ROMAN BRITANNIA

"AD 46. This year Claudius, the second of the Roman emperors who invaded Britain, took the greater part of the island into his power, and added the Orkneys to rite dominion of the Romans. This was in the fourth year of his reign. And in the same year happened the great famine in Syria which Luke mentions in the book called "The Acts of the Apostles". After Claudius Nero succeeded to the empire, who almost lost the island Britain through his incapacity."[1]

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

Background

 

Roman Britannia 44 AD, with Celtic tribal areas and Roman garrisons

 

To support Augustus's German wars, Rome traded heavily with Britain, especially in metals, but many Britons were hostile because of the Roman taxes. The Roman emperor Claudius invaded Britain, partly to divert the Roman Senate from domestic intrigues. The Romans landed at Richborough, and despite being confronted by Caratacus, king of the Catuvellauni tribe, the legionaires won a two-day battle and began to spread out and take control. Population estimates based on the size and density of settlements put Britain's population then at c3.5 million. Caesar may have been the first Roman to visit Britain, but In 43 AD Claudius moved four legions (II, IX, XIV, and XX Legions of about 6,000 men each plus a later cohort of Legio VIII, and 38 war elephants, ballista artillery, and additional auxiliaries), to field a force of about 40,000 to pacify Britannium. (The legions are shown deployed into garrisons here after the invasion and initial fighting were completed. Legio XX moved to the north-west of Wroxeter after pacifying the locals at Camulodunum - Colchester.)

The legions landed in Kent and fought their way to the Thames. They attacked the Catuvellauni, the most powerful of the tribes, and captured their fort at Camulodunum. Claudius set up a great temple nearby and founded Colchester as the capital of his new Roman province of Brittania. In Norfolk and north Suffolk, the Iceni tribe decided not to fight and signed a peace treaty with Claudius and their king Prasutagus was allowed to rule as a 'client' king. This was normal Roman practice if at all possible. Under King Prasutagus, the Iceni coinage was romanised. The Iceni horse became more realistic and less stylised, the king's face became a bust rather than a mask. The inscription has been said to read SVB RI PRASTO ESICO FECIT or "under King Prasto, Esico made me".

By 60 AD, the new Roman governor Suetonius Paullinus had shifted his focus from east to west and was mired in Wales, exterminating the Druids. The Druids had proven to be the backbone of the Celts and provided considerable leadership against Roman rule. In the east, however, siezing the moment of distracted Roman attention, the Iceni tribe had become restless about the growing number of retired Roman soldiers settled in Camulodunum (Colchester). Prasutagus died and the Romans decided to annul their toleration of the independent Iceni. Iceni wealth was confiscated, and the royal family was deliberately humiliated. This led to Queen Boudicca's failed revolt. Although the Britons killed many Romans in their revolt, in the fierce retaliation many of the Iceni were persecuted, killed, or turned into slaves.

Queen Boudicca's Rebellion

In the Winter of 59 AD, Prasutagus died and the Romans began to evoke his grants and bequests. The king's widow Boudicca (Boadicea) was whipped and his daughters raped. The Iceni were goaded into revolt, marched south, and were joined by the Trinovante-Catuvellauni alliance. There was almost certainly a major battle near Haverhill in 60 AD between Legio IX, under Quintus Petilius Cerialis Caesius Rufus and the British forces. It happened as follows:

 

A Victorian Boudicca

 

Boudicca of the Iceni allied with the Essex and South Suffolk Trinovantes [tribe] to attack the Romans. After a two-day siege they took Colchester, smashed the temple of Claudius and destroyed the garrison.

The IX Legio marched south from near Peterborough to quell the revolt but was ambushed in the wooded Stour valley near Haverhill. The people of Great Wratting claim the local Blood Field, or Red Field, as the site of this battle, but at least one Essex village also claims ownership of it. The Romans lost 1,000 men, and the rebels then reduced Londinium (London) and Verulamium (St icAlbans) to a layer of ashes.

