Timeline of Roman Britain

From the Late Iron Age to the End of the Roman Era

c.320BC The Greek navigator/geographer Pytheas conducts a partial exploration of the island of “Albion”.
1st C.BCThe Veneti, a Belgic maritime tribe, trade actively with Britain.
56 Julius Caesar campaigns against the Veneti and destroys almost all of their fleet.
55 Julius Caesar’s first expedition into Cantium [Kent] with only two legions, ends inconclusively with the surrender of four Kentish kings.
54 Caesar’s second British campaign, this time with four legions and a force of cavalry, concludes with the surrender of Cassivellaunus, warlord of the Britons.
52 Commius the Atrebatian, Caesar’s Gaulish confidante, attempts to relieve his countryman Vercingatorix during the siege of Alesia. He is repulsed by the besieging Roman legions and flees to southern Britain to escape the retribution of Caesar.
44 Julius Caesar assassinated by Brutus and Cassius [et al] in the theatre of Pompey at Rome. Civil war ensues.
43 Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus [Octavian], great-nephew and adopted heir of Caesar, forms an alliance with Caesar’s second in command, Marcus Antonius [Mark Antony], and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus the popular champion of the Roman legions. Together, the second triumvirate pursue and destroy the assassins of Caesar.
36 Lepidus falls from favour and the second triumvirate dissolves; but being Pontifex Maximus and thus head of all Roman religion, his person is sacrosanct and he is allowed simply to retire from public life. Octavian and Mark Antony agree to divide the Roman world between them; Octavian consolidates Caesar’s gains in Gaul and the west whilst Antony continues his own campaigns in the East.
34 Disturbances in Britain prompt Octavian to gather forces for a punitive expedition, but his first planned campaign fails to sail, diverted by uprisings in Dalmatia.
31 Mark Anthony is defeated at Actium by the forces of Octavian, who then assumes sole leadership of the Roman state. At around this time at Verulamium [St. Albans] in Britain, Tasciovanus of the Catuvellauni established his capital as a powerful trading center.
c.30 The Catuvellauni became increasingly active in Britain. Octavian again gathered a British expeditionary force but was averted by the threat of an uprising in Gaul coupled with the assurance of the Britons good-intent by diplomacy.
27 Octavian earned the name “Augustus” and the title “Princeps”, for his reconstitution of the Roman state.
26BC Augustus prepared another British campaign but is again turned aside, this time by a revolt of the Selassi. After this third failure he resolved never to attempt the island again.
c.5BC Tincommius, successor of Commius the Gaul, became a friend of Rome and received a substantial amount of silver bullion into the bargain. This was re-minted and used to fund a pro-Roman power base in the south of Britain, to counter the growing anti-Roman tendancies of the Catuvellauni in the Thames Valley and Essex.
c.6AD The British king Dubnovellaunus of the the Trinovantes appeared as a suppliant before Augustus in Rome, complaining of the oppression of his tribe by king Cunobelin of the Catuvellauni (Shakespeare’s “Cymbeline”), the successor of Tasciovanus.
9AD The Roman governor of Germany, Publius Quinctilius Varus and his three legions [XVII, XVII and XIX] were massacred in the Teutoberger forest by Arminius, warlord of the united Germanic tribes. In Britain, Cunobelinus took advantage of the turmoil this event caused at Rome, and captured the Trinovantian capital of Camulodunum [Colchester]; Augustus was powerless to intervene because at that time no legions stood between the ravaging Germans and Rome itself. The situation in Germany was salvaged by the emperor’s step-son Tiberius Claudius Nero, promptly despatched from Rome to the Rhine.
14 Augustus died, handing the running of the empire over to Tiberius, who was induced to adopt his nephew Germanicus [the grandson of Augustus by his daughter Julia] as part of the deal. Tiberius vowed to keep the empire within the limits established by his predecessor, and Britain remained safely outside of political discussion at Rome for the duration of his reign.
19 The popular prince Germanicus dies in Antioch under suspicious circumstances. Tiberius was suspected of having poisoned him through the agent of Gnaeus Calpurnius Piso, governor of Syria, who was later tried for the crime before the senate in Rome and forced to suicide.
21 The Castra Praetoria [Praetorian Camp] built outside Rome by Lucius Aelius Sejanus, commander of the Praetorian Guard.
23 Drusus Caesar, natural son of the emperor Tiberius, poisoned in Rome by his wife Livilla and her lover Sejanus. The crime went undetected at this time, and Sejanus continued in Tiberius’ favour.
27 Tiberius retired to Capri, taking with him his astrologer Thrasyllus, and began a life of sordid pleasures. He was never to return to Rome, the running of the state left to the praetorian commander Sejanus.
