04:01. The War in the West.

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 4.

Chapter 04.01.

The War in the West.



04:01:01. The Resistance of the Silures.

The defeat of Caratacos led to a feeling that resistance in Britain was at an end with the elimination of the greatest of its leaders, a feeling that might have led to some complacency within the High Command. The war in the west was at an end and, barring a few expeditions to mop up residual recalcitrance, there would now be peace on the western frontier. Not so.


Perhaps the legions had forgotten Togodumnos and the fury of his vengeful warriors at his death. That had been one of Aulus Plautius’ worst moments, for that could have been the one time when his march to victory could have been turned around. Little infuriated the Celtic peoples so much as injury to their leaders, as Suetonius Paullinus would find out in a few short years when the whole of East Anglia would arise in wrath at the affront to their outraged queen Boudica. The British “feeling of pity for so great a king kindled within them greater passion for revenge” [Tacitus: Agricola xi]. The respite from war in the west was to be very brief, and there were no glorious and speedy victories for Rome. Rather the opposite, in fact. The strategy of Rome in her battle for the western highlands became increasingly fragmentary, indicating contradictory and vacillating policies on the Roman side and a firmness and unity of purpose on the part of the British. Roman military planning was kept to a tactical level, dealing with tribes one at a time, picking at the problem piecemeal. As the great Prussian General Von Clauswitz was to observe some eighteen centuries later, warfare is an extension of politics and thus, if political goals are muddy and ill-defined then the military goals must be likewise. Von Clauswitz was talking about 18th century warfare, but his axiom is universal. The High Command seemed incapable of viewing the overall strategy, which hints at political uncertainty at the highest levels, and at endemic rivalries between legionary commanders.


This rivalry was one of two intransigent problems facing the Roman army of occupation. The fifties of the first century saw intense politicking in Rome as dynastic infighting racked the highest levels of society. There was continual plotting and scheming. Senior men saw military service as a means of increasing their own dignitas and bolstering their own power bases at home while minimising that of competitors. The systematic reduction of the new province took second place to this terrible urgency. But the greatest single cause behind this sudden dithering was the withdrawal of the imperial will. With the defeat of Caratacos, Claudius’ British campaign had been fully completed, neatly rounded off and tied up in a tidy parcel with the submission of the King. Caesar seems then to have then lost any particular interest in the Province. Caratacos had been the focal point of Claudius’ one and only moment of military glory and with the extirpation of that threat, the Emperor turned his mind to other matters. Claudius was far from secure. He had problems at home and elsewhere and now that the unfinished business bequeathed to him by Julius Caesar had been taken care of, Britain became simply another province. Britain had been a means of enhancing the dignitas of the Emperor by providing him with a ‘real’ military victory. He then lost interest in the matter and quite probably required little more of his Governors and legionary commanders than that they hold on to what had been taken. Rome had, after all, secured all of Britain that was of any economic value.


No general advance would be taken except at the Emperor’s command. Roman generals were very wary of taking strategic initiatives on their own, as this would be viewed with deep suspicion at home. Such men would be seen, with some considerable degree of truth, to harbour overweening political ambitions and campaigns undertaken would be looked upon as quests for glory and popularity at Rome, not to mention wealth with which to fund their political aspirations. Concerted military action in the provinces, unsanctioned by the Emperor, would be seem only as a preliminary to rebellion and a direct assault on the purple. The Emperors of Rome, almost to a man, were suspicious to the point of paranoia (indeed, with very good reason), and those who were so much as hinted at as harbouring rebellious notions were dealt with swiftly, sharply and permanently. No-one in this politically perilous period was prepared to rock the boat of state unless they were very, very sure of themselves. Hence the strategic hopping from foot to foot.


