The Romans arrived late in the season, in
three divisions (one of which may just have been a feint to keep the
Britons off guard). They landed at Richborough in Kent and
Chichester in West Sussex, and initially had trouble finding anyone
The Britons, quite sensibly, took to the
hills and marshes and tried to keep out of sight, hoping the Romans
would use up their supplies. Eventually, however, the Romans
recorded victories against Togodumnus of the Catuvellauni and his
brother Caratacus, with the latter probably in Kent.
Immediately elements of the Dobunni
surrendered (probably via envoys), possibly glad to be free of
Catuvellauni influence. The Catuvellauni were not finished yet,
however, and they met the Romans, probably at the River Medway in
Kent, and faced off against them in a comparatively rare two-day battle.
There was still some extremely hard fighting
to follow before the Romans finally received the surrender of the
Catuvellauni (but not of Caratacus himself), and the south-east became
part of the Roman Empire.
As they knew before they landed, the Romans
wouldn't have to fight for everything. Many tribes welcomed them, if
only to protect themselves from Catuvellauni pressure.
The Iceni became a client kingdom (shown
here backed by vertical red lines), and the Romans created a new
client kingdom in the area of modern Sussex; the Regninses had been
under the governance of the Atrebates until the conquest, and this
new state probably also included areas of territory belonging to the
Belgae, while its ruler, Cogidubnus, was probably the son of
the last independent king of the Atrebates.
Elsewhere, the Roman second wing saw some hard
fighting against the tough Durotriges before they were conquered (shown
here backed by diagonal red lines). The date of conquest of the remaining
free Dobunni isn't known, but it cannot have taken the Romans long to reach
them. There is reason to believe that Caratacus sheltered here for a time before
withdrawing into Wales.
To the north and west, the Coritani welcomed
the Romans, while the fiercely independent Brigantes became Roman
clients, as probably did the Cornovii.
Over the next decade the Romans consolidated
their conquests in the south-east and the West Country. The Cornovii
were drawn fully into the empire by AD 51, as a campaign into Wales
was launched to pacify its tribes.
Between AD 47-52 in Wales, the Silures gave
the Romans a difficult time and some heavy losses; the Ordovices saw
some action, too, and were not defeated, only perhaps subdued; and
a raid was conducted against the Deceangli, with extensive
quantities of booty being taken.
Nothing definite was achieved in Wales,
except for driving the High King, Caratacus, out of the
south and into the arms of the Brigantes, from where he was turned
over to the Romans. He was the last of those capable of
uniting the tribes in defiance of Rome. From now on they would fight
In circa AD 55 Rome established a
legionary fort at Isca (Exeter), but there is little evidence of
them proceeding much further west of that, while in AD 61, Roman
mishandling led to the Iceni revolt which almost regained the
country for the Britons. Ultimately it failed and the Iceni were
also drawn fully into the empire.
In AD 78 the Romans withdrew from Exeter, perhaps
to reinforce their beleaguered forces in Wales. It seems highly likely that
a strong Roman presence in the territory of the Dumnonii was not re-established.
Instead, they may have become a permanent client kingdom.
The Iceni were now firmly part of the empire, as were
the Cornovii, and the Brigantes remained a rather troublesome client kingdom
in the north.
Hard fighting in Wales saw a high casualty rate on both
sides. The Ordovices destroyed a Roman cavalry squadron in AD 74-75, and legionary
forts were established throughout the the west in order to try and subdue the tribes.
A new Roman governor in AD 79 was determined to break the rebellious Ordovices, and
he almost annihilated them in the process. A final push into Anglesey within the
territory of the Deceangli, and the conquest of Wales was finally achieved.
During the same period, the Romans had lost their ally
within the Brigantes when they had to rescue Queen Cartimandua. Now they faced
more hard fighting to conquer the north in a poorly recorded campaign that
ended in AD 79.
Now the Romans turned their attention to the
north and in AD 80 sent two invading columns into Lowland Scotland,
with them meeting up at Inveresk (near Edinburgh), deep within the
territory of the Votadini Britons. The force set up permanent garrisons
in its wake and in AD 81, the Forth-Clyde line was secured within Damnonii
territory, perhaps slightly south of the later Antonine Wall.
In AD 82, the Romans secured the western
coast up to the Clyde to contain the tribesmen there (the remaining
Damnonii, the Selgovae, and the Novantae), and perhaps prevent Irish
raiding parties from landing.
The following year, Within the Pictish
heartland, firstly north of the Firth of Forth (AD 83) and then at
Mons Graupius (AD 84), the Romans won victories over what they call
the 'Caledonians' led by Calgucus. Then, with the Roman fleet
preceding them to spread terror, a decisive battle was fought,
probably in the territory of the Vacomagi. The Highland glens were
then secured along the east coast but by AD 86-88 many forts were
dismantled and apart from some possible watchtowers, the main Roman
forces retired back to the Tyne-Solway line (the northern Roman
border shown here).
