How Accurate Is the TV Series Britannia?
The TV series Britannia is a series about the Roman invasion, and eventual conquest, of Britain in 43 BC, which began the long Roman rule of what they called Britannia that lasted until the 5th century AD.
In 43 AD, Emperor Claudius commissioned Aulus Plautius to invade Britain, called Britannia. It was considered a great honor, as Julius Caesar himself had failed to successfully invade Britannia after landing their and then leaving back to the European continent after meeting considerable resistance. Britannia was seen as a wildland, full of forests and wild people. On the eve of the invasion, Aulus has to contend with mutiny, where he has to execute soldiers to keep the others in line. The Roman fleet sets sail from France (Roman Gaul) to Britannia, landing somewhere in modern-day Kent. Celtic, along with Druid, tribes rule much of the land, who are at times at war with themselves, which initially puts them in a weak position to oppose Rome as they start their invasion. The invaders quickly create havoc by slaughtering a village after they land and word spreads of their arrival. A Druid by the name of Divis foresees the invasion and sees them as having been sent by the demon god, Lokka, but he is seen as an outsider even among the Druids and is ignored. He runs into Cait, who had escaped the Roman slaughter after the landing. King Pellenor, a Celtic leader of the Cantii tribe, wants to fight the Romans directly, but Kerra, the king's daughter, sees trouble and decides to try to negotiate with the Romans. Aulus sees that the Celts are divided and seeks out the Druids to facilitate the conquest and make an important alliance. This is also driven by his soldiers fear of the wildlands and beliefs in the magical powers of the Druids and Celts. Princess Ania, a princess from another Celtic tribe captured by King Pellenor before the Roman arrival, foresees war. Kerra's negotiation with the Romans is discovered, which leads to the Cantii Celtic tribe taking her to the Druids to decide her fate. They foresee her as the Queen of the Cantii and she then becomes Queen, with a rival Queen Amena pledging allegiance to follow her. Kerra then pursues peace with the Romans, but she sees Cait, who had been pursued by the Romans, and helps her to escape along with her father who was also captured by them, which puts her in a bad position with the Romans. Meanwhile, Queen Antedia, of the Regni tribe, decide to continue their war with the Cantii tribe by besieging the Canti capital. However, the Romans have other ideas. They use this division to eventually invade the citadel of the Cantii, Crudgunon, and defeat both the Cantii and Ragni, taking power in the area and putting Queen Amena as the new ruler, who becomes a puppet of the Romans. Cait, who is captured by a bounty hunter Hella, is not taken to the Romans, as the bounty hunter was instructed, but decides to take her away and escape from the Romans. This is prophecied as Cait's destiny. 
Aulus Plautius: He is a historical figure who is known to have successfully invaded Britain in 43 BC. He is shown as a ruthless leader, willing to kill his men to impose discipline and achieve his ambition, while also striking deals with the Britians while also killing innocents without mercy. He is willing to change tactics and break promises to achieve his goals by making a needed alliance and then change them again to attain his goals. Historically, we know Plautius did conduct a successful campaign in Britannia, fighting off guerilla attacks and fighting formal battles. The Romans also did try to play off the Celtic tribes by making alliances as they needed. Plautius did face considerable troubles and did have to ask Emperor Claudius for assistance by having a second wave of Roman legions invade some months after the initial invasion. With this, the Romans were able to take Camulodunum, which is modern Colchester, which was capital of the chief Celtic rivals in Britain. He also became the first governor of the conquered province of Britannia.
Kerra: She is shown as a leader among the Cantii, who are also known as the Cantiaci, which gave the name Kent used in modern Britain. The Cantii had known about the Romans from long before and had, in fact, traded with them. Kerra, like many other Celtic women, was shown as a strong leader of her people, but also tried to show wisdom in seeing that fighting Rome directly was not a good tactic for her people. She is also sometimes quick to make decisions, which could be costly in leading to needless conflict, such as castrating her husband that triggered the fight with the Regni. She is eventually betrayed by Plautius and his invading forces. There is no historical account of Kerra, although the personality that made her is based on knowledge of female leaders in Celtic tribes.
Cait: She is shown initially as a young girl who is about to undergo transformation into an adult but the Romans disrupt her initiation ceremony. She is also not a historical figure but the first season suggests she may represent someone like Boudica or other female leaders who did revolt against the Romans.
