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Romano-British culture describes the culture that arose in Britain under the Roman Empire following the Roman conquest of AD 43 and the creation of the province of Britannia. It arose as a fusion of the imported Roman culture with that of the indigenous Britons, a people Celtic in language and custom. It survived the 5th century Roman departure from Britain.

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Arrival of the Romans

Roman troops, mainly from nearby Germanic provinces, under Emperor Claudius invaded what is now England in AD 43. Over the next few years the province of Britannia was formed, eventually including the whole of England and Wales and parts of Scotland.[1] As a result Roman businessmen and officials came to Britannia to settle by the thousands along with their families. Roman troops from all across the Empire as far as Spain, North Africa, and Egypt, but mainly from the Germanic provinces of Batavia and Frisia (modern Netherlands, Belgium, and the Rhineland area of Germany) were garrisoned in Roman towns, many taking local Britons for wives and thus intermarrying. This diversified Britannia's cultures and religions, while the populace remained mainly Celtic with a Roman way of life.

Later, Britain was independent of the rest of the Roman Empire for a number of years, first as a part of the Gallic Empire, then a couple of decades later under the usurpers Carausius and Allectus.

Christianity came to Britain in the 3rd century. One early figure was Saint Alban, who was martyred near the Roman town of Verulamium, on the site of the modern St Albans, by tradition during the reign of the emperor Decius.

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Roman citizenship

One vector of Roman influence into British life was the grant of Roman citizenship.[2] At first this was granted very selectively: to the council members of certain classes of towns, whom Roman practice made citizens; to veterans, either legionaries or soldiers in auxiliary units; and to a number of natives whose patrons were able to obtain it for them. Some of the local Brittonic kings, such as Togidubnus, received citizenship in this manner. However, the number of citizens steadily increased over the years, as people inherited citizenship and more grants were made. Eventually in 212, everybody except slaves and freed slaves were granted citizenship by the Constitutio Antoniniana.

The other inhabitants of Britain, who did not enjoy citizenship, the Peregrini, continued to live under the laws of their ancestors. The principal handicaps were that they could not own land with a Latin title, serve as a legionary in the army (although they could serve in an auxiliary unit, and become a Roman citizen upon discharge), and, in general, inherit from a Roman citizen. But for the majority of British inhabitants, who were peasants tied to the soil, citizenship would not dramatically alter the daily operation of their lives.

Roman withdrawal

Britannia became one of the most loyal provinces of the Empire until its decline, when Britannia's manpower started to be diverted by civil wars, eventually leading Emperor Honorius to order Roman troops back home to help fight the invading hordes. Constantine III initially rebelled against Honorius and took further troops to Gaul, but was later recognised as a joint emperor.

After the withdrawal of Roman troops, the Romano-British were commanded by Honorius to "look to their own defences". A written plea to General Flavius Aëtius, known as The Groan of the Britons, may have brought some brief naval assistance from the fading Roman Empire of the West, but otherwise they were on their own.

Post-Roman period

British settlements in the 6th century

In the early stages the lowlands and cities may have had some organisation or "council" and the Bishop of London appears to have played a key role, but they were divided politically as former soldiers, mercenaries, nobles, officials and farmers declared themselves kings, fighting amongst each other and leaving Britain open to invasion. Two factions may have emerged: a pro-Roman faction and an independence faction. The one leader at this time known to us by name is Vortigern, who may have held the title of "High King". The depredations of the Picts from the north and Scotti (Scots) from Ireland forced the Britons to seek help from pagan Germanic tribes of Angles, Saxons and Jutes, who then decided to settle in Britain. Some of the Romano-British migrated to Brittany, Galicia,[3] and possibly Ireland.

The Anglo-Saxons obtained control of eastern England in the 5th century. In the mid-6th century they started expanding into the Midlands, then in the 7th century they expanded again into the south-west and the north of England. The unconquered parts of southern Britain, notably Wales, retained their Romano-British culture, in particular retaining Christianity.

Some Anglo-Saxon histories (in context) refer to the Romano-British people by the blanket term "Welsh". The term Welsh is an Old English word meaning 'foreigner', referring to the old inhabitants of southern Britain.[4] Historically, Wales and the south-western peninsula were known respectively as North Wales and West Wales.[5] The Celtic north of England and southern Scotland was referred to as Hen Ogledd ("old north").

The struggles of this period have given rise to the legends of Uther Pendragon and King Arthur. There are many theories, but it is sometimes said that Ambrosius Aurelianus, the leader of the Romano-British forces, was the model for the former, and that Arthur's court of Camelot is an idealised Welsh and Cornish memory of pre-Saxon Romano-British civilisation.

See also

References


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