When Did the Romans Invade Britain?
Britain has been invaded by the Romans on multiple occasions. While Julius Caesar was the first Roman agent of Britain’s conquest and invasion, he was most certainly not the last. The last vestiges of Roman influence over Britain die out around the first two decades of the 4th Century CE.
Exactly How Many Times Did the Romans Invade Britain?
A Roman invasion of Britain occurred on five notable occasions.
- Caesar‘s initial raid in 55 BCE.
- Caesar’s return one year later that lead to the defeat of Cassivellaunus.
- Emperor Claudius’s campaign in 43 CE.
- Governor Agricola’s push into Scotland in 79.
- Constantius Chlorus’s northern push in 306.
Who Were the Emperors and Leading Generals of the Roman Invasion of Britain?
Julius Caesar (100 BCE to 44 BCE)
Julius Caesar led the Roman army in the Gallic Wars, killed Pompey in a civil war and became Rome’s first dictator. He was also the first agent of Rome to invade Britain, doing so when Rome was in its republic government.
Claudius (10 BCE to 54 CE)
Claudius was Rome’s fourth emperor, ruling from 41 AD. He was known to have a limp and hearing issues and these traits kept him away from most forms of public office until becoming Consul. It was under his governance that Rome invaded Britain for the first time in the Common Era.
Vespasian (9-79 CE)
Vespasian initially served as general to one of the four legions deployed by Claudius in 43. Vespasian led the Second Legion through the lands of Sussex and Hampshire, Atrebates lands that were loyal to Rome. Just over a quarter of a century later, Vespasian would serve as the final Emperor during the “Year of Four Emperors,” ruling the Roman Empire in 69 CE and founding the Flavian Dynasty.
A Roman general from the First Century. He lead Claudius’ invasion of Britain and later served as Britain’s first provincial governor from 43 to 46.
Gnaeus Hosidius Geta (20-95+ CE)
He was the leader of Legio IX Hispana and one of the generals in Claudius’ British invasion. Despite almost being captured during the Battle of the Medway (43 CE), he executed such a successful reversal of fortune that he was awarded the Roman triumph (ornamenta triumphalia) despite never having served as Consul. He was promoted to Legatus in 45 and an inscription found in Rome indicates that he was elevated to the Suffect Consul in 49.
Titus Flavius Sabinus (??-69)
He was Vespasian’s older brother and served under Aulus Platius during the British invasion.
Gnaeus Sentius Saturninus the Younger
This man served under Aulus Platius in the British invasion and was co-Consul with Caligula.
Rome’s third emperor. His relevance to this topic concerns farcical invasion plans that entailed taking sea shells from the British coastline and literally attacking the waters.
Publius Ostorius Scapula (??-52)
A general and the governor of Britain until his death. He is notable for defeating and capturing Caratacus.
Quintus Veranius (??-57)
A general and governor of Britain who pushed for defeating the Silures and annexing Wales.
Gaius Suetonius Paulinus
A general who lead the successful massacre of Druids in North Wales during the Battle of Mona in 60. With his forces focused on North Wales, Boudicca’s Revolt was able to amass forces.
Gnaeus Julius Agricola (40-93)
A general and governor of Britain from 77 to 85 who made the first major inroads into Caledonia, an area now known as Scotland.
Hadrian served as emperor beginning in 117. His British endeavors involved commissioning a wall to reduce the frequency of rebellions coming from Caledonia.
Lucius Septimius Severus (145-211)
He served as Rome’s emperor from 119 until death. His British interests were to conquer Caledonia, ultimately resulting in the Caledonians suing for peace, which he granted in exchange for control of the Central Lowlands.
Constantius Chlorus (250-306)
Also known as Constantius I, he served as part of Diocletian’s imperial Tetrarchy and held the rank of Caesar from 293 to 305, finishing as Augustus for the rest of his time. 305 was also when he would cross into Britain and launched a successful expedition against the Picts.
