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The history of the Roman Empire’s invasion and conquest of Great Britain is a topic that fascinates many, especially with regard to the background information on the workings of the Roman Empire and Britain in its early years. Fiyaz Mughal is among those who like this topic, mainly because he enjoys travelling around the United Kingdom and has been captivated by the many Roman historic sites preserved through the ages.

When Julius Caesar invaded in 55 and 54 BC Britain was a mystery, an unknown land that was both exotic and dangerous. To the Romans, it was a land of mist and drizzle, inhabited by warriors and full of forests and marsh. To an emperor, it was the perfect ground for testing their ability to rule. Julius Caesar’s invasion was meant to quell resistance by Britons that his administration felt was working with Celtic tribes at the time. Caesar aimed to conquer the land, but a revolt in Gaul drew him away, and for almost a century Britain remained uninvaded (three planned invasions were called off in that time).

The Romans’ invasion of Britain was seen as a war of prestige. With the death of Emperor Caligula in 41 AD, the new emperor, Claudius, saw an opportunity to assert his authority through a military victory. The army was central to the empire’s growth as, in a few centuries, it had helped Rome grow from a small city to become one of the greatest empires. Military conquests were avenues for profit in slaves, tribute and treasures. For an emperor, gaining a military achievement was the best way to prove themselves worthy of the throne.

Claudius’ advance into Britain was successful and the Romans rapidly advanced until 60 AD, when a rebellion in East Anglia halted progress. The Romans suppressed the revolt, but not before burning three cities. In 70 AD the advance resumed, with the army making strides in the north and Wales. Under the command of Gnaeus Julius Agricola, the Romans faced off with the Caledonians (modern-day Scotland) at the Battle of Mons Graupius, where they inflicted a heavy defeat on the Caledonian side. This battle marked the end of the four-decade conquest of Britain, a period that saw hundreds of thousands of Britons killed.

The victory was short lived, however, as troops had to be pulled out of Britain to deal with attacks on the empire’s frontiers in other regions. Reinforcements were required to deal with these invasions, so the army reduced its men in the north, and eventually fell back as far as the Tyne-Solway isthmus – the location of the famous Hadrian’s Wall. Emperor Antoninus Pius tried to reclaim the northern territory but was unsuccessful, and Hadrian’s Wall became the Romans’ northern frontier.

At this point, the remaining Roman army had settled in three legions (settled in permanent bases) and smaller auxiliary troops located in forts across England. Britons were organised into various cities, roads were developed, and landowners began to adopt Roman architecture in building homes. Most of the British citizens were countryside farmers who slowly came into contact with the markets and towns that the Romans built. A mixed culture steadily emerged as the Romans introduced urban planning, better agricultural methods and industrial production into the country.

Rome’s effect on the Britons was steady. The towns were built by the locals who, in the span of a generation, converted from blue-painted Celtic warriors into Romanised citizens. For the empire’s rulers, conquering the English elite was good politics, as they allowed them to run the towns on Rome’s behalf. It was a move aimed at ensuring loyalty within the conquered regions, and for a couple of centuries, this mode of operation ensured the Roman Empire was successful.