Roman Cornwall

Roman sites and finds in Cornwall are few and far-between. In Cornwall, the first impact of the Roman domination of north-west Europe must have been felt around 56BC, when Julius Caesar’s conquering army arrived in Brittany. At the famous naval battle in the Bay of Quiberon the “Celts” of Brittany were defeated and the area fell under Roman domination.

Many “Celts” left Brittany for Cornwall at this time. It may be these people who brought the traditions of courtyard houses and fogous to the far west of Cornwall (see the section on Cornwall in the Iron Age).

The full Roman invasion of the British Isles had to wait for a hundred years after Caesar’s capture of Brittany. Emperors Claudius and Vespasian conquered Britain after 43AD and, until 410AD, much of eastern and southern Britain was under Roman control. However, the Romans never extended control into all of present-day Scotland and hardly at all into Wales or Cornwall.

The Romans had a fort at Exeter (Isca Dumnoniorum), linked to other Roman centres by Roman roads. The terrain (Dartmor, for example) must have proven to be a significant block to their ambitions in the south-west and the Roman presence in Cornwall was minimal. At Nanstallon (near Bodmin) there was a fort and in recent years two more temporary Roman forts have been discovered near Restormel Castle and Calstock. It may be that these discoveries change our view of Roman Cornwall, but at the moment most historians agree that the Roman influence here was less significant than in other areas of Britain.

It may be that the Romans were keen to trade for valuable tin and copper from Cornwall, which they shipped to mainland Europe and were happy to have an economic relationship with suppliers in Cornwall, a remote area of their empire that posed no military threat. Interestingly, Roman documentation points to the area of what is now Cornwall being known as Cornouia, the land of the Cornovii tribe, the name Cornwall appearing in an early form for the first time.

As a result of this relationship, Roman sites and finds in Cornwall are few and far-between, providing only tantalising glimpses of their presence here: a Roman inscribed stone in Breage churchyard; Roman coins found in Zennor Quoit, left as a calling card at a site as distant from them in time as the Romans are from us; a Roman-influenced “villa” at Magor near Camborne; and the forts in the east of the county.


History of Cornwall



Neolithic Cornwall

Neolithic Cornwall

The upland areas of Cornwall were the parts first open to settlement as the vegetation required little in the way of clearance: they were perhaps first occupied in Neolithic times.

Hurler Stone Circles

Cornwall in the Bronze Age

Bronze Age cultures began to appear in Cornwall around 2200 BC with new ideas spreading from the Continent to the existing population, but the changes were gradual not sudden and stone tools continued to be used...

Cornwall in the Iron Age

Cornwall in the Iron Age

New, stronger iron ploughs and axes meant that farming improved. Cornwall contains many archaeological remains from this time: small villages with field systems around them, hillforts and cliff castles that...

Roman Cornwall

Roman sites and finds in Cornwall are few and far-between. In Cornwall, the first impact of the Roman domination of north-west Europe must have been felt around 56BC...



Cornwall 410 - 1066

Cornwall 410 - 1066

After the Roman withdrawal from Great Britain, Saxons and other peoples were able to conquer and settle most of the east of the island. But Cornwall remained under the rule of local Romano-British and Celtic elites...

Mediaeval Cornwall 1066-1485

Mediaeval Cornwall


With the arrival of the Normans to the British mainland in 1066, the River Tamar became the agreed border. There was also a general acceptance that Cornwall had a separate identity to the rest of England...


Sancreed Beacon

Early Modern Cornwall 1485

During this period English rulers sought to establish firmer control over the furthermost parts of Britain - Scotland and Ireland especially but this trend also affected Cornwall. Here the loyalty of many gentry, particularly in East Cornwall...

Cornwall & The Civil War 1642

Cornwall & The Civil War 1642

The Civil Wars of the mid seventeenth century were a result of political, constitutional, religious and social changes and disagreements, which culminated in a struggle for control of the country between King and Parliament...


treffry viaduct

Industry in Cornwall

The industrial revolution had a huge impact on Cornwall and the county at this time was amongst the most industrialized part of the UK, if not the world...

History of Transport

History of Transport

The development of Cornwall’s roads was hugely affected by the county’s unique topography and landscape. Cornwall’s rivers run north-south, so all traffic along the peninsular...


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