British Collections by Archaeological Period:

Roman (AD 43 - AD 410)

The Roman invasion of Britain took place in AD 43. Up until then the country was divided into many tribes, with tribal leaders, or 'kings' ruling defined areas, but there were continual skirmishes between the tribes and leaders. In the south-east, the kings of the Regni and the Catuvellauni tribes had most likely already developed a client relationship with Rome following Julius Caesar’s reconnaissance of Britain in 55/54 BC.

The indigenous British peoples (sometimes referred to as Celts) were under Roman rule from AD 43 to about AD 410, particularly in the lowlands of the south and east. In the second century AD, Hadrian's Wall became the frontier in the north, not just of Britain, but of the Roman Empire.

The Romans found Britain rich in lead, iron, zinc, copper, silver and gold. They also took slaves from Britain. The Romans brought a different style of leadership, an efficient, networked road system facilitating taxation and trade, and a distinctive style of architecture using brick or stone-faced rubble concrete.

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Statuette of Romulus and Remus (Click to enlarge)

Roman bronze statuette of the she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of Rome. Found in Wiltshire (AN1998.4)

Roman lifestyles were emulated using local materials to reproduce architectural decoration and provide heating and glazing. Roman pottery was imported from Gaul and the Rhineland. Glass vessels were widely used. Local fashions prevailed in metalwork, often decorated with coloured enamel, a long-established Celtic skill. Our calendar and legal systems are based on the Roman system. The Romans also took regular censuses. The Romans introduced worship of the imperial family and the Roman pantheon of pagan gods. Existing cults of local pagan gods were tolerated. In AD 312 Christianity was granted legal status in recognition of its position as the major religion of the Roman world.

Southern Roman Britain was very prosperous in the fourth century AD, when the centre of power of the western Roman Empire had shifted to north-west Europe. However, the Roman occupation of Britain was weakened when Maximianus (Magnus Maximus) permanently reduced the number of troops in about AD 383. After about AD 407 no troops left in Britain were paid from monies sent from Rome. Therefore we can suppose that most of the Roman army had left by that date. Around Oxford, we see a sudden collapse of the pottery industry, and vastly decreased levels of comfort and some evidence of violence at Shakenoak Farm. However it is not clear whether deposits of metalwork at Appleford and Dorchester were intended to be recovered, or donated to the gods.

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Susan Walker
16 December 2011