Roman Invasion Britain 43 AD

Backdrop to Roman Invasion Britain 43 AD

The events of the Roman invasion of Britain in 43 AD were primarily taken from accounts of Cassius Dio’s “Roman History” and Suetonius’s “The Twelve Caesars.” The historians give little detail about the invasion. There was no British resistance when the Roman legions first landed. Later, the Catuvellauni tribe led by Togodumnus and Caratacus primarily resisted the Roman invasion.

Ironically, Suetonius dismissed the British campaign as of no great importance. He further said, “Claudius decided that Britain was the country where a real triumph could be most readily earned. Its conquest had not been attempted since the days of Julius Caesar. The Britons were now threatening vengeance because the Romans had refused to return some fugitives.”

Imperial portrait of Roman emperor Claudius

Imperial portrait of Roman emperor Claudius

Some archaeologists have proposed that the campaign was nothing more than a political annexation in a region that was already highly influenced by Rome. The following article provides the backdrop to the Roman invasion in 43 AD and the evidence that supports the theory that this was not a full-scale military campaign.

Map Ancient Britain 1st Center

Map Ancient Southeast Britain 1st Century

Evidence of Rome’s Influence Prior to 43 AD


One strategy that Rome used to effectively control Britain between the invasions of Caesar and Claudius were to take obsides (hostages) in conjunction with peace pacts and treaties. In Rome, these hostages were indoctrinated into the Roman culture.

During Caesar’s invasions of Britain in 55 – 54 BC, he demanded several hostages as part of the peace truce with southeastern British tribes. Most of these hostages were children or close relatives of the British rulers.

Celtic Child in Roma Ara Pacis Procession Nord Particolare

Celtic child in frieze of Ara Pacis Augustae (Altar of Augustan Peace)

British rulers, many of whom were educated in Rome and fought in their auxiliary, had to first seek recognition from Rome when coming to power. From Augustus onward, the rulers in southeast Britain were appointed by the emperor. Although there may not have been large-scale occupation of Britain by Roman troops, the dynastic rulers were viewed as imperial administrators of Rome.

Presence of Roman Soldiers

There are archaeological findings that hint Roman soldiers were present in Britain prior to 43 AD. In particular, there may have been a Roman fort near Colchester. The fort can only be detected from aerial photography and is thus undated. However, it is constructed in accordance with an orthogonal Roman fort. It is possible that Cunobelin, who was most likely trained in the Roman army, constructed this fort along similar lines as a Roman encampment. Alternatively, the fort may have garrisoned a genuine Roman auxiliary prior to 43 AD.

Linnea at Roman Wall at Colchester

Linnea at Roman Wall at Colchester

There is also another evidence of Roman occupation prior to 43 AD at Fishbourne Palace. The first stage of timber buildings and the orthogonal road layout was most likely constructed prior to 43 AD. It is possible the pro-Roman ruler Verica might have organized his own forces in Roman style military buildings. More likely, there was a detachment of Roman auxiliary already stationed at Fishbourne to assist Verica.

Model of Fishbourne Palace

Replica of Fishbourne Palace

There is precedence that Romans stationed troops beyond the formal frontier of the empire’s rule. Julius Caesar stationed three legions with Cleopatra in Egypt when he left her country. Herod’ arrival in Jerusalem in 37 BC was supported by a Roman legion.

Roman Pottery

The distribution of Arretine pottery that was manufactured in the Roman Empire was widely distributed in the areas of Fishbourne and Chichester. The pottery was found in ditches with a distinct Roman military profile in both areas. Yet there is no evidence of Late Iron Age settlement activity which strongly suggests the presence of Roman soldiers prior to 43 AD.

Céramique sigillée, époque gallo-romaine, musées de la Cour d'Or à Metz.

Arretine Red-Gloss terra sigillata Roman Pottery

In contrast, Canterbury had a substantial Late Iron Age settlement activity, but very little Arretine pottery has been found from this time period. Substantial quantities of Belgic pottery were imported for at least a generation after the invasion of Britain in 43 AD.

Interactions with Rome

Influential figures from the Chichester and Fishbourne areas had significant interactions with Rome prior to 43 AD. Such contacts paved the way for a much quicker Roman transformation post 43 AD with public buildings erected in Chichester and, of course, ultimately the grand palace at Fishbourne.

