03:04. In Formam Provinciae Redacta Agit.

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 03.04.

In Formam Provinciae Redacta Agit. 

03:04:01. Lex Provinciae.

There does not seem to have been any Latin equivalent for the English term “annexation” to describe what was done with a new territory one it had been conquered. The common phrase seems to have been formam provinciae redigere, meaning to change or organise into the form of a province as in Tacitus’ phrase redactaque paulatim in formam provinciae proxima pars Britanniae : “that part of Britain that was closest (to the Continent) was little by little reduced to the form of a Province” (Tacitus: Agricola 14).


Under the Republic, the usual procedure for the formal construction of a province began with the draughting of a lex provinciae, a document that amounted to a constitution for the new territory, by a committee of ten senatorial commissioners, although no such commissions are known from the Principate and the practice seems to have been a phenomenon of the 2nd and 1st centuries BCE (Freeman 1998). There is no record of any such document for Britannia, or indeed any particular indication that the practice survived into the Empire [Salway 1981: p87], but it is reasonable to assume that Claudius, anxious to preserve the forms of the Republic, had one drawn up.


The nature and purpose of this hypothetical Lex Plautia is as conjectural as its very existence, but if it existed is may have been drawn up along similar lines to the Lex Rupilia of Sicily, which was concerned primarily with the administration of justice between Romans and Sicilians, and between Sicilians and Sicilians (Freeman 1998). The Lex Plautia would have confirmed agreements made between Rome and local people, regulating relationships between Rome and the assorted potentates, kings, chieftains and tribes with whom her agents had to deal. It would not by any stretch of the imagination have set up a blue-print for Roman rule, nor the machinery for provincial government (Freeman 1998). Rather, it would have confirmed agreements already in place, regularising a de facto situation into a de jure arrangement. Like so much of Roman provincial dealing, it was ad hoc and would have done no more than ratify whatever conditions then existed in Britain, and, as Tacitus’ word above (paulatim) would indicate, it was done in stages rather than in one tidy package.


If indeed it was officially drawn up, however, it would seem that the lex provinciae britanniae, when it at last appeared, was a retrospective document. Claudius, Plautius, Sentius and the officers of the expeditionary force seem to have made treaties and agreements with the native peoples on an ad hoc basis as they went along [Ibid: p88], a process that may not have been strictly legal. This may have been the source of some embarrassment, and the corpus of the law then had to be ratified as it was later noted that “it was enacted that all the treaties made with the tribes by Claudius and his lieutenants should be binding as if made by the Senate and People of Rome” [Dio: lx:23]. This slight legal hiccup seems to have been surmounted without undue difficulty, and the Province of Britannia was formally constituted with Aulus Plautius as the first legatus Augusti, the proconsular governor, and a treasury official of equestrian rank, procurator provinciae britanniae, appointed as the Emperor’s financial agent to oversee matters of revenue. The fact that both these officers reported separately to the Emperor, the procurator being independent of the Governor, was to be the grist for more than a little friction in the years ahead.


The disposition of the administration within the new province is very hard to reconstruct, as it does not appear to have conformed exactly to any standard practice. In essence, there were three areas by 45 CE: a civil area, the quasi-autonomous client kingdoms, and a military zone. The civil zone, centred on Camulodunum, was in the south east and incorporated the old Trinovantian territory, much of the Cattuvellaunian territory and parts of eastern Kent, id est the Thames littoral from Camulodunon to Rutupiae at least. The boundary seems to have been the valley of the Medway. To the west of the river there were many villas in subsequent years, while to the east they were few and far between, and it must be remembered that it was on the Medway near the site of Rochester that the first major battle of the conquest was fought.


The implication seems to be that noblemen to the east, perhaps taking a cue from Cogidubnus or perhaps anxious to throw off “foreign” Cattuvellaunian control, made an early accommodation with Plautius that enabled them to retain their ancient estates, while the western Cantii, perhaps remaining more loyal to Camulodunon, were punished for their resistance [Black 1987: p9]. The nobles of western Kent were thus removed, their lands broken up and redistributed in smaller lots to veterans or sold to small holders, some of whom may have been thoroughly Romanised settlers from Gaul [Ibid: p9]. Areas of provincial land came into the possession of Rome as gifts, as inheritances, or, as in this case, by confiscation. The residents of such areas, which were easily distinguished under the Empire by the presence of officials such as procurators, were state tenants [Lloyd Jones 1984: p195]. In this case, the land being under Roman dominium, the natives, veterans and settlers had only such rights as possessio – actual physical control over the land as opposed to absolute ownership – would allow, such as residence and usufruct. West of the Medway, therefore, was part of the civil zone, while the east continued to enjoy considerable local autonomy perhaps as a little client kingdom in its own right or perhaps as part of the regnum of Cogidubnus.


The suggestion has been made that the network of client kingdoms covered a much greater area, surrounding the civil zone in an arc from Kent to Norfolk, and was an innovation of Claudius’ based on a policy that sought to conserve Roman manpower to an economic minimum, and to forestall a repeat of Augustus’ mistakes in Germany [Salway 1981: p88]. In that instance, over-hasty attempts to impose Roman institutions on the Germans had generated a backlash that culminated in the clades Variana. The last thing that Claudius wanted was another protracted and expensive war in a remote province. One of the leading points of the propaganda elicited from the campaign was the fact that it had been achieved quickly, cheaply, and, above all, at relatively little cost of Roman lives. The client kingdom policy was, in this case, a means of imposing romanitas gradually and relatively painlessly. The process would take a bit longer, perhaps a generation or so, but the effect would be permanent.


A critical point to stress at this stage, a propos of the German experience, is that the establishment of a Roman administration in Britain was most emphatically not – pace Tacitus – the imposition of an alien structure on a primitive society. Disruption there surely was, and upheaval, especially in those areas that presented armed resistance, but the changes may not have been quite as traumatic as is sometimes thought. Roman expansionist policies included, wherever possible, the principle of least effort, of following the lines of least resistance. At all times, if at all possible, native institutions were assimilated into the very flexible Roman structure with a minimum of interference. Native forms were modified and adjusted to some extent to conform to the demands of Roman legal, tributary and military requirements only as far as necessary. Provided that they submitted to Rome and behaved themselves, native elites and aristocracies were left intact to govern their own people according to traditional usages. Thus it was in southern and south east Britain.


Although arranged into a relatively few supergroupings, the peoples of southern Britain were nevertheless a patchwork of little communities held together by a complex network of interwoven loyalties and ties of vassalage. Each little grouping had its own local elite, most of whom not only had long experience of some degree of indirect intercourse, both diplomatic and commercial, with Rome, but also were quite happy to deal with her directly. An administrative and distributive structure very similar to the Romanised Gaulish model was well entrenched and run by these local elites. It remained only for Rome to subvert these petty notables to her own cause and make a few minor modifications to the tax system, and they had a provincial administration already in place and running smoothly. The local elites would no doubt have noted the wealth accumulated by the old ruling dynasts through the stranglehold the latter held on the distribution system, and the manner in which this wealth had fuelled the engine of Cattuvellaunian expansion. All were aware of the benefits that dealing with Rome could bring, and all were aware that they were now in a position to deal directly to their own enrichment. As a result, it is hardly surprising that many local elites succumbed to Roman diplomacy, especially those who had been disadvantaged and/or subjected to Cattuvellaunian military coercion, and were quick to throw in their lot with Rome. For them it amounted to little more than the exchange of one paramount chief for another, the imperator [Haselgrove 1984: III: i]. Their territories would, in time, coalesce naturally and easily in to the civitates, for Rome did not guarantee dynastic succession, and seldom granted it. The powers of the client kings were by no means total, as in the days of the Republic, for the Emperor now looked upon these kings as subjects and took an interest in the kingdom [Sands 1908: p118]. The case of Herod the Great’s successor is instructive: Augustus not only ordered him to rule his people mildly but removed him when he failed to follow instructions [Josephus: Antiquities xvii:319].


