Aurelian Moors Facts & Worksheets

Aurelian Moors facts and information plus worksheet packs and fact file. Includes 5 activities aimed at students 11-14 years old (KS3) & 5 activities aimed at students 14-16 years old (GCSE). Great for home study or to use within the classroom environment.

Aurelian Moors Worksheets

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    • The first Africans in Roman Britain (43-410 CE)
    • African Romans in the North of England

    Key Facts And Information

    Let’s know more about the Aurelian Moors!

    Plaque in Burgh by Sands commemorating the Aurelian Moors

    Archaeological and written evidence reveals that Britannia was a multicultural society, like the rest of the Roman Empire. This included the Beaumont inscription and the Notitia Dignitatum which recorded the presence of a unit of Aurelian Moors in the North of England in the 3rd century. Named in honour of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, the Aurelian Moors were soldiers that came to Britain from the North African provinces of the Roman Empire and were stationed at the fortress of Aballava, modern-day Burgh by Sands in Cumbria.

    The first Africans in Roman Britain (43-410 CE)

    • At its peak, the Roman Empire was the most powerful political and social structure in western history. Augustus Caesar became the first emperor of Rome, and the Roman Empire lasted until the last Roman emperor, Romulus Augustulus, was toppled by the Germanic King Odoacer in the west. Rome had been conquering the Mediterranean Sea for decades before it set its sights northward across the Alps towards Gaul and then finally across the channel into Britain.
    • Britain was first invaded by Caesar in 55/54 BCE and, following Claudius’ invasion in 43 CE, part of Britain became a Roman province in name. 
    • The Roman conquest of Britain proved to be a lengthy process. Since the Roman Empire was multicultural by its very design, so was Britain during this period.
    • Roman people travelled to and settled in Britain from many parts of the Empire including North Africa and Europe through trade, logistical or military movements, civilian migrations both voluntary and forced.
    • Roman troops, administrators and merchants likely moved to Britain with their families and children.
    • In the period that Britain became the Roman Province of Britannia, the total number of people who migrated to the province was not recorded and was hard to estimate. 
    • Towards the end of the Roman rule, Britannia had an urban population of about 240,000 people. The capital city of Londinium approximately had a population of about 60,000 people.
    • Londinium was not the only ethnically diverse city with inhabitants from across the Roman Empire, but also the other Roman-British towns, which were sustained by significant migration, both within Britannia and from other Roman territories.
    • By the end of the 2nd century, Septimius Severus seized power after the death of the emperor Pertinax, and was regarded as Rome’s first African emperor.
    • Born in Leptis Magna, present-day Libya, Severus ruled Rome between 193 and 211. It was in 208 that he arrived in Britannia with an army of over 40,000, with the intention of conquering parts of the island not under Roman Rule.
    • He fortified Hadrian’s Wall and led campaigns into Caledonian territory, which achieved significant gains. He also rebuilt several fortifications in many areas. In 211, he succumbed to disease at Eboracum, present-day York, England.
    • His descendants remained in power until 235 with the exception of the rule of Marcus Opellius Macrinus in 217-218.
    • It is suggested that a group of African people came to Britain as troops under the command of Severus. During the rules of Severus and his son Caracalla, other Romans of African descent held positions within the army and were stationed in Britannia. It is highly likely that a few of them remained on the island and settled down.

    African Romans in the North of England

    • Whist there is a claim that a group of African people moved to Britain during the reigns of Severus and his successor, the first group of African Romans was reported to have been stationed in the North of England, particularly in a fort on Hadrian’s Wall.
    • Built in 122 by the emperor Hadrian to secure the Empire’s north-western border in Britannia, Hadrian’s Wall was a stone wall with huge ditches in front and behind it that crossed the whole width of the island.

      The location of Hadrian’s Wall in what is now northern England
    • The Romans garrisoned the line of Hadrian’s Wall with troops from diverse reaches of the Empire, including soldiers from North Africa.
    • The group of soldiers that was reported to have been stationed at Hadrian’s Wall in the 3rd century was a unit of what became known as the ‘Aurelian Moors’.

    Who were the Aurelian Moors?

    • They had been raised in the North African provinces of the Roman Empire, which comprised of modern-day Morocco, Libya, Tunisia and Algeria.
    • They were stationed at the fortress of Aballava, modern-day Burgh by Sands in Cumbria, on Hadrian's Wall, between Petriana (Stanwix) to the east and Coggabata (Drumburgh) to the west.
    • They probably were named after Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who ruled Rome in 121-180.
    • They were believed to be a 500-strong unit of warriors.

    What were the two pieces of evidence that proved the presence of Aurelian Moors in Aballava?

    • A 4th-century stone inscription discovered in Beaumont in 1934
      • An altar stone was found in the foundations of an old cottage in Beaumont, on the banks of River Eden in Cumbria.
      • It contained an inscription dedicated to the Roman god Jupiter by Flavius Vibianus, commander of the unit of Aurelian Moors, and referenced the names of two Roman emperors, Valerian and Gallienus.
      • Based on these, historians establish the date as lying between 253 and 258 CE.
    • Mention of the Aurelian Moors in Notitia Dignitatum 
      • Notitia Dignitatum is a document of the late Roman Empire that details the administrative organisation of the Western and the Eastern Roman Empire.
      • It contains the list of all the commanding officers and regiments of the Roman Army, often with the location and specific staff.
      • It listed “along the line of the Wall, the Prefect of the Unit of Aurelian Moors, at Aballava”.
    • The Beaumont inscription and the Notitia Dignitatum are among the limited number of artefacts and inscriptions that, between them indicate the presence of Africans at different sites in Britain.

      Location of Beaumont on the map
    • The diversity of population of Roman Britain was also supported by the discoveries of the Beachy Head Lady and the Ivory Bangle Lady: the former was claimed to have had descended from sub-Saharan Africa and to had been born or at least grown up from an early age locally in Eastbourne, while the latter was likely of North African descent, being a high-status incomer to Roman York.
    • Whilst there remains a lot unknown about the Aurelian Moors, including where they were stationed before and after Aballava, it is more than likely they had perhaps already seen active service before their posting to Burgh by Sands.
    • It is also likely there was a civilian settlement outside the fort, where the Aurelian Moors lived with their wives and children, forming what could be regarded as Britain’s first diaspora people from Africa.
    • Today, the unit of Aurelian Moors are remembered by a commemorative plaque at Burgh by Sands Roman fort that reads, “The first recorded African community in Britain guarded a Roman fort on this site 3rd century AD”

    Frequently Asked Questions

    • Where did the Aurelian Moors come from?

      Named after Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, the Aurelian Moors came from Mauretania - present-day Algeria and Morocco.

    • Why did the Aurelian Moors come to Britain?

      The Aurelian Moors were sent to Northern Britain to guard the Hadrian's Wall, an essential physical border of the Roman Empire.

    • Why were they called Moors?

      The term 'Moors' was derived from the Latin word Maurus, which refers to the people of Mauretania in North Africa. However, the term evolved over time and was used to identify European Muslims.