Roman Conquest of the North

North East England : AD 43-121

For thousands of years people had explored and settled the region long before the Romans made their mark. When the Romans arrived, they found Britain was a land of tribes and hill forts. Much of the North and North-East was part of the territory of the Brigantes, a tribe led by a woman called Cartimandua.

Iron Age Tribes in the North © Tangled Worm 2017

👈 Prehistoric | Timeline | Hadrian’s Wall 👉 

43 – Romans invade Britain

An enormous army of 40,000 Roman troops led by Claudius has landed at Richborough in Kent. British resistance has been heavily crushed and Caratacus, a British resistance leader, has fled north.

46 – Brigantes clients of Rome

The Brigantes, a huge tribe whose territory stretches from the Pennines of southern Yorkshire to north of the Tyne, are recognised as a client kingdom of the Romans they have not yet been conquered by the Romans but, hoping to be left in peace, accept the invaders as their rulers. The Brigantes queen is Cartimandua. Female leaders are quite acceptable to these war-like Britons. Their language resembles Welsh and is yet to be influenced by the Latin speech of the Romans.

50 – Stanwick stronghold

The principal fort of the Brigantes is at Stanwick St John, a few miles south of the River Tees. Other Brigantian forts are found throughout the North, particularly in the Pennines and include Ingleborough Hill and Almondbury near Huddersfield.

The Roman invasion and capture of Caratacus © Tangled Worm 2017

51 – Queen betrays Caratacus

Tribal support for Venutius, the husband of the Brigantian queen Cartimandua, is growing after the queen betrayed the popular British rebel Caratacus and revealed his whereabouts to the Romans.

51 – Rebel set free in Rome

Caratacus, the leader of British resistance, has been paraded in chains through Rome where his tough-minded defiance impressed the Roman emperor. The emperor has released Caratacus from captivity and allowed him to live freely in Rome.

51 – Queen divorces

Cartimandua has divorced Venutius and is planning to marry her new lover Vellocatus who had been the armour-bearer of her husband. Civil war has broken out between the supporters of Cartimandua who are backed by the Romans and Venutius.

Resistance to the Romans in Britannia and Brigantia © Tangled Worm 2017.

56 – Romans end northern war

The Romans sent a legion into the north to successfully end the rebellion of Venutius, husband of Cartimandua.

69 – Queen forced out

Venutius causes the Brigantes to rise up against his former wife Cartimandua who has been unpopular since the capture of the British hero, Caratacus. She is forced to leave the north and the Romans rescue her from her angry tribesmen. Venutius becomes the leader of the Brigantes.

71 to 79 – Brigantian battles

After a whole series of great battles across the North, the Brigantes under Venutius are finally defeated though the date and location of the eventual death of Venutiusb is unknown. Around AD73 the Brigantes had abandoned their fort at Stanwick. The Roman leader Petillius Cerealis starts building a series of forts across Brigantia to prevent further encounters and a legion is stationed at York in a fortress built of earth and timber. Other new forts include one at Piercebridge defending a crossing of the River Tees. It lies within the heartland of the Brigantes’ territory. The territory of the Parisi tribe in East Yorkshire is also conquered by the Romans during this period.

The River Tees at Piercebridge.
The River Tees at Piercebridge © David Simpson

79 – Romans march to the Tyne

The Romans marched to the Tyne which straddled the northern fringe of the Brigantes’ territory. Beyond the Tyne, the major tribe are the Votadini based in and around the Edinburgh and Bamburgh areas. The Caledonians beyond the Firth of Forth will soon come under the Roman threat.

The Tyne at Corbridge
The Tyne at Corbridge looking south west © David Simpson.

80 – Great north roads

Julius Agricola, Roman Governor of Britain commences his military campaign against Caledonia from his supply base at Corbridge on Tyne. The Stanegate road is built through the Tyne gap from Corbridge to Carlisle. Dere Street, a main road running north from York to Caledonia via Corbridge is also being constructed.

81 – Improvements at York

Julius Agricola carries out improvements to the legionary fortress at York. The fortress is very much at the heart of Roman military activity in northern Britain as Agricola pushes the Roman frontier to the Forth and Clyde.

Roman column near York Minster
This Roman column near York Minster standing on its original site stood within the basilica of the headquarters building of the Roman legionary fortress. It was erected around AD 100 by the  Ninth Legion. In the fourth century it was reassembled by the Sixth Legion © David Simpson

83 – Highlanders defeated

Julius Agricola’s army campaigns in Caledonia culminating in the defeat of the Caledonian tribes at the battle of Mons Grapius. The location of the battle site is not known but may be somewhere in the Grampians. A fortress is built at Inchtuthill on Tayside which becomes the headquarters for the Roman 20th legion.

90 – Romans leave Caledonia

The difficult, fruitless terrain and the unpredictable nature of Caledonian resistance force the Romans to abandon the land and all the Roman posts beyond the Rivers Forth and Clyde.

The Roman Conquest of the North © Tangled Worm 2017.

105 – Forts destroyed

Permanent forts in southern Caledonia are abandoned and the Roman frontier is set to move south once again. Roman forts at Newstead, High Rochester and Glenlochar are destroyed by the native Britons.

117 – Emperor Hadrian

Publius Aelius Hadrianus (Hadrian) becomes the new Emperor in Rome. His name will sustain a lasting legacy in the history of northern Britain.

Hadrian's Mausoleum, Rome
The Mausoleum of Hadrian (Castel Sant’Angelo) overlooking the Ponte Sant’Angelo bridge across the River Tiber in Rome. It was commissioned by Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself and his family © David Simpson

121 – Frontier country

Most of Britain is firmly under Roman control but the North is more of a military zone than a civilian region. The Tyne Gap, Stanegate Road and much of what is now Northumberland is very much a frontier zone.

👈 Prehistoric | Hadrian’s Wall  👉 


North East England History and Culture