Roman Invasion & Occupation of Britain
From 'A History of the British Nation' by AD Innes, 1912
The Claudian Invasion
It was not till the year A.D. 43 that the Roman Emperor Claudius resolved to add Britain to the Roman Empire. In the meantime there had been a not inconsiderable intercourse between the southern Britons and the Roman world; and the Romans learnt a great deal more of the geography than had been known to them in Caesar's day.
The Roman conquest, of course, bore no sort of resemblance to the previous conquests. It was very much more analogous to the British conquest of India, which began seventeen hundred years later. It was a military occupation, in which the conquering race established military centres and military roads, imposed taxes, arid took upon itself the organisation of government without either extirpating or enslaving the natives.
The advance was gradual. Within the first decade the Roman supremacy was established up to a line drawn from the Severn to the Wash. In the eighties the more northern tribes of the Brigantes up to the Solway were subdued, and the Roman Governor Agricola carried his arms successfully as far as the River Tay.
Establishing the Frontier
But though the Roman legions marched through Scotland no practical conquest was effected. Agricola routed the Highlanders, but that did not mean that they were in any sense brought to subjection.
In fact, Agricola had hardly left the country when even the Brigantes in the north of England were again in revolt, showing that the chastisement inflicted upon them had only broken them for a time.
They were, however, repressed not long afterwards. From the last years of the first century Britain, south of the Humber and the Mersey was well under control; and when Hadrian's Wall was built in AD 121 and the year following, from Solway to the Tyne, the Romans commanded the north up to that line.
The Antonine Wall
Twenty years later the boundary was carried farther to the wall of Antoninus from Clydemouth to the Firth of Forth. But the Roman stations beyond Hadrian's Wall appear never to have been more than garrisons planted in a hostile country, military outposts which prevented the northern tribes from gathering in force.
On the whole, we may take it that from about the middle of the second century the Pax Romano, reigned over the land south of Hadrian's Wall so long as the Roman occupation endured, but that north of that line the Romans merely planted garrisons to hold hostile tribes in check.
The Romans in Scotland
Early in the third century, the Emperor Severus conducted in person a great campaign in Scotland, in which his troops suffered terribly, though the natives could not stand against them; but immediately after his death the Romans again fell back behind Hadrian's Wall, now strengthened by the Wall of Severus.
The Romanisation of Britain
The whole story of the Roman activity beyond the Solway is curiously suggestive of the operations of British troops on the north-west frontier of India; while in Roman Britain, south of the Tyne and Solway, the Roman iegions preserved peace and the Roman officials conducted the government, as do the British in India. And the Roman legions, like the British regiments, largely consisted of levies drawn from the natives.
The country was superficially Romanised, adopting a degree of Roman manners and Roman culture. On the whole, it would seem that during the third century Britain flourished and waxed wealthy, its shores unmolested by foes from over the sea, while the unromanised tribes of the north were held securely back by the forts of the Roman wall.
But at the end of the third century and the beginning of the fourth Teutonic sea-rovers begin to put in an appearance. Tribes of the Saxons and the Franks took to the sea and to miscellaneous piracy. Here appears the picturesque figure of Carausius, who was appointed by Emperor Maximian, the colleague of Diocletian, to the command for the suppression of the pirates.
The operations of Carausius were successful, but were directed to serving his own ambitions; in fact, he set himself up as an independent emperor, and it seems quite possible that he would have succeeded in maintaining that position had he not been assassinated.
The Romans withdraw
His successor Allectus went down before Constantius Chlorus, the father of Constantine the Great who transformed Christianity from being the religion of a persecuted sect into the dominant creed of the Roman Empire; and the Roman supremacy was again established.
Roman Britain continued to prosper and was Christianised like the rest of the Roman Empire. But the Roman Empire itself was now on the verge of being shattered by the Teutonic advance, and in the year AD 410 the Roman legions were recalled, and the province of Britain was cut adrift and left to shift for itself.
This article is excerpted from the book, 'A History of the British Nation', by AD Innes, published in 1912 by TC & EC Jack, London. I picked up this delightful tome at a second-hand bookstore in Calgary, Canada, some years ago. Since it is now more than 70 years since Mr Innes's death in 1938, we are able to share the complete text of this book with Britain Express readers. Some of the author's views may be controversial by modern standards, particularly his attitudes towards other cultures and races, but it is worth reading as a period piece of British attitudes at the time of writing.
Prehistory - Roman Britain - Dark Ages - Medieval Britain - The Tudor Era - The Stuarts - Georgian Britain - The Victorian Age