The history of WALES IN THE ROMAN ERA began in 48 AD with a military
invasion by the imperial governor of
Roman Britain . The conquest
would be completed by 78, and Roman rule would endure until the region
was abandoned in AD 383. Once the conquest was complete, the region
and the people living there would be a virtually anonymous part of
Roman Britain until the Roman departure.
Roman rule in
Wales was a military occupation, except for the
southern coastal region of
South Wales east of the
Gower Peninsula ,
where there is a legacy of Romanisation , and some southern sites such
Carmarthen . The only town in
Wales founded by the Romans, Caerwent
, is located in South Wales.
Wales was a rich source of mineral
wealth, and the Romans used their engineering technology to extract
large amounts of gold, copper, and lead, as well as modest amounts of
some other metals such as zinc and silver.
It is the Roman campaigns of conquest that are most widely known, due
to the spirited but unsuccessful defence of their homelands by two
native tribes, the
Silures and the
Ordovices . Aside from the many
Roman-related finds along the southern coast, Roman archaeological
Wales consist almost entirely of military roads and
* 1 Britain in AD 47
* 2 Invasion and conquest
Wales in Roman Society
* 3.1 Mining
* 3.2 Industrial production
* 3.3 Romanisation
* 3.4 Hill forts
* 4 Religion
* 5 Irish settlement
* 6 End of the Roman era
* 7 Legacy
* 8 Citations
* 9 References
* 10 External links
BRITAIN IN AD 47
On the eve of the Roman invasion of Wales, the Roman military under
Aulus Plautius was in control of all of southeastern Britain
as well as
Dumnonia , perhaps including the lowland English Midlands
as far as the
Dee Estuary and the
River Mersey , and having an
understanding with the
Brigantes to the north. They controlled most
of the islands centers of wealth, as well as much of its trade and
Wales the known tribes (the list may be incomplete) included the
Deceangli in the north, and the
the south. Archaeology combined with ancient Greek and Roman accounts
have shown that there was exploitation of natural resources, such as
copper, gold, tin, lead and silver at multiple locations in Britain,
including in Wales. Apart from this we have little knowledge of the
Welsh tribes of this era.
INVASION AND CONQUEST
Roman conquest of Britain
Roman conquest of Britain
In AD 47 or 48 the new governor,
Publius Ostorius Scapula , moved
Deceangli along the northeastern coast of Wales,
devastating their lands. He campaigned successfully but indecisively
Silures and then the Ordovices, the most notable feature
of which is the leadership of both tribes against him by
Scapula died in 52, the same year that the resurgent
a defeat on one of the Roman legions. Scapula was succeeded by a
number of governors who made steady but inconclusive gains against the
Gaius Suetonius Paulinus
Gaius Suetonius Paulinus was in the process of conquering
Anglesey in AD 60 when the revolt led by
Boudica in the east forced a
delay in the final conquest of Wales.
There followed a decade of relative peace while Roman imperial
attention was focused elsewhere. When expansion into
Wales resumed in
73, Roman progress was steady and successful under Sextus Julius
Frontinus , who decisively defeated the Silures, followed by the
Gnaeus Julius Agricola in defeating the Ordovices, and in
completing the conquest of
Anglesey in AD 77–78.
There is no indication of any Roman campaigns against the Demetae,
and their territory was not planted with a series of forts, nor
overlaid with roads, suggesting that they quickly made their peace
with Rome. The main fort in their territory was at Moridunum (modern
Carmarthen ), built around AD 75, and it eventually became the centre
of a Roman civitas . The
Demetae are the only pre-Roman Welsh tribe
that would emerge from Roman rule with their tribal name intact.
WALES IN ROMAN SOCIETY
The mineral wealth of Britain was well-known prior to the Roman
invasion and was one of the expected benefits of conquest. All mineral
extractions were state-sponsored and under military control, as
mineral rights belonged to the emperor. His agents soon found
substantial deposits of gold, copper, and lead in Wales, along with
some zinc and silver. Gold was mined at Dolaucothi prior to the
Roman engineering would be applied to greatly increase
the amount extracted, and to extract huge amounts of the other metals.
