Was there significant interbreeding between Romans and Native Britons?

Was there significant interbreeding between Romans and Native Britons?

During the days of Roman occupation in Britain (43AD to 450AD), did the Roman occupants of Britain interbreed and intermarry with the native British population substantially (is not only a couple of cases but repeatedly)? If so, to what extent was the British population also derived from Roman stock?

I have already done some preliminary research and the results seem to be conflicting. One article from the Telegraph says that 1 million Britons have Roman DNA, and then another article states that:

"there is little Roman DNA in the British genetic makeup".

How can both of these articles be correct? I'm particularly interested in contemporary sources if possible.

The answer to your question is actually to be found in the two articles you have mentioned.

Official figures show that the UK population was 65.6 million in June 2016. A little under 50% of the population is male, although the exact ratio varies by age. This gives a male population of about 32 million.

Your first article is about research into genes carried on the Y-chromosome. Males have one X-chromosome and one Y-chromosome, while females have two X-chromosomes. So, assuming the population used for the study was representative, that would mean that at least 1 million men (out of 32 million) are direct descendants of the "Italian Romans", i.e. the population of the Roman population born in Italy that lived in the UK during the Romano-British period (43-410AD).

That is just over 3% of the population. More would be descended from "Romans" who arrived from other parts of the Roman empire than Italy, and, of course, even more would be descended from the female children of immigrants to the UK during the Roman period.

It is worth noting that this particular study focused only on the incidence of the R1b-S28 haplotype. Caution should be exercised when drawing conclusions from the data (see my observation below about taking your research further)).

The study was carried out by the company BritainsDNA.

The second article is talking about data from the People of the British Isles DNA project. This study looked at both DNA from Y-chromosomes (passed only along the male line) and also mitochondrial-DNA which is only passed along the female line. This project does have some selection bias since it only analysed the DNA of people from rural areas of the UK, whose four grandparents were all born within 80km of each other.

If we assume that a similar percentage of the female UK population is descended from "Italian Romans" as with the male (i.e. about 3.1%), then, by the Law of Total Probability, almost 97% of the population are not descended from "Italian Romans".

Now, obviously this is based on supposition, rather than data (you'll have noted I used the word "assume" in regard to the percentage of the female population above!), but this accounts for the quote in the article:

"There is also little Roman DNA in the British genetic make-up."

In fairness, journalists - even on the "broadsheets" - are not generally expected to be experts in genetics (or statistics!). More information about the People of the British Isles DNA project can be found on their website.

In terms of contemporary sources, obviously we have the funerary inscriptions, which often mention wives and children. Where names of wives are preserved they are often "Celtic", rather than Latin, and the assumption is that they were Britons. Occasionally, even the wife's tribal association may be recorded, and in these cases we are able to state with certainty that the wife was British.

Many of these inscriptions are found close to a vicus associated with a fort (particularly on the province of Britannia's northern frontier). We certainly have inscriptions recording veterans from all over the Roman empire living at these vici. Some of these veterans may well have been born in Italy.

If you are interested in further research into the subject of DNA "haplogroups", including some of the limitations in drawing conclusions from the data, there are a number of good websites available. As is so often the case, Google is your friend here, but two good starting points are Wikipedia and the International Society of Genetic Genealogy Wiki.

To date, much of the research* that has been published in regard to genetic ancestry has come from commercial companies whose business models are predicated on selling DNA testing kits. That may, or may not, influence the way in which the claims have been made. However, I find that it is worth bearing that fact in mind when reading their press-releases.

In this specific case, there is, perhaps, some indication of the degree of scientific rigour to which this research has been subjected in the number of hits you get when you search for Alpine R1b-S28 in Google Scholar.

* Very little has been published in peer-reviewed journals as yet.

From both a narrative (general history) and scientific (genetics), the answer is No (there was not a lot of interbreeding).

(We get more precise as we go from narrative history to genetics, as shown below -- but science requires certainty which creates some confusion in narrative history).

The narrative history of Roman Britain, was fairly straightforward until the pesky thing called science (genetics, archaeology, etc) started the confusion (with males vs females, slaves vs nobles, true romans vs barbarian romans… i.e. what do we mean by romans?, which part of Britain?).

Before the science, in terms of (classical) narrative, I believe the short answer is No, there should not be much intermarriage (legal interbreeding). This was the general belief because of several factors:

  • Roman Identity - this was a prized possession and not everyone could become a citizen (via marriage)
  • Rights of Women - was less much than the modern world (i.e. right to vote, etc.) but one crucial aspect of having a mother who was a (barbarian) citizen was her children would also become citizens
  • Rights of Inheritance - property (land and chattel) were not taken lightly and even wills of Roman soldiers had to get approval.

In short, the social structure of Roman society was not to inter-mix with the barbrians of the provinces. Here is a speech by Claudius that did not go down well at the senate because he wanted to admit noble citizens of Gaul to the Senate:

Once upon a time Kings ruled this City, but they were not fated to have home-grown successors. Outsiders took over their rule, foreigners in fact, for when Numa succeeded Romulus he came from the Sabine lands-not far away to be sure, but it made him a foreigner in those days. When Tarquin the Elder succeeded Ancus Marcius, well he was of mixed race, for his father was Demaratus the Corinthian, while his mother was born in Etruscan Tarquinii. She was not a wealthy women, as you might imagine given she had agreed to such an inferior marriage, and for that reason he was unable to hold offi ce at home. But he migrated to Rome, and here was made king.

and (the factors as explained above)(emphasis mine)

During their (peregrini) twenty to twenty-five years of service, soldiers of all kinds naturally formed relationships with local women: but these were not formally marriages and children born to them would not be citizens. Special dispensations allowed soldiers to make wills, but their wives and children had no automatic rights in respect of them. An auxiliary veteran could make his slave a citizen by freeing him, but any children he had fathered before he was discharged would have to join up themselves if they wanted the same status.

Source: Rome: An Empire's Story (Oxford, 2013), p.218 and p. 222, respectively.

(On sources, as per your request in comments) The main sources of (classical) history of Roman Britain should include R. G. Collingwood from 1923, and less old but still excellent, both 1981, Roman Britain by Peter Salway (Oxford) and Roman Britain by Malcolm Tood (Fontana); both books excellently reviewed together by the LRB (worth a read). The latter was also editor of A Companion to Roman Britain (Blackwell, 2004).

The answer from a scientific perspective is a somewhat more involved, and difficult to make a simple and clear-cut statement (as indicated by your articles) because we have to differentiate between male and female lines. But in general, the conclusion is No, as there is very little evidence of interbreeding for both maternal and paternal lines.

According to the world's first genetic archaeologist, Bryan Sykes, a Professor of Human Genetics at the University of Oxford, who conducted extensive DNA research within the British Isles, covering a much longer (earlier) history from pre-history to modern-day (emphasis mine):

The first conclusion, blindingly obvious now I can see it, is that we have in front of us two completely different histories. The maternal and paternal origins of the Isles are different. And that should be no surprise, given the opposing characters of the chroniclers. The matrilineal history of the Isles is both ancient and continuous. I see no reason at all from the results why many of our maternal lineages should not go right back through the millennia to the very first Palaeolithic and Mesolithic settlers who reached our islands around 10,000 years ago…

and (for females)

Lastly, I have found a tiny number of very unusual clans in the southern part of England. Two of these are from sub-Saharan Africa, three from Syria or Jordan. These exotic sequences are found only in England, with one exception, and among people with no knowledge of, or family connections with, those distant parts of the world. I think they might be the descendants of Roman slaves, whose lines have kept going through unbroken generations of women. If this was the genetic legacy of the Romans, they have left only the slightest traces on the female side

and (for males)

I have tried to find Roman Y-chromosomes, but they left very few traces that I can be sure were theirs. Only one very rare patrilineal clan, without even a name, may be the faint echo of the first legions. It is found in southern Europe, including Italy. What makes me think, as well as this link to Italy, that it might be linked to the Romans is that it is entirely restricted to England. There are no traces beyond the borders with Wales or Scotland. There may be others, but as was pointed out, the tradition of recruiting legionaries and auxiliaries from Gaul and other parts of the Empire, as well as from Britannia itself, makes them very difficult to spot among the descendants of later arrivals from the same areas. But true Roman genes are very rare in the Isles.

