AD 43 – 410 

In the beginning…

In AD 43, the Roman conquest of Britain was underway in the south with a mighty army under Emperor Claudius.  They battled their way through the land, destroying Celtic hill forts, villages and warriors that stood in their way.  The Romans wanted territory and power, and they wanted these metal-rich lands full of good livestock and potential slaves to add to their ever growing empire.  They named the land ‘Britannia’, which means ‘land of tin’.

roman fighting

Earlier that same year, Aulus Plautius attacked the coast with 40,000 men and faced a huge Celtic army led by Caratacus.  The Romans defeated the Celtic army and Caratacus initially fled to Wales, then later in 51 AD to Brigantia in North Yorkshire.

King Venutius of the Brigantes welcomed Caratacus into their vast kingdom and effectively joined forces with the rebels, but his Queen Cartimandua had other ideas.  She captured Caratacus and handed him over to the Romans and they in turn offered her protection thereafter.  Venutius was furious and continued with the Rebellion.  He became a prominent leader of the rebel army, and Cartimandua left him, marrying another man called Vellocatus, and declaring him the new king in Venutius’ place.  It took another fifteen years before Venutius regained his throne and took control of Brigantia once again.

Queen Cartimandua hands over Caratacus in chains to the Romans

map roman territories

The Brigantes territory was the next big thing in the Roman campaign.  They had secured southern Britain at this point and were settling in nicely; they’d built roads and trading networks, military bases kept order, they’d established taxes and built their complex farm villas.  They brought a different kind of culture, which southern Britain gradually adopted and they established themselves as the new rulers of the south. Defeat of the Brigantes would mean the key to the north and therefore all of Britain would be under Roman rule.

Brough – The Key to the North 

By 70 AD, the Romans had established themselves along the Trent to the Humber with the Ninth Legion based at Lincoln.  The Parisi were therefore in an area that was fully controlled by the Romans, but as yet were not affected themselves.  It has been suggested that East Yorkshire was not important enough to even bother with at that point, as the Brigantes covered a far larger area and were the trouble causers to be dealt with.

“In AD 71, Petitius Cerealis, the new governor, set out to bring order into the North with the conquest, pacification and annexation of Brigantia…  Consequently, the Parisi were temporarily advanced to the forefront of affairs.  From the hints provided by archaeology, both the tribal leaders and the Roman high command appear to have agreed upon a policy of mutual interest, perhaps in the face of the common foe, for the Ninth is soon found first in Malton, then in York.”

A.F Norman, Senior Lecturer in Classics, University of Hull, The Romans in East Yorkshire

So it seems that the Parisi of East Yorkshire chose to work with the Romans rather than against them, and continued their modus operandi of trading with the south, expanding further trade with the Romans.

roman coin
Roman Coin depicting Claudius 54 AD

The Romans crossed the Humber by ferry landing at the Celtic port and village of Petuaria (Brough) and settled on the outskirts.  They built a rectangle fort with turf ramparts, ditches and gates at each end, which was to be a supplies depot and military base with army barracks for further advancement into Brigantia.  From this base in 71 AD, Cerealis was able to cut across country unseen and storm Stanwick in the heart of Brigantes territory almost unchallenged.  From there they moved forward and eventually established the foundations of the permanent headquarters at York.  The Brigantes were mostly defeated, although resistance continued at settlements near Levisham and around the borders.

As the Parisi had cooperated with the Roman army, the tribal chiefs were rewarded with ‘freedom from permanent military occupation and its attendant obligations, which most of the area seems to have enjoyed thenceforth.’  So, clever political thinking on the part of the local chiefs appeared to have paid off.  It meant that by cooperating with the Romans, they were pretty much left alone to continue life as it was, and the more affluent of the Parisi were happy to expand their trading circles and get their hands on the beautiful Roman wares that were appearing on their shores.

Imported pottery found in the region – Hull & East Riding Museum

After York had been established there was no real need for the military site at Brough and so the fort and barracks were merged into the town of Petuaria, which was perhaps the major trading centre of the Parisi.  Goods were imported and exported up and down the Humber and it was a busy town with markets and places of gathering.

The Theatre

In AD 138 a theatre built of wood on earth banks was built, dedicated to the town by the new magistrate, Marcus Ulpius Ianuarius.

roman theatre slab
Full Translation : “For the honour of the Divine House of the Emperor Caesar Titus Aelius Hadrianus Antoninus Augustus, father of his house, (  ) times Consul, and to the spirits of the Augusti, Marcus Ulpius Ianuarius, Magistrate of the settlement of Petuaria, gives a (new) stage at his own expense.”

One can imagine a gathering of people sat upon the earth steps looking down upon a raised wooden stage, watching mime and plays while drinking wine and ale, laughing and yelling out at the actors.  There may well have been a market nearby selling souvenirs, amongst other things such as live chickens and pigs, pottery, jewellery, and food and drink.  Maybe one of those souvenirs was a small statue of a famous actor, and maybe this small statue was the very one which was found around 1960 in a garden in Great Gutter Lane, Willerby, and now lives at the Hull and East Riding Museum, along with the dedication stone above.Roman theatre statue

Actually, the stone and the figure are the only evidence of the theatre existing, as the site has never been found.

