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 After 400 years the Romans leave Britain... why?

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normanhurst
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PostSubject: After 400 years the Romans leave Britain... why?   Sun 01 May 2016, 22:04

what was the reasons for the Romans withdrawing from Britain...

how often was the occupying army sent back to Rome for leave... i understand those serving soldiers could retire with a pension and become a Roman citizen. how did those retiring Romans travel back to Rome... by ship or some military transport... were they allowed to take their families if any that they had gained on their service here... did those members of the army recruited locally from British stock withdraw back to Rome when the occupation came to an end... could they 'buy' themselves out and remain here, the place of their birth.

how long after they left Britain did the Roman empire remain a force to be reckoned with on the international front and when did the Roman empire collapse.

please don't suggest i just read a book about it... i don't get the information i'm looking for...
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: After 400 years the Romans leave Britain... why?   Mon 02 May 2016, 08:28

There are a hell of a lot of "don't knows" in answer to that question, so you would be right to distrust the majority of books which purport to address this period and place, and then claim to deliver definitive versions of events. There is even some doubt about the terms of the withdrawal itself - the infamous "edict" from the emperor Honorius for the Britons to "fend for themselves" may or may not actually have happened, and if it did may or may not have meant Britain at all.

What constituted a "Roman" in Britain at the time of the withdrawal of guarantees of future military deployment (which we are pretty certain did happen) is also a very thorny issue. Officially of course everyone was a "Roman", though to what extent this identity was promoted above a local one is a very moot point by the late 4th century, and to what extent "local" in a local's mind might mean one's immediate environment as opposed to Britain as a whole is equally as moot.

Militarily things are equally as vague. How many troops were freshly deployed, how many troops were deployed on the traditional basis of intention to settle, how many troops were locally recruited (and for how many generations this had happened as a norm), and how many were what we would consider mercenaries today, are all questions that have excited difference and debate among historians. All could be classed as "Roman" in some sense, yet all might not have considered themselves primarily so, and if they did not then how exactly the chain of command might really have functioned, and how relevant such an imperial directive might have been anyway, are also both contentious issues about which different historians choose to interpret the scant data in very different ways.

By the time of the official "withdrawal" as commonly accepted, Britain as a province was already a veteran of several serious lurches towards autonomy in a Roman context, and at least on one occasion had used such a lurch as an effective launch pad for a certain group of military leaders headed up by Constantine to then prosecute a takeover of the European Roman hegemony as it stood at the time. While this event is often used to indicate Britain's still as yet vital integration into that hegemony at the time, it also indicates a province prepared and very able to "go maverick" (about as autonomous as it gets) when it suited, whether it called itself Roman or not. When Magnus Maximus attempted similar later however, and though he came very close to succeeding, he was to be held up ever after as a strong indication that the empire was crumbling at the time and that Britain, even within his lifetime, had ceased effectively to be a province at all (archaeology backs this up - Roman military finds in the bulk of Britain tend to show that any concerted military presence was by then confined to the south-east).

So when you ask about what terms military personnel might have negotiated or have been offered by their superiors twenty years after Magnus's assault on absolute power there is really no way to answer the question without huge conjecture and assumption about the actual constitution of the province which, quite frankly, we do not know and cannot tell even from the archaeological data. By the first decades of the fifth century we can be pretty sure that Britain, as a Roman entity, had already become something rather unique unto itself - local compromises, local solutions, even local hostilities and takeovers, having redefined the old centrally administered state into something we normally associate with the later state of affairs under Saxon rule.