This would continue until the process was no longer practical or
profitable, at which time the mine would be abandoned.
Modern scholars have made efforts to quantify the value of these
extracted metals to the
Roman economy , and to determine the point at
which the Roman occupation of Britain was "profitable" to the Empire.
While these efforts have not produced deterministic results, the
benefits to Rome were substantial. The gold production at Dolaucothi
alone may have been of economic significance.
The production of goods for trade and export in
Roman Britain was
concentrated in the south and east, with virtually none situated in
This was largely due to circumstance, with iron forges located near
iron supplies, pewter (tin with some lead or copper) moulds located
near the tin supplies and suitable soil (for the moulds), clusters of
pottery kilns located near suitable clayey soil, grain-drying ovens
located in agricultural areas where sheep raising (for wool) was also
located, and salt production concentrated in its historical pre-Roman
locations. Glass-making sites were located in or near urban centres.
Wales none of the needed materials were available in suitable
combination, and the forested, mountainous countryside was not
amenable to this kind of industrialisation.
Clusters of tileries , both large and small, were at first operated
by the Roman military to meet their own needs, and so there were
temporary sites wherever the army went and could find suitable soil.
This included a few places in Wales. However, as Roman influence
grew, the army was able to obtain tiles from civilian sources who
located their kilns in the lowland areas containing good soil, and
then shipped the tiles to wherever they were needed.
The Romans occupied the whole of the area now known as Wales, where
Roman roads and castra , mined gold at
conducted commerce, but their interest in the area was limited because
of the difficult geography and shortage of flat agricultural land.
Most of the Roman remains in
Wales are military in nature. Sarn Helen
, a major highway, linked the North with South Wales.
The area was controlled by Roman legionary bases at Deva Victrix
Chester ) and
Isca Augusta (
Caerleon ), two of the three such
bases in Roman Britain, with roads linking these bases to
auxiliaries\' forts such as
Caernarfon ) and Moridunum
The best indicators of Romanising acculturation is the presence of
urban sites (areas with towns, coloniae , and tribal civitates ) and
villas in the countryside. In Wales, this can be said only of the
southeasternmost coastal region of
South Wales . The only civitates in
Wales were at
Caerwent . There were three small urban
sites near Caerwent, and these and Roman Monmouth were the only other
"urbanised" sites in Wales.
In the southwestern homeland of the
Demetae , several sites have been
classified as villas in the past, but excavation of these and
examination of sites as yet unexcavated suggest that they are
pre-Roman family homesteads, sometimes updated through Roman
technology (such as stone masonry), but having a native character
quite different than the true Roman-derived villas that are found to
the east, such as in
Perhaps surprisingly, the presence of Roman-era
Latin inscriptions is
not suggestive of Romanisation. They are most numerous at military
sites, and their occurrence elsewhere depended on access to suitable
stone and the presence of stonemasons, as well as patronage. The Roman
fort complex at
Tomen y Mur
Tomen y Mur near the coast of northwestern
produced more inscriptions than either
Segontium (near modern
Noviomagus Reginorum (
In areas of civil control, such as the territories of a civitas , the
fortification and occupation of hill forts was banned as a matter of
Roman policy. However, further inland and northward, a number of
pre-Roman hill forts continued to be used in the Roman Era, while
others were abandoned during the Roman Era, and still others were
newly occupied. The inference is that local leaders who were willing
to accommodate Roman interests were encouraged and allowed to
continue, providing local leadership under local law and custom.
