Graphic: Were the Romans so different from us?

Were the Romans so different from us? Were the Romans so different from us?

Sunday, March 16, 2014
12:01 PM

In the second of our series of graphic features Annette Hudson looks at life in Venta Icenorum, the major town of Norfolk in Roman times.

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Timeline of the Romans in Britain

55 BC Julius Caesar’s first invasion of Britain

54 BC Julius Caesar’s Second invasion of Britain

5 AD Rome acknowledges Cunobeline king of Britain

43 AD Under Emperor Claudius, Romans invade: Caratacus leads the resistance

51 AD Caratacus is defeated, captured and taken to Rome

61 AD Boudica, Queen of the Iceni rebels against Roman Britain, but is defeated

63 AD Joseph of Arimathea’s mission to Glastonbury

75-77 AD Rome’s conquest of Britain is complete: Julius Agricola is Britain’s Imperial Governor

80 AD Agricola invades the north

122 AD Construction of Hadrian’s Wall on the northern frontier

133 AD Julius Severus, Governor of Britain is sent to Palestine to fight rebels

184 AD Lucius Artorius Castus, the commander of the conscript troops in Britain leads them to Gaul

197 AD Clodius Albinus, Governor of Britain is killed by Severus in battle

208 AD Severus repairs Hadrian’s Wall

287 AD Revolt by Carausius, commander of the Roman British fleet; He rules Britain as emperor

293 AD Carausius is killed by Allectus, a fellow rebel

306 AD Constantine is proclaimed emperor at York

360 AD Series of attacks on Britain from the North from Picts, Scots (Irish), and Attacotti: Roman generals intervene

369 AD Roman general Theodosius drives out the Picts and Scots

383 AD Magnus Maximus (a Spaniard, pictured on this coin) is made emperor in Britain by the Roman troops: He leads his troops to conquer Gaul, Spain, and Italy

388 AD Maximus occupies Rome: Theodosius has Maximus beheaded

396 AD Stilicho, a Roman general and the acting regent, transfers military authority from Rome to Britain

397 AD Stilicho repels a Pictish, Irish and Saxon attack on Britain

402 AD Stilicho recalls a British legion to help with fighting at home

405 AD The British troops stay to fight another barbarian invasion of Italy

406 AD Suevi, Alans, Vandals and Burgundians attack Gaul, and break contact between Rome and Britain: Remaining Roman army in Britain mutinies

407 AD Constantine III named emperor by Roman troops in Britain: He withdraws the remaining Roman legion, the Second Augusta, to take it to Gaul

408 AD Devastating attacks by the Picts, Scots and Saxons

409 AD Britons expel Roman officials and fight for themselves

410 AD Britain is independent

c 438 AD Ambrosius Aurelianus probably born

c 440-50 AD Civil war and famine in Britain; Pictish invasions: Many towns and cities are in ruins.

Our popular, bustling city of Norwich, situated as it is with the River Wensum at its heart, has long been a centre of trade and commerce.

• Click here to view graphic in full

But the fine city we are so familiar with didn’t exist when the Romans were busy making inroads into the county of Norfolk.

In those days, the major town was a settlement three miles south of Norwich known as VentaIcenorum – Market of the Iceni.

The town is believed to have come into being following the failed uprising led by Boudica – queen of the British Iceni tribe – against the occupying forces of the Roman Empire. The town itself was founded deep in Iceni territory.

We know a great deal about this town since archaeological excavations were begun by the Norfolk Archaeological Society in 1928 after a series of aerial photographs of the site revealed extraordinary detail of the town street plan and some of its buildings.

And the coastline in Roman times was very different to our current coastline which is one of the reasons the city of Venta Icenorum is situated where it is.

Believe it or not, the coast line extended much further into the mainland with the River Tas feeding into the River Yare, whose estuary, in those days, was much wider and is now known as the Great Estuary.

That would make an ideal fording point for vessels and could be the reason the town grew from there.

The streets would have been far less packed together than our modern Norwich streets, with ample room for small scale cultivation and grazing space.

Roman life in Venta Icenorum saw citizens meeting for civic and recreational activities, shopping and selling local produce, proud homeowners and keen to advance in their own fine city - not so very different from the Norwich citizens of the 21st century.

The Roman Empire: Power & People exhibition will run until April 27 at the Norwich Castle. For more information, visit or phone 01603 493625 or 495897.






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