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A look at the development of settlements after the roman invasion in ad 43

Print this page Why Britain? Why did the Romans invade Britain in 43 AD? Their empire already extended from the Channel coast to the Caucasus, from the northern Rhineland to the Sahara. The great age of conquest had ended a few decades before. Three legions had been destroyed in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest by rebellious German tribesmen in 9 AD, and the emperor Augustus concluded that the empire was overextended and called a halt to new wars of conquest.

An Overview of Roman Britain

Britain was an afterthought. It was not about economics. Rome's rulers were already the richest men in history. Nor was it about military security. The Channel was as effective a frontier as one could wish for.

Claudius needed to secure his throne. What better than a glorious military victory in Britain? The invasion of Britain was a war of prestige. The 'mad' emperor Caligula had been assassinated in 41 AD, and an obscure member of the imperial family, Claudius, had been elevated to the throne. The new emperor faced opposition from the Senate, Rome's House of Lords. Claudius needed a quick political fix to secure his throne.

The army was the core of the Roman state. In a few centuries, it had transformed Rome from a small city-state into the greatest empire of antiquity.

Its conquests more than paid for themselves in booty, slaves and tribute. War was highly profitable.

  1. Yet throughout its history, Roman Britain acted as a proving ground for aspiring politicians and a powerbase for usurping emperors.
  2. On one side civilisation, on the other barbarians Here, and across the empire, the Romans were drawing symbolic lines across the map. At the same time, he sent in the bailiffs to act on the loans outstanding and allowed the local centurions to requisition provisions for the army.
  3. In AD 410, the civitates of Britain sent a letter to the emperor Honorius, asking him to come to their aid against the Saxon invaders. At one end of the spectrum were the official cults of the emperor and the Capitoline Triad.
  4. Constantine proved what many Roman generals before him had realised - that Britain was an excellent base from which to mount a rebellion.
  5. One soldier complains of being beaten with rods; another refers disparagingly to the local British population as 'Brittunculi' little Britons. Towns and villas had been abandoned, the only pottery was homemade, barter had replaced money and the mosaic and fresco workshops had all closed.

Roman culture reflected this, valuing military achievement above all else. Roman leaders had to prove themselves first and foremost as army commanders. And where better for Claudius to prove himself than in Britain?

But revolt in Gaul modern-day France had drawn him away before he had beaten down determined British guerrilla resistance. Britain had remained free — and mysterious, dangerous, exotic.

Overview: Roman Britain, 43 - 410 AD

In the popular Roman imagination, it was a place of marsh and forest, mist and drizzle, inhabited by ferocious blue-painted warriors. Here was a fine testing-ground of an emperor's fitness to rule. For the Claudian invasion, an army of 40,000 professional soldiers - half citizen-legionaries, half auxiliaries recruited on the wilder fringes of the empire - were landed in Britain under the command of Aulus Plautius.

Archaeologists debate where they landed - Richborough in Kent, Chichester in Sussex, or perhaps both. Somewhere, perhaps on the River Medway, they fought a great battle and crushed the Catuvellauni, the tribe that dominated the south east. Boudicca, queen of the Iceni tribe, came close to expelling the invaders Then, in the presence of Claudius himself, they stormed the enemy capital at Camulodunum Colchester.

But resistance continued elsewhere. Pushing into the south west of Britain, the Romans fought a war of sieges to reduce the great Iron Age hill forts of the western tribes. Driving through and beyond the Midlands, they encountered stiffening opposition as they approached Wales, where the fugitive Catuvellaunian prince, Caratacus, rallied the Welsh tribes on a new anti-Roman front.

Wales took decades to subjugate. Before it was done, the east of Britain exploded in 60-61 AD. Bitterness against Roman oppression had driven Boudicca, queen of the Iceni tribe, into a revolt that came close to expelling the invaders. This, though short of total victory, was to be the high water mark of the Roman empire in Britain.

Top Occupation Elsewhere, the empire's frontiers were under attack. Troop numbers in Britain had to be reduced. A phased withdrawal was carried out from the far north, eventually bringing the army to a line that stretched across modern Northumberland from Newcastle-upon-Tyne to Carlisle on the Solway. This was the line along which Hadrian's Wall was constructed in 120s and 130s AD. Symbolic lines were drawn across the map. On one side civilisation, on the other barbarians Here, and across the empire, the Romans were drawing symbolic lines across the map.

On one side 'civilisation', on the other 'barbarians'. On the ground, the lines were made real in stone, earth and timber.

