What was it like in Roman Britain?

When the Romans came to Britain they brought their way of life with them. Over time, the people of Britain and the Romans mixed. The Britons began to live the Roman lifestyle and the Romans took on local customs.

The Romans built new towns. These were often protected by walls and there was everything a citizen of Roman Britain would need inside - houses, shops, meeting spaces, workshops, temples and bathhouses.

They also built grand country houses called 'villas'. These had many rooms, some with beautifully painted walls, mosaic floors and even central heating.

What were houses like?

Most of Roman Britain was a wild place, with forests and mountains where few people lived.

People mainly lived in small villages of wooden houses with thatched roofs, much as they had before the Romans arrived.

However, some wealthy Romans lived in villas and palaces. Villas were large farms with a big house for the owners. They had lots of servants and farm workers to help run the villa.

Most of the Roman villas found by archaeologists are in the south of England. The governor of Britain had a palace in London. Another palace was beside the sea, at Fishbourne (near Chichester in West Sussex).

The ruins of a Roman underfloor heating system.
Some Roman homes were kept warm with an underfloor heating system called a 'hypocaust'. The floor was raised up by piles of tiles or stone pillars to allow warm air to circulate.

Click on the labels below to find out about the different rooms of a Roman villa.

What was a Roman family like?

Men were in charge of the family in Roman Britain. Mothers were thought to be less important than fathers.

Life for women in Roman times was often hard. Women were expected to run the home, cook meals and raise children. Wealthy women were lucky: they had slaves to do the work for them.

Many girls were married at the age of 14. Marriages were often arranged between families. A man could divorce his wife if she did not give birth to a son.

Many women died young (in their 30s), because childbirth could be dangerous and diseases were common.

Find out what life was like for children in Roman Britain

Click on the town below to find out about some of the important buildings.

What technology did they bring?

The Romans were good at building roads and bridges, but not so keen on machines. They had slaves to do the heavy work and nasty jobs.

Although they didn’t invent the arch, the Romans were the first people to build arches into big buildings and aqueducts. Romans used aqueducts to supply towns with water from springs, rivers or lakes. Aqueducts were like a bridge with a stone channel to carry water on top.

The Romans liked to keep clean. Towns and forts had underground drains to take away dirty water and sewage. The drain pipes were flushed with water from the baths, so they didn't get too smelly. Fresh water and sewers are important. Without them, people risk catching diseases.

The Romans were most famous for their roads. To make sure soldiers and supplies could move from town to town quickly, the Romans made their roads as straight as possible.

A Roman road sign.
This milestone from around AD120 used to stand beside a Roman road. It showed the distance to the nearest fort, Kanovium (the Roman for Caerhun in north Wales).