The Roman Military Occupation of Britain

When Rome Ruled Britain

Directed by Eric Tenwolde

Film Review

Apart the filmmakers’ claim that Roman military occupation substantially improved life for early Britons,* this documentary seems to provide a reasonable account of the Roman conquest and pacification of the British Isles.

This documentary starts with Julius Caesar’s two failed invasions of of Kent in 55 and 54 BC, based on the preposterous claim these remote islands posed a threat to Roman security (sound familiar?). More likely Caesar coveted the islands’ rich tin reserves Rome needed to produce brass. Despite strong resistance from British tribes unified by the warlord Cassivellaunus, Caesar eventually marched his troops through Middlesex as far as the Thames, forcing Cassivellaunus to surrender and pay tribute to Rome.

It would be 100 years before Roman troops returned to Britain under the Emperor Claudius in 53 AD. They did so at the request of a pro-Roman king, who was under attack from anti-Roman warlords who had ceased to pay tribute. Making use of fierce Germanic auxiliaries recruited in Gaul, the Roman troops defeated the the rebels and progressed as far inland as Colchester, where the emperor Claudius made a triumphal entry on an elephant.

Caratacus, king of the Catubellauni tribe, retreated into Wales where he resisted Roman incursion for more than a decade. In 57 AD, Roman legions attacked the Druids in Anglesey (island off Northwest coast of Wales), seeking to end their ritual practice of  human sacrifice. Roman troops also gradually progressed northward despite large scale revolts that persisteed until 69 AD.

In 78 AD the Roman governor of the province of Britannia led a brief incursion into Caledonia (modern Scotland), but Emperor Vespasian, dealing with a civil war in Rome, ordered him to retreat. The territory was considered of dubious value.

By 100 AD, Rome had established a stable military occupation of the territory comprising most of modern day England. The Romans brought the bronze age to Britain, as well as bustling cities, the Latin language, aqueducts carrying drinking water,  mosaics, Roman money, massive road networks and pottery. Despite their subjugation by Rome, residents of Britannia enjoyed the right to become Roman citizens if they so chose and were free to follow their own religion

In the North and West of Britannia (modern day Wales), city life never took hold and the Celtic tongue remained preeminent.

In 117 AD, Rome built Hadrian’s Wall to hinder Scots from invading the province of Britannia. Between 176-210 AD, following penetration of the Wall by an army of Scots, Rome dispatched 50,000 troops to Britannia in an unsuccessful attempt to invade and occupy Caledonia.

During the third century, instability in other parts of the empire (and declining military strength) laid to an increase in raids on the province by Scottish, Irish and Germanic tribes.

In the fourth century Constantine (who would become emperor in 306) fought alongside his father in yet another war against the Scots. In 383 AD, the Scots would join forces with Saxons from Germania to invade Britannia. From 388 on, Rome was occupied with a series of civil wars and barbarian invasions on the European continent and allowed trade, defenses and troop numbers to steadily decline in Britannia

In 410 AD, Rome declined a request from Britannia’s governor for a return of troops to protect the province against marauding Angles and Saxons. Within decades Germanic law replaced Roman law in the British Isles and paganism replaced Christianity.**


*I suspect that, as with most colonies, it was mainly wealthy elites who benefited, at the expense of farmers and laborers.

**Christianity was first introduced to Britannia during the third century. In 380 AD, Constantine declared it the official religion of all Roman provinces.

The Celts: Advanced Seafarers or Uncivilized Barbarians?

The Celts: Search for a Civilization

By Alice Roberts

Heron Books (2015)

Book Review

Were the Celts of northern Europe the uncivilized barbarians the Greeks and Romans made them out to be? Alice Roberts thinks not. Her book examines the origin of the Celts, the prehistoric tribe responsible for populating Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Cornwall and early Britain. The conventional view is that the Celts originated in central Europe and gradually migrated west to occupy ancient Gaul (France), Britain, Scotland, Wales an Ireland; south to Egypt and northern Italy; and west as far as Kiev and Turkey. Roberts sides with the more recent view that Celtic civilization developed along the Atlantic coast of Europe – a well-connected group of Bronze Age societies extending from Portugal – and migrated westward to occupy Gaul, parts of Germany, the Balkans, Turkey and northern Italy..

