History of England, Part I For the use of Middle Forms of Schools

Tout, T. F. --Powell, F. York


CHAPTER II: The Romans in Britain.55 B.C.

1. Caius Julius the Roman had already conquered [1]  and subdued all the Keltic tribes there, when late in B.C. he determined to go to Britain, wishing to know what kind of land it was and hoping to stop the Britons from sending help (as they had been doing) to their kinsfolk across the Channel. So, as he tells us, he set sail with two legions, reached the coast near , and began to disembark his troops in the face of the British chariots and horsemen gathered on the beach to resist him. The water being too shallow for his big galleys to lie close inshore, the Romans had to wade through the


surf to the beach, under a shower of darts and stones which they could neither ward off nor return. Even the veterans were disheartened for a while, though sent light boats filled with slingers and archers into the shallows where they could gall the Britons and cover their comrades' landing; but suddenly the standard-bearer of the famous 10th legion sprang into the water calling out, The 10th rushed after him to save the holy standard, made good their landing, and, the other troops following, drove the Britons inland. But dared not pursue them far from the coast, finding them no mean foes, and dreading the winter storms, so, getting a promise of peace from two tribes, he went back to empty-handed. However, next year he came again with a larger force, four legions and several squadrons of cavalry, landed, and hearing that Cassivellamnos, head-king of the tribes north of the , was gathering the Britons against him, left a few men to guard his fleet and struck inland to meet him. First crossing the in the face of the enemy he took London, and even carried Verulam, the British king's stronghold. But the country was wild and unknown, the Britons hung round the army and harassed his march, and the four kings of were besetting his small camp on the coast. therefore gladly received Cassivellamnos' proposals for peace, took hostages from several tribes, and retired to ;

2. Twice more, by and , was Britain threatened, but not till ' days was the [2]  threat carried out, when, in , his generals Aulus Plautius and Ostorius Scapula landed and won the south of the land bit by bit. The eastern Camulodun, capital of the Icenian prince, (Cunobelinos), was stormed under the emperor's eyes. In the north the Brigantes were forced into submission, while in the west the Silures were crushed by the defeat and capture of their king, Caratocos. The story of this brave chief's interview with at Rome, where his bold bearing won him the favour of the empress and the pardon of the emperor at her request, is well known.

The usual steps were taken to hold the new province, military stations were set near the duns of the different tribes, colonies of veteran soldiers were planted here and there at important points, well-made roads were drawn from camp to camp throughout the whole land, and a number of Roman


officers appointed to govern it: those tribes who submitted peacefully being allowed to keep their own laws and chiefs on payment of tribute to the emperor. But the harshness, greediness, and money-lending of the Roman officers led to more than one outbreak, and at last to a terrible revolt.

3. The king of the Eceni, Prasutagos, a friend of the Romans and a rich man, made the emperor [3]  by his will coheir with his own two daughters to all that he had, hoping so to gain safety for his people and family when he was gone. But as soon as he was dead, under colour of looking after the emperor's rights, the Roman officers fell to plundering his people and pillaging his house, nay, they even sold his kinsmen into slavery, brutally ill-treated his daughters, and scourged his widow, . Then the Eceni rose and took a bitter revenge. They broke into Camulodun, where the Romans took refuge in a temple, defending it two or three days in their despair; but in vain, for it was stormed, the town fired, and every living thing within it put to death. They then marched to Verulam and London, which in like manner they utterly destroyed. The 9th legion venturing to attack them was completely cut to pieces in the open field, and so great was the panic that most of the Romans in the south of Britain and the wicked governor himself fled to . But the general, , who was with the 14th legion away in the west, where he had just won the Druids' sacred island, , after a fierce struggle, saved the province. Hurrying back at the news of the rising he met and her huge host at Ambresbury Banks.

The queen, a tall grim-looking woman with fierce blue eyes and long yellow hair that fell from under her helmet over her golden collar and plaid mantle, went through the British army spear in hand in a war-chariot with her two daughters, praying her countrymen with brave words to fight boldly and win revenge for her and freedom for themselves. But ' attack was so well-timed and strongly followed up that the less disciplined Britons were forced back upon the wall of waggons which formed their camp, and there hemmed in and slain to a man, for the Romans were furious at the cruelties of the as they called it. taking poison when she saw the day was lost rather than fall alive into her foemen's hands. So the Rising ended, but when heard the causes of it, he recalled the bad governor and sent out a more righteous man.

4. The north of Britain was as yet unsubdued, and the wild Caledonians used to make forays southwards [4]  and harry the province, till , Domitian's general, defeated their king, Calgacos, in a pitched battle, and built a chain of forts from the Forth to the Clyde as a barrier against them. He also explored the north coast with his fleet, which he sent round the whole island, and even planned the invasion of Ireland. But the work this good and wise man had most at heart was the civilization of the Britons. He tried to persuade the gentlemen to take up Roman ways, and let their sons be taught Roman knowledge; and so much had he gained the goodwill of the provincials by his uprightness that when the seven years of his governorship were over, a great part of the land was fast becoming Romanized, and the danger was henceforth from without not from within.

