Our ancestors and the Roman invasion

two men in costume, one wearing Roman armour and the other a simple smock

Roleplayers dressed as a Roman centurion and a celt

What were our ancestors like?

Julius Caesar described the Britons of southern England in the 1st century BC,

"Most of those inhabiting in the interior do not grow corn, but live instead on milk and meat and clothe themselves in skins. All the Britons dye themselves with woad, which produces a blue colour, and as a result their appearance in battle is all the more daunting. They wear their hair long and shave all their bodies with the exception of their heads and upper lip" (Caesar V, 14).

Although we cannot tell how far this applied to the tribal people of the north, it may give us an impression of what they were like.

The Roman invasion

The Romans invaded England in AD 43 and within a few years began to build towns in the south and east of the country.

It was another 30 years before the Romans set up a permanent headquarters in Chester and built forts across the North West. The forts, and later towns, were linked by a network of roads which opened up the countryside to the army and to trade.

There were two main tribes in the area at this time, the Cornovii in Cheshire and the Brigantes in Lancashire. The Romans came north for two reasons: to crush the resistance of the druids in Anglesey and to end fighting within the ruling family of the Brigantes.

What did the Romans find when they arrived?

In England the Romans found a patchwork of fields, forests and peat bogs, that were home to eagles, brown bears, wild boar and wolves. Across this landscape there were scattered farms, some surrounded by ditches and high earth banks which were as much for show as protection.

Here in the North West with its forests, marshes and mossland the Romans encountered the Cornovii who lived in Cheshire and Wirral, and the Brigantes who lived north of the Mersey. These tribes spoke a Celtic language called Brythonic which developed into modern Welsh and Breton.

Archaeologists have found traces of native Iron Age farms through excavations at Irby, Halewood and Lathom. Very few objects survive in the ground. People used wooden and leather vessels which rot away over time. Items such as spindle-whorls, used for spinning wool, and quern stones, used for grinding corn, provide important clues. Pottery was used rarely, but coarse pottery containers for Cheshire salt were traded widely in the region for their contents.