03:03. Britannia Capta.

 What follows is very much a ‘work in progress’. I began writing what I thought might become a narrative history of Roman Britain in the late 1980s, and quickly realised that such a thing is not possible. The very best that could be done would be to build up a speculative history; which is to say a narrative that, to the best of my knowledge, could be the way things did actually occur. This, then, is neither fiction nor non-fiction, but intermediate between the two, in the same way that the sources are neither history nor prehistory but what can be termed proto-history. I left things to gather dust from about 2000 to 2011, but I have since taken matters up again and I have been pottering on. I have made additions and alterations, and I have straightened out the footnotes and bibliographies. If you are really interested, leave a message in the comment box below and I will email you an updated version of the text that you require.


Stephen Symons.

Britannia Capta Part 3.  

Chapter 03.03.

Britannia Capta. 

03.03:01. The Fall of Camulodunon.

Plautius, feeling reasonably assured of success, sent for Claudius that the Augustus himself might personally lead the advance on Camulodunon, the capital of the Cattuvellauni, witness its taking and thus claim the triumph for himself. According to Dio [Dio: lx:21] Claudius left his fellow consul Lucius Vitellius, a man of the highest integrity and diligence and an old drinking companion of the Emperor in charge of the Empire, whilst he himself set sail from Ostia, but this may not be the case and Dio’s reporting is suspect. Dio records the two as sharing a semestris, a sixth-month period of office, but elsewhere [Suetonius: Claudius 14] Claudius is recorded as holding two-monthly consulships only until his last in 51. Something is wrong here, and the question is: when did Claudius leave Rome, and when did he reach Britain? There are several inconsistencies in the classical accounts [Barret 1980: p31].


General Plautius, having planned to launch his invasion in the spring of 43, probably in April or May, was frustrated by certain matters. Firstly, there was the mutiny, and how long this took to bring to order is entirely speculative, but with the distances involved in sending messages to Rome and then for Narcissus to arrive at the expeditionary forces’ encampment, and after that to negotiate with the men, departure could not have been much earlier than July. And then, having arrived in Britain, it took some time for him to bring the British to battle.


Having achieved this much, he then had to not only follow the British and defeat them a second time at the Thames crossings, he had to build a communications and fortifications system of considerable sophistication to consolidate his rear. This involved a lot of building, digging, hewing and hammering, and, granted that the legions were superbly organised and highly skilled, and, moreover, had a large subsidiary workforce in the form of the subject British, they were not superhuman and such a programme of works takes time. Plautius would hardly have summoned Claudius to anything less than a foregone conclusion, and he would have taken every precaution to ensure the Emperor’s safety once Claudius was actually on British soil. That safety was paramount, and Dio’s acceptance of the arrangement that Claudius would personally come to the aid of Plautius in the event of a genuine emergency seems naive [Barret 1980: p31]. Claudius was after glory and surely would not have come personally to the aid of an expedition that had come to grief. The question of whether or not he would have sent any aid at all over Ocean is equally moot. With the circumstances that there were, and the considerations that he had to bear in mind, therefore, it seems unlikely that Plautius could have summoned Claudius much before September.


The message would then have reached Rome in perhaps mid-October, but what was he to do? His itinerary involved three sea crossings in a relatively short space of time. We can safely rule out such a journey in late 43, as the seas were dangerous from then on. Even the Mediterranean was mare clausum, closed to shipping, from November to early March [Barret 1980: p32], and the Atlantic was far worse. The Emperor would simply not have been allowed to endanger himself by travelling by sea in the dangerous season, and, although there is the possibility that he was able to  sail from Ostia to Gaul before the sea lanes were closed to shipping, it is hardly likely that he would then kick his heels in northern Gaul for some four months [Ibid: p33] until the seas were again safe for travelling. The conclusion must be that Claudius departed from Rome en route to Britain no earlier than late March, 44 CE.


It was not an easy voyage: the fleet was hit by the circius, the swirling wind now known as the mistral, and was nearly wrecked off the coast of Liguria and again near the Isles d’Hyeres [Suetonius: Claudius 17], but reached Massilia in safety. Thence he progressed through Gaul and crossed the Channel without incident. It was now August, 43 CE.


He was not alone, of course. When at last he landed in Britain, the Augustus had with him a huge entourage, including a strong contingent of the Praetorian Guard under Rufrius Pollio, elements of VIII Legio Augusta, including, perhaps, Lucius Coiedius Candidus [A. Birley 1981: II:22:1] while serving as a tribune of that formation. With them came some twenty elephants, but it is doubtful if these animals were for actual use in the war. More probably they were for show and to overawe the natives. Besides these, he had with him his monetes caesaris, a large party of senators and other notables whom he was pleased to honour with his company and invite along for the ride. All were brought along with some purpose in mind, and many because it was thought inadvisable to leave them at home in case they stirred up trouble in the Emperor’s absence. They were the Imperial equivalent of the cohors amici that any senior military commander of tribunician rank or above would be entitled to have with him in the field. They were a group of personal friends, advisors and courtiers with whom he could discuss matters of importance and to whom he could turn for guidance and support.


Many significant names are known or are assumed to have been present in the retinue of the Augustus. There was Gaius Stertinius Xenophon, his doctor, who, with Tiberius Claudius Balbillus, was also praefectus fabrus, an officer of engineers. Lucius Junius Silenus Torquatus [Dio: lx:21], then aged about sixteen and betrothed to Claudius’ daughter Octavia, was present in a purely honorary capacity. Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus [Ibid: lx:21], eldest of the four sons of Marcus Licinius Crassus Frugi and Scribonia, was a descendant, through his mother, of Pompey the Great and the husband of Antonia, another of Claudius’ daughters: he also accompanied Claudius. With these travelled a certain Julia Planta, a friend and companion of Claudius.


Far more important was Publius Graecinus Laco, believed to have been the procurator of Gaul at the time. Despite his cognomen, which would suggest a connection with Sparta, he was a relatively obscure official whose origins are usually assumed to have been in or around Verona [A. Birley 1981: II:11] and he may have been connected with Plautius through the latter’s wife Graecina. He had been a prefect of the vigilia, the City police force, under Tiberius and obviously advanced his career later. His role in coming to Britain could well have been to oversee the setting up of a tax system and to oversee the pay of the army [Ibid: II:11]. If so, he was the first procurator of Britain, although his tenure of office was relatively brief. Certainly his contribution to the incorporation of the Province was considered to have been of such signal importance as he later received, at Claudius’ triumph, the ornamenta consularia.


