Category Archives: Roman Britain

History of Slavery

The Slave Trade

England’s involvement in the slave trade goes back to a time, when the Romans invaded our country, and ruled this land of ours. Romans under the command of Julius Ceasar found the early English man lacked a good brain, thus reducing their prices when sold as slaves at markets.

Cicero noted that the ‘British’ enslaved by Julius Caesar ‘were too ignorant to fetch fancy prices in the market’. The enslavement of the people of this outpost of the Roman Empire continued for hundreds of years as we know that Pope Gregory spoke with some British slaves in the slave market in Rome in the seventh century AD.  Domestic slavery – usually called ‘serfdom’ – also existed in Britain: serfs were bought and sold with the estate on which they had to work for a fixed number of days a year without payment; they could only marry with their lord’s consent, could not leave the estate and had few legal rights. However, as they could not be easily replaced, they were not as physically abused as enslaved Africans a few centuries later. The institution of serfdom was not abolished in Britain until 1381.

Britons were also enslaved by the Barbary pirates. The cross-Mediterranean trade was subject to piracy and privateering (piracy was even licensed by ruling monarchs) by many of the coastal seafarers. Some of the British enslaved by the north Africans were used as galley slaves; others fulfilled the usual tasks allotted to slaves; those who converted to Islam had an easier time. The men seized by the British from Barbary Coast vessels were either sold as slaves or executed as pirates.

The enslaved/imprisoned could be ransomed: Queen Elizabeth I, for example, attempted to have the ‘Negroes’ resident in Britain volunteer to hand themselves over to a trader named Caspar Van Senden. This Lubeck trader had told the Queen that he could sell them as slaves in Spain and Portugal, which would enable her to repay his expenses in ransoming and returning to England some English prisoners held there. It seems that neither free Africans nor the owners of any enslaved Africans in Britain were prepared to obey the Queen’s proclamation.

Slave Trading: North and East Africa

It was a known fact that Arabs then Muslim slave traders had been marching Africans, or sailing them across the Red Sea and then the Indian Ocean, from around the sixth century AD. It is probable that at least as many women as men were taken: the women were used as domestic labour and as concubines in the harems of the rich; men were also domestics, but most were destined for the military. Some were used – and abused – as plantation labour in the area we now call Iraq, they eventually revolted and were not again used for such labour. The Africans were not seen as non-human objects, had rights and could rise in the ranks of the army and the society. In most Arab societies they could also intermarry and the resulting children were not slaves. Slavery in Muslim societies was not racial – the Turks enslaved Hungarian ancestors while they ruled Hungary from the sixteenth century. There was also an export of east Africans to India and the intermediate islands. The conditions of slavery in India were similar to those in the Muslim world, more akin to serfdom in medieval Europe than to the conditions imposed upon enslaved Africans in the Americas.

Slave Trading: West Africa

Why were Europeans enslaving Africans? Because they needed labourers to work for them in this world new to Europe – the Americas. In the process of conquest they had annihilated many of the native peoples; those who survived the Europeans’ guns and diseases not unnaturally refused to work in the mines taken over by their conquerors, or on the plantations they created. The Europeans tried two solutions: export prisoners, and export men who indentured themselves to pay off debts. But both groups either succumbed to diseases new to them, or ran away to freedom. So another solution was sought. Africans did not have guns either, so why not enslave and transport them?

Europeans could not send armies to conquer Africans or to kidnap them. They had to make their purchases from the local kings and chiefs. The traders found all conceivable means to foster warfare, as Africans were usually only willing to sell prisoners-of-war. The enticement of European goods – especially guns and ammunition – also eventually resulted in kidnapping gangs raiding neighbouring peoples. Those caught or taken prisoner had to be marched to the coast to await purchase.  Many were killed during the raids, wars and marches.  The number transported is said estimated to be between 12 and 20 million.

Africans, of course, both resisted kidnapping and fought back against those who wanted to capture them in wars. But without guns they had little hope. The further you lived from the coast, the less likely was it that you had access to guns.  The devastation wrought by the constant warfare and kidnappings, and the export for hundreds of years of millions of the most able-bodied and vigorous of the population, naturally had a long-lasting effect – still there today.

There was simultaneous slave raiding and trading by African Muslims and Arabs, for export to the north and the east. As Muslims were enjoined by the Koran not to enslave each other, Muslim slavery was not based on skin colour, but on religion.

Britain: Trade and Slavery

Britain followed in the footsteps of the Portuguese in voyaging to the west coast of Africa and enslaving Africans. The British participation in what has come to be called the ‘nefarious trade’ was begun by Sir John Hawkins with the support and investment of Elizabeth I in 1573.  By fair means or foul, Britain outwitted its European rivals and became the premier trader in the enslaved from the seventeenth century onwards, and retained this position till 1807. Britain supplied enslaved African women, men and children to all European colonies in the Americas.

