Roman Britain: Contact and Conquest

In the previous post I set out a chronology of the period of Roman rule in Britain from the 1st to the early 5th century AD. I have decided to focus on several aspects of this period of history, from particular sites such as towns and cities, to religion and military rule. This post I will discuss what did Britain have to offer Rome and what led Claudius to invade. I will also touch briefly upon the conquest, however this will be only a brief post, as I am moving to London soon. I will continue to write posts on Roman Britain, but may also make travel posts, due to the nature of my interests and work.

The First References to Britain

In the 4th century BC a Greek by the name of Pytheas of Massilia sailed to Britain, he wrote of his experiences but unfortunately these have only survived as references by later authors such as Strabo. The Greeks initially named Britain as Albion and In the 1st century AD Pliny the Elder mentions that Britain had previously been called Albion, and later Prettannia or Brettannia ( de la Bedoyere, 2006, 10) . But what did Britain have to offer the Romans? Strabo writes in his Geography

It bears grain, cattle, gold, silver, and iron.These things, accordingly, are exported from the island, as also hides, and slaves, and dogs that are by nature suited to the purposes of the chase; the Celti, however, use both these and the native dogs for the purposes of war.

Links between Britain and Gaul had been established over the course of the late Iron age, this has been proven by archaeology. The trading centre at Hengistbury Head on the south coast, with its Iron Age coins and various finds including amphora indicate that this was a commercial hub trading with continent. During the mid 1st century BC the Romans began the conquest of Gaul lead by Caesar, he realised that the various British tribes were trading with the Gaul’s and potentially hiding insurgents. Perhaps he was looking for a pretext to invade, as no other Roman had previously crossed the Atlantic sea. While on campaign in Gaul and Britain, Caesar or more likely one of his subordinates wrote an account of his wars with the Gaul’s and Britons ( Frere, 1987) . He led a small invasion force in 55 BC and again in 54 BC. While this was a rather botched invasion with heavy casualties on the Roman side, it provided further impetus for the eventual conquest under Claudius.

                                                                                Fig 1: The Roman conquest 43-84 AD.

The Invasion of Britain

When the conquest began in AD 43, links with the wider Roman world had been ongoing for centuries, as amphora’s filled with wine made their way north, in return for gold and silver. Between Caesar’s invasions and AD 43 several British tribes paid tribute to Rome and gave hostages to Rome. The Attrebatic king Verica fled to Rome in the AD 40’s and gave Claudius an excuse to invade. This invasion consisted of several legions

  • Legio II Augusta
  • Legio IX Hispana
  • Legio XIV Gemina
  • Legio XX Valeria Victrix

The invasion force was led by Aulus Plautius landing possibly at Richbourough, there is no certainty that this was the landing spot. In my opinion however, the later triumphal arch which would be placed here, gives strength to the idea that it was. The future emperor Vespasian led Legio II Augusta westwards conquering many oppida and hill forts,including the massive hillfort at Maiden Castle. The rest were sent north and and north west towards Wales. By 122 all of the land known today as England and Wales had been conquerednmr_15852_03                                                              Fig 2: Maiden Castle, one of the forts conquered by Legio II Augusta.

There were several attempts to subdue Scotland, initially by Agricola who almost completed this conquest after defeating the Caledonian tribes, only to be recalled by Emporor Domitian. In the beginning of the 3rd century AD Emporor Septimius Severus also made attempt to subdue Scotland but was not successful, due to supply problems, guerilla tactics from the local tribes and also due to the nature of his sons Caracalla and Geta.




De la Bedoyere. G. 2006. Roman Britain A New History. Thames and Hudson. New York. 270.

Frere, Sheppad Sunderland (1987), Britannia: A History of Roman Britain (3rd, revised ed.), London: Routledge & Kegan Paul

Fig 1. Wikipedia, available at Accessed [22/08/13].

Fig 2. English Heritage, 2013 available at ( Accessed [22/08/13]


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