In the category of those too dangerous to be left at home were Asiaticus and Vinicius. Decimus Valerius Asiaticus was a native of Vienne in Gallia Narbonensis, and the first native of that province to hold the consulate, which he did late in the reign of Tiberius [A. Birley 1981: II:22:1.]. He was extremely wealthy, owning the famous Gardens of Lucullus, later notorious as the place of the murder of Claudius’ third wife Messalina, and was connected through marriage with the Emperor Gaius. Because of apparent adultery between Gaius and the wife of Asiaticus, the latter was one of the leaders of the cabal that had murdered the Emperor [Tacitus: Annals xi:1] (or, possibly, later said that he wished he had been). He had perhaps been a candidate for the purple during those two confused days between the murder of Gaius and the accession of Claudius. The latter obviously thought highly of Asiaticus (at that time, at least), but also thought it sensible to keep him close at hand. Marcus Vinicius, the husband of Julia Livilla [Ibid: Annals: vi:14], the bosom friend of Plautius’ wife Graecina and a sister of Gaius, was also implicated in the murder of Gaius and had been nominated as Emperor by his kinsman Annius Vinicianus [A. Birley 1981: II:22:1]. Clearly, although Claudius was trying to be diplomatic and let bygones be bygones, he nevertheless thought it prudent to have both these gentlemen where he could keep a personal eye on them.


But perhaps the most important of all was Servius Sulpicius Galba, a long time friend of Claudius who had served with distinction on the Rhine and who would one day, briefly, wear the purple himself. So important did Claudius consider him that the Emperor’s departure from Rome had been delayed due to a brief illness of Galba’s. A firm friend of the Emperor, he would have been of enormous value as a military advisor. A very experienced soldier and a stern disciplinarian, he had commanded the army of Germania Superior until just before the British expedition and was thus well known to both Legio II Augusta and Legio XIV Gemina.


All of these aristocrats, and the many others whose names have been lost forever, had, in their turn, their own retinues of friends, advisors, attendants, servants and other assorted hangers-on. In size, the imperial party probably approached that of an entire legion.


There is no record of where Claudius made landfall in Britain. It is most doubtful that he would have landed at Bosham harbour as that would have involved more tedious overland travel and, besides, he was only actually in Britain for sixteen days. Most probably he landed at the new supply depot at Rutupiae with its sheltered harbour, and no doubt all available senior men, plus a substantial guard of honour, were there to meet him. Quite probably the young Claudius Tiberius Cogidubnus was on hand to be the first loyal native potentate to greet the new master of Britain. This impressive company progressed to the Thames, over Plautius’ new bridge, and then eastwards towards Camulodunon.


With the Augustus in (titular) command, the combined force marched through Middlesex and Essex. The distances involved here are not great and the first leg, from Rutupiae to the Londinium fort via Durovernum (Canterbury) and Durobrivae (Rochester), is very direct. It is perhaps 110 kilometres as the crow flies and, via the broad straight military road so recently cut, not a great deal more on foot. Three days would easily see the Emperor at the Thames. The second leg of the journey is rather more problematic. Again, the Roman route from Londinium to Camulodunum is admirably direct and little more than 80 kilometres, with Caesaromagus (Chelmsford) situated conveniently at the halfway mark. In later times the trip from Londinium to Camulodunum would have taken a horseman no more than two days, with a well-earned overnight rest at the mansio at Caesaromagus on the way.


When first Claudius passed that way, however, there was no well-built road, although there was almost certainly a Brythonic trackway running more or less along the route that later road would follow. How well such a structure could accommodate to the huge Imperial party is unknowable. Furthermore, Claudius was now in theoretically hostile territory, and there were engagements on the way as the Trinovantes under Caratacos and his marshals put up an increasingly desperate defence of their homeland, the first being on the north bank of the Thames as soon as the army crossed over the new bridge [Dio: lx:21]. Some of these engagements may even have been major battles as Claudius is reported [Ibid: lx:21] to have been hailed by his troops as imperator, conqueror, not once, but on several occasions. This acclamation was not lightly given and, despite the dismissive remarks of contemporary writers such as Dio’s comment that to acclaim anyone as imperator more than once on a campaign was unheard of [Ibid: lx:21], there can be no doubt that Claudius presided over actual battles. His antiquarian obsession with republican morality would have forbidden him to subsequently wear his campaign cloak at the victory celebrations otherwise, despite the adulation of a fawning senate.


So Claudius and his massive army continued on towards Camulodunon, and almost certainly along the line of the later road. The Army encamped on the banks of the Chelmer for a night, and from this brief stay the later settlement of Caesaromagus took its name: there can be no other explanation of the name save to commemorate an imperial visitation [Rivet 1980: p11] at the time of its foundation. Inevitably the royal seat of Caratacos with its massive fortifications meant for chariot warfare was duly invested, but the earthworks proved to be no obstacle at all to the legions. A last, heroic defence may have been put up, but the whole thing was something of an anticlimax: seeing the inescapable truth, Caratacos had fled. Any final defence as there might have been was probably no more than the ultimate statement of a band of death-before-dishonour warriors, but it was enough to justify Claudius being hailed as imperator by the troops once again, and was sufficient excuse for him to mount tableaux of the storming of a British fortress in the Campus Martius during his Victory Games.


Claudius entered in triumph, whereupon he presumably received the surrender of the oppidum and proceeded to give orders for the arrangement of the new province. He then, we are told [Burn 1 (restored): Ireland 1986: item 56], received the formal submission of eleven British kings and chieftains. This was the real purpose of his coming: to stage a spectacle to impress the British with the majesty and power of Rome. And a spectacle it would have been, beyond anything that the conquered people could have imagined. Claudius sat  on a golden chair on the rostrum, surrounded by the eagles of his victorious legions, the general staff of the expeditionary force and the high dignitaries of his entourage, all of them in their finest parade armour  and ceremonial robes. The Praetorian Guard, The Emperor’s personal elite troops, paraded, gleaming with polished leather, burnished accoutrements and bright parade cloaks. The elephants, gorgeously caparisoned and perhaps mounted by miniature castles, bellowed and stamped to the terror and awe of the natives. If any had held thoughts of resistance, such hopes would have died before the splendour and majesty of the Emperor of Rome and his invincible legions. The eleven potentates, quaking, made their submission and abdicated their authority to the god-like being on the rostrum. The Romans, like all imperial powers before and since, knew well the effectiveness of pomp and pageantry, and the psychological advantages that can be had from a well orchestrated display of martial grandiosity.