The ‘Slave Coast’ came to be dotted with European forts, their massive guns facing out to sea to warn off rival European slave traders. Each ‘castle’ incorporated prisons or ‘barracoons’ in which the enslaved women, children and men were kept, awaiting purchase by the traders, who could initially only reach the coast at those times of the year when the winds blew in the right direction. The prisons – without sanitation, with little air – must have been hell-holes in the humid coastal climates.

The trade became a very lucrative business. Bristol grew rich on it, then Liverpool. London also dealt in slaves as did some of the smaller British ports.  The specialised vessels were built in many British shipyards, but most were constructed in Liverpool. Laden with trade goods (guns and ammunition, rum, metal goods and cloth) they sailed to the ‘Slave Coast’, exchanged the goods for human beings, packed them into the vessels like sardines and sailed them across the Atlantic. On arrival, those left alive were oiled to make them look healthy and put on the auction block.

Plantation and mine-owners bought the Africans – and more died in the process called ‘seasoning’. In the British colonies the slaves were treated as non-human: they were ‘chattels’, to be worked to death as it was cheaper to purchase another slave than to keep one alive. Though seen as non-human, as many of the enslaved women were raped, clearly at one level they were recognised as at least rapeable human beings. There was no opprobrium attached to rape, torture, or to beating your slaves to death. The enslaved in the British colonies had no legal rights as they were not human – they were not permitted to marry and couples and their children were often sold off separately.

It has been estimated that between 1701 and 1800 more than six million enslaved Africans were transported in British vessels.

Abolition of Slave Trade by the British:

Europeans who were Roman Catholics often treated their slaves more humanely than those of the Protestant faith, perhaps especially the members of the Church of England, which owned slaves in the West Indies. Roman Catholics did not deny Africans their humanity and made attempts at conversion, while British slaveowners forbade church attendance. The enslavement of Africans was justified in Britain by claiming that they were barbaric savages, without laws or religions, and, according to some ‘observers’ and academics, without even a language; they would acquire civilisation on the plantations.

In the 1770s, some Christians in Britain began to question this interpretation of the Bible. They began a campaign to convert the population to their perspective and to influence Parliament by forming anti-slavery associations. Slavery was declared a sin. According to William Wilberforce, the main abolitionist spokesperson in Parliament, it was this fear of not going to heaven that impelled him to carry on the abolitionist struggle for over 20 years.

Parliamentarians and others who could read, or had the time to attend meetings, were well informed about slavery by the books published by two ex-slaves, Olaudah Equiano and Ottobah Cugoano; slightly less dramatic and emphatic anti-slavery books were published by Ignatius Sancho and Ukwasaw Groniosaw. Equiano, like Thomas Clarkson who lectured up and down the country, and in Ireland.

The Act making it illegal for Britons to participate in the trade in enslaved Africans was passed by Parliament in March 1807, after some 20 years of campaigning. Precisely why so many people signed petitions and why Parliament voted for the Act is debatable. It is somewhat curious that many of the chief – including Quaker – abolitionists were importers of slave-grown produce.

Slave Emancipation by Britain:

A few Britons – including the British Africans – were not content with abolition and campaigned for the emancipation of slaves. This was another long struggle. Among the most forceful were the women abolitionists, who, being denied a voice by the men, formed their own organisations and went door-knocking, asking people to stop using slave-grown products such as sugar and tobacco. The most outspoken was probably Elizabeth Heyrick who believed in immediate emancipation, as opposed to the men who supported gradual freedom.

This battle was won when Parliament passed the Emancipation Act in 1833; as the struggle was led by men, it was for gradual emancipation. But protests, often violent in the West Indies, resulted in freedom in 1838. The slave owners were granted £20 million compensation; all the freed received was the opportunity to labour for the paltry wages that had now been offered.

This Act only freed the enslaved in the West Indies, Cape Town, Mauritius and Canada. Slavery continued in the rest of the British Empire. Even the importation of slaves into a British colony continued – into Mauritius, obtained from the French after the Napoleonic Wars, where importation was not stopped until about 1820.

Emancipation in Britain:

Africans have lived in Britain since they arrived as troops within the Roman armies. They began to appear in parish records of births and deaths from the sixteenth century. Again, what proportion were free and how many were slaves is unknown. The famous decision by Chief Justice Lord Mansfield in 1772 in the case of James Somerset, taken to court by activist Granville Sharp, merely stated that Africans could not be exported from the UK to the West Indies as slaves. There was no consistency in the many court judgements on the legality of slavery in Great Britain.