Replica of a Dining Room at Fishbourne Palace

Replica of a Dining Room at Fishbourne Palace

Backdrop Roman Invasion Britain 43 AD

Family Turmoil

Cunobelin, a great statesman, skillfully balanced between the bitterly opposing pro-and anti-Roman factions. During his later years, he ultimately lost control to his anti-Roman sons, Togodumnus and Caratacus. A third pro-Roman brother, Adminius, ruled the northeast tip of Kent. This area included the land-locked harbor along the southeast coasts and the Wansum Channel into the Thames Estuary. It was in Rome’s interest to ensure the main landing points remained in friendly hands.

Prior to Cunobelin’s death, a family upset led to the exile of Adminius from Britain in 40 AD. Suetonius records the banished prince, with a group of his followers, arrived at the camp where Caligula was reviewing the troops in Germany.  The emperor proclaimed the whole of Britain had surrendered to him. It was probably Caligula’s original plan to invade and occupy Britain, but it is unclear why this never happened. It is possible the troops refused to carry out Caligula’s orders. In early 41 AD, Emperor Gaius Caligula was assassinated and succeeded by Claudius.

Status of Caligula on Horseback

Status of Caligula on Horseback

Meantime, in Britain, Cunoblin’s eldest son, Togodumnus, took over the kingdom. His brother Caratacus began invading lands south of the Thames. Within a year, King Verica from the Atrebates tribe was also expelled from Britain during an internal revolt.

Verica journeyed to Rome, where he beseeched Claudius to help him regain power by sending Roman troops in Britain. As the acknowledged king, Verica was considered an ally of Rome. Suetonius reports the Britons threatened vengeance against the Romans unless they returned some fugitives (Adminius and Verica).

Bronze Head of Claudius

Bronze Head of Claudius

Rome could either abandon any hope of maintaining useful political and trading relationships in Britain or seize the country by force of arms. An important underlying motive for invading was economic. Trade with Britain brought in a good return and investment to the growers, the pottery factories and those dealing in general merchandise. Most important were the vast surface deposits of lead ore (galena) found in southwest Britain that Rome desperately needed.


Thus, it could not have been a difficult decision for Claudius and his advisers to reach. To Claudius, the change in the political climate in Britain was a direct affront to the name of his forbear, Julius Caesar. From his point of view, he badly needed to draw public attention away from Rome where he was still at odds with the Senate. And to win the support of his army, what better way than to lead them to a great victory? The empire was in one of its rare peaceful intervals, and troops could be spared.

Roman Legion

Roman Soldiers in Legion

Thus, Verica’s exile gave the Claudius an excuse to begin his invasion. The subsequent invasion under Claudius may have initially been a campaign to annex the territories that had been ruled by Cunobelin.

Delay in Invasion

Aulus Plautius, a distinguished senator, was assigned as commander of the expedition to Britain. Similar to what may have happened to Caligula, Plautius had great difficulty in convincing the Roman army to embark from Gaul. The troops feared crossing the channel with the enormity of the task. As the Roman army was made up of free citizens, the soldiers could exercise some free will by not immediately obeying their officers’ commands.

Ancient Roman Warship Model

Roman Warship Model at Fishbourne Palace

The terror of the superstitious troops brought face to face with the ocean is understandable. They knew that three or four years earlier, the invasion planned by Caligula had been abandoned. Caligula had ordered a lighthouse be built at Boulogne, an important step in setting up a permanent communication link across the channel.

Overview White Cliffs Britain

Dover Cliffs Overlooking British Channel

Nonetheless, it is strange that Plautius was unable to exert his authority as supreme commander. He instead had to ask Claudius for help and advice. Eventually, the aid to convince the army to embark came in the form of Narcissus, a freedman and one of Claudius’ closest advisers. His speech on behalf of Plautius prompted a jibe by Cassius Dio. He said that Narcissus’s former slave status dissolved the soldiers into gales of hysterical laughter. One can only guess at the coarse ribaldry used by Narcissus to convince the soldiers to embark, to which Plautius and his staff were unlikely to descend. This wily Greek freeman ultimately succeeded in cajoling the troops aboard the ships.

The Roman army were divided into three squadrons to avoid an opposed landing, which might hold up a single force. The crossing was difficult and ships were driven back from their course. It was not until the superstitious Romans saw a shooting star flash over from east to west did they believe there was a favorable omen for the invasion.