03.03:02. The Submission of the Kings.

Just who these eleven kings and chieftains were is not known, but presumably the Cantii, Atrebates and Trinovantes at least were present, and possibly the Coritani. It may be that Adminios of the Cattuvellauni, as heir apparent of Cunobelinos, made submission on behalf of that portion of his people that had surrendered. Possibly a youthful Cartimandua of the Brigantes made representation of some sort at this point, although the date of her formal recognition as regina socia is wholly conjectural. Cogidubnus certainly would have been recognised as client king in the south and south west, and substantial territories allocated to him in appreciation of his assistance. Boduocus of the north-western Dobunni would have been there and may have be recognised as rex. Antedios of the Iceni, a monarch of renowned wealth who had no love whatsoever for Caratacos and his folk, also made submission and was appointed rex. His position on the northern flank of the Roman forces was critical and his friendship no doubt welcomed. It may be that Prasutagos of the Iceni, husband of Boudica, was also present: the relationship between the two Icenian kings is moot, and as Icenia was not then a single, centralised state but rather a federation of at least three kindred groups it may be that the two were co-equals or perhaps senior and junior partners. In either case, both would be present, together with their third colleague.


All five – or maybe six – monarchs were invaluable for the diplomatic efforts that they could make on Rome’s behalf to the leaders of tribes as yet uncertain of which way to turn. This brings the total of supplicant tribes to eight, and who the remaining three might have been is now impossible to say. The Parisii are possible candidates, as are the Coritani, and it may be that the Cantii or the Iceni were counted as two or more: at least three groupings are identifiable within the Iceni, and four within the Cantii. Any number of smaller groups, now more or less autonomous with the removal of the Cattuvellaunian yoke, could also have represented themselves and Claudius would not have been loath to count a local princeling as a king for the purposes of self-aggrandisement.


It must be noted that the monumental inscription commemorating the invasion speaks of xi reges, not xi gentes. There is no way of knowing what peoples were represented, and what formerly important groupings had been subsumed within the cantons recorded some eighty years later by Ptolomy, whose geographical work forms the basis for the names of the British tribes. Further, the inscription was raised in 51 CE, seven years after the event and not long, perhaps, after the arrival of Caratacos in Rome. It may be that Claudius deliberately waited until the capture of the British king before ordering the inscription to be set up, as he would have felt that his conquest of the island was incomplete until this last and greatest partisan was in chains and had made submission, in which case the name of Caratacos could be listed amongst the xi reges.


Little credence can be given to the suggestion that some sort of representation was made from the Orkneys, and why anyone should suppose that such a distant land should want to make submission to Claudius is a mystery. The fourth century historian Eutropius records that:


“there were certain islands in the Ocean beyond the British mainland which were annexed to the Empire (at this time): the islands were known as the Orchades (sic) [Eutropius: vii:13:3].”


Just where this curious anecdote originated is difficult to discover, but it must surely be apocryphal, and probably owes its origin to the flights of fancy of some forgotten panegyrist. Tacitus, speaking of Agricola’s invasion of the north some forty years later, quite plainly states that the fleet that Agricola despatched from the Moray Firth to complete a circumnavigation of the island “discovered and conquered hitherto unknown islands called the Orcades” [Tacitus: Agricola:10]. This would seem to firmly refute Eutropius.


Claudius and the British kings, however, had reached an accommodation. Britain was now formally and officially a province of Roman and under the direct sway of the Emperor. As in so many examples of Roman politico-military accomplishments, the arrangement was ad hoc, fluid, and based firmly on the individual needs of the moment and the place. The appointment of Cogidubnus to his position, for example, was unusual and probably unique to the man.


The establishment of a client kingdom actually within a new province was highly irregular, and an innovation of Claudius that was possibly borne of the Emperor’s long association with Herod Agrippa. The primary purpose was to achieve as great as possible an economy of manpower for an army group that could never have held the huge and populous area that it had so quickly taken in the face of concerted opposition from the native rulers. The trick, then, was to convince as many native rulers as possible to come over to the Roman side and keep the peace in their ancient territories, thus releasing Imperial troops for duties on the borders and in hot spots. The secondary  purpose was rather more subtle, but just as urgent, and shows Claudius’ long distance vision.


No soldier, he was a shrewd politician and no doubt appreciated the need to recognise local leaders wherever and as far as practicable. Such people could do a far better job of placating restive subjects and promoting loyalty to Rome than could any imperial official. The wisdom of the recognition of Cogidubnus is manifest in that there was never to be any resistance to the conquerors in the wealthy and strategically vital south throughout the entire period of the Roman occupation. It is probable that this recognition was a quid pro quo for Cogidubnus’ assistance, conferring upon him some spiritual succession to the status of rex Britannorum that had been the acknowledged position of Cunobelinos. There can have been no doubt, however, of the real nature of the relationship between Claudius and Cogidubnus, and the other potentates, for the final development of the term socius, as it was used during the early principate, was the bestowal of the title upon one who had done Rome a service as a subordinate [Sands 1908: item 21]. This is clearly stated by Tacitus  when he says that “the allied kings were ordered to obey as the needs of war demanded” [Tacitus: Annals xiii:8], and Suetonius also regarded the rex socius as part of the Roman organisation and a subject of the Emperor [Suetonius: Augustus 48 – 60].


The appointments of the reges socii were made to achieve stability as soon as possible, and to maintain it through the medium term. The client realms would be subsumed into the province when the incumbents died, but that would be in the future when Roman administrative systems and Roman culture had become set in social concrete. In the short term, and in this instance, the system of internal client kingdoms was a remarkably efficient mechanism for social control, and achieved an economy of manpower in the occupying forces without which the control of the province would have been extremely difficult if not actually impossible.




