When was agriculture introduced into Britain?

Oct 2012
Roman historian Cassius Dio described the Britons as follows:
There are two principal races of the Britons, the Caledonians and the Maeatae…. Both tribes inhabit wild and waterless mountains and desolate and swampy plains, and possess neither walls, cities, nor tilled fields, but live on their flocks, wild game, and certain fruits...They dwell in tents, naked and unshod, possess their women in common, and in common rear all the offspring. Their form of rule is democratic for the most part, and they are very fond of plundering....They can endure hunger and cold and any kind of hardship; for they plunge into the swamps and exist there for many days with only their heads above water, and in the forests they support themselves upon bark and roots. (Roman History, LXXVII.12.1-4).
Herodian continued,
Most of Britain is marshland…. The barbarians usually swim in these swamps or run along in them, submerged up to the waist. Of course, they are practically naked and do not mind the mud because they are unfamiliar with the use of clothing, and they adorn their waists and necks with iron, valuing this metal as an ornament and a token of wealth in the way that other barbarians value gold. They also tattoo their bodies with various patterns and pictures of all sorts of animals. Hence the reason why they do not wear clothes, so as not to cover the pictures on their bodies. Extremely savage and warlike, they are armed only with a spear and a narrow shield, plus a sword that hangs suspended by a belt from their otherwise naked bodies.(III.14.6-8).

This would indicated that at the time of the Roman conquest, the Britons were still hunter-gatherers. Does archeology confirm this? When was agriculture introduced into Britain? Can anyone recommend a good study of the origins of ag in Britain?


Forum Staff
Oct 2011
Italy, Lago Maggiore
No, absolutely no ... if you think to the Megalithic sites you can visit all around Great Britain [I have visited a good number of them] you will realize that to build them the local inhabitants needed a sedentary settled society. This usually is not compatible with hunter-gatherers [animals escape from the areas where there are predators and if you keep on gather fruits and vegetables from the same area, sooner or later you will run out of food!].

And, in fact, archaeology [at least the Italian one, I ignore if after Brexit in UK they will consider valid Italian works!] says that already around 4,500 BCE the first traces of agricultural settlements appeared. And surely around 3,500 BCE in Great Britain there were prehistoric "farmers".

So, no ... better NO. Romans in this case exaggerated to present in a negative way an hostile population [they did this, trust an Italian with classical education about this].


Forum Staff
Oct 2011
Italy, Lago Maggiore
To become pragmatic [I really adore to be pragmatic and rational].

The last time I was in Scotland I visited [to study it] a quite particular megalithic stone circle near Inverurie [it's not far from the lands of the Queen, if you known Eastern Scotland ... not far from Aberdeen].

It's particular because a a big stone doesn't stand ... it lays. [Why????]. You can see it in the center of this picture.

Ok, there is a reason why that giant stone is not standing. But this about this:

were hunter-gatherers able to be enough organized [and for enough time! Very important detail] to move those stones and to dispose them in that way?


Forum Staff
Aug 2016
Didn't the Britons have walled towns before the Roman conquest? Walled towns would seem incompatible with hunting and gathering. Why else would people settle down and live in towns and build walls if not to tend crops?


Ad Honorem
May 2016
Thank you for your personal opinions. Can anyone recommend a good study of the origins of ag in Britain?
Sorry, I can’t help you on the bibliography, it is out of my area, but some things that were said here are not mere personal opinions, but general knowledge, available on any encyclopaedia, even in the most used on the planet:

History of England - Wikipedia

See the bibliography there, maybe you can give the first steps from there.
Aug 2018
Stonehenge may look primitive but it still is a megalithic site that is impossible to build with a pre-agrarian economy. And if you want something more sophisticated, there's Solsbury Hill, a pyramid of nearly 50 metres. Newgrange in Ireland is also another such massive megalithic complex that is sophisticated and shows that the whole of the British Isles, and not just parts of England, had already become agrarian economies by the year 3,000 BCE. Also, I doubt that the people who could settle Britain and Ireland so thoroughly were so primitive since they needed boats or ships for such a massive migration. In any case, the Celts are known also to have been agrarian even before migrating to the British Isles around the 1st millennium BCE (and 1,000 years before the Claudian conquest) as you can see from the archaeological surveys of Hallstatt and La Tene that had not just extensive agriculture and farming but also iron metallurgy, to the point that Celtic swords from the Hallstatt and La Tene societies are among the earliest examples of iron swords anywhere in the world. So at the very least, Britain was an agrarian economy by the year 500 BCE.


Ad Honorem
Dec 2010
Yes, they did have walled towns. Many of them have been uncovered:
10 British Iron Age Hill Forts - HeritageDaily - Archaeology News
Hillforts are not walled towns, at least not in the sense of a permanently occupied settlement.
Current thinking is that hillforts were indicators of a tribes status, wealth and prestige as well as military bases.
The associated supporting population lived in nearby villages.

It is worth noting that the British tribes appear to have been in the process of developing planned, fortified large settlements (oppidum) like their continental neighbours had been doing in the previous century when the Romans showed up and built settlements their way.