Five things we get wrong about the Roman conquest of Britain

Betrayal, conspiracy and death… just another average day in Roman Britain.

The big screen has shaped our idea of what life back then was like as much as history books. Now, the rather gruesome tale of how it all started with the Roman invasion of Britain in 43AD has been made into a film.

Roman soldier with shield
An army of 40,000 Roman soldiers invaded Britain in 43 AD

Based on the popular book series by Terry Deary spawning a hit TV series, famous for its musical numbers and tongue-in-cheek approach to the past, Horrible Histories: The Movie - Rotten Romans hits UK cinemas on 26 July.

But why did the Romans invade Britain? And who were the Celts, the wild warrior men and women who fiercely opposed them? We look at five things you may not know about the Roman invasion of Britain.

1. It was mainly for show

Why invade Britain? Rome’s rulers were already the richest men in history and had a huge empire and Britain wasn’t any real threat.

It turns out Rome had a new emperor who just wanted to show off a bit.

Emperor Claudius had taken the throne after the assassination of Caligula and needed to show his power to the Senate.

The Romans had to invade somewhere, so why not Iron Age Blighty!

Roman soldiers stood in a line
Julius Cesear also attempted a British invasion in 55 and 54BC

2. They had two goes at it

The Celts didn’t make it easy. The Romans may have finally beaten them in 43AD, but this wasn’t the first time they had tried.

A century earlier, in 55 and 54BC, Julius Cesear also had a decent attempt at a British invasion - and he even instated his mate and Rome-friendly king Mandubracius to help.

But the Celts wouldn’t give up without a decent fight. Determined tribes battled fiercely with Cesear’s army, but it was only thanks to an uprising in Gaul (modern-day France), that they decided to turn back - to go and fight them.

So it was left to Claudius to finish the job, and a century later he sent an army of 40,000 professional soldiers under the command of Aulus Plautius back to British shores.

This time the Romans won and stayed put for over 360 years.

Lincoln, England
Lincoln, England developed from the Roman town of Lindum Colonia.

3. There wasn’t mass migration

The Romans brought lots of new ideas and ways of living to Britain - everything from towns and roads to reading and counting - but there wasn’t a mass migration of Roman people to the country.

There was about three million people living Britain at that time, and the Roman army only added a few percent - but they still managed to change the Iron Age way of life to a distinctly Roman one.

The local people adopted the Roman way of doing things and it was actually the locals (well, the rich ones) that built the Roman-style towns and villas.

And by 300AD almost everyone in Britain was considered both culturally and legally Roman - even if they still spoke their own language.

Roman on horseback
Roman roads were built on high grounds to reduce risk of ambushes

4. Not all of their roads were straight

Before the Romans came, Britain’s roads were pretty rubbish, muddy tracks.

So when the Romans arrived they decided to sort it out and built over 10,000 miles of new roads.

The Romans knew the shortest distance from one place to another was a straight line so they made all their roads as straight as possible to get around quickly.

But, while the myth suggests they just drew straight lines across the landscape, they actually aimed for the high ground to reduce risk of ambushes and to help with drainage - and they did weave around large obstacles, such as mountains and rivers.

And if you’ve ever driven along the A1, you can thank the Romans for the quick journey, as they first built this direct route between London, Lincoln and York.

Boudicca statue outside Parliament
Boudicca led a revolt against the Roman invasion

5. The Celts were not just one group

When the Romans invaded Britain the country was a made up of different Iron Age tribes known collectively as the Celts.

They shared common culture and heritage - but also liked to fight each other. That changed when the Romans arrive, as they now had a common enemy to fight.

The most famous Celt is probably Boudicca, the ancient British queen of the Iceni tribe who led a revolt against the Romans.

Boudicca’s name means different things to different people. Some saw her as a brave warrior, Celtic superwoman and feminist icon. But when she rose against Roman rule she also killed thousands of innocent people and led her army into a bloody massacre.

After she lost she died soon after, with people saying she poisoned herself. Whatever the truth, her statue stands outside Parliament and she is immortalised as one of Britain’s first heroic patriots.

Want to experience the Rotten Romans and Cut-throat-Celts go head-to-head?

Play these all new gruesome mini-games from Horrible Histories!