The extreme power of the Imperial will can be seen on numerous occasions throughout the period of the Roman occupation of Britain. When the Imperial will was directed at the province and specific orders given by the Emperor, events could proceed with dizzying speed and devastating accuracy. When the Imperial will was absent or engaged elsewhere, the administration stagnated and was able to do little more than hold the line. Tribes beyond the border would become restive and self-confident with results that were often staggeringly expensive in terms of money, material, lives and morale. All this added up to a very dangerous situation for Rome and a very insecure existence for the legionaries stationed along the western limes.


The Silures kept up the fight. Caratacos had been defeated, but they had not. Their land had been invaded but not occupied, much less pacified. A major battle had been lost but the war went on. Tales of Caratacos and his last stand would have circulated and lost nothing in the telling, inspiring men of all tribes and lighting the flame of freedom behind increasingly embittered Celtic eyes. So enduring, indeed, was the personality of Caratacos that his memory survived the Roman Empire into the mythology of sub-Roman Wales where he was conflated with the pagan Welsh demi-god Caradawc the Strong-Armed [Squire 1905: p271]. A son of Bran, the grim god of death and carnage, Caradawc/ Caratacos proved so popular that the Christians tried to syncretise his cult with that of Christian hagiography. A medieval legend was circulated in which Caradawc was taken to Rome (with his father, Bran!) where he remained for seven years during which he was converted to Christianity, eventually returning to Britain where he was an enthusiastic evangelist for the new faith! [Ibid: p386].


From the fastnesses of the Forest of Dean and the rugged glens of the Black Mountains the Silures continued their resistance, and they achieved considerable success. They had learned a bitter lesson in that the Celtic warrior was no match for the Roman soldier in formal, open battle, so they opted for other ways of fighting. Working out of the difficult and rugged country west of the Severn, they tormented the Romans continually with an incessant guerilla campaign, causing heavy losses and delivering hammer blows to legionary morale. Had they been able to keep up this form of warfare, had the British people been able to unite together for a little while, had but Cartimandua sunk her differences with her rivals and allowed the Brigantes to throw their weight into the fray, history might have been different. But history was to favour Rome.


Scapula, with Caratacos and company in tow, had departed Britain for Rome in the autumn of 51 to bask in the gratitude of Claudius, leaving the province in the hands of his legati for the winter. He had left orders for forts to be constructed along the Welsh marches and in Silurian territory. The first blow of the next stage of the war descended here, probably in the winter of 51 – 52, when it was least expected as civilised people (id est Romans) fought during the summer and then withdrew into their forts and towns during the winter.


It is not known where the Silures struck, but the fortress at Clyro in the valley of the Wye has been suggested [Webster & Dudley 1965: p171] because of its strategic position on the edge of the Black Mountains, and it was certainly big enough to have merited the oversight of a Camp Prefect. The fortress was overwhelmingly assaulted by the Silures [Webster 1978: p61] when it was under construction, and only the arrival in the nick of time of relief columns from other garrisons prevented a massacre. As it was, Roman casualties were heavy and the prafectus castrorum, the third most senior officer in the legion, eight centurions and large numbers of the best troops died in the attack. The Silures were jubilant, but for the Romans this was dire news. The vexillation building the fortress could not have comprised much less than a thousand men of XX Legio, and they were almost wiped out. If Scapula had not already returned to Britain by this time, news of the debacle would surely have brought him back with all speed.


Shortly after that a foraging party was attacked and put to flight, as was cavalry sent to their assistance. Auxiliaries sent out to relieve the relievers fared little better and again Roman casualties were heavy. Only when Scapula threw in heavy infantry did the tide of battle begin to turn and the Romans began to gain the upper hand. The battle now involved the greater part of two legions and was clearly a major engagement, but by the time the battle was swinging against them, night was falling and the Silures made off under cover of darkness to escape almost unscathed, leaving the legions badly bloodied. Again, the site of this battle is unknown, but the Forest of Dean and the swamps at the mouth of the Severn have been suggested [Webster & Dudley 1965: p171] as this region would be close enough to the fortress at Glevum to be within striking distance of Scapula’s columns in the short time available.


