Did Roman Britain have its own emperor?

Roman Emperors spent centuries trying to get a foothold in Britain, and keep hold of it, but one man tried a different approach to gain power

Photo of Roman coins

Briefly, yes.

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In AD 286, Rome issued orders for the execution of one of its naval commanders. Carausius had been tasked with clearing the Channel of pirates, but he was suspected of collaborating with them in order to line his own pockets. When he got wind of his death sentence, Carausius responded by declaring himself Emperor of Britain and northern Gaul (France).

To pay his forces and promote his rule, Carausius minted thousands of coins. Many have been uncovered in archaeological excavations and depict a thick-set bruiser of a man with a beard and a double chin.

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Many of what we now call the ‘Forts of the Saxon Shore’ – Roman forts like Pevensey or Portchester – may have been built or at least strengthened by Carausius, not to keep out Saxon raiders, but defend his empire. In AD 293, Carausius was finally assassinated by his finance minister, a man named Allectus. He went on to rule for three years until Rome mounted an invasion, defeated and killed him.

This article was taken from BBC History Revealed magazine