Map of Roman Britain, 150 AD

Map of Roman Britain, 150 AD



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Demography of the Roman Empire

Demographically, the Roman Empire was a typical premodern state. It had high infant mortality, a low marriage age, and high fertility within marriage. Perhaps half of Roman subjects died by the age of 5. Of those still alive at age 10, half would die by the age of 50. At its peak, after the Antonine Plague of the 160s CE, it had a population of about 60–70 million and a population density of about 16 people per square kilometer. In contrast to the European societies of the classical and medieval periods, Rome had unusually high urbanization rates. During the 2nd century CE, the city of Rome had more than one million inhabitants. No Western city would have as many again until the 19th century.


Contents

Early contact Edit

Britain was known to the Classical world. The Greeks, the Phoenicians and the Carthaginians traded for Cornish tin in the 4th century BC. [13] The Greeks referred to the Cassiterides, or "tin islands", and placed them near the west coast of Europe. [14] The Carthaginian sailor Himilco is said to have visited the island in the 6th or 5th century BC and the Greek explorer Pytheas in the 4th. It was regarded as a place of mystery, with some writers refusing to believe it existed at all. [15]

The first direct Roman contact was when Julius Caesar undertook two expeditions in 55 and 54 BC, as part of his conquest of Gaul, believing the Britons were helping the Gallic resistance. The first expedition was more a reconnaissance than a full invasion and gained a foothold on the coast of Kent but was unable to advance further because of storm damage to the ships and a lack of cavalry. Despite the military failure it was a political success, with the Roman Senate declaring a 20-day public holiday in Rome to honour the unprecedented achievement of obtaining hostages from Britain and defeating Belgic tribes on returning to the continent. [16]

The second invasion involved a substantially larger force and Caesar coerced or invited many of the native Celtic tribes to pay tribute and give hostages in return for peace. A friendly local king, Mandubracius, was installed, and his rival, Cassivellaunus, was brought to terms. Hostages were taken, but historians disagree over whether any tribute was paid after Caesar returned to Gaul. [17]

Caesar conquered no territory and left no troops behind but he established clients and brought Britain into Rome's sphere of influence. Augustus planned invasions in 34, 27 and 25 BC, but circumstances were never favourable, [18] and the relationship between Britain and Rome settled into one of diplomacy and trade. Strabo, writing late in Augustus's reign, claimed that taxes on trade brought in more annual revenue than any conquest could. [19] Archaeology shows that there was an increase in imported luxury goods in southeastern Britain. [20] Strabo also mentions British kings who sent embassies to Augustus and Augustus's own Res Gestae refers to two British kings he received as refugees. [21] When some of Tiberius's ships were carried to Britain in a storm during his campaigns in Germany in 16 AD, they came back with tales of monsters. [22]

Rome appears to have encouraged a balance of power in southern Britain, supporting two powerful kingdoms: the Catuvellauni, ruled by the descendants of Tasciovanus, and the Atrebates, ruled by the descendants of Commius. [23] This policy was followed until 39 or 40 AD, when Caligula received an exiled member of the Catuvellaunian dynasty and planned an invasion of Britain that collapsed in farcical circumstances before it left Gaul. [24] [25] When Claudius successfully invaded in 43 AD, it was in aid of another fugitive British ruler, Verica of the Atrebates.

Roman invasion Edit

The invasion force in 43 AD was led by Aulus Plautius, [26] but it is unclear how many legions were sent. The Legio II Augusta, commanded by future emperor Vespasian, was the only one directly attested to have taken part. [27] The IX Hispana, [28] the XIV Gemina (later styled Martia Victrix) and the XX (later styled Valeria Victrix) [29] are known to have served during the Boudican Revolt of 60/61, and were probably there since the initial invasion. This is not certain because the Roman army was flexible, with units being moved around whenever necessary. The Legio IX Hispana may have been permanently stationed, with records showing it at Eboracum (York) in 71 and on a building inscription there dated 108, before being destroyed in the east of the Empire, possibly during the Bar Kokhba revolt. [30]

The invasion was delayed by a troop mutiny until an imperial freedman persuaded them to overcome their fear of crossing the Ocean and campaigning beyond the limits of the known world. They sailed in three divisions, and probably landed at Richborough in Kent at least part of the force may have landed near Fishbourne, West Sussex. [31]

The Catuvellauni and their allies were defeated in two battles: the first, assuming a Richborough landing, on the river Medway, the second on the river Thames. One of their leaders, Togodumnus, was killed, but his brother Caratacus survived to continue resistance elsewhere. Plautius halted at the Thames and sent for Claudius, who arrived with reinforcements, including artillery and elephants, for the final march to the Catuvellaunian capital, Camulodunum (Colchester). Vespasian subdued the southwest, [32] Cogidubnus was set up as a friendly king of several territories, [33] and treaties were made with tribes outside direct Roman control.

Roman rule is established Edit

After capturing the south of the island, the Romans turned their attention to what is now Wales. The Silures, Ordovices and Deceangli remained implacably opposed to the invaders and for the first few decades were the focus of Roman military attention, despite occasional minor revolts among Roman allies like the Brigantes and the Iceni. The Silures were led by Caratacus, and he carried out an effective guerrilla campaign against Governor Publius Ostorius Scapula. Finally, in 51, Ostorius lured Caratacus into a set-piece battle and defeated him. The British leader sought refuge among the Brigantes, but their queen, Cartimandua, proved her loyalty by surrendering him to the Romans. He was brought as a captive to Rome, where a dignified speech he made during Claudius's triumph persuaded the emperor to spare his life. The Silures were still not pacified, and Cartimandua's ex-husband Venutius replaced Caratacus as the most prominent leader of British resistance. [34]

On Nero's accession Roman Britain extended as far north as Lindum. Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, the conqueror of Mauretania (modern day Algeria and Morocco), then became governor of Britain, and in 60 and 61 he moved against Mona (Anglesey) to settle accounts with Druidism once and for all. Paulinus led his army across the Menai Strait and massacred the Druids and burnt their sacred groves.