Quintus Pompeius Falco (70-140+)
He was a general and governor in the Second Century and stopped a northern uprising in 117 CE.
Antoninus Pius (86-161)
This adopted son of Hadrian was emperor from 138 to 161 and is known as one of the Five Good Emperors. He had the Antonine Wall built in 142.
He served as governor of Britain from 176-180 but is reported to have endured an incredible mutiny that lasted for years due to his discipline.
A freed slave who served as governor of several regions, including Britain, before finishing as emperor for the first three months of 193.
Clodius Albinus (150-197)
An usurper who killed Emperor Pertinax, declared himself Emperor within Britain and avoided execution long enough to declare himself emperor a second time in 196.
Emperor of the splinter group known as the Gallic Empire for roughly a decade before his men killed him.
Emperor from 270 to 275, he saw to the return of Gaul and Britain to the Roman Empire and his efforts at restoring the empire in general earned him the nickname “Restorer of the World.”
A Roman general who fashioned himself an Emperor of the North and seized power in 286. He reigned for 7 years when he was killed by Allectus, his treasurer.
A prefect who served three emperors, killed Carausius and restored Roman rule to Britain.
Constantine I (272-337)
Also known as Constantine the Great, he was the Roman emperor of Britain, Gaul and Spain from 306 to 337.
Count Theodosius (??-376)
He was a senior officer under Valentinian I who did much to restore order to Britain.
Magnus Maximus (335-388)
He was a Western Roman usurper-emperor and claimed relation to Count Theodosius who reigned from 383 to 388. Some historians see his death as the end of Roman involvement with Britain and Northern Gaul
Theodosius I (347-395)
He was emperor from 379 until his death and assisted in putting down the “Great Conspiracy” of Celtic and Germanic invasions in Britain.
Roman Invasion Of Britain – A Timeline of the Invasion and Occupation of Britain by Roman Forces
- 55 BCE. General Julius Caesar invades Britain during the summer.
- 54 BCE. General Julius Caesar returns the following summer, defeating Cassivellaunus and claiming a promissory tribute from the defeated regions before leaving to quell a rebellion in Gaul.
- 44 BCE. Julius Caesar is assassinated on the Ides of March (March 15th) for aspirations of turning Rome from a republic to a monarchy with him as its king.
- 34 BCE. Emperor Augustus considers invading but passes so that he can respond to revolt elsewhere in the empire.
- 27 BCE. Augustus considers invading but the Britons seemed willing to accepts terms of surrender.
- 25 BCE. Augustus considers invading but passes so that he can respond to revolt elsewhere in the empire.
- 43 CE. After King Caratacus of the Catavellauni tribe invades Atrebates lands, the Atrebates leader, Verica, leaves Britain for Rome in order to ask Claudius to help out the Atrebates. Emperor Claudius uses this opportunity to invade Britain and affirm his ascension to emperor, deploying four legions. Claudius I later enters the Catuvellaunian capital city of Camulodonum (Modern Day Colchester) in triumph and receives submission from 12 chieftains.
- 47 CE. Claudius’ forces successfully conquer all of Southern Britain and annexes Britain to the Roman Empire.
- 49 CE. Camulodunon becomes Camulodunum, the first capitol city of the Roman province of “Britannia.”
- 50 CE. Londinium is deemed a superior location to Colchester.
- 51 CE. King Caratacus, leader of the Catavellauni-Silures-Ordovices tribal alliance, is defeated and captured by General Publius Ostorius Scapula during the Battle of Caer Caradoc.
- Sometime between 52 and 57 CE. King Venutius attempts a revolt and is stopped by Caesius Nasica.
- 59 CE. Prasutagus, ruler of the Iceni tribe, dies, willing his lands to joint ownership between his daughters and Emperor Nero. Despite this, Rome annexes his land and Boudica, the wife of Prasutagus, takes offense.
