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1st through 6th Centuries

Ancient monument of standing stones cast shadows as sun rises


Callanish Standing Stones, Lewis Island


In the centuries before the birth of Christ,
Brits hunt, trade, raise cattle, and enjoy poetry. They like to wear red. They believe they possess immortal souls.
They are called Celts, Picts, and Britons,
or by the names of specific tribes. We call them Brits after the island where they live, Britain. An island in the Atlantic Ocean, and the largest in Europe, Britain was also called Inis Wen, "the white island".

In the 1st century BC, the Roman Empire straddles most of Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. Traders report to Rome that the far northern island of Britain holds treasure. Rome make plans to conquer the land "at the edge of the world".

1st Century BC


Julius Caesar and 10,000 Roman legionnaires assault Britain’s southeast coast. Fighting on foot, in chariots, and on horseback, Brits wade into the waves to repel them. The legions force their way to shore. The Brits counterattack. A storm wrecks many of the Roman ships, and the survivors limp away, but a year later, in 54 BC, Caesar launches a second invasion with five legions and 25,000 men.

Brits led by Casivellaunus mount a fierce resistance. Women fight alongside the men, but the Brits succumb to the more highly organised legions. The Romans demand tribute, and seize hostages before they leave. Like many generals, Julius Caesar describes his campaign as a success, but he does not conquer Britain.

England's south coast, steep green hills and the English Channel

One hundred years pass before the Roman Legions return to Britain. Recent archaeological discoveries suggest there were many more connections between Brits living in the south and Romans than was previously thought.


AD 1st Century


The Roman legions, mercenary soldiers from across the Roman Empire, pour into Britain. They have been trained and equipped by Rome’s best generals. Behind them, the Emperor Claudius crosses the River Thames with elephants.

Under the command of Caradoc (Caractacus or Caratacus to the Romans), the Brits resist for six years. Defeated in the south, they use guerrilla tactics to fight the legions in the west in forests and mountains, where they make a last stand against overwhelming force, with Caradoc urging Brits to fight for "liberty."

The Romans crush them, but Caradoc escapes, and tries to lead resistance in the north. He is betrayed by the Queen of the Brigantes, a northern tribe, and taken captive. 

His long hair covers his shoulders as Caradoc is paraded almost naked and in chains through the streets of Rome. With him are his family. Caradoc refuses to plead for mercy, but brought face to face with the Emperor Claudius, eloquently points out that if the Emperor frees them, they will become a monument to his clemency. The astonished Emperor orders them released. Caradoc dies in Rome. Caradoc's son and daughter convert to Christianity, and return to Britain.

Sculpture of Boudicca (Boadicea) on the Thames Embankment on her chariot with her two daughters

In AD 60 or 61, the king of the Iceni, Boadicea's husband, dies, leaving his kingdom to his two daughters and to the Roman Emperor. The Romans ignore his will, plunder East Anglia, flog Boadicea (Boudicca in Latin), and rape her daughters. Boadicea gathers the tribes.
Thomas Thorneycroft created the sculpture, which stands near the Houses of Parliament.



According to Roman historian Dio Cassius, "Boudicca was tall, terrible to look on and gifted with a powerful voice. A flood of bright red hair ran down to her knees; she wore a golden necklet made up of ornate pieces, a multi-coloured robe and over it a thick cloak held together by a brooch. She carried a long spear to terrify all who set eyes on her."

Under Boadicea's leadership, Brits wielding yard-long swords attack the Roman legions, cutting to pieces the legion stationed at Lincoln, and torching Roman cities. (Ashes from Boadicea’s rebellion have been discovered in London skyscraper digs and in what is now St. Albans and Colchester.) The Romans respond strategically and forcefully, and defeat the Brits. According to legend, the battle took place in a defile with a woods. It is believed that King's Cross Station, platform 9, stands at the site. Boadicea chooses to die rather than surrender.


Roman legions overrun what is now southern Scotland, destroying villages, enslaving the people, and exacting punitive taxes. Calgacus, a tribal leader, urges his warriors to fight for liberty.  His words describe the fraud of imperial tyranny and remind us there are some things worth defending:

The Romans make a wasteland and call it peace.
. . .Our brothers and sons are torn from us by conscription to be slaves. . . .As you advance into battle, think of your fathers and your children!

The Brits battle the Romans at Mons Graupius. The location is not certain, but it is believed to be in Aberdeenshire. Fighting to the end, 30,000 Brits are killed.  Those who survive burn their houses to keep them out of Roman hands. Tacitus writes: “Next day an awful silence reigned. The hills were deserted. The ruins of houses smoked in the distance. Our scouts met not a soul.” The Brits will rise again.

2nd Century - 3rd Century

 Part of Hadrian's Wall in the north of England

A fragment of Hadrian's Wall.
The Roman Legions slave six years to build the wall from the River Tyne (near what is now Newcastle upon Tyne) in the east to Solway Firth (Carlisle) in the west.  Seventy-three miles long, sixteen feet high, as much as eight feet thick, and six to nine feet wide, Hadrian’s Wall has gates, mileposts, turrets, and forts large enough to hold hundreds of men.



