medusa patera found in Britain

The Romans occupied England for about 400 years. They planted vineyards, chestnut trees and cabbages. Describing the ancient Britons, Julius Caesar reported, "The husbands possess their wives to the number of 10 or 12 in common, and more especially brother with brothers." Caesar also reported that ancient Picts ran round in cold Scotland in the nude.

After Emperor Cladius invaded Britain in A.D. 43. Britain was made a province of the Roman Empire. It was ruled by Roman law and Roman towns and roads were set up. The Romans expanded their empire as far north as Hadrian's Wall near the present-day England-Scotland border. Northern Britain was inhabited by fierce Scots and Picts, Celtic groups the Romans were never able to subdue. Among the fantastic places described the Roman chronicler Pliny the Elder were the Hyperborea, islands near Scotland, where the sun only sets once a year, people chose the time of their death by leaping off a cliff and cliffs shaped like women came to life at night and lured ships to their doom among the rocks.

The Romans built baths with central heating, luxurious villas, atrium gardens, basilicas, theaters, forums, mosaic floors and walls, and fortress.Large Roman towns grew up around Bath, Colchester, Silchester, Viroconium, and Wroxeter. The largest cache of Roman coins (9,212 of them) was found in a farmer’s field near Glastonbury, the site of the famous rock festival.

Gods at Bath and other cities had both Roman and Celtic names. Druid rituals and human sacrifice were described in Julius Caesar's Gallic Wars and elaborated on by Pliny. A silver statutes of the Egyptian god Harpocrates dating to Roman times was found in the Thames.

Websites on Ancient Rome: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity ; Forum Romanum ; “Outlines of Roman History”; “The Private Life of the Romans”|; BBC Ancient Rome; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; Lacus Curtius; The Roman Empire in the 1st Century; The Internet Classics Archive ; Bryn Mawr Classical Review; De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors; British Museum; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive ; Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Internet Classics Archive ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources; Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy;
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Ancient Rome resources for students from the Courtenay Middle School Library ; History of ancient Rome OpenCourseWare from the University of Notre Dame / ; United Nations of Roma Victrix (UNRV) History

Roman Rule in Britain

Dr Mike Ibeji wrote for the BBC: “The Roman empire was based on two things: lip service to the emperor, and payment to the army. As long as you acknowledged the imperial cult and paid your taxes, Rome did not really care how you lived your life. [Source: Dr Mike Ibeji, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

“In one respect, there were very few 'Romans' in Britain. There were Batavians, Thracians, Mauretanians, Sarmatians: all brought in through service in the army, and all eventually granted citizenship and a packet of land after their 25 years' service. They settled all over Britain, becoming naturalised British citizens of the Roman Empire, erecting a wealth of inscriptions which attest to their assimilation and prosperity. Most of them settled in or near the fort where they had served, staying close to their friends. Gradually, these urban settlements outside the fort grew into townships, which were eventually granted municipal status. In certain cases, such as Colchester ('the Colonia by the camp'), the city was an official colony of veteran soldiers imposed upon the local population; but usually the evolution was more generic. Chester (or 'the camp') is an example of this. Standing on the city walls, you can still look down upon the remains of the amphitheatre that stood outside the military camp. In this way, the army acted as the natural force of assimilation. |::|

Hadrian's Wall

“The evidence for what life was like in these places has largely been eradicated by the cities' urban sprawl, but in more remote areas, like at Vindolanda up on Hadrian's Wall, you can still see just what the original Roman settlement looked like. Vindolanda housed several units in its history, among them the Ninth Batavians - from whom a large pile of correspondence was found written on thin wooden writing tablets, deposited in one of their rubbish tips. There were over 200 of these writing tablets dating to A.D. 95-115. Mainly official documents and letters written in ink, they are the oldest historical documents known from Britain. |::|

“Among them is a set of letters between Sulpicia Lepidina, wife of the camp commander, and her friend Claudia Severa, wife of the commander at Housesteads, around ten miles up the road. They paint a picture of life on the frontier very much like that of a British officer's wife on the north-west frontier: full of empty days, relative discomfort, boredom and loneliness. Life for the ordinary people of the vicus or village seemed a little more interesting than that of the upper classes, but it remained harsh and unforgiving. One soldier complains of being beaten with rods; another refers disparagingly to the local British population as 'Brittunculi' (little Britons). |::|

