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.

How the Covid Lockdown Saved the Brithdir Mawr Cawd Ecovillage

Saving Our Ecovillage
 
Journeyman Pictures (2020)
 
Film Review
 
This documentary tells the fascinating story of a 25-year-old ecovillage in West Wales that was inadvertently saved from privatization by the UK Covid lockdown in March.
Working together over decades, the 17 residents of Brithdir Mawr Cawd have built a totally self sufficient of grid system through which they provide their own electricity, water and sewage disposal (based on composting toilets). Then in late 2019, when their 25-year lease* expired, the  the owner opted to sell the property instead of renewing it.
 
Faced with the challenge of raising $1 million to buy their own homes, they hired a business advisor to help them create a fundraising plan. Luck was with them. The UK-wide lockdown Boris Johnson ordered in March 2020 (which wreaked havoc on the British real estate market) granted them an automatic six months extension.
 
The business plan they created includes a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) scheme, through which they produce fruits and vegetables for the wider community, in  addition to a massive apple orchard that will produce apple juice, cider and vinegar and a U-pick strawberry and raspberry patch for local residents and tourists.
 
Faced with the continuing lockdown, the landowner has now agreed to give them six years to raise $1 million to buy the property.
 
In the film several Brithdir Mawr Cawd’s members speak candidly about their easons for joining and the advantages and disadvantages of living in a small close-knit community. Prior to Covid, the Welsh ecovillage hosted volunteers who traded their labor for training in off-grid living skills. Brithdir Mawr Cawd was also responsible for pressuring the Welsh Assembly to pass the One Planet Planning Law. The latter allows residents to build carbon neutral structures in designated green spaces.

*At present, Brithdir Mawr Cawd hold “leasehold” title to their land. Although uncommon in the US, with leasehold titl, the homeowner only owns his house and leases the property from a separate landowner. This contrasts with freehold title, where the homeowner owns both the house and land.
 

 

 

Stuff I Wish I Learned in School: The English Civil Wars

The English Civil Wars

Directed by Graham Holloway (1992)

Film Review

This documentary describes the three English civil wars that occurred during the 17th century. The first, between 1639-40, was the Bishops’ Wars; the second, between 1642-45, when Parliament’s forces seized London and King Charles I ruled from Oxford; and the third, between 1645-46, when Parliament held the King prisoner in London.

The film is very sketchy on the background of the Civil Wars, which Holloway blames on religious differences and the refusal of Charles I to recognize the power of Parliament. Under Charles I, the Church of England resumed many features of Catholic ritual that they had abandoned when Henry VIII split from Rome. This was especially unpopular in London where 50% of the population were Puritans.

When the King attempt to impose a new book of common prayer on Scotland, the Scottish army drove all the Church of England bishops out of Scotland, chasing the English army all the way to Newcastle.

Charles I was forced to recall Parliament (which he dissolved in 1628) to raise taxes to pay the debt he incurred for the Bishops’ Wars. Angered by his refusal to honor their sovereignty, Parliament refused. When the people of London rioted in support of Parliament, the King fled north to Hull to raise an army.

Most of the film focuses on the primitive weapons technology used in 17th century wars and the battlefield tactics employed as the King tried to recapture the south of England and Parliament’s army tried to wall the King’s troops up in the north. The musket, which was only recently introduced, took a minimum of 30 seconds to reload, with gunpowder and a musket ball, before being lighted with a match.

Oliver Cromwell, who would become Britain’s Lord Protector after the King was executed, first came to prominence in 1645 at the Battle of Glaston Moor. It was here his skilled leadership of Parliament’s cavalry won them their first decisive victories.

In the 1645-46 Civil Wars, Welsh and Irish troops supported the King and the Scottish military supported Parliament. During the two years he was a prisoner, Charles I secretly schemed with Scottish forces to invade England on his behalf. Following their defeat by Cromwell, this would lead to the King’s trial and execution for treason.

Although the film can’t be embedded for copyright reasons, it can be viewed free at the Christie Books site:

The English Civil Wars

*The Puritans were English Reformed Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries who sought to “purify” the Church of England from its “Catholic” practices, maintaining that the Church of England was only partially reformed.