- 60 CE. Scapula’s forces attack the druid-led forces in Wales during the island Battle of Mona. The handful of present druids who survive the massacre flee to Ireland for their own safety.
- 60-61 CE. The Icini Queen Boudica leads the Icini Revolt, marching upon and demolishing Camulodunum, then Londiniumm (London) and finally Verulamium (modern-day St. Albans) as General Scapula’s forces were occupied with efforts in in northern Wales. Governor Paulinus meets with Boudica’s forces somewhere along Watling Street with 10,000 men and wins with roughly 80,000 Icini deaths. Rome moves to bolster its military power in Britannia.
- 69 CE. The “Year of Four Emperors” leaves Britain under-defended and Venutius of the Brigantes tribe manages to rout the Romans from Cartimandua in his second revolt. The newly empowered Emperor Vespasian feels compelled to reclaim Britain for the Empire.
- 75 CE. The Romans quash the last vestiges of resistance within the north of Britain, fully annexing England and Wales.
- 78 CE. Governor Gnaeus Julius Agricola conquers the Ordovices tribe.
- 79 CE. Agricola tries, and fails, to conquer Scotland.
- 84 CE. Agricola defeats the Caledonians (Scottish people) at the Battle of Mons Graupius in northern Scotland. His success is short-lived as he is recalled to Rome soon afterward and the Roman forces retreat to the south, to more-easily fortified locales.
- 117 CE. Quintus Pompeius Falco suppresses an uprising in northern Scotland.
- 120 CE. Emperor Hadrian visits Britain as part of a tour of all of Rome’s provinces.
- 122 CE. Hadrian commissions a wall to be built in order to fence out the defiant Picts and Scots of Scotland.
- 132. Construction of Hadrian’s Wall is mostly completed.
- 138. Emperor Antoninus Pius reduces Hadrian’s Wall to a support structure and commissions the Antonine Wall within Scotland.
- 155-157. The Brigantes revolt long enough to cause an end to the Antonin occupation of Scotland.
- 163-164. Emperor Marcus Aurelius abandons the Antonine Wall and refocuses on Hadrian’s Wall.
- 180. Hadrian’s Wall is breached and the regional commanding officer/governor was killed.
- 184. Ulpius Marcellus is appointed a replacement governor but soon suffers a mutiny.
- 192. Pertinax visited Britannia to restore order. His troops soon rioted, leaving him attacked and left on his own. He managed to make it back to Rome and succeed Commodus as emperor after Commodus’ death at the end of the year.
- 193. Pertinax dies in March.
- 195. Clodius Albinus becomes the governor of Britain and establishes the settlement of Lugdunum.
- 196. Septimius Severus, a political rival to Albinus, arrives and overtakes Albinus’ forces. Albinus commits suicide and Severus purges Albinus’ men and confiscates large portions of their land.
- 207. Reports from governor Lucius Alfenus Senecio mention barbarians raiding throughout the land.
- 208 or 209. Severus leads a group of 20,000 men over the wall and into Scotland. After being harassed by guerrilla tactics, peace treaties were signed between Severus and the Caledonians (the Scottish).
- 210. Severus returns to York and claims the title Britannicus. The Maeatae confederation rebels.
- 211. Prior to his death, Emperor Septimius Severus divides Britain into Upper and Lower Britain in an effort to reduce the military prowess of governors who might seek to claim the Imperial throne. Severus’ sons, Caracella and Geta flee Britannia to defend their claim to the throne.
- 259-274 Postumus rebels against Gallienus and the “Gallic Empire” persists until Aurelian reunites the empire.
- Late 270s. Bononus, a half-Brythonic usurper, rebelled after his fleet is burnt down by the enemy in Cologne. While Emperor Probus stopped Bononus, an unnamed governor also tries to cause an uprising. Probus deploys Vandals and Burgundians to quell this uprising around 278.