While Paulinus was campaigning in Mona, the southeast of Britain rose in revolt under the leadership of Boudica. Boudica was the widow of the recently deceased king of the Iceni, Prasutagus. The Roman historian Tacitus reports that Prasutagus had left a will leaving half his kingdom to Nero in the hope that the remainder would be left untouched. He was wrong. When his will was enforced, Rome responded by violently seizing the tribe's lands in full. Boudica protested. In consequence, Rome punished her and her daughters by flogging and rape. In response, the Iceni, joined by the Trinovantes, destroyed the Roman colony at Camulodunum (Colchester) and routed the part of the IXth Legion that was sent to relieve it. Paulinus rode to London (then called Londinium), the rebels' next target, but concluded it could not be defended. Abandoned, it was destroyed, as was Verulamium (St. Albans). Between seventy and eighty thousand people are said to have been killed in the three cities. But Paulinus regrouped with two of the three legions still available to him, chose a battlefield, and, despite being outnumbered by more than twenty to one, defeated the rebels in the Battle of Watling Street. Boudica died not long afterwards, by self-administered poison or by illness. [35] [36] [37] During this time, the Emperor Nero considered withdrawing Roman forces from Britain altogether. [38]

There was further turmoil in 69, the "Year of the Four Emperors". As civil war raged in Rome, weak governors were unable to control the legions in Britain, and Venutius of the Brigantes seized his chance. The Romans had previously defended Cartimandua against him, but this time were unable to do so. Cartimandua was evacuated, and Venutius was left in control of the north of the country. After Vespasian secured the empire, his first two appointments as governor, Quintus Petillius Cerialis and Sextus Julius Frontinus, took on the task of subduing the Brigantes and Silures respectively. [39] [40] Frontinus extended Roman rule to all of South Wales, and initiated exploitation of the mineral resources, such as the gold mines at Dolaucothi.

In the following years, the Romans conquered more of the island, increasing the size of Roman Britain. Governor Gnaeus Julius Agricola, father-in-law to the historian Tacitus, conquered the Ordovices in 78. With the XX Valeria Victrix legion, Agricola defeated the Caledonians in 84 at the Battle of Mons Graupius, in northern Scotland. [41] This was the high-water mark of Roman territory in Britain: shortly after his victory, Agricola was recalled from Britain back to Rome, and the Romans retired to a more defensible line along the Forth–Clyde isthmus, freeing soldiers badly needed along other frontiers.

For much of the history of Roman Britain, a large number of soldiers were garrisoned on the island. This required that the emperor station a trusted senior man as governor of the province. As a result, many future emperors served as governors or legates in this province, including Vespasian, Pertinax, and Gordian I.

Occupation and retreat from southern Scotland Edit

There is no historical source describing the decades that followed Agricola's recall. Even the name of his replacement is unknown. Archaeology has shown that some Roman forts south of the Forth–Clyde isthmus were rebuilt and enlarged others appear to have been abandoned. Roman coins and pottery have been found circulating at native settlement sites in the Scottish Lowlands in the years before 100, indicating growing Romanisation. Some of the most important sources for this era are the writing tablets from the fort at Vindolanda in Northumberland, mostly dating to 90–110. These tablets provide vivid evidence for the operation of a Roman fort at the edge of the Roman Empire, where officers' wives maintained polite society while merchants, hauliers and military personnel kept the fort operational and supplied.

Around 105 there appears to have been a serious setback at the hands of the tribes of the Picts of Alba: several Roman forts were destroyed by fire, with human remains and damaged armour at Trimontium (at modern Newstead, in SE Scotland) indicating hostilities at least at that site. There is also circumstantial evidence that auxiliary reinforcements were sent from Germany, and an unnamed British war of the period is mentioned on the gravestone of a tribune of Cyrene. Trajan's Dacian Wars may have led to troop reductions in the area or even total withdrawal followed by slighting of the forts by the Picts rather than an unrecorded military defeat. The Romans were also in the habit of destroying their own forts during an orderly withdrawal, in order to deny resources to an enemy. In either case, the frontier probably moved south to the line of the Stanegate at the Solway–Tyne isthmus around this time.

A new crisis occurred at the beginning of Hadrian's reign (117): a rising in the north which was suppressed by Quintus Pompeius Falco. When Hadrian reached Britannia on his famous tour of the Roman provinces around 120, he directed an extensive defensive wall, known to posterity as Hadrian's Wall, to be built close to the line of the Stanegate frontier. Hadrian appointed Aulus Platorius Nepos as governor to undertake this work who brought the Legio VI Victrix legion with him from Germania Inferior. This replaced the famous Legio IX Hispana, whose disappearance has been much discussed. Archaeology indicates considerable political instability in Scotland during the first half of the 2nd century, and the shifting frontier at this time should be seen in this context.

In the reign of Antoninus Pius (138–161) the Hadrianic border was briefly extended north to the Forth–Clyde isthmus, where the Antonine Wall was built around 142 following the military reoccupation of the Scottish lowlands by a new governor, Quintus Lollius Urbicus.

The first Antonine occupation of Scotland ended as a result of a further crisis in 155–157, when the Brigantes revolted. With limited options to despatch reinforcements, the Romans moved their troops south, and this rising was suppressed by Governor Gnaeus Julius Verus. Within a year the Antonine Wall was recaptured, but by 163 or 164 it was abandoned. The second occupation was probably connected with Antoninus's undertakings to protect the Votadini or his pride in enlarging the empire, since the retreat to the Hadrianic frontier occurred not long after his death when a more objective strategic assessment of the benefits of the Antonine Wall could be made. The Romans did not entirely withdraw from Scotland at this time: the large fort at Newstead was maintained along with seven smaller outposts until at least 180.

During the twenty-year period following the reversion of the frontier to Hadrian's Wall in 163/4, Rome was concerned with continental issues, primarily problems in the Danubian provinces. Increasing numbers of hoards of buried coins in Britain at this time indicate that peace was not entirely achieved. Sufficient Roman silver has been found in Scotland to suggest more than ordinary trade, and it is likely that the Romans were reinforcing treaty agreements by paying tribute to their implacable enemies, the Picts.