The efficacy of the Acts:

As there was almost nothing done to ensure that the Acts were obeyed, slave traders continued their activities, as did the shipbuilders. Information about this was sent to Parliament by the abolitionists, some of the captains in the Anti-Slavery Squadrons and British consular officials in slave-worked Cuba and Brazil. Investigations were held, more Acts were passed, but all to no avail, as no means of enforcement was put in place in Britain. All the government did was to set up the Anti-Slavery Squadron – at first comprised of old, semi-derelict naval vessels, unfit for the coastal conditions. To enable them to stop slavers of other nationalities, Britain entered into treaties with other slaving countries. But these were also ignored. The slave trade continued, unabated.

Britain not only continued to build slaving vessels, but it financed the trade, insured it, crewed some of it and probably even created the many national flags carried by the vessels to avoid condemnation. Britain also manufactured about 80 per cent of the goods traded for slaves on the Coast.

The Squadron did capture some slaving vessels. These were taken to the courts set up in Sierra Leone. If the ship was condemned, the Africans on board were freed and settled in Freetown, a British colony. The ship’s crew were given prize money. When Freetown grew too crowded, some of these ‘Liberated Africans’ were dispatched to the Caribbean as ‘apprentices’; others were induced to enter the military.

It was no more difficult to evade the Acts making it illegal for Britons to hold slaves than it was to circumvent the Abolition Act. In India where, according to Sir Bartle Frere, there were about 9 million slaves in 1841, slavery was not outlawed till 1868. In other British colonies emancipation was not granted until almost 100 years after the 1833 Emancipation Act: Malaya in 1915; Burma in 1926; Sierra Leone in 1927. The final slave emancipation colonial ordinance I have found is in the Gold Coast archives, and is dated 1928. Britons owned slave-worked mines and plantations and invested in countries which were dependent on slave labour until the 1880s when slavery was finally abolished in the Americas.

In fact, the role of slavery in Britain’s wealth did not diminish. Vast amounts of slave-grown tobacco were imported from the southern states in the USA, and then from Cuba and Brazil. When the amount of sugar now grown by free labour in the Caribbean colonies did not satisfy British consumers, slave-grown sugar was imported. Despite campaigns pointing out that this would increase the trade in slaves, the import duty on free-grown and slave-grown sugar was equalised in 1848. Much of the imported sugar was exported, earning Britain even more money.

Cotton manufacturing consumed and enriched Lancashire, including the port of Liverpool. Over 80 per cent of the cotton imported was slave-grown. It is probable that about 20 per cent of the British labour force was one way or another involved in the importation and manufacturing and then the export of cotton cloth. Bankers, manufacturers, shippers, traders, weavers, printers, dyers, shipbuilders and many others earned a living or made a fortune from cotton. There were very few protests about the importation of slave-grown cotton, compared with the protests about sugar. Clearly, it was more important economically to the wealth of the UK.

Britain, partly due to its new-found wealth, also needed some African products: this ‘legitimate’ trade, producing coffee, cocoa, gold, some minerals and palm oil, was usually supported by various forms of domestic slavery or serfdom. Naturally the European export firms wanted the cheapest possible product! Once colonial administrations were established, labour was needed to construct roads to improve the transport of these products – this was almost invariably what was euphemistically called ‘contract’ or ‘forced’ labour… temporary enslavement. Britain was among those who signed the League of Nations’ Forced Labour Convention, but, as one author noted, ‘most of the colonising Powers have been more or less guided by the Convention… and have at least taken note of that body’s resolution that natives must not be driven to work fo the private profit of others.’

Support for slavery was also demonstrated during the American Civil War in the 1860s. Some Britons ignored the declared neutrality of the UK and raised millions of pounds to support the pro-slavery Confederates. Many ships, both merchant and war, were built for them with total impunity, despite the official neutrality, which made supporting either side illegal.

The after-effects of the slave trade:

  1. a) The creation of new societies in the Americas.
  2. b) The emigration of Caribbeans of African descent, as there were no real means of economic survival, to the south American mainland, to build the Panama Canal, to the USA, to Britain.
  3. c) The devastation of villages/towns/peoples in Africa through the European-fostered wars.
  4. d) The destruction of much indigenous manufacturing in Africa.
  5. e) The displacement of many Africans in west and east Africa during the period of the trade in slaves – within Africa and around the world.
  6. f) The division of Africa between the European powers at the Berlin Conference in 1885, ignoring previous historical boundaries, language groups, kingdoms – the after-affects are there today.
  7. g) The spread of racist ideology to justify the enslavement of Africans. In slightly diluted forms this is with us today, perhaps most perniciously in the total absence of African history from our school curricula.
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Boudicca: The warrior Queen

Boudicca
Boudicca the Warrior Queen

Boudicca was born, around 25-30AD in the then town of Camulodunum, which we know better as Colchester.