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The line stretched for 73 miles across northern Britain — a ditch, a thicket of spikes, a stone wall, a sequence of forts, milecastles and observation turrets, and a permanent garrison of perhaps 8,000 men. The rest of the Roman army was also stationed in the west and the north - in lonely auxiliary forts in the Welsh mountains, the Pennines, or the Southern Uplands of modern Scotland; or in one of the big three legionary fortresses at Isca Silurium CaerleonDeva Chester and Eboracum York.

Here, through some 350 years of Roman occupation, the army remained dominant. Settlements of craftsmen and traders grew up around the forts, sustained by army contracts and soldiers' pay. Local farms supplied grain, meat, leather, wool, beer, and other essentials.

But change was limited. The land was impoverished and sparsely populated, and the army took what little surplus there was, so there were few of the trappings of Romanised life. Top Romanisation It was only in the lowland zone — south and east of a rough line from Lincoln to Exeter — where parts of Britain began to look distinctly Mediterranean.

When the army moved forward, the politicians took over. Iron Age tribal centres were redesigned as Roman towns, with regular street-grids, forums market squaresbasilicas assembly roomstemples, theatres, bathhouses, amphitheatres, shopping malls and hotels. The models of town planning and public architecture were Roman, but the people in charge were not.

The towns were built by local gentry, who, in the space of a generation or two, converted themselves from Celtic warriors and druids into Romanised gentlemen. Blue paint and chariots were out.

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Gaulish wine and the Greek myths were a look at the development of settlements after the roman invasion in ad 43. To be successful, to look sophisticated, you now had to project rank and status in the 'empire' fashion. For the rulers of the empire, changing the culture of conquered elites was good politics. The empire was ruled from the towns, where councils formed of local gentry were responsible for tax-collection and keeping order in the surrounding countryside.

It was government on the cheap, but it was still highly successful. Instead of an influx of foreign overlords stirring up resentment, the native elite ran things on Rome's behalf. And in gratitude for having their power and property preserved, they proved loyal servants. The evidence is in the enthusiasm with which they Romanised. Most of the twenty or so Roman towns had a full set of public buildings by the mid-second century AD.

Already many of the gentry had started building town houses and country villas. From this time onwards there was a full-scale housing boom at the top end of the market. Big towns like Verulamium St Albans and Corinium Cirencester soon had fifty or more grand houses and dozens of villas within a day's ride of the centre. Companies of mosaic layers, fresco painters and potters sprang up to feed the boom in luxury living, and the shipping lanes, rivers and roads were busy bringing in such specialities as fish sauce from Spain, Rhineland glassware, and Pompeian bronzes.

The empire had been buoyed up by war booty. The end of expansion meant the end of subsidy. The emperors ratcheted up taxes. They allowed the army to 'live off the land' as it marched across the empire. The bloated imperial elite, the quarter-million-strong army, the thousands of miles of frontier to be guarded - it was a huge burden on the people of the provinces, a burden that was slowly eating away at the empire's economic vitality. Society became apathetic, civic spirit dwindled, and the towns continued to decline In the meantime, Rome's enemies were getting stronger, especially the Germans and Goths of central Europe, who threatened the Rhine and Danube frontiers.

By the mid-third century AD, the great boom was over, and resources were ploughed into defence. Walls were built around the towns, turning them into fortresses. Inside, a slow decline had begun. Public buildings were boarded up and old mansions crumbled and became overgrown with weeds. Later attempts from above to revive the towns were ineffective. The Roman emperors of the later empire were more dictatorial and ruthless, aiming to centralize and streamline administration, and to dragoon the people into supporting the defence effort.

Embracing Christianity was part of this programme - evidenced in Britain by a handful of late Roman churches found in excavation, some mosaics with Christian images, an occasional silver spoon or cup inscribed with Christian motifs.

But government policy generated little enthusiasm. Society became apathetic, civic spirit dwindled, the towns continued to decline, and even the villas eventually succumbed. Top The fall Britain was repeatedly raided — by Anglo-Saxons in the south east, Irish in the west, and Picts in the north.

New coastal forts were built to meet the threat, but the troops were stretched too thin to hold the line for long. Then, when Italy itself was attacked, some troops were withdrawn from Britain altogether to defend the homeland.

No clear decision to 'decolonise' Britain was made. Instead, the garrison was run down over a generation, and then the remnant was simply cast adrift to fend for itself. Army pay - represented by finds of Roman coins - ceased to arrive. The soldiers presumably 'demobilised' themselves, drifting off to make a living as outlaws, mercenaries, or farm labourers. The Romanised elite lost whatever residual control they still retained over the land and the people who worked it.

By about 425 AD at the latest, Britain had ceased to be in any sense 'Roman'. Towns and villas had been abandoned, the only pottery was homemade, barter had replaced money and the mosaic and fresco workshops had all closed.