“In the third century AD, marriage for soldiers was permitted, and the vicus, where their concubines had always lived, was rebuilt in stone. They constructed a beautiful little bath-house where the soldiers could relax, and a guest-house called a mansio, with six guest-rooms and its own private bath suite - for travellers on official business - along the wall. The vicus at Housesteads was rebuilt at the same time (incidentally, an excavation of one of its houses uncovered a murdered couple hidden under the floorboards). By this time, all adults in the empire had been granted blanket citizenship and the 'Romans' in Britain had become fully assimilated with their British neighbours. |::|


Dr. Neil Faulkner of the University of Bristol wrote for the BBC: “It was only in the lowland zone – south and east of a rough line from Lincoln to Exeter – where parts of Britain began to look distinctly Mediterranean. When the army moved forward, the politicians took over. Iron Age tribal centres were redesigned as Roman towns, with regular street-grids, forums (market squares), basilicas (assembly rooms), temples, theatres, bathhouses, amphitheatres, shopping malls and hotels. [Source: Dr Neil Faulkner, BBC, March 29, 2011 |::|]

“The models of town planning and public architecture were Roman, but the people in charge were not. The towns were built by local gentry, who, in the space of a generation or two, converted themselves from Celtic warriors and druids into Romanised gentlemen. Britain’s upper classes had found a new style. Blue paint and chariots were out. Gaulish wine and the Greek myths were in. To be successful, to look sophisticated, you now had to project rank and status in the 'empire' fashion. |::|

Hadrian Visiting a Romano-British Pottery by Lawrence Alma Tadema

“For the rulers of the empire, changing the culture of conquered elites was good politics. The empire was ruled from the towns, where councils formed of local gentry were responsible for tax-collection and keeping order in the surrounding countryside. It was government on the cheap, but it was still highly successful. |::|

“Instead of an influx of foreign overlords stirring up resentment, the native elite ran things on Rome's behalf. And in gratitude for having their power and property preserved, they proved loyal servants. The evidence is in the enthusiasm with which they Romanised. |::|

“Most of the twenty or so Roman towns had a full set of public buildings by the mid-second century AD. Already many of the gentry had started building town houses and country villas. From this time onwards there was a full-scale housing boom at the top end of the market. |::|

“Big towns like Verulamium (St Albans) and Corinium (Cirencester) soon had fifty or more grand houses and dozens of villas within a day's ride of the centre. Companies of mosaic layers, fresco painters and potters sprang up to feed the boom in luxury living, and the shipping lanes, rivers and roads were busy bringing in such specialities as fish sauce from Spain, Rhineland glassware, and Pompeian bronzes. |::|

Striving to be Roman

Dr Mike Ibeji wrote for the BBC: “The Roman invasion of Britain was arguably the most significant event ever to happen to the British Isles. It affected our language, our culture, our geography, our architecture and even the way we think. Our island has a Roman name, its capital is a Roman city and for centuries (even after the Norman Conquest) the language of our religion and administration was a Roman one. [Source: Dr Mike Ibeji, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|] About the author: Dr Mike Ibeji is a Roman military historian who was an associate producer on Simon Schama's A History of Britain.

“For 400 years, Rome brought a unity and order to Britain that it had never had before. Prior to the Romans, Britain was a disparate set of peoples with no sense of national identity beyond that of their local tribe. In the wake of the Roman occupation, every 'Briton' was aware of their 'Britishness'. This defined them as something different from those people who came after them, colouring their national mythology, so that the Welsh could see themselves as the true heirs of Britain, whilst the Scots and Irish were proud of the fact that they had never been conquered by Rome. |::|

“Yet perhaps Rome's most important legacy was not its roads, nor its agriculture, nor its cities, nor even its language, but the bald and simple fact that every generation of British inhabitant that followed them - be they Saxon, Norman, Renaissance English or Victorian - were striving to be Roman. Each was trying to regain the glory of that long-lost age when Britannia was part of a grand civilisation, which shaped the whole of Europe and was one unified island. |::|

“I am usually asked five questions whenever people talk to me about Roman Britain, and they find the answers profoundly surprising. People's view of Rome is of a grand, monolithic dictatorship which imposed its might upon an unwilling people, dictating how they lived, how they spoke and how they worshipped. They see the Romans as something akin to the Nazis (which is hardly surprising since the fascists tried to model themselves on Rome). The truth about Roman Britain is much more subtle and surprising, and serves to show why on the one hand their legacy has endured so long, and on the other, why their culture vanished so quickly once they departed from these shores.” |::|

