Claudius and the Conquest of Britain

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The Roman armies disappeared from the face of Britain for about a hundred years after Julius Caesar first arrived, in 55 B.C. Some soldiers and other Romans had stayed behind and settled down, planting the roots of Roman Britain. But it wasn't until Claudius decided he wanted to annex the island that Roman soldiers arrived en masse.

In 43, the legions descended on Kent. Opposition, though heroic, was sporadic and unsuccessful. Claudius himself was in the field, celebrating the victories with his troops. He appeared to the crowds for a parade at Camulodonum and then took off for Rome, determined to keep track of the continental holdings. He never came back.

Claudius was also significant in placing the power of the emperor in the hands of the army, thus sidestepping the "sometimes troublesome" Senate. As long as the army was content, the emperor ruled without unease. Loyalty and faith ran both ways.

It is worth noting here that Julius Caesar and Claudius set a troublesome precedent. They brought the best and worst of Roman society to Britain, then left without so much as a "By your leave." The Briton tradition of sighing with relief when the Romans left repeatedly turned suddenly to horror in the 400s when the entire Roman army left for good and the Britons were left alone to deal with the Saxon hordes.)

As Julius Caesar was significant for "discovering" Britain for Rome, Claudius was significant for "conquering" Britain for Rome. It must be said here that the "conquering" did not extend to the entire island and took decades to accomplish.

Even though Claudius wasn't on hand to see the "colonization" of Britannia, he directed and certainly condoned it and approved of it. He began a process of cultural borrowing that would last for hundreds of years.

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David White