Conquered and conquerors

History is most often written by the conquerors, not the conquered. However, in north Britain non-literate populations carried on their usual lives, mainly unaffected by the arrival of Roman culture, although they did probably pay taxes to their new rulers, most likely in the form of goods, not money.

Only one native urban centre is known to have thrived in the northern Roman province of Britannia: the civitas of Carlisle. Here, the local tribe (the Carvetii), was given the right to self-governance in the third century AD. The Carvetii, who may have represented 80% of the total population, continued to live as their ancestors would have done long before Roman occupation, during the Iron Age. They lived in round houses built within enclosures, which were themselves surrounded by small cultivated fields and then grazing land beyond. The sorts of objects Romans used are rarely found on the sites of these settlements, making them difficult to date. At a native settlement near a Roman road a few miles from the Roman fort at Lancaster evidence from radiocarbon dating and a small amount of Roman style pottery has shown that the site was occupied at the same time as the fort despite there being little trace of Roman influence.

Landscape research carried out by English Heritage and the Altogether Archaeology project suggests the existence of contemporary native settlements near to the Roman fort at Whitley Castle near Alston in the North Pennines. Whitley Castle lies to the south of Hadrian’s Wall and was almost certainly established to control lead mining. The Roman Frontier Gallery at Tullie House Museum in Carlisle explores how the Roman occupation impacted life in Britain.

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