The landing at Richborough was unopposed and the Britons seemed reluctant to fight at first.

Richborough Roman Fort at Sandwich, UK

Richborough Roman Fort at Sandwich, UK

To be continued

The next post will provide an overview of the recorded events during the Roman invasion of Britain.


  1. John Manley,AD 43 The Roman Invasion of Britain: A reassessment; Tempus Publishing, Inc., Charleston, SC, 2002.
  2. Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus,The Twelve Caesars, Translated by Robert Graves; Reprinted 2007 by Penguin Books, New York.
  3. Graham Webster,Roman Invasion of Britain, Reprinted 1999 by Routledge, London.
  4. Graham Webster,Rome Against Caratacus: The Roman Campaigns in Britain AD 48-58; Reprinted 2002 by Routledge, London.
  5. Graham Webster,Boudica: The British Revolt Against Rome AD 60; Reprinted 2004 by Routledge, London.
  6. Cassius Dio, Roman History, published in Vol. VII of the Loeb Classical Library, Edition 1924; Book LX*.html

Prequel Roman Invasion Britain

Celtic Spiritual Warrior

In the end, Caligula drew up his army in battle array on the shore of the ocean…and gave the order: “Gather seashells!”


Prequel to Roman Invasion of Britain 43 AD


Claudius declared Britain was a country ‘where a real triumph could most readily be earned’. Several of the events leading up to the Roman invasion of Britain in 43 AD were bizarre based on accounts by Roman historians.

Britain's White Cliffs

White Cliffs Near Dover

Unlike the stiff British resistance in Caesar’s expeditions to Britain in 55-54 BC, there was no initial battle when the Romans landed in 43 AD. Though Claudius claimed glorious victory, he only took charge at the end of the campaign. His role in the invasion appeared staged like a Hollywood production. He was in Britain for only sixteen days and took command of the following activities:

  • Ceremonial arrival
  • Treaty discussions with local chieftains
  • Battle for capture of Camulodunum (modern day Colchester)
  • Victory celebrations
Linnea at Roman Wall at Colchester

Linnea in front of Roman wall at Colchester

This article provides an overview of key events and players leading up to the invasion based on the historical accounts from Dio Cassius and Seutonius. Some archaeological experts propose the Claudian invasion was the last in a line of interventions, both and planned, that spanned the period between 55 BC and AD 43. Some have suggested that there was already a Roman military force in Britain prior to 43 AD. The invasion was nothing more than a peace-keeping expedition. This theory will be discussed in a future post.

Colchester Sphinx Dated About 43 AD

Colchester Sphinx dated about 43 AD from Colchester

Aftermath of Augustus  

One of the greatest British kings, Cunobelin, was an astute politician who came into power about 9 AD. At this time Emperor Augustus faced one of Rome’s most calamitous periods when the German Prince Arminius destroyed three Roman legions in Germany. Cunobelin maintained a balance of power with Rome by welcoming their traders into his capital, Camulodunum (modern day Colchester). Cunobelin reigned over the Trinovantes and the Catuvellauni.  A great statesman, he skillfully balanced between the bitterly opposing pro-and anti-Roman factions.

Caesar Augustus Marble Head

Emperor Caesar Augustus Marble Head

Augustus died in 14 AD and was succeeded by Tiberius. He accepted Augustus’ injunction to allow things to stay as they were and to concentrate on sound administration. There was renewal of diplomatic activity with Verica (King of the Atrebates).

Tiberius Caesar Augustus

Emperor Tiberius Caesar Augustus

The final years of Cunobelin was marred by a family upset around 40 AD, when Caligula was Emperor.  The elderly king appointed his pro-Roman son, Adminius, as ruler of the northeast tip of Kent. This included the land-locked harbor along the southeast coast and the Wansum Channel into the Thames Estuary. It appears it was Roman policy to ensure that the main landing points remain in friendly hands.


Celtic Horned Helmet

The precise date of Cunobelin’s death is not certain, but it is within 1 year before or after 40 AD. His eldest son, Togodumnus, inherited the kingdom while his brother, Caratacus, struck out on his own conquering other territories. Their brother, Adminius, was ousted from Britain about 40 AD. His flight may have been connected with these events.

