Why Did The Romans Invaded Britain Essays

5. Life in Roman Britain

The native people of Britain who were conquered by the Romans are usually known as the Britons. They were descended from people who had lived in this country for many generations. They were also related to the native people of Gaul and Germany. All of these people are sometimes referred to as 'Celts' and they spoke similar Celtic languages.
An artist's impression of native British man and woman at about the time of the Roman invasion of 43. Illustration by Sarah Hall, Roman Britain
After the Roman conquest people from many different parts of the empire, most of them speaking Latin, came to live in Britain. Some of the men were soldiers, some were government officials and others were merchants. Many of them brought wives and families.
Tombstone of Victor the Moor (a North African) from South Shields (Tyne and Wear). Victor is shown lying on a couch holding a cup and is offered another by his servant. Photo Simon I Hill, Tyne and Wear Museums
The Romans built the first towns in Britain. They were linked to one another by good roads and were centres of trade and government. The Britons had never seen anything like a Roman town before and they would have been quite amazed to see the great stone buildings and paved streets.
Reconstruction of the centre of the Roman town at Wroxeter (Shropshire), the capital of the native British Cornovii people. You can see the bath house (upper left) and the forum and basilica (upper right). Illustration by Ivan Lapper, English Heritage
Most people in Roman Britain lived in the countryside in small villages or isolated farms, but the owners of large, rich estates built themselves a new type of house in Roman style known as a villa.
Reconstruction illustration of Bignor Roman villa (Sussex). Photo Simon I. Hill, Bignor Roman Villa
As time went on the Britons adopted Roman customs and ways of life, and they began to think of themselves as Romans.
A Roman family group. Illustration by Sarah Hall, Roman Britain
Did you know? The bones of animals such as cattle, sheep and pig tell us about what meat people ate in Roman Britain. Archaeologists also find other food remains such as cereal grains and even vegetables, like leeks and beans. It is thought that the poor ate a lot of bread and porridge, but soldiers and rich people could afford imported delicacies like figs, grapes and olives.
Animal bones from Roman excavations in York. York Archaeological Trust

The People of Roman Britain

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After the Roman conquest the soldiers, officials, merchants and their families who came to Britain from many different parts of the empire brought with them Roman ideas about art, architecture, government, religion, food, dress and many other things.
Sculpture of a Roman boy charioteer from Lincoln. Photo Simon I. Hill, City and County Museum, Lincoln
We know the names of people who lived in Roman Britain from inscriptions such as those on tombstones or altars. Other names appear in documents like the Vindolanda writing tablets.
Detail of the inscription on the altar from Corbridge (Northumberland) dedicated to Jupiter Dolichenus and other gods. Wording shown here reads: 'to the sky gods of Brigantia' (CAELESTI BRIGANTIAE) 'and to Salus' (ET SALUTI), the god of health, by the centurion Julius Apolinaris of the Sixth Legion. Photo Simon I. Hill with the kind permission of English Heritage.
The names of most inhabitants of Roman Britain are unknown, but we come face to face with them when we find their graves or tombs. Careful study of skeletons can tell us such things as how tall they were, how old they were when they died and sometimes what diseases they suffered from.
Roman grave with skeleton (4th century) from Winchester. Winchester Museums
Did you know? Careful measurement of the skeletons found in graves and tombs tells us that on average adults were only very slightly shorter than they are today. The average height of Roman men was about 1.68m (5 feet 7 inches) and of Roman women about 1.57m (5 feet 2 inches).
A specialist in human skeletons examining a Roman skull from a burial in York. York Archaeological Trust

Roman Citizens in Britain

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At the time of the Roman conquest the top people in the Roman empire were the citizens of Rome, although being a citizen did not mean that you actually lived in Rome itself. People with the rank of citizen were found all over the empire, including Britain.
Illustration of a Roman wearing a toga by Sarah Hall, Roman Britain
At first there were very few Roman citizens in Britain, but gradually the numbers increased. Some native leaders were made citizens to ensure they stayed loyal to Rome. If a Roman citizen married a British woman their children would be citizens themselves.
Tombstone of Marcus Aurelius Nepos, a centurion of the Twentieth Legion, and his wife, found at Chester. � Grosvenor Museum, Chester.
A Briton who served as an auxiliary soldier in the army became a Roman citizen when he retired and was usually given land to farm. This made serving as a soldier a popular occupation.
Tombstone of an auxiliary cavalry soldier from Ribchester Roman fort (Lancashire). Photo Simon I. Hill, Ribchester Museum Trust
The reason there are so many Romans called Aurelius (or Aurelia) is that this was the family name of the Emperor Caracalla. In the year 212 Caracalla made everybody in the Roman empire who was not a slave into a Roman citizen and many people took the emperor's name in gratitude.
Altar from Caernarfon Roman fort (Gwynedd), Wales dedicated to Minerva by Aurelius Sabinianus, a clerk (actarius). � National Museums & Galleries of Wales