Boudicca's rebellion brought extreme reprisals and a firm Roman rule, which did not escape the Celts' notice. During the uprising and the following Roman suppression, many of the Britons buried hoards of coins safe-keeping. Around this time fifty gold coins supposedly bearing the head of Prasutagus (Boudicca's husband) were buried on the Chalkstone Hills and were only discovered in 1787. This is not in an area usually associated with the Iceni. It is possible that they could have been hidden before the battle with the IX Legio.

Pax Romana

Remains of a substantial Roman building were found on the outskirts of St Edmundsbury, dating probably from the second century AD. This, together with other finds and the close proximity of a Roman road, point to a long Roman occupation. A local Roman burial ground was found, and a nearby Roman settlement has been excavated. Area occupation extended from the iron age to the 4th century.

By 85 AD only three legions remained at Caerleon, Chester and York; yet Rome built their strength back to 50,000 by c200. Magnus Maximus began to withdraw the legions in 383, to support his bid to seize power and to pacify Gaul in 407. Maximus was a responsible man, and to help his British homeland he set up some defences. Part of those defences was to deploy British soldiers to Amorica, now called Brittany. These British soldiers eventually colonised Brittany and created a haven for later Britons to escape the Sxaons. By c410 the Romans had gone.

In the three centuries following Claudius's invasion, Roman villas and other settlements flourished as attested to by the Roman cemeteries. The River Stour was probably navigable as far as Wixoe, and Wixoe may well have been an important settlements. Certainly Wixoe is regarded as a large and important Roman settlement by modern archeologists. The main road through Cambridge, the Via Devana which originated in Chester, has been traced as far as Withersfield, and may have gone on through Haverhill to Long Melford and Colchester.

How long after the Romans left before the Anglo-Saxons began to settle is not, as yet, possible to determine precisely, but we do know where they started; not on the more agreeable south-eastern slope of the main Thames valley, but at the head of the smaller one. The reason was probably that this was better a defensive position. The local name Burton means 'the farm by the fort'. So it was at what is now Burton End that the Romans built a fortified farm, on the place which is now called the 'Castle'.[2]

The Legions

More than mere soldiers filled the legions, since these legionaries also built fortresses, cities, roads and bridges. The total length of hard-surfaced highways constructed by the Romans has been estimated to be ~100,000 kilometres, much of which still exists. Roman legionaries were de-facto engineers. By 82 AD the Romans had pushed northward in Britain as far as the Antonine Wall. During this campaign alone the army built over 60 forts and 2,000 kilometres of roads in Britain.. The imperial posting service used by Roman officials, maintained inns and relays of horses at 30 to 50 kilometre intervals along the road.

These Roman Roads were noted for the high quality of their construction and were still widely used in the Middle Ages. Most were straight, solid-surfaced, and cambered for drainage just as modern highways are today. Along with natural stone, they often used a form of hard concrete made from volcanic ash and lime. The road-network enabled Rome's military conquests, with the legions able to move quickly across Europe. The roads further created a base of support for the efficient administration of their conquered territories. Many of these Roman roads are resurfaced and still in use today in Britain, mainland Europe, Africa, and in Asia Minor.

The Picts & The Walls

 

Hadrian's Wall

 

Hadrian decided that northern Scotland was not worth the trouble and he built a wall from sea to sea. Hadrian’s wall was 73 miles long, built on the emperor’s personal order during his 122 AD visit, with construction lasting to 128. The legionaries built Hadrian’s wall five metres high, with turrets, mileposts, and fortresses along its length. There are still deep ditches both in front and to the rear of the wall, as extra crossing obstacles. Because of constant Pict attacks against the wall, Antoninus Pius advanced the frontier to the Forth and Clyde and built another wall. His wall was 39 miles long, had twenty forts, and may have actually separated Pictish tribes on both sides. The Antonine wall was manned by the II, VI and XX Legions during its forty years, but the Picts never stopped attacking Antoninus' wall. The Romans lost it twice before finally giving it up at the end of the second century and retreating to Hadrian's Wall. The Antonine wall was built in 140, but abandoned in 163. The Hadrian and Antonine walls were both built to shut out the Irish, Picts and other ‘barbarians’.[3]

In 208 AD, the governor of Britain was forced to appeal to the Emperor for help against the barbarians. Septimus Severus decided to come to Britain with a Roman fleet and 40,000 centurions. Although he defeated every Pictish army he met and beheaded every chief who failed to surrender, he still failed to conquer Caledonia. However, for nearly a century peace was kept; the Romans manned Hadrian's Wall and the tattoed Picts stayed away - while it was manned.