The second engagement was a full-scale battle involving forces of legion strength, and if Tacitus had been a historian in the modern sense, it would have commanded at least as much space in the Annals as the action at Mons Graupius. The first engagement was clearly a major defeat, while the second, although inconclusive in strictly military terms, was a major blow to troop morale and a political disaster. More can be read into Tacitus’ brief account from what he omits than what he actually says: this episode was virtually a campaign and the legions were losing.


Several more guerilla actions followed in what amounted to a general offensive deep within Roman-held territory. Sometime after the battle of the Forest of Dean, two cohorts of auxiliaries were engaged in a looting expedition deep within Silurian territory where, because of the greed and complacency of their praefecti, they failed to take adequate precautions such as sending out scouts and posting sentries. As a result of this neglect of basic military procedure, the Silures surrounded them and cut them off from escape. The implication is that two cohorts, a thousand men, were massacred [Tacitus: Annals xii:37]. The Romans once again suffered heavy losses, and, perhaps even more worrying, considerable loss of face for the Silures had not simply beaten them in battle, they had made them look clumsy and inept. Overall, these three sets of actions would have constituted a major boost for Silurian morale and would have had excellent propaganda value, while Roman morale plummeted.


The dogged and bitter guerilla war continued for years along the Welsh Marches with a continuing series of skirmishes and minor battles during which the Silures and Ordovices, although unable to push the invaders back nevertheless enjoyed considerable military success. The legions were hard pressed and still lacked clear directives came from Rome. Unable to pull back without considerable cost and the accompanying shame of admission of defeat, and not daring to launch a major offensive without the express orders of the Emperor, Scapula was in a deadly bind, damned if he did and damned if he did not. Von Clauswitz again: confused political objectives mean confused military strategies.


The propaganda war, too, continued, fuelled by such reports [Tacitus: Annals xii:37] as an unnamed Roman commander’s repeated pronouncement that the Silures would have to be wiped out as had the Sugambri, a German tribe that had been almost annihilated on the orders of Augustus in about 8 BCE, the survivors being transplanted to Gaul on the other side of the Rhine. The military successes, propaganda, and gifts of the Silures began to attract support and incite other tribes to rebellion (ad defectio trahebant)[Tacitus: Annals xii:39], which would imply that peoples who had previously surrendered to Rome or were actually within the province were ready to go on the warpath. Whom these might have been – Dobunni? Cornovii? Durotriges? – is pure speculation, but there can be no doubt that the tribal unity that Scapula had cracked wide open at the Battle of the Upper Severn in 51, when Caratacos was taken, was starting to take shape again, reforged anew in the fires of success.


Scapula himself was being worn to a frazzle. He had been awarded the coveted triumphal honours for the capture of Caratacos and what had appeared to be the conquest of the west and now the whole thing was turning to dust in his hands. The war was not over at all. Not only was it still going on it was actually escalating and, worst of all, he was losing and knew it.


In 52 CE, Publius Ostorius Scapula, “worn out by the unremitting burden of his responsibilities” [Tacitus: Annals xii:39], died, apparently from nervous exhaustion. That a provincial governor, a proconsular, should die in office at such a critical time was an unexpected embarrassment in Rome and the selection of a replacement would have taken time. There would have been a flurry of activity at the highest levels of government. Understandably, the news was greeted with jubilation amongst the Silures, who promptly intensified their attacks. The absence of an overall commander was always a difficult time in the province as the tribes realised full well that the Roman administration was then divided and even more indecisive than usual. A new man, Aulus Didius Gallus, was despatched with all speed from Rome to replace Scapula. An elderly and experienced proconsular, he had been praefectus equitatus, the general officer of cavalry under Aulus Plautius during the invasion of 43 and therefore had first hand knowledge of local conditions. He seems to have been the best choice available and, as events transpired, he was a very good choice.




04:01:02. Aulus Didius Gallus.