Cogidubnus : a Native King

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Tiberius Claudius Cogidubnus (or Togidubnus) was a native British king who probably ruled part of southern England including what is now the county of Sussex in the second half of the 1st century AD. Cogidubnus's three names mark him out as a Roman citizen. He took the first two (Tiberius and Claudius) from the names of emperors of the time. His third name (Cogidubnus) is a native name which has been made Roman with '-us' at the end.
An artist's impression of Cogidubnus, the native British king. Illustration by Sarah Hall, Roman Britain
It is thought that Cogidubnus was allowed to go on ruling his people after the Romans invaded Britain as long as he supported them against rebels like Boudicca. Cogidubnus's reward for loyalty may have been the great Roman palace at Fishbourne which is one of grandest buildings of Roman Britain.
Model of Fishbourne Roman palace (Sussex) in about 75. The entrance hall is in the foreground and the north wing, of which remains can be seen today, is on the right. Fishbourne Roman Palace
Fishbourne had luxurious rooms arranged around all four sides of a great garden courtyard and some of the finest Roman mosaics in Britain. The mosaics which Cogidubnus probably saw have simple, but graceful black and white designs.
Roman (late 1st century) mosaic with a black and white pattern from Fishbourne Roman palace (Sussex). Fishbourne Roman Palace

Immigrants in Roman Britain

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Not all the people who came to Britain after the Roman conquest were soldiers. Others came to settle and become merchants or farmers, and they often brought their families and slaves with them. These people came from all over the empire to seek a new life and make their fortunes.
A man called Barathes came to Britain from Palmyra in Syria and made his living selling flags. We know this from his tombstone at Corbridge which also tells us that he died aged 68. We know about Barathes' wife Regina because her tombstone was found at South Shields. This tells us that Regina was British and had once been Barathes' slave.
Tombstone of a Roman lady named Regina, once a British slave from the Catuvellauni tribe (who lived in Hertfordshire and Essex) , who married her Syrian master, Barathes. On her right is her jewellery box and on her left balls of wool. Found at South Shields (Tyne and Wear). Photo Simon I Hill, Tyne and Wear Museums
Victor was a young man from the province of Mauretania in north Africa. His tombstone was found at South Shields and it tells us that he came to Britain as the slave of a soldier named Numerianus. Victor was given his freedom, but the poor fellow was only 20 when he died.
Tombstone of Victor the Moor (a North African) from South Shields (Tyne and Wear). Victor is shown lying on a couch holding a cup and is offered another by his servant. Photo Simon I Hill, Tyne and Wear Museums

Slaves in Roman Britain

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Roman slaves were often prisoners captured by the Romans in their wars or else they were the descendants of prisoners. A slave was the property of his or her master just like an animal and had no freedom at all.
The distance slab from Hutcheson Hill (Bearsden, Glasgow) on the Antonine Wall commemorating the construction of 3000 feet of the Wall by the Twentieth Legion. In the centre a standard bearer is crowned by the goddess Victory and on either side are tied-up native prisoners. Hunterian Museum, Glasgow
Many slaves did hard manual work in the mines or on farms. Other slaves worked for rich people in their houses doing things like cleaning, washing and cooking. Women slaves sometimes became maids to the mistress of the house.
A Roman lady and her maid. Illustration by Michael Codd Hampshire County Council Museum Service
Just because a slave had no freedom does not always mean that he or she lived a miserable life! There is a tombstone from London of a woman named Claudia Martina who was married to a slave named Anencletus. He was a government slave and probably had a good job as a clerk. Surprisingly, his wife was a free woman and not a slave herself.
Tombstone of Claudia Martina (written as CL MARTINAE in first and second lines) who married the slave Anencletus (his name is in the middle). Found in London.
Slaves could get their freedom, usually by buying it with their savings. After getting their freedom slaves would remain under their master's protection as a 'freedman' or 'freedwoman'. Freedmen often inherited their master's business.
Silver coins of the late 1st century AD from the legionary fortress at York. York Archaeological Trust

