The Roman Empire and Ireland

Essay by hanno October 2004

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"A single legion, with a moderate band of auxiliaries, would be enough to finish the conquest of Ireland"-Tacitus quoting Agricola .

This evidence illustrates that the Romans did not come to Ireland for the simple reason that they had no desire to do so. However the island was to be hugely influenced by the Roman Empire. Instead of Roman aspects being forcibly introduced to Ireland, the Irish themselves chose to adopt many Roman customs in order to improve themselves. This essay will outline the contacts between Ireland and the Roman Empire (and its legacy) and discuss the effects of these contacts on the island.

The first links between Ireland and the Roman Empire would have been through trading. The apparent isolation of Ireland by the sea is, in fact, misleading, as the seas linked rather than divided people. In "A History of the Irish Church 400-700 AD it is suggested that the seas were "a hive of maritime activity" and that it probably wouldn't have taken much longer than three days to travel between Ireland and what is now Spain, and as little as one day to travel between Ireland and Britain.

Roman knowledge of Ireland was enough that the Ireland shown in Ptolemy's map from the second century, although far from accurate, is still recognisable today. This would certainly suggest close contact between the Roman Empire and Ireland, probably mainly through trade. Important items of trade would have included wine, cattle and hides . That Irish wolfhounds were exported to the Roman Empire is beyond doubt, because of references to them by "several Roman writers" and a bronze model of one that was found in excavations in Gloucestershire, England .

However, as Lloyd Laing tells us: "To attribute Romanization to casual trading or raiding is clearly unreasonable" . It...