Another Brexit

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Before it was Scotland, it was Britain. From the first to the fifth centuries, the land beyond Hadrian’s Wall (and Antonine’s Wall) was part of the Roman Empire. It’s remote location in the far western periphery meant that communications with the home office took time. As a result of that geographical situation, there were different Roman commanders who tried to arrange a BREXIT from Rome’s dominion. 
During one of these events, in the late third century AD, Britain exited the Roman Empire for a period of around ten years. Because the separation lasted for so long, one can only ask whether it was the first BREXIT?

The Roman Empire in the third century was in a period of economic, political and social change, now known as the “Third Century Crisis” . The period saw intensified disturbances and incursions along its frontiers which drained military and economic resources. It was a period of inflation, coinage was devalued and the old elite order in Rome was being challenged, especially by the military. Since Julius Caesar’s coup d’état, ambitious members of the military saw the possibility of a gold laurel around their brows.

Against this backdrop was born the short-lived breakaway Gallic Empire (260-274AD). It was formed out of territories in modern Germany, France, Spain and Britain under the leadership of the usurper Postumus. But Postumus was murdered in 269AD and the Gallic Empire didn’t last much longer without him. But following the rise in the power and influence of Carausius in the 280ADs, Britain again broke away from the Roman Empire – and this time alone.

Enter Carausius

Carausius may have been born in coastal Gallia Belgica, an area which corresponds roughly with Belgium today. He became a military commander and was appointed by the Emperor Maximian to assemble a fleet to help with the problem of piracy in the North Sea. 

The precise circumstances of his fall from favor with Emperor Maximian are lost to history but we do know that he ordered Carausius’ death. Historical sources say that to escape death, Carausius made a rather ambitious move – and declared himself emperor in Britain in 286AD. In reality, this is likely to have been a long and gradual process of gaining support and influence, aided by Britain’s remote position on the edge of the empire and its growing dissatisfaction with the workings of Rome. Carausius couldn’t have pulled this off without the support of subordinate commanders and influential citizens.

Carausius minted many coins for propaganda purposes, emphasising themes, such as local agriculture and wealth production, which would have been essential for Britain’s survival outside the Roman Empire. But Carausius’ position appears to have been fairly precarious and he was assassinated by his finance minister, Allectus, in 293AD who then also attempted to style himself emperor. (sic temper tiranus) Allectus was killed when Rome came calling to take the place back.
In 296AD Constantius Chlorus led the invasion and reconquered Britain, as “redditor lucis aeternae” (“restorer of the eternal light”) .

Growing discontent in Britain at the time contributed to the opportunism of Carausius, who perhaps successfully appealed to this disquiet. Using modern terms, Britain in the third century was an increasingly unequal society with large villas and townhouses – the grandiose and conspicuous homes of a tiny proportion of the population – appearing for the first time. Then, as now, it is possible that large numbers of people felt overlooked by the ruling “elite” and its links to a European power base. It is likely that convincing the military stationed in Britain was also an important factor.

The majority of the population in Britain are likely to have had fairly grim lives under Roman rule but whether their lives were better under Carausius seems unlikely and is difficult to pinpoint archaeologically. As a self-styled emperor, he would not have had any interest in the majority of the people of Britain. 

The broader Third Century Crisis did result in some substantial changes to the organization of the empire, including a reduction in the size of provinces and an increase in bureaucracy. These changes were unsuccessful. Britain fell out of the empire for good in 410AD and the Western Empire broke up soon after. 

17 thoughts on “Another Brexit

  1. Those emperor gigs sound good….for awhile. Then this assassination thing gets brought up by your cabinet, and then the life in high cotton comes to a screeching halt.

    Are you going to put in an application for Emperor of Winslow?

  2. Apparently the preposterous reign of Postumus was not extended posthumously?

    Between the Danes, Saxons, French, Vikings and a few other incursions, the people living in Ye Olde Britannica were entertained royally until perhaps the 18th century when Bonnie Prince Charles tried his luck with the Jacobites. I think that was the last one unless you count WWII but the Nazis failed to follow through.

  3. The cost of owning the politicians in small towns is small. Better to own a politician than to be one.

  4. There is the Muslim invasion today that managed to capture and hold London…establishing their own Lord Mayor…

  5. Maybe we simply talking semantics, you know, po-TAY-to, po-TAH-to; dictators/emperors are not what I would call politicians. Politicians have to make deals with others to make things happen, dictators just snap their fingers and heads roll, no dealing with anybody at any time.

    Big difference, IMO.

  6. I would make a relatively good dictator/emperor IMHO, until that knife descended into my back, wielded by my loyal vizier. I have no interest in being a politician.

  7. Fractious lot, the inhabitants of the islands West of the European Continent.

  8. I think you would probably make a good dictator, too. Tough love would be the rule of the day, impale a citizen or two for trivial infractions of law, and before you know it, those trains will be running on time.

    As the LL administration flourishes, you have gone through 6 or 7 food tasters, and the court jester stabs the shit out of you.

    Politicians tend to live longer than dictators, on the whole.

  9. Thanks for the history. Britain seems to have grabbed the late 3rd early 4th c limelight — Constantius, Constantine, but it's interesting, to me at least, how quickly the Western Empire fell apart. We see the devolution evident in the 3rd c but still, it went fast. Scary parallel.

    Let's see how long our present governance lasts.

  10. I won't beg, but please please please take me with you. I can't take this state any longer. ODExit!

  11. They saw things differently than the emperor did – 1500 miles away. And whiskey is the only thing that kept the Irish from ruling the world. You combine the two and – BOOM.

  12. The interesting Late Bronze Age parallel.

    It happened at the Flood. It happened at the "Tower of Babel". It happened again in 1177BC. And again with the fall of Rome. The video above takes about an hour to watch but it's worth the effort IMHO.

    We are not immune to the same situation.

  13. They're going to tax the place into oblivion. Have you seen the new taxes coming down the pike from Sacramento that are needed to keep the socialist paradise going?

    I'm up in Mogollon Rim Country as I type and will soon be here permanently. I've had enough of the "People's Republik of Kalifornia"

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