Roman Family Life

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At the head of a Roman family was the husband and father, known in Latin as the paterfamilias. He thought of his family as not only his wife, children and other blood relations, but also the household slaves, and the law gave him great power over them.
Roman tombstone showing a family group from Ilkley (West Yorkshire). Photo Simon I. Hill, Olicana Museum.
Roman wives were expected to obey their husbands and had little independence compared to what is normal today. A wife handed over all her property to her husband when she was married and her main duty was to run the household.
Tombstone of a Roman lady, Curatia Dinysia, found in Chester. She is shown reclining on a couch - notice the two pecking doves above her which are symbols of peace. � Grosvenor Museum, Chester.
A marriage was usually arranged by the parents of the girl and boy. A girl might be engaged as young as 12 years old or even less, although she did not actually marry until a few years later.
Tombstone of a Roman girl named Vacia from Carlisle. The inscription records her age as three years although the relief is of an older child. Notice that she holds a bunch of grapes in her right hand. Photo Simon I. Hill, Tullie House Museum, Carlisle
Just like today, an important part of Roman family life was the evening meal. The family would also gather together at a shrine to worship the household gods known as the lares and penates.
Reconstruction of a Roman household shrine. Illustration by Michael Codd Hampshire County Council Museum Service
Roman family groups can be seen on some of the tombstones from Britain. There never seem to be more than two children, but it is thought that some Roman families were much larger.
Roman tombstone of Flavia Augustina and her family from York. Yorkshire Museum, York

Children in Roman Britain

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The sort of lives that Roman children had depended a great deal on whether they came from rich or poor families. This is the tombstone of a little girl named Vellibia. The inscription tells us that 'she lived most happily for four years and six months'.
Tombstone of a Roman girl named Vellibia shown holding a ball. Found at Corbridge (Northumberland). Photo Simon I. Hill with the kind permission of English Heritage.
Roman children did not have much education unless they came from wealthy families and even then boys got more than girls. The main subjects were reading, writing and public speaking which prepared pupils for careers in the army and the government.
A Roman teacher and schoolchildren. Illustration by Jonathon Potter, Roman Britain.
At home Roman children had family pets just like today. Dogs, birds and hares were very popular. Here you see a Roman boy stroking a bird on his mother's lap.
Detail of the child shown on the tombstone of the 'lady with the fan' from Carlisle. Photo Simon I. Hill, Tullie House Museum, Carlisle
Roman children's toys included dolls and model animals made of wood, clay or bronze.
A group of clay models of people and animals found in a grave, possibly that of a child, at Colchester. Colchester Museum
Roman children would have drawn and painted pictures like children do today. This carving on a sheep bone could be a child's work. It seems to show a person, a dog and some houses.
As they grew up children played sports and games like they do today. This sculpture shows a young boy charioteer who performed at the local race track known as a circus.
Sculpture of a Roman boy charioteer from Lincoln. Photo Simon I. Hill, City and County Museum, Lincoln
If babies and children became ill in Roman times they were in much greater danger than they are today. Because so many diseases were incurable they often died.
A Roman boy on the tombstone of 'the lady with the fan' from Carlisle. Photo Simon I. Hill, Tullie House Museum, Carlisle

Women in Roman Britain

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The lives of women in Roman Britain were very different to women's lives today Roman women had much less independence and their duty was to manage the home and care for children.
Tombstone of a woman of the Cornovii people (who lived in Cornwall) found in Ilkley (West Yorkshire) with her hair in plaits. Photo Simon I. Hill, Olicana Museum.
Wealthy Roman women did not usually work, although if their husbands ran a business they might help them out. However, if her husband died, a widow was able to inherit his business and property.
Tombstone of a Roman lady, Curatia Dinysia, found in Chester. She is shown reclining on a couch - notice the two pecking doves above her which are symbols of peace. � Grosvenor Museum, Chester.
Poor women in Roman Britain would have worked in the fields or the workshops alongside their men folk. Slave women worked in the houses of the rich.
Relief of a Roman lady (left) with her maidservant from Chester. � Grosvenor Museum, Chester.
Women in Roman Britain usually wore a woollen tunic gathered at the waist and belted. Over their tunics they wore a longer robe or tunic called a stola which came down to their feet. Around their shoulders they wore a shawl or mantle called a palla. The woman in this picture holds a fan to keep her cool.
Tombstone of the Roman 'lady with the fan' from Carlisle. She has the fan in her right hand and on her left is her little boy who is reaching into her lap for his ball. Photo Simon I. Hill, Tullie House Museum, Carlisle
Roman women enjoyed social gatherings with friends and the first invitation to a party from Roman Britain was written by a woman. It was found on one of the Vindolanda writing tablets and is an invitation to a birthday party from a woman called Claudia Severa to Sulpicia Lepidina, wife of the fort commander.
Wooden writing tablets with ink writing from Vindolanda Roman fort. (Northumberland). The fragment of a tablet at the top is a passage from Book 9 of Vergil's Aeneid, possibly a schoolboy's exercise. The pair of tablets in the centre reads '�the Britons are unprotected by armour (?). There are very many cavalry. The cavalry do not use swords nor do the wretched Britons mount in order to throw javelins.' The pair of tablets at the bottom is a birthday invitation from Claudia Severa to Sulpicia Lepidina (wife of the commander at Vindolanda). Licensed by the Trustees of the British Museum, The British Museum