Roman Colchester street plan

Religion in Roman Britain

Dr Nigel Pollard of Swansea University wrote for the BBC: “Given the toleration of other religions by Roman authorities, the situation in a place like Britain - a province of the Roman empire - might well have been quite complex. We can see evidence in Britain for the existence of Roman state religion - including both emperor worship and the worship of traditional Roman gods such as Jupiter. We can also see evidence for the worship of imported gods, who were neither British nor part of the Roman state cult - there is evidence, for example, of Mithraism and Isis-worship. We can also see the continuity and development of local gods. |[Source: Dr Nigel Pollard of Swansea University, BBC, March 29, 2011 |::|]

“Finally, very commonly all over the empire, we see Roman gods twinned ('syncretised') with local gods, just as the Romans had twinned their gods with Greek equivalents. For example, at Bath (Roman Aquae Sulis) in England, we see the worship of Sulis-Minerva, a goddess with twin Celtic (Sulis) and Roman (Minerva) identities. She was worshipped at a temple built near a thermal spring that had been the focus of a pre-Roman cult. |::|

Religion of the Romano-Britons

The Romans worshipped many gods. The Roman army seems to have embraced a number of cults which became popular throughout the Roman Empire from the second century. Archaeological excavations around Hadrian's Wall have revealed evidence of several native cults: Coventina, Antenociticus, Belatucadrus, Cocidius and Vitiris. [Source: BBC]

Dr Mike Ibeji wrote for the BBC: “Both Rome and Britain had polytheistic religions, in which a multiplicity of gods could be propitiated at many levels. At one end of the spectrum were the official cults of the emperor and the Capitoline Triad: Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, linked to other Olympian gods like Mars. At the other end, every spring, every river, every cross-roads, lake or wood had its own local spirit with its own local shrine. The Romans had no problem in combining these with their own gods, simply associating them with the god(s) or goddess(es) who most resembled them. [Source: Dr Mike Ibeji, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

“At Bath, the famous temple bath complex was founded on the site of a local shrine to the water goddess Sul of the hot springs. She was linked to Minerva, for her healing qualities, but images of other gods and goddesses were also set up in the temple, most especially Diana the Huntress, to whom an altar was dedicated. |::|

“Over 6,000 coins were cast as offerings into the waters of Bath, along with vast quantities of lead or bronze curse tablets, asking Sulis-Minerva to intercede on behalf of the worshipper. These were also nailed up on poles within the temple precinct and provide an interesting glimpse into the everyday (and not so everyday) lives of the people who visited the shrine. This did not just happen in Bath: two hundred curse tablets were recovered from the temple to Mercury at Uley - approximately one third of all such tablets known in the empire - and others were found elsewhere: |::|

Mercury statue at the Colchester Castle Museum

1) 'May he who has stolen VILBIA from me become as liquid as water... who has stolen it or her. Velvinna, Exsupereus, Verianus, Severinus, A(u)gustalis, Comitianus, Minianus, Catus, Germanilla, Jovina.' (Bath) 2) 'To Minerva the goddess of Sulis I have given the thief who has stolen my hooded cloak, whether slave or free, whether man or woman. He is not to buy back this gift unless with his own blood.' (Bath) 3) 'Uricalus, Docilosa his wife, Docilis his son and Docilina, Decentinus his brother, Alogiosa: the names of those who have sworn at the spring of the goddess Sulis on the 12th of April. Whosoever has perjured himself there you are to make him to pay for it to the goddess Sulis in his own blood' (Bath) 4) 'I curse him who has stolen, who has robbed Deomiorix from his house. Whoever stole his property, the god is to find him. Let him buy it back with his blood or his own life.' (Bath) |::|

At the windswept hill-fort site of Lydney, where a temple was erected to the god Mars-Nodens in the fourth century, another curse tablet was found, which reads: ‘To the god Nodens: Silvianus has lost his ring and promises half its value to Nodens. Among those named Senecianus, let none enjoy health until he brings it back to the temple of Nodens.’

“It seems likely that both Silvianus and Senecianus had gone to Lydney for its healing properties. Both no doubt stayed in the adjacent mansio (much like the well-preserved guesthouse at Vindolanda), from which no doubt the latter walked off with Silvianus's ring. A further wrinkle is added by the find of a beautiful hexagonal ring bearing an image of Venus in the nearby Christian church at Silchester, on which was inscribed: 'Senecianus, may you live in God.' Is it too much to surmise that seeking protection against the curse upon him, Senecianus turned to the new religious power which the Emperor had recently adopted as the new state religion? Since the curse was renewed, the ring obviously stayed lost. |::|

Roman Colchester: Britain's First City

Dr Mike Ibeji wrote for the BBC: “It is very difficult to represent pre-Roman Colchester, because the site was so nebulous. The best physical indications of it are the Gosbecks dykes, of which the most impressive is Grym's Dyke; but even these just look like big, overgrown ditches. There are some nice burial goods from the Lexden Tumulus (itself less than impressive), and it is possible to see the outline of Cunobelin's farmstead in crop marks. [Source: Dr Mike Ibeji, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