In 175, a large force of Sarmatian cavalry, consisting of 5,500 men, arrived in Britannia, probably to reinforce troops fighting unrecorded uprisings. In 180, Hadrian's Wall was breached by the Picts and the commanding officer or governor was killed there in what Cassius Dio described as the most serious war of the reign of Commodus. Ulpius Marcellus was sent as replacement governor and by 184 he had won a new peace, only to be faced with a mutiny from his own troops. Unhappy with Marcellus's strictness, they tried to elect a legate named Priscus as usurper governor he refused, but Marcellus was lucky to leave the province alive. The Roman army in Britannia continued its insubordination: they sent a delegation of 1,500 to Rome to demand the execution of Tigidius Perennis, a Praetorian prefect who they felt had earlier wronged them by posting lowly equites to legate ranks in Britannia. Commodus met the party outside Rome and agreed to have Perennis killed, but this only made them feel more secure in their mutiny.

The future emperor Pertinax was sent to Britannia to quell the mutiny and was initially successful in regaining control, but a riot broke out among the troops. Pertinax was attacked and left for dead, and asked to be recalled to Rome, where he briefly succeeded Commodus as emperor in 192.

3rd century Edit

The death of Commodus put into motion a series of events which eventually led to civil war. Following the short reign of Pertinax, several rivals for the emperorship emerged, including Septimius Severus and Clodius Albinus. The latter was the new governor of Britannia, and had seemingly won the natives over after their earlier rebellions he also controlled three legions, making him a potentially significant claimant. His sometime rival Severus promised him the title of Caesar in return for Albinus's support against Pescennius Niger in the east. Once Niger was neutralised, Severus turned on his ally in Britannia — it is likely that Albinus saw he would be the next target and was already preparing for war.

Albinus crossed to Gaul in 195, where the provinces were also sympathetic to him, and set up at Lugdunum. Severus arrived in February 196, and the ensuing battle was decisive. Albinus came close to victory, but Severus's reinforcements won the day, and the British governor committed suicide. Severus soon purged Albinus's sympathisers and perhaps confiscated large tracts of land in Britain as punishment.

Albinus had demonstrated the major problem posed by Roman Britain. In order to maintain security, the province required the presence of three legions but command of these forces provided an ideal power base for ambitious rivals. Deploying those legions elsewhere would strip the island of its garrison, leaving the province defenceless against uprisings by the native Celtic tribes and against invasion by the Picts and Scots.

The traditional view is that northern Britain descended into anarchy during Albinus's absence. Cassius Dio records that the new Governor, Virius Lupus, was obliged to buy peace from a fractious northern tribe known as the Maeatae. The succession of militarily distinguished governors who were subsequently appointed suggests that enemies of Rome were posing a difficult challenge, and Lucius Alfenus Senecio's report to Rome in 207 describes barbarians "rebelling, over-running the land, taking loot and creating destruction". In order to rebel, of course, one must be a subject — the Maeatae clearly did not consider themselves such. Senecio requested either reinforcements or an Imperial expedition, and Severus chose the latter, despite being 62 years old.

Archaeological evidence shows that Senecio had been rebuilding the defences of Hadrian's Wall and the forts beyond it, and Severus's arrival in Britain prompted the enemy tribes to sue for peace immediately. The emperor had not come all that way to leave without a victory, and it is likely that he wished to provide his teenage sons Caracalla and Geta with first-hand experience of controlling a hostile barbarian land.

An invasion of Caledonia led by Severus and probably numbering around 20,000 troops moved north in 208 or 209, crossing the Wall and passing through eastern Scotland on a route similar to that used by Agricola. Harried by punishing guerrilla raids by the northern tribes and slowed by an unforgiving terrain, Severus was unable to meet the Caledonians on a battlefield. The emperor's forces pushed north as far as the River Tay, but little appears to have been achieved by the invasion, as peace treaties were signed with the Caledonians. By 210 Severus had returned to York, and the frontier had once again become Hadrian's Wall. He assumed the title Britannicus but the title meant little with regard to the unconquered north, which clearly remained outside the authority of the Empire. Almost immediately, another northern tribe, the Maeatae, again went to war. Caracalla left with a punitive expedition, but by the following year his ailing father had died and he and his brother left the province to press their claim to the throne.

As one of his last acts, Severus tried to solve the problem of powerful and rebellious governors in Britain by dividing the province into Britannia Superior and Britannia Inferior. This kept the potential for rebellion in check for almost a century. Historical sources provide little information on the following decades, a period known as the Long Peace. Even so, the number of buried hoards found from this period rises, suggesting continuing unrest. A string of forts were built along the coast of southern Britain to control piracy and over the following hundred years they increased in number, becoming the Saxon Shore Forts.

During the middle of the 3rd century, the Roman Empire was convulsed by barbarian invasions, rebellions and new imperial pretenders. Britannia apparently avoided these troubles, but increasing inflation had its economic effect. In 259 a so-called Gallic Empire was established when Postumus rebelled against Gallienus. Britannia was part of this until 274 when Aurelian reunited the empire.

Around the year 280, a half-British officer named Bonosus was in command of the Roman's Rhenish fleet when the Germans managed to burn it at anchor. To avoid punishment, he proclaimed himself emperor at Colonia Agrippina (Cologne) but was crushed by Marcus Aurelius Probus. Soon afterwards, an unnamed governor of one of the British provinces also attempted an uprising. Probus put it down by sending irregular troops of Vandals and Burgundians across the Channel.

The Carausian Revolt led to a short-lived Britannic Empire from 286 to 296. Carausius was a Menapian naval commander of the Britannic fleet he revolted upon learning of a death sentence ordered by the emperor Maximian on charges of having abetted Frankish and Saxon pirates and having embezzled recovered treasure. He consolidated control over all the provinces of Britain and some of northern Gaul while Maximian dealt with other uprisings. An invasion in 288 failed to unseat him and an uneasy peace ensued, with Carausius issuing coins and inviting official recognition. In 293, the junior emperor Constantius Chlorus launched a second offensive, besieging the rebel port of Gesoriacum (Boulogne-sur-Mer) by land and sea. After it fell, Constantius attacked Carausius's other Gallic holdings and Frankish allies and Carausius was usurped by his treasurer, Allectus. Julius Asclepiodotus landed an invasion fleet near Southampton and defeated Allectus in a land battle. [42] [43] [44] [45]

Diocletian's reforms Edit

As part of Diocletian's reforms, the provinces of Roman Britain were organized as a diocese subordinate to a praetorian prefect resident with an emperor and from 318 a prefect based at Augusta Treverorum (Trier), Julius Bassus, prefect to Constantine's son Crispus.

