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.

Did Roman Britain have its own emperor? © Wikimedia Commons

In AD 286, Rome issued orders for the execution of one of their naval commanders, a man called Carausius who had been tasked with clearing the Channel of pirates but who was suspected of collaborating with them in order to line his own pockets.

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Carausius got wind of this and 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 of these have been uncovered in archaeological excavations and depict a thick-set bruiser of a man with a beard and a double chin.

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 to defend his independent empire.

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In AD 293, Carausius was assassinated by Allectus, his finance minister. Allectus ruled for three years until Rome mounted an invasion, defeated and killed him and Britain’s brief independent empire came to an end.

This article was first published in the June 2015 issue of History Revealed and answered by one of our Q&A experts, Julian Humphrys.