Between 79 and 81 AD, Agricola had built a line of forts from the Frith of Forth to the Frith of Clyde. His forts had not stopped the Brits. In a great northern rising they rolled the Romans back to the short line between the Tyne and the Solway Firth around 117. In 122 the peripatetic Emperor Hadrian decides a big new wall is the very thing when he arrives in Britain. Hadrian orders the Roman legions to build a wall that will prevent free Brits in the north from reaching the south of the island. The wall is completed around 130.

In subsequent decades Roman legions advance north of Hadrian’s Wall into unconquered territory, and erect a second wall, the Antonine, about 120 miles north of Hadrian’s Wall and slightly north of present-day Glasgow. The new 15-foot-high wall bristles with 18 or 19 forts, and runs 36 miles between the Clyde River and the Firth of Forth. Running alongside is a ditch 40 feet wide and 12 feet deep. 

Penned in by the new wall, the Brits attack it, and in a great rising in 170 AD break through. In the 190s they launch a third uprising, and partly destroy Hadrian's Wall, alarming Rome's despotic and militaristic Emperor Septimus Severus, who arrives early in the new century to rebuild walls and damaged fortifications, cutting down forests and levelling mountains to do so. Before he can achieve his goals the disillusioned Severus dies in York.

4th Century


Romans build roads, towns, villas and temples in Britain. They worship the emperor, and savagely persecute Britons who call Christ their Lord and refuse to worship the emperor.

According to the story that has come down to us in early medieval manuscripts, Alban, who was not a Christian, hid a man during the Roman persecution of Christians. Alban lived in the city of Verulamium, about twenty miles northwest of London, sometime around AD 303.

When Roman soldiers arrive, searching for the Christian, Alban wraps himself in his cloak, and pretends he is the man. By then he knows that he, too, is a follower of Christ.

The Roman governor orders Alban to renounce his faith. Alban refuses. He is scourged, but he refuses to reject Christ. The governor orders him executed.

It is the day of the summer solstice. Soldiers take Alban outside the city to the top of a grassy "flower-covered" knoll. A crowd of people accompanies him. When he reaches the top of the hill, the executioner throws away his sword, and refuses to execute him.

The soldiers behead Alban. They also behead the man who refused to execute Alban.

This man's name is lost, but he is one of the first persons in recorded history to refuse to obey unjust orders.

Boy praying in St. Alban's Church

Alban becomes one of the first Brits to die for freedom of religious conscience. Today the Church of St. Alban stands on the knoll where he died.

Photos: St. Albans:
boy praying:

5th Century


A Christian Brit called Morgan believes that God gives every person free will. Morgan (the Romans call him Pelagius) travels to Rome, and is appalled by the moral squalor of many Romans. He urges them to use their God-given freedom to choose to be good.

The Roman Church blasts Morgan’s teaching, claiming that he ignores the doctrine of original sin. We are not free to choose, says the Church, but desperately in need of God’s help in choosing the good. Morgan defends his ideas about free will in a book, now lost. In 418 the Church condemns his teachings as the Pelagian Heresy. The English author Ellis Peters makes a good case for free will and grace, in The Heretic's Apprentice -

"I do believe we have been given free will, and can and must use it to choose between right and wrong, if we are men and not beasts. Surely it is the least of what we owe, to try and make our way towards salvation by right action. I never denied divine grace. Surely it is the greatest grace that we are given this power to choose, and the strength to make right use of it. And see, . . .if there is a last judgement, it will not and cannot be of God's grace, but of what every man has done with it, whether he buried his talent or turned it to good profit. It is for our own actions we shall answer, when the time comes."

Back home, many Brits support the belief in the God-given freedom to choose.


Patrick is a teenager when he is abducted from Britain, and forced to be a slave. Cold, hungry, and frightened, he begins to pray. At the end of his sixth year of servitude, he believes he hears God’s voice telling him to leave, and he escapes. He makes his way with a shipload of wolfhounds to France, where he studies to be a priest on a sunny island near Cannes.

Called back to Ireland by a visionary dream, he returns to the country of his enslavement to preach Christ's Gospel, to seed communities of peace and learning, and to create a new, daring way of life for himself. The saint of second chances, Patrick fearlessly confronts the slave owners and slave traders, and denounces slavery.


By the 5th century the Roman Empire is collapsing. The legions are called back to defend Rome.

When the legions leave, invaders from northern Europe rampage through the island of Britain, murdering, raping, and enslaving men, women, and children. One British leader organizes a mobile guerrilla cavalry to stop them, and sweeps around the island with a band of mail-clad knights. Leading local resistance, he wins 12 battles against the invaders. History suggests this man is the historical King Arthur.

King Arthur - the hand lifting the sword out of the lake

The mythical King Arthur pulls the sword out of the stone, reigns at Camelot, leads his knights in righting Britain's wrongs, and urges them to find the Holy Grail. At the end of his life, Arthur is wounded in battle, and carried to Avalon. Legend says that when his country needs him, he will return.

Intricate gold belt buckle

The intricate gold treasures found at the great ship's burial known as Sutton Hoo date around AD 600. They persuade those who study them that the Dark Ages in England held considerable light.

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