Caligula’s Staged Invasion

When Caligula visited the Germanian legions and auxiliaries in 40 AD, Adminius and his followers sought the Emperor’s aid to restore the status quo ante. The Roman historian Suetonius said Adminius surrendered to the Emperor after he had been banished by his father, Cunobelin. Caligula then dispatched a message claiming all of Britain had surrendered to him. He ordered his couriers to drive their chariots all the way to the Forum and the Senate house to deliver his letter.

Status of Caligula on Horseback

Statue of Caligula on Horseback

Caligula then ordered all troops and siege engines to be positioned on the ocean shoreline for battle. It was as if he was going to conduct a campaign in Britain. He embarked on a trireme (ship with multiple banks of rowers), sailed a short distance from shore, and then returned. He took his seat on a lofty platform and gave the soldiers the signal to charge with trumpeters urging them on.

Replica Ancient Roman Ship

Replica Ancient Roman Ship

No one understood what Caligula had in mind when he suddenly gave the order to gather seashells as plunder owed to Rome. He ordered the soldiers to fill their helmets and folds of their cloths with the ocean loot. Having secured these spoils, he became elated as if he had enslaved the ocean. He commemorated the victory by erecting a tall lighthouse where fires would guide ships at night.

Roman Soldiers in Formation

Roman Soldiers in Formation

Caligula gave his soldiers many presents and took their shells back to Rome to exhibit the bounty from Britain. He also selected a few German prisoners to parade in an extravagant triumph that he told his agents to prepare in Rome.

Although Caligula’s real plan is obscured by these wanton acts, he clearly intended to invade Britain. It may have been at Adminius’ urging. But this invasion was deferred, most likely as a result of mutinous soldiers refusing to cross the monster-infested British Channel.

In early 41 AD, Caligula was assassinated in Rome for his crazed behavior.

Rise of Anti-Roman Factions

The political strife in Britain did not come all at once, but by stages, starting with the removal of Adminius. Cunobelin felt he could entrust his son with the strategically important area of Kent to rule. After the death of Cunobelin, Togodumnus and Caratacus pursued an expansionist policy even more vigorously than their father. And they did this with less respect for what seemed an indecisive and ineffectual Roman authority across the Channel.

Dynasties of Southeast Britain

Date Rome Southern Dynasty Northern Dynasty
50 BC Civil War, Murder of Caesar;
40 BC Commius
30 BC Octavian and Mark Antony Civil War Addedomaros
20 BC Augustus Tasciovanus
10 BC Tincommius Dubnovellaunos
1 AD
AD 10 Epatticus Cunobelin
AD 20 Tiberius Eppillus
AD 30 Verica Adminius
AD40 Caligula Caratacus
AD50 Claudius

There was ongoing, bitter rivalry between the ruling houses of the Atrebates and the Catuvellauni. The control of lands in Kent teetered back and forth between these dynasties. The Atrebates laid claim to east Kent through Eppillus, who reigned there from 5 to 20 AD until Cunobelin took control.

Verica succeeded his elder brother Eppillus as king of the Atrebates about 15 AD. He established his capital at Calleva (modern-day Silchester). Verica’s territory was pressed from the east by Cunobelin’s brother, Epatticus, who conquered Calleva (modern day Silchester) about 25 AD.

When Epatticus died in 35 AD, Verica regained his original territory. Cunobelin chose not to challenge Verica. He instead honored Verica’s treaty agreement with Rome.

Map Ancient Britain 1st Center

Map Ancient Britain 1st Century

With the death of Cunobelin, the political balance tipped when Caratacus first took control of Kent from his brother Adminius. Not content with this, he invaded south of the Thames. He succeeded where his uncle Epatticus had failed: gain control of territories in southern Britain and forge them into his kingdom. Sometime after 40 AD, he conquered the entire Atrebates territory.

This time, the British King taking flight and seeking protection was Verica. Appearing as a suppliant before Claudius, Verica claimed he had been driven out of Britain by an uprising. He called upon Claudius to fulfill his obligation under their treaty.

Clearly, critical land areas on the southeast coasts of Britain were now under hostile control and the political balance so skillfully developed and maintained by Augustus was in shambles. Evidence of further expansion of the Catuvellaunian power was provided by Dio Cassius in his Roman History. Soon after the Roman landing, Commander Aulus Plautius received the surrender of some Dobunni, who, he adds, were subjects of the Catuvellauni.

