Active Learning on www.thinkinghistory.co.uk

The Romans in Britain

Introduction

Ian joins the Ermine Street Guard for the dayThis is the first of a series of three activities designed to tell the story of invasions, settlement and the creation of England from before the Roman Conquest up to 1066. The core of each activity is turning a large space into a map of Britain and, in this case, your pupils into British tribes and Romans. Using a combination of story-telling, questions, decision-taking, pictures and props the overall story should become clear as a result of being involving and active.

There’s plenty of scope for varying the depth of detail so this structure could be used at KS2 and KS3 but also with much older students if the task is developed appropriately. I’ve offered two levels of detail – a quick outline and a more decision and discussion-based activity - for you to select from, combine and adapt to your own needs.

We’ve also included some of our photographs [ click here ]. There are also suggestions for websites to investigate for more information and ideas for illustrations.

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Support

A formatted version of this activity should print from your browser (omitting this support section).

Or, a WORD version of this activity and accompanying resources can be downloaded:

  • For Activity file [ click here ]
  • For room plans [ click here ]. This pdf contains 4 plans, covering the different phases of invasion
  • For our photographs [ click here ]

Useful resources are shown at the bottom of the page, click here.

This activity is based on the ’Physical Maps’ style of model; for more examples of this model, click here.

Objectives

This activity will help students understand that

- the Roman conquest didn’t happen in one fell-swoop but took many years and took place in stages

- Britons reacted in different ways to the Roman invasion and were treated differently by the Romans

If you cover the activity in more detail it will also help pupils

- build up an understanding of life in Iron Age Britain and links between Iron Age Britain and the Roman empire

- understand why the Roman army defeated the British tribes

Setting Up

1. Mark out your map area on the floor – all you really need is to identify north and south but you may also want an outline map on your board. It may help to start with a modern map, showing key cities and your own school or town and then move to the map of Iron Age tribes – see map 1.

2. Props – the activity will be more enjoyable if you can provide crowns for the British kings (well worth building up a hoard of crowns from Christmas crackers).

For the Romans, English Heritage sell plastic centurions’ helmets and a sheet to act as a toga would be useful if the Emperor visits Britain.

You may also want pictures of the trading goods described in the Level 2 activity below or simply cards with the names of the goods on them – it depends on how much time you have available to build up the activity.

3. A timeline – at some stage you may want to link the events on the map to a timeline covering 40-120AD and maybe the whole period of Roman occupation, depending on your objectives. This could be on your board or on the floor. For an activity creating a physical timeline of Roman Britain see

Timelines for Understanding Duration – Romans

The Activity Level 1 – Telling the Outline Story

This level of activity tells the story of the Roman advance in a direct way – you direct what happens and tell the story but there’s relatively little decision-making for pupils or creation of context of the different societies. Only you know what level’s best for each class.

See room plansYou’ll probably find this simplest to follow if you print off the 4 maps for reference at this stage [ click here ].

1. Move students onto your physical map, placing them one per tribe roughly as shown on map 1. You could focus just on those in what we think of as England or include the complete set of 22 tribes (there were others, especially in the far north, but there’s a limit to pedantry!)

It’s up to you whether you give students the names of the tribes – it will be too much information for KS2 and KS3 but you may want to pick out your local tribe or use some of the names to help create a sense of a different time.

The rest of the class are Romans – they need to sit across the Channel for the moment.

2. Explain the map and the situation to students – you may want them sitting rather than standing while you do this. Your script could go along these lines -

The date is 43AD. Britain is not one country with one king. Instead there are lots of small kingdoms, sometimes at war with each other. Each of you in Britain is the king of your tribe. [Here you could pick out some tribal names and/or identify where your town is on the map]

Across the Channel are the Romans who rule a great empire. Nearly a hundred years ago, in the time of your great-grandfathers, a Roman army led by Julius Caesar came to Britain. It won battles in the south-east (identify the tribes involved) but then went away and the Roman army has never returned. We’re going to tell the story of what happened when the Roman army did come back in 43AD.

[Depending on what you’re trying to achieve you could build in here questions about who pupils think will win and why – but for more on that see Level 2 Activity below]

3. Now it’s time to tell the story in stages – see maps 2-4.

a) Stand the British tribes up. Bring the Romans across the Channel to meet tribes 1-2.

Ask tribes 1-2 if they will fight or welcome the Romans (if you wish add in explanation of trading links)

They welcome the Romans – who accept the local kings as local rulers – so allow these kings to keep their crowns but sit them down on chairs with the Romans standing above them. The key to this whole activity is that standing or sitting (on chairs or on the floor) represents who’s in charge.

b) The next stage to 47AD – within 4 years the Romans had conquered tribes 1-8 – make some tribes sit down on chairs as client kings (e.g.7 – Iceni) and others on the floor and take away their crowns because they were beaten in battle (e.g. 3 – Durotriges) and move the Romans north into this territory.