There is virtually no evidence to shed light on the practice of
Wales during the Roman era, save the anecdotal account of
the strange appearance and bloodthirsty customs of the druids of
Tacitus during the conquest of Wales. It is fortunate for
Rome's reputation that
Tacitus described the druids as horrible, else
it would be a story of the Roman massacre of defenceless, unarmed men
and women. The likelihood of partisan propaganda and an appeal to
salacious interests combine to suggest that the account merits
The Welsh region of Britain was not significant to the Romanisation
of the island and contains almost no buildings related to religious
practice, save where the Roman military was located, and these reflect
the practices of non-native soldiers. Any native religious sites would
have been constructed of wood that has not survived and so are
difficult to locate anywhere in Britain, let alone in mountainous,
The time of the arrival of Christianity to
Wales is unknown.
Archaeology suggests that it came to
Roman Britain slowly, gaining
adherents among coastal merchants and in the upper classes first, and
never becoming widespread outside of the southeast in the Roman Era.
There is also evidence of a preference for non-Christian devotion in
parts of Britain, such as in the upper regions of the Severn Estuary
in the 4th century, from the
Forest of Dean east of the River Wye
continuously around the coast of the estuary, up to and including
De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae , written c. 540, Gildas
provides a story of the martyrdom of
Saint Alban at
Verulamium , and
Julius and Aaron at Legionum Urbis, the 'City of the Legion',
saying that this occurred during a persecution of Christians at a time
when 'decrees' against them were issued.
Bede repeats the story in
his Ecclesiastical History , written c. 731. The otherwise
unspecified 'City of the Legion' is arguably
Caerleon , Welsh
Caerllion, the 'Fortress of the Legion', and the only candidate with a
long and continuous military presence that lay within a Romanised
region of Britain, with nearby towns and a Roman civitas . Other
Chester and Carlisle , though both were located far
from the Romanised area of Britain and had a transitory, more
A parenthetical note concerns
Saint Patrick , a patron saint of
Ireland. He was a Briton born c. 387 in Banna Venta Berniae, a
location that is unknown due to the transcription errors in surviving
manuscripts. His home is a matter of conjecture, with sites near
Carlisle farvoured by some, while coastal
South Wales is favoured by
By the middle of the 4th century the Roman presence in Britain was no
longer vigorous. Once-unfortified towns were now being surrounded by
defensive walls, including both
Caerwent . Political
control finally collapsed and a number of alien tribes then took
advantage of the situation, raiding widely throughout the island,
joined by Roman soldiers who had deserted and by elements of the
native Britons themselves. Order was restored in 369, but Roman
Britain would not recover.
It was at this time that
Wales received an infusion of settlers from
southern Ireland, the
Uí Liatháin ,
Laigin , and possibly
the last no longer seen as certain, with only the first two verified
by reliable sources and place-name evidence. The Irish were
concentrated along the southern and western coasts, in
Gwynedd (excepting the cantrefi of Arfon and
Arllechwedd ), and in the
territory of the
The circumstances of their arrival are unknown, and theories include
categorising them as "raiders", as "invaders" who established a
hegemony, and as "foederati " invited by the Romans. It might as
easily have been the consequence of a depopulation in
Wales caused by
plague or famine, both of which were usually ignored by ancient
What is known is that their characteristically Irish circular huts
are found where they settled; that the inscription stones found in
Wales, whether in
Latin or ogham or both, are characteristically
Irish; that when both
Latin and ogham are present on a stone, the name
Latin text is given in Brittonic form while the same name is
given in Irish form in ogham; and that medieval Welsh royal
genealogies include Irish-named ancestors who also appear in the
native Irish narrative The Expulsion of the
Déisi . This phenomenon
may however be the result of later influences and again only the
presence of the
Uí Liatháin and
Wales has been verified.
END OF THE ROMAN ERA
Roman Walls at
Venta Silurum ), erected c. 350. Main
End of Roman rule in Britain
Historical accounts tell of the upheavals in the
Roman Empire during
the 3rd and 4th centuries, with notice of the withdrawal of troops
Roman Britain in support of the imperial ambitions of Roman
generals stationed there. In much of Wales, where Roman troops were
the only indication of Roman rule, that rule ended when troops left
and did not return. The end came to different regions at different
Tradition holds that Roman customs held on for several years in
southern Wales, lasting into the end of the 5th century, and that is
true in part.
