Roman Britain

Britain in the Ancient Age was dominated by the Celts, a prehistoric people who lived scattered across the land in tribes. They worshiped multiple gods and goddesses, and spoke a language which was the ancestor of modern Welsh. One of their religious sects which has become particularly famous in modern times was the Druids, a cult which admitted both men and women into its priesthood.

Map of Roman Britain. Move your mouse over the map to zoom in on Hadrian's Wall.

In 43 A.D. after years of struggling, the Roman Empire finally managed to conquer the southern portion of the British Isle. But the area to the North was never fully settled, and the people living there continued in their primitive, tribal ways of life. A huge wall named Hadrian's Wall, in honor of the Roman emperor Hadrian, was built spanning 73 miles, from side to side of the British Isle, dividing the southern, "Roman" area from the northern, unsettled portion. Beyond it were the unsettled tribes of the North, many of them still practicing their older, Celtic ways of life. Parts of Hadrian's Wall still remain today.

It would be a mistake to think that the conquered Britons living to the South were in any way worse off than their northern neighbors. Britain was a Roman territory, and beginning in the third century, all male Britons were citizens of the empire, with the same rights and privileges as any other. The Roman school of thought was that humanity was divided into two groups: Romans and Barbarians, with "Romans" being defined as any citizen of the empire. Locality did not matter. Large towns sprung up with Roman roads connecting them. British citizens gave their children Roman educations. The provincial governor and senior officials came from Rome, but most regions of Britain enjoyed their own local autonomy, with councils made up of wealthy Britons and descendants of Celtic chieftains. Many high–ranking Britons owned large villas with full heating systems, the splendor of which would not be seen again until the eighteenth century.

Nor would it be correct to assume that the Roman Empire thought little of the Britons. It is true that Britain was scarcely a thought in the minds of most Romans for the first two centuries after her conquest. But Britain came into the spotlight in 286 when an admiral named Marcus Aurelius Carausius declared himself ruler, and declared Britain independent. When the Emperor Constantius finally reconquered the Island a few years later, a commemorative medallion was made displaying London at his feet with the inscription "Restorer of the Eternal Light." Constantius remained in Britain for some time to rebuild the economy and the Island's defenses. His son, Constantine, was crowned emperor at York, and would go on to become Constantine the Great, the famous emperor who declared Christianity the official religion of Rome. When Rome fell prey to attack from hordes of invading Visigoths more than a century and a half later, it was Britain they ultimately turned to for aid. Britain was becoming a noticeable presence in the empire.