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The Roman Invasion of Britain

Background to the Roman Invasion

The Romans under Julius Caesar had, as said earlier, probed south-east Britain in 55 and 54 BC. Although he had defeated the Veneti the previous year, enough of them had escaped north to Britain to still pose a threat to Rome's northern border. Plans may have been made for a full scale invasion of Britain, but civil war in Rome (47-45 BC and other turmoil led finally to Caesar's death at the hands of Brutus [15th March 44 BC]. The plans were put on hold. Octavian, the great nephew and adopted son of Julius Caesar beat Brutus and Cassius in the civil war. He then went on to defeat Antony at the battle of Actium (31 BC). He established his dominance in Rome and was proclaimed as Emperor Augustus Caesar [born Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus] in 27 BC. Now started a great period in Roman history, for the next century or so the empire expanded reaching its zenith in 117 AD. Although Augustus died in 14 AD, subsequent rulers such as Tiberius (14-37 AD) continued to build up the Empire. After the short but turbulent reign of Gaius Caligula, normality was restored under Emperor Claudius. It was during his reign (41-54 AD), that Britain was actually invaded.

Sulis Minerva

During Rome's earlier armed reconnaisance of South East Britain, her armies had met and demanded tribute from the Celtic Trinovantes of Suffolk and Essex, who paid with large amounts of grain. The country was seen to be quite fertile with great forests and useful raw materials. They noted its predominantly agricultural economy with farms - arable in the south-east and livestock elsewhere. The Romans found Britain to be populated by many distinct Iron Age tribes, each tribe quite fearsome but with no overall military structure or 'mutual defence'. The Catuvellauni tribe originally occupied Hertfordshire around Verulamium (St Albans). Under their strong leader Cunobelin, they attacked and eventually subjugated their neighbours the Atrebates. The Catuvellauni becoming one of the major players in Southern Central Britain. The leader of the Atrebates, one Verica, son of Commius, a former client king of the Romans, fled to the continent and asked the Roman Emperor Claudius for help to repel the Catuvellauni. This gave Claudius just the excuse he needed to invade Britain.

The Roman Invasion of Britain (43 AD)

Southern Britain was invaded in 43AD, with a larger full-scale invasion some twelve years later. Provincial cities such as Londinium (London), Corinium Dobunnorum (Cirencester),Lindum (Lincoln), Eburacum (York) as well as major towns such as Glevum (Gloucester), Virconium Cornoviorum (Wroxeter), Verulamium (St. Albans) and Aquae Sulis (Bath) were founded. The capital of Britannia was built on the former Camulodunum (Colchester), until it was destroyed by the revolt of the Iceni under their warrior Queen Boudicca (Boadicea) some 18 years later in 60/61AD. The provincial city for the South West was founded at Isca Dumnoniorum - present day Exeter - and was built around the Roman garrison fort of the Legio Secundus. The question of the metal-rich southwest of Britain didn't really come into play at this stage however. The Roman Empire in Europe at this time was still very strong and it wasn't until the barbarian incursions of around 250AD that Rome looked to Cornwall to supply its tin rather than Spain. There was some small scale infiltration of Cornwall by the Romans but no true invasion as we know it today. There are several small Roman villas dotted around the county at Magor (near Camborne), near Wadebridge and at Vicus (present -day Gweek). As the nearest large settlement of Romans and Romanized-Britons was at Isca, any tin traded was produced and sent to the port of Ictis - probably St. Michael's Mount near Penzance. It would then be exported down the Seine, Saône and Rhône river estuaries and thence by sea to Massilia (Marseille), the Empire's main trade centre for metals.

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