The Romans Are Coming! When Rome Went To Britain

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The Romans Are Coming!

When Rome Went To Britain

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imageMatt Dunham/APimage

A bronze helmet that is roughly 2,000 years old was discovered by a metal detector in Britain. It was worn by a Roman soldier during the time after the Roman Empire had conquered Britain.

LONDON, England (Achieve3000, August 22, 2012). In May 2010, a man was scouring the English landscape with a metal detector when he came across something interesting. It wasn't a stash of money. It was something even more valuable—a bronze helmet dating back roughly 2,000 years. The helmet recently sold for more than $3 million.

The helmet was made between the first and second centuries of the Common Era (CE), for use by the Roman cavalry. It consists of a facemask and a headpiece. Around the mask, there is a ring of curly hair, and on top of the helmet, there is a perched griffin. (A griffin is an imaginary creature with the head and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion.) The helmet was not used for combat, but for ceremonial purposes. A skilled or high-ranking horseman would have worn it during sporting events or parades.

So what was a Roman cavalry helmet doing in Britain? It dates back to a time when Britain was part of the Roman Empire. During this era, the empire stretched past Rome on both sides, across both Europe and the Middle East. The Romans expanded their holdings by invading. They conquered much of what is now England in about 51 CE, after years of war with the tribes of Britain.

The Romans brought several innovations to Britain, some of which they had taken from Greece, India, and other civilizations, and improved upon. Before the Roman invasion, Britain had paths and a few long-distance dirt roads. The Romans built a complex network of stone-paved roads that made communication and trade easier. Expert surveyors laid out the roads in the most efficient way possible, avoiding difficult terrain while linking villages and towns. In addition, Roman engineers introduced bridges to Britain. Prior to this innovation, Britons had crossed rivers by identifying shallow areas called fords and crossing them on animals or in vehicles, but this was dangerous. Bridge construction made travel easier and encouraged the growth of towns and cities.

The Romans also brought their ideas about cleanliness to Britain. Believing that bathing was important for good health, they built public baths that were accessible to nearly everyone. They also installed flushing toilets, along with sewer systems to keep human waste away from the population.

The Romans invaded Britain partly because the British Isles were rich in resources, particularly metal. Although Britons had mined these metals before the Romans arrived, they did not have the technology needed to exploit their mines fully. The Romans mined Britain on a large scale and used the metal to make coinage, weapons, and tools that were used throughout the empire.

Britain remained part of the Roman Empire until about 400 CE, but even today, remnants of the Romans are scattered around England. Modern-day Britons pass by the ruins of Roman buildings, roads, and baths every day. Still, Britain was part of the Roman Empire so long ago that objects like the recently found cavalry helmet are extremely rare. Only three such helmets have ever been found in England.

"When the helmet was first brought to Christie's [auction house] and I saw it firsthand, I could scarcely believe my eyes," said Georgiana Aitken, head of antiquities at Christie's. "This is an exceptional object."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

The Romans in Britain

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The Roman Empire had the most powerful army of its day. However, conquering Britain proved to be a challenge. The following is a historical account describing how the ancient Romans invaded the ancient Britons in an attempt to add Britain to the Roman Empire. Included below the account is a timeline titled "Roman Conquest of Britain."
A Superpower
By the fourth century of the Common Era (CE), Rome was a superpower. For hundreds of years, Roman leaders had invaded and conquered the lands surrounding Italy. By this time, the Roman Empire covered much of southern Europe. At various points, this supersized territory stretched east into Asia Minor and south to northern Africa. Gaul, which is now France, was part of the empire, too. But Britain, the island that lay just across the channel from Gaul, remained out of the Romans' grasp—until the year 43 CE.
Rome Versus Britain
If you were keeping score, you'd think Britain should have been an easy place for the Romans to conquer. Britain was relatively primitive, inhabited by tribes that were often at war with one another. The people lived in small thatch dwellings and farmed the land. But they knew how to mine ore, a valuable metal. An ancient Briton might have thought he had it pretty good—unless he traveled to ancient Rome. Although there were plenty of places throughout the Roman Empire that looked just as primitive as Britain, Rome was held together by an organized government and social class system. In the empire, there were nobles, merchants, craftsmen, farmers, and laborers, and all were dependent on one another. Some Roman cities were surprisingly advanced. The Romans were expert engineers who built sewers and aqueducts, keeping waste water and drinkable water separate—a key element of a healthy society. And most importantly, when expansion was concerned, Rome had an army. Its soldiers, some of whom had been born into poor families, eagerly joined the army in exchange for certain privileges. Many of them were even given land upon retirement. The large Roman army seemed unbeatable, especially compared with the warring tribes of Britain.