Her future had already been mapped out for her.  Aged fourteen, she was educated in the history of the Celts and her tribes, the traditions, culture and religion which they follow.  She was trained as a warrior; how to handle the sword, spear and shield like any pro.

Boudicca married King Prasutagus in 43-45 AD and had two daughters.  In 60 AD life changed for Boudicca, with the death of her husband.  Britain at this time was under Roman occupation.  With Prasutagus dead, the Roman’s had no intention of sharing hid kingdom with Boudicca; they took it all.

The Roman’s raped and tortured Boudicca and her two daughters; this would prove to be the catalyst, which would see her demanding revenge against these invaders of their lands.

Quote by Boudicca:  Nothing is safe from Roman pride and arrogance.  They will deface the sacred and will deflower our virgins.  Win the battle or perish, that is what I, will do.

She wanted revenge, for the plundering of the Celts; kingdoms and households alike were plundered like prizes of war.

Many Celtic Kings had been appointed by the Roman’s, to carry on as leaders of their kingdom, if they accepted the Roman occupation.  Yet, it didn’t always appear to have been the best option, for many King’s relatives were treated no better than slaves.

Whilst Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, the Roman Governor led his troops against the island of Monain.  Boudicca the Celts appointed leader with an army of 100,000 men attacked Camulodunum (now known as Colchester) in 60-61 AD killing everyone, and burnt it to the ground.  She moved on to Londinium (now known as London) burnt it to the ground with no survivors.

News had reached Gaius Suetonius Paulinus of the destruction of these two Roman cities… Her third and final annihilation was of Verulamium (now known as St.Albans), no survivors and burnt to the ground.  Boudicca believed her destruction of three key city’s would free Britain of the Roman’s, but she was sadly mistaken.

Boudicca’s speech: Dio Cassius

I was whipped by the Roman’s when they tried to take our lands… and now I am fighting for my freedom.  Think how many of us are fighting and why.  We must win this battle or die.  Let the men live as slaves if they want. I will not.

Boudicca with an army of 230,000 fighting Celtic warriors, came face to face with governor Paulinus army of 10,000 Roman soldiers; odds of 1/23.  What should have been an overwhelming victory, was one of disaster as some 80,000 Celts died at the hands of Roman soldiers.

Boudicca the warrior Queen of the Celts, died along with her two daughters, not on the battlefield… exact cause has never been established.

Boudicca the warrior Queen of the Celts, a name which will always be remembered, for her attempts in driving out the Roman forces who had occupied her England.  All she wanted was freedom from oppression, for herself, and the Celtic tribes of Britain.

Wikipedia Image

Roman Britain: Building Blocks of Londinium

Londons Roman City Wall
Londinium (London) City Wall

Londinium or London as we know it now, sits upon sand, gravel and clay.  As far back as Roman’s times, man has built upon this land.

Londinium; a Roman settlement established around 50AD, following the invasion of Britain in 43AD, led by the Roman Emperor Claudius and Roman troop commander; Plautius.

This Roman settlement was established upon marshy lands at a point where the existing river was narrow enough for the construction of a bridge, yet deep enough to handle sea-going marine vessels.

The first bridge built to straddle across the river, was constructed by Plautius, and archaeological excavations in 1981, discovered a Roman pier base, as used in bridge construction very close to the current London Bridge.  From there, a network of Roman roads were created, for easy movement of Roman soldiers.

Londinium, the new trading centre for goods being brought up river, was located on the north side.

Boudicca
Queen Boudicca of the Iceni

Boudicca Queen of the Iceni; had not accepted the rule of these Roman invaders of her homeland, and so it was in 60AD, she and her army levelled and burned this settlement, killing thousands… no one was left alive.

The former settlement was rebuilt, becoming a city in its own right, consisting of timber framed buildings around Roman civic buildings.  As the city grew; Palaces, Basilica, Temple’s and Bathhouses rose from the ashes, so its importance did also, reflecting itself as a major trading centre, by the mid second century.

London_Wall_fragment
Londinium Wall Fragment

They enhanced their city, their capital by constructing a defensive wall built from Kentish Ragstone around part of the city, located on the landward side.  It was a little less than two miles in length, some twenty feet high and eight feet thick, designed to ward off potential attacks.  This wall survived some 1600 years.  Along with six gates; Newgate, Aldersgate, Bishopsgate, Aldgate, Cripplegate and Ludgate.

Saxon pirates attacked Londinium on a number of occasions, which led to an additional wall being constructed along the river side of the city in 255AD.

