Prestige, security and plunder were major reasons for the Roman invasions of Britain. Britain was rich in lead, tin and silver (see right, the mineral galena, which was the most important source of silver), was agriculturally productive and a valuable market for Roman goods. In AD 43 an invasion was launched with the intention of fully incorporating Britain into the Roman Empire.
But progress was slow – in AD49 Colchester was granted the ‘Colonia’ status, in AD71 York was founded and a year later, in AD72, Carlisle. Garrisons were first established, roads linked them and trading, bath-houses and taxation quickly followed. But a good campaign in Britain could make your reputation – Julius Caesar (see right) and Vespasian even became heads of state after their stints in Britain.
But not all of Britain became part of the empire. Caledonia (the Roman name for Scotland) was never fully brought to heel and so not one but two walls were built to maintain the frontier: the Antonine Wall and Hadrian’s Wall (see image below left). The Romans had valuable assets to protect over the border. Charterhouse lead mine in Somerset became the biggest lead mine in the empire. Unsurprisingly the lead mine was a Roman priority and it took just six years after invasion to control it. Lead was used extensively by the Romans for activities including plumbing, making glass, lining cooking vessels and to extract silver from the ore. By AD 70 Britain was one of the larger suppliers of silver to the empire.
You could argue that Britain benefited too from the invasion. Three full legions were stationed in Britain; that’s about 33,000 men. It has been estimated that each year the forces in northern Britain would have needed 10,000 horses and 4,000 mules plus their fodder, 12,000 calves to provide leather for tents and 2,000 animals for sacrifices. That’s a lot of trading opportunities.
The Romans brought some technological innovations and also new foods such as the leek and even chicken. But only 10% of the population in Roman Britain lived in towns. Despite the invasion, whilst some locals were sufficiently wealthy to take advantage of the new commercial opportunities (the army-market), the lives of most ordinary people would not have changed much.