31 The conspiracy of Sejanus exposed and crushed by Tiberius, who replaced him as praetorian commander with Sertorius Macro. The ageing emperor remained outside the city, soon to return to his island retreat on Capri, where his depraved and licentious behaviour continued.
37 Tiberius smothered in his bed at Micenum by Macro, acting under instructions from Gaius ‘Caligula’, Tiberius’ nephew, now emperor.
40 The prince Adminius, son of Cunobelin of the Catuvellauni expelled from Britain [for his pro-Roman tendancies] and pleads his case before Caligula. The emperor [by this time, barking-mad] conducted a farcical campaign against Britain, never actually leaving the shores of Gaul.
41 Caligula assassinated by Cassius Chaerea during the Palatine Games at Rome. Claudius, the uncle of the mad prince, acclaimed emperor, first by the Praetorians then by the Senate.
42 Following the death of Cunobelin in Britain, and the ascendancy of his anti-Roman sons Togodumnus and Caratacus, Verica, descendant of Commius and king of the Atrebatean kingdom in southern Britain was ousted from Calleva by the Catuvellaunian princes and fled to Rome.
43 Claudius conducted the Roman invasion of Britain with four legions under the generalship of Aulus Plautius; II Augusta, IX Hispana, XIV Gemina and XX Valeria. After an unnoposed landing, running battles were fought in Cantium against British chariot forces under the command first of Togodumnus and then Caratacus. The combined British were defeated at a decisive battle on the River Medway, during which Togodumnus recieved fatal wounds and his younger brother Caratacus forced to flee with the rest of his family through Gloucestershire to Wales. Claudius himself led the victorious Roman army into Camulodunum and spent sixteen days in Britain, holding audience with the leaders of several British tribes, two of them being made clients of Rome; the Iceni [from the fens of Norfolk to the east], and the Brigantes [from the hilly Pennines in the north]. The future emperor, Flavius Vespasianus [Vespasian], was commander of the second legion during the invasion campigns.
43-47 Plautius followed up the capture of Camulodunum with the subjugation of lowland Britain; Vespasian and Legio II Augusta sent south-west to subdue the hostile Belgae and Durotriges, eventually to establish Cogidubnus in his ancestral Atrebatean homelands [with a plush villa on the coast]; Legio IX Hispana were to strike north into the lands of the Corieltauvi between the client kingdoms of the Brigantes to the north and the Iceni to the east; Legio XIV Gemina advanced north-west through Catuvellaunian territory into the Midlands, then to campaign against the Dobunni [of Gloucestershire]; during this time Legio XX Valeria were held in reserve at the former Catuvellaunian capital.
44 Claudius celebrated his triumph over Britain, and took the name “Britannicus”, this name was also conferred on his infant son.
47 Aulus Plautius was recalled to Rome to celebrate an ovation. He was replaced as governor of the new Roman province of Britannia by Ostorius Scapula, who imposed the disarmament of all British tribes, quelled their resulting revolt led by the Iceni and sent exploratory forces into North Wales. Most of his governorship was spent fighting against the Silures in South Wales, led in war by the fugitive prince Caratacus.
48 The emperor’s wife, the notorious nymphomaniac Messalina, executed for her bigamous marriage to Gaius Silius.
49 Claudius marries his niece, Agrippina, daughter of his brother Germanicus. She has the stoic philosopher Seneca [her ex-lover] recalled from his banishment on Corsica, to act as tutor to her son Lucius Domitius [the future emperor Nero].
49 COLONIA CLAVDIA VICTRICENSIS CAMVLODVNENSIVM: Camulodunum (Colchester, Essex); established under Claudius.
50 Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus adopted by Claudius as his heir and guardian to his son Britannicus, only a few years his junior; he adopted the Claudian family name and the surname Nero [by which name he later becomes infamous]. At about this time, another client kingdom was formed from the pro-Roman Belgae and Atrebates tribes in the south-west of Britain, united under the kingship of Tiberius Claudius Cogidubnus, a young British nobleman educated in Rome.
51 Caratacus defeated by Ostorius Scapula after a heated contest in mid Wales and escaped north-east to the Brigantes. He is put under arrest and turned over to Scapula by their pro-Roman queen Cartimandua. Taken in chains to Rome, he is displayed by Claudius before the people in a triumphal parade and showed such dignity that he was spared the traditional death by strangulation and allowed to live with his family in Rome.
52 Scapula died on campaign against the Silures in South Wales. He was replaced by Didius Gallus, who consolidated the territory already gained, but makes no further conquests. An arch erected in Rome to celebrate Claudius’ triumph over ‘eleven British kings’.
53 Nero marries his step-sister Octavia.
54 Claudius poisoned by a dish of mushrooms given to him by his wife/niece Agrippina, her son Nero now emperor.