Source: Blood of the Isles (Penguin, 2006), Chapter 18 (final chapter).

1 million isn't "a lot", it's only a few percent of the male population of the British Isles. But that's not the worst that's wrong with your assertions.

Not only do you assume implicitly that no migration into or out of the British Isles took place after the Roman era, but also you assume that the number of children of mixed relations between Romans and natives was identical to that of relations between 2 natives, and that that was consistent throughout history.

Thus using genetics to make sweeping statements about social customs of 2000 years ago is not going to work. It can only be used to determine migration patterns in very broad terms. It could for example be used to conclude that yes, Romans visited the British Isles and interbred to some degree with the locals. But even that'd be sketchy as that mixed blood could itself have been imported. For example someone from mixed Roman/Germanic blood immigrates to Britain in the 18th century and has children there. Your genetics do not take that into account.

Your question seems to answer itself.

As in yes, per your first source they have interbred to the tune of the UK having 1M or so people with Roman ancestors. Romans intermixed of course - they did so everywhere they settled, just like people do nowadays when they change countries. Populations mix, then like now.

Per your second source, only 1M Britons out of 65M or so have Roman ancestors. That's quite low: it's a few percent of the population. But how low is that really?

Even if you ignore a generous percentage of the total population owing to them not being nationals, descending from recent waves of UK immigrants, descending from earlier settlers or invaders like Saxons, Scots, Picts, Vikings, French, and I'm sure I'm missing many others, not to mention internal migrations from places that didn't intermix with Romans like Scotland, Ireland, and islands up north, and other reasons one might come up with, it'll still be a fraction of the population.

But then flip the problem around and it actually looks quite high, actually. Romans didn't migrate wholesale to Anglia. Consider how awful the place is for a Roman. It's cold and wet by any reasonable Mediterranean standard, and it barely - if at all - grows olive trees or wine grapes. Romans that went there were administrative and military staff first and foremost, and the population of London estimates when Romans were around would suggest they weren't that many to boot. Yet they interbred to the tune of having a whopping 1M descendants. Not bad.

Your first link is easily answered by asking another question: "Is there even such a thing as Roman DNA, distinct from other European DNA?"

The evidence says almost certainly not. This is a good summary of the actual state of the science. To quote one professor about this kind of DNA testing, "the business is genetic astrology". Haplogroup comparisons may make sense for widely-separated populations, but Europeans emphatically were not widely separated. In the case of Britain, it only became an island roughly 8000 years ago, which is not nearly enough time for significant genetic divergence.

So DNA really isn't a good place to start looking.

Admittedly, I don't have any specific anthropological or genetic evidence to prove that Romans and early Britons were interbreeding 1600-2000 years ago.

The majority of English peoples are of Anglo-Saxon ethnic descent; this is to say that when the Anglo-Saxons arrived in Roman "Britannia"-(at the very end of the Roman Empire), both Romans and Celtic Britons were the primary inhabitants.

The Anglo-Saxons were a Germanic tribe originally from the Saxony region of Germany and like many other Germanic tribes at the end of the centuries old Pax Romana, they conquered and settled into a distant land. When the Angles and Saxons initially arrived in Roman colonial Britain 1500 plus years ago, they would have encountered a small-(but powerful) percentage of Mediterranean looking Roman Politicians, Generals and soldiers, as well as a small civilian population working for the larger Roman imperial bureaucracy. However, the indigenous Celtic Briton population residing within Ancient England would have been far larger than the Roman population and the indigenous Celts would have had a distinct anthropological appearance when compared with both the Romans, as well as the Anglo-Saxons. In other words, 1500 years ago, Roman Britain would have had red haired, blue or green eyed, fair skinned Celtic Britons, blonde haired, blue eyed, fair skinned Angles and Saxons, as well as dark haired, brown eyed, olive complexioned Romans.

As for the present population of England, I would say that from a distant view, the majority of contemporary English peoples are primarily of Anglo-Saxon ethnic descent with a small percentage of Celtic ancestry and a smaller percentage of distant Roman ancestry. Occasionally, one will find English persons with a heavy Roman appearance and at times, one will see English persons with a heavy Celtic appearance. However, it was the Anglo-Saxon invasions 1500 plus years ago that transformed the ethno-racial demography, culture and actual name of the country; from Roman Britannia, to the Germanic, "Land of the Angles"… better known as, "England".

Genetic history of the British Isles

The genetic history of the British Isles is the subject of research within the larger field of human population genetics. It has developed in parallel with DNA testing technologies capable of identifying genetic similarities and differences between both modern and ancient populations. The conclusions of population genetics regarding the British Isles in turn draw upon and contribute to the larger field of understanding the history of the human occupation of the area, complementing work in linguistics, archaeology, history and genealogy.

Research concerning the most important routes of migration into the British Isles is the subject of debate. Apart from the most obvious route across the narrowest point of the English Channel into Kent, other routes may have been important over the millennia, including a land bridge in the Mesolithic period, as well as maritime connections along the Atlantic coasts.

The periods of the most important migrations are contested. The Neolithic introduction of farming technologies from Europe is frequently proposed as a period of major change in the British Isles. Such technology could either have been learned by locals from a small number of immigrants or by colonists who significantly changed the population.

Other potentially important historical periods of migration which have been subject to consideration in this field include the introduction of Celtic languages and technologies (during the Bronze and Iron Ages), the Roman era, the period of Anglo-Saxon influx, the Viking era, the Norman invasion of 1066 and the era of the European wars of religion.


Caratacus (Caractarus) was a British chieftain who fought against Roman expansion in Britain, only to be betrayed by Queen Cartimandua, then taken captive by the Romans, transported as prisoner to Rome, then finally freed by Emperor Claudius to live the rest of his life in exile. He was a first century AD King who lived an eventful life in Ancient Britain, defending his tribe, his territory and his people against one of the strongest empires ever to exist, the Romans.

Caratacus was the son of one of the great British kings in ancient times called Cunobelinus, leader of the Catuvellauni tribe. This tribe occupied the Hertfordshire area north of the River Thames and would later expand north and to the west. The Catuvellauni were said to have created a prosperous economy and practised agriculture in their territory. King Cunobelinus after his death left his Catuvellaunian kingdom to be divided between Caratacus and his brother Togodumnus. The brothers would find themselves leading the opposition forces against the Roman invasion in 43AD, a duty which Caratacus would find himself bound to for the rest of his life.

The campaign launched by the two brothers against the invaders lasted for a period of almost nine years. The Catuvellauni were known to be an aggressive and forceful tribe capable of defending their expanding territories against the Romans. Under Caratacus and Togodumnus the fight began in 43AD, leading the resistance in the south east of England against the Roman invaders led by Aulus Plautius.

