The History of English Podcast - Episode 19: The Romanization of Britain

Welcome to the History of English podcast, a podcast about the history of the English


This is episode 19, The Romanization of Britain.

In this episode, I’m going to look at the emergence of the Roman Empire following the

death of Julius Caesar.

And then I’m going to look at what happened when the Romans decided to make another attempt

to conquer Britain.

As you probably already know, the Romans had more luck this second time around.

Britain finally became part of the Roman Empire, or at least part of it did.

And so I’m going to explore how Roman economics and culture began to transform Celtic Britain

into a new Romanized Britain.

And along the way, I’ll look at how modern English reflects some of these changes.

So this episode will focus on the early period of the Roman Empire and the Roman occupation

of Britain.

As for the end of the Roman Empire, at least in Western Europe, that part of the story

is closely associated with the rise of the Germanic tribes to the north.

And so next time, I’m going to begin looking at those Germanic tribes in detail.

Now, I’ve intentionally delayed any detailed discussion of those tribes up to this point.

But after this episode, we’ll be ready to look at the ultimate Germanic roots of English.

But let me note that Latin will continue to be an integral part of the story of English,

so we won’t be leaving Latin behind, not by any means.

But the overall focus will shift across the Rhine next time into Germany and the Germanic


As for this episode, let’s pick up with the spread of the Roman Republic into Western

Europe under Julius Caesar.

And as you’ll recall, Caesar led the expeditions which ultimately resulted in the Roman conquest

of Gaul.

And this was part of the overall spread of Rome throughout Europe and the Mediterranean.

And with the spread of Rome into Western Europe, we can start to see the early fault

lines for the division of the empire into Western and Eastern sections.

In the East, there were pre-existing ancient civilizations with a common lingua franca

in Greek.

But in the West, the Celtic cultures of Europe were far less advanced.

So Roman culture was able to replace the native cultures there much more easily.

Now, Roman wealth and culture was actually embraced in many of these regions, even if

the Romans themselves were not always welcome.

So Romanization was much more effective in these Western regions, and the new societies

which emerged bore a distinctly Roman appearance.

Now following Caesar’s conquest of Gaul, the territory was thoroughly Romanized.

The Roman culture and the Roman language soon replaced the native Celtic traditions and

languages there.

And Caesar’s victory over Pompey in the Roman Civil War had left Caesar as the dominant

political and military leader in Rome.

He effectively became the dictator of Rome, but unlike his predecessors, he didn’t serve

for a period of six months.

He was dictator for life, which, as it turned out, was actually not all that long.

In 44 BC, less than five years after his victory over his political rivals in Rome, Caesar

was stabbed to death by a group of senators who were alarmed by his rise to power and

his disregard of traditional Roman institutions.

Now if the plan was to return Rome to some form of rule by the Senate, it failed.

Left with a choice between anarchy and one-man rule, Rome was ultimately forced to accept

one-man rule.

After Caesar’s assassination, a civil war ensued, with Mark Antony briefly emerging

as the leader of Rome, but fortunes soon turned against him and his wife, the Egyptian

queen Cleopatra.

And in 31 BC, their forces were defeated by those of the grand-nephew and adopted son

of Caesar, Octavian.

After their defeat, Mark Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide, and Octavian finally emerged

from all of this civil strife as the ultimate victor in the battle for control of Rome.

Under the leadership of Octavian, Rome completed the transition from republic to empire.

His reforms were actually very successful in bringing about peace and prosperity to

the empire, and this period came to be known as the Pax Romana, meaning the Roman Peace.

And Octavian preserved the Senate as an institution, but it offered very little check on his powers.

Octavian controlled the army, and he concentrated many political positions in himself.

He could initiate legislation, and he could veto the Senate’s legislation.

In 27 BC, Octavian was given the name Augustus, which was the name that carried with it a

sense of reverence.

And as I mentioned in the last episode, he had the seventh month of the Roman calendar

named in his honor, thereby creating the month of August.

And this followed July, which had been named for Julius Caesar.

By the time of Octavian, or Augustus, the terms Rome or Roman no longer meant the city

of Rome itself.

It now referred to the entire Roman Empire.

And by the third century, every free inhabitant of the empire received Roman citizenship.

So Rome started to become a very general term for things associated with the empire itself.

Now Augustus was a very young man when he became the ruler of Rome, and he died at the

age of 76.

And his rule is considered by many historians to represent the peak of Roman culture with

its blend of Greek and Roman elements.

And Augustus was succeeded by Tiberius and then Caligula.

And the rule of Caligula was marked by cruelty and excess and incompetence and probably mental


I’m not going to deal with all of his exploits here, like attempting to make his own horse

a consul, but it was his successor who’s far more important to our story of the history

of English.

Caligula’s cruelty and insanity ultimately led to his assassination in the year 41 AD.

And from this point on, we can just assume that all dates are AD or Common Era, unless

I know it otherwise.