55 Nero poisoned his step-brother Britannicus during dinner and later expelled his mother Agrippina from the imperial palace.
59 Agrippina murdered on Nero’s orders. Without her steadying influence, his rule now became more erratic.
60 Prasutagus, king of the Iceni died, dividing his kingdom and fortune between his two daughters and Rome. Seneca and others began calling-in loans to Icenian noblemen. The legionaries sent into the kingdom to keep order actually cause an escalation of the problem. A civil disturbance in the Icenian capital was brutally crushed, the kings daughters raped and his wife Boudicca publicly flogged.
61 The Iceni, the Trinovantes and other British tribes revolted under the leadership of Boudicca; they destroyed the major Romano-British towns of Camulodunum [Colchester], Verulamium [St. Albans] and Londinium [London] before being finally defeated in a pitched battle in the Midlands.
62 Nero first divorced Octavia on the grounds of Barrenness in order to marry his lover, Poppaea Sabina, then has her banished to the island of Pandateria off the Campanian coast. He finally executed Octavia on a trumped-up charge of adultery and had her severed head sent to Rome for Poppaea’s pleasure.
64 Fire broke out near the Circus Maximus in Rome and burned for nine days. Nero is reputed to have praised the flames as inspirational and composed a song accompanied by the lyre for the occasion.
65 Seneca and the poet Lucan forced into suicide. Poppaea kicked to death by Nero whilst pregnant with their second child. Nero later appeared in public in Rome, dressed as Niobe.
67 Vespasian sent into Judaea by Nero to quell the recent disturbances.
68 Nero committed suicide near Rome. The senate voted Sulpicius Galba, then procurator of Spain as emperor. Julius Vindex led a revolt in Gaul but was defeated by Verginius Rufus at Vesontio, who refused the emperorship.
69 The Year of the Four Emperors. Following the death of Nero, Rome again entered into a period of civil war during which three men were proclaimed emperor and three emperors were to die. Galba assassinated in the forum in Rome [January 1st] and succeeded by Marcus Salvius Otho, a former favourite of Nero. Lucius Vitellius, governor of lower Germany, proclaimed emperor by his own troops and, backed-up by the legions from upper Germany, marched upon Rome. Otho’s army are defeated outside Cremona in the Po valley and Otho commits suicide [April 16th]. Vitellius immediately required to send forces north to quell an uprising in Batavia under Julius Civilis, a batavian nobleman, though a citizen of Rome. Towards the end of the year the eastern legions, unhappy with the choice of their German counterparts, proclaimed as their own emperor Vespasian, then governor of Judaea. The greater part of the eastern army then marched into Italy, and a second battle fought outside Cremona, resulting in defeat for the forces of Vitellius. The defeated emperor was captured by Flavian loyalists and led in chains through the streets of Rome, to be publicly humiliated and then beaten to death [December 20th].
70 Vespasian arrived in Rome from Judaea, leaving his eldest son Titus to continue the campaign against the Jews in Jerusalem. Domitian, the younger son of the new emperor, had been ‘living it up’ in Rome since the death of Vitellius. The Batavian revolt of Julius Civilis was crushed by the general Petilius Cerialis [later governor of Britain].
78 Gnaeus Julius Agricola appointed governor of Britain by Vespasian. Agricola’s first campaign results in the defeat of the Ordovices in North Wales and the conquest of Anglesey.
79 Vespasian died at his summer retreat at Reate, Titus now emperor. Mount Vesuvius erupted and buried the Campanian towns of Herculaneum and Pompeii [among others] in a rain of ash. Agricola advances northwards during his second campaign season, advancing by western route from Chester and York. North-west England consolidated by forts and garrisons.
80 Another fire at Rome destroyed the Capitoline temple district. The “Colosseum” or, more properly, the Flavian Amphitheatre, is inaugurated. During his third campaign, Agricola advances north by eastern route as far as the Tay.
81 Titus died, succeeded by his manic brother Domitian. Agricola consolidates the Forth-Clyde line during his fourth campaign season, by establishing forts at Camelon, Croy Hill, Bar Hill and elsewhere.
82 Agricola advanced along west coast from Solway Firth to Galloway peninsula and Ayrshire. The invasion of Hibernia (Ireland) was contemplated but not carried out.
83 Agricola advances through coastal areas around and to the north of the Tay, with the co-operation of the British Fleet. Caledonian tribesmen attack garrison forts and also the fortress of the Ninth Legion. A cohort of auxiliary Usipi mutinies and sails around the north coast of Britain.
84 Agricola advances to the Moray Firth, but, following the resounding victory at Mons Graupius over the Caledonian tribes, is ordered back to Rome by Domitian where he receives triumphal regalia.
86 Legio II Adiutrix withdrawn from Chester in Britain and posted to Dacia.
