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Britain Through Roman Eyes

February 26, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 127

Julius Caesar himself, leader of the Roman legions during the Gallic Wars, devoted a sizable amount of his Commentarri de Bello Gallica to the subject of Britannia. Rome evidently saw Britain as a potential source of raw materials, as well as the crafted materials of the skilled British craftsmen. Caesar invaded Britain on two separate occasions, both in 55 A.D. and 54 A.D. He did not set up any occupation of Britain, but he instilled enough fear in the Briton tribes that they continued sending tribute payments to Rome for 100 years afterward.

Tacitus observes in his writings that "The deified Julius, the very first Roman who entered Britain with an army, though by a successful engagement he struck terror into the inhabitants and gained possession of the coast, must be regarded as having indicated rather than transmitted the acquisition to future generations."

Caesar accomplished the introduction of the potential resource that Britain could be to the future generations. A Roman historian writing roughly 30 years after Caesar died was Strabo. He wrote a work titled Geographica. This work was a compendium of all the historical and geographical knowledge that Strabo had acquired during his travels around the Roman world. He addressed the subject of Britain as that of a foreign land, for it was a foreign land to the Romans.

Caesar mentioned the Druids of Britain and Gaul as religious figures among the tribal peoples, and Pliny the Elder described a Druid ritual involving mistletoe, an oak tree, and the sacrifice of two male bulls. To the Romans, the Britons were a strange and foreign people, although the Romans most likely exaggerated the pagan characteristics of the Britons. Rome claimed them to be cannibals and savages, but no evidence to support those claims has been found.

Strabo mentioned the landscape of Britain as being covered with forests, where it rained prodigiously, and the sun was seen rarely. Strabo also mentioned the potential resources of Britain, its grain, cattle, gold, silver, and iron. The tribes of Britain that had remained loyal to Rome were held in great favor by the Romans. To Rome, the loyal tribes were a source of free income, and they hoped it would continue indefinitely.

Alas, the serenity could only last so long, and the tribes began to bristle under the financial burden of the Romans. The main tribe that was allied to Rome was ousted from power by other Briton tribes. Rome would have none of that, and the emperor readied his legions to set sail for Britain once again.

The author maintains a blog covering a vast array of British History topics. Be sure to visit for many more topics of British History.

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