Jule Romans is the author of "Shakespeare Love Quotes" and other books. She has 30 years of experience writing on educational topics.
What Was Roman England?
Roman England was a place of shifting boundaries, warring tribes, incursions, sieges, and complicated politics.
The first attempts to conquer England started in the final decades before the Common Era. In 55-54 B.C. Julius Caesar invaded Britain twice. In Julius Caesar’s second invasion of Britain in around 55 B.C., British Chief Cassivelaunus was forced to surrender. Tributes are imposed on all inhabitants of the region. This began the Romans’ 400-year-long siege and constantly threatened domination of England.
The Five Provinces of Roman Britain
Britain under the Romans was ultimately divided into five provinces:
- Britannia Prima, the country south of the Thames and the Bristol Channel.
- Britannia Secunda, almost the same as the Principality of Wales.
- Flavia Cæsariensis, the country north of the Thames, east of the Severn, and south of the Mersey and Humber.
- Maxima Cæsariensis, the territory northward to the wall of Severus.
- Valentia, the district between the wall of Severus and that of Antoninus.
However, it took time to establish these provinces. The most important events and highlights form a timeline that begins in the first century and stretches to the 5th century AD.
The First Defeats of Tribal Rulers
The following presents a timeline of the initial defeats of England's tribal rulers by Roman forces.
General Aulus Plautius was sent to Britain by the emperor Claudius. This year also marks some of the first written records of the history of England, partly because of the invasion. The Romans captured the capital of the Catuvellauni tribe, Colchester, Essex. The Catuvellani tribe, now in exile, begins a series of raids to reclaim their land.
The Roman statesman Publius Ostorius Scapula defeated Caractacus, British chieftain of the Catuvallauni tribe. The battle took place at Caer Caradoc, in Shropshire. Caractacus was afterwards betrayed by his stepmother and sent as a prisoner to Rome.
Gaius Suetonius Paulinus captured Anglesea. He gained a decisive victory over Boadicea, queen of the Iceni, who poisoned herself after the battle.
Julius Agricola became governor of the entire area. He subdued and then pacified the natives. Julius Agricola is often credited with nearly all the early Roman conquest of Britain.
Julius Agricola defeated a Caledonian chief, named Galgacus. This war, at the foot of the Grampian mountains, in what is now known as Scotland. London has become more Roman in culture and architecture. It has its own amphitheatre and basilica.
A War of Walls
In the second century AD, a couple of key events involving the construction of walls in England took place.
Emperor Hadrian fought the northern barbarians, known as Vandals. Hadrian’s Wall was built between the mouth of the Tyne river and Solway Firth. The wall was intended to prevent any further attacks. Many of the forts are designed specifically to defend against the tribes from northern England.
Lollius Urbicus created an earthwork barrier between the Firths of Forth and Clyde. This was called the wall of Antoninus, or the Antonine wall. It causes a great change in the northern border.
Emperor Severus Unites and Divides
This timeline offers a brief overview of Roman Emperor Severus's efforts to bring ancient Britains' tribes under Roman rule.
Emperor Severus invaded Caledonia. Caledonia was the original name of Scotland. Severus's invasion was intended to punish the people for their ravages in South Britain, and bring all the different tribes under Rome’s power. The conflict resulted in more guerrilla-like responses from the tribes, and eventually caused a forced treaty situation that did not fully end the violence.
To further impress domination upon the many tribes of Britain, Severus constructed a massive wall very close to the wall originally built by Hadrian. Britain’s territory was divided between north and south, with seats of power in both London and York.
Severus died at York. Severus has governed the entire Roman Empire from his seat at York in Britain. His death left room for more insurrection, plunging the area into disarray again.
This brief timeline explains Carausius and Allectus's roles as the so-called “Emperor of the North.”
Carausius was a famous admiral of the Roman fleet. He dramatically renounced his allegiance to Rome and became sovereign of Britain. He declared himself ruler of Imperium Britanniarum, fashioning for himself the title “Emperor of the North.” He also creates his own currency, with his face on all coins.
Emperor Carausius was assassinated by his close advisor and minister, Allectus. Allectus took the throne while Roman Britain was still disjointed. Allectus also craftily prevented the Romans from sending a fleet to reclaim Britain by creating the Saxon Shore Forts.
Allectus himself was slain when the Romans succeeded in reclaiming Britain. The country was re-annexed by the Romans and again became a “proper” part of the Roman Empire. The four provinces are solidified and named.
Christianity and Constantius
The following gives brief details on the effects of St. Alban and Emperor Constantius's deaths on Roman Britain.
St. Alban was martyred, being put to death for refusing to renounce Christianity. This event also marked a major shift in power for religious and philosophical reasons. This set the stage for Christianity becoming a legal religion within ten years of his martyrdom.
Emperor Constantius died at York. He had ruled under the title of Augustus of the Western Empire and ruler of Spain, Gaul and Britain. His son was swiftly raised to power but took many years to regain control of the empire.
This timeline explains the effects of Barbarian attacks in Roman Britain during the mid- to late-4th century.
Coordinated attacks by Barbarians from Scotland, Ireland and Germany wear down Roman power. Towns are ravaged all over the territory. A state of relative anarchy takes hold.
Theodosius, the last Emperor to rule over a united Roman Empire, arrived in Britain and restored the discipline of the Roman troops in Britain. Theodosius also drove back the Picts and Scots.
Maximus, a Roman general, was proclaimed emperor in Britain. This heralded a stormy few years, which allowed the Barbarian tribes to invade and gain power in several different pockets of the empire.
Maximus was defeated and slain in Italy. The power which he had transferred to Welsh rulers further fragmented the empire.
Barbarian attacks resume with more strength, as various tribes forced their way into weaker territories throughout Britain. There were temporary times of peace, but often valuable resources were diverted to deal with these skirmishes, which further weakened Roman power in the lands.
The End of Roman England
These two short facts discuss the fall of Roman rule in Britain in the early 5th century.
Many Roman troops were diverted to deal with the intimidating and strategic attacks by Alaric I, who sacked Rome with thousands of men. Britain was left to fend for itself.
Emperor Honorius abandoned the area politically and effectively. He informed the Britons that they must provide for their own protection. This, in effect, fully separated the Romans from Britain. The local people threw off the rule of Rome and pushed out all Roman authority.
This was the end of the Roman dominion in Britain.
The Limited Effect of Roman Rule
It is possible that in spite of all of these battles, Roman domination had little effect on the common man. According to Ben Johnson
“The Romans never did succeed in overcoming all of Britain. They always had to maintain a significant military presence to control the threat from the unconquered tribes. But most people in southern Britain settled down to Roman order and discipline. The vast majority of the populace would remain relatively untouched by Roman civilization, living off the land and eking out a living.”
Why Roman Soldiers Were Scared of Britain
Curtis, John Charles. (1896). Outlines of English History. Simpkins, Marshall, Hamilton and Kent Co.
Johnson, Ben. (October 2021). The Romans in England. Historic UK, History Magazine. <historic-uk.com/historyUK/historyofengland/the-romans-in-england>.
Johnson, Ben. (October 2021). Timeline of Roman Britain. Historic UK, History Magazine. <historic-uk.com/ HistoryUK/HistoryofBritain/Timeline-of-Roman-Britain>.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Jule Romans