03:03:03. Titus Flavius Vespasianus.

            Titus Flavius Vespasianus was one of the key figures in the history of Britannia for nearly half a century, and his influence lasted far longer. Together with Aulus Plautius, Claudius, Suetonius Paullinus, Julius Frontinus and Gnaeus Julius Agricola, he stands out as one of the leading Roman figures of the first century of Roman Britain. His association with Britannia began with the invasion of 43, and his influence as a friend and possibly political associate of Cogidubnus was critical during the first two and a half decades of the existence of the province. His association with certain key formations of the Roman army of occupation, and his influence upon the men, may have been of pivotal importance to the civil wars of 69, and his patronage as Emperor after that date shaped the future development of the country. His hand continued to mould the form of imperial developments in the island after his death through the agency of his two sons, Titus and Domitian, when they, in their turn, assumed the purple. His early life and antecedents, such little of them as is known, are worth examination.


According to his biographer Suetonius [Suetonius: Vespasian 1 – 3] the Flavii were an obscure family of strictly middle class origins. Vespasian’s paternal grandparents were Titus Flavius Petro and Tertulla. Petro, and his grandfather Petro Senior had been citizens of the little north Italian market town of Reiti in Sabine country. Having served as centurion in Pompey’s legions during the civil wars, he somehow managed to obtain an honourable discharge and a pardon after the debâcle at Pharsala and made his way home where he became a tax collector. His son Flavius Sabinus, the father of Vespasian, was said to have been a leading centurion who had resigned his commission, but Suetonius was of the opinion that he had managed to dodge the draft and, following in his father’s footsteps, had taken up customs supervision and tax collecting in the Eastern Provinces. He seems to have been well-thought-of by his clients, as several statues of him were erected inscribed with the legend: “To an honest tax-gatherer”. He later set up business as a money lender in what is now Switzerland and there died.


Vespasian’s mother was Vespasia Polla, the daughter of Vespasius Pollio of Nursia, a lady of a good family that was beginning to rise in the world. Pollio had held the rank of centurion on three occasions, and had risen to the rank of praefectus castrorum, Camp Prefect, the third highest rank in a Roman legion and the highest achievable by a career soldier. The brother of Vespasia had been elected to the office of praetor in the Senate. The family hailed from the village of Vespasiae, near the Umbrian town of Spoletium (Spoleto), where, at least in Suetonius’ day, there were still many tombs that attested the family’s antiquity and local prominence.


The future Augustus was born on 17 November 9 CE, in a hamlet called Falacrina on the Via Saleria, near Reiti, and was brought up by his maternal grandmother Tertulla on her estate at Cosa. He was evidently very close to his grandmother, and Suetonius recounts [Suetonius: Vespasian 2] that he had her house preserved as it had been in his childhood and visited it as frequently as time allowed. He had a small silver cup that had once belonged to Tertulla and drank from it on feast days in her memory. It is likely that he had lived with Tertulla for most of his early life and she had been responsible for his upbringing, as his parents had been away in the eastern provinces on Sabinus’ financial business for much of that time [Nicols 1978: p1].


He was reluctant, for whatever reasons, to take up the public life that was the duty of a Roman nobleman and only entered it on the spur of his mother’s sarcasm. Vespasia would taunt him that he was no more than his brother’s footman, Sabinus having already earned senatorial rank. His curious reticence is interesting, but not necessarily remarkable, as it was not unusual for members of the same family to pursue complimentary careers in the equestrian and senatorial orders [Nicols 1978: p19], and Vespasian may at first have felt inclined to follow in the booming family business of banking. That this business was very prosperous indeed is proven by the fact that Sabinus Senior had been able to endow not only one but two sons with the finances to qualify for senatorial rank [Ibid: p1]. That choice would have been denied him if he was to accept the latus clavis, the broad purple stripe on the togae of those of senatorial rank [Ibid p19]. That he eventually did so is indicative both of the family wealth and its very good connections, and who Vespasian’s sponsor might have been is debateable.


A group of families enjoyed considerable power and prestige at Rome during the first 50 years of the first century. Made up of the Vitellii, Plautii, Petronii and Pomponii, this Vitellian group [Nicols 1978: p15] enjoyed close and cordial relations with the Julio-Claudians by virtue of their connection with the deeply respected Antonia Minor. Coming to the fore at the time of the rise of Germanicus, they were favoured by Tiberius and reached their zenith under Claudius. That Vespasian found sudden advancement with the accession of Claudius after a worthy but fairly pedestrian career would suggest that one of this group recommended the young man for the honour of the latus clavus, thus admitting him to the chance of the highest offices of state.


Vespasian donned the latus clavus a year or two later than usual, as he had obviously taken some time to arrange his priorities, perhaps waiting until his brother Sabinus had already become quaestor designate [Ibid p20]. The year would have been 28 or 29, and he thus opened his career and put his foot on the first step of the cursus honorum. He was then eligible for the vigintivirate, one of the four boards of junior commissioners who assisted the praetors and had oversight of such matters as the roads, the mint and public executions. There is no record whatsoever of Vespasian sitting on any of these inferior civil courts at this time, and, as his biographer Suetonius is unlikely to have omitted it, it is probably fair to assume that he skipped this phase of his career completely [A Birley 1981: p226].


His first position, then, would have been the usual stint of military service, in Vespasian’s case in Thrace as tribunus laticlavis of, probably, Legio IV Scythica [Nicols 1978: p2]. He was then allotted a Quaestorship in Crete and Cyrenaica, a position that would have occupied him at about 35 – 36 [A Birley 1981: p226]. After his term as Quaestor he sought appointment as Aedile but suffered repulsa, ie, failed to be elected, and was elected by only a very narrow margin on his next attempt. He just managed to scrape in as Aedile of the sixth position, meaning he may have been aedilis cerealis, having responsibility for the corn supply, and possibly also for roading [Nicols 1978: p4] for the year 38 [A Birley 1981: p223]. He obviously made a good job of it as he was afterwards elected to the senior position of Praetor for the year 39 or 40 [Ibid p223] very comfortably. In this position he proved his considerable political ability in a rather dubious way by ingratiating himself with the Emperor Caligula by the delivery of several sycophantic speeches.