The extent to which Claudius personally oversaw the organisation of the Province is moot, but it is quite probable that it was considerable, for three reasons. As an antiquarian he greatly admired the forms of the Republican past, and had an idealistic interest in constructing a province based on Republican principles. Secondly, it was his one and only military campaign and it had been conducted with almost textbook regularity and success. He did not want it jeopardised, hence the unusual step of allowing the natives a considerable degree of freedom under overall Roman rule within their own cantons. The strategy was to be one of gradual assimilation over the medium term during which the native kingdoms would become increasingly Romanised under their own tame rulers, and when these died the now acquiescent territories could be subsumed with minimum fuss into the full and formal provincial government. This strategy worked quite well in most cases, and ensured stable and more or less obedient rule over a very large area. Thirdly, Roman Emperors could, and usually did, make the overwhelming proportion of the policy decisions in the areas of governance and administration. The Augustus was very much a “hands on” Chief Executive.


The civil zone was based at Camulodunum on the remains of the old tribal capital of Cunobelinos and probably incorporated western Kent, Essex and Suffolk, and the Thames river at least as far as Londinium. It was ruled directly by the Governor and, at first at least, reasonably mildly. But it was not to last. The theory that Claudius was thoughtful towards the newly conquered people is an enticing one, but the fact of Camulodunum proves that the Emperor, far from being some preincarnated “sensitive new-age guy”, was very much a Roman, with all the native Roman disdain for peregrini. In retrospect, the foundation of Roman Camulodunum betrays nothing less than a callous disregard for native sentiment. The fortress that was built there incorporated a good part of the old settlement, and the possibility that it was purposely built over that particular position, the old enclosure of the High King and the nearest native equivalent of a royal palace, is quite considerable [Salway 1981: p89]. The deliberate superimposition of a gross token of Roman imperialism on what would certainly have been ground sacred to both Trinovantes and Cattuvellauni was a studied slap in the face for the defeated peoples. They were now subjects, and this was a very strong way of emphasising the fact. It was an insult added to injury that would bear bitter fruit a few years later. Memories were long.


The extent of the realms of the reges socii, the buffers between the civil and military zones, is entirely speculative, but there are two possibilities, the first of which is of a network of kingdoms. The southern kingdom, the regnum Cogidubni, was no doubt the most extensive, incorporating a territory from the Weald to Hampshire and much of the upper Thames valley, with broad lands north of the river. A regnum Boduoci may have existed briefly to the north west, and a regnum Adminii in Hertfordshire-Bedfordshire. A regnum Icenorum certainly existed in Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, and possibly a regnum Coritanorum across much of Lincolnshire and Leicestershire as far as Warwickshire. A Brigantian kingdom, a regnum Cartimanduae may have existed and would have been functionally independent albeit with occasional Roman military support for the Queen and her ruling clan.


The second alternative is quite simple. It may be that all the “free lands” that had submitted to Roman rule were constituted under a single authority. This would mean that the regnum Cogidubni would have covered the whole of Britannia outside the civil zone and Icenia, and inside the military zone. All the conquered territories thus became one polity, perhaps in recognition of treaties arranged prior to the conquest. Whatever option existed in reality, the realms of Cogidubnus were broad indeed and he seems quite justified in his assumption of the title of rex magnus [Black 1987: p11].


That the later civitates peregrini of the south east, the native administrative cantons as recorded by Ptolomy, evolved out of the earlier client kingdoms and civil zone as client kings died and native administrators became increasingly Romanised, is a fairly obvious conclusion and would therefore negate the second alternative. These territories were undoubtedly based ultimately on the previous tribal lands, and probably represented areas of considerable stability as they had evolved over a period of several centuries. Quite possibly native authority and land tenure was still held by an elite that was made up of essentially the same group of families that had become dominant as much as two centuries or more before Ptolomy drew his map in about the middle of the second century. This continuity of tradition made them natural administrative units for the new regime. Their names – civitas Icenorum, civitas Dobunnorum and so forth – probably derived from the dominant lineage or clan whose traditional domains contributed to the core of the civitas lands [Haselgrove 1986: III:ii]. The exception was the Trinovantes, for whom there is no evidence that they ever achieved local self-government independent of the colonia at Camulodunum and thus were doomed to remain attached to it as permanent attributi [Ibid: III:ii].


The network of civitates as known from Ptolomy’s map probably did not evolve until the end of the first century or the early decades of the second. It seems likely [Haselgrove 1986: III:ii] that the three-layered pattern of civil, client and military zones was the original scheme as planned before the invasion and may have been intended to remain more or less indefinitely. The development of the civitates was an outgrowth of a natural mutation of the original plan as applied to the traditional British matrix, and of the War of the Iceni. As a result of that historically pivotal conflict, the central authorities may well have considered the concept of notionally autonomous kingdoms to be more trouble than it was worth and an amended plan worked out. The Romans, however, were very resilient. Their whole approach to colonial government was empirical, working from precedent to precedent according to each individual case and reckoned so acutely with that hard, practical Roman genius for common-sense statecraft, that the system proved successful for generation after generation [Grant 1978: p55].


            What emerged from this administrative welter was essentially the superimposition of a Roman socio-political structure on a non-Roman, non-Mediterranean society. The Empire was a vest web of interlocking City States in a carefully graduated hierarchy at the head of which was the prime exemplar of its type, Rome herself, and which, in its present form, had evolved in the lands of the classical civilisations. The native polities of Britain (and Gaul, for that matter) were essentially tribal territories of a wholly different nature, but with a judicious combination of both coercion and persuasion could be moulded into small City States, structures that would thus slot more or less easily into the overall administrative heterogeneity of the Empire. Colonialism in the ancient world was a primary means of secondary state development under intrusive circumstances, allowing the Empire to integrate non-Roman areas into its structure and to organise that area’s resources in such a way as to maximise the Empire’s extraction of wealth (Berquist 1995), but in doing so Rome fundamentally altered the very nature of British society. The introduction of the classical City into Britain created a completely novel focus for social cohesion, transferring individuals and groups to a completely different plane of relationships. The ancient ties of kin and tribe were eroded and broken, and news ties formed dominated by a subtly altered and more complex hierarchy and secured by a set of civic laws (Colognesi 1995; p32) that enshrined sometimes quite alien concepts. Local, native institutions were gradually destroyed, even while some of the same native elite stayed in power (Berquist 1995) by virtue of subservience to their imperial patrons; Roman cultural domination of Britain was being set in social concrete.


            A by-product of this process of urbanisation would have been language shift in the urbanised centres. Whatever the speech of the countryside, Latin was the language of power, wealth and prestige. Anyone seeking advancement would have had to become fluent in that tongue and the various British dialects would have been seen as the speech of inferiors. As urbanisation increased and more and more people came to be urban dwellers or in contact with urban dwellers, more and more people had to integrate with the more complex social structures of towns and their greatly increased range of contexts. Weakening of older kinship and neighbourhood ties would encourage the adoption of the universal language and a movement a away from the norms of the older and perhaps stigmatised dialects (Milroy and Milroy 1997 p77). With the increasing use of Latin the pace of Romanisation was increased and its grip strengthened.