The Battle of Medway involved two initial skirmishes in east Kent, which forced the native tribes to move further west on the banks of the river to meet the invaders. The Romans meanwhile had secured the surrender of the Dobunni tribe which were based in the west of Britain this was a tactically significant manoeuvre by the Romans as the Dobunni were subjects of the Catuvellauni tribe. Diplomatically this was a win for the Romans and a blow for morale for Caratacus and his men who were also logistically weakened with fewer men to fight for the resistance.

At the battle at Medway, described by Cassius Dio who becomes the main source for this period, there was no bridge allowing the troops to cross the river, and so the Roman auxiliaries swam across. The attack launched by the Romans under the command of Titus Flavius Sabinus took the natives completely by surprise, ultimately forcing the British tribes back to the Thames whilst the Roman battle groups could press ahead through the newly gained territory. The battle proved to be long, unusual for the historical period and it seems likely that many natives from the various British tribes lost their lives. Those that did survive made their way back to the Thames which offered a better strategic position for Caratacus and his men.

The British who were now based at the Thames had been relentlessly pursued by the Roman forces across the river, leading to some losses on the Roman side in the marshland of Essex. Some of the troops sought to swim across in pursuit of the enemy whilst others may have even built a temporary bridge or crossing in order to keep up the chase. At the battle on the Thames, Caratacus’s brother Togodumnus sadly lost his life, whilst his brother managed to escape to Wales where he could regroup and launch a counter-attack.

Unfortunately for Caratacus, the Romans initial foray into Britain in the summer of 43AD proved to be very successful, leading to massive gains in the southeast and the defeat of native tribes in two significant battles. Furthermore, many of the tribes fighting under Caratacus gave themselves up to the Romans realising that if they did not make peace, they too might meet a grim fate against the invaders.

Desperate to maintain resistance, Caratacus fled westwards, heading for Wales where he would go on to lead the Silures and Ordovices against Publius Scapula. In his new base in southern Wales he was able to organise his remaining loyal tribes successfully, engaging in guerrilla warfare against the pressing Roman forces.

Unfortunately for the Caratacus, his tribal numbers were incredibly weakened by previous conflict and although his men were able to hold their own against the Romans in a battle at Silures, which is now modern-day Glamorgan, he was forced to move northwards to an area called Ordovices, now central Gwynedd, to find a suitable area for battle. For Caratacus this ensuing battle needed to be a decisive one and it would be – but for the Romans.

The battle of Caer Caradoc in 50AD would end up being Caratacus’s final battle, his swan song against Roman invasion, whilst for the invaders it would mean securing the south of Britannia. The battle itself took place in a well-chosen location in the hilly countryside, decided by Caratacus as a good area as it allowed the tribes to be on higher ground. The warriors serving under him were made up of the Ordovices and some Silures. The location had all the signs of securing a British victory. The approach and retreat were difficult, there were ramparts in place with armed men defending them and there was the natural barrier of the river to stop the Romans.

Re-enactors demonstrate the testudo formation

The way in which the battle played out did not go according to Caratacus’s plan. Under the command of Publius Ostorius Scapula, the Roman troops navigated the river easily. When they had crossed and got on to dry land they were met with missiles which forced them into the defensive testudo formation, also known as the tortoise, using their shields to form a wall barrier against any incoming missiles. This allowed them to overcome the first British attack plan they then easily dismantled the ramparts and breached Caratacus’s defences.

Once the battle commenced, the fighting turned bloody very quickly, forcing the native troops to the hilltops with the Romans not far behind. With the fear and constant threat of the Romans in pursuit, the British tribal lines were broken, allowing the invaders to catch them easily between the auxiliaries and the more heavily armoured legionaries. Whilst the British fought bravely they were overcome by the Romans once more and victory fell in the lap of the invaders.

Cartimandua hands Caratacus over to the Romans.

Caratacus meanwhile was forced to flee. Fearing for his life he fled north to the area known as the Brigantia. The Celtic tribe called the Brigantes were based in the north of England in modern-day Yorkshire and held vast territorial areas. Caratacus made his way there, hoping in vain for sanctuary. The Brigantian queen however had other ideas. Queen Cartimandua was loyal to the Romans who rewarded her loyalty with wealth and support. Instead of keeping Caratacus safe, she proceeded to hand him over to the Romans in chains, an action that would win her great favour amongst her Roman counterparts but would see her ostracised by her own people.

Caratacus in Rome.

Now a Roman captive, Caratacus was subsequently paraded on the streets of Rome, exhibited as part of the Emperor Claudius’s triumph, a spectacle of Roman victory over Britain’s ancient tribes. Caratacus’s fate was not sealed however in an impassioned speech he gave in the presence of the great emperor himself, he was able to win favour for himself and his family who were pardoned by Claudius. His defiant speech allowed him to live in exile, permitted to live in Italy in peace for the rest of his life. A peaceful end to a defiant and persistent ruler of Britain’s ancient tribe.

Jessica Brain is a freelance writer specialising in history. Based in Kent and a lover of all things historical.

Why the Romans wanted to conquer Britain

Claudius conquers Britannia

The conquest of Britain was cause for multiple Triumphs, construction works, and festivals, however it is imperative to understand what factors caused an island of the coast of Gaul to be held in such high regard. Why is it that the Romans wanted to conquer Britain so badly?

To Claudius, and many of the emperors before him, Britain was the ultimate trophy for their personal gloria. To have that gloria announced through the whole empire, to let other rulers of distant lands know that the Emperor of Rome had done the impossible and conquered Britain, to have Britticanicus added to their name would be their hallmark and would certainly set their place in history. For it was this militaristic ideology of Rome that created such an expectation of its rulers. That in order to have a place among the old kings and emperors, you must have had been victorious in a large battle or conquered a great land.

Besides gloria for Rome though, Britain also offered a great reputation to its would-be conquerer, for its known history among the Romans. From reading his Commentaries many Romans were aware of Julius Caesar’s difficulties in Britain. Being the one land he could not conquer, to obtain victory over Britain was to do what Caesar could not himself. To be “first” into Britain was also a prestige of its own. As seen in Caesar’s Commentaries and Tacitus in Agricola, there became the odd tradition among Roman rulers to each have his own departure from tradition. To be the first Emperor to conquer Britain was an accomplishment of this.

Furthermore, The Romans were always curious to explore the unknown. Having only Caesar’s writings and interactions with refugees, Britain was mostly a very unknown and undocumented land before Claudius’s conquest. Roman rulers may have wanted reputation and glory, but scholars and academics were interested in discovering more about Britain and its people. What were the Britons like? How did they live? What did Britain look like?

Without surprise, an interest in potential wealth was another key factor in the desire to conquer Britain. To the emperors, Rome was thought to have had vast unknown riches and wealth, to be taken as the Romans pleased. It was thought this without fact and so Britain, to many Romans, was a sort of “El Dorado”. During Caesar’s attempted conquest, that hope vanished temporarily, only to have invasion reconsidered by both Augustus and Tiberius for a sole desire of wealth.

Finally, we understand Rome’s desire to conquest Britain as a part of the Roman relationship between the empire and the ocean. For ocean to the Romans was the physical boundary of the world. The empire could only stretch this far. It had limited Alexander in his conquest of the world and it would limit the Roman empire too. However, Britain proved a Roman triumph over this concept. Britain was in the ocean and beyond it, so therefor the conquest of Britain would be the conquest of the ocean itself. It proved that the empire was not limited by water and inspired the hope that Rome would continue to expand outward for the rest of its days.