After the death of Caligula, his uncle Claudius became emperor.

And it was Claudius who once again looked to Britain as a possible location for Roman


One thing to keep in mind about Claudius is that he had been very sick as a child, and

he was still frail as an adult.

He had a limp, a stutter, and a slight deafness.

And his poor health may have actually been an asset earlier in his life because he wasn’t

really considered much of a political threat, and he survived the political attacks and

assassinations which befell other Roman nobles during the reigns of Tiberius and Caligula.

But now that he was emperor of Rome, his frailty was a major liability.

He knew that he would become the target of attacks.

So what was the best way for a Roman emperor to secure his position?

The answer was simple – conquest.

When an emperor conquered a foreign territory, the emperor himself was the conqueror, and

it gave the emperor a great deal of prestige and clout.

And in the case of Claudius, it would remove any doubts as to his physical ability to rule.

To the Romans, Britain was considered the edge of the world.

It was beyond Gaul, across the sea.

And even Julius Caesar wasn’t able to fully conquer it during his two campaigns there.

There were all kinds of rumors about the savages who lived there, and the Romans were particularly

concerned about the mysterious power of the Celtic druids.

Between Caesar’s attempts to invade the island in the first century BC and Claudius’ expedition

around a century later, there was actually a fair amount of trade with Rome.

There were about 20 major Celtic tribes in Britain, and Rome actually had entered into

alliances with some of those tribes in southern Britain.

And Roman coins were being minted by this point in and around modern Belgium, which

was part of the northernmost region of Roman Gaul.

And these coins were actually in demand among the Celtic tribes in southern Britain.

These coins were payment for British goods like cattle, grain, tin, iron, hunting dogs,

and even slaves.

Rome also traded Roman luxury goods for those items, including wine and olive oil.

But the Celtic tribes had reached a stage of economic development where Roman coins

were also an acceptable form of currency.

And some of the Celtic tribal kings had even established their own mints to make their

own coins.

Interestingly, these Celtic British coins were inscribed in Latin, because the Celtic

languages weren’t written down at that point.

The inscriptions even called the Celtic kings Rex, using the Latin term for king.

So even at this early stage, we can see an economy that was in transition to an economy

based on currency and minted coins, even before the Roman conquest.

But trade and political alliances were not enough for Emperor Claudius.

He needed a new territory to conquer, and Britain would serve that purpose very well.

In the year 43, four Roman legions consisting of about 25,000 men landed in southeastern Britain.

From there, the Roman armies advanced northward and westward.

The exact location where the Romans landed and the exact tracks of the Roman army after

that, they’re really unknown.

But we do know that one of the first major obstacles for the Roman army was the River


And they apparently built a bridge to cross it, and a settlement soon began to emerge

at this crossing point.

And this early Roman city was called Londinium, and of course it’s known today as London.

Interestingly, though, the original name Londinium appears to be a Celtic word, which the Romans

borrowed and modified.

Now the story of the Roman invasion of Britain actually parallels the Roman invasion of Gaul

in many respects.

Just like in Gaul, the various Celtic tribes in Britain were prone to infighting, and they

were never able to form a cohesive alliance against the Romans.

One tribe would ally itself with the Romans for the sole purpose of defeating a neighboring


And this divide-and-conquer approach, which the Romans had used so effectively in Gaul,

would continue to be Rome’s best weapon in Britain as well.

The Romans initially conquered and settled in the southeastern region of Britain.

And this region had already established trading relations with the Romans, and remember that

some of these tribes had alliances with the Romans before the Roman invasion occurred.

So it’s not surprising that the Romans found the least resistance in these areas.

And many of the native elites in this region actually embraced Rome, which helped Rome

establish a secure base there.

Within the next three years or so after the Roman invasion, Rome had conquered much of

modern-day England.

But the native Celtic tribes continued to resist the Romans to the west in Wales and

Cornwall, and further north in central and northern Britain.

These tribes had elected to engage in a guerrilla war against the Romans, and that was something

the Romans weren’t really accustomed to.

The Romans eventually realized that a regional base in the south wasn’t going to be enough

if they wanted to conquer the entire island.

They were going to have to engage those western and northern tribes, and that’s eventually

what they did.

The Roman campaigns against these western and northern tribes ultimately proved successful,

at least in part.

After several decades of hard fighting, the Romans were finally able to subdue the tribes

in Wales, as well as the tribes in some of the northern portions of Britain.

But the Romans were never able to conquer the northernmost region, which we know today

as Scotland.

In fact, the later Emperor Hadrian built the now-famous Hadrian’s Wall across northern

Britain to establish the limits of Roman occupation, and to protect it against those tribes to

the north.

These tribes in modern-day Scotland included the Scots and another group called the Picts.

The Picts occupied northeast Scotland, and they were known to paint their bodies.

The term Picts means painted people in Latin.

