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Roman Herefordshire

Introduction

The Roman occupation of Britain began in earnest under the Emperor Claudius in AD 43, and advanced with great rapidity over most of Britain. Within three or four years the whole country as far as the Exe, Severn and Humber rivers was under Roman control.

For a time the more remote districts, such as Herefordshire, were left under the protection of the native Celtic princes, but in the course of the next 30 years the Governor Ostorius Scapula and his successors were engaged in reducing the tribes of the highland districts to the north and west, and these areas were gradually absorbed by the Romans.

It was during these campaigns that Ostorius Scapula penetrated through Herefordshire and into the territory of the rebellious Welsh tribe, the Ordovices, whose southern boundary is thought to have lain between the Wye and the Teme. A fierce hill-top battle between the Ordovican "king" Caratacus and Ostorius Scapula ensued and the Ordovicans were defeated. The site of this battle is unknown but it is possible that it was in Herefordshire. Some scholars (Merrivale and Walters) suggest that it may have been on Coxall Knoll near Brampton Bryan, close to the Shropshire border, but no evidence has been found conclusively to confirm this theory.

The region of Herefordshire lies between the Midland Plains and the highlands of South Wales. This topography, and its situation as a borderland between lowland and highland zones has had much influence on its fortunes. Even before the Roman invasion it formed the frontier between British tribes, the Gloucestershire Dobunni and the Silures and Ordovices of Wales. It was later to become the limit of the Norman advance west after the Conquest of AD 1066.

At the time of the Roman occupation Herefordshire was, with the exception of the Wye Valley, an area unsuited to settlement occupation. The greater part of the area was covered in uncultivated forest, and while the highlands in the west formed useful natural defences these were not conducive to extensive settlement.

The Romans first entered Herefordshire during the long campaigns to subdue the rebel tribes of Wales, especially the powerful and warlike Silures (who held much of south-east Wales). After more than 30 years of fighting the Silures were finally subdued, and the Romans could begin to imprint imperialism on the area. The Roman administrators recognised that most of what is now Herefordshire was a westward extension of the English plain, which offered fertile soil ripe for settlement, although at this time much of it was covered by dense forest. An added attraction was that the area in the south towards the Forest of Dean offered iron deposits that had been successfully worked by the Celtic peoples for more than a century.

[Original author: Miranda Greene, 2004]