Second century Londinium possessed a Basilica, Temple, Bathhouses, Governor’s Palace and Garrison.  This city grew, this Roman city under rule from the Roman Empire, reached some 45,000 inhabitants.

The Temple of Mithras, to the Persian God of light and the sun can be found at Walbrook.  Built in the mid second century.  Mithraism rose to prominence during the third century, emphasizing courage, integrity and moral behaviour, with a focus on saviour, sacrifice and rebirth.  Mithraism was highly popular with Roman soldiers, and threatened early forms of Christianity.

london-roman-amphitheatre
Roman Amphitheatre Remnants

Other remanants of Roman buildings still remain in the city; the crypt at St.Brides Church, reveals a Roman decorated floor.  Beneath the Guildhall, remains of a Amphitheatre, where gladiators would fight, with animals or each other, often to the death.

With the invasion of Roman’s upon the lands of Britain, their architecture was not changed to match the styles of Britain, but they introduced their own styles of builds, creating a home from home feel.

They would build Roman Villa’s (the latin translation of Villa means farm).  Most were built close to major centres like Londinium.

Interestingly, early buildings were built of wood, upon stone foundations and in the second century they were built of stone.  Many of the early structures were rebuilt in stone during the second century.

A single story in height upon a stone foundation, and capped with slate or clay roof tiles.  With mosaic or marbled floors, under floor central heating, piped through stone channels and painted walls.

Wikipedia Images

Roman Britain: Hadrian’s Wall

Hadrians Wall
Hadrian’s Wall

Julius Caesar’s invasion force landed on Britain’s south-coast in 55 BC, and found it inhabited by Celtic tribes.  In 56 BC Caesar returned to Britain, and came face to face with the Catevellauni, whom he defeated in battle.  Caesar set up treaties and alliances before withdrawing his forces, and so the Roman occupation of Britain had begun.

In AD43, Emperor Claudius sent Aulus Plautius with a force of some 24,000 Roman soldiers to Britain, with orders to establish a military presence.  By AD79 England and Wales were under Roman control.

Emperor Vespasian believed Scotland should also become part of the Roman Empire, but they resisted the Romans.

Julius Agricola, Governor of Britain was faced with a formidable task.  By AD81 he had subdued southern Scottish tribal clans of Selgovae, Novantae and Votadini.  Roman forces headed northwards, intent on provoking the Caledonians into battle against hardened Roman warriors.  They met at Mons Graupius, where Romans were victorious, as 10,000 Caledonians were slain in battle, at the cost of only 360 Romans.  The following day, surviving clansmen fled into the hills, remaining resistant to Roman rule.

Hadrian became Emperor of the Roman Empire in AD117, and under his orders, the Roman Empire no longer expanded.  In AD122 upon his visit to Britain in, ordered the construction of a wall from the North Sea to the Irish Sea; Solway Firth in the West to the River Tyne in the East.  If he couldn’t rule or control these Scottish barbarians, he built a wall; “Hadrian’s Wall” some 73 miles in length, 10 feet in width, and 15 feet in height, across open country, keeping them out of Britain.

The Roman’s built mile castles (small forts) which housed garrisons of some sixty men, every mile with towers every third of a mile.  Sixteen larger forts, holding 500-1,000 soldiers were built along the length of the wall, with large gates on the walls north face, and a wide ditch, with six foot high earth banks on the south side of the wall…

This massive structure, stretching across northern Britain was constructed by legionaries, taking six years to complete.

Much of the wall remains to this day, despite parts being used for road building and houses over the centuries.  This wall is nearly 1900 years old, a testament of Roman construction.

Roman Britain: Antonine’s Wall

Antonines Wall
Antonine’s Wall Remnants

Antonine’s Wall, located in Scotland, measuring some 37 miles in length, built out of earth and timber around AD142.  It stretches from the Firth it the Clyde, crossing the narrowest part of Britain (Bowness on the Firth of Forth to Old Kilpatrick on the Clyde) with ramparts and ditches protected by small forts.

By AD163, the wall had been abandoned in favour of the larger Hadrian’s Wall.

Roman Occupation of Britain

Julius Caesar Framed
Julius Caesar

Britain did not enter the Roman world until Julius Caesar arrived in 55/54BC, landing at Deal and unopposed by British forces, yet it was temporary, for they didn’t stay… the time was not right for a full blown invasion of this land.

roman-legion
Roman Forces

In the early part of AD43, an army consisting of four legions under the leadership of Aulus Plautius set foot on British soil at Richborough, Kent, the first step of an invasion by Rome.  They fought the British at the River Medway and defeated them after a two-day hard fought battle.