Caerwent continued to be occupied after the Roman
Carmarthen was probably abandoned in the late 4th
century. In addition, southwestern
Wales was the tribal territory of
the Demetae, who had never become thoroughly Romanised. The entire
region of southernmost and southwestern
Wales had been settled by
Irish newcomers in the late 4th century, and it seems far-fetched to
suggest that they were ever fully Romanised.
Wikisource has original text related to this article: THE DREAM OF
In Welsh literary tradition,
Magnus Maximus is the central figure in
the emergence of a free Britain in the post-Roman era. Royal and
religious genealogies compiled in the Middle Ages have him as the
ancestor of kings and saints. In the Welsh story of Breuddwyd Macsen
Wledig (The Dream of Emperor Maximus), he is Emperor of Rome and
marries a wondrous British woman, telling her that she may name her
desires, to be received as a wedding portion. She asks that her father
be given sovereignty over Britain, thus formalising the transfer of
authority from Rome back to the Britons themselves. Remains of
Pillar of Eliseg
Pillar of Eliseg near the town of
Llangollen , Wales, erected c.
855. It lists
Magnus Maximus as an ancestor of a medieval Welsh king.
Magnus Maximus was a Roman general who served in Britain
in the late 4th century, launching his successful bid for imperial
power from Britain in 383. This is the last date for any evidence of a
Roman military presence in Wales, the western
Pennines , and Deva
(i.e., the entire non-Romanised region of Britain south of Hadrian\'s
Wall ). Coins dated later than 383 have been excavated along the Wall,
suggesting that troops were not stripped from it, as was once thought.
De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae written c. 540,
that Maximus left Britain not only with all of its Roman troops, but
also with all of its armed bands, governors, and the flower of its
youth, never to return. Having left with the troops and senior
administrators, and planning to continue as the ruler of Britain, his
practical course was to transfer local authority to local rulers.
Welsh legend provides a mythic story that says he did exactly that.
After he became emperor of the Western Roman Empire, Maximus would
return to Britain to campaign against the
Picts and Scots (i.e.,
Irish), probably in support of Rome's long-standing allies the
Votadini , and
Novantae (all located in modern
While there he likely made similar arrangements for a formal transfer
of authority to local chiefs: the later rulers of
Galloway , home to
the Novantae, would claim Maximus as the founder of their line, the
same as did the Welsh kings.
Maximus would rule the Roman West until he was killed in 388. A
succession of governors would rule southeastern Britain until 407, but
there is nothing to suggest that any Roman effort was made to regain
control of the west or north after 383, and that year would be the
definitive end of the Roman era in Wales.
Wendy Davies has argued that the later medieval Welsh approach to
property and estates was a Roman legacy, but this issue and others
related to legacy are not yet resolved. For example,
Leslie Alcock has
argued that that the approach to property and estates cannot pre-date
the 6th century and is thus post-Roman.
There was little
Latin linguistic heritage left to the Welsh language
, only a number of borrowings from the
Latin lexicon . With the
absence of early written Welsh sources there is no way of knowing when
these borrowings were incorporated into Welsh, and may date from a
later post-Roman era when the language of literacy was still Latin.
Borrowings include a few common words and word forms. For example,
Welsh ffenestr is from
Latin fenestra, 'window'; llyfr is from liber,
'book'; ysgrif is from scribo, 'scribe'; and the suffix -wys found in
Welsh folk names is derived from the
Latin suffix -ēnsēs. There
are a few military terms, such as caer from
Latin castra, 'fortress'.
Eglwys, meaning 'church', is ultimately derived from the Greek
Welsh kings would later use the authority of
Magnus Maximus as the
basis of their inherited political legitimacy. While imperial Roman
entries in Welsh royal genealogies lack any historical foundation,
they serve to illustrate the belief that legitimate royal authority
began with Magnus Maximus. As told in The Dream of Emperor Maximus,
Maximus married a Briton, and their supposed children are given in
genealogies as the ancestors of kings. Tracing ancestries back
further, Roman emperors are listed as the sons of earlier Roman
emperors, thus incorporating many famous Romans (e.g., Constantine the
Great ) into the royal genealogies.
