A Brief History of Birmingham

The Romans

43 BC - 410 AD


History is defined as information about the past that has been written down; British history as such, therefore, begins with the Romans. Julius Caesar wrote about his British adventures and Tacitus wrote about his father-in-law Agricola, a Roman governor of Britain. However, there is minimal documentary evidence about the Midlands and none at all about the Birmingham area. What we know of 400 years of Roman occupation here is limited to a few archaeological finds.
Veni, vidi, vici - 'I came, I saw, I conquered': Julius Caesar's famous line from his Gallic Wars. Caesar came to Britain in 55 and again in 54 BC, but not until 43 AD did Emperor Claudius return to make Britain part of the Roman Empire. Britain then remained Roman for almost 400 years. Roman military roads passed through this area and a fort was built to support the Roman conquest of northern England and Wales. It is likely that the local Celts were able to offer little resistance to the invasion. However, the Birmingham area was on the fringe of Roman civilisation probably because of extensive forest areas in east Birmingham and poor agricultural land in the west.


There is archaeological evidence in Birmingham of Roman occupation: the Roman military fort at Metchley, the Roman road in Sutton Park, evidence of farming at Kings Norton and commercial-scale pottery manufacture near Holford, for instance. Many coins and some coin hoards have been found. And evidence of a probable farm of the Roman period was recently found in the excavations before the redevelopment of the Bull Ring area.


The climate at this time in the Mediterranean was wetter in summer than the present; in Britain, the weather in summer may have been cooler but dry. After the 1st century AD sea levels began to rise and lower-lying land in the south of England was covered by the sea. It may be that the end of the Roman Empire was hastened by a cooling of the climate, causing northerly tribes to migrate southwards. During the Roman period there was a population of perhaps one million people.