Prior to this appointment, two was the canonical number of prefects (not counting those of usurpers). The territorial prefectures first appear circa 325. Four are listed in 331. It is certain that the diocesan vicar was based at Londinium as the principal city of the diocese, as it had been for 250 years [ citation needed ] that Londinium and Eboracum continued as provincial capitals and that the territory was divided up into smaller provinces for administrative efficiency and presence as the governors, heretofore mainly judicial and administrative officials, assumed more financial duties (as the procurators of the Treasury ministry were slowly phased out in the first three decades of the 4th century).

The governors were stripped of military command (a process completed by 314), which was handed over to duces. Civilian and military authority would no longer be exercised by one official, with rare exceptions until the mid-5th century, when a dux/governor was appointed for Upper Egypt. The tasks of the vicar were to control and coordinate the activities of governors monitor but not interfere with the daily functioning of the Treasury and Crown Estates, which had their own administrative infrastructure and act as the regional quartermaster-general of the armed forces. In short, as the sole civilian official with superior authority, he had general oversight of the administration, as well as direct control, while not absolute, over governors who were part of the prefecture the other two fiscal departments were not.

The early-4th-century Verona List, the late-4th-century work of Sextus Rufus, and the early-5th-century List of Offices and work of Polemius Silvius all list four provinces by some variation of the names Britannia I, Britannia II, Maxima Caesariensis, and Flavia Caesariensis all of these seem to have initially been directed by a governor (praeses) of equestrian rank. The 5th-century sources list a fifth province named Valentia and give its governor and Maxima's a consular rank. [46] Ammianus mentions Valentia as well, describing its creation by Count Theodosius in 369 after the quelling of the Great Conspiracy. Ammianus considered it a re-creation of a formerly lost province, [47] leading some to think there had been an earlier fifth province under another name (may be the enigmatic "Vespasiana"? [48] ), and leading others to place Valentia beyond Hadrian's Wall, in the territory abandoned south of the Antonine Wall.

Reconstructions of the provinces and provincial capitals during this period partially rely on ecclesiastical records. On the assumption that the early bishoprics mimicked the imperial hierarchy, scholars use the list of bishops for the 314 Council of Arles. Unfortunately, the list is patently corrupt: the British delegation is given as including a Bishop "Eborius" of Eboracum and two bishops "from Londinium" (one de civitate Londinensi and the other de civitate colonia Londinensium). [51] The error is variously emended: Bishop Ussher proposed Colonia, [52] Selden Col. or Colon. Camalodun., [53] and Spelman Colonia Cameloduni [54] (all various names of Colchester) [56] Gale [57] and Bingham [58] offered colonia Lindi and Henry [59] Colonia Lindum (both Lincoln) and Bishop Stillingfleet [60] and Francis Thackeray read it as a scribal error of Civ. Col. Londin. for an original Civ. Col. Leg. II (Caerleon). [50] On the basis of the Verona List, the priest and deacon who accompanied the bishops in some manuscripts are ascribed to the fourth province.

In the 12th century, Gerald of Wales described the supposedly metropolitan sees of the early British church established by the legendary SS Fagan and "Duvian". He placed Britannia Prima in Wales and western England with its capital at "Urbs Legionum" (Caerleon) Britannia Secunda in Kent and southern England with its capital at "Dorobernia" (Canterbury) Flavia in Mercia and central England with its capital at "Lundonia" (London) "Maximia" in northern England with its capital at Eboracum (York) and Valentia in "Albania which is now Scotland" with its capital at St Andrews. [61] [62] Modern scholars generally dispute the last: some place Valentia at or beyond Hadrian's Wall but St Andrews is beyond even the Antonine Wall and Gerald seems to have simply been supporting the antiquity of its church for political reasons.

A common modern reconstruction places the consular province of Maxima at Londinium, on the basis of its status as the seat of the diocesan vicar places Prima in the west according to Gerald's traditional account but moves its capital to Corinium of the Dobunni (Cirencester) on the basis of an artifact recovered there referring to Lucius Septimius, a provincial rector places Flavia north of Maxima, with its capital placed at Lindum Colonia (Lincoln) to match one emendation of the bishops list from Arles [65] and places Secunda in the north with its capital at Eboracum (York). Valentia is placed variously in northern Wales around Deva (Chester) beside Hadrian's Wall around Luguvalium (Carlisle) and between the walls along Dere Street.

4th century Edit

Constantius Chlorus returned in 306, despite his poor health, aiming to invade northern Britain, with the provincial defences having been rebuilt in the preceding years. Little is known of his campaigns with scant archaeological evidence, but fragmentary historical sources suggest he reached the far north of Britain and won a major battle in early summer before returning south. He died in York in July 306 with his son Constantine I at his side. Constantine then successfully used Britain as the starting point of his march to the imperial throne, unlike the earlier usurper, Albinus.

In the middle of the century, for a few years the province was loyal to the usurper Magnentius, who succeeded Constans following the latter's death. After the defeat and death of Magnentius in the Battle of Mons Seleucus in 353, Constantius II dispatched his chief imperial notary Paulus Catena to Britain to hunt down Magnentius's supporters. The investigation deteriorated into a witch-hunt, which forced the vicarius Flavius Martinus to intervene. When Paulus retaliated by accusing Martinus of treason, the vicarius attacked Paulus with a sword, with the aim of assassinating him, but in the end he committed suicide.

As the 4th century progressed, there were increasing attacks from the Saxons in the east and the Scoti (Irish) in the west. A series of forts were already being built, starting around 280, to defend the coasts, but these preparations were not enough when a general assault of Saxons, Scoti and Attacotti, combined with apparent dissension in the garrison on Hadrian's Wall, left Roman Britain prostrate in 367. This crisis, sometimes called the Barbarian Conspiracy or the Great Conspiracy, was settled by Count Theodosius with a string of military and civil reforms.