c.90 The Inchtuthil fortress in Tayside is demolished and abandoned; Legio XX Valeria Victrix return to Chester.
c.95 COLONIA DOMITIANA LINDENSIVM; Lindum (Lincoln, Lincolnshire); established under Domitian.
c.97 COLONIA NERVIA GLEVENSIVM; Glevum (Gloucester, Gloucestershire); established under Nerva.
c.99 Legionary fortress at Isca Silurum (Caerleon, Gwent) rebuilt in stone. Auxiliary forts in Scotland abandoned, and forts throughout Wales rebuilt in stone.
c.103 Legionary fortress at Deva (Chester, Cheshire) rebuilt in stone.
c.107 Legionary fortress at Eburacum (York, North Yorkshire) rebuilt in stone.
c.117 Revolt of the Brigantes tribe in the north of Britain.
122 Emperor Hadrian visits Britain bringing with him Legio VI Victrix, to replace the Ninth legion at York. Aulus Platorius Nepos as governor, begins construction of Hadrian’s Wall from the Tyne to the Solway.
138-139 During the reign of Antonine, the governor Quintus Lollius Urbicus crushes a revolt of the Brigantes in North Britain.
139-142 The campaigns of Urbicus proceed into lowland Scotland and are concluded with the building of another barrier, the Antonine Wall, across the Forth – Clyde isthmus.
155 Another rebellion of the Brigantes tribe in the north of Britain is quelled by governor Gaius Julius Verus, who orders the Antonine Wwall be abandoned and Hadrian’s Wall reoccupied.
161-165 Unsuccessful campaigns of governor Calpurnius Agricola into Scotland, end with the total abandonment of the Antonine Wall and most of the Scottish Borders region.
180-184 Another revolt in North Britain is suppressed by governor Ulpius Marcellus.
186 Pertinax suppresses mutiny of the armies in Britain.
193 Following the assassination of the emperor Commodus, Pertinax, lately governor of Britain is hailed emperor by the praetorian guard in Rome, but is killed later the same year.
196 British governor Clodius Albinus withdrew vexillations of troops from the British legions in an attempt for the throne, but is defeated in Gaul by Severus, who later becomes emperor. Governor of Britain, Decimus Clodius Albinus, is declared Caesar by Severus. The Maeatae conduct several successful raids into the north of Britain.
197 Governor Virius Lupus restores the situation in Britain, and rebuilds many forts.
197 Britain is divided into two provinces: the peaceful, settled Britannia Prima in the south, and the military Britannia Secunda in the troublesome north.
205-208 Hadrian’s Wall is refurbished during the governorship of Aufenus Senecio.
208 Emperor Septimius Severus and his sons Caracalla and Geta arrive in Britain.
209 Severus and Caracalla campaign into central Scotland and recieve the surrender ofthe Caledonian tribes.
210 The Maeatae revolt, which leads to the second Scottish campaign of Severus.
211 Severus dies at York. All Roman troops are withdrawn from Scotland to Hadrian’s Wall. Southern Scotland (Borders, Dumfries & Galloway) is organised into a protectorate.
212 Geta is killed by Caracalla at Rome. Caracalla extends Roman citizenship to all free-born provincials.
c.215 COLONIA EBORACENSIVM; Eburacum (York, North Yorkshire); established under Caracalla.
259-274 Britain absorbed into the Gallic Empire of Postumus and his successors.
286/7 Revolt of Carausius the commander of the British fleet, results in his claiming title to the Empire of Britain and North Gaul.
289 Maximian defeated by Carausius in North Gaul.
293 Constantius appointed Caesar in the West, captures Boulogne from Carausius, who is murdered by his minister Allectus, and continues to hold Britain.
296 Constantius crosses the Channel with a substantial force and recovers Britain from Allectus who is killed. The legionary fortresses at Chester and York are rebuilt, along with several forts along the length of Hadrian’s Wall.
296 Britain is reorganised into four provinces; ???????
306 Constantius, now emperor, and his son Constantine, campaign in Scotland. Constantius dies at York and Constantine is hailed Caesar in the West by the soldiers of Legio VI Victrix.
314 Three British Bishops attend the ‘Council of Arles’.
343 Constans campaigns in Britain and pacifies the Scottish tribes.
360 Emperor Julian sends Lupicinus to Britain as governor to repel raids by the Scots and Picts.
367 Saxons, Attacotti, Picts and Scots attack Britain, the garrison on Hadrian’s Wall is betrayed, Nectaridus the Count of the Saxon Shore in Britain is killed, Fullofordes, Duke of Britain is routed and flees to the continent.
369 The situation in Britain is restored by Count Theodosius. The Scots and Picts are repelled, the Wall rebuilt, and signal stations are placed on the north-east coast.
369 A fifth British province, Velantia, is established in the Scottish Borders.
383 Magnus Maximus governor of Britain, revolts and defeats the forces sent by Gratian, taking control of Gaul and Spain.
388 Maximus defeated and killed by Theodosius at Aquileia.
395 Stilicho improves the defences in Britain.
407 The usurper Constantine III, strips Britain of most of it’s garrison in order to conquer Gaul.
410 The Visigoths capture Rome (23rd August). Honorius informs Britain to ‘look to its own defences’.