Gallus was an elderly nobleman whom Tacitus describes as senectute gravis et multa copia honorum [Tacitus: Annals xii:40], burdened with age and having many honours to his credit. He was born in about 8 – 7 BCE [A Birley 1981: p46], in or near the eastern Italian coastal town of Histonium which appears to have been the centre of the family of the Didii [Ibid: p45] and may well have been a scion of the ancient Sabellian aristocracy of that land, which would nevertheless have made him, in Roman eyes, one of the New Men of the Senate [Ibid: p45]. He was appointed to the plum position of quaestor caesaris to Tiberius in 19 CE, probably at the usual age of twenty-five, an office reserved for those in exceptional favour [Ibid: p45] and an indicator that he was destined for an exceptional career. It is almost certain that he served both as a military tribune, perhaps under Tiberius himself in his German campaigns which would account for his favour later, and on one of the four boards of commission of the vigintivirate prior to his quaestorship, but there is no record of this. He would have become either an aedile or Tribune of the People in about 21, and held the praetorship in about 23. Following this he was attached to a proconsular Governor of the province of Asia, probably either M. Aemilius Lepidus or, even more probably, P. Petronius [Ibid: p46]. A good relationship with the latter would have drawn him into the ambit of the Vitellian group [Nicols 1978: p15], a circle of related families that enjoyed enormous power and influence under Claudius and which was then on its rise to fame. Alliance with Petronius would have served him well indeed.


He then served a term as Governor of Sicily and later as curator aquarum, the director of aqueducts at Rome in 38 [Frontinus: Aqueducts 102:7]. As carriers of the vital supply of water to the teeming capital of the world, the aqueducts were of extreme importance and their management was usually placed under the control of a proconsular, but Gallus appears to have held the consulship, together with Gnaeus Domitius Afer, in 39 [A Birley 1981: p47]. His proconsular military career under the principate of Claudius was a busy one.


It seems quite possible that he was praefectus equitatus, a general officer of cavalry, for the invasion force of Britain in 43, in which case he would have been well occupied for a year or so, and would have gained unique first-hand knowledge of Britain, an experience shared by few. He gained further experience in frontier administration as Governor of Moesia in 45-46 [Tacitus: Annals xii:15]. He had won the ornamenta triumphalia for his successful campaign to restore Cotys to the kingdom of Crimea, and campaigned against Mithridates of Crimean Bosphorus, and would at the same time have been involved in the breakup of Tiberius’ Balkan command into the provinces of Moesia, Macedonia and Achaia. He then returned to Rome, where he resumed his position as curator aquarum until taking up the governorship of Asia in 49-50 [A Birley 1981: p48].


Then came the prospect of the governorship of Britain, and the circumstances of his appointment are quite curious. It would seem that he had been lobbying for some time for the command of a certain province (unnamed), and had been eager for the position, but when awarded the governorship was then loathe to take it up leading to some acerbic words in the Senate from his old colleague Domitius Afer [Quintilian: 6:3:68]. There seems little doubt that this province was Britain, but in the time between lobbying and appointment there had come about a change of circumstances, for by that time Caratacos had been taken, removing any incentive for quick glory, and the situation was deteriorating rapidly [A Birley 1981: p44].


On his arrival in Britain, Gallus found that matters had gone from bad to worse. The whole of the western front was in a state of disarray if not actually on the point of collapse. The Silures had been raiding and plundering far and wide and there had been another major military disaster in which an entire legion, probably XX Legio [Frere 1987: p65] under Gaius Manlius Valens [Tacitus: Annals xii:40] had been beaten back with heavy losses. Where this debacle had occurred is unrecorded, but it was without doubt in Silurian territory and on difficult terrain. All such defeats occurred in densely wooded country (for example, the clades Variana in Germany) or on very broken ground where the legionaries were unable to array themselves in close order of battle, or perform the highly effective manoeuvres at which they excelled and which invariably proved devastating to an enemy when exercised on open ground. Valens may have been trying to win a bit of glory for himself – in 52 he would already have been about 45 years old, well above the average age of legionary commanders (Vespasian, for example, was about 33 years old in 43 when he landed in Britain with II Legio) – by seeking battle in the densely wooded glens of the Black Mountains or the Berwyns. If so, his little attempt at self-aggrandisement backfired in his face, and it would be a long time before he was allowed to forget it. In 69, during the troubles surrounding the rivalries of the four Emperors, he was still a legionary commander [Tacitus: Histories i:64]. As commander of I Legio Italica, he was then 62 years old and, with the usual age of legionary commanders being in the mid 30’s, the oldest man on record to hold that office. He finally achieved the fasces under Domitian in 96, when, at the ripe age of 89, he again became the oldest man on record ever to hold the office of consul.