There is some disagreement among modern historians as to whether they were Celtic or not.

Their language actually appears to be a blend of Celtic and older native language.

But the bottom line is that the Romans finally gave up on trying to conquer that northernmost

region, and Hadrian’s Wall became the de facto border of the Roman territory.

The Romans also never tried to invade Ireland to the west, so that meant that the regions

which we know today as Scotland and Ireland retained their Celtic culture and languages.

So just like the Anglo-Saxons several centuries later, the Romans never realized a complete

conquest of the British Isles, only a portion of it, albeit a very large portion of it.

Now I mentioned in an earlier episode that the word breeches was a native Celtic word

for pants, and we know from recorded sources that the Romans were once amused by these

barbarian garments, but they soon decided they weren’t such a bad idea after all.

The Roman togas didn’t provide much warmth in the chilly and wet climate of Britain,

so the Romans themselves soon began to wear breeches or pants in Britain.

Now no discussion about the Roman invasion of Britain would be complete without mentioning

one of the earliest known military heroes in British history.

And this native military and political hero was in fact a heroine, and I’m referring

to the Celtic Queen Boudicca, or as she’s sometimes called, Boudicea.

I noted that there were many parallels between the Roman occupation of Britain and the earlier

Roman occupation of Gaul, and as you may recall from the earlier episode on Caesar’s invasion

of Gaul, just as he had completed his initial conquest, a full-scale revolt broke out under

the leadership of Vercingetorix, and something very similar happened here again in eastern


Now shortly after the death of the Emperor Claudius, his successor Nero became emperor.

The Iceni tribe was located in eastern Britain, and it was a very large and important Celtic

tribe which generally had a very good relationship with Rome.

And in the year 60, the Iceni king died without a male heir.

So he divided his wealth between his two daughters and the Roman emperor, Nero.

Now he apparently thought that this would ensure imperial protection for his family,

but he couldn’t have been more wrong.

The Romans seized the opportunity and annexed his kingdom.

But more than that, they flogged his wife, Boudica, and they raped his daughters, and

they confiscated the property of the Iceni chiefs.

Queen Boudica and the Iceni were incensed.

And under Boudica’s leadership, the Iceni tribe launched a full-scale revolt against

the Romans.

And after they began their attacks against the Romans, other Celtic tribes in Britain

began to join the revolt.

And the Iceni sacked several towns occupied by Romans, including Londinium.

And the Romans actually had to withdraw from London, thereby leaving it to be plundered

by the rebels.

And according to the Roman historian Tacitus, about 70,000 Romans and their allies and townspeople

were killed by the Iceni and their allies.

Now all of this happened at a time when the Romans had initiated a campaign in Wales,

so they had to immediately recall those troops to deal with the rebellion in the east.

The Romans were then able to inflict a defeat on Boudica just west of London.

And the tide by this point had started to change, and the Roman army finally put down

the revolt in the following year, 61 AD.

And in response, Boudica poisoned herself, thereby effectively ending the last real chance

the Celtic tribes had to get rid of the Roman invaders.

Now after the revolt, the process of Romanization was able to take place in southern and central

Britain with relatively little resistance.

The Romans often converted the existing Celtic towns into Roman towns.

And this was unlike what happened in Gaul, where Celtic towns were often depopulated

and new Roman towns were built.

The Romans also built roads between the existing towns in Britain, and in fact these roads

formed the basis of many modern roads in Britain.

And by this point, the Romans had conquest and colonization down to a science.

Prominent local leaders were made auxiliary officers and were encouraged to adopt Roman


And the Romans took the sons of Celtic chiefs and they educated them as Romans, including

grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, and music.

They also learned Latin.

And the sons grew up to be local leaders, and their sons were given the same education.

And these subsequent generations welcomed Roman culture.

And since this Romanization was focused at the higher levels of Celtic society, it tended

to filter down to the lower levels and tended to ensure that there was little organized

opposition to the Roman presence.

Latin was also made the official language of Roman Britain.

But that didn’t mean everyone started speaking Latin.

During the period of the Roman occupation, most native Britons continued to speak Celtic

languages, especially in rural areas.

And Latin was spoken by some people in Britain, mainly by the governing classes and administrators,

and by the soldiers who were stationed there, and by certain traders.

And some of the better educated natives also learned Latin.

So basically Latin was spoken in and around the Roman-occupied towns.

But it’s important to understand that Britain never experienced the degree of Romanization

that Gaul did.

The Romans arrived later in Britain, and ultimately they left earlier.

And it was also much farther away from Rome.

So Latin never made the inroads in Britain that it did elsewhere.

It remained a second language, although it did have a great deal of prestige among those

who spoke it.

And it should be noted that Latin was the only written language in Britain at the time,

because the Celts in Britain were still illiterate.

Speaking of writing, the Latin word for writing was scribra, and a professional who copied

texts was a scriba.

And this word comes into English as scribe.

