We often think of the Roman Empire as ruling Italy and the areas around the Mediterranean Sea. However, for nearly 400 years, Rome also ruled much of Britain. They called the land Britannia.
Caesar Invades Britain
It was Julius Caesar who first invaded Britain in 55 BC. He led two Roman legions across the waters and landed on the coast of Kent. This first invasion wasn't very successful. Caesar returned to France before the winter.
A year later, in 54 BC, Caesar returned to Britain with a larger force of five Roman legions. He was much more successful this time, invading well into Britain and even crossing the River Thames. He left peacefully after the tribes of Britain agreed to pay tribute to Rome.
The Romans Conquer Britain
About 90 years later, in 43 AD, Emperor Claudius decided he needed to conquer a new land and make a name for himself. He decided to conquer Britain. Under the leadership of General Plautius, four Roman legions invaded Britain. Conquering Britain wasn't a simple task, though. It took around 30 years for Rome to gain control of the southern part of the island.
In 122 AD the Roman Emperor Hadrian had a wall built across the middle of England. This wall created a fortified border between northern and southern Britain. The wall was 73 miles long. It varied in size from 10 to 20 feet wide and 10 to 20 feet tall. It is estimated that more than 10,000 troops manned the wall at some point. The wall helped to keep out the northern barbarians and also served as a point for taxation on imports and exports.
Portions of Hadrian's Wall still stand today
Photo by Velella at Wikimedia Commons
The End of Roman Rule
The Romans ruled Britain for nearly 400 years from 43 AD to 410 AD. They left Britain to defend their homeland in Italy which was being threatened by barbarians such as the Goths and the Vandals. The Western Roman Empire collapsed in 476 AD.
The Roman legions may have returned home to Italy, but they left a lasting legacy on the culture of Britain. Roman construction such as aqueducts, roads, and concrete had a lasting impact on the people of Britain. Other aspects of Roman culture that remained in England included the Julian calendar, Roman laws and government, and many words from the Latin language.
The City of London
The Romans also established the city of Londinium around 50 AD, which later became London. The Romans built a network of roads throughout England many of which went through Londinium making the city an important trade center.
The Romans built many major structures in Londinium including temples, bathhouses, a basilica for meetings, and a governor's palace. Around 200 AD, they built a defensive wall around the city called London Wall. The wall was around three miles long, 20 feet high, and 8 feet wide.
Interesting Facts about the Roman Empire in England
The Romans also built another wall across Scotland north of Hadrian's Wall called the Antonine Wall.
The first Roman city in Britain was Camulodunum. Today it is the town of Colchester.
Many current cities in England were established by the Romans including London, York, Northwich, Dover, Bath, and Canterbury.
Celtic priests called druids were outlawed by the Emperor Claudius. They were nearly wiped out by the Romans.
In 60 AD a British tribal Queen named Boudicca started a revolt that included burning down much of Londinium.