Tacitus says [Annals xii:40] that Valens suffered a ‘reverse’, and speaks of ‘magnified reports’ of losses put about by the Silures to frighten the new Governor, and by Valens himself to increase his glory if he later managed to make good his losses. He would be right up to a point, but Tacitus is hardly an unbiased reporter. A ‘reverse’ could be almost anything from a hasty retreat with a few bruises up to and including virtual annihilation. In light of the Silures’ successes to date, and the fact that Tacitus carefully glosses over what was clearly a critical action, the latter extreme is probably nearer the truth.


Tacitus certainly did not think much of Gallus. He paints a picture of a rather lethargic and self-seeking elderly nobleman, full of honours and approaching his dotage, if he had not actually arrived there. The reality is quite different. The new legatus was elderly, to be sure, but he had a wealth of experience and was far too shrewd to go rushing into things. ‘Firm but cautious’ could have been his motto, and he quickly set about making repairs. He seems to have been content to hold the line of the marches against the Silures and Ordovices, extending II Legio, based at Glevum, and XIV Legio, now based at Letocetum (Wall), along an extended and difficult border. The wily old commander managed to beat the tribesmen back behind an increasingly extensive line of forts and hold them there. Unable, or perhaps unwilling, to actually move into Silurian territory, he nevertheless managed to contain them within their mountains. This was a major feat and obviously involved some excellent soldiering on Gallus’ part as the western tribes were henceforth contained and unable to break out of the stranglehold along the Welsh Marches. They were not broken, but they were contained.


Problems, however, were not confined to the west. Trouble was brewing in the north and the land of the Brigantes was again rumbling with civil war that threatened to boil over into the province. Tacitus’ accounts [Tacitus: annals xii:40, Histories iii:45] seem to be a little conflated in time and the second account, in the Histories, appears to describe events in 69 while referring back to events 52-53. A reconstruction of the events may be as follows:


Cartimandua had been Queen of the Brigantes for years, and was married to a certain Venutios. The marriage had been happy enough for a while, but Cartimandua, with Plautius’ invasion and rapid advance against the Cattuvellauni, had quickly become a regina socia of Rome, while Venutios remained anti-Roman. Still the tension was not too great, and Venutios remained loyal to Rome in name at least. The breaking point in the relationship came with the Queen’s betrayal of Caratacos to Rome. The Cattuvellaunian king had become a hero to the anti-Roman factions all over Britain, and Venutios especially held him in great respect. Cartimandua’s action was deemed the most base treachery, and acrimony flared into open violence. Cartimandua, already wealthy, prospered even more under the benefit of Roman patronage, and her great wealth engendered greater self indulgence. She divorced Venutios and married Vellocatos, the Brigantian king’s armour-bearer and a man supposedly totally loyal to his Lord. This double insult resulted in a civil war that was continue for nearly two decades to come, and which threatened not simply Cartimandua but Rome as well, as Venutios led war-bands first against his ex-wife’s supporters and then against her Roman friends. This flare-up occurred just as Gallus was tightening the screws on the western highlands, and he could not allow such high-handed action to go unchallenged.