The Initial Legionary Campaigns

Following his initial swift campaigns through the lands of the Cantiaci, the Atrebates, the Catuvellauni and the Trinovantes, Aulus Plautius, the first governor of Britannia, reorganised the four legions at his disposal;

  • Legio XX Valeria were based at Camulodunum on the east coast to act primarily as a reserve force but also to maintain the infrastructure of the newly-established province, building roads, forts, ports, etc.;
  • Legio IX Hispana pushed northwards into the Coritani homelands of Lincolnshire, leaving large forces along the Catuvellaunian and Icenian borders, in forts at Great Chesterford and Godmanchester;
  • Legio XIV Gemina operated throughout the Midlands, first against the Dobunni in the south then the Cornovii in the north, in this campaign marching along the route which would later become Watling Street;
  • Legio II Augusta under the personal command of the future emperor Vespasian campaigned in the south-west, crushing first the Belgae in Hampshire and Wiltshire then the Durotriges in Dorset and Somerset.

The Client Kingdoms

The newly-formed province was surrounded on three sides by ‘client kingdoms’; the Iceni in Norfolk, the Regni in Sussex, and the Brigantes in the North of England. This was a popular method used by Rome to control a region by placing a pro-Roman king on the throne, and granting him (or her) complete autonomy over the area so long as tribute was paid.

Client Troubles and the Welsh Campaigns Against Caratacus (50 AD)

When the second British governor Ostorius Scapula entered his new province, he marched directly into North Wales against the Deceangi tribe. This premature campaign was aborted after diplomatic pressure from the Brigantes client-state, and was followed by minor dynastic troubles among the Iceni. Once the client kingdoms had been pacified, Ostorius doffed his diplomatic toga and took up his military cloak, this time mobilising against the Welsh tribes who had united under the warlord Caratacus. Fighting first in Silures territory then in the lands of the Ordovices, Caratacus’ combined British army was finally defeated somewhere in mid-Wales, but the warlord himself escaped northwards to the court of the Brigantian queen Cartimandua, who promptly had him arrested and handed over to Rome. The capture of Caratacus was closely followed by the death of Ostorius, and the next three governors were to spend the rest of the decade campaigning in Wales, mainly against the Silures.

