Course Content
Environmental Studies
English Language and Linguistics
Private: BA English
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Roman Conquest

Learning Outcomes

 Through this Unit, the learner will be:

  • introduced to the historical developments in the Roman conquest of Britain
  • get an awareness of how Agricola made drastic social political and cultural
    changes in Britain
  • narrated to the introduction of Christianity and its propagation in British Society


The Roman conquest of Britain has been considered one of the significant events in the history of Britain. The Roman invasion was the first of Britain’s historically recorded invasions. The Romans invaded Britain mainly two times- first by Julius Caesar in 54 BC and the second under Emperor Claudius in 43 AD. Julius Caesar attacked Britain as part of his Gallic Wars. His Commentaries give us a vivid and veracious account of his expedition to Britain. Caesar wanted to make Britain become a frontier province of the Roman empire. Rome’s initial military campaign in Britain occurred during the Roman conquest of Gaul (Modern France) under Julius Caesar. By 55 BC he had conquered most of Gaul. This gave Caesar much impetus to plan an expedition to the British Isles. His first invasion of Britain was launched in the year 55 BC. This was not a well- thought-out one, without a proper evaluation of the strengths of Britons. He thought that the British people would be subdued easily. But he was strongly stopped by the army of the Britions, and forced to withdraw from the Island. The following year (54 BC) he prepared a much larger force with 800 ships, 2000 cavalry, and five legions. [Legion is the major unit or division of the Roman army, usually comprising 3000 to 6000 infantry soldiers and cavalry troops] The British tribes united under a single chief, namely Cassivellaunus. But despite a heroic resistance, Cassivellaunus’ small army was defeated. They retreated inland, but Caesar followed and laid siege to the fortress of Cassivellaunus. Caesar defeated the Britons and finally agreed to acceptable terms of surrender. Hostages were provided, and tribute was collected. But Julius Caesar immediately left the British island unoccupied. The reason for the immediate withdrawal of Caesar was that a major rebellion broke out in Gaul and he wanted to suppress it. Thus ended the first stage of the Roman invasion of Britain.

