Roman Britain: Historical Overview


Our story is concerned with the remarkable events that unfolded around a Roman garrison stationed at the extreme end of the Empire, Britannia in the year AD 366.


It is thirteen years after the defeat of the Britto-Frankish usurper Magnentius. The military forces of the province are depleted following Magnentius' losses, and there is widespread resentment at the memory of the Roman reprisals. These reprisals were spearheaded by the Emperor's chief imperial notary, Paulus Catena. Paulus's cruelty was infamous throughout the empire. Sent to Britannia to hunt down known supporters of Magnentius, Paulus widened his remit and began arresting other figures, often on trumped-up charges, dealing with the Britons harshly and accusing senior Roman officers of treason.

Paulus was eventually recalled to Rome, but the damage had been done. Even now, thirteen years later, the name of Paulus Catena has become a spark that could so easily ignite the fires of rebellion in the province.

Recent news from Rome has not been good. The Empire is under pressure from within and without. None of the incidents are especially worrying in isolation; the Empire has weathered worse. But taken together they paint a picture of an Empire in decay. Even the common soldiers can see it, and for the frontier Legions in Brittania, too long isolated and feeling that Rome has forgotten them, morale has been hit hard. Rumours of mutiny are in the air.

After 300 years of occupation, the British tribes have been assimilated into the Empire, adopted Roman customs and Roman gods, and most consider themselves Romans. Only in the most isolated villages do they still cling to their Celtic identity. But recently, whispers of sedition have been spreading. A charismatic figure has emerged with the stated mission of uniting the Britons and throwing off the Roman yolk.

The Picts have been peaceful for decades, and traffic actually moves freely through the Wall, with a flourishing trade that is important to the frontier Romans. But recently, scouts report that unusually large clans are gathering north of the Wall, leading the Romans to fear that the Picts were allying with the seditious elements south of the Wall.

And at the same time, attacks from the Saxons in the east and the Scoti in the west continue to increase.


Originally built during the reign of Hadrian, c.AD129, Arbeia was the easternmost garrison fort of Hadrian's Wall, guarding a small seaport on the south bank of the Tyne estuary near its outlet into the North Sea.

The fort is currently garrisoned by the Numerus Barcariorum Tigrisiensium, an irregular unit of barge-men from the River Tigris in the Middle-East. Far from being the front-line troops who once manned the Wall, this auxillary cohort has little combat experience and is ill-equipped to face the trouble that is currently flaring along the frontier.

The Story

Well aware of his garrison's deficiencies, Praefect Lucius Sabinius of Arbeia has written to Rome deperately requesting reinforcements.

And at the eleventh hour, the First Morini Auxillary Cohort left their billets in northern Gaul and marched north to Brittania.

What transpired next forms one of the most unusual episodes in all the annals of the Empire.