The Welsh campaigns required a substantial legionary back-up; The Fourteenth were re-united in a new fortress at Wroxeter in the Welsh Marches after having been split into vexillations stationed throughout the Midlands, at Wall and Penkridge, and perhaps Leicester and Metchley. Meanwhile, the Twentieth was moved to Gloucester and a new colony of veteran soldiers established in their old fortress at Colchester. The Second were now operating in the south-west from a new fortress at Exeter, while the Ninth were kept in the east, possibly divided between vexillation fortresses at Longthorpe and Newton-on-Trent.

The Revolt of The Iceni and its Aftermath (60 AD)

Following the death of king Prasutagus of the Iceni, the provincial procurator Decianus Catus, aided and abetted by the veteran soldiers from the Colonia, ravaged the old client-king’s lands throughout Norfolk and Suffolk. The governor Suetonius Paulinus did not check the corruption of his inferior as he was too busy seeking his own military glory in north-west Wales at the time. This self-seeking attitude prevalent amongst the ruling class was almost to lose the province to Rome, for the outraged Iceni under the leadership of the recently-widowed queen Boudica rose in revolt, and were soon joined by their southern neighbours the Trinovantes of Essex. The rebel hoard sacked the colony at Colchester, erased a detachment of the Ninth perhaps near Cambridge, then fell upon the thriving administrative centre of London and the new municipium at St. Alban’s. Paulinus had to cut-short his planned campaign on Anglesey and rushed back with the Fourteenth and a detachment of the Twentieth to the Midlands, where he finally defeated the British army outside Mancetter.

Following the Boudiccan revolt Paulinus was recalled from Britain, and Nero ensured that for the remainder of his reign the British governors spent less effort waging war and paid more attention to the administration of the province. It was during this period that many Romano-British towns were first established, particularly in the south and east, where auxiliary units were withdrawn and relocated to Wales, abandoning many of their forts among the predominantly pro-Roman south-eastern tribes.

The Revolt of the Brigantes and the Pacification of Wales (70AD)

The withdrawal of the Fourteenth required that Britain’s garrison be reorganised; the Twentieth were moved from their new fortress at Usk into the one recently-vacated at Wroxeter, the Ninth were re-united at Lincoln and the Second Augusta were moved from Exeter to Gloucester.

The suicide of Nero initiated a series of civil wars in Italy followed by an uprising in Germany, and many front-line auxiliary forces were withdrawn from Britain to fuel the chaos on the continent. This visible reduction of the British garrison prompted the disaffected Venutius of the Brigantes to break out in open rebellion, forcing his consort, the aged pro-Roman queen Cartimandua to flee to the protection of governor Vettius Bolanus. The revolt of Civilis had been quickly smashed by the Flavian general Petillius Cerialis, who was immediately shipped out to Britain to replace Bolanus and suppress the revolt, aided by a huge contingent of auxiliaries and a new legion, the Second Adiutrix which he stationed at Lincoln. The veteran Ninth were marched to a new base at Malton, then, by using these two legions in a classic ‘pincer’ movement, Cerialis crushed the revolt.

Cerialis spent the first half of the decade pacifying and occupying the Brigantian lands in the north of England, and the second half was to see the final defeat of the Silures in South Wales under governor Sextus Julius Frontinus; almost the entirety of England and Wales now belonged to Rome, but the most glorious campaigns were yet to come…

Gnaeus Julius Agricola

The conquests of this general were to see the Roman province of Britannia at its greatest extent; his seven campaigns can be summarized as follows:

78AD – Conquered the Ordovices in North Wales and Anglesey.
79AD – Advanced the Twentieth up from Gloucester by the western route, and the Ninth from York, conquering the Brigantes in northern England.
80AD – Marched into Scotland by eastern route, advancing as far as the Tay.
81AD – Consolidated the Forth – Clyde line, establishing many forts.
82AD – Advanced along the western coast from the Solway Firth around the Galloway Penninsula and into Ayrshire.
83AD – Advanced north-east, using a coastal supply-route into Tayside.
84AD – Advanced along east coast to Moray Firth, defeating the Caledonian warlord Calgacus in a decisive encounter at ‘Mons Graupius’, somewhere in the Grampian highlands.
Prompted by jealousy, the emperor Domitian recalled Agricola in 84AD and granted him triumphal regalia, after which he was quietly retired. Before long, perhaps as early as 87, the Second Adiutrix was withdrawn from Britain and the new fortress of the Twentieth at Inchtuthil had to be abandoned before its completion, the legion being withdrawn from the Scottish Highlands to reoccupy the recently vacated fortress at Chester. Much of Scotland was gradually abandoned and many auxiliary units were withdrawn to the Stanegate in northern England.