It also comes in as the word script.

And we see it in the word description.

And when actors learn their parts, they have to memorize a script, which is a shortened

version of the word manuscript.

Postscript and inscription are just a few of the other words which contain the word

script and which derive from the Latin word for writing.

And the power of Roman civilization in Western Europe is reflected in the fact that the Romance

languages, and most of the Celtic languages, and most of the Germanic languages all use

this Latin word scribra as the basis of their respective words for write.

Interestingly, though, English is one of the few exceptions to that rule.

Even though English has borrowed in the Latin word in certain contexts like scribe and script,

the English word write comes from an old English word, written.

And of course, if you were someone who could read and write, you were literate, another

word that comes to us from Latin.

The Romans used the word litera to mean individual letters of the alphabet.

And the plural version, literae, referred to a letter written to someone.

Now ultimately, English lost the distinction between the individual and the plural versions.

And today, it uses the word letter for both.

So we use letters to write letters.

As I noted, the words literate and literacy come from the same root.

Alliteration, which is the repetition of a sound, also comes from the same root.

Now even though many Britons continued to speak Celtic languages during this period

of Roman occupation, there’s no doubt that the overall culture of Britain began to change

during this period.

Even though the overall effects of Romanization in Britain were more limited than in Gaul,

we can still start to see a society that was becoming more and more Roman.

And one place where we can start to see the Roman influences is in the names of certain


Now after the Roman army arrived, it established camps, which were basically forts or military


And they did it throughout the region.

And these camps also recruited locals for enlistment in the Roman army.

And some of these camps emerged as modern cities.

The Latin word for camp was castra.

And many modern cities in Britain that begin or end in caster or chester come from this

Roman word for camp.

So we see it in city names like Chesterfield, Manchester, Dorchester, Winchester, and Lancaster.

It’s also found in city names like Gloucester and Worcester, which are no longer pronounced

like their spell.

Both words end in c-e-s-t-e-r when spelled out, so we see the Roman word for camp in

those names as well.

So from that word castra, which meant camp or fort, the Romans developed the word castellum,

which meant a fortified village.

And castellum passed from French into English as castle, meaning a type of fortress.

And it’s no coincidence that the word castle came into English from French.

As we’ll eventually see, when the Norman French invaded England in 1066, they not only

brought the French language with them, but they also constructed many large castles to

subdue the native population.

Now some of these early Roman camps emerged into modern cities, but they were merely villages

during the Roman period.

And I want to talk about that word village because it actually provides a nice transition

to the next topic I want to discuss, which is Roman law.

The word village comes from the Roman word villa, and shortly after the ancient city

of Rome emerged as an actual city, some wealthy Romans decided they didn’t like living in

such a crowded place, so they built houses outside of Rome in the country.

And this type of estate was called a villa in Latin.

And the same basic process happened in Britain after the Romans took over there as well.

Villas began to pop up in Britain around and outside of the Roman towns.

Researchers have identified over 600 sites in Britain which were once occupied by a Roman-style villa.

And like so much of the Roman influence in Britain, these villas were primarily located

in the southern and eastern portions of the island.

Some of them were very small, and some were very grand, consisting of hundreds and even

thousands of acres, but most were somewhere in the middle.

But they were all constructed in a style that was common throughout the Roman Empire at

this point, including Italy and the Roman territory of Gaul.

This word villa has filtered down to us in modern English in its original form, but it’s

also created several new words.

These country houses were often so large that they required caretakers and other help.

And this eventually resulted in an entire community around the villa.

And this was the origin of the term village to refer to a small settlement.

But what about the people who lived in those villages?

The Romans called them villani, and early French adopted the term as villienne.

And as the Romans began to occupy much of Western Europe, we can start to see the emergence

of the later-day feudal system with this arrangement.

In later France, the term villienne came to refer to the peasants or common people who

provided service to the lord who occupied the estate.

And these people were often viewed as crude, uncivilized, and amoral.

And English later borrowed the word as villain.

So villain comes from the same Latin root as village.

And much like the creation of the word castle from the original Latin word meaning camp,

we can see in the evolution of these words a changing economic and social system.

Roman camps and villages gave us medieval French castles and villains.

Again, the medieval feudal system emerged after the decline of the Roman Empire.

But certain aspects of that system did have its roots in Roman law and economics.

Roman law distinguished between wealthy men and poor men.

A poor man would get harsher punishment than a rich man for the same crime.

And this wasn’t just a consequence of having better representation in court like today.

It was actually part of the law itself.

Despite this obvious unfairness given our modern sensibilities, many historians consider

the formal Roman legal codes to be one of the greatest gifts to the modern world.

Roman law actually began with something called the Laws of the Twelve Tables, which were

adopted shortly after the last Etruscan king was expelled from Rome.

And these laws were engraved on bronze tablets and displayed in the Roman Forum.

And this was really the foundation of Roman law.

