The Romans Invade Britain


Aquae Sulis, Bath.

The Roman Empire was so large by 100BC that it bordered all of the Mediterranean Sea and stretched across most of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, right as far as the Red Sea.

Britain first came to the attention of the Romans after they conquered France (Gaul). Having heard about the rich supplies of cloth, tin, corn, gold and slaves Britain had to offer, the governor of Gaul, Julius Caesar, wanted to expand the Empire across the Channel.

In August 55BC, Caesar, with 10,000 men, including cavalry soldiers, landed on the English coast, near Dover in Kent. The journey across the English Channel had been rough, and on arrival the troops were travel weary, with many of their ships damaged. Greeted by armed and resistant locals, the Romans faced fierce fighting against the Britons almost immediately, and were forced to retreat.

One year later, in 54BC the Caesar and his Roman troops made a second invasion attempt. This time they were better prepared, and quickly moved inland, taking control of the hill-fort at Bigbury, near Canterbury, Kent.

In 54BC all the tribes of the Britons were under the control of the Catuvellauni tribe, which was headed by chief Cassivellaunus, and was based near modern-day St Albans, just north of the River Thames.

As the well organised Roman legions marched ever nearer, crossing first the River Medway and then the Thames itself, they forced the Britons to submit to them along the way. However, before Caesar had time to develop structure and the Roman way of life upon the newly capitulated southern Britons, a revolt against the Romans in Gaul, combined with a civil war in Rome itself, meant he had no choice but to withdraw his army.

It would be another hundred years, in AD43, before the Romans made a further attempt to capture Britain. Emperor Claudius sent 40,000 men, under the control of Aulus Plautius, across the Channel, but again the legionaries were fought back by the Britons.

It wasn’t until AD44 that Emperor Claudius himself organised and headed a successful invasion of Britain. Though this settlement would ultimately fail as well, the Romans left an indelible mark on our country, as can be seen in numerous towns and features (and museums) today. Examples include Bath Spa in Somerset, Chester in Cheshire, the Dolaucothi gold mines in south west Wales and Hadrian’s wall along the border with Scotland.

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Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.

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