You may also want to emphasise the length of time – 4 years – use pupils’ ages to help them develop a sense of duration – how old were they 4 years ago or will be in 4 years’ time? Do they think that’s a long or short-time to take over this much of Britain?

c) to 68AD – 25 years after the invasion. Move the Romans north and ask tribes 9 and 10 to sit on the floor.

If you want to bring in Boudica’s rebellion to the story – take away the royal crown and make him/her sit on the floor – how does he/she react – tell the story of rebellion in as much detail as you wish.

d) to 83 AD – now move Romans north to stand over tribes 11-21 with them all now sitting on the floor. This was the furthest extent of Roman occupation.

e) Bring in the building of Hadrian’s Wall c.120 and bring back the Romans to the Wall line, standing up tribes 17-21 to be their own kings again.

See debriefing below for possible follow-up

The Activity Level 2 – Building in More Detail

This level repeats the above outline but includes more detail, especially early on in building up pictures of the Britons and Romans. Clearly you can mix and match some of this detail with the outline above to meet the particular needs of your class.

1. Move students onto your physical map, placing them roughly as shown on map 1. You could focus just on those in what we think of as England or include the complete set of 22 tribes (there were others, especially in the far north, but there’s a limit to pedantry!)

It’s up to you whether you give students the names of the tribes – it will be too much information for KS2 and KS3 but you may want to pick out your local tribe or use some of the names to help create a sense of a different time.

The rest of the class are Romans – they need to sit across the Channel for the moment.

2. Explain the map and the situation to students – you may want them sitting rather than standing while you do this. Your script could go along these lines -

The date is 43AD. Britain is not one country with one king. Instead there are lots of small kingdoms, sometimes at war with each other. Each of you in Britain is the king of your tribe.

While the students are sitting in their positions ask how they think the Britons would have lived – e.g.

  • what do they think their homes would have been like,
  • what work would they have done,
  • what kinds of clothes and food would they have had,
  • what kinds of transport and weapons
  • were they wealthy people? If so what would they trade with other people?

Although some pupils may have no ideas it’s important to begin by trying to tease out their ideas and assumptions. If necessary provide alternative answers to choose from. Then compare their ideas and mental images with reconstruction drawings and the information you provide – see the list of possible websites below for information.

3. Now introduce the Romans – and repeat the same kinds of questions listed above, again working from what students have in their minds already. If possible show how extensive their empire is and that Britain is one of the last parts of Europe outside the great Roman empire.

4. Before the conquest came trade – there was plenty of trade between the tribes of the south-east coast and the Romans. Get tribes 1 and 2 on the map to stand up and trade with the Romans, perhaps swapping pictures of the kinds of things they traded in or cards with the names of the goods on them. They can tell the other tribes what they’ve gained – make them jealous with the good things from Rome!

  • The Britons sold, for example, tin, iron, hunting dogs, corn, animal skins
  • The Romans sold, for example, wine, pottery, glass, figs

This physical swapping of pictures does help the learning process, helping everyone (whether they’re taking part or watching from further north in Britain) remember that trade preceded conquest.

5. Now move onto the invasion period and start by explaining the situation e.g.

Across the Channel are the Romans who rule a great empire. Nearly a hundred years ago, in the time of your great-grandfathers, a Roman army led by Julius Caesar came to Britain. It won battles in the south-east but then went away and the Roman army has never returned. We’re going to tell the story of what happened when the Roman army did come back in 43AD.

Build in here questions about who pupils think will win and why – think about the kinds of weapons and armour they have and get the Britons thinking about whether they’ll fight or welcome the Romans – they have a choice!

6. Now it’s time to tell the story in stages – see maps 2-4.

Bring the Romans across the Channel to meet tribes 1-2 (sit everyone else bar tribes 1 and 2 and the Romans down so everyone can see).

Ask tribes 1-2 if they will fight or welcome the Romans – push them to think back to those trading links and what might happen to them as kings if they fight and lose – what would they gain if they welcome the Romans?

Before explaining what did happen ask the Romans if they’re expecting to be welcomed or opposed and whether they will let the local kings keep their crowns if they welcome the legions.

Once you get answers, tell the story – that kings in the south-east welcomed the Romans – who in turn accepted the local kings as local rulers. Show this by these kings keeping their crowns but sit them down on chairs with the Romans standing above them. The key to this whole activity is that standing or sitting (on chairs or on the floor) represents who’s in charge.

[This may be a useful moment to use a reconstruction picture of Fishbourne palace in Sussex – quite a reward for a client king]

7. Now focus on tribes 3-8 (sit everyone else bar them and the Romans down so everyone can see) and the period to 47AD (map 2).

Ask these tribes (who have had less trade and contact with the Roman empire) what they will do now the Romans have landed – fight or accept Roman rule?