That Gallus, quite properly, entrusted the suppression of this activity to a subordinate, Caesius Nasica and IX Legio, seems to refute any claims by Tacitus that he was a seeker after fame. It may also suggest that the campaign was not particularly important. When the rebellious Venutios was driven back, the elderly Gallus was content to return to the defensive. He was obviously wise enough to realise his own limitations and those of his men and perceptive enough to realise that his best course, for the time being, was to maintain the line. Claudius in his later years was appallingly indecisive, and the maintenance of the status quo meant sustaining a frontier that was lagging well behind its logical and natural development. Imperial vacillation had as much to do with the continuance of Silurian independence as the valour of their arms. Certainly Gallus seems to have held the Silures in check, and it is instructive to note that there are no further reports of incursions by that people into Roman territory. It may also be, of course, that Tacitus’ reports [Tacitus: Annals xii:40] of exaggerated claims of trouble so that ‘his fame might be the greater if he settled matters’ could indicate that those matters were perhaps not as dire as they may have been painted [Warmington 1976: p45].


Whatever contemporary doubts may have been cast upon Gallus’ competence, there can be no question but that he was successful in his governorship and carried out the instructions of Rome very satisfactorily. He managed to build and garrison forts within Brigantian territory and along the Welsh Marches, further strengthening Rome’s military dispositions. He was even able to relax and take an interest in matters in Rome, and the following anecdote, recorded by Tacitus, would suggest that Gallus was what would be known today as a lateral thinker.


Gallus had an adoptive son, Aulus Didius Gallus Fabrics Veiento. At the time of Gallus’ incumbency as governor of Britain, Veiento was elected Praetor, a magistracy that would automatically lead to the Senate. Influential conservatives at the time were trying to keep Claudius’ ‘new men’ out of the Senate, endeavouring to retain control of that august body exclusively in the hands of vested interests, and they attempted to exclude Veiento financially. As Senators had to be able to command a certain high level of wealth as a criterion of their eligibility to sit in the curia, one way to effectively block a young upstart from entering the Senate was to ensure that he lacked sufficient financial means. Veiento was thus ‘set up’ in a situation that was bound to bankrupt him. His enemies tried to compel the young man to provide ruinously expensive games to celebrate his appointment, an ancient Roman tradition which would have meant that he would either have to borrow money from rich conservatives (thus becoming their client and under their control), or he would have insufficient finances to satisfy the demands of the censor and be excluded from power on the grounds of penury. To hike up the expenses, the charioteers were bribed to refuse to race unless their already high fees were doubled.


Veiento, in desperation, appealed for help from his adoptive father. Gallus sent him some of the fast, powerful hunting dogs for which Britain was renowned and of which it was the principal source. Veiento then held dog races instead of chariot races, to the delight of the populace. The conservatives and their charioteer cronies were jeered into submission and Veiento took office.


But meanwhile, back in Britain, a hard fact was becoming increasingly obvious: the original forward line from the Trent to the Severn  could not guarantee the safety of Roman citizens and their interests. The north was unstable, there was more or less continual warfare in the west. The security of the province demanded more general annexation, the garrisoning of a much wider area and the establishment of a short limes, perhaps from the Mersey to the Trent. The loyal native chieftains and client kings were also clearly unhappy. Loans made to them by unscrupulous Romans of means (who could lend money to non-citizens at any rate of interest they were able to impose) were becoming a source not only of real financial hardship but of bitterness and indignation. Gallus would have sent home reports that spoke of both external and internal dangers.


The viability of the province was now open to serious question, and there may have been some who argued that withdrawal from the province may have been in the best interests of all. The Emperor Nero, freshly on the throne, took a keen interest in proceedings and Burrus and Seneca, his mentors and advisors, seem to have thought that withdrawal was the expedient answer to the problems. But Nero still reverenced his predecessor and adoptive father Claudius and was loathe to repudiate the latter’s finest hour. Moreover, with the conquest of the Degeangli by Scapula, Rome was becoming more aware of the mineral wealth of highland Britain. Nero decided, for whatever reasons, that the province must be held and stern measures taken. Gallus’ successor would have to be both a competent and experienced soldier and a very able diplomat, a man capable of launching a decisive military offensive while at the same time smoothing the ruffled feathers of proud Celtic chieftains who had not yet realised that they were slaves of Rome. Perhaps a factor in Gallus’ extended term was the difficulty in first finding such a man and then freeing him from other duties.