In the meantime, Vespasian had married Flavia Domitilla, the daughter of one Flavius Liberalis. The latter had been a lowly Quaestor’s clerk, but had the courage and strength of personality to present his daughter before a magisterial board of arbitration and have her proclaimed a full Roman citizen. She became the mistress of an African knight by the name of Statilius Capella, but seems to have later spurned the latter gentleman for the hand of Vespasian. She bore him three children, Titus, Domitian and Domitilla Minor who died very young. Flavia herself died before Vespasian even held a magistracy, and he consoled himself in the arms of Antonia Caenis, the mistress of his youth, and the woman who would remain his wife in fact if not in law for the rest of their lives, even after he became Emperor.


But what was he like, personally? What manner of man was he? He was a man of comparatively humble origins, of simple tastes, and of simple speech [Tacitus: Histories ii:5] and never seemed to be worried that anyone knew his history [Suetonius: Vespasian 12]. He was fair in his dealings with the Senate and assiduous with cases of law, and, although his actions may seem somewhat arbitrary and harsh to later generations, he nevertheless was an enormous improvement over his predecessors, bringing a climate of sanity and humanity first in his magistracies and later to the governance of the Empire. For instance, on his first proconsular appointment, in Africa, he was praised for his justice and dignity. Later, as Emperor, he was pragmatic and realistic, and never committed the gross and bloody excesses of Nero or Caligula. Indeed he seemed to be almost casual about his status, allowing improprieties that under earlier regimes would have earned their perpetrators instant death, and even discontinued the practice of having those who attended his morning audiences searched for weapons [Ibid: Vespasian 12].


He was a stern disciplinarian [Suetonius: Vespasian 8], but was nevertheless popular with his troops as later events would substantiate, perhaps because of his natural and unpretentious manner. Certainly, and unlike many of his peers, he was a soldier’s soldier and a fighting man himself. He was used to marching at the head of his men, eating their food and wearing clothes and armour not much unlike their own, shouldering everyday duties such as choosing campsites and leading forays, and was not frightened to engage the enemy personally when required [Tacitus: Histories ii:5].


Like most men of his day, he had his less edifying side, of course. For example, he was censured for using his influence to raise a younger man to senatorial rank for a fee of 2,000 gold pieces [Suetonius: Vespasian 4], but venality was a commonplace and in this he was no more than a product of his age. He was often accused of avarice, for he imposed many taxes after his accession, sold pardons to innocent and guilty alike, cornered stocks of commodities and sold them off later at inflated prices, and there are numerous anecdotes of petty and grand greed. His avarice, however, had its place, for, as Suetonius pointed out [Ibid: Vespasian 16], when Vespasian came to the purple the treasury was empty, drained by profligate predecessors and the demands of civil wars. Some 400 million gold pieces were needed to restore financial balance to Rome and Vespasian was not particularly fussy about where it came from.


His most enduring trait, and his most saving grace, was a somewhat dry but good-natured sense of humour, even at his own expense. His last recorded words, as he lay on his deathbed were: “Oh dear, I think I’m turning into a god!” [Suetonius: Vespasian 23]. Vespasian would come to the purple like a breath of fresh air through a room stifled by mismanagement and rank with the smell of blood.




03:03:04. The Conquest of the West Country.

Caratacos himself escaped the ruin of Camulodunon, if indeed he had ever personally returned there after the battles of the Thames, and fled to the West. Ever the cautious and thorough professional strategist, Plautius made no immediate move to pursue him in strength, but instead divided his forces into three columns. From their bases at Camulodunon and the great camp at the Thames crossings, IX Legio was sent towards the territory of the Coritani and the north while XIV Legio marched north west to secure the central Midlands and to eventually establish what would later become Viriconium (Wroxeter). II Legio Augusta, under Titus Flavius Vespasianus, proceeded south and west towards the lands of the Durotriges. XX Legio remained strung out between the Thames Camp and Camulodunon, consolidating the gains and making sure that those who had submitted remained submissive.


Vespasian, with his brother Sabinus and his praefectus castrorum, Publius Anicius Maximus, returned to the command of II Legio Augusta and headed towards the port and supply base of Fishbourne. Their task was to provide for the safety of the lines of communication across Cogidubnus’ territory from the West Country to Rutupiae, and to subdue the fiercely resistant Durotriges and their extensive network of hillforts. The cautious Vespasian took his time before venturing beyond secure territory. With the aid, no doubt, of Cogidubnus, the fort at Noviomagus and the port facilities at Fishbourne were strengthened and enlarged. Roads were constructed: an arterial road, Stane Street, was built to connect Noviomagus with the Thames Camp (Londinium as such did not yet exist), and another, probably, connecting Noviomagus with Anderida (Pevensey), Lemanis (Lympne), Dubris (Dover), Rutupiae (Richborough) and Regulbium (Reculver). The overall impression is of a web of military supply routes converging on an increasingly important Durovernum (Canterbury) [Cunliffe 1980: p227] and thence to the Thames crossings.


All this took time, the rest of the winter in fact. A hard, slogging campaign awaited the troops in the summer of 44. Vectis (the Isle of Wight), western Hampshire, Dorset and Somerset were in the hands of recalcitrant tribes who refused to submit to Caesar. Suetonius [Vespasian 4] mentions that Vespasian conquered two peoples, but who these people were is not specified and certainly not clear. One of them was surely the Durotriges, the other perhaps the south western Dobunni, but in between there was the grouping of peoples whom the Romans later lumped together as Belgae, being largely those peoples who had fled from Gaul during Caesar’s incursions and who had settled amongst those Atrebates who had not accepted the rule of Verica. By no means everyone had followed Tincommios when, reversing his father’s policies, he had begun to form an alliance with Augustus [Webster and Dudley 1965: p77], and many had hived off to form their own communities to the west. It is unlikely that the list of possibles included the Dumnonii of Devon and Cornwall, as this people seem to have accepted Roman rule relatively peaceably once Vespasian finally entered Dumnonia and founded the legionary fortress that would become the basis of Isca Dumnoniorum (Exeter). The most likely candidates for the two peoples are the Durotriges, and the western Atrebates who were centred upon Venta Belgarum (Winchester) the market town of the composite tribe known as the Belgae.