The Roman emperor Claudius arrives, to lead his Roman forces, against the British armies and captured Camulodunum (Colchester), home to the Catuvellauni tribe.  Roman forces outfought the British forces in the South-East, which led to many Kings submitting to Roman rule.

Aulus Plautius commander of the invasion was appointed by Emperor Claudius as the first Roman governor of Britain.

The next phase of the conquest, saw General Vespasian take his Augusta Legion into Dorset, capturing hill forts and subduing rebel armies; south of the Humber River to the Severn Estuary.

Aulus Plautius returns home to Rome in AD47, to receive a heroes welcome, whilst Publius Ostorius Scapula becomes the second Roman governor of Britain.

The Iceni tribe, located in East Anglia had become allies with Rome, so the need to conqueror did not exist.  In the summer of AD47, they revolted against Scapula, when they were ordered to surrender their weapons… this minor revolt was quelled quickly.

In AD49 the Roman colony is founded at Camulodunum (Colchester) and became the Roman capital of Britain.

In AD51, the Caratacus, the British resistance leader against the Romans, and King of Catuvellauni, fled west to the Ordovices tribes and fought an effective guerrilla war until his capture.  He was sent to Italy to live out the remainder of his days.

With Caratacus who had led guerrilla forces against the Romans, now in the hands of the Romans, one would think that would see an end to these attacks.  How wrong they were, for the Silures tribe in South Wales and Gloucestershire fought on.  With the death of Governor Publius Ostorius Scapula in AD52, and Aulus Didius Gallus appointed as the new Governor, the conflict slowly fizzled out.  All that changed in AD58, when Quintus Veranius Nepos, a new breed of Roman Governor took up office, who crushed the Silures, and went on to create a network of roads, forts and garrisons.

The Druids were the priest-scholars of ancient Britain, and were known to clash with the Romans; for they resisted Roman Rule.  In AD61, Roman Governor Gaius Suetonius Paulinus subdued the island of Mona (Anglesey), but his plans were cut short by the revolt of the Iceni, under the leadership of Queen Boudicca.

Boudicca
Queen Boudicca

The Roman army defeated Queen Boudicca and her army in AD 61, at the Battle of Watling Street, but not before they had burnt to the ground, with no survivors; Camulodunum (Colchester), Londinum (London) and Verulamium (St.Albans).  Boudicca died shortly after the battle, and was buried by her people, in a way befitting their Queen.

In June of AD68, Emperor Nero of Rome died; this led to mutiny’s across the empire, and as far flung as Britain.

Cartimandua; Queen of the Brigantes tribe and a strong Roman ally ruled with a strong arm assisted by her consort Ventius.  Caratacus, the guerrilla leader had been apprehended and handed over to the Romans by Cartimandua in AD51.  In AD69 Venutius staged a revolt against Cartimandua, whilst the Romans were in the midst of a civil war, and the attempt was successful and Cartimandua had nowhere to run to, except to her Roman allies.

General Vespasian a former legion commander had gone on to found the Flavian Dynasty in AD69… now the first emperor of this new order.  Britain had experienced little in the way of rebel revolts, since the death of Boudicca in AD61.  New conquests commenced in AD71, when Quintus Petlius Cerialis defeated Venutius, the rebel leader of the Brigantes tribe.  By AD74, the Roman army had reached Carlisle, where the last in a series of garrison forts had been built.

The new Roman Governor of Britain in AD74, was Sextus Julius Frontinus.  It took three years to defeat the Silures in South-East Wales and the Ordovices in Northern-Wales, thus completing a conquest of Western-Britain.  These new territories under Roman Rule saw auxiliary forts built… by the summer of AD78.  If any uprising were to take place, one legion at Caerleon and one at Chester, could respond to any conflicts, quickly suppressing it, before it got out of control.

In the autumn of AD78, the Ordovices tribe revolted, as a new governor took up his appointment.  So it was that Governor Gnaeus Julius Agricola showed no mercy, and crushed these rebel forces.  From there he invaded the island of Mona (Anglesey), destroying the last major druid centre.

Governor Gnaeus Julius Agricola, saw the completion of Verulamium (St.Albans) civic centre in AD79.  It comprised of a square forum, colonnaded shops, temples, making it the largest Roman town in Britain.  By AD80, he had encouraged native British aristocrats to learn Latin, wear the toga.  By the latter part of the first century Ad, southern parts of Britain consisted of Roman styled towns and villas.  It was as though you were in Rome, not Britain.

Governor Gnaeus Julius Agricola, having advanced into Scotland faced the Caledonian tribes in AD84 at Mons Graupius in the Scottish Highlands, and defeated them in battle…

With pressure mounting in other parts of the Roman Empire, they were forced into abandoning the Inchtuthill fortress in Tayside, Scotland in AD87.  By AD100 Roman troops had withdrawn from all parts of Scotland.  A new frontier was established between Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Carlisle on the Solway, it comprised of roads, forts and signal stations.