Conquest, Rebellion, Resistance, Romanization, Christianity, Gregorian mission

In 43 CE Roman Emperor Claudius decided to lead a military expedition to Britain. He prepared a well-equipped army. Claudius’ legions marched through France and crossed over to Britain. The British tribes that opposed Roman occupation, united under their chieftain Caractacus. Though his army was no match for the Romans, he fought bravely, near the Thames, in the Battle of Medway (43 AD). Shortly after this desperate battle Caractacus surrendered and was forced to give up control of a large region south of Thames to the Romans. Romans set up a provisional government and more British territory was won over gradually. The final resistance of Caractacus was seven years after Medway in 50 AD. But this was also crushed by the Roman army. Caractacus was captured and thus ended the organised resistance against Roman domination.
The Romans faced serious resistance from the indigenous Celtic people of Britain. The rebellion of Boudicca against Roman rule was one of the remarkable events in the annals of British history. Boudicea was a brave Celtic queen of Iceni. Ten years after the final defeat of Caractacus in 60 CE a massive rebellion was launched by Boadicea, who along with her daughters was badly abused by Roman soldiers. She inspired entire Britons to rebel against Roman rule and collected a good army. Her army attacked several Roman towns and killed thousands of Roman loyalists. Roman writer Cassius Dio (150-235 CE) speaks of the heroic deeds of Boadicea thus: “Two Cities were sacked, eighty thousand Romans and of their allies perished, and the island was lost to Rome. Moreover, all this ruin was brought upon the Romans by a woman, a fact which in itself caused them the greatest shame.” But Suetonius, the Roman governor, severely suppressed the rebellion of Boudicca with a strong Roman legion. The army of Boudicea was completely routed and slaughtered. With these harsh measures ended all the threat against Roman rule. Subsequently, Agricola became the governor of Britain and he implemented many reforms to Romanize the Britons.
1.2.1 Romano British Culture: Ro- manisation of the Britains
Roman rule was established in Britain after the conquest, it made drastic social political and cultural changes in Britain. They had put in place a systematic administrative system. The consolidation of the region was brought about by Agricola. He became the governor of Britain in 77CE. He was one of Britain’s most successful and competent governors. Initially, Agricola gave prime importance to completing the invasion. He conducted an expedition to Wales and at last brought the whole of Wales under Roman control. Then he conquered Anglesey and Brigantes in Northern England. He established many new forts to keep the conquered region safe and secure. He enacted a series of policy changes to improve the day- to-day affairs of the Province. He lowered the prices of the goods and changed tax policy for the benefit of the common man.
He believed in extending the concept of Pax Romana or Roman Peace, (which was a peace imposed by the Empire with the use of force) as he tried to make peace a more appealing prospect than warfare. During his reign Britons enjoyed peace, and quite naturally peace brought affluence. Agricola began a programme of educating the children of British leaders to integrate them into the Roman Empire. His efforts at Romanization were successful. The natives started wearing Roman garb and even speaking Latin. A number of building projects were initiated at the behest of Agricola. The Roman settlements and towns gained features of civilised life. Baths proved to be particularly popular among the native population. In this way Agricola started the process of the Romanization of the Britons.
The Roman conquest of Britain had a profound impact on the history and culture of Great Britain. Rome did not want to simply conquer the British island. They wanted to integrate it into the Empire and to do so they had to ‘civilise’ the Britons. Britain had successfully become a functional province of the Roman Empire by the end of the first century AD. The writings of Tacitus, one of the greatest Roman historians, deal with many aspects of the first century AD. Tacitus’ Biography of Agricola, the Roman governor, gives a detailed account of the Roman invasion and its impact on the British Isles. Rome established their first colony on the British island at the site of Claudius’ great victory, Camulodunum (now Colchester in Essex). Camulodunum served as a Roman base and was constantly operated by experienced soldiers. It became the first capital of the Roman province and the centre of Roman power on the island. A temple was built at the site to commemorate the victory of Claudius over the ‘barbarous’ native population. The military strength and foundation of the colony allowed for the introduction of Roman law and commencement of the Island’s process of Romanization. The British people were subjected to Roman laws. Through the writings of Tacitus it is known that the Britons were encouraged to adopt their culture through participation in activities, such as going to the baths, wearing Roman style dress and speaking Latin. Famous English historian Francis Haverfield in his book Romanization of Roman Britain argues that “Roman culture was actively imposed upon most of the British population resulting in a hybrid culture named Romano-British”. The usage of Roman brooches, pots and coins has been seen as evidence for the British population adopting Roman culture. The construction of Roman style Villa amongst the Celtic aristocracy received special attention. During the Roman period British trade with the European continent developed considerably. Important items exported from the British island during the period were gold, silver, iron, cattle, wheat and hides (animal skin). Britain imported luxury goods, such as bracelets, necklaces, and glassware. Slaves, essential to the enormous workforce for the Roman Empire, were also exported to Rome. This lucrative trade network thrived throughout the entire Roman era. Christianity in Britain was also introduced during the Roman period. Before Roman rule the native Britons were pagans. They believed in lots of different gods and spirits. But introduction of Christianity to the British Isles was one of the important effects of Roman domination.
The cultural changes were reflected in Britain after the establishment of the Roman rule. It was well- reflected in the constructions and language and literature. Britain had no proper roads before the establishment of Roman rule. There were only muddy tracks. Establishment of the Roman rule
was followed by construction of a wide network of new roads all across the landscape, extending over 16,000 kilometres in length. They were primarily made for military purposes. Soldiers and carts used these cobbled roads (cobble- stone) to travel between Manchester and Yorkshire. Later some Roman roads were converted into motorways and main roads. Remains of Roman roads can be seen even today. Of all the Roman remains in Britain Hadrian’s Wall is the most famous. In AD 122 Roman Emperor Hadrian ordered the building of a wall to protect the Province from the Picts and Scots of the Northern region. The wall ran 118 kilometres from Wallsend on the River Tyne in the east to Bowness on the Solway Firth in the West. Another important wall was the Antonine Wall built by Hadrian’s successor Antoninus Pius in Scotland in CE 140. It stretched for 59 km.
The new city living culture was established by the Romans who preferred to live in big cities and towns. Roman towns were laid out in a ‘grid’ (grid is a rectangular array of squares or rectangles of each size). Streets crisscrossed the town to form blocks called ‘insulae’. In the middle was the ‘forum’, a big market square where people came to trade. Some important British towns and cities have their origin in Roman times. If a place name has Chester, Caster or Cester in it, it is almost certainly of Roman origin. The word Chester comes from the Latin word ‘Castrum’ which means a fort. Colchester, Gloucester, Doncaster, and Manchester are some important British towns and cities that testify the Roman influence. London was pre-Roman, but it gained prominence during the time of Roman rule. Earlier it was called ‘Londinium’. When the Romans invaded, they built a fort beside the river Thames. Traders from all over the Roman Empire flocked here to exchange their goods. London became the most prominent city in Roman Britain.
Another effect of the Roman rule was reflected in the language and literature. Before the Romans came very few people could read or write in Britain. Instead information was usually passed from person to person by word of mouth. The Romans wrote down their history, their literature and their laws. Their language was called Latin. It spread in the newly built Roman towns. Britain adopted plenty of words and phrases from Latin. Words like ‘exit’, ‘pedestrian’ are some examples. British coins are based on Roman design and some of the lettering is in Latin. For example, words written around the edge of some British Pounds is the phrase deus et tutamen which mean ‘glory and protection’.
In short, Roman rule played a pivotal role in changing all aspects of British life and culture. Even after they were gone, the Romans left their mark all over the country. The Romans left behind new towns, forts, plants, animals, a new religion and ways of reading and counting.
1.2.2 Advent of Christianity and the Gregorian Mission (597 CE)
The emergence of Christianity from a persecuted sect to a global religion is a remarkable story. In the first century AD, Britain had its own set of religious beliefs; a kind of paganism like Druidism prevailed there. Into this superstitious world, came a new belief from the east called Christianity. In the 1st century there was no organised effort to convert the British into Christianity. The organised attempt began when the Roman traders and artisans arriving in Britain started propagating the story and teachings of Jesus Christ among the British. After the Roman conquest of Britain and the subsequent legalisation of Christianity in the Roman Empire, individual Christian Romans came to Britain for the purpose of conversion.
The first organised attempt of the propagation of Christianity was The Gregorian Mission in 597 AD. It was a very significant event in the religious history of England. The Gregorian mission was despatched by Pope Gregory the Great. The purpose was to convert Anglo-Saxon Britain into Christianity. Gregory chose Augustine, a Benedictine Monk, to lead a mission to Kent. During that time Ethelbert was the ruler of Kent. The mission was a great success as it set up the future course of Christianity in Britain. Ethelbert, the ruler of Kent was converted to the new religion, and the missionaries were allowed to preach freely and convert people. Most of the information relating to the advent of Christianity into England comes from Venerable Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Bede remarks thus: “So Augustine, strengthened by the encouragement of the blessed father Gregory, in company with the servants of Christ, returned to the work of preaching the word, and came to Britain”. The Gregorian Mission caused two major effects. The main effect was the conversion of the Kentish Kingdom and the establishment of the Episcopal Church at Canterbury. Augustine became the first Archbishop of Canterbury in 597. He is considered as the “Apostle to the English” and founder of the English church. Another effect was that the Mission planted the seed of Christianity in England. It caused the conversion of the whole British Isles in less than a century.