This gave the newly empowered Claudius a cast-iron justification for an invasion. Victory would elevate him to the same glory as Julius Caesar and divert Rome’s attention away from his relationship with the Senate that was charged with suspicion and hostility.

Imperial portrait of Roman emperor Claudius

Imperial portrait of Roman Emperor Claudius

To be continued:

The next post will highlight the Roman pre-launch activities that almost ended in disaster and the relative ease of the Legions to occupy Britain initially.


John Manley, AD 43 The Roman Invasion of Britain: A reassessment; Tempus Publishing, Inc., Charleston, SC, 2002.

David Miles, The Tribes of Britain; Phoenix, Imprint of Orion Books, Ltd., London, UK, 2006.

Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, The Twelve Caesars, Translated by Robert Graves; Reprinted 2007 by Penguin Books, New York.

Graham Webster, Roman Invasion of Britain, Reprinted 1999 by Routledge, London.

Graham Webster, Rome Against Caratacus: The Roman Campaigns in Britain AD 48-58; Reprinted 2002 by Routledge, London.

Graham Webster, Boudica: The British Revolt Against Rome AD 60; Reprinted 2004 by Routledge, London.

Cassius Dio, Roman History, published in Vol. VII of the Loeb Classical Library, Edition 1924; Book LX*.html


Cunobelin Celtic British King

One thing that comes out in myths is that at the bottom of the abyss comes the voice of salvation. The black moment is the moment when the real message of transformation is going to come. At the darkest moment comes the light—Joseph Campbell

Cunobeline Celtic British King

Cunobelin was considered the greatest of all the Celtic British kings. The Romans referred to him as Britannorum Rex, the King of the Britons. He is also known as Cunobeline and Cunobelinus. He is the radiant character in Shakespeare’s Cymbeline and Geoffrey of Monmouth’s The History of the King of Britain written in 1136 AD. It is not clear where Cunobelin came from, but his rise to power was rapid and dramatic. He gained his throne in the early years of 1st century AD as a young man in his twenties or early thirties.

Dying Gladiator

Statue of Celtic Warrior

Cunobelin Rise to Power

Cunobelin claimed he was the son of Tasciovanus, the Catuvellauni ruler whose center of power was at Verulamium (present-day St. Albans). Upon his father’s death, Cunobelin gained power over the Catuvellauni. He then moved against the Trinovantes and extended his kingdom to the east. His father may have had an alliance between the two powerful tribes, possibly by dynastic marriage. It is also possible that he seized the throne in a palace revolt. He expanded his territory to the west and southward into Kent.

Marble Head of Augustus Caesar

Marble Head of Augustus Caesar

His rise to power occurred at the same time that Emperor Augustus had significant resistance in Germania that took higher precedence. In 9 AD, three Roman legions led General by Publius Quinctilius Varus were crushed by the German prince, Arminius—a disaster of unparallel magnitude. Augustus and his advisers were too preoccupied with the events to pay much attention to political upheavals in Britain. Cunobelin must have known he could act without any serious threat of Roman reprisals. An astute statesman, he gave assurance to Rome that the balance of power was not seriously affected. Roman traders were still welcome in Camulodunum and elsewhere north of the Thames.

Roman Soldiers in Formation

Roman Soldiers in Formation

Balancing Pro and Anti-Roman Factions

Geoffrey of Monmouth writes Cymbeline (i.e. Cunobelin) was a warlike man and insisted on the full rigor of the law. He was reared in the household of Emperor Augustus Caesar. The King was so friendly with the Romans that he might well have kept back their tribute-money but he paid it of his own free will.

Celtic Child in Roma Ara Pacis Procession Nord Particolare

Celtic child in frieze of Ara Pacis Augustae

Cunobelin had to maintain a balance between two bitterly opposing factions for, and those against, Rome. In view of the expulsion of the pro-Roman rulers Tincommius and Dubnovellaunos around 8 AD, Cunobelin had to be careful throughout most of his rein not to show undue bias towards Rome. There were strong anti-Roman elements by Druids in the royal household. During his lifetime, Cunobelin successfully satisfied his own people, as well as persuade Rome of his loyalty and keep the power of the Druids in check.

