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Roman Britain

map of Roman Britain Although Britain is situated to the north of continental Europe, and is separated from the continent by the English Channel, there were trade links between Britain and the Mediterranean dating back to the Bronze Age.
Phoenician traders established trade with the tin-miners of Cornwall. Tin is an essential component of bronze, and Cornish tin was used throughout Bronze-age Europe. An early name for Britain was the "Cassiterides" (Tin Islands, from the Greek word for tin, "kassiteroj")

Although Julius Caesar invaded Britain in 55BC and again in 54 BC, he did not establish Roman rule throughout the land. He conquered some of the tribes in the south of the island, and enforced a treaty with the king of the Atrebates, but then returned to Rome.
However, from that time on, Roman traders and others began to move in, and the southern part of the island came under Roman influences - for instance, people developed a taste for wine rather than beer. Grapes do not grow well in England, so there was no good local wine. Other luxury goods were also in demand, and for those the British traded slaves, metal, grain and other local produce.

The inhabitants at the time of the Roman invasions were Celts. Celtic society was organized on a tribal rather than a national basis. Each tribe controlled the lands around its main settlement, and raided other tribes for cattle, women, and slaves, but did not build empires or establish large kingdoms. The Celts tended to be farmers and warriors. They were fiercely independent, and did not willingly submit to direction by any one man (or woman). Hence they were superb guerilla fighters, but could not keep a sustained army in the field.

In AD 43 the Emperor Claudius was in need of some good publicity in Rome, so he sent Vespasian (at that time a general, he became Emperor later) to invade Britain. This invasion was more successful - some of the British tribes sided with the Romans against the other tribes. Vespasian marched his army as far as the town of Camulodonum (now Colchester - names ending in "chester", "caster" or "castro" indicate that they were a Roman camp - "castrum"), which he captured and rebuilt as a Roman headquarters - complete with a temple containing a statue of himself.

The following years saw an increasing Roman occupation and influence in Britain. Some tribes, such as the Atrebantes, welcomed the Romans and their life-style. Others, such as the Catuvelauni, fought a losing battle against the superior numbers and discipline of the Roman forces.
After the fall of Camulodunum, Caradog, or Caractacus, one of the sons of the last king, led the Catuvelauni, the Silures, and the Ordovices to several victories over the Romans, but was eventually betrayed by Cartimandua, Queen of the Brigantes, who sold him to the Romans. He was forced to walk through Rome in chains, but he made such an eloquent speech for freedom before Claudius that the Emperor spared his life. He lived the rest of his life as a hostage in Rome. Caradog's speech is recorded by Tacitus (Annals 12:37)

The Iceni of East Anglia, led by their king Prasutagus, had been favorable towards the Romans. When Prasutugas died (ca. AD 59) he left his kingdom to be shared between his two daughters and the Emperor Nero. The Romans took this as a licence to over-run the kingdom - leading citizens were pressed into slavery, and the two girls were handed over to slaves and soldiers to be raped. Prasutugas' wife, Boudicca or Boadicea, protested to the governor, and was hauled off and flogged in front of her people.
In AD 60 Boudicca and the Iceni rose in revolt against Rome. The Roman governor, Suetonius Paulinus, was off in the West, fighting the druids on Mona (the island of Anglsey), and Boudicca swept to victory against the Roman Ninth Legion. Camulodunum (Colchester), Verulamium (St. Alban's), and Londinium (London) fell to Boudicca's army. Paulinus left Anglesey and marched against Boudicca. At this point the British tribes were disorganized and over-confident - their style of fighting was to charge into battle and have a good fight just for the fun of it.
The Romans were professional soldiers, extensively drilled and more disciplined, and probably led the Britons into ambush - the details of the battle are not clear. Boudicca was unable to hold her army together, defeat ensued, and Boudicca and her daughters committed suicide rather than be captured (ca. AD 62).

The main contemporary written source for this period is Tacitus, the Annals, Book 14, 29-38

Cartimandua's husband, Venutius, next took up the fight against the Romans, and was victorious in several battles. He may have held northern England against the Romans for several years - the Roman historians do not give a clear account of Roman losses in Britain at this time, although Tacitus wrote that Vespasian had to "recover" Britain (ca. AD 78). Later Roman writers (eg. Juvenal) also mention war against the Brigantes

The main contemporary written source for this period is Tacitus, the Annals, Book 12, 31-40

The time and setting of the stories in the Cambridge Course is ca. AD 81, when Gaius Salvius Liberali was appointed as Legate (Law-deputy, circuit judge) for Britain. He returned to Rome in AD 87, became a consul, and so far as we know, did not return to Britain. The villa in which Salvius is living is modeled on a villa at Angmering (near Fishbourne Palace)
Salvius' wife probably really was called Rufilla - she is named as such on an inscription
Cogidubnus (or Togidubnus) was one of the kings who submitted to Roman rule, and became romanized himself. He probably submitted to Claudius in AD 43, and continued for many years as a "client-king" of the Regnenses
The palace of Fishbourne is a magnificent Romano-British site, with beautiful mosaic floors. Because only an extremely powerful and rich person could have lived in such a place, it was most probably Cogidubnus' palace.

Cogidubnus is referred to by Tacitus (Agricola 14)

 

Copyright © 1999 Shirley J. Rollinson, all Rights Reserved

Dr. Rollinson

Department of Religion
ENMU Station 19
Portales, NM 88130

Last Updated: January 8, 2010

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