Another imperial usurper, Magnus Maximus, raised the standard of revolt at Segontium (Caernarfon) in north Wales in 383, and crossed the English Channel. Maximus held much of the western empire, and fought a successful campaign against the Picts and Scots around 384. His continental exploits required troops from Britain, and it appears that forts at Chester and elsewhere were abandoned in this period, triggering raids and settlement in north Wales by the Irish. His rule was ended in 388, but not all the British troops may have returned: the Empire's military resources were stretched to the limit along the Rhine and Danube. Around 396 there were more barbarian incursions into Britain. Stilicho led a punitive expedition. It seems peace was restored by 399, and it is likely that no further garrisoning was ordered by 401 more troops were withdrawn, to assist in the war against Alaric I.

End of Roman rule Edit

The traditional view of historians, informed by the work of Michael Rostovtzeff, was of a widespread economic decline at the beginning of the 5th century. Consistent archaeological evidence has told another story, and the accepted view is undergoing re-evaluation. Some features are agreed: more opulent but fewer urban houses, an end to new public building and some abandonment of existing ones, with the exception of defensive structures, and the widespread formation of "dark earth" deposits indicating increased horticulture within urban precincts. [66] Turning over the basilica at Silchester to industrial uses in the late 3rd century, doubtless officially condoned, marks an early stage in the de-urbanisation of Roman Britain. [67] The abandonment of some sites is now believed to be later than had formerly been thought. Many buildings changed use but were not destroyed. There were growing barbarian attacks, but these were focused on vulnerable rural settlements rather than towns. Some villas such as Great Casterton in Rutland and Hucclecote in Gloucestershire had new mosaic floors laid around this time, suggesting that economic problems may have been limited and patchy. Many suffered some decay before being abandoned in the 5th century the story of Saint Patrick indicates that villas were still occupied until at least 430. Exceptionally, new buildings were still going up in this period in Verulamium and Cirencester. Some urban centres, for example Canterbury, Cirencester, Wroxeter, Winchester and Gloucester, remained active during the 5th and 6th centuries, surrounded by large farming estates.

Urban life had generally grown less intense by the fourth quarter of the 4th century, and coins minted between 378 and 388 are very rare, indicating a likely combination of economic decline, diminishing numbers of troops, problems with the payment of soldiers and officials or with unstable conditions during the usurpation of Magnus Maximus 383–87. Coinage circulation increased during the 390s, but never attained the levels of earlier decades. Copper coins are very rare after 402, though minted silver and gold coins from hoards indicate they were still present in the province even if they were not being spent. By 407 there were very few new Roman coins going into circulation, and by 430 it is likely that coinage as a medium of exchange had been abandoned. Mass-produced wheel thrown pottery ended at approximately the same time the rich continued to use metal and glass vessels, while the poor made do with humble "grey ware" or resorted to leather or wooden containers.

Sub-Roman Britain Edit

Towards the end of the 4th century Britain came under increasing pressure from barbarian attacks, and there were not enough troops to mount an effective defence. After elevating two disappointing usurpers, the army chose a soldier, Constantine III, to become emperor in 407. He crossed to Gaul but was defeated by Honorius it is unclear how many troops remained or ever returned, or whether a commander-in-chief in Britain was ever reappointed. A Saxon incursion in 408 was apparently repelled by the Britons, and in 409 Zosimus records that the natives expelled the Roman civilian administration. Zosimus may be referring to the Bacaudic rebellion of the Breton inhabitants of Armorica since he describes how, in the aftermath of the revolt, all of Armorica and the rest of Gaul followed the example of the Brettaniai. A letter from Emperor Honorius in 410 has traditionally been seen as rejecting a British appeal for help, but it may have been addressed to Bruttium or Bologna. [68] With the imperial layers of the military and civil government gone, administration and justice fell to municipal authorities, and local warlords gradually emerged all over Britain, still utilizing Romano-British ideals and conventions. Historian Stuart Laycock has investigated this process and emphasised elements of continuity from the British tribes in the pre-Roman and Roman periods, through to the native post-Roman kingdoms. [69]

In British tradition, pagan Saxons were invited by Vortigern to assist in fighting the Picts and Irish. (Germanic migration into Roman Britannia may have begun much earlier. There is recorded evidence, for example, of Germanic auxiliaries supporting the legions in Britain in the 1st and 2nd centuries.) The new arrivals rebelled, plunging the country into a series of wars that eventually led to the Saxon occupation of Lowland Britain by 600. Around this time, many Britons fled to Brittany (hence its name), Galicia and probably Ireland. A significant date in sub-Roman Britain is the Groans of the Britons, an unanswered appeal to Aetius, leading general of the western Empire, for assistance against Saxon invasion in 446. Another is the Battle of Deorham in 577, after which the significant cities of Bath, Cirencester and Gloucester fell and the Saxons reached the western sea.

Historians generally reject the historicity of King Arthur, who is supposed to have resisted the Anglo-Saxon conquest according to later medieval legends. [70]

During the Roman period Britain's continental trade was principally directed across the Southern North Sea and Eastern Channel, focusing on the narrow Strait of Dover, with more limited links via the Atlantic seaways. [71] [72] [73] The most important British ports were London and Richborough, whilst the continental ports most heavily engaged in trade with Britain were Boulogne and the sites of Domburg and Colijnsplaat at the mouth of the river Scheldt. [71] [72] During the Late Roman period it is likely that the shore forts played some role in continental trade alongside their defensive functions. [71] [74]

Exports to Britain included: coin pottery, particularly red-gloss terra sigillata (samian ware) from southern, central and eastern Gaul, as well as various other wares from Gaul and the Rhine provinces olive oil from southern Spain in amphorae wine from Gaul in amphorae and barrels salted fish products from the western Mediterranean and Brittany in barrels and amphorae preserved olives from southern Spain in amphorae lava quern-stones from Mayen on the middle Rhine glass and some agricultural products. [71] [72] [75] [76] [77] [78] [79] [80] [81] Britain's exports are harder to detect archaeologically, but will have included metals, such as silver and gold and some lead, iron and copper. Other exports probably included agricultural products, oysters and salt, whilst large quantities of coin would have been re-exported back to the continent as well. [71] [79] [80] [82]