In that system, and one seemingly already long established by the time of Honorius's "edict", the status of a servant of Rome was a very flexible concept indeed. Any worthwhile negotiations regarding land-tenure, security, military service and the like, would have long been conducted with whoever or whatever constituted local command in one's area, and that which constituted local command had already seemingly adopted the patchwork texture of later maps of the area. We have no evidence of any single sudden traumatic collapse of central authority, and indeed we know archaeologically from the villas that the dismantlement and replacement of the old economic model (and assumedly power structure) was by no means a sudden affair nationally, though certainly quite sudden often when it happened locally. This suggests a stability of sorts being ensured at increasingly local levels, but which had started in that vein long before the official withdrawal and continued long after it too.
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Meles meles
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PostSubject: Re: After 400 years the Romans leave Britain... why?   Mon 02 May 2016, 09:28

Just a few comments based essentially on how I believe things were in the first couple of centuries AD, although of course the situations would probably have differed between places and at different times.

@normanhurst wrote:
how often was the occupying army sent back to Rome for leave... i understand those serving soldiers could retire with a pension and become a Roman citizen. how did those retiring Romans travel back to Rome... by ship or some military transport... were they allowed to take their families if any that they had gained on their service here... did those members of the army recruited locally from British stock withdraw back to Rome when the occupation came to an end... could they 'buy' themselves out and remain here, the place of their birth.

In general terms .... All roman legionaries  (but not auxilliary troops) had to be roman citizens in the first place. Ordinary legionaries and NCOs up to the rank of centurian were also supposed to be un-married and were generally forbidden to marry (unless they managed to get special dispensation) while on service. It was of course different for officers who would anyway have come from the equestrian or higher classes of citizenship. Legionary service was generally for ten years and there was no home leave ... your home and family was supposed to be the legion. At the end of service they could return home (I doubt there was any formal arrangement to provide transport), they had a pension, and had often acquired additional funds from booty, which was often as a share in the number of slaves taken by their legion. De-mobbed troops were often encouraged to take some of their back-pay in the form of land, usually granted in the area in which they had been active (the hope of land was a major reason why many had joined up in the first place). The city of Lincoln I believe was specifically founded for pensioned off old soldiers who it was hoped would settle down with whatever local women they had acquired and so help to romanise the local population, as well as providing a base of reservists should the locals object to this romanising business.

And at the end of the roman 'occupation' (which was of course a long drawn out decline rather than a sudden collapse), it wasn't really a case of Rome withdrawing its troops and evacuating back to home, but more a case of the British authorities and commanders of the local forces being told, "Sorry can't help you, you're now on your own. Good luck".


Last edited by Meles meles on Mon 02 May 2016, 09:54; edited 1 time in total
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: After 400 years the Romans leave Britain... why?   Mon 02 May 2016, 09:49

Early Roman occupation and administration definitely seemed to be along those lines, MM. However it is a bit like comparing Britain's administration in the 1700s to today regarding apparent continuity implied by language and terms of reference but no actual feasible comparison in real terms. Or, maybe even more relevantly - the administration of the Middle East region in the 1700s and that which pertained immediately prior to the final collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century, let alone today.

In the latter case one could attempt to draw a parallel with the imagined status of a military person in late Roman Britain - the imminent collapse of Ottoman rule most definitely meant that it would have been an exercise in futility for such personnel to think they could negotiate any form of security or employment with their old masters, but it would be very wrong to assume that the same disintegration did not offer the same personnel in many cases opportunities for ensuring both, in fact in many ways far exceeding the old regime's capabilities to provide, and even in many cases leading to something much more attractive indeed for the personnel concerned - the seizure of control, power and wealth itself which previously had been their masters' preserve.

I am inclined to the view that late 4th century Britain had already gone a long way down that road too, and it is in that context that any evaluation of a "typical squaddie's" prospects and circumstances should be guessed at.

MM wrote:
And at the end of the roman occupation it wasn't really a case of Rome withdrawing it's troops, and evacuating back to home, but more a case of the British authorities and commanders of the local forces being told, "Sorry, you're now on your own. Good luck".

