12 – The Road to the North

70 CE to 78 CE.

This episode we'll be talking about how awful life under Roman Rule was in the first century, the year of the four emperors, and the events that lead up to Agricola.

(History of Britain, History of England, History of Wales, History of Scotland, Celtic History, Roman History)

We should probably talk a little bit about what a nightmare Roman occupation was, since that’s probably been lost in the story. I wouldn’t be surprised if most people listening thought the effect the Romans had upon the Britons was not too terrible. I can imagine a few of you are thinking … “They get togas, wine, heated floors, and whatnot. Sure, they have to pay taxes to the Romans and they have additional debts... but walk it off, Britons, you should see my credit card bill!”

But I think that would be a mistake. And before you start shouting “Nativist Bias!” at me (which is something I’m almost certainly guilty of, incidentally) let me first try to explain my reasoning for why I think that the Roman conquest and occupation would have been a nightmare for the early britons. To do this, lets talk about the conquest period, which stretches from Claudius’ first invasion to the mid 80’s AD. During that period, even if we are conservative, there were between 100k and 250k Britons killed by the Romans. And keep in mind that the population of the whole of Britannia at this time was probably less than 2 million. So it could be that more than 1 in 10 were killed. And that doesn’t even take into account the number of people injured, maimed, or enslaved.

And if you were lucky enough to avoid being killed or crippled during the conquest, and were a young male, there was a good chance the Romans would “recruit you” (and I use the term loosely) and put you a unit serving in the Danube or elsewhere. And the recruiting numbers in Britannia were actually higher than the average for the other Roman provinces. So not only had the population been decimated, and a large percentage of the surviving population had been crippled, but the remaining able bodied men were now serving in Roman battles far away.

Click here to be able to read the full rough transcript.

  6 comments for “12 – The Road to the North

  1. Dennis Cejka
    July 21, 2011 at 1:28 am

    Hi Jamie! I really want to thank you for an informative, engaging (not at all “dry”), and “human” British History Podcast! Are by any chance related to Alan at Royal Commercial? I looked at their website, thinking, “Royal,…might be from across the pond.” I’m broke the rest of this month after overspending on my 8 year old grandson, but I plan on subscribing next month. Keep up the good work!

    • Jamie
      July 25, 2011 at 7:41 am

      Indeed I am. :) Thanks for listening!

  2. Peter
    July 21, 2011 at 10:14 am

    Your hypothesis that Roman Rule was a “nightmare” for Britain is flawed. You are assuming that local rule would have been better, which I doubt. For instance, Zimbabwe would have been much better off to remain a British colony.

    • Jamie
      July 25, 2011 at 7:44 am

      Well, Peter. We’re just going to have to disagree on that. Killing 10% of the local population and destroying the local economy for a generation seem manifestly wicked behaviors to me.

      Additionally, your hypothetical about Zimbabwe is incomplete in a variety of ways, such as we don’t know what would have happened if they stayed a colony, we don’t know what would have happened if they were never colonized, etc.

      Anyway, we’re just going to have to disagree. Thanks for listening!

    • j
      September 20, 2012 at 12:24 pm


      That’s a pretty extreme-right opinion. Zimbabwe was getting deliberately exploited of its natural resources under British colonialism – that’s like the definition of colonialism.

      There was no economic development at all because it was getting siphoned off by British corporations and the like. White brits basically owned all the property and land, and ruled over the natives like… well, like it was a colonial vassel state.

      And then it was basically taken over by Rhodesia, the crazy white supremacist state that started apartheid in South Africa. They treated the Zimbabweans even worse than the British.

      And when the people carriedn out a popular, anti colonialist guerilla war that got the Rhodesians out; Zimbabwe came under economic blocade because Mugabe wanted to redistribue land and wealth to correct the injustices of colonialism. Mugabe, however, was an unrestrained plutocrat who deliberately enriched himself and his old buddies. His land reform made the international world hate his bloody guts and he was forced to print money like a mad man to fight a civil war his ineptitude started.

      And don’t let me get started on the international neoliberalism or the IMF or any of that other junk.

      • September 20, 2012 at 1:08 pm

        I love how educated and politically active many of the listeners are! It has to be one of my favorite bits about this project. :)

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