These products moved as a result of private trade and also through payments and contracts established by the Roman state to support its military forces and officials on the island, as well as through state taxation and extraction of resources. [71] [82] Up until the mid-3rd century, the Roman state's payments appear to have been unbalanced, with far more products sent to Britain, to support its large military force (which had reached c. 53,000 by the mid-2nd century), than were extracted from the island. [71] [82]

It has been argued that Roman Britain's continental trade peaked in the late 1st century AD and thereafter declined as a result of an increasing reliance on local products by the population of Britain, caused by economic development on the island and by the Roman state's desire to save money by shifting away from expensive long-distance imports. [79] [81] [82] [83] Evidence has been outlined that suggests that the principal decline in Roman Britain's continental trade may have occurred in the late 2nd century AD, from c. 165 AD onwards. [71] This has been linked to the economic impact of contemporary Empire-wide crises: the Antonine Plague and the Marcomannic Wars. [71]

From the mid-3rd century onwards, Britain no longer received such a wide range and extensive quantity of foreign imports as it did during the earlier part of the Roman period vast quantities of coin from continental mints reached the island, whilst there is historical evidence for the export of large amounts of British grain to the continent during the mid-4th century. [71] [80] [84] [85] [86] [87] [88] [89] [90] [91] [92] During the latter part of the Roman period British agricultural products, paid for by both the Roman state and by private consumers, clearly played an important role in supporting the military garrisons and urban centres of the northwestern continental Empire. [71] [80] [86] This came about as a result of the rapid decline in the size of the British garrison from the mid-3rd century onwards (thus freeing up more goods for export), and because of 'Germanic' incursions across the Rhine, which appear to have reduced rural settlement and agricultural output in northern Gaul. [71] [86]


Celtic Britain pre Roman invasion.

(640x825) Greater Britain was increasingly Celtic from 650 BC to 150 AD. Romanised occupation and influence was for approx 400yrs between AD 43 and about to about AD 410.

Britain / including England was the part of the island of Greater Britain is an island situated to the northwest of Continental Europe. It is the ninth largest island in the world, and the largest European island.

The Romans referred to the territory as Britannia an ancient term for Britain, and also a later personification of the island. The name is Latin, and derives from the Greek form Prettanike or Brettaniai, which originally designated a collection of islands with individual names, including Albion or Great Britain.

"Thus, European culture is inconceivable without the Celtic contribution".

Cunobelin (Early 1st century AD - 40 AD)

Son of Tasciovanus, father of Adminius, Togodumnus and Caratacus. During the last years of his father's reign, he invaded the territory of the Trinovantes and subdued them. He continued to rule over the Trinovantes from Camulodunum and retained his seat of government there when he succeeded to the Catuvellaunian throne upon the death of Tasciovanus circa AD 10. He became 'the first British statesman,' and through diplomatic means, probably had his kingship over the joint Catuvellaunian/Trinovantian kingdom ratified by Rome, for some of his later coinage bears the title 'REX'. He continued to rule the combined tribes from Camulodunum for many years, and his capital became the focal point of British politics, learning and trade. Cunobelinos died circa AD 42, shortly before the coming of Rome.

Celtic Britain and Ireland were dominated by a number of tribes, each with their own well-defined territory. It is thanks to Roman cartographers , occupiers or chroniclers, such as Strabo, Julius Caesar, and Diodorus, that the names of individual tribes are known to us today, albeit in Romanized or Latin form and with variable accuracy.Tacitus writes that the Britons made no distinction in the sex of their leaders but were used to women commanders in war, the most famous of whom were Cartimandua, queen of the Brigantes, and Boudica, queen of the Iceni. Cartimandua capitulated to Rome soon after the Claudian conquest and grew rich and prosperous as a result. When the British patriot Caratacus sought refuge in her kingdom, she handed him over to Rome, which defended her in the civil war that later resulted. And, when the Iceni rebelled, it was Cartimandua who held back the Brigantes, the largest tribe in Britain, from coming to their aid. At first, the Iceni, too, had been a client kingdom of Rome. But, with the death of Prasutagus, his consort Boudica led the people in failed revolt. Boudica poisoned herself and the survivors starved—two British queens or chieftains who responded so differently to Roman domination.

Celtic tribes in Ptolemy's Ireland late Iron Age 100 A.D

of Iron-Age and Roman Britain

The Tribes of England and Wales

Atrebates * Belgae * Brigantes * Cantiaci

Carvetii * Catuvellauni * Coritani * Cornovii

Deceangi * Demetae * Dobunni * .

["Next to these [the Silures] are the Dobuni,

and their town Corinium 18*00 54°10"

Above quote from the Geographia of Ptolemy (II.ii)

The Dobunni tribe occupied territories encompassing the modern counties of Gloucester, Avon, west Oxfordshire, north Somerset, along with parts of southern Hereford & Worcester and Warwickshire. They were a non-Belgic people occupying impressive hillforts with some Belgic influences.

Other passages in Ptolemy Book II Chapter 2 give the ancient names of a number of rivers and other geographical features within the territories of the Dobunni tribe]

. Durotriges * Iceni * Ordovices * Parisi

Regnenses * Segontiaci * Silures * Trinovantes

Novantae * Selgovae * Damnoni * Votadini

Vacomagi * Venicones * Taexali * Caledoni * Epidii

The Minor Northern Tribes.

To clarify what is meant by 'minor' in the above heading, this section contains details of those tribes located by the Geographer Ptolemy in northern Britain, but were listed without any towns or settlements in a single passage quoted below:

""Next to the Damnoni, but more toward the east near the Epidium Promontorium are the Epidi and next to these the Cerones then the Carnonacae, and the Caereni but more toward the east and in the extreme east dwell the Cornavi from the Lemannonis Sinus as far as the Varar Aestuarium are the Caledoni, and above these is the Caledoni Silva, from which toward the east are the Decantae, and next to these the Lugi extending to the Cornavi boundary, and above the Lugi are the Smertae.""

Above quote from the Geographia of Ptolemy (II.ii)

From this short passage we may deduce these tribes' positions in relation to each other, and their approximate territorial boundaries may be worked out with reference to a map of northern Britain, helped by other passages in Ptolemy's work. We must remember, however, that Ptolemy has somehow rotated Scotland 90° to the east, so that 'east' is actually north, and when Ptolemy says that a tribe is 'above' or 'below' another he actually means west and east respectively.

