Roman Britain Source Evaluation

A breakdown of the set literary sources for this ancient history AS unit.



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Britain in the Roman Empire Source Evaluations:
In order of Use:
Roman views of preconquest Britain: Caesars' invasions, Celtic
societies and links up with Rome up to AD 43:
Julius Caesars' The Conquest of Gaul:
· An account from his perspective detailing his campaigns in Gaul, Germany and the
invasion of Britain in 55BC and 54 BC
· Commentaries always written with Roman audience in mind, and from around 59
BC ­ 52 BC he regularly sent them back to Rome to promote himself and his cause.
· Underlying Roman bias present throughout, all nonRomans are characterised as
barbarians by virtue of being nonRoman, affects his judgement of their culture.
· He does write from a position of firsthand experience
· These chapters ultimately written to entertain audience and regale them
with tales of the oddness and ferocity of the barbarian tribes. This helps
improve his reputation back home and ensures popular support for his
Gallic campaigns.
4.2038 Ethnographical chapters and 55 BC invasion of Britain: Caesar gives an
anthropological account of the tribes of Gall and Germany, picking up on the
strangeness or unRomanness of the tribes which made it easier for the
people back home to accept them as the enemy. Caesar characterised the
Galls as being impulsive, emotional, fickle, credulous, prone to panic and
scatterbrained, Romans broadly viewed all nonRomans through this lens.
Caesar states that he launched his expedition to Britain "because he knew that in almost
all the Gallic campaigns the Gauls had received reinforcements from the Britons" [4.20]
which could not have been Caesars' actual motivation for going to Britain. His more
important motive was to secure the glory of leading an army to victory in a distant and
unknown land (which would significantly raise his standing in the triumvirate.) The wealth
of Britain at this time was reputed to have been greater than it really was, and the motive
of this invasion is likely to have been to reconnoitre the island in preparation for the
subsequent invasion in 54 BC.
We can see a lack of preparation on the part of Caesar, perhaps suggesting a spur of the
moment invasion, or as Caesar puts it, a reconnaissance mission to test the island's
inhabitants and find out about the island itself and it's landing places. Particularly was his
lack of awareness about the weather, which cost him many of his ships.
Caesar gets no small degree of fame and fortune from his attempt, as "the senate decreed
a public thanksgiving of twenty days" [4.38] though we see that in his haste to return the
following year with a bigger and more prepared force that he was eager to get a full victory
behind him, fully aware of it's political implications.
5.823 The 54 BC Invasion:
Caesar returns a year later with better supplies, he brings five legions and 2000 cavalry in
the 600 new ships he had built, specifically designed for landing on Britatin's beaches. He
also left a rearguard to man the port he sailed from in Gaul, to avoid a repeat of the
Morini's betrayal.

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Caesar's account of the second invasion similarly contains some ethnographic study on
the British natives Caesar erroneously notes that the "tribes of the interior do not grow
corn" [5.14] and eat only milk and meat showing his unreliability or use of
uncorroborated rumour.
Ciceros' Letters to Atticus:
· Letters from Marcus Tullius Cicero, a politician and friend of Caesar, to his closest
friend, Titus Pomponius Atticus.…read more

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Cassius Dio's Roman History:
· Greek born Roman senator living in the second and third centuries AD, long after
Hadrian's reign.
On Augustus:
We learn from Dio that Augustus wanted to undertake a British expedition in emulation of
his (adoptive) father. He made it as far as Gall, but the situation there was unstable, as the
civil wars immediately followed the Roman conquest there.…read more

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Roman bias surrounding socalled barbarian from the celts, they are again erroneously
depicted as having very little agricultural knowledge.
'Horace Odes' and Tibullus' poem:
· Horace, a court poet during Augustus' rule was almost certainly reflecting official
policy in his poetry
Horace presents Augustus' wouldbe invasion of Britain as inevitable, that he "will be
recognised as a god upon earth when he has added the Britons [...] to the empire.…read more

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Cassius Dio on Claudius:
According to Dio's account the Claudian invasion was primarily motivated by the request of
Verica, the deposed British king, in returning his kingdom. This would provide Claudius
with a clear motive to come to Britain to 'restore order.'
We know from Dio that Aulus Plautius faced difficulty getting his men to cross the channel,
mutinying at the though of "campaigning outside the limits of the civilised world" showing
not only the mysteriousness of Britain but also the Roman view of Barbarianism.…read more

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He wanted a real triumph and set his sights on Britain as "no one had attempted
an invasion since the time of Caesar"capitalising on his divine ancestors' glory.
Seutonius seems quite critical of Claudius in his writingpossibly dismissing his invasion as
a blatant play for prestige, indicating potential bias against him.
He is critical of the speed at which he returned to Rome "where he celebrated his Triumph
with the greatest pomp.…read more

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News of the rebellion reached Paulinus whilst he was still on Anglesey, the Iceni king,
Prasutagas, had died and in his will "he made the Emperor [Nero] his coheir together with
his two daughters, thinking that by such submission his kingdom and family would be kept
from any harm."
Instead, the "Iceni were deprived of their ancestral property as if the Romans had been
given the whole kingdom" and "his wife, Boudicca was whipped and their daughters
raped.…read more

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Suetonius: Nero:
Nero is shown to be uninterested in expanding the empire and "he even contemplated
withdrawing the army from Britain, and only desisted from his purpose because he did not
wish to appear to belittle the glory of his father" showing once again the importance of
public image to the JulioClaudian emperors.
Expansion north under Agricola and earlier governors of Britain:
Tacitus' Histories:
· Published c.…read more

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The SHA also refers to the construction of Hadrian's Wall following his reforming of the
army and arrival in Britain. The wall, eighty miles long, is described by the author as being
"to separate the barbarians and the Romans," though this outlook of a linear barrier to
keep the barbarians out is much more contemporary of his time of writing in the 4th century
and does not necessarily reflect the actual purpose of the wall.…read more


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