By the AD 60’s there is much evidence of Roman penetration around the Pennines.

A site at Templeborough near Rotherham has been dated to that time by the finding of good quality samian ware from the reign of the emperor Nero. This site would have controlled the eastern access to the Pennines and it is unlikely that it would have been built in isolation.

Other finds have been made also dating from this time west of the River Derwent at Strutts Park near to the site of the later fort at Little Chester and at Trent Vale a mile south west of Stoke on Trent on a hill spur that would have marked the edge of the Cheshire plain.

It was events down south that seemed to initiate the move of Ventinus seeing that the occupiers had become immobile and seizing the moment to remove Cartimandua from her throne.

In 70 AD a new northern policy was initiated by the governor Petilius Cerialis, initially this was was centred on the eastern part of the Brigante empire although the problems of subduing the Welsh tribes prevented any final conquest.

A Roman army was almost certainly garrisoned at this time in York which also suggests that the power base of the Brigantes was east of the Pennines.

That was left to Julius Frontinus who became governor in 74 AD although all the evidence suggests that his campaign with the main threat east of the Pennines removed was to remain fairly static along with a further rebellion which broke out in South Wales with the Silures.

When Agricola became governor in 77 AD the problem of the Western flank was still there and his first task as governor was back in North Wales against the Ordovices. Once that was secure Agricola turned his attention to the area west of the Pennines founding the forts not only at Manchester but Castleshaw, Lancaster, Slack, and Melandra all west of the Pennines.

He was father in law to Tacticus whom we have to thank for the first historical references to the settlement of Manchester, but maybe we have to beware of the fact that history is always written by the victorious.

His biography of his father-in-law “Agricola” refers in detail to the campaign of 79 AD in which the Roman’s subdued the tribes of the North West.

The Roman hegemony over the region followed the pattern of their conquest throughout Europe, roads criss crossing the region allied with forts.  The major East West axis began in Chester and crosses the Pennines to York on which the Manchester site stood but it was also on the Northern route which ultimately ended in Carlisle.

AD 79 The birth of Roman Manchester

“Meanwhile war had again broken out in Britain, and Gnaeus Julius Agricola overran the whole of the enemy’s territory there. He was the first of the Romans to discover the fact that Britain is surrounded by water. It seemed that some soldiers rebelled, and after slaying the centurions a military tribune took refuge in boats, in which they put out to sea and sailed round the western portion of the country just as the wind and the waves chanced to carry them; and without realising it, since they approached from the opposite direction, they put in at the camps on the first side again.

Thereupon Agricola sent others to attempt the voyage around Britain, and learned from them too that it was an island.  “As a result of these events in Britain Titus received the title of Imperator for the fifteenth time. But Agricola for the rest of his life lived not only in disgrace but in actual want because the deeds which he had wrought were too great for a mere General. Finally, he was murdered by Domitian for no other reason than this, in spite of his having received triumphal honours from him”

Agricola had been born in modern day Frejus on the Mediterranean coast in the South Of France in 40 AD, his father was Praetor of the area and his mother was thought to be a member of a rich Gallic family.  He came to Britain in 58 AD fighting against the Iceni during Boudicca’s rebellion, later serving for a time in Asia then returning to Britain to command the twentieth legion based in Wroxeter in 71 AD before becoming Governor of the peaceful province of Aquitania for three years.

He returned to Britain as Governor in 77 AD and would lead the first Roman legions into Scotland having subdued the North of England, advancing as far as the Moray Firth where he would defeat the Caledonian army at Mons Graupius in 84 AD and would block the main passes into the Grampians with forts, leaving a legionary fortress at Inchtutil near modern day Dunkeld in Perthshire. He also sailed around the north coast of Scotland, establishing that Britain was indeed an island and not the southern tip of Pytheus’s legendary land of Thule.

However in a Rome ridden with conspiracy and jealousy, his successes were to attract the attention of the Emperor Domitian and ordered back to Rome he would be forced into retirement, dying on his family estates in August 93 AD.


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