It should be noted that separate pages are maintained for both the Epidii and Caledoni tribes, primarily because the geographer Ptolemy recorded additional details about their tribal territories.

Kintyre, Knapdale and southern Argyll, probably the Isles of Arran and Bute to the east, possibly also the islands of Islay and Jura to the north-west, all of which lie in the modern region of Northern Strathclyde.

Southern Ross, including Morvern, Ardmurchan, Sunart, Ardgour, Moidart, Arisaig and Morar, possibly also Knoydart and Och. It is possible that the Isle of Mull also was inhabited by this tribe.

Inhabited the coastal region of Wester Ross on the Scottish Mainland, from the Kyle of Lochalsh in the south to Loch Broom in the north it is possible that this tribe also inhabited the Isle of Skye, Scitis Insula, to the south-west.

Inhabited the extreme north-western coast of mainland Britain in the Highland Region of Scotland, from Enard Bay in Northern Ross to Cape Wrath in Sutherland. Their territories included the mountain ranges of Ben More Assynt, Foinaven and Ben Hope. It is possible that Strath Naver marked the border between this tribe and the Cornavi to the east, the River Naver is recorded in Ptolemy as the Navarus Fluvius (or Nabarus).

Lived in the extreme north-eastern corner of the Scottish Highlands inhabiting Caithness and north-eastern Sutherland. Ptolemy names three promontories along the Cornavian coastline: Tarvedrum Sive Orcas Prom., Virvedrum Prom. and Verubium Prom., which are respectively, Dunnett Head north-east of Thurso, Duncansby Head east of John o'Groats and Noss Head north-east of Wick.

This tribe inhabited the inland parts of central Scotland to the east of the Great Glen Fault, encompassing the north Central Region, west Tayside, south-west Grampian and south-east Highland Region.

Inhabited the lands to the west of the Great Glen Fault in the Highland Region of Scotland, comprising Northern Inverness and Easter Ross. Tarbert Ness, which marks the northernmost extent of the tribe, was known as Ripa Alta during Roman times, and the Beauly Firth just north-west of modern Inverness was known as the Varar Aestuarium.

Inhabited the coastal regions of south-east Sutherland and southern Caithness in the Scottish Highland Region. One of the tribe's rivers is named in Ptolemy, the River Helmsdale, which empties into the Moray Firth south of the modern town of Helmsdale, was known as the Ila Fluvius to the Romans.

Inhabited the inland parts of the western Scottish Highlands, comprising central and northern Ross and south-western Sutherland, between Ben Mor Coignach on the west coast overlooking The Minch and the Dornoch Firth on the east coast overlooking the Moray Firth.

See: The Geography of Claudius Ptolemaeus, trans. by E.L. Stevenson (Dover, New York, 1991)

Principal sites in Roman occupation of Britain, with indication of the local Celtic tribes.

Tribes of Wales at the time of the Roman invasion. Exact boundaries are conjectural.

Ancalites (Hampshire and Wiltshire, England)

Attacotti (Scotland or Ireland, see Scoti)

Atrebates (an important tribe of Southern England)

Belgae (Wiltshire and Hampshire)

Bibroci (Berkshire, England)

Brigantes (an important tribe in most of Northern England) and in the south-east corner of Ireland)

Caereni (far western Highlands)

Caledones (along the Great Glen)

Cantiaci (present-day Kent which preserves the ancient tribal name)

Carnonacae (western Highlands)

Cateni (north and west of Sutherland) - they gave the county its Gaelic name Cataibh

Catuvellauni (Hertfordshire) - neighbours of the Iceni, they joined in their rebellion

Corieltauvi (East Midlands including Leicester)

Decantae or Ducantae (eastern Ross and Black Isle)

Dobunni (Cotswolds and Severn valley)

Dumnonii or Damnonii, Domnainn) (Devon, Cornwall, Somerset, Strathclyde, and Connacht in Ireland)

Durotriges (Dorset, south Somerset, south Wiltshire)

Epidii (Kintyre and neighboring islands)

Iceni (East Anglia) - under Boudica, they rebelled against Roman rule

Scoti from Ulster (and to the western portion of Scotland) Latin term for Irish pirates?

Selgovae (north of Dumfries and Galloway)

Ordovices (Gwynedd) - they waged guerrilla warfare from the north Wales hills

Parisii (East Riding of Yorkshire,Humberside and Gaul)

Silures (Gwent) - also resisted the Romans in present-day south Wales

Smertae (central Sutherland)

Trinovantes (Essex) - neighbours of the Iceni, they joined in their rebellion

Uluti or Volunti (north-east of Ireland and Lancashire - they gave their name to Ulster

Vacomagi (in and around the Cairngorms)

Venicones (Fife and south-east Tayside in Scotland

Votadini (north-east England and south-east Scotland - they later formed Gododdin.


Military areas

Geographically, Britain consists of two parts: (1) the comparatively flat lowlands of the south, east, and midlands, suitable for agriculture and open to the continent, i.e., to the rest of the Roman Empire, and (2) the area comprising Devon, Cornwall, Wales, and northern England. These latter regions lie more—often very much more—than 600 feet (183 metres) above sea level and are scarred with gorges and deep valleys. They are mountainous in character and difficult for armies to traverse. The lowlands were conquered easily and quickly, though the midlands were garrisoned until about 79 ce . The uplands were hardly subdued completely until the end of the 2nd century. They differ, moreover, in the character of their Roman occupation. The lowlands were the scene of civil life. Towns, villages, and country houses were their prominent features troops were hardly seen in them save in some fortresses on the edge of the hills and in a chain of forts built in the 4th century to defend the south and southeast coast, the so-called Saxon Shore. The uplands of Wales and the north were an entirely different matter. There civil life straggled into Glamorgan and Pembrokeshire and even touched Brecknockshire, while in the north it penetrated as far as County Durham. The hills, however, were one extensive military frontier, covered with forts and the strategic roads that connected them. Only the trading settlements outside the forts afforded any hint of organized Roman communities.