We don't actually know that this is exactly what happened. There was, prior to the supposed event, a recorded evacuation of legionaries who were required elsewhere and which we do not believe were ever replaced. However even this seems to have occurred after a period of considerable redeployment internally which saw a withdrawal of such troops from all but the most valuable bits of the territory in terms of revenue and administration. By the time such an edict may have been issued the reality had already overtaken the command anyway, I would suggest.
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normanhurst
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PostSubject: Re: After 400 years the Romans leave Britain... why?   Mon 02 May 2016, 22:28

it's some questions I've been burning to ask for a long time but never had the courage to for fear of looking stupid amongst such learned contributors... so firstly Nordman i would like to say a big thank you for your reply in putting my mind at rest... i'm not as thick as i thought i was.

you certainly have made it easier for me to see things from a different perspective to what i took to be events that were vague wishy washy facts... i only now wish i'd asked before.

i'm afraid i wont be able to add much input to any discussion that follows but I'll be sure as hell interested in what esteemed historians comments follow.

many thanks to you too MM... your input has certainly opened up room for fresh thoughts that are about as opposite as you can get to the teaching of my history schooldays...

how long after the withdrawal from Britain did the 'fall of the Roman empire' take effect.


so sorry my reply is so long in the coming, but out here in the forest getting online is a waiting game... waiting for all them tha heavy footed donkeys to move away from the control box up the lane where all the cables meet before going up the mast...
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: After 400 years the Romans leave Britain... why?   Tue 03 May 2016, 08:36

@normanhurst wrote:
how long after the withdrawal from Britain did the 'fall of the Roman empire' take effect.

Again, it depends on whether you go along with the simplistic dates or not. The old schoolbook version is that Honorius "seemed to have" issued his decree in 410CE, and that the end of the (western) Roman Empire is when the last emperor Romulus was replaced by a king Odoacer in 476CE, so that's 66 years.

However if you define an empire as an entity that a) can hold on to its territorial acquisitions despite hostility from outside, b) can extract revenue from these and direct it to a central administration, and c) can effectively administer all other aspects of control, both bureaucratic and military, to a point that it can predict stability, then the Roman Empire in the west had come a crocker long before even Britain was officially abandoned as a project. Its internal controls had broken down so many times that by the end of the 4th century no realistic emperor even tried to re-establish them anymore, forced instead into crisis management from one disaster to the inevitable next. Revenue collection had become a joke (pirates operating from modern day Belgium and possibly even Britain itself are reckoned to have amassed a larger combined wealth from hijacking what once had been fiercely protected Roman trade than the entire Western Empire could count in its coffers). Crucially, the only policy left to the empire to guarantee its borders - heavily garrisoned limes and walls - had so long been abandoned that it was a distant memory, and almost every such fortified border had long since been taken over by "barbarians" who now negotiated with Rome for their upkeep in a manner which can only be described as one of the biggest protection rackets ever devised, and who were inclined to go walk-about around the so-called empire when it suited them anyway.

In fact, throughout the 4th century, if one compares the lot of an ordinary person who happened to be living in the path of one of these migration routes in Roman Europe with the lot of an ordinary person in Britannia, it was the latter who arguably enjoyed the greater security and stability. It is no coincidence therefore that from the end of the third century Britain experienced the emergence of the first great Brexit campaigns of the period (Carausius being the first we know of), some of which almost succeeded politically but all of which were simply statements of realpolitik at the time.

There was no great "fall" in the end (we have Gibbon to thank for that misnomer) - but there was certainly a gradual and inexorable decay which culminated in a very high-profile deposition in the end, though by a German king who in fact was preceded by several others who had already effectively wielded ultimate power over the old territories and surviving institutions, even while the so-called emperor was still nominally top of the pile. Also, there was a brief glimmer of revival over a century later initiated by the Eastern Empire which almost succeeded in cranking the Western Empire back into gear and re-establishing its old control, so even the "fall" in the end turned out be a very protracted affair indeed - a bit like a body in the morgue that insists on sitting up every now and then.
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Mikestone8
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PostSubject: Re: After 400 years the Romans leave Britain... why?   Sun 10 Jul 2016, 13:24

