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Britain / History / Early
Early Britain (before 1066)
Pre-historic Britain (before 43)
  Roman times (43-409)
  The Dark Ages (409-1066)
  Further information
Related pages:
The Middle Ages (1066-1485)
  The Tudors (1485-1603)
  The Stuarts (1603-1714)
  The Georgians (1714-1837)
  The Victorian age (1837-1914)
  Modern Britain (1914-present)


Stonehenge (c)
near Salisbury, Wiltshire
Te Newydd (c) Cadw: Welsh Historic Monuments. Crown copyright
Ty Newydd, Anglesey
Neolithic tomb

White Horse,
Westbury, Wiltshire

The earliest people are thought to have come to Britain about 500,000 years ago. Britain and Ireland were joined to Europe at this time, and during several Ice Ages much of the land was covered with thick ice. This period was known as the Stone Age, and people used stone tools to hunt and fish. The melting ice created the English Channel and Irish Sea, forming the islands of Britain and Ireland. Stonehenge was an ancient temple built in several stages between about 3000 BC and 1300 BC. It is near Salisbury and can still be visited today (for details see the English Heritage site:; see also: Travel/Tours/England/Central). After about 1800 BC metal tools started to be made by mixing copper and tin (from Cornwall) : this is known as the Bronze Age. The Celts were tribes invaded from Europe after about 800 BC. They developed knowledge of how to make stronger weapons and tools using iron: the start of the Iron Age.Gaelic, Irish, Welsh and Cornish languages are all connected to the language of the Celts. The Celts living in Britain were known as Britons.

For more information about British history during the Stone Age and Bronze Age, see:
BBC History:
For more information about British history during the Iron Age, see:
BBC History:

Stonehenge & Avebury
Publisher: Pitkin Guides
Date: January 2002

Prehistoric Britain
Author: Timothy C. Darvill
Publisher: Routledge
Date: February 1987
Ancient Britain
Publisher: Jarrold Publishing
Date: April 2006

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Britain was invaded by the Roman governor of France (then known as Gaul) called Julius Caesar in 55 BC, but trouble in Gaul and in Rome forced Caesar to leave. The French Asterix cartoons (such as Asterix in Britain) provide an amusing introduction to this period of history: the fictional character Asterix is a Celtic warrior in northern France at this time.

About 100 years later (in AD 43) the Roman emperor Claudius invaded Britain again. The Romans moved north through England and Wales but were stopped by the fierce tribes which were living in what is now Scotland. The Roman emperor Hadrian decided to establish a northern border for the Roman empire by building a wall guarded by Roman soldiers: this is known as Hadrian's Wall. A large part of this wall, and the remains of several Roman camps which were built along it, can be seen if you visit the area of north England called Northumberland (see:

There is a society called the Ermine Street Guard ( who give demonstrations at major Roman sites which show how Roman soldiers trained and fought.

Roman soldiers (c)
Roman soldiers
(Ermine Street Guard)
Hadrian's Wall (c)
Hadrian's Wall,

Roman baths (c)
Roman baths,

Statue of Boudicca in Westminster, London
(Iceni tribe leader who revolted against Roman rule)


Christianity was first established in Britain during this time. The town St Albans has been named after a person called Alban who was killed for looking after a Christian who was trying to escape being attacked. Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman empire in 325; there were bishops at Lincoln, London and York from this time. You can visit a museum about life in Roman Britain at St Albans, which is a short distance north of London (see

Many of the major Roman towns still exist today. Some of the most famous ones include York, Lincoln, Bath, London, Canterbury, Exeter, Carlisle and St Albans. There were camps for the Roman army at place names in England which end in -chester or -cester (for example: Chester, Colchester, Silchester and Winchester). The Romans built roads throughout the country (often straight, because they followed the most direct routes); many modern roads follow these original paths. The town Bath gets its name from the Roman baths which were built here and which can still be visited there (see:

The Romans left Britain in 406. They had ruled the area for nearly 400 years: the people living there are known as Romano-Britons. Latin (the language used by the Romans) has had a major influence on the English language. The Christian church throughout Europe continued to use Latin, and it was the church which later established the education system in Britain (including the early universities at Oxford and Cambridge). Roman numbers continue to be used in some places, so it is a good idea to learn how to understand them. M=1000; D=500; C=100; L=50; X=10, V=5, I=1. Add the numbers together, or subtract if a smaller letter appears before a larger one. For example, MCMXIV = 1000 - 100 + 1000 + 10 -1 +5 = 1914. Examples include the dates shown on monuments (MCMXIV - 1914 - can be seen on many a memorial statue for people who died in the First World War), the names of kings (for example: Henry VIII for Henry the Eighth), and the numbering of chapters or pages in some books (for example: page ix for page 9).

Roman Britain
Publisher: Pitkin Guides
Date: August 1996

An Atlas of Roman Britain
Authors: Barri Jones, David Mattingly
Publisher: Oxbow Books
Date: February 2002
  Roman Cookery: Recipes and History
Author: Jane Renfrew
Publisher: English Heritage Publications
Date: April 2004

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THE DARK AGES (409-1066)

The period after the Roman soldiers left Britain is known as the Dark Ages. Saxons attacked southern England from northern Germany. King Arthur is believed to have been a Romano-Briton warrior who fought against these attackers in about AD 500, although many of the stories about this time are fictional. As well as Saxons, other tribes from northern Germany known as Jutes and Angles invaded. Because much of the south of Britain was taken over by the Angles, this area became known as Angle-land (now England), and the people living here became known as Anglo-Saxons. The Romano-Britons were forced to escape to the west, to Wales and Cornwall.

Vikings (at the Jorvik
Viking Centre)

King Alfred,

Celtic hut
(Museum of Welsh Life, St Fagans)

Vikings from Denmark, Norway or Sweden (as known just as Danes) then invaded northern and eastern England. Town names in northern England are sometimes based on the language of the Vikings: for example -by means village, giving the name to places such as Derby Grimsby, Whitby. The weekdays from Tuesday to Friday are named after Viking gods. There is a popular visitor attraction in York known as the Jorvik Viking Centre. King Alfred (known as Alfred the Great) fought against the Vikings and kept control of the south of England (the area was known as Wessex, meaning West-Saxon). However, the Vikings later defeated the Saxons and there were several Danish kings of England before the Saxon kings Edward the Confessor and Harold.

The northern part of Britain remained independent during this time, inhabited by Celtic tribes. The two main tribes were the Picts (who had fought successfully against the Romans) and the Scots, who had come to this area from Ireland. These two tribes united under one king in AD 843 to form Scotland, although the highlands and islands were not part of this. William Shakespeare wrote a play about a king of Scotland at the end of the Dark Ages called Macbeth.

Saxons and Vikings
Publisher: Pitkin Guides
Date: February 2001

The Celts
Publisher: Pitkin Guides
Date: February 2003

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Romans, Celts and Vikings 700 BC - AD 1065
Author: Philip Steele
Publisher: Miles Kelly Publishing Ltd
Date: May 2002

Early Britain 500,000 BC - AD 1154
Publisher: Kingfisher Books
Date: May 2002
Life in Britain and Ireland Before the Romans
Author: Francis Pryor
Publisher: HarperCollins
Date: September 2003
  Britain in the First Millennium: From Romans to Normans
Author: Edward James
Publisher: Arnold
Date: December 2000

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Visit Stonehenge: Travel/Tours/England/Stonehenge
Visit Bath: Travel/Tours/England/Bath
Visit Canterbury: Travel/Tours/England/Canterbury
Visit the Orkney Islands: Travel/Tours/Scotland/Orkney

Home page: Home

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