The military zone is likewise very hard to define, but the Fosse Way seems to have been at the heart of a heavily garrisoned territory perhaps forty or fifty miles deep. The legions had advanced a long way very quickly and a military zone had to be reasonably clearly defined when they had reached the full extent of their deployment. The Fosse Way was a necessary link along the limes to enable the rapid movement of units back and forth as need would demand, creating a solid wall, supposedly, from Isca to Lindum. It was by no means a frontier: Rome did not (then) have such things. It was at the most a deep and strongly fortified zone under direct military rule, a temporary resting place where the legions could dig in, rest, and consolidate the gains so swiftly made. It was a jumping-off point for further conquest should that become expedient, or for withdrawal to the rear if occasion demanded. The lowland areas of Britain, the desirable areas that would form the heart of the province, were by no means fully subjugated. Loyalties so newly won were fragile and volatile. And there was the near certainty in the minds of the general staff of trouble to come from beyond the limes. The dispositions were thus set up as an elaborate and formidable (but by no means impenetrable, as Caratacos would demonstrate) defence in depth for the benefit of the civil zone at Camulodunum. The civil zone was protected by the encircling client realms, which in turn were themselves defended by the military zone.


This outer zone, then, was a very broad belt, some fifty miles deep, running from Isca to Abus aesturium, the estuary of the Humber. This territory was under direct military rule, and in all likelihood the authority of the legionary commanders extended along the arterial roads that linked the Fosse Way with Camulodunum.


The second military disposition was the classis Britannica, the British fleet that had as its main area of operations the Channel coasts of Britain and Gaul, the Irish Sea and the North Sea littorals. In time it would become the most powerful of the Roman fleets, perhaps even larger than the classis Germanica, the Rhine fleet, and was politically more significant. Unlike modern navies, the Roman Navy was very much the junior service, if indeed it was acknowledged as a separate service at all, but the classis Britannica served a very important function and was unique in Roman maritime strategy.


The Roman Empire was confined to continental Europe, Asia Minor and Africa, all lands that had been in constant touch and within easy access of each other since the dawn of time, with one exception: Britain. Roman navies had been formed from temporary military expediency, such as to combat the menace of Carthage during the Punic Wars, or from temporary economic necessity such as the mandate given to Pompey to destroy the pirates that infested the Mediterranean. The classis Britannica, however, was to become a permanent command, and the only high seas fleet in Roman history. Sea transport was by far the cheapest and most efficient method of moving troops and large quantities of goods both in the Mediterranean, Aegean and Black Seas, and along the arterial rivers such as the Rhône, the Rhine and the Danube. For Britain it was not simply the most efficient method, it was the only possible one.


The political and geographical realities, perforce, gave the British fleet a peculiar significance. For the first forty years of the occupation, Britain housed the strongest single garrison of any Province. An army group of four legions, nearly fifteen per centum of the entire Roman military establishment, was stationed in the Province until the withdrawal of Legio XIV in about 84. That still left three legions, and for the next three centuries Britain would continue to maintain the strongest garrison in proportion to its size of any province anywhere. The presence of such a powerful force in one comparatively small space under one command so far from the centre of government raised the spectre of a military coup at some time. Such a coup, however, could only present a real danger if a mutinous army was able to reach Gaul. The solution to this potential threat was to create a fleet under a separate command independent of the Governor. This command was shouldered by a procurator of equestrian rank, the praefectus classis Britannicae, who, like the procurator provinciae Britanniae, was appointed by and directly responsible to Caesar.


The classis Britannica was therefore based on the English Channel rather than in Britain itself, with havens at Gessoriacum and (from circa 85) certainly at Dubrae (Dover) probably at Anderida (Pevensey), possibly at Portus Lemanis (Lympne) and very doubtfully at Rutupiae [Peacock 1977: p246], although it worked out of every port in Britain. Its primary function at this time seems to have been as a transporter of goods, a mobile supply base for the army, and as a source of expertise and manpower for industry such as the iron workings of the Weald, rather than as a fighting force. The reason for this emphasis is quite simple, as, with the destruction of the Venetic fleet by Caesar during his Gaulish campaigns, there was no other maritime power to pose as a rival. Germanic and Scandinavian marine technology at this  time was primitive to say the least. As it transpired, this caution was to be fully vindicated in later years. Unfortunately, the precautions were not to prove adequate insurance.


These dispositions would have been excellent indeed, and quite impregnable, provided that all within were obedient. This was not to be quite the case, and the root of the disobedience was right at the very heart of the new province: Camulodunum itself.




03:04:02. Camulodunum.

As with so many British strongholds, Camulodunon fell with frightening ease to the Romans and the defences of the old settlement of Cunobelinos were slighted. Claudius decreed that a new town should be built, on a site slightly removed from the old elite residential area on Sheepen Hill, as Camulodunum, the capital of the new province and a symbol of Roman power over a suitably awed population. It was the obvious choice for a provincial capital, due firstly to the fact that economic links with the Empire were already concentrated there, and secondly because the earlier relationship of dependence upon a British paramount to which Camulodunon had been central could now be refocussed on the Emperor [Haselgrove 1986: III:ii]. A pivotal fact of political existence would continue unbroken thus relieving the need for disruption in one important area at least.


But there was an enormous amount of work to be done before any permanent fixtures could be set in place. There were roads to be built and forts not more than a day’s march apart along them. But before anything else, the huge numbers of troops had to be accommodated and a temporary headquarters set up, together with facilities for the Emperor and his staff. The Augustus and his coterie of notables were hardly going to sleep on the bare ground, although many of them had doubtless done so in the past during their service with the legions. Therefore the first Roman amenity within the limits of Camulodunon was a vast marching camp, and its construction was begun almost from the moment that the army arrived. A large temporary camp was built for the army group on Chitts Hill about two and a half kilometres west of the modern town [Dunnet 1975: p32]. Here the army set up house for the time being while they consolidated their gains and prepared for the winter of 44 – 45.


Large numbers of Trinovantes were pressed into service for the construction work. How many had fallen to the legions during their inexorable advance shall never be known, but without doubt huge numbers had been lost on the battlefield. Despite these losses, many survived, for the Trinovantes had been a powerful and numerous people, and hundreds were now rounded up to work in labour gangs. These folk were housed on the site of the old aristocratic enclave, and the population of Sheepen Hill increased enormously [Dunnet 1975: p43] and very quickly. Their huts clustered over the hill and along the roads, the many rubbish pits showing that there was little space to spare between them [Ibid: p44]. Sheepen Hill became an army works depot, with much metal-working and military manufacturing, the natives labouring under the close supervision of Roman legionaries. A small fort was built at the north end of the depot at the ford of the Colne at Sheepen Bridge [Ibid: p44] to keep watch over the operations. A further fort was built in the north east corner of what would later become the big legionary fortress [Crummy 1977: p70, fig 3]. Another fort was built some four kilometres to the south west, commanding the old native religious complex at Gosbecks [Ibid: p87 and fig 13].


The next major work was the castrum, the permanent legionary fortress itself. This was built to the east of the works depot, on higher ground overlooking both the lowest ford of the Colne and Sheepen Hill [Dunnet 1975: p35]. The earlier temporary fort was pulled down, and construction of the new fortress, four times and more the size of the former, was begun. It was roughly 500 metres on it east – west axis, and 425 metres north – south, thus enclosing an area of about 21.25 hectares. The main gate, now know as the Balkerne Gate, was in the centre of the western wall, and an annexe covering a further 7.5 hectares, and probably intended for use as a wagon park and marshalling area, was tacked onto the eastern side. The fortress defences consisted first of a ditch between 2.5 and 3 metres in depth and from 5 to 5.7 metres wide, behind which was a rampart 3.8 metres wide and consisting of a bank of sand revetted by two walls built of coursed slabs of sandy clay overlaying a wooden corduroy. Behind this again was an intervallum road 4.4 metres wide [Crummy 1977: p70]. A similar defence surrounded the annexe.


Not only did Plautius need a military base, he also needed direct sea access to Gaul and, even more importantly, to the Rhine with its strong garrison of seasoned troops. If events should take a turn for the worse, Plautius wanted swift backup from the powerful army of Germany. Accordingly, while the roads were being built to facilitate troop movements and communications, and forts built to guard them, a supply base and depot were built at Fingringhoe [Crummy 1977: p87] on the Colne estuary, conveniently opposite the big naval supply base at Valkenburg on the mouth of the Rhine. Altogether, Plautius created a very powerful military presence throughout the entire area defended by British earthworks and beyond.


