History Of The British Isles
Geography and the Mingling of the
Today's Britain formed by 7000 BC.
Surrounded by the sea - both a passive and receptive relationship
West and north dominated by hills and mountains, south and east comparatively
flat but with own uplands (limestone ridge runs from Portland Bill and the
Cotswold's to the Cleveland hills, chalk hills of the Chilterns and Sussex and Dorset
Climate is temperate - mild winters and warm summers.
The British are a people of mixed blood
This mixing of races was largely completed by the time of the Norman conquest;
however, since then forced entry has been replaced by a slow peaceful infiltration
of other races, Huguenots, Irish, West Indian, Asian etc.
To invade Britain was easy before the coming of the Normans ,but immensely
difficult afterwards.
The first few lectures will look at the period from 55 BC to 1066 A.D., that is when
Britain faced wave after wave of invaders.
“This royal throne of kings, this sceptered isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England”
Richard II
•7000 BC the two islands formed by retreating glaciers.
•Britain sparsely populated by hunter gatherers.
•The Neolithic period: 4000 BC immigrants arrived probably farmers, skilled in
pottery, use of long barrows and brought agriculture to Britain. These people were
Iberians and were skilled traders. A few centuries later their descendants were
building stone tombs, for example those found in the Orkneys and by 2500 BC the
first phase of Stonehenge was completed.
•The building of Stonehenge suggests strong government unity and stability.
•Bronze age: In 2000 BC a new wave of migration occurred with the arrival of the
Beaker people (Importance of alcohol) from Holland and the Rhineland. They
brought with them the knowledge of metalworking and they were also those who
erected the inner circle of Stonehenge using bluestones from Pembrokeshire.
Stonehenge dominating monument of British early history.
Started ca. 2500 BC and took many hundreds of years to build and 30 million man
It has been established it was in use ca. 1848 BC
The blue stone conundrum
Its purpose?
Stone east of the altar stone casts a shadow on the altar on June 21st - Summer
For many years it was believed that the Celts had built Stonehenge but archaeology
shows this to be untrue. There is, however, no doubt that they made use of it.
The Celts (part 1)
Brought iron to Britain and Ireland
Characteristics of a civilisation.
Shared culture with continental Celts e.g. art, language and religious beliefs (e.g.
cult of the severed head (see next slide).
Celtic language still survives in Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Cornwall
Traditional features of society: kinship (power and prestige rested within the
kinship group, land was not communally owned but resided within the nuclear family),
no national identity (identity tied up with the tribe)
Farmers and hunters, tightly knit clans. Druids were the religious class who resolved
disputes between clans.
Druids presided over religious rituals including prayer and sacrifice. Anglesey their
Celtic religion a kind of animism (animus meaning spirit). Spirits were in everything.
These spirits controlled all aspects of existence and had to be appeased (kept happy)
Perfect harmony created with the union of Mother Goddess (nature itself) and the
Great Father (the tribe and its culture)
The Celts
Cult Of The Severed Head
The ancient Celts had a religious
fascination with the human head.
Celtic myths are full of severed heads,
like that of Bran the Blessed that kept
Britain safe so long as it was buried on
Tower hill.
According to Greek and Roman
historians, Celtic warriors took the
heads of their enemies as trophies:
“The heads of their most distinguished
enemies they embalm in cedar-oil and
carefully preserve in a chest, and
these they exhibit to strangers, gravely
maintaining that in exchange for this
head some one of their ancestors, or
their father, or the man himself,
refused the offer of a great sum of
The Romans
Julius Caesar 55-54 BC (see top image) made a ‘hit
and run’ attack on Britain. Exaggerated his invasion
somewhat, ‘Veni, Vidi, Vici’
Why did he invade Britain?
Julius Caesar marks the beginning of Britain's history,
as he was the first to write of the land and its people.
An invasion of the south east rather than an invasion of
Claudius (see bottom image) in 43 AD conducted a
‘proper’ invasion, which faced many obstacles and took
some time.
Why did he invade Britain?
This saw the establishment of military camps (called
castra), that eventually developed into towns with
roads, villas, baths etc
Primarily an urban transformation rural life continued
much as before.
Impact Of Romans On British Isles
Immense: it is very difficult to see any fragments of Celtic Societies, however, the
same can be said for Roman culture.
However, Celtic roots were not destroyed rather they lay dormant for hundreds of
The south of Britain saw the greatest changes, Celtic language, religion, law, social
institutions lost their dominant status
The Romans wanted to unite the country under one economy, one culture and,
most importantly, one government.
Advantages of occupation: period of relative peace and prosperity, development of
infrastructure, Christianity, rural development and firm government.
Disadvantages: The imposition of one culture on another can never be seen as
The further north you go the less the impact of Romanization (e.g. Hadrian’s wall)
Those areas that Romans had less impact on, are those areas today where
Celtic/Iberian culture still exists i.e. Cornwall, Ireland, Wales, Scotland
Ireland had peaceful contact with the Romans, the greatest impact the coming of the
Romans had on Ireland was the arrival of Christianity with St. Patrick.
The fourth century (306 AD) saw Christianity
becoming the established religion of The
Roman Empire under Emperor Constantine.
Church organised in the same way as the
secular administration. Administration units
(dioceses) headed by bishops (governors) who, in
turn, were responsible to the Pope (Emperor)
Christianity vs. Druidism
Druidism: local, oral, secrecy
Christianity: Centralised, written, uniform
Latin was the language of the empire and the
gospels, therefore Christian missionaries were
also missionaries of Romanization –
The Romans Depart
In AD 407 the last Roman soldiers left the British Isles
Rome herself was under attack from Northern European tribes and Britain's legions
were needed to help in the defence.
Legacy of The Romans
North/South Cultural Divide
South-Thames Estuary to Bristol
Channel-heavily Romanised
North-includes Wales, Cornwall,
Scotland and Ireland-less so and
maintained distinctive Celtic/Iberian
flavour. Took what it wanted from
Roman influence e.g. Celtic
This divide exists still today.
Language, values and so on.
In conclusion it is safe to say that
despite the Roman occupation lasting
some 350 years, large areas of the
British Isles maintained their
distinctive Celtic/Iberian identity.