The Romans in Britain
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Roman Daily Life video

Most people only think the ancient Romans controlled the lands of Italy, North Africa, Hispania or Iberia, and other areas around the Mediterranean Sea.

But for more than 400 years, the Roman Empire was instrumental in ruling Britain.

The Romans called the area Britannia.

The invasion of Britannia

The Roman Empire first entered Britannia in 55 B.C.E. under the leadership of Julius Caesar. He crossed the present-day English Channel and landed his forces near present-day Kent.

They had problems with the barbarians who were valent fighters. The Romans were forced to retreat and spend the winter in present-day France.

In 54 B.C.E. Julius Caesar returned to Britannia.

This time he brought five Roman legions of soldiers. He marched through the countryside of Britain and eventually crossed the River Thames.

Caesar was successful in forcing the barbarian tribes of Britannia to pay tribute to the Romans in return for peace.

Conquering Britain

Bust of Claudius at the Naples National Archaeological Museum

Almost a century later, in 43 C.E., the Romans wanted to conquer more lands. In particular, Emperor Claudius wanted to gain power through more lands under Roman control.

He sent his best general named Plautius with four legions of Roman soldiers to conquer Britain. Once again, the barbarian tribes of Britannia fought hard.

The Romans finally controlled the southern portion of the island after 30 years of battle.

Hadrian’s Wall

Roman emperor Hadrian

The Roman Emperor Hadrian decided in 122 C.E. to build a wall across the middle of Britain.

This structure helped defend from the barbarians in northern Britain. When Hadrian’s Wall was completed, it spanned 73 miles and varied from 10 to 20 feet in width and 10 to 20 feet in height.

The Romans employed up to 10,000 soldiers at times to watch and control the wall. Hadrian’s wall also increased the purse of ancient Rome by serving as a point of taxation on imports and exported goods.

The collapse of Roman rule in Britain

The Roman Empire was in control of Britain from 43 C.E. until 410 C.E. they were forced to leave Britannia to fight against various barbarian tribes invading Italy.

The Goths and Vandals sacked the city of Rome twice in the 5th century C.E., including in 410 C.E. and 455 C.E. As the Roman Empire declined in power, the Western Roman Empire collapsed in 476 C.E.

Impact of ancient Rome on Britain

As with much of the land and territory the Romans conquered, they left a lasting impact on the culture of Britain.

The Romans were master builders and had engineering skills that allowed for the construction of Hadrian’s Wall, roads, aqueducts to transport water, and introduced concrete to Britain.

They also left Roman culture behind, too, in the form of government systems and laws, the Latin language, and the Julian calendar.

The first city the Romans established in Britannia was called Camulodunum, which is known as present-day Colchester.

Other important cities in Britain that were founded by the Romans include York, Canterbury, Bath, Dover, and Northwich.

Londinium
Reconstruction drawing of Londinium c. 120 AD

The most famous cities they established in Britain was called Londinium. The city was founded in 50 C.E. and later renamed London.

The city became the center of trade for Britannia when the Romans constructed a network of roads throughout Britain that eventually flowed through Londinium.

The Romans left numerous architectural marvels in Londinium that included structures like a governor’s palace, temples, a basilica, and hundreds of bathhouses.

The Romans also constructed the London Wall in 200 C.E., which was used as a defensive system against the barbarians. The structure spanned three miles and was 20 feet in height with a width of eight feet.

Facts about Ancient Romans in Britain

  • The Romans called the area Britannia.
  • The Romans first invaded the area in 55 B.C.E. when Julius Caesar crossed the English Channel and landed at Kent.
  • General Plautius, under the rule of Emperor Claudius, invaded again in 43 C.E. and conquered most of the southern portion of the island over a 30-year time span.
  • Roman Emperor Hadrian constructed a wall across the middle of Britain in 122 C.E. The wall helped repel the barbarians from the north. At times the Romans employed 10,000 soldiers to watch Hadrian’s Wall. The wall also helped increase revenue to Rome through the taxation of imported and exported goods.
  • There was another wall built in Britain by the Romans across Scotland. The Antonine Wall is north of Hadrian’s Wall.
  • The most famous city established by the Romans was named Londinium, which is present-day London.
  • Under Emperor Claudius, the Romans outlawed Druids, who were Celtic priests.
  • The Romans built an extensive network of roads to increase trade and transport troops to fight the barbarians.

Questions and Answers

  1. What was the original name given to London by the Romans?

Londinium

  1. How long was Hadrian’s Wall?

73 miles

  1. What was the first city founded by the ancient Romans?

Camulodunum which is present-day Colchester

  1. Who was the first ancient Roman leader to invade Britain?

Julius Caesar

  1. What did Emperor Claudius outlaw during his rule of Britain?

Druids or Celtic priests