In 305, the Romans fought Picts in the north, as well as the Scots, Saxons and Franks in southern Britain. In 343, Constans campaigned against the Picts and probably entered into a truce with them. In 360, the truce was broken and the Picts, allied with the Scots of Ireland, attacked northern England. In 382-3, allied with the Scots they again invaded England, and this time the wall and its forts were not repaired although the invaders were driven back by Magnus Maximus. At the end of the century there was yet another Pictish invasion, this time stopped by the Roman general Stilicho.

By 409 the Romans had almost all left, and Britons were left to defend themselves. About this time the Celtic Gaelic tribe of Scots began settling in the southwest of Scotland, creating the kingdom of Dalriada in Argyll (Oir Ghaedhil - or Eastern Gaels - now called Argyle). To protect themselves from the Picts and Scots, a new kingdom called Strathclyde was created by the Britons. These latter Britons spoke a Celtic dialect much like their cousins in Wales. By 450, the Picts attacked the south without opposition, and the monk Gildas called them the "foul hordes of Scots and Picts, like dark throngs of worms who wriggle out of narrow fissures in the rock when the sun is high and the weather grows warm."

British Romans

Britain was a civil diocese within the Empire. For civil admistration, Britain was subordinate to the praetorian prefect of Gaul at Trier. Britain was an outpost of the empire, the limit of the civilized world, beyond Hadrians wall there were only barbarians.

A significant increase in the number of modern archaeological discoveries has shown considerable mining activity and a large building programme of forts, cities and estates. Rome took care of wealthy Britain, maintaining large garrisons and farms to feed legions in Gaul with British grain. The Romans also introduced civilization, peace, new breeds of hardy sheep, domestic grapes, canals, money, and a series of engineering skills. Several emperors were either born in Britain, or served there: Constantine the Great, made his initial bid for Imperial power from Britain.

The spa at Bath was built and as they founded new Roman towns and cities (notably Londinium), the landscape changed. Most of their cities survive, albeit with different names. Roman place names were in common use until the Normans. Some historians estimate that London, Cirencester, St Albans and Wroxeter may have had populations of more than 15,000 each during the Roman period. Early Britain had the makings of an urban society.

The Romans settled contentedly into the province of Britain and stayed for 400 years and many emperors lived there at some point in their careers. Roman soldiers and administrators intermarried with Britons and stayed into domestic retirements at the end of their careers. Britons gained wealth and position as time passed and they were accepted as partners. During that time Roman culture was assimilated into much of Britain and the Celts became Britons. Security and Roman citizenship were significant gifts then and most Britons accepted them along with roads, and the initial development of urban living and improved farming. Wealth was increased with a steady economy based on trade with Rome and the other provinces. If Rome prospered, so too did Britons in a period of long peace.

ENDNOTES

1               See Humanities Web, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, The Chronicle B.C.E. 60 - A.D 410, at http://www.humanitiesweb.org/human.php?s=s&p=l&a=c&ID=1908&o=.

2              Extensively quoted from the St Edmundsbury Haverhill Official Guide, Haverhill 'From the Iron Age to 1899', http://www.stedmundsbury.gov.uk/sebc/visit/hh-to-1899.cfm. See also BBC News, London Roman's remains go on show, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/london/6684993.stm, dated 23 May 2007. 

3              See BBC Reports "Roman tombstone found at Inveresk", http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/scotland/edinburgh_and_east/7066539.stm, dated 29 October 2007, and "Brooch casts light on Roman Wall", http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/tyne/4990240.stm, dated 17 May 2006.

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