Bronze Coins of Cunobelin

Bronze Coins of Cunobelin

Camulodunum Oldest Recorded City

Cunobelin moved his capital to Camulodunum. It was considered the oldest recorded town in Britain, as it was mentioned by Pliny the Elder who died in 79 AD. The Celtic settlement was huge compared to hill forts to the west or north. Cunobelin minted his coins at this town to exploit trading with the Continent. The grave goods found in this area illustrate the impact of Rome on Camulodunum’s nobles in early 1st Century. Items found included chain-mail armor, Roman bronze vessels, furniture, Italian wine amphorae and a medallion encasing a silver coin of Augustus, minted about 17 BC.

Greek Amphorae to Store Wine

Greek Amphorae to Store Wine

The nobles sustained their power and their lifestyles on the back of hard-working peasantry. Power was maintained by warriors whose loyalty had to be constantly rewarded. To maintain luxurious lifestyles, the Celtic rulers raided inland Britain for slaves. Neck chains used to restrain slaves have been found around Colchester and are on display at the museum in Colchester. Strabo notes that some British leaders procured the friendship of Augustus by sending embassies and paying court to him.

Roman Wall Colchester

Roman Wall at Colchester

Cunobolin’s Expansion into Kent

Cunobelin expanded his influence into Kent, which became a fiefdom ruled under his son, Adminius. Durovernum (modern day Canterbury). Like Verulaminum and Camulodunum, the town functioned as a center for the elite, a gateway for Roman luxury goods and a base for traders from the empire.

Durovernum Mosaic_Roman_Museum_146

Durovernum Roman Mosaic at British Museum

Players Triggering Roman Invasion

Cunobelin had several sons of whom three, Togodumnus, Caractacus, and Adminius, played significant roles that triggered the Roman invasion in 43 AD. In Cunobelin’s final years, he had trouble over the succession. His sons shared administrative duties for various parts of his king. In Cunobelin’s declining years, it is likely Rome became uneasy with the political uncertainties. It became increasing clear that the valuable commercial asset in Britain needed to be secured either by renewing treaties with the new rulers or by military force.

Celtic Horned Helmet

Celtic Horned Helmet Found at River Thames

Coinage minted by Adminius suggests that he ruled the Northeast part of Kent on behalf of his father a short time before his death. Adminius held pro-Roman sympathies whereas his brothers were anti-Roman. Emperor Caligula may have secretly collaborated with Adminius to set up a major seaborne operation to invade Britain. This could have been the reason that Cunobelin expelled Adminius from Britain in 40 AD. Suetonius records the banished prince with a group of his followers fled to a Roman encampment where Caligula was reviewing the troops in Germania. Caligula retained the Britons as hostages and dispatched a message to Rome proclaiming he had conquered the whole of Britain.

Young Roman on Horseback

Statue of Caligula on Horseback

Subsequently, Roman troops appeared ready to invade Britain, but it is not clear what stopped the expedition. Possibly the troops rebelled and refused to embark the warships. Infamous for bizarre behavior, Caligula paraded the troops in battle array on the shore and commanded them to collect sea shells. Though the Roman invasion was abandoned, Caligula erected a great lighthouse at Boulogne. It stood as a memoir of this event until it was torn down in 1544 AD.

Ancient Roman Ship Frieze

Roman Ship Image on Frieze

The precise date of the death of Cunobelin is not certain, but it must be within a year of 40 AD. This is when Caractacus conquered territories south of the Thames while Togodumnus inherited the kingdom. The flight of Adminius may be connected with these events.

Caractacus overthrew Verica, King of the Atrebates who also sought protection from the Romans. Verica appeared before Emperor Claudius claiming he had been driven out of Britain by an uprising. He called upon the Emperor to fulfill his obligation to reinstate him as ruler under their treaty.

Caractacus demanded that Claudius release Adminius and Verica to him, which was the final trigger that incited Claudius to invade Britain in 43 AD.

Richborough Roman Fort Ruin

Richborough Roman Fort Wall Site of Invasion

Overview of Celtic Kings in Southeast Britain

Below is an overview of Roman events and Celtic kings in Southeast Britain between Julius Caesar’s invasions in 54-55 BC and Claudius’ invasion in 43 AD.