Queen Antedia: She is Queen of the Ragni, who wants revenge against Kerra (for castrating her son on their wedding day) and the Canti. She sees the Romans as a potential benefit for her, but she learns the hard way that the Romans were only really interested in conquest. Similar to Kerra, we do not know any historical documents about her but she also represents some general figures in Celtic history. The Regni are also known as the Regnenses and lived in southern England, with the capital having been located in modern-day Chichester.
Veran: Is a leader of the Druids and he claims to have mystical powers as an ancient man. Both the Canti and Regni respect him and also fear him and the Druids for their magic. The Druids are seen as priests and mystical people, in part this narrative is informed by Roman sources but little is known about them.
Divis: He is a Druid and considered the outcast of society in Britannia. He sees a vision of the invading Romans and he sees himself as the one capable of stopping them by killing the emperor. He helps Cait escape and sees the Romans as the incarnation of the demon god Lokka.
Amena: She is a Cantii queen in waiting who has multiple husbands, including Phaedon and Lindon. She only really wants power for herself and ultimately uses the Romans to achieve her hold on power, albeit as their puppet, without considering the trouble she is creating for her people.
King Pellenor: He is initially the king of the Cantii who is more concerned with the Ragni than the Romans, a fatal judgment. He follows the Druids blindly, even to the point where he flays his own wife alive to appease the gods. He eventually falls from power as Kerra is decreed the new Queen.
The general background of the story, the fear the Romans had of invading Britannia, Aulus Plautius' invasion of the area around Kent, the attempt to make alliances and then break them or betray them by the Romans, and general warfare within Britannia between the Celtic tribes is accurate. The Romans understood the difficulties in conquering Britain due to Julius Caesar's experience, but this time around the Celtic tribes were much less prepared for the Romans and more divided, which was emphasized in the first episode. The Druids, according to Roman accounts, did also have a strange and mystical power over people. However, most of the characters are not known to have existed, rather they represent personifications of other general characterizations of characters related to the Cantii, Regni, Druids, and the Romans themselves. For instance, one of the first Roman soldiers we get to learn about, Antonious, is shown as a Numidian who has entered service for Rome. The Cantii citadel likely represents Durovernum Cantiacorum, although called Crudgunon in the series, which was the capital of the Cantii and likely conquered soon after the Roman invasion. Although the series is based on general historical facts, it does take liberty in making it a mystical fantasy by introducing a world of magic and divination. Prophetic visions are a major part of the series. However, such visions were certainly a great deal and part of Celtic society in pre-Roman Britain, although perhaps with less artistic drama as it was presented in the series. Some of the cultural differences emphasized, such as the role of women in society and having sometimes multiple male partners in Celtic society, is likely accurate. Nevertheless, the series has a feel of a mixed fictional, fantasy epic that incorporates a historical set of events.
Britannia has had one season and there is a second season promised. The initial Roman invasion seems successful but much of Britain remains unconquered and the Romans have a lot of tough fighting ahead. Some of the problems they have in ruling over Britain are alluded to, including the cultural differences and the strong leadership of tribal warlords, including various women who become thorns in the side of Rome. The series does seem to try to play off the success of Game of Thrones, with its style of depicting characters and actions by individuals in their quest for power, but the background makes this a true story that had long-term effects and shaped modern Britain.
- For more on the conquest of Britain by the Romans, see: Peddie, J., 1998. Conquest: the Roman invasion of Britain. Bramley, Godalming.
- For more on Plautius, see: Hoffmann, B., 2013. The Roman invasion of Britain: archaeology versus history . Pen & Sword Military, Barnsley.
- For more on the Celts and women in Celtic society, see: Markale, J., 1986. Women of the Celts, 1st U.S. ed. ed. Inner Traditions International, Rochester, Vt.
- For more on the different tribes of the Celts, see: Cunliffe, B.W., 1978. Iron age communities in Britain: an account of England, Scotland, and Wales from the seventh century BC until the Roman conquest, 2d ed. ed, Archaeology of Britain. Routledge & Kegan Paul, London ; Boston.
- For more on the Druids, see: Hutton, R., 2011. Blood and mistletoe: the history of the Druids in Britain, 1. print. in paperback. ed. Yale Univ. Press, New Haven, Conn.