Whatsoever might be the names of their imminent victims, II Legio Augusta prepared for battle. Sailing from Fishbourne in the spring of 45, the Flavii descended upon Vectis and the island fell quickly but not too easily: groups in the interior maintained some resistance for a while. A fortress was built at Carisbrooke in the middle of the island to keep watch over the beaten people.


Returning to the mainland, II Legio progressed through Hampshire and into Dorset. A legionary fortress was established at Lake Farm near Wimborne, and a few convenient kilometres due north of the excellent harbourage afforded by Poole Bay and the old British port. Lake Farm became the home of II Legio for the perhaps two years that it was to take for the subjugation of the West Country. From this base camp Vespasian led his men due west into the Durotrigan heartland.


Reaching the river Frome, Vespasian saw for the first time Mai Dun, Maiden Castle, the stronghold of the Durotriges with its fourfold ramparts. It rises a hundred metres above the plain and encloses an area roughly twelve hundred metres long by six hundred metres wide. Mai Dun was, and still is, the mightiest hill-fort in Britain, its extensive perimeter of ditches and banks having been reconstructed in the time of Caesar. It was an ancient site, however, and some sort of settlement had existed there for three thousand years before finally Vespasian hurled his cohorts at it. Even in its desolation, the fortress of Mai is a mighty work, and it was far more formidable when Vespasian first saw it. The mighty ramparts were then crowned by walls of stone and timber, the entrances guarded by huge towers and blocked by massive gates. Despite its strength, however, it was to fall swiftly to the invader.


The West Country was to present the legions with a strategic problem quite unlike that which had faced them in the east. Cattuvellaunia, for all its size and manpower, had been taken after only two or perhaps three full-scale battles. Having a more or less centralised administration under Togodumnos and Caratacos, the realm had collapsed at the feet of Plautius with the removal of first one and then the other of the sons of Cunobelinos. The Durotriges, on the other hand, had no such centralisation of authority, and although Mai Dun was the largest hill-fort and arguably was the most powerful of the Durotrigan communities, it was but one of many. The fragmented nature of the local polity meant that Vespasian had a long and hard slog ahead of him. No one battle could be decisive and each separate hill-fort had to be reduced one at a time. Attrition from battle casualties was exacerbated by the need to leave garrisons all along the line of march at every stronghold. Although doubtless reinforced by vexillations from the other legions and from the auxilia, nevertheless Vespasian’s own II Legio was probably sadly depleted by the time the Durotriges were finally beaten down.


But the commander was in no position to foresee this situation from his vantage point above the Frome, his mind being completely occupied with the problem posed by the vast pile before him. Occupied, perhaps, but certainly not daunted. The situation was briskly assessed and the appropriate orders given.


The western gate was strong and well-manned. Vespasian therefore approached the lesser eastern gate, beneath which clustered numbers of wattle and daub shanties. To these the Romans set torches, sending up a storm of smoke and flame. Under the covering fire of ballistae and catapultae, and beneath the pall of smoke, the legionaries filled in the ditches and tore up to the eastern gate. The ballistae poured a hail of iron shod bolts into the defenders, the catapultae hurled great stones. The Durotriges, however, were masters of the art of the slingshot, a humble but effective weapon that had been gaining in popularity for decades. Great piles of smooth, round stones still to be seen at Mai Dun attest to the preparations made by the defenders, and would suggest that the casualties of the attack were by no means one-sided. Impregnable as they were to their own methods of warfare, however, the Celtic hill-forts were not made to withstand such devastating assault as now shook them, nor to counter the sophisticated military engineering of Rome. The invaders broke in swiftly, committing appalling slaughter, and the town was burned to the ground.


It may have been in retaliation for heavy losses, it may have been a cold-blooded exercise in atrocitas to teach recalcitrant natives a lesson in instructive horror. Whatever the reason, the soldiers seemed to go berserk. Men and women were literally hacked to pieces, horribly mutilated, heads beaten in. Many died under ballista bolts and heavy shot. Many fell with wounds to their backs, others seem to have been hewn where they lay dead. At least one women had her arms pinioned and her head smashed in with three terrible blows. II Legio rampaged through Mai Dun in a frenzied orgy of killing and destruction, and their Commander allowed this carnage. Indeed, he probably could not have halted it even if he had wanted to.


Despite the slaughter, it was not quite a massacre. The surviving British were allowed to bury their dead after their own usages, with frugal offerings to see the departed on their last journey. There is sad proof of this just outside the east gate, where the bodies of twenty three men and seven women were buried, their bones to this day showing the graphic evidence of their horrific injuries.


The surrender of Mai Dun was followed by a small measure of consolation for its inhabitants in that they were at least allowed to remain on their home ground. A small settlement was allowed to grow out of the ashes, and the survivors lingered on amidst the ruin of their independence for another generation or so. A fort was built and garrisoned not far from the earthworks and during the governorship of Agricola it was abandoned by the military and the site handed over to civil authorities to become the town of Durnovaria, a tribal civitas of the Durotriges. Well-to-do landowners worked their estates as before and an accommodation was eventually reached between conqueror and conquered.


Hod Hill, some 29 kilometres to the north east and the next major target of II Legio, suffered a rather different fate from Mai Dun, perhaps because the resistance was less fierce and intransigent, perhaps because the news of the debâcle at Mai Dun had sapped morale. There had been frantic activity to put the defences in order, but too little or too late, as the evidence of an unfinished gate would suggest, and the hill-fort was even more vulnerable than Mai Dun. Unlike the latter there was only one rampart, which gave the Romans even quicker access to the defenders. First, artillery fire, centred on the chieftain’s hut, bombarded the settlement and provided an excellent index of the accuracy and range of of these deadly machines. The house lay about 180 metres from the nearest portion of the defences, the south east corner, and was hit many times, eight of the bolts still being in place nearly two thousand years later. It has been estimated [Wacher 1978: p178] that a siege tower of at least 15 metres in height would have had to have been built for the ballistarii to see their target and bring their weapons to bear on it.