Roman Marriages

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Weddings in the Roman world were happy events with feasting, music and dancing.
An artist's impression of a Roman banquet. Illustration by Wayne Laughlin (Gloucester City Archaeological Unit)
When they got engaged a couple often exchanged tokens such as this medallion showing a man and woman. It is made of jet, a black stone thought to have magical qualities.
Medallion made of jet showing a betrothed couple, from York. Yorkshire Museum, York.
A Roman bride wore a bright yellow hooded cloak known as a flammeum and held a bouquet of flowers just as brides do today.
A Roman bride wearing a flammeum. Illustration by Sarah Hall, Roman Britain.
Marriage in Roman Britain often brought native people and immigrants together. The tombstone of Regina from South Shields tells us that she was British and originally a slave from the Catuvellauni tribe who lived in Hertfordshire and Essex. She had belonged to a man named Barathes from Syria. It seems that Barathes fell in love with Regina and married her!
Tombstone of a Roman lady named Regina, once a British slave from the Catuvellauni tribe (who lived in Hertfordshire and Essex) , who married her Syrian master, Barathes. On her right is her jewellery box and on her left balls of wool. Found at South Shields (Tyne and Wear). Photo Simon I Hill, Tyne and Wear Museums

Town Life in Roman Britain

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In the Roman empire towns were centres of trade, local government and social life. In Britain before the Romans there were no towns, but the Romans built towns in most parts of the country. Many towns we live in today, like York and London, can trace their history back to Roman times.
Map of the towns and regions (civitates) of Roman Britain. Roman Britain
It was towns which introduced Roman ways of life to Britain. It was in the towns where you would have seen the great public bath houses in Roman style and large private houses built around courtyards or gardens like those in Mediterranean countries.
Three of the new towns in Roman Britain - Colchester, Gloucester and Lincoln - were built on the sites of what had been legionary fortresses and they were given to retired soldiers to live in.
Most Roman towns in Britain were capitals of a region inhabited by one of the British tribes. The Britons were encouraged to live in these towns so that they would become proper Romans!
Reconstruction of the Roman town at Canterbury. The theatre is the large semi-circular building in the centre and a temple in the centre of a courtyard is on the right. Illustration by John Bowen, Canterbury Archaeological Trust.
Roman towns in Britain were very small compared to towns today. The population of even a large town like London probably never reached more than 10,000. Rome, however, had over one million inhabitants - about the same as Birmingham or Glasgow today!
Reconstruction of Roman London in about the year 120. Illustration by Peter Froste, � Museum of London
Almost everything we know about the Roman towns of Britain has come from archaeology. A few of the Roman towns of Britain are mentioned by Roman writers, but there are no descriptions of any of them written in Roman times.
Archaeological excavation in progress on a 2nd century Roman stone building at York (Wellington Row site). York Archaeological Trust
Did you know? The Romans loved their towns so much that they even had designs showing town walls and gates on their mosaic pavements.
Part of a mosaic showing a town gate at Fishbourne Roman palace (Sussex). Fishbourne Roman Palace