In so far as these things went, the fortress of Camulodunum was a very short lived establishment. Seven years after the invasion, in about 50, the building of the town of Camulodunum began under the orders of Plautius’ successor to the governorship, Publius Ostorius Scapula. By this time Scapula was in the west preparing to make the drive into Wales as he tightened the noose about Caratacos. The civil zone was reasonably secure and troops were needed on the front. Moreover there was, by this time, an urgent need to establish a colonia for veterans of the legions. Roman Camulodunum was thus ordained a colonia in 49 or 50 by Claudius and, as it was enrolled in the Claudian voting tribe, it was probably known originally as colonia Claudia [Tomlin 1992: p146]. It became a settlement for retired troops to whom land was allotted at their honesta missio, according to long-established practice. The initial purpose of creating the colonia, however, was to release time-served men into civilian life. This enabled Scapula to pension off his elderly men and refurbish the ranks with new recruits. He could then release Legio XX for service in the west, while maintaining in the east a strong reserve that could be mobilised against insurgent natives as and when required. After about six years, up to a quarter of his regulars would have been ready for retirement, a force of four or five thousand trained men, of whom half would have been veterans of Legiones XIV and XX.


From the very first Camulodunum seemed earmarked for these two legions, and the presence of the latter formation is underlined by the very early grave of a centurion of that legion. About 500 metres from what would one day be the city gates was the tomb of Marcus Favonius Facilis [RIB #200] of the Pollian voting tribe, and his effigy shows a sour-faced, arrogant man with his vine staff of office firmly held in his right hand. He has the look of a very stern taskmaster, resolute, self-assured and pitiless. If Facilis was in any way typical of the kind of man that the Trinovantes could expect of their new masters, their lot was harsh indeed. It is an intimidating monument and if, as seems to have been the case, it was overthrown by Boudica’s warriors, one cannot but be sympathetic. Ala I Thracum was also based at Camulodunum for a time, as is attested by the tombstone of one Longinus [RIB #201], son of Sdapezematygus, from Sardica (Sofia, Bulgaria). He held the rank of duplicarius, the second in command of a squadron of cavalry, died in his fortieth year, and had seen fifteen years service in the Roman army. Such men as these were given land seized from the royal estates of Cunobelinos, but something of a difficulty arose.


The usual land endowment for the retiring veteran was fifty iugera, a plot of about twelve and a half hectares. (This figure is based upon Augustan allotments in Italy between 47 BCE and 14 CE, and we do not know what entitlements were available to men in Britain in the period 50 – 60 CE, but they would have taken what they could get and were probably eager to buy more with their cash praemia [Black 1987: p8]). Some two and half thousand men, therefore, would have required something like 6,250 hectares of prime arable land and there was simply not enough to go around. The result was that the coloni seized more land than they were entitled to and treated the native Trinovantes as serfs, a situation that would have far reaching repercussions within a very few years.


The new settlement of Camulodunum was built largely within and upon the grid of the earlier fortress, which, according to standard practice of the time, was demolished and the defences levelled before the civilian administration took it over. It covered about 40 hectares and was slightly to the east of the centre of the native town, on rising ground overlooking excellent farmland. Docks were built at the industrial and trading area at Lexden on the highest tidal reach of the Colne to handle the increasing movement of goods. The grid of the old fortress was retained, along with many of its features and structures. The former principia, the parade ground, for example, became the new forum [Crummy 1977: p90], and some of the better residential buildings such as centurions’ quarters [Ibid p76] were occupied after the withdrawal, possibly by their (now retired) former residents. The annexe area seems to have been dominated by public buildings such as the basilica and the theatre. The structure, probably of wood in the first instance, is believed to underlie the remains of the later stone building on the north west corner of the former annexe [Crummy 1982: p302], partly over the fortress defences.


Such a complex project as a whole town with paved streets, sewers, drains, public buildings, a forum and so forth is not built overnight. After eleven years of work the new town boasted a senate house, temples, a theatre and dwelling houses, but not, interestingly, a defensive wall, a sign of a serious Roman over-confidence that would soon be tragically highlighted. Amongst many public works commissioned by Claudius was a temple consecrated to divis Claudius, his own divine self, and easily the most controversial building in Britain.




03:04:03. Templum Divo Claudio.

The Temple of Claudius was an edifice of apparently such megalomaniac grandiosity that it elicited mirth and cynicism even in Rome. To inspire such sentiments amongst the Romans, a grandiose people if ever there was one, the building must have been awesome indeed. Built in the classical style on a raised podium, it had an octastyle portico and was approached by a flight of broad stairs running the width of the building. There were deep vaults, still in existence today, in the body of the building, and a large courtyard containing the main altar in front. Here were held the public ceremonies and celebrations. The entire temenos, or sacred enclosure, was approximately 540 Roman feet square and dominated the entire eastern portion of the colonia, that area that had formerly been the annexe of the fortress.


The planting of such an elaborate, expensive and seemingly preposterous building in what was otherwise a howling wilderness of barbarity, was not without a core of sound Roman common sense. Camulodunum was to be more than just a political centre. It was to be the heart of the cult of the Emperor and hence the focal point for the cultural assimilation of the British people, the paradigm of provincial loyalty to Rome. For this programme Rome borrowed from her extensive experience in Gaul and Spain. In these provinces, native annual religious gatherings had been subsumed to the service of Rome, a technique of cultural conquest that Rome developed and that would later be further elaborated by the expanding Christian Church. The Gaulish meetings had been slowly syncretised to the worship of the Emperor. High Priests – flamines – and occasionally priestesses – flaminae – were selected from the local aristocracy, and the attendant regular rites, together with the associated games, festivals and dramatic contests were funded by this class. This was indeed a most excellent method of sublimating rebelliousness and inter-tribal rivalries, as well as pushing home Roman ideology and culture in a gradual and relatively painless way. It worked well in Gaul, where the attendant expenses were spread over a relatively wide catchment area.


It did not work at all well amongst the impoverished, numerically weakened and closely concentrated Trinovantes, who were unable to spread the financial burden amongst other tribes. There was no local tradition to base such rites on so the system was immediately perceived as artificial. And the object of worship was not Rome and the Emperor, but Claudius himself, whose court was rapidly becoming a by-word for sycophancy and corruption. In Claudius’ defence, it must be stated that it is most unlikely that the temple was actually dedicated to him during his life. That would have been most unseemly, and moreover, the huge building would hardly have been completed while he was yet alive. Without doubt there would have been some subsidy for its huge cost, but still the bulk of that cost would have had to have been borne by the locals, which in turn would mean that its construction was slow. The destruction wrought during the Icenian War would suggest that the temple was not, indeed, completed and finally consecrated until well after 60 CE.


The priests also battened on the ordinary people, draining them dry of all their wealth in a series of enforced levies to pay for the construction of the new temple, which rapidly became seen as a “blatant bastion of alien rule” [Tacitus Annals: xiv:31]. Not surprisingly, the natives became very restless.


The exact nature and purpose of the first civil settlement at Camulodunum is problematical. It was primarily a colonia, of course, for the retirement of old soldiers, and it doubtless also was intended to be the capital of the new province. But it seems to have been built as much as a spiritual locus as a purely administrative centre, a focal point of Romanization as much as an actual seat of government. It was built upon the remains of the most powerful of the British tribal centres, which would imply that it had a very high spiritual significance to the natives, and the deliberate planting of a temple to Claudius on that particular spot would look like a studied attempt to arrogate an especially sacred site to Roman supremacy.


No doubt Camulodunum became the seat of administration in the first few years, but the actual heart of the province moved very shortly some distance west to the crossings of the river Thames.