5. The northern part of the province was still harassed by the wild tribes, and , A.D. , was [5]  obliged to give up the Clyde valley and try to check the Caledonians by a huge dyke stretching from the Tyne to the Solway. Antonine, however, gained back 's losses and strengthened 's line by a wall, while Severus, in , carried the war into and reached the great North Bay by hard fighting, in which thousands of Roman soldiers fell either by disease brought on by hardships and overwork or by the darts of the natives. At last he too was obliged to fall back on 's dyke, in front of which he built a stone wall, Eboracum () being now the headquarters of the Victorious 6th legion. Beside the PICTS [painted folk] (as the Caledonians were now called), the SCOTS [tattooed men], from north Ireland, laid waste the west coasts of Britain in spite of the Gallant and Conquering 20th legion stationed at Deva (Chester), while the east and south were harried by a still more dreaded foe, the SAXONS of the North Sea shores. Against them a line of nine strong forts was built, covering the land from the Wash to Lymne, and garrisoned by the 2nd legion, the August, and other picked troops, the harbours of London and being watched by a fleet of war-galleys.

But the barbarians' attacks on Britain were but an example of what was going on all along the Roman frontiers, and soon, Italy itself being threatened, the outlying provinces were in still greater jeopardy. However, the island was held for many years more. Under , the first Christian emperor, born at of a British mother, as the


legend tells,

"fair Helena, who in all godly ways and goodly praise did far excel,"

it flourished greatly, and though evil days followed, in was able to gain some brilliant successes, and drive the invaders beyond 's line once more. But the division of the empire, the troubles in , and the quarrels and revolts of the Roman governors in the island (several of whom, like Carausius, proclaimed themselves emperors and strove by the help of their armies and fleets to win supreme power) all joined, along with the never-ceasing attacks of the Irish and Picts, in bringing the Roman rule in Britain to an end. Legion after legion left the province, and though succours were sent back now and again, when they could be spared, to help the weakened garrison, the evacuation went steadily on (the Roman colonists burying their treasures in vain hopes of return and following the soldiers) till about years after the landing of Aulus Plautius it was complete.

6. To the Romans we owe much. [1]  Great changes have taken place during their rule. So much wild forest-land had been cleared and tilled that Britain was called the Granary of the North. Great marshes had been drained (the first dikes in the Fens are Roman work), river-beds deepened and harbours dredged, gardens and vineyards had been laid out in Italian fashion (in many places the terraces along the hillsides may still be traced), stocked with many kinds of useful trees, shrubs, and plants brought from abroad, and sheep-farming had begun. Iron (wrought in the Midlands, in the south, and in Dean Forest) had replaced bronze for tools and weapons, lead and tin mines and saltworks were carefully carried on, beautiful pottery was made on the banks of the and Medway, and fine glass by the Channel shores. Handsome villas furnished with all the comforts of Roman life, strong fortresses, walled and tower-flanked, fine brick-built towns, with theatres, temples, baths, and law courts, stood on the sites of the rude halls and duns of Keltic Britain. More than thirty cities, besides the capital, and many regular stations, are known to have existed, all knit together by paved roads running straight from point to point, crossing rivers and fens by bridge or causeway, gently graded over hills, and furnished with [walled resting-places] at convenient stages. Wherever the words - (N.), - (M.), (S.), (W.), or (Wales) are found in our maps there stood a Roman castrum, by every or there ran a Roman , while port and lymne mark


Roman merchant towns and harbours. Hence ships built in Britain carried grain, pearls, metals, slaves,horses, and hounds abroad, bringing back silk and gold and precious stones and all the luxuries of Rome. Roman influence is further shown by the use of Latin among the upper classes, and the number of words, belonging to war, government, religion, etc., which have found their way into Welsh, though the Latin tongue never ousted the Keltic in West Britain (as it did in the most part of and Spain) in spite of the long occupation by some 50,000 Roman soldiers and officials, besides the many foreigners in the towns.

But besides fixing the sites of our great cities and opening up the country by roads, the Romans gave us our religion. In the first century Christianity reached Britain and began to spread among the Romanized Britons. Of this early British Church and its history little is known save the names of a few bishops of London, Cærleon, and ; the sites of a score of churches (, , Canterbury, etc.); the origin of a new heresy, the Pelagian, in the fifth century; and a few beautiful legends, such as those of

"good Lucius that first received the sacred pledge of Christ's Evangely;"

of S. Alban, the first martyr of Britain, slain on the hill by Verulam, where now his noble minster stands; of S. Germanus, prophet of the wrath to come. But it is certain that the Romans left the province Christian, with a regular hierarchy, several monasteries, and a Latin translation of the Bible. From this Church is descended the Welsh Church, and, by the labours of S. Ninian and SS. Palladius and Patrick, Welsh missionaries to the heathen Ivernians and Kelts in and Hibernia, the Churches of Scotland and Ireland. How.these converts in their turn spread the Christian faith among us English will be told later on. Meanwhile the heavy debt we owe the British Church should make us pass lightly over the later days of its sway in Roman Britain, as they are shown to us in the stern forebodings of Gildas the monk, who denounces the wickedness of the people,- the corruption of the priesthood, and the guilt of the rulers, whose crimes cast contempt upon the faith they professed so loudly but were so loath to follow.


[1] Julius Cæsar's forays in Britain.

[2] Claudius conquers Britain.

[] A.D. 61

[3] Boudicca's rising, A.D. 61.

[4] Agricola and his way with the Britons.

[5] The barbarians, Picts, Scots, and Saxons.

[] [368-409]

[1] Results of the Roman rule in Britain.

  • In-text illustrations for this text are cataloged in MS004/002.001#DO01.
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