As I have always understood it, the term "withdrawal" is misleading. The pretender Constantine !!! took the garrison of Britain t the Continent in 407 as part of a bid for the throne. He failed, his army was destroyed and between Barbarian invasions and revolts, Honorius was never able to spare any forces to reoccupy, and just left the Province to ts own devices.  Older textbooks sometimes mentioned a temporary reoccupation around 417-425, but that doesn't seem to get mentioned lately.
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: After 400 years the Romans leave Britain... why?   Sun 10 Jul 2016, 17:02

Prior to Gibbon the clever money was on the notion that the Romans had somehow been kicked out by the locals - this was an idea equally unbased on any known facts but popular in a time when England saw itself as under threat of invasion from successively Scottish, Spanish, Dutch and French forces. It was encouraging to think that repelling invaders (even belatedly) was "in the blood". Milton was in the process of writing an epic poem to the effect when he died, apparently.

Probably as something of an exaggeration in order to dispel this twaddle, Gibbon mentioned the Honorius "decree" as if he knew what he was talking about and unfortunately just started a whole new line of twaddle going, one that became very popular in a Britain whose imperial ambitions were not looking likely to yield anything but expansion and success and in which it certainly suited certain Britons to see themselves as heirs to one of the greatest empires preceding them who, through a mere emperor's whim, had been left to fend for themselves for a while but now, like the prodigal son, were turning up to eat some fatted calf.

The truth is probably so prosaic as to be both obvious and boring - especially if it followed the pattern in other areas which were abandoned as potential revenue cows by the empire. Some troops attached to an ambitious general (Constantinius) left with him. Some remained behind but were absorbed immediately into the power structure rapidly filling the vacuum, and some had never really been "Roman" or even for that matter "troops" anyway, just paid by them or indentured to them, and then either joined with the other two mobs or simply settled down to more profitable and less risky labours. Any one of these could have happened first to trigger the other two, without waiting for a decision from anyone else. We just don't know.
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: After 400 years the Romans leave Britain... why?   Mon 11 Jul 2016, 13:14

nordman wrote:
 It was encouraging to think that repelling invaders (even belatedly) was "in the blood". Milton was in the process of writing an epic poem to the effect when he died, apparently.


No, he wasn't. Are you referring to Milton's prose work, "The History of Britain"? This was incomplete and heavily censored - published in 1670, four years before Milton's death. It had been begun in 1649, in the earliest months of the republic and probably did contain a lot of beautifully written "twaddle" (Milton was always "a very good advocate for a very bad cause") - but "twaddle" about other things than England repelling external invaders.

I haven't read Milton's "History", but I've read about it, and Anna Beer's comment that "the writing of history in seventeenth-century England was never a neutral act" is interesting. But then is the writing of history - or the writing about history - ever "a neutral act"?
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: After 400 years the Romans leave Britain... why?   Mon 11 Jul 2016, 14:25

Temp wrote:
No, he wasn't.

You're correct. He wasn't at all. I was thinking (obviously not very hard) of his abandoned "History", right enough. And in fact I was wrong there too - if you read the relevant passage he blames the Irish and the Vandals and mentions their expulsion from the realm, but actually goes along with the "flower of Britain" having upped and left for the continent at an inconvenient time theory. The same one that claims they all came a cropper somewhere in France, which is why they couldn't be arsed coming back when Saxons, Jutes and other EU-types then descended in hordes, which in turn led to hoarding, whoring and much hooraying among different chunks of the British (ie. English) indigenous.

It was a really bad history, actually. Even by the standards of the day. I'm glad he had the sense to abandon it.
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: After 400 years the Romans leave Britain... why?   Mon 11 Jul 2016, 14:41

@nordmann wrote:
...which in turn led to hoarding, whoring and much hooraying among different chunks of the British (ie. English) indigenous.