This geographical division was not reproduced by Rome in any administrative partition of the province. At first the whole was governed by one imperial legate (legatus Augusti) of consular standing. Caracalla made it two provinces, superior and inferior, the former including Caerleon, Monmouthshire, and Chester, the latter Lincoln, York, and Hadrian’s Wall. In the 4th century there were four provinces: Britannia Prima, Britannia Secunda, and Flavia Caesariensis, ruled by governors with the title of praesides, and Maxima Caesariensis, ruled by a consularis (governor of consular rank), all under the vicarius Britanniarum (vice-governor of the Britains). After 369 a fifth province named Valentia was added. Politically, it is known that Britannia Prima included Cirencester. Within the army organization the command was divided between the dux Britanniarum, or “duke of the Britains,” responsible for York and Hadrian’s Wall, while the comes litoris Saxonici, or “count of the Saxon Shore,” was responsible for the fleet and for coastal defense. In the later stages of Roman rule the comes Britanniarum, or “count of the Britains,” commanded the field army.


Britain 200 CE

A Roman province now covers the southern half of the British Isles.

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What is happening in Britain in 200CE

In 43 CE the Romans invaded Britain again, and this time stayed, making it a part of the huge Roman empire. They expanded out from their Bridgehead in Kent but, in 61, a major rebellion broke out in what is today East Anglia, and was only with difficulty put down.

By the 70’s the Romans had occupied all the southern half of the country. By then the South East and Midlands was dotted with numerous self-governing, Roman-style towns complete with forums, temples, baths, amphitheatres and so on. The elite were at least partially Romanized. Villas scattered throughout the countryside show their increasing prosperity as they grew in size over the generations.

The North and Wales were more militarized, covered by a network of military roads connecting a multitude of forts, large and small. Hadrian’s Wall, built in 122, guarded the northern frontier. Away from these centres of military power, the Britons of Wales and the North lived largely as they had before the Romans came.


Map of the Island of Britain AD 450-600

This map of Britain concentrates on the British territories and kingdoms that were established during the fourth and fifth centuries, as the Saxons and Angles began their settlement of the east coast. It provides an overview of all the territories known or estimated to have existed under Romano-British control, although not all of them existed at the same time, or in the same form as shown here.

Many territories in the south-east appear to have been slow to assume any independent status and were very short-lived, while others in the west had shifting borders and a sketchy history that suggests a gradual transition from Roman-style administration to Celtic kingdom. At this stage modern England did not exist (the name derives from Engle-land, in use from no earlier than the mid-sixth century to describe the 'land of the Angles') neither did Wales (a Saxon name which is generally taken to mean 'foreigner' or 'stranger' but which is more probably a mangled form of the original name for Celts). Scotland was either known as Caledonia (the Roman version of a tribal name), or Pictland after the name (seemingly coined by the Romans) for the majority of its Celtic population. The Irish Scotti tribe, the Dal Riada, were only just beginning to migrate onto the western coast of Pictland, around Argyll.

Most of the kingdoms shown have some historical basis but some, especially those in the south and east of what later became England, are less definite. Their borders remain mostly or entirely conjectural, and the existence of some of them is based on fragmentary evidence. The historical validity of each kingdom (where there is doubt) is mentioned in its king list text.

(This map was reproduced with permission in the novel, An Elmet Inquest, by John H Egbers, 2011. See the Post-Roman Britain section of the Sources page for details.)

To select a territory for further information, click anywhere within its borders.

Original text and map copyright © P L Kessler and the History Files. An original feature for the History Files. Go back or return home.


Map of Early Independent Britain AD 400-425

Faced with an economic downturn in the second half of the fourth century and various barbarian raids and more serious incursions, Roman Britain exhibited a marked decline in fortunes. Various internal revolts meant that military units were greatly depleted, with two strong forces being taken onto the Continent never, it seems, to return in any great number.

Various client states were set up (or officially acknowledged) in the west and north. Renewed war flared up against the Picts of the far north, apparently lasting 'for many years'. Further Scotti (Irish) raids took place on the south coast of Britain in 404/405, just as a major force of imperial troops was being withdrawn. The British provinces were relatively isolated and lacking in support from Rome in their fight against barbarian incursions. In 409 the Britons expelled all Roman officials, breaking ties that were never renewed.

Following the break with Rome there came a period in which central administration apparently began to break down. And then Vortigern seemingly came to the fore, already powerful in the semi-independent Pagenses territories of the west.

All borders are conjectural, but rough territorial boundaries are known.

To select a territory for further information (usually in the accompanying feature if an entry is available), click anywhere within its borders.

Original text and map copyright © P L Kessler and the History Files. An original feature for the History Files. Go back or return home.


Limited technology

All maps of large territories created before air travel and spaceflight are bound to look imprecise when compared to modern examples.

When Rome contacted or conquered a new territory, cartographers did not have the advantage of a bird’s eye view or technologically advanced surveying equipment.

Still, the Romans managed to build an impressive network of roads and a system of aqueducts that surely required an impressive grasp of geography and topography as well as significant mapping skills.


Roman Sites in Wales

Caerleon was the location for a Roman legionary fortress. Substantial archaeological remains can be seen there, including this military amphitheater.

The best Roman site in Wales is the amphitheater at Caerleon , just north of Newport. As for the amphitheater itself, it is oval in shape, with eight great entrances. Prior to the 20 th century, it was known to the local folk as “King Arthur’s Round Table.” But excavations in 1926 confirmed its Roman origins. It was built about AD 80 for audiences of up to 6,000 and was twice rebuilt during the Roman occupation.

The highest, still-standing Roman building in Britain, incidentally, is the shell of a lighthouse at Dover Castle . It’s a great, thick, lumpy cylinder, right next to a church, originally Anglo-Saxon, that has been extensively renovated and modernized.

One way you sometimes become aware of the Roman mark on Britain is by driving on long, straight roads. The greatest of the Roman roads are the Fosse Way, marking a very straight line between Bath and Lincoln Ermine Street from London to York and Watling Street, a Roman adaptation of an even earlier road that made a continuous line between Richborough in Kent, across the Thames, and on to Wroxeter near the Welsh border.

Very few stretches of unchanged Roman road are still visible. One is Wade’s Causeway , on high moorland in the North York Moors National Park . It has a high-quality surface made from sandstone slabs closely fitted together, is elevated, and has the characteristic drainage ditches on each side.