You may remember from an earlier episode that the Roman word forum gave us the modern

English word forensic, referring to the law in the courts.

Over time, these laws were expanded, first during the Roman Republic, and then later

under the Empire.

And as the Roman Empire expanded and acquired new territories and new peoples, they encountered

new systems of law and justice.

The Romans adopted elements of these non-Roman laws into a universal Roman legal code, which

could be implemented throughout the vast and varied empire.

The Romans had also adopted from the Greeks the concept of natural law, or universal law.

This was the notion that there are certain forms of behavior which we all share as humans,

which are not tied to any specific society or culture.

So murder, rape, death, and incest were considered unlawful based on universal concepts.

Now modern anthropologists would probably quibble with the notion of a universal law

which we all share, but the Greeks and the Romans accepted it, and the Romans based their

legal code around it.

The Roman legal code was codified in the 6th century by the Emperor Justinian, and it still

serves as the basis of many modern European legal systems.

Roman law was highly developed, and not surprisingly, it’s the source of many of our modern legal


The Latin verb stara meant to stand, and it’s the root of the words stance, staunch, status,

stationary, and constant.

This verb was combined with trace or tria, meaning three, and produced a reconstructed

Latin word tristis, and this is the basis of legal words like testimony and testament

in modern English.

So why would three be incorporated into the verb stand to produce these words testimony

and testament?

Well, it’s because it reflects an aspect of threeness which was common in Roman law.

The testimony of a witness is the perspective of a third party.

In certain cases under Roman law, three people had to witness an action before a person could

be found guilty of the accusation.

The last will and testament reflects the fact that traditionally it had to be signed

by the person making the will, as well as two witnesses.

So that makes three.

And the Latin term obligatio meant the actual physical binding of a person to something.

Under Roman law, a defaulting debtor was physically bound and delivered to his creditor as a prisoner.

And after the debtor’s prison was abandoned, the term came to represent just the legal

duty owed by a debtor to a creditor.

And this is the context in which the term obligation arose.

A common source of disputes for Roman authorities was the use of small streams and rivers by

property owners and traders.

Sometimes multiple individuals would claim competing rights to use the same stream or

some portion of it.

And in Latin, a stream is called a rivus.

And those who competed for the use of the stream were called rivalis.

And this is the same word which comes to us in English as rivals, meaning competitors.

And Roman legal records confirm many court cases between rivalis over the use of rivers

and streams.

So the modern English words rivals and rivalry come from this source.

Words like subpoena and libel also come from Latin.

In fact, legal systems throughout the English-speaking world are dominated by Latin terms.

Many of these legal terms come into English after 1066 with the Norman French, who had

to impose law and order on those defeated Anglo-Saxons.

So I’ll cover some of those legal terms later.

But modern legal traditions also borrow words directly from Latin without any modification.

And many of those terms are now part of the common English language.

This includes terms like bona fide, de facto, in absentia, in toto, per annum, per capita,

per se, prima facie, quid pro quo, status quo, verbatim, and vice versa.

All of these terms have passed into modern English in basically their original Latin


Now I mentioned that Roman law was connected to the Roman Forum, which was the center of

Roman politics and law.

And now, in Britain, the Romans transfer the idea of the Roman Forum to the new towns built

by the Romans.

Roman-style forums were established in towns like Exeter, Lincoln, and St. Albans.

And courts of justice were also established there.

And these courts consulted the written Roman legal codes and applied Roman law.

So the Celtic tradition of trial by druids in the forest was gradually being replaced

by these formal legal proceedings.

And this is just one example of the transition of Britain from an ancient Celtic tribal society

to a more rigid, formal, and structured Roman society.

Now I mentioned that the Romans constructed their own mini-versions of the Roman Forum

in the occupied towns in Britain.

But keep in mind that the Roman Forum was not just a place for legal and political activities.

It was also the commercial center of Rome.

In fact, the Forum in Rome began as a marketplace.

And over time, as people congregated there, it became the location for aspiring politicians

to give political speeches.

And from there, the legal and political aspects of the Forum grew.

But it always remained a commercial center.

And these new British forums also served as Roman-style marketplaces.

And after the Roman occupation, trade between the native Britons and the Roman Empire grew


And as a result, wealth began to flow into the Romanized areas of Britain, as British

exports to the empire grew.

The newfound wealth also had its own Romanizing effects.

Roman-style public baths became common.

And Roman luxury goods were consumed.

By the way, all those new straight roads which the Romans built to facilitate the movement

of troops, well, they also facilitated the movement of goods.

And as we know from modern economics, you have to have an infrastructure to support

economic growth.

And since military conquests and economic growth were intertwined in the Roman mind,

it’s not surprising that the Romans figured out how to transform military infrastructure

into economic infrastructure.

The same roads that allowed the Romans to easily move troops from one town to the next,

well, they also allowed traders to move goods between those towns.

And that meant goods produced in one town could easily be sold in another town.

