Romano-British culture is that of the Romanized Britons under the Roman Empire and later the Western Roman Empire, and of those exposed to Roman culture in the years after the Roman departure.
Arrival of the Romans
The Romano-British were originally a diverse group of Celtic
(mostly or wholly Brythonic
) peoples living, and frequently fighting, with each other. They first united when Roman troops, mainly from nearby Germanic provinces, under Emperor Claudius
in 43 AD.
Defeated and conquered, the various tribes were assimilated into the Roman Empire as the province of Britannia. Roman businessmen and officials came to Britannia to settle by the thousands along with their families. Roman troops from all across the Empire as far as Spain, North Africa, and Egypt, but mainly from the Germanic provinces, Batavia
(modern Netherlands, Belgium, and the Rhineland
area of Germany) were garrisoned in Roman towns, taking local Britons for wives and intermarrying. This diversified Britannia's cultures and religions, while the populace remained mainly Celtic with a Roman way of life.
Britain was also independent of the rest of the Roman Empire for a number of years, first as a part of the Gallic Empire, then a couple of decades later under the usurpers Carausius and Allectus.
Christianity came to Britain in the third century. One early figure was Saint Alban, who was martyred near the Roman town of Verulamium, on the site of the modern St Albans, by tradition during the reign of the emperor Decius.
One vector of Roman influence into British life was the grant of Roman citizenship
At first this grant went out very selectively: to the council members of certain classes of towns, which Roman practice made citizens; to veterans, either legionaries
or soldiers in auxiliary units; and to a number of natives whose patrons
were able to obtain it for them. Some of the local Celtic kings
, such as Togidubnus
, received citizenship
in this manner. However, the number of citizens steadily increased over the years, as people inherited citizenship and more grants were made. Eventually all people who were not slaves or freed slaves
were granted citizenship by the Constitutio Antoniniana
The other inhabitants of Britain, who did not enjoy citizenship, the Peregrini, continued to live under the laws of their ancestors. The principal handicaps were that they could not:
- own land with a Latin title,
- serve as a legionary in the army (although they could serve in an auxiliary unit, and become a Roman citizen upon discharge)
- in general, inherit from a Roman citizen
But for the majority of British inhabitants, who were peasants tied to the soil, citizenship would not dramatically alter daily operation of their lives.
The Roman withdrawal
Britannia became one of the most loyal provinces of the Empire until its decline, when Britannia's manpower started to be diverted by civil wars, eventually leading Honorius
to bring Roman troops back home to help fight the invading hordes.
After the withdrawal of Roman troops, the Romano-British were commanded by Honorius to "look to their own defences". A written plea to General Flavius Aëtius known as The Groan of the Britons may have seen some brief naval assistance from the fading Roman Empire of the West, but otherwise they were on their own. In the early stages the lowlands and cities may have had some organisation or "council" and the Bishop of London appears to have played a key role, but they were divided politically as former soldiers, mercenaries, nobles, officials and farmers declared themselves kings, fighting amongst each other and leaving Britain open to invasion. Two factions could have emerged; a pro-Roman faction and a traditionalist faction. The only named leader at this time was Vortigern who may have held the position of "High King". The depredations of the Picts from the north and Scotti (Scots) from Ireland forced them to seek help from pagan Germanic tribes of Angles, Saxons and Jutes, who decided to settle. Some of the Romano-British may have migrated to Brittany and possibly Ireland.
Some histories (in context) refer to the Romano-British people with the blanket term "Welsh". The term Welsh is an Old English word meaning 'foreigner', referring to the old inhabitants of southern Britain. Historically Wales and the Cornish peninsula were known respectively as North Wales and West Wales. The Celtic north of England was referred to as Hen Ogledd.
The struggles of this period have given rise to the legends of Uther Pendragon and King Arthur. It is sometimes said that Ambrosius Aurelianus, the leader of the Romano-British forces, was the model for the former, and that Arthur's court of Camelot (Camelod or Camelodonum is the old name for modern Colchester) is an idealised Welsh memory of pre-Saxon Romano-British civilisation.