The Layout of a Roman Town

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Towns in Roman Britain, like towns almost everywhere else in the Roman empire, had very regular street plan which was laid out on a criss-cross grid. Here is an artist's impression of Roman York in about the year 200.
Reconstruction of Roman York in the late 2nd / early 3rd century. The town (colonia) is in the foreground and the fortress is at the top beyond the River Ouse. Illustration by Tracy Croft, English Heritage
The forum and basilica. In the middle of a Roman town there would be the forum which was a large open market place and on one side of it was the basilica, a sort of town hall.
Reconstruction of the centre of the Roman town at Wroxeter (Shropshire), the capital of the native British Cornovii people. You can see the bath house (upper left) and the forum and basilica (upper right). Illustration by Ivan Lapper, English Heritage
The town bath house was an important social centre as well as a place to wash. People visited the baths to meet friends and discuss business.
Roman women in a Roman town bath house. Illustration by Sarah Hall, Roman Britain
Every town had many temples for the worship of the gods and goddesses. The picture shows an artist's impression of the great temple by the hot springs at Bath, known to the Romans as Aquae Sulis or 'waters of the goddess Sulis'. The temple was built in a style which had been used for hundreds of years and was first designed by the ancient Greeks.
Reconstruction of the Roman temple and its surroundings at Bath. The temple is in the background, the altar in the centre and entrance to the baths on the left. Illustration by John Ronayne, Bath Archaeological Trust.
Most Roman towns in Britain were surrounded by defences which often took the form of great stone walls with high towers and splendid gates.

The Forum and Basilica

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The forum and basilica lay at the centre of every Roman town. The forum was a large open courtyard where markets and public gatherings were held. Around three sides of the forum there was a covered passage known as a portico and behind it were rows of small rooms which could be used as shops. On the fourth side was the basilica a great hall used for public meetings.
Plan of a typical Roman town forum and basilica with a cross-section to show the probable height of the buildings (based on evidence from Silchester, Hampshire). Illustration by Lesley Collett Roman Britain
Rooms at the back of the basilica were used as offices but in the centre was the shrine (known to the Romans as the aedes), in which there would have been statues of the emperor, and of important gods and goddesses. The picture shows the head of a statue of the Emperor Hadrian which may have stood in the basilica at London.
Bronze bust of Emperor Hadrian - part of a larger than life size statue found in the Thames at London. Licensed by the Trustees of the British Museum, The British Museum
The town council was made up of men known as decurions. These decurions - or town councillors - only got the job if they were wealthy. They were not elected by the townsfolk. Decurions collected taxes and saw that justice was done. They were also responsible for the streets and water supply, and organised the games at the local amphitheatre.
Part of a Roman stone coffin from York bearing an inscription referring to a decurion (town councillor) of the colonia at York (Eboracum). Look for the shortened words: DEC COL EBOR. York Archaeological Trust.

At the Baths

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Every Roman town had a bath house. This was not just a place to get clean, but was a bit like a local leisure centre. You could play sports and games in the baths and meet friends to gossip and discuss business.
Roman women in a Roman town bath house. Illustration by Sarah Hall, Roman Britain
When you went for a bath in Roman times you first took your clothes off in a special changing room and left your slave to look after them. You then worked up a sweat by sitting in a heated room known as the caldarium which was a bit like a sauna bath.
Niches for statues in the changing room of the Roman baths at Chesters Roman fort on Hadrian's Wall. Photo Simon I. Hill with the kind permission of English Heritage.
Sweating opens up the little holes in your skin known as pores, and brings the dirt out. Sweat and dirt were scraped off with a metal tool called a strigil. The Romans did not wash with soap like we do!
Bronze strigil from Carlisle. Photo Simon I. Hill, Tullie House Museum, Carlisle
After a good scrape with the strigil you could go and have a warm bath in the tepidarium or plunge into a cold bath called the frigidarium. The cold water closed up the skin's pores again and got the blood circulating. A Roman bath gave you a pleasant tingling feeling afterwards.
Second Legion soldiers taking a cold shower at the Roman fortress baths at Caerleon (Gwent). Illustration by John Banbury, CADW - Welsh Historic Monuments
After your bath you rubbed yourself down with nice smelling oils and scents. Some people had a professional masseur to do it for them.
Glass scent bottle from Corbridge (Northumberland). Photo Simon I. Hill with kind permission of English Heritage