Smile



Have you read it all, nordmann (Milton's "History of Britain", I mean)? I bet you haven't. You're bullsh*tting as usual. Takes one to recognise one, you know. Smile


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LadyinRetirement
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PostSubject: Re: After 400 years the Romans leave Britain... why?   Mon 11 Jul 2016, 14:52

And here's me thinking the Romans just got fed up of the rain in Britain (or is someone going to tell me Britain had better weather {than now} in those days?
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: After 400 years the Romans leave Britain... why?   Mon 11 Jul 2016, 15:00

Temp wrote:
Have you read it all, nordmann (Milton's "History of Britain", I mean)? I bet you haven't. You're bullsh*tting as usual

I read it earlier today for the first time, the whole caboodle is online. It doesn't take long - he abandoned it pretty quickly, methinks, or else the censors had a real go at it.

LiR - at the time they jumped ship the climate was slightly warmer than now, not much but enough to encourage quite extensive vineyards which as yet yielded profits. However the 5th century was also one of those pivotal climate change times apparently in which things took a sharp dip, so they could well have felt a sudden chill and decided "sod it".
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: After 400 years the Romans leave Britain... why?   Mon 11 Jul 2016, 15:12

@nordmann wrote:
Temp wrote:
Have you read it all, nordmann (Milton's "History of Britain", I mean)? I bet you haven't. You're bullsh*tting as usual

I read it earlier today for the first time, the whole caboodle is online. It doesn't take long - he abandoned it pretty quickly, methinks, or else the censors had a real go at it.


They did  indeed: but actually the censors decided that "some passages" were "too sharp against the clergy": they interpreted Milton's critique of "Popish Monks in Saxon Times" as a direct criticism of Charles II's own bishops. It seems likely that one section, a "Digression" of 2,500 words was cut out completely.

I would still welcome your thoughts on the possibility of "neutrality" where the writing of history - or the writing on the writing of history - is concerned.
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: After 400 years the Romans leave Britain... why?   Tue 12 Jul 2016, 07:24

Temperance (me) wrote:
Have you read it all, nordmann (Milton's History of Britain, I mean)? I bet you haven't. You're bullsh*tting as usual.


That was rude of me and I apologise (really).

No one doubts your erudition, nordmann, least of all me. I know nothing about why the Romans left Britain (although I did read a bit of Milton once), so I'd best shut up (again).

And my question about the possibility (or impossibility) of being "neutral" when writing history, although a genuine one, belongs elsewhere. It is not appropriate for this thread. Apologies also to original poster (I think normanhurst?).
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: After 400 years the Romans leave Britain... why?   Tue 12 Jul 2016, 08:47

The question of bias in reporting history is indeed an excellent topic which should long ago have been raised within the site's "History of history" section. I agree. In fact I will do just that.

The question of the Romans "leaving" Britain (coupled with the Saxons "arriving") is one that has never received adequate analysis historically in my view. Both are normally perceived as faits accompli, and presented as such in British histories, their effects being analysed but not their motive or conduct, whereas their sheer uniqueness in comparison to the contemporary histories of England's near neighbours alone merits a more intelligent study in my opinion.  It is not for nothing that the Irish, for example, having never felt the need beforehand first coined a collective term for the English as "sassainigh (saxons)" despite having had a many centuries old relationship with the inhabitants of their neighbouring island by then.
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PostSubject: Re: After 400 years the Romans leave Britain... why?   Tue 12 Jul 2016, 15:07

I thought the Roman withdrawal was triggered by complaints from the citizens of Britain who felt they had lost local control of their own affairs and objected to being governed by a remote empire. They also objected to having to pay an annual tribute for which they argued they got little in return … the sum of 350 million sesterces was mentioned at the time, although the exact sum has never been verified.