“Colchester was called Camulodunum, which is a Romanisation of its Iron-Age name: the Fortress (-dunum) of Camulos, God of War. The original site of the Iron-Age settlement was some 3 miles south-west of the current city at Gosbecks. There, a sprawling Iron-Age farmstead was established, covering a roughly triangular area of approximately 10 miles which was surrounded by rivers on two sides and a complicated system of dykes on its open western end. It is these dykes which are the only real vestiges of the settlement today, forming great,sunken lanes in the flat Essex countryside.

Colchester Vase from around AD 175

“Even before it was complete, the function of the fortress had been changed. The conquest of Britain had moved on and instead of a military base, what Rome needed now was a colony. The Roman word colonia was a specific term for a planned town inhabited by military veterans. They would be allocated plots of land within the bounds of the settlement in order to establish a Roman presence within the conquered area. |::|

“This is what the Roman fortress of Camulodunum was turned into. It became Britain's first-ever city. Doing this, the Romans quite literally brought civilisation to Britain, as the word derives from the Roman word civitas, meaning 'city'. The city of Colonia Victricensis (The City of Victory) was deliberately placed within the bounds of the Roman fortress, using its street plan and converting the barrack blocks into houses. In place of the military gate at the western entrance to the fort, a monumental arch was built, commemorating the Claudian conquest of Britain. Later, when the city acquired walls, this was incorporated into the western gate of the city and though nothing of the actual arch now remains, what is left of the gate and its walls still stand at the Balkerne Gate. |::|

“Similar monuments were erected in Rome, Gaul and at Aphrodisias in Turkey. Some fragments of these survive and because the Romans used the same formula for their monuments all over the empire, it is possible to use these to reconstruct pretty accurately what this arch and gate would have looked like. The inscription will have read: 'To Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, son of Drusus, Pontifex Maximus, with Tribunician Power for the eleventh time, Consul 5 times, hailed as Imperator 22 times, Censor, Father of his Country, the senate and people of Rome grant this because he received the surrender of 11 kings of the Britons conquered without loss, and he first brought the barbarian peoples across the Ocean under the authority of the Roman people'. |::|

“The annexe of the old fortress was converted into the precinct for a monumental Temple to the imperial cult. Today the site is occupied by a Norman castle, built directly onto the foundations of the old temple out of re-used Roman stone. However, it is possible to see what the original temple precinct must have looked like by going to Nimes, where the Maison Carée still stands, surrounded by colonnades. Once again, nothing like it had ever been seen in Britain before. Within the temple stood a life-size bronze statue of the Emperor Claudius, of which the head still survives. The local tribal magnates were recruited into the temple cult, but the financial burden of running the temple and the arrogant maltreatment of the locals by the colonists was to cause resentment which boiled into the Boudiccan revolt.” |::|


Bath (190 kilometers west of London) is one of Britain's most historically rich places. Situated next to the Cotswalds in the lush Avon Valley, it a beautiful, cohesively-designed city.The Romans developed the area after they found a 125̊F mineral spring. They built magnificent temples and baths and the resort that sprang up was frequented by wealthy landowners and officials. The Romans left England around the A.D. 4th century and after that it became a depressing wool town Bath smelled bad that Queen Elizabeth I refused to enter it. The Roman city was forgotten until 1727 when it was rediscovered by sewer diggers and not excavated until the late 19th century.

Bath, England

The Roman baths in Bath (next to Abbey Church) consists of several Georgian baths built on the ruins of the Romans ones. The largest, the Great Bath, is a steaming pool of water bordered by the foundations of the original Roman pillars, which in turn are surrounded by a Georgian courtyard decorated with columns and copies of ancient statuary. Nearby is the curvaceous little Cross Bath and the miniature Hot Bath. Unfortunately it is not possible to take a dip or go for swim, the curative metallic-tasting water is for drinking only. Upstairs from the Great Bath is the still functioning Pump Room.

The most interesting Roman artifact dug up after the city's rediscovery was a likeness of the Sun God which looks like a man with his head stuck in a Christmas wreath. This relief statue and most of the other excavated Roman artifacts are located in the Roman Bath Museum, found in the same building as the baths and pump room. Today tourists visit Bath for its Georgian architectural masterpieces and associations with Jane Austen than its Roman remains.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity ; Forum Romanum ; “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~\; “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) |+|; BBC Ancient Rome ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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