Roman Town Houses

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The smallest houses in Roman towns were long and narrow with a shop or workshop at the front, and a room for eating and sleeping at the back. They are sometimes called 'strip houses'.
Large Roman town houses were built around three or four sides of a courtyard or garden and had many different rooms.
The best room in a large Roman house was usually the dining room where the master and mistress received their guests. When they were eating they all lay on couches propped up on one elbow while the slaves brought them their food.
An artist's impression of a Roman banquet. Illustration by Wayne Laughlin (Gloucester City Archaeological Unit)
Wealthy people heated their houses by what is known as a hypocaust system. The floor was raised on little walls or pillars which allowed hot air from a furnace to circulate below it and make the room warm. The hot air could also be taken up channels or flues set into the walls.
Reconstruction drawing to show how a Roman hypocaust worked. By Mark Barden, Winchester Museums.
The Romans did not have wall paper, but house walls were plastered and painted. The designs were usually simple, but sometimes there were elaborate patterns with landscape scenes or pictures of the gods and goddesses.
Replica Roman living room in Exeter museum. Exeter City Museums and Art Gallery.
On the floors in the main living rooms of a large Roman house there were usually tiles or even highly decorative mosaics. In less important rooms and in poor people's houses the floors were made of concrete, clay or just earth.
Part of a mosaic floor from Cirencester showing the huntsman Actaeon being torn to pieces by his dogs after seeing the goddess Diana bathing. Corinium Museum
Did you know? At night Roman houses were very dark. Light was provided by little pottery lamps. A wick - the part which burnt to give off light - stuck out at one end and the lamp was filled with olive oil or fat.
Roman pottery lamps from York. York Archaeological Trust.

Roman Gardens

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Large Roman town houses and country villas usually had a garden in the central courtyard. They were laid out in a very regular way with straight paths and there were often statues of the gods and goddesses as well as plants.
Replica Roman garden at Newport Roman villa (Isle of Wight). Newport Roman Villa
The paths and beds of a Roman garden were often lined with hedges. Box was very popular for hedges because it is evergreen and has a pleasant smell.
A box hedge. Photo Patrick Ottaway
A very popular tree in Roman gardens was the bay which is evergreen. The leaves were used in cooking to give a pleasant taste to food and were also burned to give a sweet smell which was thought to help sick people to sleep.
Leaves and flowers of the bay tree. Photo Patrick Ottaway
The Romans loved roses for their colour and their scent. Roman roses were probably more like the wild dog rose we know in Britain than the modern cultivated varieties.
Wild dog rose (Latin rosa canium).
Ponds for fish and ducks were popular in Roman gardens and there was often a fountain as well. The water spirits, known as nymphs, were worshipped in a special garden temple called a nymphaeum.
The nymphaeum - shrine to the water spirits - at Chedworth Roman villa (Gloucestershire). In the centre is a water basin which originally held a fountain. Photo Simon I. Hill, Chedworth Roman Villa.
You can still see how a Roman garden was laid out at Fishbourne palace where hedges have been replanted in the original trenches dug by the Romans for their hedges. The trenches were found by archaeologists.
Box hedges in the reconstructed Roman garden at Fishbourne Roman palace (Sussex). Photo Patrick Ottaway with kind permission Fishbourne Roman Palace.
Did you know? Bay, which belongs to the laurel family, had a special meaning for the Romans because it signified victory and peace. Victorious generals wore a wreath (in Latin corona) of bay and a bay branch was used as a sign of truce between enemy armies.
Relief of soldiers carrying a wreath on a building stone from South Shields fort (Tyne and Wear). Photo Simon I. Hill, Tyne and Wear Museums

Roman Town Walls

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When they were first laid out most Roman towns had no defences. At Colchester this was to be a disastrous mistake at the time of the revolt of Boudicca in the years 60-61. There was nothing to prevent her troops getting in and burning the whole town to the ground.
It was only after the revolt of Boudicca that Colchester was given a town wall. This was the first town wall in Britain. It is nearly 2000 years old and quite a lot of it still survives!
Britain's first town wall: part of the Roman wall of Colchester, built 65-80. Photo Patrick Ottaway
By the middle of the 3rd century most of the Roman towns in Britain had stone walls built around them. There were stone gates to guard the entrances.
The surviving (southern) arch of the north gate of Roman Lincoln, now known as the Newport Arch. Photo Patrick Ottaway
Town walls would have protected the townspeople against attack from barbarian raiders, bandits or even wild animals, but they were also expensive status symbols. We can imagine the towns of Roman Britain competing with each other to have the best walls and gates!
Did you know? You can still see spectacular remains of town walls built by the Romans in places like Chester and Lincoln.
Remains of the lower west gate of Roman Lincoln looking from inside the Roman town towards the outside. Originally there would have been an arch over the roadway in the centre of the picture. Photo Patrick Ottaway