Hopefully you’ll get a variety of answers which will fit what happened – then explain that by 47AD – within 4 years - the Romans had conquered tribes 3-8 and make some tribes sit down on chairs as client kings (e.g.7 – Iceni) and others on the floor and take away their crowns because they were beaten in battle (e.g. 3 – Durotriges) and move the Romans north into this territory, standing over everyone else to demonstrate their power.

[If you wish to build in the resistance of Caratacus of the Catuvellauni this is the period to do it].

You may also want to emphasise the length of time – 4 years – use pupils’ ages to help them develop a sense of duration – how old were they 4 years ago or will be in 4 years’ time? Do they think that’s a long or short-time to take over this much of Britain?

8. Now the period to 68AD – 25 years after the invasion – and focussing on tribes 9 and 10. Repeat the question – will you fight or accept Roman rule?

Move the Romans north and ask tribes 9 and 10 to sit on the floor.

If you want to bring in Boudica’s rebellion it fits here chronologically though it would distract from the overall pattern of the activity to spend much time on it. You can briefly identify what happened by having the King wearing and sitting on his chair (not floor) as client king but then he dies and ask one of the Romans to take away the royal crown and make Boudica, now queen, sit on the floor. How does he/she react – tell the story of rebellion in as much detail as you wish.

9. Now continue the story to 83 AD – move Romans north to stand over tribes 11-21 with them all now sitting on the floor. This was the furthest extent of Roman occupation.

[The Brigantian queen, Cartimandua, was another who accepted Roman rule but this led to internal dissension and rebellion against Rome by some of her tribesmen who deposed her – she was restored to rule by the Roman army.]

10. Bring in the building of Hadrian’s Wall c.120 and bring back the Romans to the Wall line, standing up tribes 17-21 to be their own kings again.

If you wish you can include the building and manning of the Antonine Wall (in use c.142-162AD) which saw another brief expansion further north.

Debriefing

What you focus on depends on your objectives. You could

1. Ask pupils to re-tell the story, repeating the movement with their own story-telling replacing yours. Split the story-telling among geographical groups. This could also be done from different standpoints – Roman, rebellious Briton, welcoming Briton to build in ideas about differing interpretations.

2. Ask pupils whether

  • the Roman conquest happened in one fell-swoop or in stages
  • all Britons reacted in the same ways and were treated in the same way by the Romans
  • why the Roman conquest was successful – think about military equipment, the initial welcome by south-east tribes, the lack of a single united opposition

3. Use a physical timeline to compare the speed of the Roman advance – a sort of quick, slow, quick if mapped on a timeline.

4. Think about how we know – who wrote their versions of history down? How does this make telling the story today tricky if we don’t have any evidence written by the Britons but only the Romans’ descriptions?

Notes & Variations

1. If using this activity with A level students or older then model the first stage of the invasion, then ask students to research the rest of the story, then present it themselves in the same style, making sure they provide explanation as well a description.

2. As well as doing timeline work on the Roman period itself it’s important to place these events in a wider context – how do they fit in with other events pupils have heard of? Again a physical timeline relating Roman Britain to e.g. at KS2 Stonehenge, Henry VIII and Victoria will help build up a sense of sequence and duration.

Reflections

1. How effective has this activity been in terms of helping pupils

  • understand the outline story
  • think about differences in experiences
  • understand why events turned out as they did
  • develop an understanding of the chronology of the period?

2. Which other topics might benefit from using a physical map as the basis for exploring events?

Resources

In addition to using Google Images the following websites are useful for information and images, although note copyright limitations.

For our photographs [ click here ].

Iron Age Britain

Butser Iron Age Farm

www.butserancientfarm.co.uk

Flag Fen Bronze Age centre

www.flagfen.com

Castell Henllys Iron Age settlement

www.castellhenllys.com

British Museum – Iron Age Britain links

www.thebritishmuseum.ac.uk on War Art

www.thebritishmuseum.ac.uk on People

Gallica – Iron Age interpreters

www.gallica.co.uk

Vicus re-enactment group

www.vicus.org.uk

Roman Britain

Roman Britain site created by archaeologist and historian Guy de la Bedoyere

www.romanbritain.freeserve.co.uk

Vindolanda and the Roman Army Museum

www.vindolanda.com

Ermine Street Guard – premier re-enactment society

http://erminestreetguard.co.uk/

Fishbourne Roman Palace

www.sussexpast.co.uk

British Museum – Roman Britain

www.thebritishmuseum.ac.uk on Romans

Museum of London picture search facility

www.museumoflondon.org.uk

Extensive Roman Britain website

www.roman-britain.org

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Feedback

Constructive feedback is always welcome, particularly anything that will help other teachers.

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This Page

Introduction

Support

Objectives

Setting Up

Activity Level 1

Activity Level 2

Debriefing

Notes & Variations

Reflections

Resources

Feedback