Native Tribes of Celtic Britain

Britannia as the Romans saw it in the 1 st centuries BC and AD was home to a diverse set of tribes that is quite difficult to imagine in such a small space on an island. Regardless, great, independent kingdoms and coalitions of tribes existed in Britain, a number that is often difficult to exactly pinpoint. However, in the context of Roman conquest of Southern and Central Britain, there were five important tribes to consider, each playing an important purpose. These tribes include the Iceni, Brigantes, Catuvellauni, Durotriges and the Belgics.

The Iceni are perhaps the best known out of all Celtic tribes in ancient Britain. Their tribal center is based around an area just north of modern day London in Eastern Britain. Prior to Caesar’s invasion in 54 BC, the Iceni were considered among the wealthiest of all tribes in Britain, seemingly because they had some coastal trade engagement. The Iceni also instituted one of the only Barbarian coinage systems in Britain, offering invaluable archaeological information. When Claudius invaded Britain in 43 AD, the Iceni sought friendship with the Romans under the king Prasutagus as a client state. When Prasutagus died, however, the Romans took the Iceni in as a province, which eventually led to the revolt of the great warrior Queen Boudicca.

The Brigantes were known as a hill dwelling people in central Britain, beginning serious interactions with the Romans during the time of Emperor Vespasian. The Brigantes centered on modern day York, roughly in between England and Scotland. Therefore, the movement of the Roman legions to this region was the beginning of the attack on Northern Britain. The Brigantes attempted to be friendly with the Romans, but tensions of provincial possessions drove the two to war. Vespasian and the Romans captured the Brigante kingdom in 79 AD.

Celtic figurehead, presumed a Catuvellauni aristocrat


The Catuvellauni controlled much of Central Britain and the coastal area along the English Channel. Caesar encountered these peoples with a great deal of resistance during his invasion of 54 BC. However, his combat with the Catuvellauni led to a sort of makeshift alliance that made the invasion of Claudius in 43 AD much easier than was that of Caesar. In fact, the Catuvellauni being attacked by rival tribes after 30 AD was used as an excuse by Claudius for the invasion of Britain. When the Romans established firm control in Britain, the Catuvellauni were the first to adopt and practice Roman rule and customs.

The Durotriges were located around southwest Britain, just south of Wales. The tribe is rather insignificant in the history of Britain until the governorship of Aulus Plautius just after the occupation of the Belgic kingdom. The generally accepted border of Durotrige activity acted as Plautius’s frontier for Roman territory in Britain during the 40s and early 50s AD. The Emperor Vespasian achieved one of the greatest of his military feats by subduing and occupying the infamous hill forts of the Durotrige in 70 AD, thus completing Roman domination in Southern Britain.

The Belgic tribe should be seen as the most important for the Roman conquest of Britain as they posed the most immediate threat to the invasion of Claudius. The full extent of the Belgic kingdom is unclear, as their territory seems to blend somewhat with that of the Iceni, Catuvellauni, and another tribe known as the Atrebates who were allied with the Romans. Despite the allies of the Rome around them, The Belgics were not at all allied with the Romans, and immediately opposed them at the Thames River and Medway, where they were defeated, giving way to Roman occupation. The great Welsh rebel Caracatus was originally a great leader in the Belgic kingdom before fleeing to Wales.

The Germanics and their Origins

Much hot air is made these days by so-called ‘British Nationalists’ about their heritage, however the whole ‘British Nationalist’ outlook is made up on falsehoods. Their usage of the word ‘British’ refers not to the ethnicity or race of the actual British people (that is, the Native Britons) but on a hotchpotch of Germanic, Norman and Jewish fake history dating back no more than 300 years.

The terms ‘Britain’ and ‘British’ when used by the Germanics refer to the state of the ‘Great Britain’ created in 1707 by the Norman-Germanic ruling classes of England and Scotland for economic reasons. Even the term ‘Great’ was taken and changed from its original meaning. (Great Britain refers to the island of Britain and the prefix ‘Great’ was applied after thousands of Britons fled Kernow and Dumnonia (‘Cornwall’ and ‘Devon’) to Breizh or Brittany – Little Britain – to escape the invading German hordes in the seventh and eighth centuries).

The English people are a Germanic people, and as such, alien to Europe. Their origins lie in the middle east. Across Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan are tribes and races of people who share the same genes as the Germanics. The pictures below show the ‘lost tribes of England’ – those who stayed in their home region rather than invade north-western Europe. It is not difficult to imagine what these people would look like with a shaven head and an England or Germany football shirt, or a scraped back ponytail and a shell-suit.

A Kalash man from Pakistan

Nuristani kids from Afghanistan

Pashtun girl from Pakistan


Source: C. Capelli et al.: A Y Chromosome Census of the British Isles, Current Biology, vol. 13, 979-984, 27 May 2003.

Capelli et al. took DNA samples from men in 25 small towns around the British Isles, excluding men whose paternal grandfathers were born more than 20 miles away. For comparison they also took samples from Norway, Denmark, North Germany (Schleswig-Holstein), Friesland (Netherlands), and the Basque region of Spain. Using comparison of Y chromosome haplotypes, the Danish, North German and Frisian samples are all closely similar to each other, but the Norwegian sample is significantly different from these, and the Basque sample is widely different.

In a Principal Components analysis the Irish and Welsh samples (with one exception) cluster together with the Basque sample, supporting earlier findings. As the Basques speak a pre-Indo-European language, this suggests that the Irish and Welsh (so-called ‘Celts’) have a largely pre-Celtic genetic ancestry, possibly going back to the Palaeolithic.
In Britain, the Orkneys, Shetlands, Western Isles, Isle of Man, and Cumbria (Penrith) show a clear Norwegian input, as expected.
Elsewhere in mainland Britain there is no obvious Norwegian input, but varying degrees of German/Danish ancestry.
Scottish mainland sites are intermediate between English sites and the ‘indigenous’ (Welsh/Irish) ones.
However, all the English and Scottish sites show some ‘indigenous’ ancestry.
The German/Danish component is strongest in eastern England and weakest in England south of the Thames.

Most of this is unsurprising, but there are two more controversial conclusions.
One is the claim that ‘the results seem to suggest that in England the Danes had a greater demographic impact than the Anglo-Saxons’. This is based on the finding that the German/Danish element is strongest in areas like Yorkshire that are known to have been settled by Danes. The conclusion seems to me a non-sequitur. The areas settled by Danes were the areas most exposed to invasion from Denmark and North Germany, and they got a double dose of German/Danish genes: first from the Angles, then the Danes. It would be very surprising if they did not have the strongest German/Danish element.

The other controversial conclusion is that the German/Danish element in southern England (south of the Thames) is limited, and that the male ancestry of this area ‘appears to be predominantly indigenous’. This may be true, but I would want to see it replicated with different samples and methods before taking it as firmly established. It should perhaps be noted that the samples with the smallest German/Danish element all come from areas (Wessex, Sussex, and Kent) reputedly settled by Saxons and Jutes, while the samples with larger German/Danish elements come from areas settled by Angles (East Anglia, Mercia and Northumbria). Conceivably there was already a genetic difference between these three ethnic groups before migration, though this does not seem particularly likely, as they all came from much the same area of Northern Europe.

As Capelli et al. recognise, their results seem to conflict with those of Weale et al., ‘Y Chromosome Evidence for Anglo-Saxon Mass Migration’, Molecular Biology and Evolution, 2002, vol. 19, pp.1008-21, which found a sharp distinction between central English and Welsh populations, but no significant difference between the English population and a Frisian sample. This discrepancy needs to be reconciled.