04:01:03. The Brief Career of Quintus Veranius.

Gallus’ successor was Quintus Veranius, a man of excellent credentials. His career prior to his arrival in Britain, probably late in 57, may be summarised as follows [This section is based largely upon  A Birley 1981: pp50 – 54].


As Veranius’ appointment as quaestor has been dated to 37 CE, and this position was usually taken up at the age of 25, it is assumed that he was born in about 12 CE. His father, Quintus Veranius the elder, had served as a legionary commander under Germanicus in 18 CE and had been instrumental in the organisation of the new province of Cappodocia in the east. He belonged to the Umbrian tribe Clustumina, although no Veranii are known within that area and it is possible that the gentilicium may be associated with Verona. No cognomen is known, and he remains unusual in an age when the use of the tria nomina was almost universal.


Young Veranius served as military tribune in Legio IV Scythica, then stationed in Moesia, so he would not have seen a great deal of action, after which he was a member of the vigintivirate, serving in the position of tresvir monetalis. This position was especially sought after, and its achievement by a man of plebian rank was a sign of especial patronage. Those so chosen were usually assured of especially successful careers [A Birley 1981: p5]. His prospects were further boosted when he was appointed, in 37, to the favoured post of quaestor caesaris under Tiberius, a position which he continued to hold for its full term under Gaius. He then remained unemployed until 41, when he was appointed tribunus plebis, a Tribune of the People. In this capacity he was one of two sent by the Senate to Claudius while he was ensconced in the Praetorian Barracks after the murder of Gaius. The Senate, of course, wanted Claudius to accept their authority and retreat from his claim on the purple, a demand that the future princeps refused. Both Veranius and his companion, another Tribune of the People by the name of Brocchus, made supplication to Claudius, an act which tickled his vanity and certainly stood Veranius in good stead in later years, for he certainly prospered under the new Emperor.


His favour became apparent almost immediately in that he was appointed a praetor for 42, possibly to replace the man who had been designated for that year, subsequently forced to resign and then murdered [Dio: lx:15].


Veranius was sent east to Lycia almost immediately after his praetorship, to sort out some unpleasantness in which Roman citizens had been killed. As Lycia was annexed in 43 and added to the province of Pamphylia, it is virtually certain that the conquering hero was Quintus Veranius at the head of Syrian legions. His sojourn in the east lasted for five years, from 43 to 47, during which time he was obviously both busy and very successful. Returning to Rome in the autumn of 47 he was showered with honours by Claudius and may have received the ornamenta triumphalia, which could only reflect an excellent achievement but the fact must be tempered with caution by Claudius’ known proclivity for the bestowal of lavish honours. Without doubt his exploits firmly established his military reputation. Besides the ornamenta, he was elevated to patrician rank, awarded a prestigious priesthood and was designated consul ordinarius for 49. Proconsulars were in high demand at this period, so his office was cut short after perhaps four months to make room for a further man, but he was by no means unemployed. He thereupon was appointed to the prestigious position of curator of temples and public buildings, a position analogous to that of a modern Minister of Works.


Interestingly, he does not appear to have been appointed, as would have been usual. to the proconsular governorship of a senatorial province, but continued in his duties as curator for some years. Perhaps he was involved in some politicking at a very sensitive time, or perhaps he was simply happy to stay at home in Rome or on his estates, enjoying his family and the very comfortable life of a landed Roman aristocrat. That he had a family is certain, but the name of his wife is not known although, guessing from a known child’s name of Octavilla, she may have been an Octavia which could suggest connections to the Julio-Claudians. Despite his relatively humble background, his career had been meteoric and a dynastic link with the first family of Rome, especially in light of Claudius’ obvious approval, is not to be discounted. Octavilla was one half of a pair of twins and died at the age of six years and ten months. Her sister, Verania Gemina, married the unfortunate Piso Licinianus whom the ephemeral Emperor Galba nominated as his heir and with whom he died five days later. Gemina survived this nasty episode and lived for many years after, although no further record of the family can now be traced.


