• What was Britain like before the Romans?

    Before the Romans invaded, Celts lived in Britain. There were lots of different tribes ruled by kings or chiefs. Chiefs often fought one another. A chief would lead his warriors into battle in chariots pulled by horses. For defence against enemies, they built forts on hilltops. These hill-forts had earth banks and wooden walls.

    In Celtic Britain there were no towns. Most people were farmers living in villages. They made round houses from wood and mud, with Thatched roofs. There were no roads. People travelled by boats on rivers, or along muddy paths. Some British Celts crossed the sea to trade with other Celts in the Roman Empire.

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  • Why did the Romans invade?

    The Romans ruled Gaul (Gallia they called it). Today it's France. In 55 B.C. the Roman General Julius Caesar led his army across the sea from Gaul to Britain. He wanted to make Britain part of Rome's empire. The British Celts fought bravely, and Caesar soon went back to Gaul.

    Next year, in 54 B.C. the Romans came back. This time Caesar had 30,000 soldiers. They were surprised to see chariots. The Romans had stopped using chariots in battles. Caesar captured a Celtic hill-fort. Then, again, he went away. He did not think Britain was worth a long war, and he wanted to get back to Rome.

    Nearly a hundred years later, in A.D. 43, the Romans returned. Emperor Claudius sent an army to invade Britain. The army had four legions . This time the Romans conquered the southern half of Britain, and made it part of the Roman Empire.

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  • How did the British fight back?

    Some Celts made friends with the Romans, in return for keeping their kingdoms. Their leaders were called 'client kings'. They agreed to obey Roman laws, and pay Roman taxes. One client king was Cogidumnus, the ruler of the Atrebates of southern Britain. The Roman palace at Fishbourne (West Sussex) was probably built for him. He was a 'Roman Briton'.

    Other British leaders fought the Romans. At Maiden Castle (a hill-fort near Dorchester in Dorset) archaeologists found evidence of a battle which the Romans had won. Buried on the site were the skeletons of young men, some of which had cut marks of Roman swords on the bones.

    The best British leader was Caratacus, but he was beaten in A.D. 51. The Romans took him as a prisoner to Rome, but treated him well.

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Fun Facts
  • After winning a battle the Celts would chop off the heads of their enemies, and take them home.

  • The palace at Fishbourne had about 100 rooms. Most rooms had floors made of mosaics, with pictures and patterns made of hundreds of tiny stones.

  • When the Romans arrived, they found some Britons kept sacred geese. Nobody was allowed to eat the birds.

  • The Romans had their own favourite story about geese saving the city of Rome. The geese cackled when enemies tried to climb the city walls, and warned the Roman guards.

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Jump to: A-D | E-G | H-L | M-O | P-Z

A to D

Acropolis [a-CROP-olis]
The Acropolis is a large hill in the centre of Athens. On top of it were many temples and other buildings, the remains of which can be seen today.
amphitheatre
A place like a stadium, where Romans went to watch animals and people fighting.
aqueduct
A system of pipes and channels used to bring water into towns.
archaeological site
A place such as a ruined fort studied by archaeologists.
archaeologists
People who study the past by looking at old things, often found underground.
archaeology
Studying the past by looking at old things, often found underground.
Aristophanes [aris-TOF-a-neez]
Lived in Athens in the 5th century BC. He wrote comedies for the theatre in Athens.
Aspasia [as-PAY-zia]
Was a woman to taught public speaking in Athens. She was the partner of the famous general Perikles. Aspasia had much more independence than most women in Athens.
barbarian
A person who lived outside the Roman Empire, seen by Romans as violent and uncivilized.
basilica
A large building where town business was carried out (like a modern Town Hall).
assembly
The Assembly was the public meeting of the giovernment of the city. All citizens could take part and vote there.
Athena
The patron goddess of Athens. A huge statue of Athena stood outside the Parthenon.
Attica [A-tik-a]
The region around Athens.
aulos [OW-los]
A wind instrument with a reed similar to a modern oboe.
capital city
Main city of a country, the centre of government.
catapult
A machine that threw rocks or burning tar at the enemies. In Latin it was called an onager.
cavalry
Soldiers who fight on horseback.
chariot
Cart with two wheels pulled by horses. Romans raced chariots, and Celtic warriors rode into battle on them.
celts
People who lived in Europe, including Britain, and who fought the Romans.
centurion
An officer commanding about 80 legionaries.
citizen
Person with special rights such as the right to vote and own property in the Roman Empire. Only men could be full Roman citizens.
cohort
There were ten cohorts in a legion.
crossbow
Weapon like a bow and arrow, only the string is pulled back by turning a handle and the bow is fired by releasing a trigger. In Latin it was called a ballista
druids
The priests of the old Celtic religion.

E to G

election
Process where people vote to choose the people they want to be in charge.
empire
A large area with many people ruled by one strong leader, called an emperor.
forum
An open space in the middle of a town for markets and meeting people (like a market square). It was the centre of Roman town life.
fort
A building with walls to keep out enemies, used by soldiers.
foundations
Firm base for a road or building.
general
leader of an army, the soldier giving the orders to everyone else.
gladiator
A person trained to fight other gladiators or animals in amphitheatres.
governor
The ruler of Roman Britain, who worked for the Roman Emperor.

H to L

hypocaust
Roman central heating. Hot air from a furnace (fire) flowed through gaps between walls and flooring
latin
The language spoken and written by the Romans
legate
The officer commanding a whole legion.
legion
The main battle unit of the Roman army, its soldiers were called legionaries. There were between 4,000 and 6,000 legionaries in a legion.
legend
A story made up about people in the past

M to O

mosaic
A pattern made from coloured pieces of stones and pottery.
myth
A made-up story, often about gods and spirits, told to explain things such as why the sun rises and sets every day.

P to Z

pension
Money paid to a retired worker or soldier.
picts
people who lived in Scotland
republic
A country without a king, queen or emperor. The Roman republic was ruled by the elected Senate. Most countries today are republics.
sacred
Something that is believed to be holy and to have a special connection with a god or gods.
scroll
Roman book, written on a long strip of paper rolled around a stick.
senate
The Roman government, made up of senators.
senator
A person elected to the Roman Senate who helped run the government. Some countries today, like the U.S.A., have senators.
sewage
Dirty water and toilet waste which flows into sewers from drains and toilets.
sewers
Pipes or tunnels that carry away sewage.
slave
Someone who can be sold to another person to work for nothing. A slave is not free and has no rights.
slingshot
Weapon for throwing stones, made from a long strip of leather and whirled around by the thrower.
standard
Roman army emblem, a pole with special decorations (such as a metal eagle) carried by a soldier. Each legion had its own standards.
stirrups
the metal holder for a rider's foot. Attached to a horse's saddle by a leather strap.
strigil
A metal object used in Roman baths to scrape sweat, dirt and excess oil off.
stylus
A metal pen for scratching words into soft wax on wooden tablets.
taxes
Money or items taken by the government from people, to pay for things like the army, wars, emperor's palaces and building roads.
Thatched roofs
Roofs of buildings made from bundles of straw or reeds.
treadmill
Machine like a big wheel inside which slaves walked round, to turn the machine.
tribe
A group of people who live in one part of a country and are ruled by a chief.
tutor
A teacher who gives lessons to a student at home.
underworld
A gloomy place where Romans believed your soul went after you died.
villa
A large house in the country. Some Roman villas were farmhouses and some were like palaces.
warrior
A trained soldier, someone used to fighting in wars.
wreath
A ring or crown made of leaves or flowers.