As I am a historian and not a geneticist it may help if I outline the historical evidence on the ethnic origins of the English. There is no dispute that British Celtic) elements were predominant in Cornwall and Cumbria, where Celtic languages survived long after the Anglo-Saxon invasions. There is also good evidence of British elements surviving in Kent and Wessex (see esp. Myres, ‘The English Settlements’, pp.147-73). But beyond that, there has been controversy since Victorian times. At one extreme, which I call the ‘Wipeout’ theory, it is believed that Celts were virtually exterminated or expelled by the invading Anglo-Saxons. At the other extreme, which I call the ‘Upper Crust’ theory, the Anglo-Saxons took over as a ruling elite but left the peasants largely untouched (rather like the later Norman Conquest). And of course there are intermediate positions.

The main lines of evidence are as follows:

Written sources: the main sources – Gildas, Bede, and the Anglo- Saxon Chronicle – make it clear that invaders from the Continent took political control of what is now England, and that in many places there was violent conflict between the invaders and native forces. But there are no reliable written sources on the numbers and proportions of different groups.

Language: the Old English or Anglo-Saxon language, in its various forms, is purely Germanic in its grammar and vocabulary, with no discernible Celtic element. If the Celts learned English, they learned it very thoroughly. The later Danish settlements strongly influenced the form of Old English spoken in eastern England, but did not replace it.

Place-names: the names of major towns and rivers often show some derivation from Celtic or Romano-British names, but the names of rural settlements are overwhelmingly Germanic (Anglo-Saxon or Danish), except in western England, where there is a ‘cline’ of increasing Celtic influence. However, there have been controversial claims that some Anglo-Saxon names have disguised Celtic origins.

Continental evidence: before the Anglo-Saxon settlement of England there were people known as Angles in northern Germany, and after it there weren’t. Around the same time, the Armorican peninsula was settled by Celtic Britons, to the extent that the area became known as Britain (Bretagne or Brittany). This certainly looks like a mass displacement of populations.

Religion: late Roman Christianity and Celtic religions disappeared from England and were replaced by Anglo-Saxon paganism until Christian missionaries from Ireland and Rome arrived.

Archaeology: there are few recognisable remains of any kind from the 5th century. After that, archaeological remains are mainly Germanic in style. It was formerly assumed by archaeologists that a change in style of this kind involved a migration of people, but the recent tendency has been to assume that styles change by ‘cultural diffusion’ or elite influence. Sometimes archaeologists seem to forget that ‘no conclusive proof that A’ is not the same
as ‘conclusive proof that not-A’.

Social structure and customs: the evidence from Anglo-Saxon poetry, laws, etc., is of a Germanic/Scandinavian society and customs. However, some sources do refer to ‘wealh’ (Welsh) inhabitants, who are presumed to be surviving Britons. The laws of Ine, king of Wessex in the late 7th century, make it clear that ‘wealh’ people could be either free or slaves (theow), and that they could belong to ‘wealh’ kinship groups, which implies survival of more than isolated individuals. Also, some charters and other documents refer to substantial numbers of slaves. (It complicates matters that the word ‘wealh’ itself, which originally meant ‘foreigner’ or ‘stranger’, may sometimes be used to mean ‘slave’, implying status rather than necessarily ethnic origin.)

The positive evidence, so far as it goes, seems to me consistent with something closer to the ‘Wipeout’ theory than the ‘Upper Crust’ theory, though with survival of ‘wealh’ populations in varying proportions. The advocates of the ‘Upper Crust’ theory rely heavily on an ‘argument from impossibility’: it is impossible, they say, that a relatively small number of Anglo-Saxon invaders can have wiped out a much larger Romano-British population. However, I think this is a misunderstanding of the invasion scenario. Roman-British society rapidly broke down when the Romans left. Even without invasion there would have been a population crash. The Romano-British were virtually defenceless apart from mercenaries who were themselves mainly Germans (Saxons), and quick to invite their relatives over to share the spoils. To destroy a defenceless population, it is not necessary to kill them individually. Just take a few captives in the first village you come to, skin some of them alive in the market-place, and let the rest of them go to spread the news. A wave of panicking refugees will spread out in all directions, and starvation and disease will do the rest. For analogy, suppose you heard that Martians with invincible weapons and sadistic habits had landed twenty miles away. You would run like buggery!

However, the feasibility of a scenario does not mean it is true. Further genetic evidence may finally resolve the controversy. If it is in fact proved that the ‘Celtic’ element was predominant in southern England, this would have interesting implications for cultural history and evolution, for it would show that a complete change of language and culture can be imposed by a dominant minority, in an illiterate pre-industrial society, and in a short period of time.

Aquae Sulis: The Epitome of Roman Syncretization with the Celts

The Roman bath system was one of the most intricate and complex of the ancient world. Composed of various rooms for mental and physical cleansing, the Roman baths were more than a source of hygiene they were an important source of culture as well. The Aquae Sulis became one of the largest and most renowned Roman baths in Britain, and is considered today the highlight of the Roman syncretization of the Celtic tribes as well as the highlight of the Roman bath system outside the city of Rome.

Located in the modern town of Bath in Somerset, England, the Aquae Sulis rose as one of the largest and most sought out Roman baths outside the Italian peninsula. Dedicated to the goddess Sul or Sulis, the Aquae Sulis represents the blending of both the Roman religion and culture with the religion and culture of the Celts. At this site Sulis, a goddess of water, healing, and fertility, was fused with Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom, battle strategy, and in some accounts health as well. Prior to Minerva's arrival however, Sulis was revered by the Celts at the site of Aquae Sulis because its hot springs provided natural rejuvenating properties that convinced many Celts that this was a place of directly linked to the goddess.

Statue of the goddess Minerva in Old Town, Heidelberg, Germany. Source: BigStockPhoto

Use of the hot spring appears to have begun about 10,000 years ago according to what few archaeological records have survived following the Romanization of the region. It seemed the Celts arrived around 700 BCE and believed that the spring was one of the many pathways to the Otherworld—assumed because there was no perceptible source for its heat. They began erecting shrines to their deity Sulis soon after, viewing this as a place where they could speak and communicate directly with the goddess herself. It is unknown exactly how this area was used by the Celts, as their lack of written records prevents a full understanding of the specifics of their healing practices, but there is archaeological evidence that it was not uncommon to present curse requests to the goddess here as well. However, by 43 CE the Celtic purpose of the spring became obsolete as the Romans took an interest in the area and began preparations to take possession of it for the syncretization process.

A Roman curse tablet found in Bath, England. Credit: Roman Baths

When the Romans came to modern day Bath, they saw the hot spring as a way to appropriate the Celtic people into the culture of the Empire. As it was already a popular place that was religiously beloved by the Celts, there was ample opportunity to transform it into a place that suited Roman culture. Adapting such native traditions for the advancement of the Empire was a clever tactic the Romans employed everywhere they attempted to conquer. Transforming the hot spring into a proper Roman bath complex provided the Romans with a way to take over an extremely important Celtic location without completely destroying it and causing an uprising from the locals. The most important aspect that first had to be rectified, however, was the site's dedication to the Celtic Sulis. Their method of getting around this, which would also serve to introduce the Celts to their own religious pantheon, the Romans chose one of their goddesses to merge with Sulis. And so, the goddess Sulis Minerva was born.