- 286. Carausius, a naval commander sentenced to execution for keeping pirate treasure for himself, declares himself emperor of Britain and northern Gaul while Emperor Maximian is forced to stamp out fires of rebellion elsewhere in the empire.
- 288. An invasion attempt to claim Carausius’ life fails and a delicate peace is agreed upon. Caurausius mints coins that verify his claims and recognition of power.
- 293. Junior Emperor Constantius Chlorus defeats rebels in Boulagne and Carausius’ Frankish allies. Allectus, a treasurer to Carausius, murders Carausius and attempts to usurp Carausius’ throne only for Asclepiodotus to arrive and defeat Allectus in battle later that year. Triumphant, Chlorus divides Britannia into four provinces; Upper Britannia becomes Maxima Caesariensis and Britannia Prima while Lower Britannia becomes Flavia Caesariensis and Britannia Secunda.
- 306. Chlorus returns with aspirations to invade northern Britain. Sadly, the man was 62, in poor health and it remains unclear what happened during this expedition. Chlorus dies this same year and his son, Constantine I, uses his Britannic base to march on the throne.
- 367. The Great Conspiracy, a joint attack force of Irish, Saxons and Attacotti leave Britain nearly helpless.
- 368. Count Theodosius defeats the marauding band of Attacotti.
- 378. The Battle of Adrianople.
- 383. Magnus Maximus, an usurper leads a revolt in Segontium and crosses the Channel.
- 384. Magnus Maximus wins a campaign against the Scots and Picts.
- 388. Magnus Maximus’ reign ends in defeat at the forces of Emperor Theodosius I in the Battle of Poetovio.
- 396. An uptick in barbarian raids occurs, with their forces being thwarted by naval warfare.
- 399. Peace is restored to Britain.
- 401. Most Roman troops are recalled to aid in the campaign against King Alaric I of the Visigoths.
- 410. Without Roman administration or any lingering Legion presence, Britain is effectively left to its own devices to defend itself.
Roman Invasion Of Britain – How Far Did The Romans Get and What Resistance Did They Meet?
While the Roman invasion of Britain began with Julius Caesar’s arrival in Kent in 55 BCE, the Roman Empire eventually managed to annex and subjugate the areas we recognize as England and Wales. While there was also some success in Scotland, the combination of fierce Pict and Scot resistance plus the recall of one of the few men to make any progress north of the area we recognize as modern England meant that Scotland was less trodden upon than its southern compatriot nations.
Rome is responsible for many of the early roads that wind throughout England and Wales and can still be explored in the present day; seven of the original 15 connected to Londinium. The Roman presence in Scotland is most easily recognized by the lingering presence of Hadrian’s Wall and the Antonine Wall.
It took some time for Rome to gain dominion over Britain and its forces ran into a litany of different tribes and clans. This section will list off these groups and any notable individuals connected to them.
- Cassivellaunus. The first Celtic leader to oppose Julius Caesar and one whom had a history of warring with neighbor groups. His stronghold’s location was sold out by an alliance of the Ancalites, Bibroci, Cassi, Cenimagni and Segontiaci tribes and Caesar laid siege to the locale. While Cassivellaunus was able to send notice of military urgency to Kent’s four kings: Carvilius, Cingetorix, Segovax and Taximagulus, the defeat of Kent’s armies and the devastation Caesarwrought convinces Cassivellaunus to surrender in 54 BCE.
- The Catavellauni Tribe. These people were ruled by King Caratacus from Colchester and lived north of the Thames. Caratacus and his brother Togodumnus engaged in two battles along the Medway and Thames Rivers, to disastrous results and lead to many wishing to make peace with the Romans. Ever defiant of the Romans, Caratacus continued fighting with his brother until the Romans had slain Togodumnus and conquered the southeastern portion of the island.