03:04:04. The Dun of Lud.

Despite the best efforts of the patriots and the proud, there is no evidence to show that the City of London existed before the coming of the Romans. It is possible, even probable, that a small settlement may have sprung up besides the Walbrook on the plateau overlooking the river. The Thames valley, after all, had been a highway for many millennia, although it is probable that since Caesar’s time the river had ceased to be a major trade-route and had become a political frontier between the Cattuvellauni to the north and the Atrebates to the south [Hobley 1980: p311]. The rich deposits of votive objects recovered from the Thames basin would indicate that the district was well-populated and much traversed from at least the seventh to the second centuries BCE [Wait 1985: p22 and figs 2:1, 2:2], but from the first century BCE this concentration disappears abruptly [Ibid: p31 and fig 2:5], indicating a fairly sudden depopulation of an area that was increasingly under dispute. The recent conquests of Caratacos south of the river would have ensured that the Thames was once more under the control of one polity and thus prosperity would eventually have returned but would not have allowed the time for the re-establishment of settlements to any great extent.


It is probable, although unprovable, that a small religious site occupied the low hill upon which St. Paul’s Cathedral now stands, as shall be discussed below. It is also possible that traders from the Continent had set up a few sheds and perhaps even a wharf at the mouth of the Walbrook at what was the highest tide reach, although this notion is today considered most unlikely. There is now nothing to prove the matter one way or another as the ancient river bank has been heavily eroded by time and man, and the slight remains that such temporary structures might leave have long been obliterated by the hurley-burley of twenty hectic centuries. The few (less than twenty) pieces of pre-Claudian pottery [Merrifield 1965: p29] found in the City and Southwark prove nothing.


Further up the Thames, from Battersea onwards, there are many prehistoric sites, for there the river was easier to cross at the many fords and the extensive gravel beds offer firm foundations for occupation. At the City itself, the river was wide and the hinterland was heavily wooded, forming a formidable barrier to traffic. It held no particular appeal and no apparent advantage over any other site. But the chief reason for assuming that a City of London did not exist before 43 CE is simply that there was no reason for it to exist.


London has certain geographical advantages that make its elevation to the chief administrative centre of Britain almost inevitable. It has a safe inland port to handle the traffic of goods to and from overseas. It commands the extensive waterways of the Thames basin, and is the nexus of a grid of ancient roads that spread out to give access to the west, south and east. It is a natural centre of commerce. Tacitus [Annals xiv:33] states that from the first Londinium was “an important centre for businessmen and merchandise” and Londinium was ideally suited to the needs of these negotiatores as the centre of the developing road network of the province [Black 1987: p14]. It is the natural centre for a united Britain with strong Continental interests. Prior to the Roman conquest, such an entity did not exist. Britain was not a single polity but a patchwork of tribal territories which were very well served by their local centres and for whom overseas trade and foreign affairs were minimal. London was not needed. Moreover, the area was heavily wooded. The full potential of the site could only be realised by a people who commanded a civil engineering technology of a high order, higher than that possessed by the British. The Romans possessed such a technology.


A small native village, perhaps. A huddle of merchants’ warehouses, perhaps. But not a major centre. With every apology to Geoffrey of Monmouth and his descendants in spirit, if any one person could be said to have founded the City of London it would have had to have been the Roman General Aulus Plautius.


But why “London”? It appears to have been called Londinium from the very beginning, and the usual theory is that this word is a latinisation of an earlier native name that would have been something like “Lud-dun”, perhaps a hypothetical “Londonion” or “Londinion” [Jackson 1970: p76], the fortress of the god Lud. This god, known as Lud [1], or Llud, or Ludd, or Nudd [2], or Lugus, or Lugh, or any other of a number of variants, was a pan-Celtic primal solar diety who also gave his name to several of the great cities of Europe such as Lyons (Roman Lugudunum). “Dun” is a Celtic word element derived from a hypothetical “dunon” meaning a fort in the British sense of a fortified earthworks such as Hod Hill or Maiden Castle. The element remains in several modern place names such as Dundee and Dundalk, and was present in innumerable ancient ones such as Camulodunum, Branodunum, Lugudunum, Moridunum et cetera. While it is normally assumed that the word would signify an impressive, man-carved mountain such as Maiden Castle, the like of which never existed at the site of London, this is not necessarily the case. A “dunon” could be of much more modest proportions, a small mound or low hill.


The first City of London grew up on an area around two low hills between which flowed a small river. By what names the British or the Romans knew these features is forgotten, but they are now known as Cornhill and Ludgate Hill, and the now vanished Walbrook stream. There is a possibility that Ludgate Hill was the site of a small rustic fane or grove sacred to Lud and may have been partially man-made. Roman proscription of Druidic rites would have meant that the grove was either destroyed or the site used for a more politically acceptable form of worship. This small sacred area, as so many similar places [3] of the ancient world, was eventually arrogated by a new religion that even then was forming at the far end of the Empire. A mighty temple of the new faith, St. Paul’s Cathedral, even today sits atop this ancient spot and thus precludes any investigation that might prove or disprove this hypothesis. But the memory of the ancient rite remained, as did the name, and, following the usual Roman practice of simply Latinising local place-names, the nascent settlement became known by its most important spot of the time: the dunon of Lud: Lud-dunon, Londunion, Londinium, London.


Londinium grew up around a bridge, and the matter of this bridge is both crucial to an understanding of the beginnings of the City and a topic of endless academic debate. That a bridge was built at Londinium is not in doubt, nor its whereabouts. The exact site of the bridge is not known, but it is assumed that it lay about 80 metres east of the present London Bridge, more or less on the site of Old London Bridge [4]. This much is not in question. The contention begins when the matter of dates and purposes arises. Exactly when was it built? And why was it built where it was built rather than somewhere else such as at Westminster? Why, in other words, did Londinium grow up where it did and not a kilometre or more upstream at, say, Battersea?


A discussion of the several points of view on this matter would be both tedious and inappropriate here but for the purposes of this essay, I will suggest a scenario.


Plautius had summoned Claudius to oversee the administration of the campaign’s coup-de-grace at Camulodunon, and the Emperor’s arrival could be expected within perhaps six weeks. He would have with him a large entourage and a substantial legionary force, a party that would rival in numbers the expeditionary force itself. This huge group would have to be moved with the greatest of speed and convenience, which meant that a route would have to be planned along existing roads or, failing that, roads would have to be built. The old Brythonic road from Cantium to the crossings of the Thames was probably adequate for the purposes, and a link road from Watling Street to Rutupiae was almost certainly under construction, and there was little that could be done about the Londinium – Camulodunon route at the moment. The problem was at the crossings themselves.


Plautius sent his gromaticiaci and mensores, his surveyors and architects, to examine the terrain and recommend the most advantageous spot for a permanent bridge. The crossing at Westminster, they deemed, was a possibility. The east bank was more or less solid and the west bank offered a good gravel foundation for a bridgehead, but the marshes beyond were difficult and, while an approach could be built on them, the builders would be exposed to attack from Cattuvellaunian raiders. A little to the east, however, a series of gravel eyots offered a firm approach to the river, and on the opposite bank a plateau of higher ground offered a solid base for a northern bridgehead. More, the river was tidal here, offering the prospect of a deep-water port to service a supply depot, fort or any other installation that might be considered necessary.


The direct line of Watling Street was therefore maintained as far as the Ford at Westminster and a secondary road built to link up with the gravel eyots. With considerable difficulty it was built along the sand spurs and mudflats that lay between the higher ground of the river terrace and the proposed bridgehead, the boggy ground stabilised with timber corduroys [Hobley 1980: p314]. The southern approach thus constructed, the building of the bridge was able to proceed from firm ground to firm ground unimpeded by the attentions of British war parties.