Political and Military Stabilization (100AD)

The last decade of the first century saw rapid development of the civil structure in Britain; many towns were established, London was granted a municipal charter during the Flavian period, and the addition of two more Roman colonies in the province was to create a reserve pool of veteran soldiers at strategic locations; Lincoln was granted colonial status and renamed Colonia Domitiana Lindensium c.93AD, and Gloucester became Colonia Nervia Glevensium sometime around 97AD.

The new century was to see a strengthening of the Roman military in the south of Britain; the fortress at Caerleon in south Wales was rebuilt in stone around 99AD along with many of the Welsh garrison forts, and shortly thereafter, the Agricolan forts in Scotland were abandoned. The legionary fortress at Chester on the northern Welsh border was rebuilt in stone c.103AD followed by the fortress at York in the north-east c.107/8AD.

Revolt in North Britain

The administrative restructuring around the turn of the second century was followed by a decade of relative calm, then, during the governorship of Marcus Appius Bradua (c.115AD to 118AD), the Brigantes tribe once again turned the north of Britain into a hotbed of revolution.

The Hadrianic Frontier

The most lasting of all Rome’s accomplishments in Britain is undoubtedly Hadrian’s Wall, which stretches across the north of England from the east to the west coasts for some eighty miles, between Wallsend near the mouth of the Tyne to Bowness-on-Solway near the Scottish border in Cumbria.

The emperor Hadrian’s 122AD visit to Britain required considerable pre-planning, and it would seem that the actual line of the Wall was scouted-out in the year prior to Hadrian arriving at the northern frontier, where his large residential building has been identified at Chesterholm/Vindolanda on the Stanegate. The initial surveying of the Wall’s route was supervised, then, by governor Quintus Pompeius Falco (c.118AD to 122AD) who had been sent to crush the recent Brigantian revolt and returned to Rome in the emperor Hadrian’s train, leaving his successor Aulus Platorius Nepos (122AD to c.125AD) to implement the actual building of the monumental frontier.

Some modern estimates of labour expended on the Wall include: 30 million facing stones quarried, shaped, transported and laid; 10 million gallons of water used to make mortar for the rubble core; 1 million cubic yards of earth removed from the ditch fronting the Wall.

The Antonine Occupation of Scotland

The emperor Antoninus Pius, motivated primarily so as to belittle the achievements of his predecessor Hadrian, extended the British frontier northwards once more and built another wall, this time of turf and timber, the forty-two-odd miles across the isthmus between the Forth and the Clyde; this frontier work has since become known as the Antonine Wall, and was built during the governorship of Quintus Lollius Urbicus (Gubernator 138/9AD to c.144).

By this action, several lowland tribes were brought under the dominion of Rome; the Votadini of northern Northumberland and east Borders region, and the Selgovae of west Borders and eastern Dumfries & Galloway were separated by the complex of forts and camps at Newstead on the main Roman road north by the east-coast route, the Novantae of Dumfries and the Galloway Pennisula were separated from the Selgovae by the western Roman road through the Scottish lowlands via Birrens and Castledykes, and finally the Damnonii of Strathclyde and Lothian, who inhabited the lowlands between the Forth and Clyde, and through whose lands the Antonine Wall was naturally built.

It has been mooted that the string of Agricolan forts and stations along the Gask Ridge may have been re-commissioned, the rich lands of the southern Venicones tribe annexed once more, and tribute therefrom levied in the form of foodstuffs, used to supplement the diet of the Wall’s garrison.

The Political/Geographical Divide

The province of Britannia was split into two broad administrative areas which mirrored the physical geography of the island; the lowland zone in the south-east was peopled by fully-Romanised tribes who had (apart from the Iceni) quite readily taken on the trappings of Roman civilization and were allowed to govern themselves; in the upland regions of North Britain and Wales, however, the truculent tribes required constant supervision, and this was where most of the Roman military were concentrated.