Hadrians Wall
Hadrian’s Wall

In the summer of AD122, Emperor Hadrian called for the construction of a seventy-three mile long stone wall, creating a barrier; the Roman Empire’s outer limit, and it was called “Hadrian’s Wall.”  He envisaged Britain, part of the Roman Empire, south of the wall, separating them from the barbarians north of the wall.

Antonines Wall
Antonine Wall Remnants

Following the completion of Hadrian’s Wall in AD142, the “Antonine Wall” was built from the Firth to the Clyde; thirty-seven miles of earth and timber, under the direction of Quintus Lollius Urbicus the then Governor of Britain.

In AD155, much of Verulamium (St.Albans) was destroyed by fire.

Hadrian’s Wall and Antonine Wall were both built to subdue rebel fighters and barbarians in the Northern parts of Britain and Scotland.  In AD163 the Romans retreated from Antonine’s Wall to Hadrian’s Wall.  Then in AD182 saw frequent attacks by raiders from the north along Hadrian’s Wall, and these skirmishes continued for many years.

Local towns in the vicinity of Hadrian’s Wall needed protection from these rebel fighters, and built earth and timber defences around their towns.

Changes took place within the Roman Empire when Clodius Albinius in Britain, Septimus Severus in Pannonia and Pescennius Niger in Syria, emerged as main contenders for the Emperor’s Throne.  Albinus joined with Severus in the civil war of AD192, and Severus had killed Niger, making it a two horse race.  Clodius Albinus invaded Gaul, and by autumn of AD196 declared himself as the new Emperor.

Decimus Clodius Albinus did battle with Septimius Severus at the “Battle of Lugdunum” (Lyons) where he was killed in a long and drawn out bloody battle.  Thus Septimius Severus became the sole claimant to the Emperor’s Throne in AD197.

With Clodius Albinus Governor of Britain dead, Emperor Septimius dispatched troops to rebuild northern defences and quell local tribes.  So it was in AD209 Emperor Severus led his legionnaires to subdue these Caledonian tribes, but they were clever, and avoided direct pitched battles with the Romans in favour of guerrilla warfare tactics.  Eventually peace treaties were signed and Severus retreated south, satisfied job done.  No sooner had one tribe been quelled, another popped his head up, to take their place; the Maeatae tribe revolted… the Romans faced a losing battle.

Emperor Septimus Severus, created two provinces, from the land up to Hadrian’s Wall in AD211; Britannia Superior had its capital at Londinium (London) and Britannia Inferior had its capital at Eboracum (York).

No matter how much he tried, Septimus Severus failed to crush these Caledonian tribes, and in AD211/212 he died at Eboracum (York).  His two sons Caracalla and Geta abandoned further offensives into Scotland, and returned to Rome, pressing home their right to become Emperor.

Parts of London had been protected since the early part of the 3rd century, and signs on the horizon spelt trouble.  So work began in AD255 running a wall along the River Thames making London virtually impregnable from land and water attacks.

Postumus; recognised by Britain, Gaul and Spain, the Gallic Empire, declared himself Emperor in Ad259 whilst defending the Western parts of the Empire from barbarians.  He was murdered in AD268 by his own soldiers.

The Gallic Empire, covered Britain, Gaul and Spain and had separated themselves from Rome, since AD259 when Postumus openly declared himself as Emperor.  In AD274, the third Gallic Emperor; Tetricus surrendered his provinces to Aurelan the Roman Emperor after being defeated at Gaul.

In AD287, Carausius took Britain and Gaul, in response to being accused of corruption by Emperor Maximian.  He minted his own coins, a first step in his eyes in accepting Roman Emperors Diocletian and Maximian.  Forces loyal to Rome defeated Carausius, and he was assassinated in AD293 by Allectus.

Allectus began constructing a series of coastal defences “Saxon Shore Forts” and the construction of a palace in Londinium (London).

At that time the Roman Empire was ruled by four Emperor’s known as the “Tetrarchy.”  Maximian one of the chosen four, sent Constantius Chlorus to reclaim Britain for the Roman Empire.  Constantius defeated Allectus near Silchester, and divided Britain into four provinces; Maxima Caesariensis, Britannia Prima, Flavia Caesariensis and Britannia Secunda.

In the autumn of AD306, Roman Emperor Constantius died in Northern-Britain and his son Constantine was hailed as the new Emperor.

Following Civil War within the Empire, Constantine defeated Maxentius at the “Battle of Milvan Bridge” in AD312, and restored rule of a single Emperor in the west and disbanding the Tetrarchy System.

