Romans

The Roman Invasion

The Romans introduced writing, and Latin borrowings began to show up in the Brittonic language.

The effective conquest by Rome started in 43 AD. By around 70 AD all of Britain save northern Scotland had fallen under Roman rule. Known as the province of Brittania (probably from a Brittonic word similar to modern Welsh Prydain), the country was divided into numerous tribal sub-kingdoms made part of the Roman Empire through conquest or treaty.

Latin was the official language, Brittonic the language of daily life. The Romans introduced writing to Britain, which made the transmission of facts and memories much easier.

Indeed, writing made possible the recording of events - which is why historians refer to the period before Rome as pre-history. Before the Empire Brittonic speakers wrote little if nothing down. Instead they relied on an oral tradition, maintained by a professional priest caste popularly known as druids.

These men may have used rhyming poetry as a device for passing on this oral testimony down the generations. According to ancient Greek and Roman historians the druids had the ability to remember vast amounts of information.

The Romans made their presence felt in every corner of the new province. They built forts, towns and amphitheatres, which in time attracted the native British people. The Latin words which entered the Brittonic vocabulary are still visible in modern-day Welsh.

These borrowed words are usually for things foreign to the British before the conquest, such as 'pont' (in Latin 'pons', a bridge), 'bresych' ('brassica', a cabbage), and 'eglwys' ('ecclesia', a church).

In Wales the Romans faced a mighty struggle to subdue the native tribes, particularly the Silures of the South East. After 70 AD they managed to pacify them, and after building a fort at Caerleon (Isca Silurum) to keep the peace, they established a town at present day Caerwent which they called Venta Silurum, or Town of the Silures. With the Latin 'v' pronounced as 'w', the memory of Rome was preserved when Venta became the post-Roman kingdom of Gwent.

By then the Brittonic speakers faced new invaders from three points of the compass. Commonly know as the Barbarians, these different tribes were to have a profound influence on the languages spoken in Britain. One group in particular was responsible for a language which much later would dominate the world.


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