Public Domain

Gaius Julius Caesar, a dictator, played an important role in the development of the Roman Empire. This sculpture may be the only carving made during Caesar's lifetime that remains.

A Tough Fight
Despite the odds, the Romans had a difficult time subduing Britain. In 55 BCE, the Roman Emperor Julius Caesar invaded Britain, arriving by boat from the east, hoping to earn acclaim by invading this foreign island. The British tribes were accustomed to fighting and remained wary of invasions—and watching from the cliffs of Dover, they saw Caesar's ships coming. The Romans had a few tricks up their sleeves. They formed alliances with some of the tribes and enlisted them to fight their enemies alongside Roman soldiers. Within days, the Britons were asking Caesar for a truce. The Roman army may have been able to fight the British, but the soldiers were not prepared for the weather in the region. Storms battered Caesar's ships and eventually drove the soldiers out.

But Caesar wasn't finished. He returned to Britain in 54 BCE, this time accompanied by hundreds of ships and thousands of soldiers. It was enough to intimidate the Britons so that he could gain a foothold on the coast and head inland. A few miles in, Caesar met resistance from the British. Still, the warriors were no match for the huge Roman army, with its armor and sophisticated battle formations. As the Romans advanced, the Britons staged attacks and then retreated. Meanwhile, though, yet another gale formed in the sea, damaging several of the Roman ships. Increasingly frustrated, Caesar eventually abandoned Britain.


Public Domain

Claudius was the fourth emperor of the Roman Empire. He ruled from 41 to 54 CE.

It would be nearly a century before Rome would again try to conquer Britain. By then, Claudius was the emperor, and he was looking for a military campaign that would win the hearts of the Roman people. At first, Claudius stayed behind, sending an officer named Aulus Plautius to lead the invasion. The Roman soldiers did not encounter a great deal of resistance when they arrived on the British coast. The British tribes were squabbling among themselves and had trouble forming a united front against their invaders. Because of this division among the tribes, Plautius found that his large, organized army was capable of putting down the British resistance. Yet the British were extremely persistent. Many of the tribes fought back repeatedly, even after several defeats.Eventually, Plautius sent for Claudius. The emperor stayed in Britain for only 16 days—that was all he needed. He had brought with him heavy artillery and got 11 tribes to surrender. Having made this progress, he returned to Rome.

Claudius put a Roman footprint on Britain, but he didn't conquer it entirely. For the next several years, the Romans would continue to fight their way inland, encountering resistant tribes along the way. It would take decades more until all of Britain came under Roman rule.

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Use Context Clues to define the following terms:

  1. persistent

  1. encounter

  1. aqueducts

  1. innovation

  1. exploit

  1. antiquitiesBottom of Form

  1. Take a look at "When Rome Went to Britain." How was the Roman cavalry helmet discovered in Britain, and what was its likely use? Include information from the text in your answer.

  1. According to "When Rome Went to Britain," what resources made the conquest of Britain of interest to the Romans? How were these resources used throughout the Roman Empire? Include information from the text in your answer.

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1. Take a look at "When Rome Went to Britain." Which of these were results of the new ideas the Romans brought to Britain? Circle all correct answers.

  1. A new system of laws was created

  2. Places where people lived were cleaner and healthier

  3. Communication and trade were improved

  4. Travel was made safer and easier

  5. People were better educated

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2. Take a look at the historical account. Which of these best summarizes the difference between Caesar and Claudius' attempts to conquer Britain?

  •  Caesar tried to conquer Britain twice but was defeated by weather conditions; Claudius tried only once and was able to subdue several tribes.

  •  Caesar tried only once to conquer Britain; Claudius sent a general in his place and then went to Britain to subdue the tribes once and for all.

  •  Caesar managed to conquer Britain but soon lost it in a tribal retaliation; Claudius managed to conquer Britain for Rome for hundreds of years.

  •  Caesar was unable to subdue the tribes of Britain; Claudius encountered weather conditions that destroyed his ships.

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3. Which words from the historical account are synonyms for the verb subdue? Circle the correct answers.






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4. Think about what you read in the historical account. What can you infer about the reason why Claudius wanted to conquer Britain?

  •  Claudius wanted to determine if his heavy artillery and weaponry would prove effective in Britain's stormy seas.

  •  Claudius wanted to boost his popularity in the eyes of his subjects so that he could be a more effective and powerful emperor.

  •  Claudius wanted to help make peace among the warring tribes of Britain by forming alliances with some of them.

  •  Claudius wanted to build sewers and aqueducts in Britain since they had proved to be a key element of a healthy society.Bottom of Form

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5. Think about the text structure of the historical account. The text is organized mainly by __________.

  •  Problem and solution

  •  Comparison

  •  Chronology

  •  Cause and effectBottom of Form

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