The bridge having been built for the purpose of transporting the imperial party, and the fact that huge numbers of people were resident in the area, albeit briefly, there can be no doubt that a substantial castum and probably outlying forts were built somewhere in the area. Logic would suggest Southwark as the site of a legionary camp, but if so no trace has come to light. Notwithstanding all this activity, and the fact that there can be little doubt that the Romans were well aware of the potential of the Londinium site in the long run [Hobley 1980: p314] there was no particular reason for a settlement to spring up at that point, and the beginnings of the actual settlement of Londinium remain contentious.


It was not a Romanised native centre such as Verulamium, nor did it, as did Viriconium and Glevum, grow out of a primarily military foundation. It was certainly not laid out as the administrative centre of Roman Britannia. The new town of Camulodunum, just above the old oppidum of Cunobelinos, was to be the chief city of Claudius’ new province. If anything, its function was no more than a fortified bridgehead, and that garrisoned lightly after Plautius and Claudius had moved on to the denouement of the campaign at Camulodunon, as the paucity of military evidence remaining from that period would seem to indicate.


Some settlement began almost as soon as the bridge was completed, and other buildings followed the bridge almost as soon as the vicinity was free from the dangers of the depredations of hostile tribesmen. What little can be traced of these buildings would indicate that they were of military design, an observation that has led to the conclusion that the first settlement was a military one. What this would imply however, is no more than that the buildings were but up by tradesmen from the legions, the only immediately available source of skilled labour. Perhaps their construction was another exercise by Aulus Plautius to keep the idle hands and minds of his troops busy, a project to divert them from mutinous plotting. Perhaps enterprising merchants hired out the tradesmen privately. The military may have been quick to see the potential advantages of the site, but the mercantile community was the first to move in, and Londinium was from the first a trading establishment. The booths of those who came to buy from and sell to the army sprang up like weeds, together with an assortment of dwelling houses, workshops and warehouses. Londinium may have begun as a simple bridgehead to guard the access way of Plautius’ army, but it very soon began to assume a life all of its own.


A civilian settlement such as this, in such a place as this, could not thrive until some degree of political stability had been imposed. Londinium, therefore, remained a huddle of huts for perhaps three or four years until the south east of the new province was reasonably pacified, for development could not really begin without a certain degree of stability, consolidation and permanence, conditions that began to prevail by the early 50’s [Hobley 1980: p314]. Then Londinium began to grow rapidly.


It may have been a planned settlement from the first [Marsden 1980: p17], as the alignment of buildings and the early roads from the Forum site in particular would indicate [Hobley 1980: p314 and note 5]. It is more likely that its initial phase was haphazard and disorderly, but this state of affairs did not last long, indeed probably no longer than the imposition of orderly rule at which time the Governor would have had the time to turn his attention to problems rather less immediate than those posed by the tactical situation. Londinium was quickly taken in hand.


Although the first formal streets were laid out when the town was already in existence there would not have been too much disruption to the community: it was still very small and there was no casual ribbon development along a main road such as developed at other centres, or to the south of the City. Londinium was no mushroom settlement that grew at random. The major roads, Watling, Stane and Ermine Streets, were aligned to it. A formal pattern was imposed, probably by about 50 CE, with a wide decumanus maximus, a broad main street almost ten metres wide, laid out more or less parallel to the river and about 310 – 320 metres to the north. This street began at Newgate and more or less followed the alignment of modern Newgate, Lombard and Fenchurch Streets. It was built of rammed gravel and properly cambered to allow for water run-off into deep gutters, and was so heavily used that it was resurfaced at least twice before 60 CE [Marsden 1980: p22]. Although the buildings that lined the road may at first have been simple wattle-and-daub  huts and jerry-built sheds, certain more permanent buildings were constructed. What appears to have been a substantial building with solid ragstone foundations was built on the decumanus maximus and most likely had an official rather than private purpose [Merrifield 1965: p40].


About 300 – 400 metres east of the Walbrook along the north side of the decumanus maximus, at what is now the intersection of Lombard, Gracechurch and Fenchurch Streets, lay a large gravel area. Carefully levelled and graded, it covered at least 1120 square metres [Marsden 1980: p21] and there can be little doubt that it was a market square as, coincidentally, the same site was later occupied by the Forum.


For twenty years Londinium grew and coalesced until, by about 60 CE, it had a proper street grid, a market place, formal insulae, and covered at least 13 hectares between the Walbrook and what is now the corner of Fenchurch and Billiter Streets. It was a town of importance, although its status under Roman law is not known. It was not a colonia, and it is not mentioned as a municipium, but it is hard to believe that it had no especial status at all as, by that time it was the headquarters of the procurator, the Emperor’s agent in the Province, with all that that implies. In other words it had become the de facto administrative centre of the Province.


The nature of the population may offer a clue as to the status of the town. Not being based on an earlier British settlement, and being a purely Roman development, its free residents were probably almost all Roman or Latin citizens. Certainly its leading businessmen would have been Romans, and it probably contained the largest concentration of Roman citizens outside of the legion camps. Combined, these men would have had enough political clout to have petitioned the Emperor for the right to operate a market, for which they without doubt would have needed imperial permission, and to form some sort of urban corporation perhaps under the direct control of the Governor. Clearly a corporation of citizens would have been beneficial to the development of the province as a whole, and it is probable that such a founding body evolved during the very first years of the existence of Londinium.


Then disaster fell. In 60 CE Catus Decianus, through his arrogance and ineptitude, precipitated the War of the Iceni. Troops were based in the town, but he seems to have been able to send “barely two hundred men, incompletely armed” [Tacitus: Annals xiv: 32] – auxiliary troops maintained as a police presence – to the relief of Camulodunum. Presumably they met the same fate as the small Camulodunum garrison and the Roman citizens of that unfortunate town: death at the hands of Icenian warriors. Catus was “horrified by the catastrophe (and) withdrew to Gaul” [Ibid: xiv:32], presumably taking ship from the port of Londinium. Boudica and her army marched towards the City. Suetonius Paullinus knew of their coming, and hastened there with as many cavalry as he could muster, at which point Londinium first enters recorded history.


“Londinium – did not rank as a Roman settlement (colonia), but was an important centre for businessmen and merchandise” [Tacitus: Annals: xiv:32].


Clearly, Londinium was by then a commercial and business centre of the first importance: the procurator was based there, the business community was heavily involved there, and the Governor considered it important enough to at least contemplate defending it personally. Which, in turn, would suggest that it was, at least to some extent, defensible. It is probable that the Governor’s decision to fall back first on Verulamium and then on Viriconium was based not so much on a lack of fortifications as of men to defend them.


Paullinus withdrew. Londinium and such few citizens as could not or would not flee were left to their fate, and that fate was both gruesome and complete. Very little remained standing. Londinium was left a level, smoking, charnel house and it would be a decade at least before it began to regain something of its former bustle and activity.




5:05. Order in the South-West.

Meanwhile, consolidation continued apace elsewhere.


“The nearest parts of Britain (were) gradually organised into a province” [Tacitus: Agricola 4].


The context of Tacitus’ comment seems to imply that the formal incorporation of the south east as part of the province was achieved during the mandate of the first two Governors, Plautius and Scapula, within ten years of the invasion. It had been a time of turmoil for many, but for most life quickly regained some semblance of normality. Life, after all, goes on and it is likely that the greater part of the population, especially those in territories that had submitted peacefully, would barely have noticed any difference between before and after. There were a few more items of Roman manufacture available on the market, the local aristocrats would have begun to affect Roman manners, and there were a lot of strangely dressed foreigners walking around and shouting orders, but otherwise it was business as usual.