What is interesting is that Sulis is one of the few Celtic female goddesses to have been fully syncretized with a Roman goddess. Generally the syncretization process happens with Celtic male gods, as was the case of Lenus Mars, with the females crossing over most often as merely the wife of a Roman god. Lenus was a god of healing in the Celtic pantheon. He was merged with Mars despite the fact that the Roman god was considered a war god. In the Gallo-Roman faith, Lenus Mars became a healer of infected wounds, fighting the disease rather than a war.

Sulis is the exception to this rule, most clearly evidenced by the solid bronze head of a statue of Sulis Minerva remaining from a temple erected to her at the bathing complex. As the Celts did not depict their gods or goddesses in human form, the Romans gave Sulis the same face as Minerva, blending their attributes so one became identified with the other at Aquae Sulis. Sulis also became a goddess of wisdom for the Celts, adopting one of Minerva's primary affiliations, just as the spring itself came to adopt Roman ideals by its expansive healing nature.

Gilt bronze head from the cult statue of Sulis Minerva. Found in Stall Street, Bath, in 1727. ( Wikimedia Commons )

Taking what was already provided, the Romans expanded the hot spring into a full-functioning bath facility. Within it, there was a system of pools that succeeded the atrium, a changing and exercise room, that were each called the frigidarium, tepidarium, and caldarium. As their names suggest, the frigdarium was a cold water pool, the tepidarium warm, and the caldarium hot. By passing through each bathing area in this particular order, the bather received a full and thorough cleansing, soothing for both the body and the mind. Following the last room, it was customary to have a swimming pool for recreational purposes or a palaestra for further exercise, and in such a large location as the Aquae Sulis, this was able to be implemented. Thus, not only did the Romans appropriate the spring but they were able to expand its purpose, stretching its healing space much further than the Celts had previously done and thereby further integrating the Celts into Roman culture.

Aquae Sulis in Bath, England. Source: BigStockPhoto

Just one of many ways the Romans assimilated the Celts into their society, the Aquae Sulis stands as the most poignant monument of this unification. Combining both the Celtic site of healing with the Roman standard of physical and mental cleansing, the Romans were able to achieve a relatively smooth integration of ideals and gods. Instead of a complete loss of culture, the Celtic goddess Sulis continued to thrive in this community, preserving the religion of the natives and preventing the Celts from being completely overrun by the Romans.

Featured image: Aquae Sulis in Bath, England. Source: BigStockPhoto


Blagg, T.F.C., "The Date of the Temple of Sulis Minerva at Bath," Britannia, 10.1, (1979), pp. 101-107.

Cunliffe, Barry, "The Temple of Sulis Minerva at Bath," Archaeology, 36.6., (Nov./Dec., 1983), pp. 16-23.

Dark K.R., "Town or 'Temenos'? A Reinterpretation of the Walled Area of 'Aquae Sulis,'" Britannia, 24.1, (1993), pp. 254-255.

Geoffrey of Monmouth, History of the Kings of Britain Book II:10-11 . trans. Michael A. Faletra (Broadview Press: Canada, 2007.)

"Immigration and Emigration: Roman Bath's Celtic Aquisition." BBC Legacies. Accessed January 3, 2014.

"Minerva," BMJ: British Medical Journal , 315.7115, (Oct., 1997), pp. 1104.

Revell, Louise, "Religion and Ritual in the Western Provinces," Greece and Rome , 54.2 (Oct., 2007), pp. 210-228.

What the Romans really did for British history

What the Romans really did for British history was provide the first manifestations of the sense of self among the ordinary. This way we encounter all sorts of people at random points in their lives, lives passed in Britain when it was a Roman province. The inscriptions and other records of the men, women and children for whom Roman Britain was part of their experiences, whether as immigrant or native, are the first ordinary people in British history that we can name.

However interesting the ruins of a Roman villa are today, it is easy to forget that it was once a home, a three-dimensional building in which all sorts of personal dramas and histories were played out. Hundreds of Romano-British villas are known, while modern excavation and survey work has shown that there were tens of thousands of simpler rural farmsteads and settlements across the green and pleasant land of Roman Britain.

The villas and all these myriad settlements must have been places where children were born, played, grew up, experienced happiness and sadness, had their own families, grew old and died and were fondly remembered or otherwise by their descendants, who themselves wandered through the corridors with their own families and used the rooms to play out their own existences. Whole family dynasties passed through these places, experiencing joy or tragedy, success or failure, depending on the circumstances.

Roman Britain was also, of course, home to dozens of towns, large and small, and many more fortresses and forts. Here untold numbers of unique personal stories were played out against a backdrop of the broader Roman world and its extravagant, exotic, erotic and extraordinary history. Roman Britain was a human experience but we can all too easily forget that among the generalities of military campaigns, the antics of emperors, the arid plains of statistical models and typologies of pottery, the skeletal remains of buildings, and theoretical archaeological agendas.

Today it has become more usual to regard the Roman era in Britain as one during which an oppressive regime exploited and abused the population as part of an Empire-wide policy of systematic larceny. The Roman Empire in this revisionist paradigm is a malicious, greedy and destructive force that created and exacerbated social inequalities it also fragmented society into disparate groups. The reality, inevitably, is altogether more blurred. Roman rule was neither invariably an idyllic induction to the pleasures of life in an imperial system and nor was it exclusively an oppressive nightmare characterised by merciless exploitation and cultural totalitarianism.

For around 360 years in Britain, Roman rule was a fact of life. The people involved would have included those who exploited their advantages and those who were oppressed. No doubt there were plenty of people who both exploited and were exploited in equal measure. All human beings seek an acceptable accommodation between individual liberty and control since most of us crave some sort of order and security. It is obvious that there was great inequality in the Roman world, but it is also true that social mobility existed to some degree, that there was a significant component of elective acceptance of the system as it was, and that there was also impotence, either legal or practical, to do anything about it.

The Romano-British all had to operate in a system that was determined in the main by the conquering culture. What is impossible for us is to establish the extent of deliberate participation, whether willingly or begrudgingly, and also to track the process of assimilation, especially as it has always been very clear that the experience of Roman domination varied wildly between regions. After all, a Briton might have spent an impecunious lifetime suffering exploitation, and loathing his Romanised oppressors, but been content to use a Roman road when it suited him and accept its inevitable impact on his life. His grandson may have developed into a far more willing participant when money and position came his way as a result. In the end human beings can make very polarised decisions, even within a family, depending on the prospect of immediate advantages or disadvantages of any given situation. Collaboration, cohabitation and compliance are often the consequences of expediency and we can see all of these beginning to occur in some parts of Britain before the Roman invasion.

Our knowledge of this era is handicapped by the restricted visibility. But from inscriptions and graffiti we can learn about the soldiers and women of Rome’s most northerly frontier, slave girls, potters, errant tilers, jewellers, immigrants and others whose claim to fame is often no more than a fleeting glimpse of their lives or the circumstances of their death. Together these sources provide a rich seam of isolated incidents, personalities and memorials creating a remarkable record of the 360 years of Britain’s time as a Roman province. These stories paint an animated picture of a world populated by transient Spaniards, Gauls, Thracians, Greeks, and Italians among others. Britons, by comparison, are tantalizingly scarce.

Only in those rare instances where a British origin is specified are we on firmer ground. Lossio Veda, who appeared in Colchester between 222 and 235, is an instance of a person from beyond the province’s northern frontier who uniquely identifies himself as both a Caledonian and as someone who expresses himself through a Roman conduit. Thereby he becomes visible as an individual to us.