Londinium: the Roman capital

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London became a centre of trade soon after the Roman invasion of Britain because it stands on the River Thames and was easy to get to by ship from the rest of the Roman empire. After the revolt of Boudicca in the years 60-1 London replaced Colchester as the capital of Britannia. By the early 2nd century London was the largest town in Roman Britain and its forum was the largest Roman building in the empire north of the Alps!
Reconstruction of Roman London in about the year 120. Illustration by Peter Froste, � Museum of London
On the Thames waterfront great timber wharves have been found. They had vertical plank walls facing the river and on top, running back to the river bank, there were level platforms on which goods were unloaded and warehouses were built.
Model of the late 1st century Roman waterfront in London with Roman London Bridge in the background. Museum of London.
The warehouses of Roman London were used to store goods which had been shipped from all over the empire. Archaeologists have found vast quantities of pottery, glassware and many other objects which were imported to London in Roman times.
One of the most important temples in Roman London was dedicated to the sun god Mithras who was worshipped by soldiers and merchants.
Relief from the London temple of Mithras showing the god Mithras slaying the bull - notice the snake and dog leaping up to drink the blood of life from the bull's neck while a scorpion nips the bull's testicles. On the circular band around the central scene are the signs of the zodiac. In the upper left corner is the sun god (Sol) driving his horses across the sky and upper right is the moon goddess Luna. In the lower left and right corners are two wind gods. The inscription refers to a vow made by Ulpius Silvanus, veteran of the Second Legion. � Museum of London
Did you know? The remains of Roman London are buried many metres below what is now the City of London. The great timber wharves on the River Thames are very well preserved because the river level has risen since Roman times. When timber becomes saturated with water it does not rot away as it does when it is just damp.

Country Life in Roman Britain

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Although the Romans built towns in Britain, most people in Roman Britain lived in the countryside. The lives of the country dwellers only changed very slowly after the Roman conquest.
Harvesting on a Roman farm. Illustration by Sarah Hall, Roman Britain
Most farms in Roman Britain grew crops and kept animals as well. Good weather was vital to farmers and if it was too hot, too cold, too dry or too wet the crops failed and people and animals starved.
Threshing and winnowing grain on a Roman farm. Illustration by Sarah Hall, Roman Britain
The owners of large country estates in Roman Britain built themselves villas. A villa is a luxurious Roman country house which usually had stone walls, mosaic floors, under floor heating and a bath house.
Hypocaust (under floor heating) system at Chedworth Roman villa (Gloucestershire). Photo Simon I. Hill, Chedworth Roman Villa
All farmers from rich villa owners to humble peasants prayed to the gods and goddesses for good crops and healthy animals. Religious festivals were held at times of the year which were particularly important for agriculture.
Mosaic showing Ceres, the goddess of the harvest, and a farmer holding what is probably a hoe. From Brading Roman villa (Isle of Wight). Photo Simon I. Hill, Oglander Roman Trust
Some Roman writers described country life, but in Italy and not in Britain. Our knowledge of country life and agriculture in Roman Britain comes from the work of archaeologists who find the remains of farm buildings, the bones of farm animals and sometimes the seeds of crops, like wheat and barley.
View of Rockbourne Roman villa (Hampshire). Illustration by Michael Codd Hampshire County Council Museum Service

Roman Farms and Fields

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Most farms in Roman Britain were just a cluster of small buildings with thatched roofs. They had a small piece of land which was worked by one man and his family. They produced just enough food to keep them alive.
Replica Iron Age British round house from Butser Ancient Farm (Hampshire). Photo Simon I. Hill, Butser Ancient Farm.
In their fields farmers usually used a simple wooden plough. Only the tip of the part which actually went into the ground - the plough share - was made of iron. The Roman plough created a furrow in which the seed could be sown, but it did not turn the soil over like a modern plough.
Reconstruction illustration of ploughing with oxen on a Roman farm. Drawing by Trevor Stubley, Sussex Archaeological Trust and Lund Humphries
For harvesting their crop farmers used simple iron tools like scythes and sickles. There was no machinery and the work was very hard.
Iron scythe blade from Newstead (Trimontium) Roman fort (Borders), Scotland. National Museums of Scotland.
Roman fields can still be seen from the air in a few places in England where they have not been destroyed by modern agriculture. This photographs shows some small Roman fields divided up by banks of earth.
Burdrop Down (Dorset). Aerial view of fields of Iron Age or Roman date defined by earthen banks. Royal Commission on Historical Monuments for England
In some parts of Britain, including Cornwall, Scotland and parts of Wales, the native farmers had houses with dry stone walls. This is a reconstruction of the village at Chysauster in Cornwall which you can still visit today.
Reconstruction of part of the Roman native settlement at Chysauster (Cornwall). Illustration by Judith Dobie, English Heritage