- Druids. These were men who served their kingdoms as priests, historians and advisors and were crucial to organizing forces against the Romans. The Romans realized the power that this position held and banned druids. Seeking to put a permanent end to this Celt advantage, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus came to the North Welsh stronghold known as Ynys Mon, or the Island of Mona. There, the druids made a last stand that resulted in a massacred on their side, desecrated of the shrine and groves contained therein, and a handful of survivors fleeing to safety in Ireland.
- The Atrebates. These people were ruled by Verica and were neighbors to the Catavellauni. When Caratacus sought to invade Atrebate lands, Verica ran toward Rome and asked Claudious to help out.
- The Durotriges Tribe. These people were local to Dorset and make a stand against one of Claudius I’s pronged assaults in Maiden Castle. Sadly for them, they were cut down with such efficiency that portions of the catapult bolts that saw to their downfall remain embedded in the ground even now.
- The Dobunni Tribe. A group who King Caratacus allied with and were dominant within Bristol, Gloucestershire and northern Somerset. These people were not warriors but instead worked the land or made crafts.
- The Ordovices Tribe. Another ally tribe who Caratacus managed to work with. They resided within north Wales.
- The Silures Tribe. Another ally tribe who Caratacus managed to work with. They resided within southeast Wales.
- The Icini Tribe. These people lived in the area now known as Norfolk. While these people were loyal to Prasutagus and the Iceni lands were a vassal of Rome, Prasutagus died in 59 CE. While Prasutagus’s dying wish was that the Iceni lands would be jointly owned by his own daughters and the Emperor of Rome, the emperor laughed and annexed the entirety of those lands to Rome.
- Queen Boudica. Boudica was the wife of Prasutagus and the Roman Empire’s treatment of her lands, her daughters and her own body lit a massive fire in her spirit. Sometime in 60 or 61, Boudica led a revolt with several other tribes against the Empire after Governor Gaius Suetonius Paulinus lead another attack against the druids of North Wales. Boudica’s warbands ravaged through Camulodunum, Londinium and Verulamium (present-day St. Albans), demolishing everything, sparing no Roman and destroying any and all symbols of the Empire. Boudica and 80,000 Iceni were killed in the exchange with Paulinus and his 10,000 man army somewhere along Watling Street.
- Venutius. A Brigantes king and husband to Cartimandua whose name is first recorded in 51 CE. After Caratacus’ defeat in Wales by Publius Ostorius Scapula, he sought to flee to the Brigantes but was instead captured and handed off to the Romans by his wife. Once Caratacus was captured, Venutius became the most notable resistance leader while his wife chose to marry Vellocatus, the armor-bearer to Venutius.
Initially seeking revenge against his ex, Venutius refocused his rage on the Roman Empire that protected her. Venutius led a revolt that was stopped by Caesius Nasica in the mid-50s. Venutius would lead another revolt during the Year of Four Emperors; this endeavor proved more successful and allowed him to occupy Cartimandua. Nothing is known of his fate after Vespasian’s rise to emperor.
- The Trinovantes Tribe. This particular tribe occupied what we now recognize as Essex. While they were initially favorable to the Romans after Emperor Claudius I’s invasion in the 40s, they quickly soured on the situation and joined Queen Boudica’s call for retribution against the Empire. The colony of Camulodunum was established on lands that had been taken by the Trinovantes.
- The Picts. These people were local to Scotland, specifically the northeastern portion, within places like Fife and Caithness. Their memory remains in the depictions of warriors whose bodies were painted with blue woad.
- The Scots. These people resided within southern Scotland.
- The Maeatae. This was a confederation of tribes that lived in Scotland, north of the Antonine Wall.
- The Saxons. Attacks from this group of Germanic raiders increased in severity during the 4th Century.
- The Irish. Attacks from this group increased in severity during the 4th Century.
- The Attacotti. Attacks from this group increased in severity during the 4th Century. We are unsure where their tribal lands were located though some scholars believe they may have originated in Ireland; increasing scrutiny into the connection has come up lacking.
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