That meant that even the domestic market for local goods was now bigger.

And with more potential buyers, you can sell more produce for more money.

And when exports to the rest of the Roman Empire were taken into account, you can see

how quickly the economy began to grow in some of these regions.

And of course, the Romans got to tax all of that new wealth, so the economic benefits

were mutual.

It’s also part of the reason why the Roman Empire was so wealthy as it was growing and


But its wealth began to decline when the empire ran out of new territories to conquer.

Empires are expensive, and massive empires are really expensive.

So if you’re not growing the empire, it starts to stagnate and collapse under its

own weight.

And this was one of the many factors that contributed to the ultimate decline of the

Roman Empire.

But for now, with the conquest of Britain, it was pretty much at its peak of power and


And as I said, Britain was enjoying the mutual economic benefits of being a newly acquired

Roman territory.

And all of this wealth, and the luxury goods it could buy, helped to ensure the ongoing

cooperation of the native Britons.

And this was how Romanization worked.

And it worked pretty well, at least in the southeastern portions of Britain where the

Roman presence was at its strongest.

And for these same reasons, Latin probably had its strongest impact in this same region.

Now speaking of the growing wealth in Britain after the Roman conquest, I noted earlier

that Roman coins were actually being used throughout southern Britain even before the

Roman occupation there.

And of course, after the occupation, Roman currency poured into Britain.

And this too was another catalyst for economic growth.

A common stable currency makes it much easier to buy and sell goods than the old-fashioned

barter or trade system.

And if that currency happens to be an international currency, well, that’s even better.

So now the Romanized Britons were operating on the same monetary system with the same

currency as the rest of the Roman Empire.

Again, this makes trade much more efficient.

That’s why the United States adopted a common currency soon after it gained its independence.

And that’s why we have a euro today.

So let’s talk about Roman currency and the effect Latin has had on modern English words

related to money and currency.

Roman coins can be traced back to the first Roman mint, which was established around 289


And like everything else in ancient Rome, it had a goddess, and she was named Juno.

Now Juno was actually one of the most important Roman deities.

She was the wife and sister of Jupiter.

And Jupiter’s daughter was Minerva.

And a temple was constructed in honor of all three of those deities on the Capitoline Hill

in the 4th century B.C.

This temple was divided into separate sections for each of the three deities.

Now with regard to Juno, she was the queen of the gods and goddesses.

And as I mentioned in the last episode, her name is the basis of the name of the month

of June.

She was also considered a goddess of warning.

The Romans believed that Juno warned them in times of imminent danger.

Now the Latin verb meaning to warn was minera.

And since Juno was the goddess of warning, she was sometimes called Juno Mineta, which

came from the Latin word meaning to warn.

Now I mentioned that the first Roman mint was established around 289 B.C.

And as it turns out, this mint was constructed in a building which adjoined Juno’s temple,

which was known as the Temple of Juno Mineta.

And since Roman money was coined there, many of the coins minted there featured Juno on

one side of the coin.

And eventually the term moneta became associated with both the mint itself and the coins that

were produced there.

And that’s how the term moneta came to be associated with Roman coins and money.

And it’s also the ultimate root of the English word money, as well as the word mint.

Both come from the name of Juno Moneta.

The modern British pound sterling originated well after the Romans, during the Anglo-Saxon

period in Britain.

The word pound comes from the Old English word pund, which was used as a weight measurement,

in the same sense that we use the word pound today as a weight measurement.

But the Anglo-Saxons called a pound of silver simply a pound.

So the use of the word as currency comes from its original use as a weight measurement.

And it literally meant a pound of silver, or more particularly, it meant a silver coin

weighing a pound.

But the Anglo-Saxons didn’t invent the idea of minting silver coins weighing a pound.

That idea actually came from Charlemagne in the Frankish kingdom, which had emerged from

Roman Gaul.

The Romans had established the weight measurement, which we know today as the pound.

And in fact, the Romans called it a libra, and that’s why when we abbreviate a pound

of weight in modern English, we still use the initials LD, which reflects the Latin

origin of the weight measurement.

By the time of Charlemagne, this word had evolved into early French as livre, and that’s

what Charlemagne called this early French one-pound silver coin.

Since it weighed a livre, he called it a livre.

And the Anglo-Saxons picked up on this idea.

They not only adopted the idea of a silver coin weighing a pound, but they also copied

the idea of naming the coin after how much it weighed.

But again, Old English had its own native term for a Roman libra.

It was the English pund.

So the coin was called a pund and eventually passed into modern English as a pound.

By the way, the terms pence and penny each derived from a separate Old English word,

which was penning.

But the American term cent for a penny developed after the establishment of the U.S. currency

after the American Revolutionary War.

Now as I’ve mentioned in earlier episodes, cent ultimately comes from the Latin word

centum, meaning hundred.