Roman Farm Animals

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The Romans had cows, sheep, goats, pigs and hens on their farms just as we have today, but they were much smaller than the animals we are used to seeing. Since Roman times careful breeding has greatly increased the size of all farm animals.
Diagram showing comparative sizes of cattle, pig and sheep in modern (black) and Roman times. By Sarah Hall, Roman Britain.
Roman cattle. There were cows which gave milk and oxen which pulled carts and ploughs. When cattle were no longer any use they were killed and eaten. Today cattle are killed for eating when they are about 18 months old, but in Roman times they were killed when they were about 4-6 years old and so the meat was sometimes a bit tough!
Dexter cattle (with their horns removed), a breed the same size as Roman cattle. Photo Patrick Ottaway
Roman sheep were small with a brown fleece and prominent horns. In Roman times farmers kept sheep for their wool and their milk. The wool was plucked from the sheep and not sheared as it is today. Farmers only killed their sheep for eating when they were 2-4 years of age compared to 8 months in our own time.
Soay sheep at Butser Ancient Farm (Hampshire). They resemble breeds which would have lived in Britain in Roman times. Photo Simon I. Hill, Butser Ancient Farm.
Pigs in Roman Britain were probably small and hairy like the wild pigs which still live in the forests of eastern Europe. The Romans thought that piglets, or 'sucking pigs' as they are called, were a great delicacy.
Wild pigs. Photo Paul Halstead
Did you know? Animal dung was very valuable in Roman times. It was used for fertilising the fields and it was dried and used for fuel. It could also be mixed with clay and used for building walls.
Dung cakes prepared for use as fuel in modern Iraq. Photo Keith Dobney

Roman Crops

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The main crop in Roman Britain was wheat which was made into bread, but it was usually what is called 'spelt wheat' which is different from our 'bread wheat'. The Romans also grew oats, used partly for animal feed, and barley which could be used for making beer.
Spelt wheat (Latin triticum spelta). � Allan Hall.
When the crop was ripe it was harvested. There was no machinery so everybody on the farm had to work hard throughout the day to bring in the crop.
Harvesting on a Roman farm. Illustration by Sarah Hall, Roman Britain
After harvesting the crop had to be threshed to extract the grain from the ears at the top of the stalks. Threshing involved beating the stalks on a hard surface with a tool called a flail. After threshing the grain was winnowed to remove any remaining husks. This involved tossing the grain in the air to let the lighter husks, known as chaff, blow away and the heavier grains fall to the ground.
Threshing and winnowing grain on a Roman farm. Illustration by Sarah Hall, Roman Britain
After winnowing the grain was ready to be ground into flour. This could be done in a mill powered by water or by hand with a quern which consists of two round stones, known as quern stones, placed one on top of the other. The grain goes into the hole in the top and you then turn the upper stone with the wooden handles and grind the grain on the lower stone. The flour comes out from between the stones.
Replica quern stones used for grinding corn at Butser Ancient Farm (Hampshire). Photo Simon I. Hill, Butser Ancient Farm.
Did you know? One of the main field weeds in Roman times was the corncockle which has a fine pink flower. It is now very rare now due to weed killers. Corncockle seeds are poisonous and so too many of them ground up in flour would have given the Romans a bad stomach ache after eating their bread!

In 55BC and 54BC, Julius Caesar brought the Roman Army into Britain. He made some progress although both attempts failed. After Caesar’s death, Claudius became Emperor in AD41. Claudius went on to conquer all of England, much of Wales and parts of Scotland.
The Romans introduced a system of politics where the entire kingdom would be governed from one central town. The first Roman capital was Colchester but later became London. The Romans united all tribes into one kingdom but left tribal leaders to keep the title of “king” although they had no real power.
The Romans brought their standard currency into the areas they conquered. As they gained more power, the tribes of Britain accepted the new currency because it made trading easier.   This new currency replaced the standard “goods-for-goods” trading with an economy similar to today’s. The Romans also introduced the road system, which allowed perishable goods to be taken greater distances in a fraction of the time. They brought their own method of taxation where each tribe had to pay a fee to a central government based on the amount of crops they produced.
After the invasion, the Romans introduced their own social system where a person's background did not matter. An individual could (and often did) rise from the lowest ranks in society to a position of great authority. This replaced the tradition of inherited royalty with a social class system very similar to ours today.
As the 2nd century came around, a new ruler rose to power named Constantine.   He converted to Christianity and ruled it legal throughout the Roman Empire.   Prior to this event, many Romans still believed in ancient forms of polytheism.   This event sparked the beginning of a time where the Romans experienced great mishap.   They experienced constant attacks from the surrounding tribes and left Britain in AD410.

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