It all came to a head when the consul Cameronus proposed a senatorial vote, later known as the 'Referendum Britannicum', which much to everyone’s surprise narrowly opted for Rome to once and for all exit itself from political involvement in the British province. This action, the infamous 'Brexitum', condemned Britain, now rapidly disintegrating into various smaller petty-states, to centuries of relative obscurity on the edge of the known world, its cultural darkness only occasionally illuminated by the sullen scribblings of all the ignored experts, whose re-occurring theme was: "Haec locutus sum vobis fore omnes autem vos audire."

study
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ferval
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PostSubject: Re: After 400 years the Romans leave Britain... why?   Tue 12 Jul 2016, 17:21

But all was not lost, out of the darkness came a saviour to rally the natives and lead them into a glorious past future of freedom, prosperity and morris dancing.


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PostSubject: Re: After 400 years the Romans leave Britain... why?   Tue 12 Jul 2016, 17:38

Great cartoon ferval, and I'm pleased to see that Larry the cat is there too ... as indeed he still is, loyally guarding No.10 as is his job.

But in pursuit of a cheap joke, I did rather divert the discussion away from Normanhurst's original, and quite sensible OP.
Sorry - mea culpa.
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PostSubject: Re: After 400 years the Romans leave Britain... why?   Sun 31 Jul 2016, 19:01

@Meles meles wrote:

Quote :
In general terms .... All roman legionaries  (but not auxilliary troops) had to be roman citizens in the first place.

But even by the mid-1st century AD there was a good chance the legionaries weren't geographically Roman, or even Italian!  The legions struggled to recruit from the 'homeland', certainly for overseas service: those Italians who did sign up (as ordinary soldiers, of course, not the senior officers who were drawn from the Equestrian and Patrician ranks) preferred a legion based, or even the Praetorian Guard (not surprisingly, since the Guard had significantly better conditions of service).  Elsewhere in the Empire recruitment was done from local citizens (occasionally by conscription if volunteers were in short supply), and IIRC there is even some evidence that if really pushed for recruits, non-citizens were hastily granted their diplomata to qualify them for the legions.  Likewise, the auxilia recruited probably locally.  Although much has been made of Syrians serving on Hadrian's Wall, and so on, in reality wherever an auxiliary unit was originally raised, the evidence suggests that in practice vacancies were filled by the locals of wherever they were based.  Not that the military didn't get around, though.  A. Basiel Sarniensis, son of Turbel, appears to have been from Sark in the Channel Islands; however, he served with the Roman Navy in the Misenum Fleet and was discharged in AD71: his diploma turned up in Corsica!  How a good Sark boy turned up in Italy is a mystery (transferred from the British Fleet, perhaps?)

Not very relevant to the question in hand, I suppose, but hey ho.
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PostSubject: Re: After 400 years the Romans leave Britain... why?   Sun 31 Jul 2016, 20:09

Thank you very much for this interesting survey, Anglo-Norman.
And BTW, after all those years of my visit to your island I still receive some advertisements... Wink
They have a strong public relations overthere or it has perhaps to do with a link to the travellor organisation of the time...?

Kind regards, Paul.
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PostSubject: Re: After 400 years the Romans leave Britain... why?   Mon 01 Aug 2016, 01:10

Hmmm. The "local recruitment" bit reminds me irresistibly of the "County" fiction in the British army - if the Buffs had taken a tatering somewhere, then a Brummie who took the King's shilling might well find himself serving in the Royal West Kents. The Navy were a touch more logical - but you needed to be careful WHERE you signed up - a Scot on holiday in Falmouth who fell out with his woman and signed up there would be a Devonport rating all his career, thus losing much of any "48"s he might get (he'd have done better going to London, where he'd have been a Chattyman and thus have better transport links), or in Glasgow when Rosyth became a division in its own right.

Has there been any conclusion to the "Gemina" legion discussion? When I was looking at Roman armies (about 450 years earlier than the "leaving of Britain"), there seemed to be no firm agreement whether these were actually two legions raised by vexillation from one as a cadre for raising a second, or two understrength legions amalgamated to create one full-strength legion. Either way, vexillation was widely practiced, as far as we can tell,which must have diluted any regional basis.
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