The Celts gives a full inventory of all available archeological, linguistic and genetic evidence, as well as accounts from historical texts and oral myths. The picture Roberts paints is totally at odds with Roman and Greek efforts to portray Celts as uncivilized barbarians. Thanks to their great sophistication in mining, smelting metals into weapons and jewelry, and advanced seafaring, the Celts established major trading centers throughout continental Europe. The Tartessos referred to in the Old Testament at the time of Solomon were early Celts who sailed great ships laden with silver, gold, ivory, apes and peacocks to trade with Mediterranean settlements.

The Phoenicians, the first Eastern Europeans they made contact with, traded wine and manufactured goods for their silver, gold, copper and tin. The earliest written evidence of the Celtic language comes from the beginning of the Iron Age in Southwest Portugal.

In addition to well-developed religious practices, the Celts had a written language and appointed druids to serve as judges, guardians of knowledge, and  priests.

During the Iron Age, they developed a reputation as great warriors and often hired themselves as mercenaries to various kings and emperors. In 387, they sacked Rome for the first time, and in 280 BC they conquered Macedonia and moved south into Greece. Julius Caesar’s primary reason for invading and occupying Gaul was to end the constant Celtic raids on Roman territory.

The Assassination of Julius Caesar: Parallels with Trump

The Assassination of Julius Caesar

Michael Parenti (2012)

Film Review

In this presentation, Michael Parenti discusses the fraudulent history we are taught about the late Roman Republic. In particular, he focuses on the popular resistance movement that led to the rise of the Populares in the Roman senate in the second century BC. The revolt of the Roman proletariat was largely a reaction to the privatization of Rome’s collective agricultural lands as latifundia (plantations owned by Roman aristocrats). Historically there was no private land ownership in Rome until thugs hired by aristocrats drove the peasants off their land around 200 BC.

Parenti starts by demolishing the myth promulgated by mainstream historians that Rome was a republic. The Roman senate was a self-appointed oligarchy. For the most part Roman senators paid no taxes though. Instead they loaned money at interest to the Roman government (sound familiar?). The lower classes, in contrast, were heavily taxed.

The first great Populares to serve as consul was Tiberius Gracchus in 133 BC. He and his brother Gaius, who succeeded him, fought for land reform to break up the latifundia and redistribute them to the landless. Despite their aristocratic background, all the Populares consuls challenged a Roman economic system that was rigged in favor of the elites All were assassinated by aristocratic death squads.

Julius Caesar would be the last Populares consul, and he, too, would be assassinated in 44 BC. Among the reforms he enacted were

  • Lowering interest and fines on debts
  • Building exceptional public libraries to be used by all Roman citizens
  • Guaranteeing freedom of religion to Roman Jews
  • Ending the practice of forcing people with unpaid debts into slavery
  • Introducing a democratic constitution
  • Creating state jobs in Rome and the colonies for the unemployed
  • Ending Cicero’s* witch hunts and extrajudicial executions

The aristocrats in the senate, who detested Caesar because he threatened their wealth and privilege, responded by labeling him a brutal tyrant and assassinating him. Ironically the emperors who succeeded him were far more tyrannical. Yet the senate aristocrats supported them as they protected their wealth and privilege.

What strikes me most about this presentation are the clear parallels with the current period, with the liberal elite and intelligence establishment portraying Trump as an unspeakable fascist tyrant based on little evidence other than his rhetoric. I’m aware that much of the liberal establishment is justifiably frightened of the ultraconservative bent of Trump’s appointees. However most of the strident anti-Trump rhetoric seems over the top to me.

For me the two main ways the parallels break down are 1) the absence of a genuine reform movement from below similar to the Roman resistance movement that led to the formation of the Populares 2) the absence in Trump of the towering intelligence, charisma and military and political ingenuity that Caesar displayed. Trump’s lack of political experience raises the vital question whether he or his conservative cabinet will be in control. Despite his promise of numerous populist reforms, I’m extremely skeptical whether the prominent conservatives in his cabinet support them.