The Roman conquest of Britain

The first Roman Emperor, Augustus, taking power following Julius Caesar, planned a number of invasions of Britain, following in his adopted father’s footsteps, but they were all abandoned.

Things changed, however, in 43 AD when the Emperor Claudius ordered the conquest of Britain.

Claudius raised an army of around 8 legions (40,000 men), placed them under a Roman general, Plautius, who then crossed the English Channel, swept inland, and defeated much furious Celtic resistance around the River Thames.

(Above) The Roman Emperor Claudius (41-54 AD), the conqueror of Britain.

The Emperor Claudius wanted to be present at the final defeat of the British, however, and crossed into Britain with a force of elephants.

The Celtic capital city of Colchester was stormed by the legions shortly afterward and British resistance collapsed.

The British then surrendered and Britain – actually the low land area known today as England - became a province of the Roman Empire, where it was to remain for hundreds of years.

(Above) Despite being heavily outnumbered, the superior organisation of the Roman legions defeated the enormous Celtic hordes.

Only the fierce northern Celts, called the Picts, from modern day Scotland, remained un-subdued.

The legions then spread out from Colchester and crushed the last remaining pockets of British resistance, such as at Maiden Castle hill fort in Dorset.

Native resistance to the Romans continued to simmer until 61 AD, when a full scale revolt broke out.

The king of a British tribe died, called the Iceni, in what is now Norfolk, following which the Romans decided to rule them directly.

They then publicly whipped his widow, called Boudicca, and raped his daughters.

(Above) The British heroine, Queen Boudicca, leader of the Iceni tribe, astride her chariot. She led the native British rebellion against the Roman occupation.

This public humiliation sparked off a great revolt and many of the native British tribes joined forces and attacked several Roman strongholds, such as Londinium (what was to become the English capital city of London) and Colchester, both these towns being destroyed and 70,000 Romanised Britons killed.

The Roman army, numbering some 10,000, then met a British army of 100,000 somewhere in the West Midlands, and thanks to superior fighting skill, discipline and training, the Romans inflicted a crushing defeat on the native British.

Queen Boudicca then took poison to avoid capture by the Romans.

It was to be the last native revolt against the Roman occupation, and Britain now settled down to Roman rule for the next several hundred years.

Queen Boudicca is a national hero of the British people and a statue of her on a chariot takes pride of place on Westminster Bridge in central London (below).

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