William Sterling

Ancient Rome and Celtic Britain

Ancient Rome and its encounters with Celtic Britain

This course ran at the British Museum and City Lit on Saturday 8th December 2018.

Britain was part of the Roman Empire for nearly 400 years from AD 43 to 410 but the association of the two civilisations went back a further century to Julius Caesar’s invasion of 55 BC. The Romans were clearly obsessed with Celtic Britain.

The course explored the relationship between Rome and Celtic Britain over the 500 years from Julius Caesar’s first expedition in 55 BC to the period after the Romans left in AD 410. The Romano-British still considered themselves to be part of the Roman sphere up to the 440s. The relationship was often violent but there was usually peace and a cross fertilisation of cultures.

We concentrated on the period from 55 BC to AD 43 when Rome had a great interest in Britain but had not successfully incorporated it into the Empire. We will look at the reasons why Julius Caesar wanted to invade and the details of his two invasions in 55 and 54 BC. The relationship between Britain and Rome was a complex one with the British rulers trying to remain independent but on friendly terms with the Romans. Planned invasions in 34, 27 and 25 BC and again in AD 40 came to nothing but there must have been close contact as a number of Roman goods appeared in Britain. We will look at the reasons for Claudius’s invasion in AD 43 and how he achieved the conquest despite fierce resistance led by Caractacus. We will also examine the relationship between Britain and Rome during the four centuries of occupation with reference to Boudicca’s rebellion, Agricola’s abortive attempt to incorporate Scotland, the decision by Hadrian and Antoninus to build walls at the northern frontier, the importance of Britain to Septimius Severus and Constantine and their families in their bids to become or remain emperor, the various usurpers in the C3rd and C4th and why the Romans ultimately abandoned Britain, leaving the old Celtic aristocracy to try to organise defences.

Among the resources handed out at the course were the following:



The tour of the British Museum included many of the objects on this list:

Rome and Celtic Britain BM tour objects

These are the slides I showed during the morning session:

Romans and Celts 2018 slides as printable handout

The following podcasts of Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time may also be of interest


Hadrian’s Wall

Julius Caesar

Roman Britain

The Druids

The Celts

The Mabinogion