And the word was shortened in French and the k sound became an s sound, thereby giving

us the word cent, as in percent, meaning per 100.

And it was in this sense that the word cent was used to refer to one one-hundredth of

a dollar.

And the word dime comes from the Latin word decima, which meant tenth, and has the same

root for ten, deca, which is found in words like decade and decathlon.

Of course a dime is one-tenth of a dollar.

And the k sound in the middle of the word decima eventually fell away and the word went

from decima to dime.

A quarter in modern English means one-fourth of something or one quarter of something.

And it comes to us from Latin where it meant the same thing.

And that’s why we call the U.S. coin, which represents one-fourth of a dollar, a quarter.

A nickel is actually named for the metal nickel, which comprises about one-fourth

of a nickel’s weight.

Nickel itself is a Germanic word originally used by miners to refer to a demonic spirit

believed to live in mines.

So what about the dollar?

Well dollar actually comes from the name of a coin that was minted in the area we know

today as Germany in the 1500s.

Around the year 1516, a silver mine was discovered in a small town in Bohemia called Jochemsthal.

And within a couple of years, one-ounce silver coins were being minted there.

The coin was called the Jochemsthaler.

And over time it was shortened to just thaler.

And the Dutch and Low German speakers pronounced it as dollar.

By the 1700s, the coin was being used internationally.

An English colonist in America used the term in reference to both the original German dollar

as well as to other coins that were designed to resemble it, like the Spanish peso.

And after the Revolutionary War in the United States, Thomas Jefferson recommended that

the dollar be used as the standard name of the currency of the new country.

This name was partly a demonstration of independence by the early American founders.

They didn’t want to use the term pound for the new currency since that term was associated

with Britain.

And since the Spanish peso was in common use in America at the time, and since the peso

was sometimes called a dollar in the U.S. since it resembled a German dollar coin, that

seemed like a good name for the new U.S. currency.

So the new currency became the dollar.

But what about a dollar bill?

Well the bill takes us back to the Romans.

Roman children often wore a round, bubble-like locket called a bulla.

And in the Middle Ages, it became common to seal official documents with a round, bubble-like


And this type of sealed official document came to be called a bulla as well.

And the term eventually became billa, and it meant an account or an invoice during the

Middle Ages.

And a bill of exchange eventually was shortened to simply bill to mean a piece of currency,

as in dollar bill.

It’s also the root of the use of the term bill to mean a piece of legislation.

Now again, let’s go back to Rome to the year 309 A.D.

So this would have been a couple of centuries after the empire had expanded into Britain.

And in that year, the Roman Emperor Constantine minted a coin called a solidus.

And this is the root of the English word solid, but more significantly it’s the root of the

word soldier.

Soldier originally meant mercenary in Old French.

And payment to someone was called sold in Old French from the name of the early Roman

coin the solidus.

And that made a person who received payment to fight in a war a soldier.

The word came into English after the Norman invasion as soldier.

And speaking of paying Roman soldiers, I mentioned in an earlier episode that Roman

soldiers were paid a salt allowance, which was called a solarium, from the word sal,

meaning salt.

And this eventually gave us the word salary.

And it’s also the basis of the phrase worth one’s salt.

By the way, the term bank actually comes to us from medieval Italian, where modern banking

first emerged.

The moneylenders operated from bancas, which meant benches.

When an Italian moneylender ran out of money, his banca was disbanded and he became bancarodo,

which is the origin of the term bankrupt.

And speaking of bankruptcy, it reflects the fact that some people had lots of money and

some people had very little, if any at all.

And I noted earlier that these distinctions were important in Rome because the Roman legal

code actually made distinctions between wealthy men and poor men.

And I also noted that these distinctions can be seen in the evolution of the word villain

from the original Latin word villa for a home or estate in the country.

A common person or peasant was a villain, which eventually produced the English word

villain, meaning someone not to be trusted.

But again, this evolution of the word villa into villain happened after the Roman period.

As for the Romans themselves, they actually had lots of different terms for people.

And some of those terms were based around the class or social status of certain people.

The term populus was a very general term, which referred to human beings in general.

And from that word, we get words like people and population, which refers to the people

who inhabit a certain area and popular, which is something that reflects the wishes of the


Now the Latin word for father, which I’ve mentioned quite a few times in this podcast

series was pater or pater.

This word was used as the basis of a Latin word describing wealthy, prominent, or powerful

Romans, basically Roman nobles and aristocrats.

This word was patricius, which ultimately produced the word patrician in modern English.

Now in contrast to the patricians, Rome also obviously had many commoners.

The Romans used the word plebe to refer to a commoner.

We sometimes see that word in English words like plebeian and plebiscite.

But the key here is to note that the Romans were making these general class distinctions

very early on.

The Romans also used the term vulgar to refer to lower class commoners.

And we see that word in the term vulgar Latin to refer to the Latin dialects of the common

people in various regions of the Roman Empire.