  • Roman conquest of Britain – Julius Caesar and Claudius
  • Roman conquest of Gaul (Modern France) – 55 BCE – Caesar’s plan for an expedition to the British Isles
  • Resistance of British army – withdrawal of Romans
  • Retaliation of British tribes under Cassivellaunus – siege to the fortress of Cassivellaunus- defeat of Britons and surrender- Sudden withdrawal of Cae- sar -rebellion in Gaul
  •  Claudius’ military expedition to Britain in 43 CE
  •  Battle of Medway (43 CE) – Surrender of Caractacus- setting up of a provi- sional Roman government
  •  The final resistance of Caractacus in 50CE- capture of Caractacus
  •  Resistance of the indigenous British Celtic people towards Roman conquest f
  • The rebellion of Boudicca – rebellion suppressed by Suetonius
  • Agricola as the governor of Britain -Agricola’s reforms- Romanization of the Britons.
  •  Romano -British Culture – establishment of Roman rule in Britain – subse- quent social, political and cultural changes
  • Impact of Roman conquest on Great Britain – Tacitus’ Biography of Agricola f Establishment of the first Roman colony in Camulodunum- first capital of the  Roman province
  •  Introduction of Roman law
  •  British trade with the European continent – export of gold, silver, iron, cattle, wheat and hides – import of luxury goods such as bracelets, necklaces, and glassware- Export of slaves to Rome
  •  Cultural changes – language and literature – Latin language- Hadrian’s Wall – Antonine Wall – City living culture – grids- ‘insulae’ – ‘forum’ – London
  • Introduction of Christianity in Britain – Gregorian Mission (597 CE)- Propa- gation of Christianity – Conversion from Druidism
  •  Augustine of Canterbury- mission into Kent- Conversion of Ethelbert – Ven- erable Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People
  • Effects of Gregorian mission – conversion of the Kentish Kingdom – the es- tablishment of the Episcopal Church at Canterbury

