Portrait of Britain: AD 1

David Braund re-examines what we know about Britain at the time of the Roman invasions.

At the beginning of the first millennium AD there was very much a north-south divide in Britain. The southern lowlands had recently experienced major change, driven both by local processes and by new relationships across the Channel.

We depend particularly upon the results of archaeology for any understanding of local processes in ancient Britain, for at this stage the inhabitants of Britain did not produce written accounts of themselves, whatever oral traditions may have been current among them. Archaeology shows that by the middle of the first century BC  a major shift in forms of settlement had occurred in lowland Britain. Hitherto communities had been centred upon defended ‘hill-forts’, such as Maiden Castle in Dorset. Yet the term may mislead. Hill-forts were more than defensive acropoleis: they included dwellings and may best be seen as representing a stage in the process of developing urbanisation. However, in the early decades of the first century BC, settlement in lowland Britain steadily shifted to sites suited not so much for defence as for farming, communication and trade.

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