Sources

The Romans have left us a rich variety of written and archaeological sources about their lives in Britain. Julius Caesar, Tacitus and others wrote extensively, presenting us with the Roman version of events. Archaeological sources that tell us about Roman Britain include roads, coins, jewellery, gravestones, statues; the ruins of baths, villas, forts and palaces, and the magnificent Hadrian’s Wall.

Classical References

A collection of references to Britain during the rule of Rome, gleaned from the works of classical historians.

Classical References regarding the Geography of Britain

To the Romans, Britannia was a mysterious island lying beyond Oceanus, the great river described by Homer as encircling the entire inhabited world. Britain was therefore seen as a land beyond the limits of civilisation. Britannia was first brought to the attention of the Roman people by the campaigns of Julius Caesar in 55 and 54 BC, but was not proven to be an island until the early eighties A.D., when the governor Gnaeus Julius Agricola sent an exploratory naval expedition around the north coast of Scotland. This section describes Britannia as the Romans knew it, utilizing the British sections from the main classical geographies.

  • Classical Geographia (c.1st century AD ): Classical references to the Insulae Britanniarum, including the works of Caesar, Livy, Pliny, and many more of the most learned geographers of the Roman era.
  • Ptolemy’s Geography (c. AD 140): The first two chapters of Book II deal with the British Isles; Hibernia (Ireland) in chapter 1, and Albion (Mainland Britain) in chapter 2.
  • Antonine Itinerary (c. AD 220): A list of fifteen routes throughout the Roman province of Britannia, with several repetitions and several notable omissions.
  • Notitia Dignitatum (c. AD 395-430):  A late Imperial administrative document is the unique historical source for the Saxon Shore Forts, a network of coastal defenses built around southeast Britain in the 3rd and 4th centuries AD .
  • Ravenna Cosmography (c.7th century AD ): A list of Roman posting-stations, forts and towns, compiled by an unknown monk from Ravenna on the Adriatic coast of Italy.
  • Peutinger Table (c.11th century AD ): This Roman map was cut into several pieces sometime during the Middle-Ages, a surviving portion of which shows a few towns in south-east England.
  • Nennius’ Cities (9th century?): Nennius was a monk and contemporary of Bede? who wrote his Historia Brittonum in the 9th century, wherein is contained a list of 33 ‘British Towns’.

Epigraphia Britanniarum

Epigraphy is the study of inscriptions, or epigraphs, as writing. The following are a list of Epigraphic resources for investigating Roman Britain:

Journals of Roman Studies

Britannia has established itself as a major national and international academic journal. It is the foremost journal for the study of the Roman province of Britannia. The following is an index to the journal.