Objective Type Questions

1. When was the first Roman conquest of Britain occurred?
2. What was the reason for the immediate withdrawal of Julius Caesar from the first Roman conquest?
3. Who was the chief of the British tribes, united against the invasion of Claudi- us?
4. In which battle, Caractacus was forced to subdue a large region south of Thames to the Romans?
5. Which was the remarkable rebellion faced by Romans from the indigenous celtic people of Britain?
6. Which Roman governor suppressed the rebellion of Boudicca ?
7. Which British governor implemented the reforms to Romanize the Britain? 8. Mention the work which provides a detailed account of the Roman invasion
and its impact on the British Isles.
9. Where did Rome established their first colony on the British island?
10. What was the first capital of the Roman province in Britain?
11. What was the earlier name of London?
12. What was the kind of paganism followed by the British tribes in the first cen- tury CE?
13. Who organized the first attempt of the propagation of Christianity in Britain? 14. Mention the account which provides much information relating to the advent
of Christianity into England.
15. Which were the two effects of the Gregorian Mission?
16. Who became the first Archbishop of Canterbury in the year 597 and known as the ‘Apostle to the English’ and founder of the English church?

Answers to Objective Type Questions

1. 55 BCE
2. A major rebellion broke out in Gaul 3. Caractacus
4. Battle of Medway (43 CE)
5. The rebellion of Boudicca
6. Suetonius
7. Agricola
8. Tacitus’ Biography of Agricola
9. Camulodunum
10. Camulodunum
11. ‘Londinium’
12. Druidism
13. The Gregorian Mission in 597 CE
14. Venerable Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People
15. The conversion of the Kentish Kingdom and the establishment of the Episcopal Church at Canterbury
16. Augustine of Canterbury


1. Analyse the impact of Romanization on British culture.
2. Discuss the role of Gregorian mission in the propagation of Christianity in Britain
3. Describe the heroic deeds of Boadicea
4. Give a brief account of the Roman invasion and its impact on the British Isles. 5. Give a brief account of introduction of Christianity and its propagation in British society

Suggested Readings

1. A.L. Rowse, The Elizabethan Renaissance: The Life of the Society , Ivan. R. Dee Publisher, 2000.
2. Carter, E.H. Mears,, A History of Britain, Stacey International, 2012.
3. Emilie Amt, (Ed.), Medieval England, 1000-1500: A Reader, University of Toron- to press, 2000.
4. Eric Brown, English History, A Concise Overview of the History of England from Start to End, Guy Saloniki, 2019.
5. George Macaulay Trevelyan, Illustrated English Social History, Pelican, 1964. 6. Kenneth O Morgan (Ed), The Oxford History of Britain, OUP Oxford, 2010.
7. R.E. Pritchard, Shakespeare’s England: Life in Elizabethan and Jacobean Times, The History Press Limited, 2003.
8. Richard Bailey, Images of English: A Cultural History of the Language , Cam- bridge University Press, 2009.