Every year that passes sees more individuals from Roman Britain’s population recovered from the ground in the form of records on tombstones, religious dedications, writing tablets, and graffiti. But in relative terms the numbers are tiny. These people must be seen to stand for the myriad and nameless others who passed all or some of their real lives in Britannia seventeen to twenty centuries ago and with whom we share the remarkable fact that we were born and lived at all. The rest are lost to the ages. And it will probably be much the same for most of us in time.

The Real Lives of Roman Britain by Guy de la Bédoyère was published on May 1st by Yale University Press, priced £20

The Romans

There is ample evidence to establish the fact of Roman occupation of Doncaster, but at what period of time it became a military station is uncertain. It was a station (Danum) on the direct line from Eboracum (York) to Lindum (Lincoln), and on account of its natural features and geographical position must have been one of great importance. According to the Notitia Dignitalum, the official directory and army list of the Roman Empire, ‘the perfect of the crispian horse under the Dux Britannia garrisoned there’. In ancient as in modern warfare, the food supply of the army had to be secured, and the possibilites of being unexpectedly attacked by a lurking foe guarded against. The consideration of these questions probably led to the selection of Danum as a camp for the Crispian Horsemen. To estimate, if only approximately, the importance of Doncaster as a military station, and the gigantic task of subduing a brave and resolute people, we must first inform ourselves concerning the geography of the district under consideration.

The Don rises to the west of Penistone, and by a devious course passes Penistone on its way to Sheffield. Its several tributaries, which rise on mountain moorland, desolate wastes, and places of wild and inspiring grandeur, join it by the way.

Five rivers like the fingers of a hand, fling from black mountains, mingle and are gone. Where sweetest valleys quit the wild and grand, and eldest forests o’er the sylvan Don, bid their immortal brother journey on, a stately pilgrim watched by all the hills.

From Penistone to Sheffield it flows from North to South, but at the latter place it entirely changes its course, taking with it the waters of the Rother and also a few miles further on, the waters of the Dearne. Although the district through which it passes from Sheffield to Doncaster is not overhung with such high hills and the outline thereof is not so rugged as those above Sheffield, yet it is diversified, beautiful, and teeming with historic interest. After passing Conisborough, the change of scenery is great, geologists tell us that here is a plateau four or five miles in width and extending from North to South across the river basin, a beautiful stretch of fertile land. The river passes through this plateau and at Hexthorpe enters a level plain which extends to the Humber. Scarcely a vestige of the former condition of this vast plain now remains, and in places there is nothing whatever on the surface to indicate the waters of the Don once flowed that way. This is owing to the draining of Hatfield Chase by Vermuyden, which took place in 1626. Before reaching Doncaster, the Don cast off an arm which after travelling a short distance was reunited to the main stream. A part of the town now stands on the island thus formed, but the relative positions of the island and the Roman camp cannot now be determined. Nearing Fishlake it again divided as also it did when it was near to Thorne, here it took a northerly direction and taking along with it the waters of the Went joined the Aire at a point near to the ancient town of Snaith. The two arms took an easterly bend, and meeting, became one. This stream received the united water of the Torne and the Idle, and taking a northerly course joined the Trent near to the junction of that river with the Ouse. The condition in past ages of this level country through which the ever threatening Don wormed its way nearly baffles description. In the main it consisted of river islands, water-logged islets, extensive moorlands and boggy wastes, forests and forest swamps. In some places there was a vast network of meres, streams, pools and dykes, formed in beds of peat between 1 and 20 feet thick.

Even from this somewhat meagre description of the district immediately surrounding Doncaster it will be seen that the Roman camp, Danum, was on the edge of a land ‘flowing with milk and honey’, and facing a district, a natural stronghold from which the hunted Briton could successfully make periodical incursions into the cultivated parts. Abraham de la Pryme, the historian of Hatfield Chase and adjacent parts draws a quaint and striking word picture of how this was done, and how the Romans, almost despairing of getting rid of so persistent a foe, were driven to try different methods to obtain their object. He says, “sometimes one party had the victory and sometimes the other, but fortune generally fell to the Brigantes,

‘who issued out of ye Wings of ye Wood, which stretched on both sides ye Champain, oftentimes hedg’d ye Romans in and cut them off or else decoyed them into abuscades, where they could destroy them at pleasure’.

The Romans regarded this forest as greater than,

‘ye strongest Citty in ye Wold unto them’

and determined to destroy it by fire. Fire and the axe did their work but the Briton was unconquered still and returned again and ‘made ye reliques of this wood fastnesses, and places of safety, and began to annoy the Romans by their excursions almost as much as ever’.

As a last resort, the whole countryside was flooded by the Romans where which ‘drave all ye Brigante’s and other Malecontent Brittons out of ye same, drounded agreat many number of them and turned the reliques of ye whole forest into a great lake and ye weight of ye waters so deprest ye soil of ye country lying for a good way on ye west of ye breach that it is lower than the rest unto this day’. De la Pryme was a fellow of the Royal Society, and obtained considerable distinction as a natural philosopher. If his description of the work of the Romans in flooding out the Britons be correct, a more desolate scene could not well be imagined. Letting in the waters of the estuary of the Humber would certainly submerge part of the country in question, but as certainly never drive out of the other parts, the stubborn native, whose riddance the Romans were so anxious to secure.

Probably the marshy parts already described in conjunction with the action of the Don presented far greater obstacles in the way of the Roman commanders than those offered by the forests. There was a similar tract of wild moor where the Don and its tributaries take their rise. No doubt it was across this waste, the conqueror marched from York to Chester in 1070. “The horses of the Knights were swallowed up by the treacherous swamps and swept away by the torrents”. A similar fate would await the Roman horseman if he dared to venture where the extensive peat beds of Thorne and Goole moors now yield annually, thousands of tons of valuable litter. Human agency has so completely altered the conditions under which the water passes down the Don valley that there is no danger to the lowland from flood.

It was not so always, think of those times when the Don was in an angry mood, after a protracted frost or during a sudden storm, the waters gathering at a height of nearly 2000 feet above the sea level would rush through gorge and valley with irresistable force, gathering in bulk and power as it passed along, ploughing through the plateau, and with a final rush, spend its energiey in working desolation and change on the woody and marshy plain where dwelt the unconquered Briton.

With the exception of the remains of an ancient forest of large trees, some of them cut down and squared by the axe, others cut down and prepared as if for fencing and other purposes, together with broken axes, wedges, and similar implements, scarcely any evidence of the occupation of this marshy district has been discovered. The number of human remains, manufactured articles, coins etc, brought to light is indeed small. Some remains have been found at Austerfield, written Oustrefeld in Domesday, where tradition says a great battle was fought between the Romans and the British Tribes. Osterius is said to have commanded the Roman legions on that occasion, and that his name and the place of battle still survive in the village named Austerfield. The reason for mentioning this place is that it was probably the site of a Roman camp. Until recently evidences of a camp could be met with and Roman remains could be found in the locality. The nearness of this camp to the marshy plain warrants the assumption that its soldiers took an active part in the difficult task referred to above.

Whether the camp at Danum was formed before or after the subjugation of the native tribes is a question which need not be too closely inquired into. The date of its construction in no way affects the importance of its position. Probably the conquered people were placed under restraint, but whether in native villages or in some sort of military camp is a question not easily answered. They would have to work and were probably compelled to grow corn for the army, assist in making roads, draining the swamps and follow other useful employment. At the time of this writing there is nothing to help us to form an opinion of the political life of Roman Danum, outside the military organisation we cannot say whether it was only a village, or it held a higher position in the scale of municipal organisation. Probably its rank was that of a stipendiary town being on the direct line between two important Roman colonies many distinguished Romans may have spent a night there, if not longer, but no evidence has survived to warrant us in assuming that in any period of its history it was the home of a thriving colony of cultivated and wealthy Roman citizens.

