Roman Britain

Bronze head from a statue of the Emperor Hadrian

In AD 43, Britain became a province of the Roman Empire when it was invaded by an army under the emperor Claudius. Its links with the Empire, however, had already been long established through trade, population movement and political alliances.

Nevertheless, there was understandably native resistance, notably by Boudicca. But by the 70s AD, much of the island was under Roman control.

Britannia, as it became known, covered the areas of modern England and Wales. Modern Scotland was never fully conquered. By the end of the second century AD, Hadrian’s Wall was the northernmost frontier of the Roman Empire, whilst Ireland always remained outside. Roman rule finally came to an end in the early fifth century AD.

The British Museum collection includes thousands of objects that reflect these four centuries of Roman rule, and show how Roman and native culture became mixed. The Romans built towns and villas of stone, brick, tile, plaster and mosaics, and roads to link them. Latin became the official language, and the law, administrative system and currency of Rome were all introduced.

The range of imports increased, and settlers arrived from other Roman provinces in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. Native religions and classical beliefs became interlinked. Other cults from the east were introduced, and Christianity became increasingly popular in the fourth century AD.

All this created a complex and diverse society, which is reflected by objects in the British Museum.

Image caption: Bronze head from a statue of the Emperor Hadrian
Roman Britain, 2nd century AD. Found in the River Thames near London Bridge (1834)

Related galleries