Constantine legalised Christianity and Paganism.  Christianity was first introduced into the lands of Scotland around AD205, and spread through, Britain, Wales and Southern-Ireland by the 5th century.

Barbarian raiders launched an attack on Roman Britain in AD367, from Scotland, Western Isles, Ireland and Anglo-Saxons from Germany, overwhelming coastal defences.  This event allowed these invaders to plunder at will, with little opposition, for these Romans had not expected such an organised attack.

Theodosins was sent to Britain to regain control of Britain, which he undertook in AD369, driving out these barbarians and restoring order.

Magnus Maximus Governor of Britain, went on to defeat Emperor Gratian of Gaul, Britain and Spain.  Then drove Emperor Valentinian from Africa and Italy to be hailed by his army in Britain as Roman Emperor.  He secured his position in Rome for five years before being defeated and executed by Emperor Theodosius I, in AD383/388.

In AD400 Roman troops were recalled to Italy to defend their country against possible invasion by “Alaric the Goth.”  This left Britain with only a token force… no match for barbarian raiders.

The Rhine frontier had been breached, and Italy was in trouble, they had stretched their forces too far across the Roman Empire.

General Constantine III was proclaimed Emperor by Britain’s garrisons, and he crossed the continent only to be defeated by the armies loyal to Theodosius.

Britain had been left to fight off raids by Saxons, with little help from the Romans and in AD409 the Romans left Britain.  With incursions attacking Britain, a plea was sent to Rome begging for help against these raiders from the seas and Scotland.

Emperor Honorius, refused help, ending the Roman occupation of Britain.

Birth of Britain

Hadrians Wall
Hadrian’s Wall – Built by Romans

For some 400 years, England and its territories of Scotland and Wales came under Roman control in the land referred to as Britannium.

Britain suffered repeatedly from raids by Scots and Picts from the north, Angles and Saxons from Denmark and Germany.  The Roman’s built shore forts, but it wasn’t enough, especially as Hadrian’s Wall was breached in AD367.

In the year 409, Honorius the Roman Emperor in Britain was recalled home, to Rome.  His home, his lands were under constant attack from Germanic tribes.

In the year 433, Attila the Hun, arrives with horse mounted archers in Europe, and before long dominates the territories north of the old Roman Empire, from Moscow in the west to the North Sea.  The Angles, Saxons and Jutes were forced westwards, seeking out new lands.

Formation of the Kingdom of Kent:

Some forty year (AD449) after the Roman forces had left Britain, Vortigen the ruler of Kent, offered territory in the south eastern parts of the land.  The only request he made upon these warriors, that they stop the invading Picts and Scots…

This mercenary force, arrived in three longships, landing at Ebbesfleet.  They drove the Picts and Scots back to their northern lands, and victory was their’s.

More forces arrived, in the shape of three Germanic tribes: Old Saxons, Angles and Jutes.

Their leaders were two brothers; Hengest and Horsa who in 455, fought against Vortigen at Aegelesthrop.  Horsa was killed and Hengest and his son Aesc claimed the kingdom of Kent.  Britons from the south-west of Britain fled to France in 450, and colonized the area, now known as Brittany.

In 456 Hengest and Aesc fought Britons at Crecganford, and were victorious, as defeated Britons fled Kent, and headed to London for safety.

Formation of the Kingdom of Sussex:

In the year 477, Ella a Southern Saxon, lands his forces in Pevensey Bay.  Fierce battles lasting many months, as most of its inhabitants, are killed, led to the creation of Sussex.

In the year 493, Clovis King of the Franks marries a Christian in France.  Under Clovis, the Franks become Christians, and go on to rule the western half of France and Germany.

Formation of the Kingdom of Wessex:

In 495 Saxon warriors land at Cerdicesora, led by Cerdic and his son Cynric, and in 508 kill a British King; Natanlaod and his force of five-thousand men.

In 516 King Arthur is believed to have stopped a West Saxon expansion westwards for a few years, at the “Battle of Badon Hill.”

Formation of the Kingdom of Essex:

In 527, the last Saxon tribe, landed east of London, on the waters of the River Thames and settled in the territories of Essex.

Formation of the Kingdom of Northumberland:

In the year 547, the Angles settle to the north of the River Humber.

Formation of the Kingdom of East Anglia:

In the year 575, Angles settle in the land of East Anglia, and went on to create the lands of Norfolk and Suffolk.

Formation of the Kingdom of Mercia:

In 586 Angles colonised Romanised parts of Britain, now called the East Midlands.

By now some 200,000 Angles, Saxons and Jutes, ruled by seven Germanic Kings lived in Britain.  British males had been slaughtered, or fled to the safety of Scotland and Wales.