In his famous book on the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Edward Gibbon wrote ‘ In the second century of the Christian era the empire of Rome comprehended the fairest part of the earth, and the most civilised portion of mankind’. During the first and second century the Roman Empire, expanded and maintained its borders, assimilated provincial customs and religions and reached its peak.
This is the period when Britain or Britannia as it was known, was established as a province of the Roman Empire, a time of immense change to the indigenous population. Or was it? how big a change was made? we know that Rome made a material impact on the island as the various walls, villas and finds can attest for this, however it has been debated how much life changed after the Romans arrived. In the following series of posts I will be discussing various topics relating to this period.
In this post I will set a general chronological order of the history of Roman Britain, I have used various books for this including Websters Roman Britain (1982) which although dated does contain many useful maps, and also De La Bedoyere’s Roman Britain (2006) I have used these two sources for the chronology but have added a bit more detail on some of the more important events. It is important to note, some of these dates are not certain as we do not know the exact dates for some of the events. For example the tumultuous third century where a period of 50 years of political instability hit the empire. The historians Tacitus, Suetonius and Cassius Dio provide much of the historical background, it is the archaeology however that provides the material facts and this combined with the historical sources provides us with what we know about Roman Britain.
Fig 1. Hadrians Wall ( Hallatt, 2010)
Chronology of Roman Britain
55- 54 BC Julius Caesar leads two short campaigns into the south east of England.
AD 43 The invasion of Britannia begins, commanded by Aulus Plautius
47 Ostorius Scapula advances beyond the Severn river and defeats the tribal leader Caratacus
57 Q. Veranius begins the conquest of Wales
60 Revolt under Queen Boudicca of the Iceni tribe, after a number of Roman defeats and the sacking of Londinium(London) and Camulodunum(Colchester) , Boudicca is finally defeated by Suetonius Paullinus
68-69 After the death of Nero, Civil war grips the empire, finally Vespasian who conquered much of southern England is elevated to the throne.
71 Advance into Brigantia by Petillius Cerealis.
74-78 Conquest of Wales by Iulius Frontinus
78-84 Cn. Iulius Agricola becomes governor of Brittania , in his term of office he begins the conquest of Caledonia (Scotland).
86 Withdrawal from Scotland and reduction of the garrison, Emporor Domitian recalls Agricola just as he is about to complete the conquest of Scotland.
100 Trouble in the north, consolidation of the Stanegate frontier.
118 Trouble in the north
122 Hadrian visits Britannia and the construction of Hadrian’s Wall begins, under Platorius Nepos.
142 Advance into Scotland and the building of the Antonine Wall, under Lollius Urbicus.
155 Trouble in the north suppressed by Iulius Verus.
160 Hadrian’s Wall recommissioned.
196-197 The governor of Britain Clodius Albinus is proclaimed emperor by the British legions, he leaves Britain with substantial troops,but is defeated by Septimius Severus in a large and bloody battle at Lugdunum (Lyons).
208 Hadrian’s Wall repaired after a long period of neglect.
208-211 Campaigns against Caledonia (Scotland) led by Severus but cut short after his death at Eboracum (York).
212 Britannia is divided into two provinces, upper and lower.
260 After years of political instability and warfare, the Gallic Empire seperates from Rome to include, Britain, Gaul and Spain.
287-293 Carausius seized power in Britain and declared himself Augustus, but is murdered by his finance officer Allectus who assumes power.
293-296 Britain restored to the empire by Constantius Chlorus, who later becomes emperor. He dies in Eboracum and is succeeded by his son Constantine I.
343 Constans defeats invaders in Britain.
360 Continued raids in Britain culminating in the Barbarian conspiracy of 367 where a combination of Saxons, Picts and other tribes invade.
368 Count Theodosius reconquers Britain and strengthens its defences.
383-388 Magnus Maximus a general in Britain is proclaimed emperor by his troops, he gains control of the west but is defeated by Theodosius.
395 Northern defences restored by the general Stilicho.
410 The Britons are told by the Emporor Honorius that they are to look to there own defences, this is the effective end of Roman Britain as we know it, however in many towns and cities, Roman life continued, until the conquest by the Anglo Saxons in the following two centuries.
Above : The historical background to Roman Britain (Webster 1982, 1) and ( De la Bedoyere, 2006,270).
Author: Jeremy Hallatt
De la Bedoyere. G. 2006. Roman Britain A New History. Thames and Hudson. New York. 270.
Webster. G, 1982. Roman Britain. Heron Books, Oxford, 1.
Fig 1. Hadrians Wall, taking from Homestead’s Roman Fort (Hallatt, 2010)