Originally it just referred to things associated with commoners.

But it’s since taken on a much more negative connotation in modern times, and it’s reflected

in modern English words like vulgar and vulgarity.

Another Latin word sometimes used for common people or peasants was the adjective paganus.

This eventually came to mean people who didn’t serve in the military, so it came to mean


During the spread of the early church, the early Christians considered themselves soldiers

of Christ.

So that term paganus came to describe those people who were not Christian soldiers or

not Christians, and it’s the basis of the later English term pagan.

There’s an old saying that misery loves company, and that was probably true for the Romans

as well.

The Romans combined the words come, meaning with, and panis, meaning bread, to produce

the word companionium, which meant person with whom you shared bread or food.

This became the word companion in English, and it’s also the root of the word company,

which initially meant a close relationship, as in we enjoy each other’s company, but it

later came to mean a close business relationship, as in I’m tired of working for this company.

Now I’ve mentioned in earlier episodes that the Romans also had a term for crude or uncivilized

foreigners, which is passed into modern English.

That term was barbarian, and it was ultimately borrowed from Greek.

The Latin term barbarus was an adjective used to describe crude and savage foreigners.

Now medieval Latin created the term bravis, which meant cutthroat or villain, and some

linguists believe that this word bravis came from that original word barbarus, but this

etymology is disputed.

We do know that this word bravis created the word brave, meaning a wild savage, as in an

Indian brave, as used by European settlers in reference to Native Americans.

It’s also the origin of the word bravo to describe a brave or bold performance.

And speaking of foreigners, there’s another English word which has an interesting etymology

related to the Latin word for foreigners.

In an earlier episode of the podcast, I mentioned that the Latin term agar meant field in Latin.

It shares the same Indo-European root with the Greek word agros, which gives us modern

English words like agriculture.

And this same root provided the English word acre from Old English.

Well, the Romans combined the Latin prefix per, meaning through, with that Latin term

agar, meaning field, to create the term peregrinus, which literally meant through the field.

And this term was used to describe a visitor who came from another place and therefore

had to cross the field to arrive from elsewhere.

This term peregrinus evolved into the word pelegrin, which meant foreigner.

And this term eventually evolved into the modern English word pilgrim, but it was initially

used to refer to Christians who traveled to sacred sites and foreign lands, and it

also resulted in the term pilgrimage.

And lastly, in my look at Roman words for people, the Romans called a young boy a pupus

and a young girl a pupa.

Now, pupa also meant doll in Latin, so apparently they equated little girls and dolls.

Since those who began their learning in school were young boys and young girls, the terms

became the source of the word pupil in English, meaning a student.

The Romans also noticed that when you look into the very center of a person’s eye, you

can see a very small image of yourself reflected in the eyeball.

They therefore used the word pupula, which literally meant little doll, to name that

part of the eye, which also became pupil in modern English.

The same word pupula, meaning little doll, is the source of the English word puppet.

And even the English word puppy, meaning little dog, also comes from the same word pupula.

So pupil, meaning a student, and pupil, meaning part of the eye, and puppet and puppy, they’re

all derived from the same Latin root words.

So let’s turn our attention back to Roman Britain.

As I’ve noted, despite problems in the North and the West, the Romans were able to establish

a strong foothold in the southern and eastern portions of Britain.

And in this region, Romanization was at its strongest.

And even though Latin had to compete with the native Celtic languages, it had its strongest

presence in this southeastern region.

The Latin names for the months, which I mentioned in the last episode, they began to be used

in Britain during this Roman period.

But the Germanic names for the days of the week would arrive later with the Anglo-Saxons.

The Romans also had a version of bless you in response to a sneeze, and some historians

believe that the modern bless you came into Britain with the Romans during this period.

Wedding customs like a wedding cake, a wedding ring, a bridesmaid, and a brides veil, these

were all Roman wedding traditions which came into Britain with the Romans.

Also the tradition of putting flowers on a grave came to Britain with the Romans.

And if you’ve ever heard someone say that their ears are burning because someone is

talking about them, well that too is a saying and belief that came to Britain with the Romans.

So at this point in our story, we now have the Roman Empire at its peak.

Its influence was spread throughout the Mediterranean and Western Europe.

But Rome’s days were numbered.

To the east, the Roman army had pretty much given up on trying to conquer the vast territory

occupied by the Germanic-speaking tribes.

The Rhine and the Danube had become the de facto border between the Romans and the early


And since Rome could no longer expand, economic decay began to set in.

Internal corruption and struggles for power made the problems even worse.

And all of this was exacerbated by invading Germanic tribes who sought to take advantage

of the weakening empire.

And one group of those tribes were the Anglo-Saxons who would eventually find their way to that

Romanized island of Britain in the North Atlantic.

So next time, I’m going to begin looking at the Germanic tribes, who were the ancestors

of the Anglo-Saxons.

So until then, thanks for listening to the History of English podcast.

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