The history of Britain will have to be rewritten. The AD43 Roman invasion never happened - and was simply a piece of sophisticated political spin by a weak Emperor Claudius.
A series of astonishing archaeological findings of Roman military equipment, to be revealed this week, will prove that the Romans had already arrived decades earlier - and that they had been welcomed with open arms by ancient Britons.
The discovery of swords, helmets and armour in Chichester, Sussex, dates back to a period between the late first century BC and the early first century AD- almost 50 years before the supposed invasion. Archaeologists who have studied the finds believe it will turn conventional Roman history taught in schools on its head. "It is like discovering that the Second World War started in 1938," said Dr David Rudkin, a Roman expert leading the work.
The discoveries in Sussex will be revealed on Saturday during a Time Team special on Channel 4 analysing the Roman invasion. Tony Robinson, presenter of Time Team, said: "One of the frustrating things with history is that things become set in stone. We all believe it to be true. It is great to challenge some of the most commonly accepted pieces of our history."
Dr Francis Pryor, president of the Council for British Archaeology, said it would prove controversial. "It turns the conventional view taught in all the textbooks on its head," he said. "It is going to cause lively debate among Roman specialists."
The AD43 Roman invasion is one of the best-known events in British history. More than 40,000 Roman soldiers are believed to have landed in Richborough, Kent, before carving their way through the English countryside.
The evidence unearthed in Sussex overturns this theory. Archaeologists now believe that the Romans arrived up to 50 years earlier in Chichester. They were welcomed as liberators, overthrowing a series of tyrannical tribal kings who had been terrorising clans across southern England.
Sussex and Hampshire became part of the Roman Empire 50 years before the invasion that historians have always believed was the birth of Roman Britain.
The findings and their implications will be published by Dr Rudkin later this year. The discoveries have centred on Fishbourne Roman Palace in Sussex. Artefacts found there in a V-shaped ditch include part of a copper alloy sword scabbard fitting that archaeologists have dated to the period between the late first century BC and early first century AD.
Dr Miles Russell, a senior archaeologist at Bournemouth University who has studied the evidence, said: "All this talk of the Romans arriving in AD43 is just wrong. We get so fixated on the idea of a single invasion. It is far more piecemeal. In Sussex and Hampshire they were in togas and speaking Latin five decades before everyone else."
According to Dr Russell, it was in Emperor Claudius's interest to "spin" the invasion of AD43 as a great triumph against strong opposition. Claudius had become emperor two years earlier but his position following the death of Caligula was tenuous. A bold military adventure to expand the empire would tighten Claudius's grip in Rome and prove his credentials as a strong leader.
"Every period of history has its own spin doctors, and Claudius spun the invasion to look strong," Dr Russell said. "But Britain was Roman before Claudius got here."
Julius Caesar first tried to conquer Britain during the Iron Age in 55BC, but storms on the journey from Boulogne, in France, to Dover caused Caesar's two legions to turn back. A force of five legions tried again in May 54BC and landed in Dover before marching towards London, defeating Cassivellaunus the King of Catuvellauni in Hertfordshire. News of an impending rebellion in Gaul caused Caesar to retreat, but not before he had made his mark.
Britain at this stage in history was not one unified country, rather some 25 tribes often at war with each other. Not all tribes joined the coalition to fight Caesar. For example, the Trinovantes appealed to Caesar to protect them from Cassivellaunus who had run a series of raids into their territory.
Dr Francis Pryor said that the findings in Sussex prove that relationships between tribes in southern England and the Romans continued after Caesar's attempted invasion. "The suggestion that they arrived in Chichester makes plenty of sense. We were a pretty fierce force but the Romans had a relatively easy run. This would have been a liberation of a friendly tribe - not an invasion."
Oxford historian Dr Martin Henig, a Roman art specialist, said that the whole of southern England could have been a Roman protectorate for nearly 50 years prior to the AD43 invasion. "There is a possibility that there were actually Roman soldiers based in Britain during the whole period from the end of the first century BC," he said.
Time Team will unveil their findings in a live two-hour special on Saturday evening on Channel 4. It will form part of the biggest ever archaeological examination of Roman Britain running over eight days and involving hundreds of archaeologists at sites across Britain. The series will investigate every aspect of the Romans' rule of Britain, from the supposed invasion to their departure 400 years later.
Preliminary thoughts: if this is the case, why wouldn't Augustus have made a bigger deal of it? Why would we hear of aborted invasions by Gaius? If it were as depicted above, why wouldn't the biographers have mentioned this as just more evidence of how ineffective Claudius was? All arguments from silence, to be sure, but appropriately brought up, no?