The kings of medieval Gwynedd trace their origins to the northern
British kingdom of
Manaw Gododdin (located in modern
Scotland ), and
they also claim a connection to Roman authority in their genealogies
("Eternus son of Paternus son of Tacitus"). This claim may be either
an independent one, or was perhaps an invention intended to rival the
legitimacy of kings claiming descent from the historical Maximus.
Gwyn A. Williams argues that even at the time of the erection of
Offa\'s Dyke (that divided
Wales from medieval England) the people to
its west saw themselves as "Roman", citing the number of Latin
inscriptions still being made into the 8th century.
* ^ "A History of Wales", by Sir John Edward LLoyd
* ^ Jones 1990 :43–67, An Atlas of Roman Britain, Britain Before
the Conquest, and The Conquest and Garrisoning of Britain.
* ^ Jones 1990 :179–195, An Atlas of Roman Britain, The Economy.
Tacitus :228, Annals XII, where they are referred to as the
Tacitus 117 :228, Annals XXIII
* ^ Davies 1990 :28, History of Wales,
Wales and Rome
* ^ A B Davies 1990 :29, History of Wales,
Wales and Rome
Tacitus 117 :600, Life of Agricola XVIII
* ^ Giles, John Allen , ed. (1847), History of the Ancient Britons,
II (Second ed.), Oxford: W. Baxter (published 1854), p. 246 , De
Excidio, section 31 (in Latin): Gildas, writing c. 540, condemns
"Demetarum tyranne", the "tyrant of the Demetians", showing that the
pre-Roman tribal named had survived.
* ^ Giles, John Allen, ed. (1841), The Works of
Gildas and Nennius,
London: James Bohn, p. 27 , De Excicio, section 31 (English
translation): Gildas, writing c. 540, condemns the "tyrant of the
* ^ Jones 1990 :179, An Atlas of Roman Britain, The Economy
* ^ A B Jones 1990 :179–196, An Atlas of Roman Britain, The
* ^ Jones 1990 :180, An Atlas of Roman Britain, The Economy
* ^ Jones 1990 :217, An Atlas of Roman Britain, The Economy: The
distribution of tileries
* ^ Jones 1990 :154, An Atlas of Roman Britain, The Development of
* ^ Jones 1990 :156, An Atlas of Roman Britain, The Development of
* ^ Jones 1990 :241, An Atlas of Roman Britain, The Countryside.
* ^ Jones 1990 :251, 254, An Atlas of Roman Britain, The
* ^ Jones 1990 :153, An Atlas of Roman Britain, The Development of
Latin Inscriptions and Language.
* ^ Laing 1990 :112–113, Celtic Britain and Ireland, c.
200–800, The non-Romanized zone of Britannia.
Tacitus :257, Annals, Bk. XIV, Ch. XXX.
* ^ Jones 1990 :264–305, An Atlas of Roman Britain, Religion.
* ^ Frere 1987 :324, Britannia, The Romanisation of Britain.
* ^ Jones 1990 :299, An Atlas of Roman Britain, Religion.
* ^ Giles 1841 :11–12, The Works of Gildas, The History, ch. 10.
The 'City of the Legion' is not specified in the original Latin. This
translator, for whatever reason, chooses Carlisle .
Bede (731), "Ecclesiastical History, Ch. VIII", in Giles, J.
A., The Miscellaneous Works of Venerable Bede, II, London: Whittaker
and Co. (published 1863), p. 53
* ^ De Paor, Liam (1993), Saint Patrick's World: The Christian
Culture of Ireland's Apostolic Age, Dublin: Four Courts Press, pp. 88
and 96, ISBN 1-85182-144-9
* ^ MacNeill, Eoin (1926), "The Native Place of St. Patrick",
Papers read for the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin: Hodges, Figgis, pp.