Britain settled down under Roman administration, with
a huge urban building programme being undertaken.
The province was the scene of some serious fighting
in circa 118-120, probably following a barbarian invasion. Visiting
the scene, Hadrian authorised the construction of a stone wall on the
Tyne-Solway line in 121-122 as part of his defensive reorganisations. Some
forts were maintained to the north of the western section, once the wall
was completed in around 127.
The Romans moved north again in AD 140-143
to the Forth-Clyde line, roughly the southern Pictish boundary,
reoccupying British Lowland Scotland and beginning construction of
the more basic Antonine Wall. The tribes to the north had coalesced
into two main bodies, the Caledonii and the Maeatae.
In 148, the Damnonii
declared an independent kingdom, one of the 'four kingdoms of the
north', although the other three probably remained in alliance with
Rome for the most part, and the legions withdrew south by 163. The year
197 saw the defeat of the rival emperor, Albinus, and the single
province was divided in two in the subsequent reorganisations.
Emperor Severus visited the provinces to
lead a campaign in person against the Caledonii and Maeatae in
209-211. He pursued a scorched earth policy to try and bring the
ephemeral tribesmen either to a pitched battle or to surrender,
neither of which actually occurred.
Following Severus' death, either immediately
or shortly afterwards, Rome permanently abandoned Scotland. The
tribes of Lowland Scotland were probably permanently established as
client kingdoms by this time, with a few Roman forts north of
Hadrian's Wall remaining occupied to keep an eye on them.
In 260 the emperor's lieutenant on the
Rhine, Postumus, declared himself emperor of Germany, Gaul, Spain,
and Britain. For the next thirteen years the whole of the
north-western part of the empire was run as an independent but fully
Roman state with its own series of emperors, being called the
'Empire of the Gallic Provinces' (Imperium Galliarum). The empire
was defeated in battle in 274 and the northern provinces were
returned to the rule of Rome itself.
There was a repeat of this in 286-296 as two
further would-be emperors held the provinces, cutting them off from
In 305-306 Emperor Constantius followed
Severus' example and campaigned against the elusive Highland tribes,
forcing them into a battle and ensuring a period of renewed peace.
Britannia's two provinces were subdivided into four by Constantius'
reorganisations. These were named (by no later than 314) as Britannia
Prima, Britannia Secunda, Maxima Caesariensis, and Flavia Caesariensis.
The death of Emperor Constantine, and then
his eldest son, Constantine II proved serious for Britain. Early
fourth century peace and prosperity ebbed away. Emperor Constans made
a sudden visit in early 343, suggesting an emergency (maybe warfare
against the tribes north of the Wall) had brought him to Britannia at
a time unusual for Channel crossings. He could also have ordered the
widespread refortification of cities which now occurred.
By 367, the Picts had formed into two groups:
the Dicalydonae and the Verturiones. They were part of the Barbarian Conspiracy
in which Britain was attacked on several fronts. They invaded yet again in 382,
one of many such attacks as Roman authority declined. This attack was defeated
by the Roman commander, Magnus Maximus.
Maximus revolted in 383 and invaded Gaul with a
large army. In preparation, he is credited with setting up client kingdoms
in Wales to protect the west coast from Irish raiders. Some local forts were
also abandoned at this time. From this point all Britain's High Kings
originated from within the country, and for this purpose Maximus is supposed
to have selected Coel Hen as his replacement in Northern Britain.
Between c.384-390 war flared up against
the Picts again, and it apparently lasted 'for many years', although the
situation was probably contained. In 398 the Romans led a campaign to defeat
Pictish forces in the north, along with fighting off raiding Saxons and Irish Scotti.
Troops were withdrawn from Britain in 404/5
to form part of the Roman army that defeated a force of Goths and other
barbarians in North Italy. This came in the same year as further Scotti
raids took place on the south coast. The British provinces were relatively
isolated and lacking in support from Rome in their fight against barbarian
incursions, so from 406 the remaining army raised a series of their own
claimants to the throne. Further raids convinced the British to expel all Roman
officials, breaking ties that were never renewed.
After the break with Rome came a period
in which central administration apparently began to break down.
There was probably not a single individual with enough power to
hold the Romanised administrative structure together, so control
began to drift out towards the local centres, with powerful regional
figures beginning to rise to power.
Vortigern's climb to power in the west
seems to confirm this trend, and also began its reverse. He
apparently brought some semblance of unity back to the country,
although in some regions he probably administered what were in
effect petty kingdoms rather than provinces.
By now, Ceint (Kent) was probably
independent, and Dumnonia had claimed the former Durotriges
territory for its own, while Vortigern's Pagenses (Powys) lay
next to the kingdoms which came to govern all Wales. The North
was also fragmenting with Bernicia being the first subdivision
created. The remaining Roman provinces would disappear within the
next forty years at most, as a foederati revolt, widespread
plague, civil war, and a barbarian invasion destroyed the country's