Date Roman Events Southern Dynasty Northern Dynasty
50 BC Caesar’s Invasion Mandubracius, Cassivellaunus
40 BC Murder of Caesar Commius
30 BC Octavian & Mark Antony Civil War
20 BC Augustus Stabilization Tincomarus Addedomaros, Tasciovanus
10 BC Eppillus Cunobelin, Dubnovellaunos
1 AD
AD 10 Tiberius comes to power Vodenos
AD 20 Epatticus
AD 30 Caligula comes to power Verica Adminius
AD40 Claudius comes to power Caractacus, Togodumnus

To be Continued:

The next posts will focus on the southern dynasties as reflected in the above table.


Geoffrey of Monmouth, “The History of the Kings of Britain.” Translated with an Introduction by Lewis Thorpe; First Published in 1966; Republished by Penguin Books, London England

David Miles, “The Tribes of Britain”, published in 2006 by Phoenix, an imprint of Orion Books, LTD, London.

Graham Webster, “Boudica: The British Revolt Against Rome AD 60, Reprinted 2004 by Routledge, London.

Graham Webster, “The Roman Invasion of Britain.” Reprinted in 1999 by Routledge, New York.

Joseph Campbell, “The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers.” Anchor Books, a Division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, New York, 1988.

Roman Empire Influence on Britain

Roman Empire Influence on Britain

Britain’s New Reality with Rome

In less than five years since Julius Caesar first entered Gaul in 58 BC, western Europe was transformed. Gaul (modern day France) was under Roman control after he finished his conquest in the winter of 51-50 BC. Civil war in Rome slowed the progress of converting Gaul into a province and there were occasional local uprisings to be brought under control. But by 27 BC, the situation was sufficiently stable for a national census to be instituted. In 12 BC the process of incorporation was marked by the dedication of an altar to Rome and Emperor Augustus at Lugdunum (Lyon, France) in the presence of representatives from sixty tribes of Gaul.

Roman Amphitheater from Lugdunum Gaul (Modern Day Lyon, France)

Roman Amphitheater from Lugdunum Gaul (Modern Day Lyon, France)

The integration of Gaul into the political and economic sphere of Rome had a significant effect on Britain, particularly the southeastern region. One of the major changes was the trade routes between continental Europe and Britain. The networks that had linked the north coast of Armorica with the port of Hengistbury Head in southern Britain came to an abrupt end and were replaced by new routes between northern Gaul and the Thames estuary. One plausible explanation for the shift in the trading axis was Caesar’s devastating attack on the rebel Armoricans in 56 BC totally disrupted the traditional networks. His negotiated treaties with the Trinovantes may have offered them a trading monopoly, or at least preferential treatment. He established Pro-Roman dynasties in the two most powerful tribes (Catuvellauni and Trinovantes).

Peoples of Southern Britain According to Ptolemy's Map

Peoples of Southern Britain According to Ptolemy’s Map

At the time Strabo was writing, late in the first century BC, there were four major routes in operation for ships wishing to cross to Britain, starting from the mouths of the four great rivers—the Rhine, the Seine, the Loire, and the Gironde. Those setting out from the Rhine usually sailed down the coast to Gesoriacum (Boulogne) before making the crossing.

Roman Lighthouse Dover

Ancient Roman Lighthouse on Dover Cliffs


Strabo lists the principal exports of Britain as ‘grain, cattle, gold, silver and iron…also hides and slaves and dogs that are by nature suited to the purpose of the chase’. In return the Britons received ‘ivory chains and necklaces and amber gems and glass vessels and other pretty wares of that sort’. Thus, Britain provided raw materials and manpower in return for manufactured luxuries.

Celtic Brooch

Celtic Brooch

Slave Trade

The major effect in trading with Rome was to satisfy their demand for slaves. In British society there was little need for slaves, but the Roman world was an avid consumer and by the mid-first century BC, slaves were in short supply. Caesar’s campaigns in Gaul more than met the need, some writers saying he enslaved a third of the Gaulish population. But once Gaul was transformed from a war zone to a province, the supply of slaves rapidly diminished and other sources had to be found.

Celtic Shield British Museum

Celtic Shield La Tène Style

Britain met the demands of Rome’s need for slaves. The less developed parts of the west and north provided profitable hunting grounds. The demand of the southeastern elites for marketable slaves likely encouraged their warfare and raiding on the peripheral regions. Tribes living around the periphery were willing to export people, presumably captives taken in local disputes for the slave grade. Thus, conflict became profitable. How extensive slave-trading was we can only guess.