Lead and silver extraction in the Mendip Hills suffered little interruption, and the mines were in full production by at least 49 CE. Silver, indeed, was a primary target of Rome in her expansion. Gold was highly prized, but there was not, and never has been, enough to form a currency. Those gold coins in circulation were of far too high a denomination to be of use for most transactions, let alone as small change. Their purpose was for the expedient payment of tax and tribute, for very large sales and purchases, for savings and for travelling as a few gold coins are more easily carried (and hidden) than a lot of silver ones. Silver was and always would be the chief currency of account, and Rome needed vast quantities. At that time, the only method of silver extraction was the laborious process of cupellation from argentiferous lead, of which substantial lodes were found in Britain, and her silver production helped substantially to boost the imperial coffers. So much so that there was considerable concern amongst the concessionaires of the Spanish mines.


Their own workings were still very rich, but they were being forced to delve deeper and deeper at increasing cost, and faced continual problems of flooding. There was a possibility that a large quantity of new silver from easily accessible deposits would flood the market, devaluing the price of the metal, and many felt the hand of bankruptcy on their necks. Claudius soothed them somehow and British production continued. Lead, the by-product of silver production, was a most important metal and large quantities were exported. A pig of Mendip lead bearing the mark of II legio has been found at St. Valery-sur-Somme, indicating a trade well into the Continent, while analysis of the isotope composition of a lead cistern found in ill-fated Pompeii matches British metal [Elkingdon 1976: p188], indicating an even wider market.


The extraction of minerals was a sole right of the administration at first, and mines were often worked by those sentenced to penal servitude. There is no indication that the Mendip mines were worked by slaves, but they certainly passed into direct imperial possession. A huge saltus, an imperial estate, is recognised as having been established in the Mendips and centred on Charterhouse [Branigan 1976: 123], along with possible similar estates at Cranbourne Chase and on Salisbury Plain. The name of one Gaius Nipius Ascanius appears on Mendip pigs dated at 59 CE. He seems to have been an official of some sort, perhaps a mines manager from the procurator’s department as the latter would have been responsible on the Emperor’s behalf for the administration of the works and for the proper accounting of revenue. The name of this C. Nipius Ascanius also appeared on later lead pigs (unfortunately undated) from Carmel in Flintshire. Although the government at first worked the mines directly, and always maintained tight control over mineral extraction, workings were usually leased out to concessionaires and private companies before very long. It may be that, on retirement from the civil service, C. Nipius Ascanius obtained a concession on the Flintshire mine and set up in business on his own.


Further west, the Dumnonii submitted to Rome without much fuss and Isca Dumnoniorum (Exeter), the westernmost Roman settlement large enough to be called a town, became the first permanent British home of II Legio and ultimately the tribal capitol of the civitas of the Dumnonii. The Romans were welcomed as liberators from the depredations of the Durotriges, and a lasting and cordial relationship was established with the conquerors. The people of the ancient peninsula of Belerion were traders and producers. Their nature is obscure but they were less sophisticated politically than the peoples of the south east. Nevertheless, they had been producing tin for many centuries and had enjoyed long and close contact with the Continent, perhaps dealing with traders from as far away as Phoenicia, for more than a millennium. They wanted to continue their peaceful trading untroubled by rowdy neighbours and offered little noticeable resistance to Rome. Perhaps the Dumnonii hoped for a return to the good old days of the flourishing trade that had been disrupted half a century before by the conquest of north west Spain by Augustus and Rome’s consequent access to the rich Asturian tin deposits. If this was indeed their hope, they were doomed to a long wait: it would be many generations before imperial interest in Cornish tin was reawakened under Gordian III.


This peaceful settlement is highlighted by the fact that only a few small forts were built on the peninsula, and very few roads either, the products of the stannaries being moved primarily by sea as they had been since time immemorial. Such forts as there were appear to have been more in the nature of barracks for troops who were present primarily to guard imperial assets rather than garrisons to keep a turbulent native population in subjugation.


The main garrison of II Legio was established at Isca Dumnoniorum, the fortress being built in about 50 CE [Maxfield 1980: p300] when the south west had been reasonably pacified, and the aquilae were housed here until about 75 CE [Ibid: p301] until they were removed to Caerleon after the subjugation of the Silures under Frontinus. The commanding position that controls the watershed of the Exe also has the advantage of what, in Roman times, was a deep water port. It is remotely possible that a port existed at Topsham, but this seems unlikely [Ibid: p304], as the site of Exeter itself was accessible to seagoing vessels and in fact presents a better site for a port than did Topsham [Ibid: appendix p305]. It was a small establishment covering a mere 15.4 hectares or about three quarters the size of such fortresses as Caerleon, Chester and Inchtuthil, lending more weight to the proposition that II Legio was seldom brought together in spot at one time. For many years vexillations were stationed at points various throughout the West Country, and therefore the castrum at Isca need be of sufficient size to accommodate a smaller number [Ibid: p 304]. That there were legionaries stationed there is not in doubt, nor that auxiliary infantry were brigaded in with them [Ibid: p303], but the full legion did not occupy Isca: they were strung out throughout the West Country and the Dumnonian peninsula.


Isca marked the line for the time being. The mineral wealth of Dumnonia was not the target at this point, and the moors were uninviting. There is no indication that Rome penetrated much further than the line of the Exe and the Parrett at this time: annexation of the Dumnonian highlands would come in due course but not yet. The natives were not hostile and there were far more pressing matters to the north and north west.


Somewhat further to the north, the Dobunni of Gloucestershire had welcomed the legions from the very first, and it is probable that their chief, Boduocos, was a client monarch of Rome. They were relieved, no doubt, to be rid of the fierce and expansionist Cattuvellauni who had dominated them for so long. The rule of Rome was no doubt a welcome respite from Caratacos’ demands and from the raiding of their more independently minded cousins to the south east. By about 45 CE a fort was built at the point where the Fosse Way crosses the upper reaches of the Thames, a point that became a crossroads for routes to Aquae Sulis, Glevum, Ratae, Verulamium and Calleva. Corinium Dobunnorum (Cirencester) eventually became a wealthy civitas capital, second only to Londinium itself in importance: it was a mere five kilometres from the great hill-fort of Bagendon, the seat of Boduocos of the Dobunni. Trade between the hill-fort and the Roman fort would have been brisk. Eventually more and more people removed to the growing settlement north west of the Roman fort until, by the late 50’s, the ancient Dobunnic settlement was almost deserted [Wacher 1978: p71]. The new town grew naturally, organically, according to economic forces and without recourse to duress.


The Dobunni, however, had had problems on two fronts. Even with the southern Dobunni subdued and the Durotriges in glowering obedience and their territory garrisoned, there was still the danger of incursions from the Silures and Ordovices, the untamed tribes to the north and west. This presented a serious problem for Plautius; the frontier of the new province had to be defended. Accordingly, more garrisons were set up on the western fringes of Dobunnic territory. The largest, Glevum (Gloucester), on the crossings of the Severn, became a legionary fortress as Dumnonia was pacified and the war zone moved north and west. Later, in 98 CE, when the military base had moved even further west, Glevum was ordained the colonia of Legio II at the command of the Emperor Marcus Cocceius Nerva. From here Vespasian’s successors could both keep a watchful eye over the newly conquered peoples and present a strong front to the west.




4:06. The North and West.

While Vespasian and II Legio were engaged in the subjugation of the south west, IX Legio moved swiftly northwards along the line of Ermine Street. Skirting the friendly, and still nominally sovereign, territory of the Iceni to the east, they entered the lands of the Coritani, a very large area occupying much of present day Lincolnshire, northern Cambridgeshire, Rutland and much of Warwickshire. Establishing a base at Longthorpe, a chain of forts was built more or less along the line of Ermine Street at Water Newton, Great Casterton, Ancaster, and probably Navenby. Another fort was built at the junction of the Fosse Way and Ermine Street by South Common [Jones 1980: p279], and the crossing of the Witham was quickly seen to be of considerable strategic importance. The date of the foundation of this earliest fort is moot, but it was certainly before 50 CE  and it was big enough to house at least a vexillation of Legionaries [Ibid: p279].


