Roman Britain

Related Overviews

Claudius (10 bc — 54 ad) Roman emperor


Augustus (63—14 bc)

Julius Caesar (100 bc — 144 ad) politician, author, and military commander

See all related overviews in Oxford Index » »


More Like This

Show all results sharing this subject:

  • Classical Studies


Show Summary Details

Quick Reference

The province of Britannia. The islands were known to the Mediterranean world from the 3rd cent. bc. After 120, as trading contacts between Transalpine Gaul and areas to the north intensified, Britain began to receive goods such as wine amphorae, and Gallo‐Belgic coinage was introduced. Close political contacts with northern Gaul provided the pretext for Caesar's expeditions in 55 and 54 bc. His campaigns did not aim at conquest, although he did impose tribute on Cassivellaunus before withdrawing. Contacts with the Continent intensified with the Romanization of Gaul from Augustus onwards, and Rome maintained an interest in British affairs.

Annexation had apparently been contemplated by Augustus and Gaius 1 and was achieved by Claudius in ad 43. The army of four legions, with auxilia, quickly overran the territory of the Catuvellauni, with a set‐piece battle at Camulodunum. The army then moved west and north, so that by the time of the Boudiccan revolt (60/1) the lowlands south of the Trent and much of Wales were held. Romanization was advancing, and towns were well established at Londinium, Verulamium, and Camulodunum. The revolt was crushed, but territorial expansion slowed for perhaps a decade. A succession of able Flavian governors enlarged the province by completing the conquest of Wales and pushing into Scotland. The last of these, Iulius Agricola (c.77/8–83/4), advanced far into Scotland and defeated the Caledonians in a great battle at mons Graupius. After his withdrawal the rest of Scotland remained unconquered, and there began a gradual retreat, eventually to the Tyne–Solway line (by the period of Trajan). The Stanegate road which marked this line became a de facto frontier until the construction of the wall of Hadrian from c.ad 122. Although Scotland was again occupied first in the period c.139–164, when the wall of Antoninus was the frontier, and then during Septimius Severus' campaigns of 208–211, it was never incorporated, and Hadrian's Wall remained the effective permanent frontier of the province.

Britain was an imperial province which contained a substantial military garrison throughout the Principate. In the 2nd cent. the army comprised three legions—II Augusta at Isca 2, XX Valeria Victrix at Deva, and VI Victrix at Eburacum—and perhaps 75 auxiliary units. These were predominantly based in the north and Wales and brought wealth to these regions, which never‐theless remained less Romanized than areas to the south and east.

Local government was based on the Gallic cantonal system, with sixteen civitates (see civitas) known. In addition there were four coloniae (see colonization, roman) at Camulodunum (founded 49), Lindum (90–96), Glevum (96–98), and Eburacum (early 3rd cent.), together with Londinium which, although the provincial capital, is of uncertain status. The civitates were large, and some 70 lesser urban centres served the countryside away from the principal towns. None of the towns was well provided with public buildings. Most of those known are of later 1st‐ or 2nd‐cent. date. During the 2nd and 3rd cents. most towns were provided with defences. In the 4th cent. the principal towns became more residential than productive centres. Although important as defended locations, none of them survived with urban characteristics for long into the 5th cent.


Subjects: Classical Studies.

Reference entries

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.