Celtic Village of Roundhouses

Replication of Ancient Celtic Village of Roundhouses in Wales

There have been archaeological finds of gain-chains, or sets of slave neck-irons. Slave trade appeared to be centered in the Catuvellauni kingdom. The exotic British slaves commanded a premium price in the slave market. Strabo described the British slaves as taller than the Celts in Gauls and not so yellow-haired, although their bodies are of lower build. He goes on to say that he himself in Rome ‘saw mere lads towering as much as half a foot above the tallest people in the city, although they were bandy-legged (bow legged) and presented no fair lines anywhere else in their figure’.

Roman and Celtic Shields Used in Ancient Britain

Roman and Celtic Shields Used in Ancient Britain

Acculturation of British Rulers

Not only were Britons enslaved, hostages were taken from the families of the British elite. Many of the subsequent British rulers after Caesar’s invasion spent their youth in Rome, growing up in aristocratic circles and conceivably gaining experience in the Roman army before returning to Britain to assume leadership roles.

Celtic Child in Roma Ara Pacis Procession Nord Particolare

Celtic Child with Roman Noblemen on Frieze of Ara Pacis Augustae (Altar of Augustan Peace)

Minted coins proclaimed the identities of indigenous rulers loyal to Rome. The practice of establishing client-kings outside the boundaries of direct control of Rome was a standard device of their diplomacy. During this period, evidence suggested shifts in political powers of rulers in the most powerful tribal kingdoms as manifested where the minted coins were found. There was adoption of specific Roman rituals, use of orthogonal street systems in settlements, use of rectangular building, and construction of large dyke systems to mark out areas of territory.

Celtic Gold Stater Catuvellauni Tasciovanus

Celtic Gold Stater Catuvellauni Tasciovanus

Mobility of people between Britain and the Roman world increased over time. There was a tacit acceptance, at least by some of the major tribes of the southeast, that Britain was subservient to Rome. In an ode written about 15 BC the poet Horace would list the Britons among those who ‘admired’ or ‘heard’ the Emperor Augustus and a little later Strabo noted that ‘certain of the British dynasts have obtained the friendship of Caesar Augustus by embassies and courtesies and have set up offering to the Capitol.’ Acts of this kind helped to maintain the pretense that Britain had been conquered.

Augustus of Prima Porta

Statue of Emperor Augustus Caesar

In Britain, support for Rome was a powerful diplomatic weapon in the constant power struggles that engaged the British elite. It probably became custom and practice for rulers in southeast Britain to consult formally with Rome about who should succeed the ruler of a client-kingdom. For some, Rome provided a safe haven when they were forced to flee. About 10 AD two British leaders, Tincomarus and Dubnovellaunus from the southern kingdoms, were obviously on the losing side in a British political dispute, as they were put under the emperor’s protection in Rome. This event was considered significant enough to be recorded on an imperial monument in Ankara.

Ancient Ruins of Verulamium Wall near St. Albans

Ancient Ruins of Verulamium near St. Albans Tribal Center of the Catuvellauni Tribe

The ousting of pro-Roman leaders provided Rome with the opportunity to invade Britain. In 39 AD, Adminius, a son of the powerful king Cunobelin, deserted to the Romans with a small force. The Roman historians recorded the surrender of Adminius to Caligula as a farce. The Emperor told his troops to pick-up seashells as spoils of war to give to the Senate. The more likely scenario is Adminius persuaded Caligula that Britain was vulnerable to attack and that an invasion would construe a great victory for him. The troops probably refused to follow Caligula into the channel to invade Britain. Nonetheless, the planning and movement of troops benefited Claudius in 43 AD when Rome finally invaded Britain.

Young Roman on Horseback

Statue of Caligula on Horseback


To be Continued

The next posts will provide an overview of the powerful tribes and rulers in Britain between Caesar’s invasion in 54-55 BC to the time of Claudius’ invasion in 43 AD.


Barry Cunliffe, Britain Begins; Oxford University Press, 2013.

Graham Webster, The Roman Invasion of Britain, Reprinted 1999 by Routledge (Imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group), NY.

John Manley, AD 43 The Roman Invasion of Britain: A Reassessment; Tempus Publishing, Inc., Charleston, SC.

Julius Caesar, translated by F. P. Long, The Conquest of Gaul; United States: Barnes & Noble, Inc., 2005.