Roman theatre scene

The Story continues…

All was pretty much peaceful for about a hundred years; the Celtic elite’s next generation (and thereafter) were increasingly Roman in how they lived, what they wore and what they ate.  Their houses were rectangle and made of wood and stone with thatched or tiled roofs.  They had changed from pastoral farming of horses to sheep and cattle, and arable farming (producing wheat, corn, hay, etc) to help feed the vast numbers of Roman soldiers stationed in York and at various other sites in the region, which probably fell to the peasants to provide.  This was a condition of the Romans and it’s likely that they did not have any choice in the matter.  The Romans also made it ‘illegal’ to carry swords and to keep their war horses and chariots.

With their armed independence gone, the warrior warlords of the past had changed to the status of rich landowners.  Peasants lived in simple huts in the villages and countryside, but they too enjoyed Roman wares such as Samian pottery, which has been found over the region.

At the end of the 2nd century, civil war breaks out and Petuaria is once again a garrison town with the renewal of the walls which had fallen to disrepair.  Northern tribesmen ravaged the county as far as York.  Bases at Malton and Langton were badly damaged and this had a knock-on effect for the prosperity of the Parisi.

roman mercury god
Mercury.  Image taken at Hull & East Riding Museum

Coin hoards were buried at Holderness, Sutton and Swine, possibly so that they were not looted by raging tribesmen, or they could have been offerings to the many Roman Gods that were revered at the time.

By the 3rd century, peace was restored and confidence renewed, and the rich folk of East Yorkshire settled into a Golden Age of luxurious villas complete with tiled roofs, underground heating, bath houses and elaborate mosaics and gardens, and even the lowly peasant enjoyed a relatively prosperous period.

Laws were relaxed so that Roman Soldiers could marry whilst on active duty, which meant the merging of civilian locals and Romans, with many families living together in communities near the main military units at Malton and York.  Of course, Roman Soldiers were not just from Rome; the army was made up of men from all over the Roman Empire, including North Africa and Iraq.

Britain as a whole was very multicultural, with many religions, beliefs and languages.

Large Settlements

Brough, Malton, Norton, Hayton, Shiptonthorpe, Brantingham, Stamford Bridge and Rudstone Dale were all large settlements with evidence of villas and roads and the trappings of everyday Roman life.  Many villas were situated along the Wolds all the way down to Brough, on the well drained soil and close to a water source and main road from Malton.

roman mosaic

By the 4th century, villas were well established, such as the one at Rudston with this Venus mosaic, which is now in the Hull & East Riding Museum.  This mosaic created the dramatic floor of the dining room, which would have seen many an elaborate banquet where guests were entertained with sumptuous dishes, eaten whilst reclining on large sofas in their finest fashionable robes, drinking copious amounts of quality wine.   Servants (slaves) would have waited on them, and there would have been music, poetry recitals and dancing.

Romans in Hull

roman faces potteryHull was still wetlands, but some areas were clearly inhabited.  Roman finds include pottery found in the Old Town, which may have been a trading point, up the River Hull.  In Graylees Avenue, Beverley High Road near the River Hull around 4,000 Roman artefacts have been discovered such as building remains, fieldwork ditches for agriculture and Samian (imported) pottery.  Pottery was also found at Haworth Hall, also near the River Hull.  At Thoresby Street, Princes Avenue, a complete jar with two small loop handles has been found, and at Kingswood, buildings covering 60m dated 2nd to 4th century were discovered with enclosures, meadows with cattle bones and a shallow draught boat.  At Malmo Road, Sutton Fields, developers found earthworks of rectangular buildings, post holes, pits and ditches, a cobbled track-way, ceramic building materials, animal bone and pottery.

In the 2nd century a Romano-British farming community thrived on the high ground of  Bransholme, and a road stretched from Wawne, through Sutton to Bilton.

In the end…

The late 4th century saw the gradual depletion of Roman military as they were summoned to mainland Europe to help defend what was left of the Empire.  Money and trade was also withdrawn and whole towns fell to disrepair as the rich landowners abandoned the ‘sinking ships’, the beautiful villas left to rot.  Germanic Pirates frequently raided the coast and it was left to the Romano-British Celts to defend their lands.  They were successful for a time, using a signal system of lighting fires along the coast to alert the navy’s defence, but invasion was inevitable.

For damage control, the invading Angles were given land and payment in return for their services to help defend the Empire.  This clearly didn’t work though; by the first decade of the 5th century, the signal stations fell and slowly but surely the Angles conquered and claimed the land as their own. Villages and towns were overrun.

It was, in fact the poorest rural folk who continued pretty much as they had always done, being primitive enough to fuse with this new Anglian culture.



Many thanks to Mr Raymond E.O. Ella, writer-historian, for his contribution to Past Hull & Around via the comment section.

08 July 2018

“There is a possibility that the first Romans or at least some or one of their leaders sailing up a certain river passing Hull etc, actually came from one of the Umbrian Hill towns in Italy, so the river Humber may have been named by these Romans, indeed Northumbria, meaning land north of the river Humber”.