In due time, the road north was extended up to the Humber Estuary, where a further installation was built, probably at Winteringham. Thus the whole of Lincolnshire east of the Trent was enclosed, and sea access to the supply depots at Fingringhoe and Rutupiae established. A line of forts such as those at Marton, East Stoke, and the large brigade base at Newton-on-Trent quickly grew up along Trisantona Flumen (River Trent), further augmenting the western defences. Without doubt the eastern area received some military occupation, as the  fort at Kirmington, which guarded a strategic gap in the Lincolnshire Wolds [Jones 1980: p287], would testify. Indeed the configuration of military installations in Lincolnshire presents a textbook example of the principles of defence in depth, consolidation of the rear and the establishment of a flexible and efficient logistical infrastructure. The whole network is a tribute to the professionalism of the IXth.


But it was at Lincoln, with its central position and water access via the Witham, that the main military activity began to coalesce. Although the first fort was established at the road junction, occupation quickly developed along the one to one and a half kilometre stretch from the road fork to the river [Jones 1980: p 270], and beyond: the higher ground just north of the bend in the river and a fort was built there. It certainly seems probable that a fort was established on the site of the later castrum long before the main fortress itself was constructed [Ibid: p281], but in due time the strategic imperatives of the site dictated the foundation of the main Legionary fortress as the heart of the Legion. When this was built is moot. It may have been as early as 52 CE [Ibid p279] or as late as 60 CE or later [Frere 1987: p55], but whatever the date, its comparatively small size (16.8ha) [Ibid: p57] would indicate that, like Isca Dumnoniorum, the complete Legion was never in residence at any one time. Like II Legio, they were garrisoned out in vexillations all across the countryside.


The reasons for the establishment of another full Legionary fortress at Lindum remain obscure. The land of the Brigantes was just to the north and this people had entered into a treaty relationship with Rome at an early date. The Coritani, whose territory Lindum sat astride, may well have become a client kingdom by personal appointment to Claudius when he received submission at Camulodunum. Why establish a a fortress with a Legion in permanent residence in the midst of apparently friendly peoples? Two possibilities arise. The Brigantes and Parisii were both energetic and warlike and, no doubt, rivals in, amongst other things, the good old Celtic custom of head-hunting. Paradoxically, the Romans, who routinely and cheerfully inflicted the most brutal of outrages upon living captives, were quite horrified by the ancient Celtic cult of the head and its (relatively) retail casualties. Perhaps the general staff felt that a strong military presence was needed to keep the peace between two violent neighbours and the Icenian allies to the South.


A much more likely reason, of course, is that Rome had grave doubts about the protestations of friendship their new allies had made, a view that, subsequently, was fully vindicated. The reliability of these new friends was very suspect, and the most serious cause for concern would have been the squabbles of the Brigantian royal family. Cartimandua, for whatever reasons, had thrown in with the Romans while her husband Venutios was firmly opposed to the foreigners. There was obviously fuel here for future discord, and a Legion in close proximity to potential trouble spots was no more than sound insurance. And there can be no doubt that further domination was planned. Ultimately, the question of the Roman conquest of northern Britain was one of when, not if. The Legions were positioning themselves, consolidating their rear and gathering their collective breath for another push north.


Meanwhile, all was good fellowship on the surface and the Romans were anxious to keep the peace with the Brigantes. The lands beyond the Humber were rather uninteresting, and there was trouble of a more immediate kind in Wales, trouble which would hold the attention of the Legions for some time to come.


XIV Legio proceeded cautiously along Watling Street into the north west. A small fort was built at Verulamium, close to the site of the old Cattuvellaunian settlement of Prae Wood, but nearer to the river Ver. This little settlement would quickly flower into the new municipium of the friendly Cattuvellauni who had surrendered to Plautius shortly before. Forts, which would later be handed over to civilian control, were built along the line of Watling Street: Durocobrivis (Dunstable), Magiovinium (Dropshort), Lactodurum (Towcester), Bannaventa (Whitton Lodge) and Tripontium (Caves) [Ordnance Survey map 1978]. At Venonis (High Cross), Watling Street intersects the Fosse Way and here a larger and permanent fort, the only major installation between Corinium (Cirencester) and Ratae (Leicester), was founded. XIV Legio edged forward, to Manduessedum (Mancetter), Letoctum (Wall), and Penocrucium (Water Eaton) and ultimately to the establishment of the Legionary fortress at Viriconium (Wroxeter) that housed not only the aquilae of XIV Legio, but elements of XX Legio as well .


By the time that Plautius laid down his command and left Britain in 47, the boundary of the new province had been set along a line extending roughly from the mouth of the Exe to the mouth of the Humber, along the line of the limestone escarpment that runs from the Cotswolds to Lincoln Edge. He had the Fosse Way, so named because of its ditches, built along the line of forward advance not so much as a frontier dividing Roman and foreign territory but as a means of communication for the forts of the three Legions strung along a very fluid military zone. By 50 CE the whole of Britain south of a line drawn from Sabrina Aesturium (the Bristol Channel) and Abus Aesturium (the estuary of the Humber) was under the command of Plautius’ successor Publius Ostorius Scapula. The line was strongly garrisoned, as much to keep an eye on tribes of uncertain loyalty as to keep enemies out of Roman territory, but it had a weak point in the centre as Scapula would find out in due course. Dumnonia was peaceful and carrying on with its life, Icenia was a client kingdom surrounded by Roman military installations, the Coritani were apparently quiescent, and Brigantia was on friendly terms with the Emperor. The whole of what would one day be England was under Roman sway or at Roman command.


All too soon it became apparent that the Fosse Way was an insecure frontier, vulnerable to attack from the north and the west. It would only have ever been intended as a temporary forward position, the arterial route of a military zone. What its ultimate purpose may have been is uncertain, but surely it could never have been much more than a breathing space. Nobody would have seriously believed that the Silures of South Wales would have been peaceful neighbours, and they were only part of the overall picture. The Welsh mountains and the marches, where Caratacos still held out, were home to the Ordovices and Cornovii, both of whom raided over the border incessantly.


The Silures of South Wales presented a particularly intractable problem. Even after Caratacos had been captured, the west remained turbulent and defiant and II and XIV Legiones were stretched between their bases at Isca and Viriconium for another quarter of a century. This presented the Romans with something of a quandary.


Claudius seems to have envisaged the conquest of the easily administered, fertile and much more lucrative lowlands of the south and east, with buffer states of friendly tribes between the Province and the mountainous and wild west and north. Whilst there can be no doubt that ultimate expansion into these areas was inevitable and indeed foreordained as a matter of the Roman divine mission, a long a costly war of attrition for these rather uninteresting territories was not something that Rome particularly wanted.


That, however, was what she got.





Chapter 10: Notes to the Text.


[1] The solar deity Lud/Llud/Lugus/Lugh  etc was worshipped in some variation throughout the Celtic world. The world means “light” and is related to the Latin lux.


[2] Nudd is the same as the healing Nodens or Nudens of the ancient sanctuary at Lydney. It is often assumed, solely on the basis of a similarity betwen names, that Nudd is also the same as the Irish Nuada Argetlam – Nuada of the Silver Hand – and was worshipped in the west of Britain as Nudd llaw eraint – Nudd of the Silver Hand.


[3] It is believed, for example, that the great Cathedral of Chartres sits on top of what was once one of the most sacred sites of Celtic Gaul, the principal nemeton or sacred grove of the Forest of the Carnutes.


[4] Merrifield 1965: p117. Mr. Merrifield presumes the Roman bridge(s) to have been sited somewhere between the bottom of Fish Hill Street and Botolph Lane.


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