Friday, July 27, 2012

The British Under Roman Rule: A Study in Colonialism

The Roman invasion of Britain divided its constituent kingdoms and tribes. Some supported the Romans, others fiercely opposed their occupation and suffered dreadfully as a consequence. In the face of continuing resentment at their occupation the Romans, argues Graham Webster, changed from a policy of repression, and began to pay careful attention to the feelings and aspirations of their British subjects.

One has to go back to Julius Caesar to understand Rome’s interest in Britain and the attitudes of the tribes of south-eastern Britain to Rome. Whatever may have prompted Caesar to carry out his expeditions, their partial success was accepted in Rome as a definite conquest. The effect in Britain was a polarising into allies and enemies of the tribes with which Rome had been in contact. Caesar lists among his allies the Trinovantes of the Colne peninsula and the Iceni of Norfolk, while the anti-Roman forces were the tribes of Kent and a tribe on the north bank of the Thames, the name of which is lost but whose chief, Cassivellaunus, was given command of the British forces against Rome.

This division of the tribes cut across their earlier affiliations and origins since most of those on both sides of the Thames Estuary had been Gallo-Belgic migrants crossing the Channel and settling in these areas, mainly as a consequence of Caesar’s advance into Gaul in 39 BC and possibly earlier. Thus, the Trinovantes, with their tribal centre at Camulodunon and their neighbours to the west nucleated in Verulamion and Braughing, appear to be recent arrivals to Britain, and more or less contemporary movements had brought others into north and eastern Kent from the Seine Valley. The tribes that had emerged from much earlier migrations were the Iceni and that of Cassivellaunus, who was clearly hostile to the newcomers, seeing them as a threat round the northern borders of his kingdom.