118–140 . MacNeill argues that the southern coast of
both numerous slaves and quick access to booty, and as the region was
also home to Irish settlers, raiders would have had the contacts to
tell them precisely where to go in order to quickly obtain booty and
capture slaves. MacNeill also suggests a possible home town based on
naming similarities, but allows that the transcription errors in
manuscripts make this little more than an educated guess.
* ^ Jones 1990 :162, An Atlas of Roman Britain, The Development of
* ^ Yonge, C. D., ed. (1894), The Roman History of Ammianus
Marcellinus, London: George Bell & Sons : p.413, Ammianus 26.4.5
Trans.; pp. 453–455, Ammianus 27.8 Trans.; pp 483–485, Ammianus
* ^ Laing 1975 :93, Early Celtic Britain and Ireland,
Wales and the
Isle of Man.
* ^ Miller, Mollie (1977), "Date-Guessing and Dyfed", Studia
Celtica, 12, Cardiff: University of Wales, pp. 33–61
* ^ Coplestone-Crow, Bruce (1981), "The Dual Nature of Irish
Colonization of Dyfed in the Dark Ages", Studia Celtica, 16, Cardiff:
University of Wales, pp. 1–24
* ^ Meyer, Kuno (1896), "Early Relations Between Gael and Brython",
in Evans, E. Vincent, Transactions of the Honourable Society of
Cymmrodorion, Session 1895–1896, I, London: Honourable Society of
Cymmrodorion, pp. 55–86
* ^ Rhys, John (1895). Archaeologia Cambrensis. W. Pickering. , pp
* ^ A B Phillimore, Egerton, ed. (1887), "Pedigrees from Jesus
College MS. 20", Y Cymmrodor, VIII, Honourable Society of
Cymmrodorion, pp. 83–92
* ^ A B Phillimore, Egerton (1888), "The Annales Cambriae and Old
Welsh Genealogies, from Harleian MS. 3859", in Phillimore, Egerton, Y
Cymmrodor, IX, Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion, pp. 141–183
* ^ Meyer, Kuno , ed. (1901), "The Expulsion of the Dessi", Y
Cymmrodor, XIV, London: Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion, pp.
* ^ Laing 1990 :108, Celtic Britain and Ireland, c. 200–800, The
non-Romanized zone of Britannia.
* ^ A B Frere 1987 :354, Britannia, The End of Roman Britain.
* ^ Giles 1841 :13, The Works of Gildas, The History, ch. 14
* ^ Laing 1990 :112, Celtic Britain and Ireland, c. 200–800, The
non-Romanized zone of Britannia.
* ^ Koch, John. The Gododdin of Aneirin, Celtic Studies
Publications, 1997, p. 133.
* ^ Maund 2006, p. 16, n.2
* ^ Williams, Gwyn A., The Welsh in their History, published 1982
by Croom Helm, ISBN 0-7099-3651-6
* Davies, John (1990), A
History of Wales
History of Wales (First ed.), London:
Penguin Group (published 1993), ISBN 0-7139-9098-8
* Davies, Wendy (1982),
Wales in the Early Middle Ages, Leicester:
Leicester University Press, ISBN 0-7185-1235-9
* Frere, Sheppard Sunderland (1987), Britannia: A History of Roman
Britain (3rd, revised ed.), London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, ISBN
* Giles, John Allen, ed. (1841), "The Works of Gildas", The Works of
Gildas and Nennius, London: James Bohn
* Jones, Barri; Mattingly, David (1990), An Atlas of Roman Britain,
Cambridge: Blackwell Publishers (published 2007), ISBN
* Laing, Lloyd (1975), "
Wales and the Isle of Man", The Archaeology
of Late Celtic Britain and Ireland, c. 400–1200 AD, Frome: Book Club
Associates (published 1977), pp. 89