Early Political History of England: The Roman Occupation

The Romans brought Christianity and other Oriental religions to the England. They also insisted upon the building of roads and the establishment of city sites, which was the first glimmers of “civilization.”

However, we cannot think that the native people of Britain “welcomed” the suppression of their pagan religions, as well as the financial obligations required by the Romans. Upset, Queen Boadicea led a revolt against the Romans.

Boudica (d. AD 60 or 61) was queen of the British Iceni tribe, a Celtic tribe who led an uprising against the occupying forces of the Roman Empire.

Boudica’s husband Prasutagus was ruler of the Iceni tribe. He ruled as a nominally independent ally of Rome and left his kingdom jointly to his daughters and the Roman emperor in his will. However, when he died, his will was ignored and the kingdom was annexed as if conquered. Boudica was flogged, her daughters were raped, and Roman financiers called in their loans.

In AD 60 or 61, while the Roman governor Gaius Suetonius Paulinus was leading a campaign on the island of Anglesey off the northwest coast of Wales, Boudica led the Iceni as well as the Trinovantes and others in revolt. They destroyed Camulodunum (modern Colchester). Camulodunum was earlier the capital of the Trinovantes, but at that time was a colonia—a settlement for discharged Roman soldiers, as well as the site of a temple to the former Emperor Claudius. Upon hearing the news of the revolt, Suetonius hurried to Londinium (modern London), the twenty-year-old commercial settlement that was the rebels’ next target.

The Romans, having concluded that they did not have the numbers to defend the settlement, evacuated and abandoned Londinium. Boudica led 100,000 Iceni, Trinovantes and others to fight Legio IX Hispana and burned and destroyed Londinium, and Verulamium (modern-day St Albans). An estimated 70,000–80,000 Romans and British were killed in the three cities by those led by Boudica. Suetonius, meanwhile, regrouped his forces in the West Midlands, and despite being heavily outnumbered, defeated the Britons in the Battle of Watling Street.

Boadicea Haranguing the Britons - Public Domain - en.wikipedia.     org/wiki/Boudica#/ media/File:Queen_ Boudica_by_John_Opie. jpg

Boadicea Haranguing the Britons – Public Domain – en.wikipedia. org/wiki/Boudica#/
media/File:Queen_
Boudica_by_John_Opie.
jpg

The crisis caused the Emperor Nero to consider withdrawing all Roman forces from Britain, but Suetonius’s eventual victory over Boudica confirmed Roman control of the province. Boudica then either killed herself so she would not be captured, or fell ill and died. The extant sources, Tacitus and Cassius Dio, differ.

Interest in the history of these events was revived during the English Renaissance and led to a resurgence of Boudica’s fame during the Victorian era, and Queen Victoria was portrayed as her namesake. Boudica has since remained an important cultural symbol in the United Kingdom. However, the absence of native British literature during the early part of the first millennium means that knowledge of Boudica’s rebellion comes solely from the writings of the Romans.(Queen Boadicea)

Photo of the statue of Gnaeus Julius Agricola erected in 1894 at the Roman Baths

Photo of the statue of Gnaeus Julius Agricola erected in 1894 at the Roman Baths

It was not until the rule of Agricola (78-84) that Britain became reconciled with its European masters. Gnaeus Julius Agricola is said to have been more “just” than many other governors of Britain. Arriving in midsummer of 77, Agricola found the Ordovices of north Wales had virtually destroyed the Roman cavalry stationed in their territory. He immediately moved against them and defeated them. He then moved north to the island of Mona (Anglesey), which Suetonius Paulinus had failed to subjugate in 60 because of the outbreak of the Boudican rebellion, and forced its inhabitants to sue for peace. He established a good reputation as an administrator, as well as a commander, by reforming the widely corrupt corn levy. He introduced Romanising measures, encouraging communities to build towns on the Roman model and educating the sons of the native nobility in the Roman manner.

He also expanded Roman rule north into Caledonia (modern Scotland). In the summer of 79, he pushed his armies to the estuary of the river Taus, usually interpreted as the Firth of Tay, virtually unchallenged, and established some forts. Though their location is left unspecified, the close dating of the fort at Elginhaugh in Midlothian makes it a possible candidate.(Gnaeus Julius AgricolaAgricola fostered education, more equitable taxation, a justice system, and an established series of forts for defense. 

Agricola was the exception and not the rule of Roman governors. After his time on the island, the next 100-200 years was marked with unrest and upheaval. The Franks and Saxon took up piratical activity, while the Scots menaced the border shires. The Germanic tribes had had enough of the Romans. In 407 A.D. Roman troops withdrew from Britain to Gaul. The never returned. The Britons were free to rule themselves, but Rome’s mark remained: a uniform legal system, local self-government, theaters, roads, cities, and Christianity. 

After the Roman withdrawal, Britain was subjected to a series of invasions by Teutonic tribes. These tribes organized into large kingdoms, and these kingdoms struggled for supremacy during the 7th to the 9th centuries. 

Christianity came to Britain with the conversion of Aethelbert, King of Kent, in 597, but with his death, pagan ways returned. However, when Northumbria became more powerful, Christianity spread with the accession to the throne in Northumbria of Edwin (who succeeded Aethelfrith). Christian kings continued in Northumbria as Oswald succeeded Edwin. The Roman Church established the Synod of Whiby in 664, as well as its supremacy. 

European civilizations came to Britain’s door. An organized church was established, and Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury, founded parochial schools. Orders of monks spread throughout the land, with the Benedictine order the most famous of those established. Many early English writers were monks. 

The death of King Oswy in 670 signaled an end of Northumbria’s supremacy. In the middle of the 8th Century, under the warrior King Offa, who ruled from 757 to 796, Mercia became prominent. 

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About reginajeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and contemporary novels.
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