The effect of this deadly hail was shattering and seems to have broken the nerve on the defenders, who appear to have surrendered without much more of a fight. They appear to have done the equivalent of running up the white flag and let the Romans in, as there seems to be no sign of assault on the defences. There was destruction, of course, but the terms of surrender were obviously different from those of Mai Dun: the survivors were kicked out and a vexillation fort built within the perimeter of the defences.


A second Durotrigan civitas was also established at Lindinis (Ilchester) some distance away from Hod Hill, and this arrangement is unique in Britain: nowhere else does there appear two tribal capitals and the reasons for this are debatable. The division of the northern and southern areas of Alauna Silva (the Blackmore Forest) made the appointment of two civitates a more convenient arrangement from the point of view of the Roman administration. Furthermore, the fiercely resistant tribe needed to be broken up to some extent and any unity that may have existed would have been further fragmented by this division. The Roman designation “Durotrige”, however need not necessarily mean that the subsequent civitas was a faithful reflection of the old native tribal territory: the West Country was very divided and the subsequent civitas durotrigorum may have been no more than a convenient administrative generalisation. In fact it contained several different and highly independent sub-groups, and it may be that the area around Ilchester – South Cadbury –  Glastonbury which lay between the attested Durotriges and the southern Dobunni, was the territory of another tribe again, a people whose name is now nowhere recorded.


This people would have had as one of their major centres the hill-fort of Cadbury Castle. This settlement, which lies some thirteen kilometres along the Roman arterial road connecting Lindinis with Calleva via Leucomagus (East Anton) is intriguing in that it was treated quite differently again to either Mai Dun or Hod Hill. The settlement appears to have been left unmolested by II Legio, and its people continued to live undisturbed in their ancient tradition for many years. It was a flourishing centre that had traded with the Durotriges and the Dobunni both, as their pottery and coins attest [Alcock 1972: p165], and the fact that few coins have been discovered there despite extensive excavations [Ibid: p166] would indicate that they still relied on the ancient barter system of trade to a greater extent than the increasingly sophisticated economies of the south and east. A coin of Antethios, king of the southern Dobunni [Ibid p166] suggests connections with the north, but not necessarily political domination. They seem to have been independent and, although their defences had been strongly refurbished quite recently [Ibid p133], the renovations could have taken place some years before the conquest. This could imply that the perceived enemy was not so much Rome as the Durotriges or the Dobunni, or even the Cattuvellauni, who, under Togodumnos and Caratacos, had been encroaching rapidly into the area. Vespasian seems to have bypassed it and it is more than likely that its people submitted without a fight, thus buying themselves a reprieve and the protection of Rome.


It seems likely, then, that the Cadbury people were akin to the Durotriges but who, by virtue of their relative isolation, had maintained many of their older traditions. There was considerable trade with their southern cousins, but rivalry as well, and rivalry sufficiently acrimonious to justify refortification of their stronghold. The coming of the legions was no doubt viewed with mixed feelings, but the practicalities of the situation were well known and the destruction of the southern hill-forts an object lesson to all. So, when it came to the decisive point, the people of Cadbury submitted to Vespasian and the legions passed on. The Cadburians continued with their lives much as before, farming and trading for the superior manufactures of the south, such as the distinctive Corfe Mullen ware that began to be produced shortly after the Conquest [Alcock 1972: p165].


Vespasian continued northwards and by the end of three years of campaigning, in the autumn of 46 [Eichholz 1972: p157] had subdued the West Country, having taken his twenty fortresses and fought his thirty battles. His efforts over this time would earn him the ornamenta triumphalia [Ibid p150, and Suetonius: Vespasian 4]. Maiden Castle, Hod Hill and Spettisbury Rings, where there were no individual burials and the dead (and, perhaps, the dying) defenders were simply thrown into their own ditches and buried with rubble as the legionaries threw down the ramparts, all fell. Eggardon, Pilsdon, Badbury Rings, Hambledon: the dreary roll call goes on and on. The subjugation of southern Britain was carried out swiftly and professionally, the natives reeling and demoralised by the speed and almost contemptuous ease of the advance. A new legionary fortress was constructed at Isca Dumnoniorum (Exeter) with its fine port access, to serve as a base camp and supply depot for the occupation of the south west.


Swift and effective communications and a solid military infrastructure were essential to the maintenance of control over the conquered and subject territories. Roads were quickly carved out. The main south west route from Londinium ran to Calleva Atrebatum, where it diverged to Venta Belgarum (Winchester), Durnovaria, Isca Dumnoniorum, Aquae Sulis and Glevum. Numerous forts, such as those at Shapwick [Field 1976: p280ff] and Hod Hill were constructed throughout Durotrigan territory and garrisoned to keep watch over the hillforts and to hold the sullen natives in check, and a system of minor roads constructed to interconnect them. The coast west of Bosham is well endowed with good harbourage, and havens were built at Hamworthy in Poole harbour, probably at or near the site of the old British facility, and at Topsham at the mouth of the Exe.


A road was constructed from Isca Dumnoniorum along the Cotswolds and Lincoln Edge to the Humber, a road that almost perfectly bisects Britain from south west to north east and suggests that Rome knew more about the British geography and economy both than might have been thought as it neatly delineated the wealthiest part of the land from the more rugged north and west. Deviating by less than ten kilometres either way from a direct line straight across the countryside from coast to coast, this magnificent tribute to Roman civil engineering became known as the Fosse Way, and it was here that the advance of the legions paused for a while.




03:03:05. Triumph.

Claudius himself did not remain in Britain for long. He had done what he had come to do, and in 51 a triumphal monument was erected in Rome extolling his adventure:


“To Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, son of Drusus, Pontifex Maximus, in the 11th year of his tribunician power, 5 times consul, (?) times saluted as Imperator, Father of  his Country, by the Senate and People of Rome. He received the surrender of eleven British Kings, and was the first to bring the barbarian tribes beyond Ocean under Roman rule [Burn 1 (restored): Ireland 1986: item 56].” This inscription is suitably pompous for a vainglorious Emperor and reasonably close to the truth, although Gaius Julius Caesar would doubtless have taken extreme exception to the last dozen or so words.


