Wanderings in Roman Britain

Wanderings in Roman Britain

About the author:

Arthur Weigall born 1880 – 3rd  January 1934, born in the North-West frontier in India, unfortunately his father an army officer died in the same year as his birth, his mother returned to England and in time he attended Wellington College becoming interested in Egyptology and become a leading light in this in Egypt, unfortunatley ill health brought him back to London, expanding his scope to stage designing, journalism and an author covering a wide scope of histories, hence, Wandering in Roman Britain and Wandering in Anglo-Saxon Britain, which both give a very good general view on these two epochs in our history, also a history in a small way of life between the world wars, plus he wrote a book on the pagan background of our Christian Faith, he married twice whose wives both helped him in his direction in life, dying at quite a young age.


This has been written to give an understanding before the landing of Hengist and Horsa on the shore of Ebbsfleet in 449 A. D. To give their service to King Vertigern the high king of the British as mercenaries, the English were there with the Romans either as ancillaries in the Roman army or as foes, even as allies, traders, or lived there, but they were there.

Over the years Roman artefacts have been uncovered and this continues to this day, thus giving a better understanding, to break things down there will be a short chapter on the different areas which will be 42 and there will be places to visit, which will only be a few as the subject is vast, so it will be a taste hopefully to wet the appetite so to speak. It will not only cover England but also Scotland and Wales, to give an understanding how much the Romans effected this Island of ours whilst they were here, which was 400 years or so in total.

From the outset there are two points to be clearly made. In the first place, we must understand that Britain was not merely subjected to Roman authority, but was as much a part of the Roman Empire as any other place – you could say Britain was as Roman as Italy itself.

People often said of the British Empire had a great similarity to the Roman Empire ; but here there is one fundamental difference which is usually overlooked. The Romans first conquered and then gave their civilization, customs, laws, and language to a great number of nations ; and so afterwards, no matter where these people came from or what gods they worshipped or the language they spoke, they were regarded as Romans, well the free ones were, not the slaves.

Thus, as country after country was conquered and brought into the Roman Empire, the Roman people became more and more a mixture of nations, something of which is being attempted in Europe at present. The Emperor Trajan, for example, was a Spaniard; the Emperor Severus was an African; Virgil was a Gaul ; Seneca was a Spaniard ; and St. Paul, who was a Jew of Tarsus, could say : “I’am a Roman.”

In the Roman Empire there were no frontiers dividing one nation from another. The conquered peoples did not long remain subject nations, but soon styled themselves “Romans”; and just as the English, Scottish and Welsh are called British although this is now changing as the separate countries of the United Kingdom are heading towards more independence and the fact Celts / British are the people of Ireland, Scotland and Wales, whilst the English/Germanic  are people of England, but back to the Roman Empire people within were all known as Roman. Rome, in fact, was not a nation: it was an institution, like the Roman Catholic Church or like Islam, which admits no barriers of nationality.

A tombstone was found in Newcastle-upon-Tyne it commemorated a man named Barates who is seen as a Syrian from the desert city of Palmyra beyond Damascus ; but here he was settled in the north of Britain and also married a British woman. He was a Roman, and therefore it did not matter whether he was a Syrian or Briton. Similarly, from the ancient Lambaesis, in North Africa, comes another gravestone inscription stating that a centurian who appears to be British by birth, and who certainly had a British wife, who went to Africa after completing his service, and finally made his home in Mesopotamia, dying there at the age of seventy.

When Caesar first invaded Britain his Roman army included cavalry from Gaul, slingers from the Balearic Isles, off the coast of Spain, archers from Numidia, in North Africa, and other troops from Crete; and the soldiers of the army in Britain during the 400 years of Roman rule were drawn from such races as the Spaniards, Portuguese, Germanic, Gauls, Dutch, Greeks, Belgians, Thrarians, Rumanians, Cilicians, Dalmatians, North Africans, Pannocians, Syrians, Mesopotamians, and so forth. Similarly, British troops were then employed in lands far away from their native country so they could not plot against their Roman masters, although they were classed as Romans it was a sensible move on their part, when you consider what happened in the Teutoburg forest in Germania, when three legions plus auxiliaries and the baggage train were utterly destroyed, when a German called Arminius who had become a trusted advisor, secretly forged an alliance with the Germans to destroy the Roman Legions.

Thus the analogy between the ancient Roman Empire and the modern British Empire is in this respect is false, because though we can speak of the British people of those days as being actually “Romans” we cannot to-day call a Maltese or a Hindu “British.” He is a member of the British Empire, but he is not “British”; whereas the members of the Roman Empire, generally speaking, were Romans whatever their nationality might be.

That is the point to be remembered, because we see that Britain was Rome – as much Rome in an imperial sense as was Italy itself. The second point to be held in mind is that Roman rule in Britain was not a brief military occupation: it was a complete Romanisation of the country, lasting for a period long as that which separates the days of the battle of Agincourt and of Joan of Arc from the reign of Queen Victoria.

During that immensely long period all the main centres in Britain were crowded with a medley of soldiers, merchants, business men, and ordinary settlers, drawn from all over the Roman world; and these men intermarried with the Britons, who were not conquered barbarians, but Romans too, often wearing Roman dress, living Roman lives, speaking the Roman tongue in addition to their own, dwelling in Roman houses provided with central-heating in the Roman manner, and worshipping in Roman temples. Seneca truly remarked that “wheresoever the Roman conquerors, he settles down to live.”

Thus, when the actual fighting legions were finally withdrawn from Britain, the men who waved farewell to them were not pure Britons anymore than the men of the time of Henry the Eighth were pure Anglo-Saxons. Just as in 1500, a little over 400 years after the Norman conquest, the English race was a mixture partly Norman, so 400 years after the Roman conquest the British race was a mixture partly Roman.

These Roman-Britons are our ancestors, and, even if we allow as many as three generations to the century, they are only separated from us by about 45 generations, and in many cases we must be much nearer to them than that. In other words, the blood of the Romans has only passed through 45 persons in reaching our veins, and so short a sequence is not sufficient in itself to have produced much change in the nature of that blood.

True, there afterwards came the Anglo-Saxons and Normans to add to the mixture; but many an Englishman of today must be directly descended in the male line from some Spanish legionary, or Thracian cavalryman, or Numidian archer, or Syrian merchant such as our friend Barates of Palmyra and Newcastle. The blood of the heterogeneous Romans is in our veins; and, remembering this, let us look with new eyes at the astonishing mass of remains these ancestors of ours have left behind them in this country to tell us of the days when we were proud to call ourselves Romans.