeat the
211 Severus dies at York. All Roman troops are withdrawn from Scotland to Hadrian's Wall.
212 Geta is killed by Caracalla at Rome. Caracalla extends Roman citizenship to all free-born provincials.
286 - 287 Carausius, the commander of the British fleet, revolts and claims title to the Empire of Britain and North Gaul.
289 Carausius defeats Maximian
293 Constantius is appointed Caesar in the West and captures Boulogne from Carausius. Carausius is murdered by his minister Allectus who takes control of Britain.
296 Constantius crosses the Channel with a large force and defeats Britain Allectus who is killed.
306 Constantius, with his son Constantine, campaign in Scotland. Constantius dies at York and Constantine is hailed Caesar in the West by the troops of Legio VI Victrix.
343 Constans campaigns in Britain and pacifies the Scottish tribes.
360 Emperor Julian sends Lupicinus to Britain as governor to repel raids by the Scots and Picts.
367 Saxons, Picts and Scots attack Britain.
369 Count Theodosius restores the situation in Britain. The Scots and Picts are repelled, Hadrian's Wall is rebuilt, and signal stations are built along the north-east coast.
383 Magnus Maximus, the governor of Britain, revolts, defeats the forces sent by Gratian, and takes control of Gaul and Spain.
388 Maximus is defeated and killed by Theodosius.
407 Constantine III, removes most of the troops from Britain in order to conquer Gaul.
410 The Visigoths capture Rome. Honorius informs Britain to 'look to its own defences'.