Claudius stayed in Britain for a mere sixteen days, a very brief time but long enough for his purposes, and he wanted to get back to the Continent. Britain held few charms for him. His triumph was sweet, but the campaigning was arduous and not something that appealed to him. In about May of 44, the Imperial entourage headed back to the mainland as soon as possible. Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus and Lucius Junius Silanus Torquatus were sent ahead to announce the glorious news to the Senate and People of Rome [Dio: lx:21], and the irony of using a descendant and namesake of Pompey the Great for such an errand would not have been lost on anybody. Claudius himself followed at a more leisurely pace [Barrett 1980: p33], travelling through Gaul, across northern Italy, and possibly travelled by ship down the Po and the Adriatic [Pliny: Natural History 3:119]. This last would suggest that the nasty experience off the Ligurian coast at the outset of the journey had soured the Emperor’s taste for sea travel. Perhaps he progressed through Liguria to Mediolanum or Cremona, took ship down the Po and along the coast to Fanum Fortunae (Fano), finally travelling the Via Flaminia back to Rome. Again, this tour may have occurred after the triumphal celebrations [Barrett 1980: p33].


A whole basket of honours, already well prepared, no doubt, awaited the Augustus and his eventual arrival back in the City. Besides the privilege of a triumphal procession, The City was ready to award Claudius with the title Britannicus, to grant him an annual festival to celebrate his victory in later years, and to erect two monumental arches, one in Rome and the other in Gaul, in memory of his achievements [Dio: lx:23].


Suetonius must have been mistaken when he stated that [Suetonius: Claudius 17] Claudius received the surrender of part of the island without a single battle or any bloodshed, and there can be little doubt that the Augustus himself had actually presided over several engagements and perhaps even battles. The real command, obviously, would have been in the hands of Plautius and his marshals such as Vespasian despite that the latter is recorded to have “served under Claudius” [Ibid: Vespasian 4], but he had indeed presided. The whole exercise would have been pointless otherwise. Accordingly, when he returned to Rome the Senate unanimously voted him a splendid triumph which was held in 44 CE. And splendid it was, as only a Roman triumph could be, which would account for the delay between the Emperor’s arrival and the actual event. Such a complex extravaganza, involving thousands of people, numerous ancillary events and huge sums of money, is not organised in days or even weeks, although it had doubtless been in the planning stages long before the arrival of Magnus and Torquatus with the news. Money also was needed, and donations canvassed far and wide. Pliny reports that Spain alone contributed some 7,000 pounds of Asturian gold aurei towards the expenses of the event. As he was procurator of Hispania Citerior between 72 – 74 CE, his figures may be treated as accurate.


Claudius headed his triumph in a decorated chariot, followed by Messalina, his wife of the time, who rode in a carpentum, a horse drawn litter. Their infant son was given the cognomen Britannicus. Then came the dignitaries, the men of his cohors amici [Dio lx:23] who had been on campaign with the Emperor, and upon whom the Senate who had decreed triumphal honours en masse [Eichholz 1972: p150]. The fighting generals who had actually carried the campaign – Plautius, Vespasian, Hosidius Geta et al – would have to wait a while for their day of glory [Ibid: p151]. The campaign was still in progress and, for fairly obvious reasons, it would not have been a good idea to remove all the senior officers just to give them a triumph. Suetonius [Claudius 17] records that all the former wore their purple bordered gowns, save only Marcus Crassus Frugi. He, having had triumphal honours before, wore the tunica palmata, a tunic embroidered with golden palm leaves, and had the further honour of being allowed to ride a caparisoned warhorse while the others paraded on foot, a situation analogous to a modern soldier receiving a bar to his VC. Claudius was immensely proud of his triumph, and was ready to bore everyone to tears with tales of it at the drop of a laurel leaf. On at least one subsequent occasion he caused to be staged, on the Campus Martius, the realistic storming and sack of a fortified town, and the tableau of the surrender of the British kings, presiding over the event in his purple campaign cloak.


Aulus Plautius, the man who had actually done all the work, was awarded the high honour of a triumphal ovation. Claudius personally went out to meet him on his return from Britain in 47, giving him the wall on his way up to the Capitol and down again afterwards, a most signal honour. Vespasian also was showered with honours, probably at the same time as his commander [Eichholz 1972: p157]: the coveted ornamenta triumphalia and a little later two priesthoods [Suetonius: Vespasian 4]. His crowning reward was election to the consulate in 51 CE, a stirling feat for a man of equestrian origins and one that catapulted his family into the highest echelons of Roman society. The pinnacle of his career, of course, was yet to come, but of such matters there was not yet even the slightest of hints.


It must have seemed all too easy to Claudius and the Roman authorities: a whole new province had been taken within virtually two years with comparatively little loss of (Roman) life. The unfinished business bequeathed to his successors by the great Gaius Julius Caesar had been rounded off and tied up into a neat knot with almost astonishing ease, the supposedly formidable native states toppling like dominoes. There had been battles of course, and some hard fighting, and it had all been a pretty tricky business but had worked out jolly well in the end. The Emperor had triumphed easily (but not too easily) over his adversaries and the Empire could bask in the glory. Rome rejoiced not simply at a successful military campaign, but at an event that seemed to herald the changing of the world. Ocean had been conquered and the horizons now seemed to recede into a remote distance that could only be for Rome’s taking. A whole new world had opened up, a supernatural world had been brought to heel and welded to mortal lands.


Claudius’ elaborate triumph and all the spectacular accompaniments are fully understandable in what must have been an atmosphere of ecstatic self-congratulation. The Senate and People of Rome had acquired a large and potentially very rich new province which had been won in a truly republican manner, the Emperor shone with a new lustre of martial glory, and victorious generals were heaped with honours, while the British were stunned, overwhelmed by the speed and completeness of their defeat. It must have been an inspiring time.


Rome would shortly be in for a rude awakening. Before too long the reaction would begin, and Rome would realise that she had perhaps underestimated her new servants. Resistance was brewing and it would not be long before Caratacos stormed out of the Welsh mountains to the dismay of the legions. He was to open the first round in a bitter and bloody series of uprisings and counter-attacks that would cause Rome to review her policies in respect of Britain many times over, the first blow in a deadly and dogged battle for freedom that would last for another century and a half and indeed would never be won entirely by Rome.


But that was in the future. Rome, meanwhile, was euphoric with victory and Claudius began the ordering of his new acquisition.


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