The History of England

from Celts through 20th century

The Roman Invasion

Category: 00 Roman Britain

In the middle of the first century BC Julius Caesar landed the British Isles. On the 26th of August, 55 BC some 10.000 men and 500 cavalry landed somewhere between Dover and Deal. The highly efficient Roman army had little difficulty in routing the local Celtic chieftains. Caesar carefully noted the way they fought and determined to return the following year. On the 6th of July 54 BC an ever larger army landed in the same area.

Roman soldiers looked very differently from the Celts they defeated. They wore metal helmets and plate armour and carried shields of wood and leather with a sword. Their life was one of discipline and drills twice a day.

The Roman legions occupied England and Wales. They preferred to settle down in England as it was more suitable for human settlements compared with mountainous Wales and wild and warlike Scotland. Their invasion was not peaceful. Queen Boadicca headed a revolt against the Romans and destroyed 3 towns, including Londinium and took poison when finally defeated by the Romans. The Romans tried to defend themselves against the Celtic tribes by building forts such as Caerleon, Chester and York and a great defensive wall across the north of England which was constructed by the order of the Roman Emperor Hadrian. Hadrian’s Wall is probably the most spectacular memorial to the Roman Empire in England. Much of it still exists today and its smaller sites – turrets, mile castles, signal towers and stretches of wall are worth a visit. The wild landscape still evokes the spirit of the past.

Roman civilisation brought straight paved roads to England which led to garrison towns from London.

Very few Romans settled down in Britain but the native language absorbed many Latin words. Many of the towns that the Romans built still have in their names the Latin word “castra”, meaning a camp or a fortified town: Lancaster, Chester, and Leicester.

The Romans introduced a lot of elements of their civilisation: they built villas adorned with frescoes, mosaics which were warmed by central heating; they constructed granaries with the ingenious system of ventilation and famous baths with underfloor heating system.

Roman urban life was the only they recognised, something totally alien to the Celts and also towns were an essential element of the pattern of government which they introduced. Some of them resembled to the elegance of Rome.

In 367 the wild Celts of the North, the Picts and Scots overran the Wall, Saxon pirates landed in the East. They were called “barbarians” by the civilized unwarlike Britons of the Roman England. At the beginning of the 5th century the Romans were forced to withdraw from England. Many of the Romanized Britons went west into Wales and Cornwall.

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