How Did the Ancient Romans Regards Britain?

How did the Romans regard Brittania, ca. AD 200-300? Was it considered a desirable place to live? If you were a general, was it a good place to be posted? I read that by the 2nd century, Roman Britain was pretty well settled-and big towns like Londonium and Bath had all the amenities-public baths, brothels, theatres, and eating houses. Of course, the climate wasn’t anything to write home about! So, was an assignment to Brittania something that a nobleman would want to accept? Or was it the equivalent of being posted to North Dakota?

Cold, violent, and always rebelling.

Here’s a pretty good historical novel.

One of the sources my ancient rome textbook mentioned was a letter from a soldier to his mother. He was posted in brittain, and thanked her for the warm wool sock and asked her please to send more. I wish I was making that up.

Not really relevant, but funny as hell.

“Your Majesty, Britain is revolting!”

I can’t imagine it would be a great place to be sent as a soldier, but as a general, I bet you could do a lot worse. After all, a lot of future emperors got their start there. (Of course, maybe it was a case of “I’m getting the hell out of here if I have to take over the whole damn empire to do it!”)

Just one sock?

I’d want more, too.

They probably thought it was a shithole, to be honest with you. Britain was basically an expensive backwater that may or may not have actually made money for the Empire over the centuries.

I must be really tired, that’s my second screw-up today. I don’t recall the actual number of socks, but I’m pretty sure there were atleast two.

A great place to get tin (the main export item). Also, unlike the Continent, a great place to get a farm if you’re a veteran. Otherwise, as said, a rainy gloomy backwater, but like most rainy backwaters you could have a good life with enough money. Of course by this time there were Roman families in Britain that were CENTURIES old.

I wish I could find a good web page on it, but there was a really interesting documentary about the excavation of a medieval cemetery (Plague era) in Spitalfield. During the excavation they realized the medieval cemetery was built atop a Roman era cemetery, and one of the finds was a lead coffin that baffled archaeologists. It’s not known who the woman was, but DAMN she was somebody- the coffin was decorated with shells while the lead was still cooling, silver burial goods, etc., but with enough Romano-pagan imagery that they’re pretty sure she was from not just a Roman family but an incredibly rich Roman family. (Her burial gown alone- long long decomposed but enough fragments left that you can tell what it was made of- was jeweled and gold thread embroidered silk (consider the trek from Asia to Britain with 3rd century shipping and you’ll get an idea of how much it must have cost), and she seems to have been buried on a bed of leaves. It’s a major find and a major mystery because it fits nothing known of Roman funerary rites at the time (around the 3rd century IIRC). You can google lots of articles that mention this but none that go into much depth.

The only extant piece of writing from a woman’s hand during the Empire comes from N. England. It’s some added greeting on a birthday party invitation. So at least they made the best of it.

Septima, I’d love to read that letter. Any reference for it?

They regarded it as a backwards, wet, dismal island populated by barbarians. Much as we do today. :smiley:
I kid, I kid. But ralph, exactly what did you expect us to debate here?

See also Edward Rutherford’s Sarum and London – the stories span millennia, Michener-style, but each has a good segment on Roman Britain.

But wasn’t a Roman-era bikini found in an english well? If the Romans had bikini baes, Brittania can’t have been too bad. I was just wondering if Roamns actually immigrated to Britain-or was it a place that soldiers just went to, served their time, and left? What did Roman writers say about the place?

More like it was a place Roman soldiers went, served their time, and stayed. That’s how the Western Empire was colonized and Romanized. (The Eastern Empire was already full up with people before the Romans got it, which is why there are no Romance languages east of Italy – except for Romania, because the province of Dacia was barbaric and relatively sparsely inhabited when the Romans conquered it.)

It wasn’t as sophisticated as Greece/Levant. But it was most certainly more sophisticated than Gaul, Iberia, Brittania or Germania at the time of Roman conquest. The Dacians had a comparatively well-organized unitary state, which is one reason it was targeted. It was also at least partially urbanized - their capital had aqueducts to supply them with water. Also I’m suspicious that any somewhat urban society large enough to need piped water would qualify as “sparsely populated.”

Dacian did die out and Greek did not. But Greek ( and Aramaic and other languages that lingered in the east ) were widespread lingua francas. Dacian was a relative isolate, even more so as Thrace had been steadily Hellenizing for centuries and the plains to the north and south were occupied by Sarmatian pastoralists.

  • Tamerlane

At least one more.


I thought that was the joke.

I thought the joke was, he asked for her to send more socks, because she had only sent one sock.

I mean, that’s… that’s really kind of funny.

Wasn’t that the joke?

It wasn’t?



It should have been.


(Okay, so, what was supposed to be “funny as hell” about the letter, then?)

I don’t know if this is what Septima is thinking of, but the Vindolanda Tablets have been published in a searchable form online, and this one is a letter from a mother to her son saying she’s sent him socks, sandals and underpants.

The more socks, the more chances of being banned.