Early Britain: Roman Era

Contributor: Suzanne Riordan. Lesson ID: 13280

What happened when an island of Celtic warriors was invaded by the Romans? Why did a red-haired queen lead a rebellion against them? And how did their towns, forts, and walls shape future Britain?

categories

World, World Cultures

subject
History
learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Beaver, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

Audio:
  • Do you know the name of the famous wall in the picture above?

Hint: It's not the Great Wall of China; however, like the Great Wall, it was built as a border to keep out barbarians from the north!

  • Where is it?
  • How long is it?
  • Who built it?
  • And which barbarians was it meant to keep out?

Read on to find out!

When the Romans decided to expand their territory by taking over the island they called Britannia, they didn't quite know what they were facing. The Celts (pronounced "Kelts"), an ancient people who had spread all over Central and Western Europe, had made the island their home, and many of them did not welcome the great conquerors!

Four hundred years later, the Romans had to withdraw their troops, but the Roman invasion would forever change the face of Britain.

The Britons

The Romans called the barbarians living on this island Britons. They were the Celts, a fierce warrior people with impressive metal-working skills, strange and violent religious practices, artistic flair, and a language that has survived to the present day.

Invasions

statue of emperor Caesar Augustus

After defeating the Celts in Gaul (now France) in 55 BC, Julius Caesar and two Roman legions (10,000 soldiers) were the first Romans to enter Britain. Caesar thought the Britons would be easy to defeat. On this first trip, he built a fort and fought off some of the Celtic warriors but left without conquering the land.

Caesar came back again the next year, 54 BC, with 800 ships and five legions of soldiers. He reached the River Thames, fighting off the less organized Celts and burning much of the land he traveled through. (This is called a scorched-earth policy, which means destroying the resources of your enemy.)

However, bad weather damaged many of Caesar's ships, and he had to return to Gaul to deal with some problems there.

It would be almost a hundred years before the Romans came back again.

In 43 AD, the Roman Emperor Claudius sent four legions to conquer Britannia. A Celtic chief named Caratacus led the resistance against him.

Later that year, Claudius himself arrived with more soldiers. They took the town they called Camulodunum (now Colchester), and 11 of the Celtic kings surrendered to them.

  • Why would they surrender?

Watch the following segment from the BBC video series The Celts, Blood, Iron, and Sacrifice.

BBC The Celts Blood Iron And Sacrifice 3of3 from MoonOwl Grove:

By 47 AD, the Romans had conquered all of southern Britain.

In 51 AD, Caratacus again led a rebellion against the Romans, but he was captured and sent to Rome. There, he pleaded his case so well that Emperor Claudius released him and let him live out the rest of his days peacefully in Rome!

Caractacus at the Tribunal of Claudius at Rome

Engraving by Andrew Birrell of a painting by Henry Fuseli, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.

Meanwhile, the Romans began reshaping Britain by building towns, forts, roads, and walls.

Roman Forts

In order to defend themselves from the Celts, the Romans built military forts throughout the land.

  • Would you like to tour one of those forts?

Watch an animated fly-through of the Roman Fort at Templeborough.

A 3D visualisation of the Roman fort at Templeborough near Rotherham, UK:

Hadrian's Wall

Although the Romans conquered southern Britain, they were not successful in the northern part of the island (which we now know as Scotland). So, instead of conquering the tribes to the north, they built a wall to keep them out! They worked on the wall from 122 AD to 139 AD.

This is the famous Hadrian's Wall, which is pictured at the beginning of the lesson. It stretches 73 miles from the east coast of Britain to the west. There are watchtowers and forts all along the wall.

So, now you can answer these questions from the beginning of the lesson:

  • Where is it?
  • How long is it?
  • Who built it?
  • Which barbarians was it meant to keep out?

Roman Towns

In 47 AD, the Romans founded the town of Londinium (now London), and built a bridge across the River Thames.

Statue of Roman Emperor Trajan and Remains of London Wall

Some other towns founded by the Romans are:

  • Venta Belgarum (now Winchester)
  • Mamucium (now Manchester)
  • Leodis (now Leeds)
  • Isca Dumnoniorum (now Exeter)
  • Durovernum Cantiacorum (now Canterbury)
  • Deva Victrix (now Chester)

The map below shows Roman Britain's towns, roads, walls, and the forts where the legions were stationed:

Roman Roads in Britain around 150 AD

Image by Andrei nacu, via Wikimedia Commons, was released into the public domain.

Architecture

The ruins of several Roman buildings show us some of their skill and creativity with underground heating systems, intricate tile floors, and elaborate gardens complete with fountains and marble statues.

One example is the Palace at Fishbourne, the largest Roman home discovered in Britain. It's now a museum that visitors can explore!

Here is how the palace looked in Roman times:

view of Fishbourne Roman Palace in West Sussex, United Kingdom

Image by Immanuel Giel, via Wikimedia Commons, was released into the public domain.

Inside, you can still see the beautiful mosaic floors and the re-created gardens:

Queen Boudica's Rebellion

While many of the Celts in Britain surrendered, some could not accept the rule of the Romans. One of them was Boudica.

Boudica statue in Westminster

Image by Paul Walter, via Wikimedia Commons, is licensed under the CC BY 2.0 license.

Watch another segment of our BBC video to learn how this Celtic Queen became involved in a war against the mighty Romans:

In 60 AD, Queen Boudica gathered 100,000 warriors and headed to the Roman capital at Camulodunum (now Colchester).

She also led an attack on Londinium (now London) and Verulamium (now St. Albans). However, at the Battle of Watling Street, Queen Boudica was defeated.

Watch a final segment of The Celts, Blood, Iron, and Sacrifice:

By 77 AD, the Romans had conquered all of Britain, and the Britons were forced to take on Roman ways.

End of Roman Rule in Britain

The Romans left Britain in 410 AD and did not return again. The Emperor Honorius famously wrote a letter telling the Britons that the Roman soldiers were being called home and that they had to defend themselves from then on!

Now, roam over to the Got It? section, where you'll test your knowledge of Roman Britain and plan a trip to visit Hadrian's Wall!

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