But, hark, the tramp of the Roman legions is again heard in the land. The Crispian horse along with the vast army of occupation turn their faces Romeward, finally leaving the shores of Britain, never, never more to return.

Ancient Roman city found off English highway

During the development of a new 124-home complex near the A2 in Newington, Kent, the remains of an entire ancient Roman town were discovered. Construction halted immediately as workers stumbled into the nearly 2000-year old ruins.

Now, a team of thirty archeologists has spent eight months carefully examining the site, uncovering clues about how these ancient Roman citizens lived. During the exploration of the ruins, archeologists found a wide array of clues into the lives of these early Romans.

Gods and gold

In addition to coins and pottery, the team has uncovered jewelry that dates back as far as 30 BCE. There are even remains of what the team believes to be an ancient temple.

Deal Coles is the chair of the Newington History Group. He calls the discovery “very exciting,” noting that, “The scale of this site, with the huge number and quality of finds, changes our knowledge of Newington’s development.”

The Romano-Celtic temple that was discovered also contained an iron-smelting kiln and foundations for an inner temple. The remains of the temple are now in storage, as Coles and his team seek permission for archaeologists to continue to excavate the site.

There are currently just 150 known Roman temples in all of England, making this discovery even more exciting.

Temples in Briton were only built in towns that held particular significance, so that means that this settlement likely had many important people living there. The temple has been named Watling Temple and indicates that the area was heavily Romanized.

Dr. Paul Wilkinson, director of Swale and Thames Archeological Survey (SWAT) Archeology, said the discovery helps to strengthen ties between something villages have suspected all along.

Temple of Mithras, Carrawburgh Roman Fort, Hadrian’s Wall (UNESCO World Heritage List, 1987), Northumberland, England, United Kingdom. Roman civilization, 3rd century. (DeAgostini via Getty Images).

Newington, Kent, might actually be a part of the long-lost Roman city of Durolevum. There is even evidence of a seven meter-wide road close to the temple. This road might link the town with Canterbury and the coast.

The team believes this to be an accurate hypothesis because the size of the residential quarter is large enough to necessitate a road. In addition, since the settlement has a town, this site may be the long-lost city of Durolevum.

Not much is known about the Roman city of Durolevum its exact location has been lost to history. What is known is that it was a large town that connected to the coast and had a temple.

If this turns out to be Durolevum, the historical significance could be monumental and could change, what is known of Roman occupation in and around Kent.

There is even some indication that the earliest foundation of the town existed long before the Romans arrived. There is no telling what else archeologists will find in this bounty of historical treasure.

By today’s standards, the settlement would have been the size of a small town, and home to myriad workers, tradespeople, and other inhabitants.

Rome’s impact on England

The Romans arrived in Britain in 55 BCE following an invasion led by Julius Caesar. Caesar was enraged that the Britons were helping Gaul and thought that by invading the island nation, Rome could capitalize on its coastlines, and continue exploration westward and to the north.

Traders often lauded the riches of the region, and Caesar wanted to capitalize on that.

Caesar and his troops were not ready for the kind of battles to which the Britons were accustomed. He planned to land his army at Dover but had to settle for another site some six miles away.

They did not expect legions of soldiers at-the-ready on the Dover cliffs prepared to fight to the death to defend their homeland. Caesar returned the following year with three times as many soldiers.

The battles were short, bloody, and established Rome as the ruling power in Britain.

By inserting themselves into the already existing culture, Rome introduced the idea of living in towns and cities to the native Britons. In turn, this helped to alter the landscape of the region.

Roman towns were laid on a grid, and streets crisscrossed to form blocks. This uniformity held allure for many Britons who had otherwise been living in small haphazard villages.

Roman rule also meant that Britons were exposed to a wide array of new goods and products that traders brought from the east and south.

When the city of Rome was under attack in 410 CE, the Roman Emperor Honorius told the Britons, “Fight bravely and defend your lives. You are on your own now.”

After the Romans left, much of Britain fell into chaos. Native tribes resumed decades-old feuds, and Nordic invaders continued to beleaguer the country with battles and raids. Many Roman towns began to crumble as Britain returned to their pre-Roman ways of life.

With the Romans gone, the Anglo-Saxons emerged as the ruling group. As farmers, they abandoned many of the roads and towns built by the Romans and set up new kingdoms.

Re-enactors from the Roman Deva Victrix 20th Legion parade through the city of Chester as they celebrate the ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia on December 20, 2012, in Chester, England. (Christopher Furlong via Getty Images).

In just a few short years, the Anglo-Saxons established several independent kingdoms in the areas that had once been under Roman rule.

They were not all foreign invaders. In fact, some had served in the Roman army, and there is considerable evidence that Anglo-Saxon mercenaries notified their German relatives once Rome left Briton, “This would be a good time for us to move into this part of the world.”

The Romans defined them as barbarians since this invading force spoke only Germanic languages and were almost completely pagan.

The native Celtic population resisted the incoming Anglo-Saxon force as much as it has the Romans. However, as with many indigenous populations against a major force, the Celts had little success defending their way of life.

Because the Celts were recorded their history via oral accounts, not much is known about the specific ways in which they resisted both Roman and Anglo-Saxon influence and invasion. One thing is for sure – they moved as far from the towns and city settlements as possible, preferring instead to live on the land as their ancestors had done for countless generations.

Interestingly, many modern cities still bear the mark of Roman influence . If a place has “chester” “caster” or “cester” in its name, it is almost certainly a Roman settlement. The word “chester” and its variants come from the Latin word castrum, which means a fort.

Of particular note on the Kent construction site are the coins, which have been found in the ruins. These coins are pre-Roman, and show images of kings from distant lands, suggesting that some of the inhabitants of the ancient city were of high nobility or importance.

Next steps planned

Because the site seems to be so extensive, the SWAT team, along with Coles, has a carefully mapped out plan. They are planning to collate the data into a scientific report and then recover the excavation site so the housing project can continue as intended.

For now, that date has yet to be set.

The town seems to have been a manufacturing center of sorts, as the team has uncovered many iron furnaces. Since iron smelting was so rare in Roman Briton, it indicates that the Romans had to have exported their most advanced technological developments to the area.

There have also been discoveries of kills and plenty of pottery to give rise to the idea that the town was also a significant export center of plates and other household items.

It is possible that these large-scale enterprises relied on slave labor, though Wilkinson and his team are still looking for authentication.

Coles expects the cataloging of the temple to take some time since it is such a significant discovery. The road also offers many clues into the life of the Briton Roman citizens.

“It proves the A2 wasn’t the only Roman road through the village,” Coles said. “As a group, we are keen to trace the route and destination of this new highway, which may have connected with another temple excavated 50 years ago on the outskirts of Newington, and a village unearthed in 1882.”

It might sound farfetched, but with the Roman penchant for building in straight uniform lines, this is entirely possible.

The next steps for the site include careful cataloging of everything that has been excavated so far. Because of the significant manufacturing presence in the settlement, it is possible that the local elite were of some means.

This gives archeologists hope that the site will continue to offer up its own sorts of riches. Once the site has told its story, the area will be covered and returned to the construction developer to build homes over the once forgotten, but now unearthed, Roman Briton town.

Watch the video: Alte Kulturen: Antike Kriegsführung - Wie Rom alles eroberte (January 2022).

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