The Brigantes in north Britain had been a former client-state, who, despite constant upheaval were recognised as a civitas and largely allowed to govern themselves from their capital at Aldborough. The Welsh tribes fared very badly under Rome, however, and aside from the Silures, who had their civitas capital at Caerwent, joined perhaps by the Demetae who were possibly represented by the vicus at Carmarthen, the majority of Wales seems to have been under military rule.

Britannia Superior / Inferior c.212AD – 296AD

Caracalla reviewed the administration of Britannia and split the province into two: Britannia Superior in the south had a consular governor based at London with two legions, the Twentieth at Chester and the Second at Caerleon; Britannia Inferior in the north had a praetorian governor with only one legion, the Sixth at York, where the governor also resided.

Britannia Prima / Secunda and Flavia/Maxima Caesariensis 296AD – 369AD

Around 296AD the British provinces were once-more restructured, this time during the reforms of emperor Diocletian, whereby the existing provinces were each split into two; Britannia Superior in southern Britain became Britannia Prima in the west governed from Cirencester, and Maxima Caesariensis in the east which was governed from London; while Britannia Inferior in the north became Britannia Secunda governed from York, and Flavia Caesariensis governed from the colonia at Lincoln.

The military provinces were governed by young(ish), martially-minded men with praetorian status; Britannia Prima had two legions, the Second Augusta at Caerleon and the Twentieth at Chester, and Britannia Secunda one legion, the Sixth housed at York. The productive, more-civilized Caesariensis provinces had no legionary forces, very few auxiliary troops, and were governed by ex-consulars possessing great legislative and judicial authority.

This whole exercise followed close on the heels of Carausius’ revolution in Britain, and was undertaken primarily in order to separate the military and civil administrative posts, which ensured that a) the praetorian governors commanding the troops would not have the money to fund a rebellion, and b) the consular governors in charge of the purse-strings, would not have the troops to foment revolt.

Velantia 369AD+

Another province was added to Britain in 369AD by the emperor Valentinian, essentially an area in the north of Britain beyond Hadrian’s Wall – Dumfries & Galloway and the Scottish Borders – which was reestablished under tentative military rule and named Velantia. This act was to bring the tribes of the Southern Uplands – the Votadini, Selgovae and Novantae – under the aegis of Rome once more, though the Damnonii of the Forth-Clyde isthmus this time lay outside the boundaries of the empire.

The Notitia Dignitatum or ‘Register of Dignitaries’ is a document of great historical importance produced in the late-empire which lists the complete Roman administrative hierarchy, giving us the names of the various posts and the departments to which they belonged. This document also gives the disposition of the armed forces throughout the entire Roman world, giving the names of each unit, the rank of their individual commanders and also the name of their garrison fort. It remains the sole classical source for the names of the nine forts under the command of the “Count of the Saxon shore in Britain”, from Brancaster in Norfolk to Portchester in Hampshire; it is also justly famous for the section entitled Item per lineam Valli or “The route along the line of the Wall”, which enumerates most (but not all) of the forts on Hadrian’s Wall, and also includes many others forts throughout the north of Britain such as Lancaster and Ribchester.

The Tribal Civitates of Roman Britain

The Roman habit of forming administrative regions based on existing native territories had the effect of preserving the pre-Roman iron-age tribal boundaries in Britain. The civitas was essentially a self-governing political entity, administered by a pair of magistrates called duumviri who were elected each year from among the local inhabitants, usually the tribal nobility. These men were held responsible for the smooth-running of the Civitas. The tribal council comprised of around one-hundred men, many of which either had already held the position of duovir or aspired to do so, and was invariably based in the tribe’s largest town, which became known as the civitas capital. Several such towns are known, distinguished in the ancient sources by their double-barreled names, the second part identifying the name of the tribe; for example: Calleva Atrebatum or ‘Calleva (the town) of the Atrebates (tribe)’, and Corinium Dobunnorum or ‘Corinium of the Dobunni’. A sub-division of the civitas was known as a pagus. These extensive rural districts were administrated from the largest town within their borders, and elected their own magistrates each year. It is thought that the pagus may have been treated as a separate political entity, having representatives on the provincial council, but evidence suggests that they were also answerable to their native civitas. Good examples of pagi would be Ilchester and Brough-on-Humber. On top of this administrative system was the concilium provincae or provincial council, to which every civitas sent representatives. The council was at first located in Colchester but later moved to the large port of London, which had become the major trade centre in the province.

Roman Sites to visit in South East England