By 57 CE Gallus had been Governor for nearly six years and, although he had done a worthy job in securing the territories already held, he had, for some time now, done little more than that. It was time for a new broom to enter the area and sweep Roman dominion across the western highlands of Britain. It was a job for a senior but vigorous man of known energy and expertise. Veranius, now 45 years of age and at the peak of his powers and prestige, seems to have put himself forward for the job. Clearly something of a sycophant [Tacitus: Annals xiv:29], he was appointed with due pomp at one of the great spectacles over which Nero presided and at which Veranius himself may have had some particular role in his capacity of curator of temples. His military record was outstanding, thanks to his victories in the east, and he seems to have enjoyed something of a reputation as an expert in mountain warfare, although this may have been inflated somewhat as his only known action in such an arena had been the reduction of a fortified Lycian village. Veranius seems to have had something of a penchant for overstating his abilities, which would suggest a somewhat vainglorious view of himself. This quality would be substantiated within a tragically short time.


So Veranius was appointed legatus propraetorius Britanniae to replace the retiring Gallus. The Emperor seems by now to have conceded that the original Claudian limes was too long and too extensive to be policed properly, and that therefore a new and shorter limes should be established across the waist of Britain, probably from the Mersey to the Humber. The Brigantes under Cartimandua would form an effective buffer state to the north, and diplomatic relations would have to be maintained. Caesar instructed his legatus accordingly. Thus armed by Nero with a firm mandate to pursue an aggressive forward policy, Veranius was despatched with all haste to his new command, no doubt leaving behind him a cloud of promises of glorious victories and speedy conquests soon to come.


Arriving in Britain, Veranius made haste to the west and wasted no time in leading columns into Silurian territory. Tacitus [Annals xiv:29] somewhat dismissively describes these incursions as minor plundering raids, but clearly Veranius’ achievement was greater than that. He had planned an extensive and no-holds-barred campaign into the mountains, and a 3.2 hectare fort (Frere 1987b p49) that was established inside the old hillfort of Brandon Camp near Leintwardine may offer some ideas on the course of the new Governor’s strategy.


Brandon Camp lies roughly half way along the north-south route from Kenchester, which commands the route to Clyro on the Wye and the Legionary base at Wroxeter, well suited to command the route up the Teme Valley into central Wales, and at a point where difficult country and the Teme Gorge preclude a direct approach from the east (Frere 1987b p69). Its purpose is debatable, but the remains of a very large granary may be a clue to its significance in Veranius’ strategy. By the mid fifties of the first century Roman forts and camps had assumed a standard and predictable structure. Brandon Camp is an oddity in that it had no standard buildings and no regular layout but it did have a large and elaborate granary that obviously required considerable effort to construct.  The other buildings were small, suitable for offices, or for the accommodation of small groups (Ibid p63) such as work parties. There is no indication that it could have accommodated even a century of legionaries, and it seems reasonable, therefore, to assume that Brandon Camp was a stores base to maintain the all-important grain supply, and to provide secure facilities for stocks of timber, parked wagons, and the main stores of the merchants who supplied the army, while the main force was in the field (Ibid p63).


Little more than one and a half kilometres west of Brandon Camp lies the Brampton Bryan Marching Camp, which, at 25.9 hectares (Frere 1987b p70) was large enough to accommodate three legions. Not too far to the south east lies the contemporary Walton Fort, hard by which was another very large (17.7 hectare) (Ibid p70) marching camp. The country to the west of these encampments is not particularly high but it is very broken and rugged, which means that the deployment of long baggage trains from – say – Wroxeter, would have been difficult if not impossible. This country had to be crossed however, as the aim of Veranius’ strategy was to push forward into flat central areas among the hills and there to establish forts where concentrations of native population could be controlled (Ibid p71). Thus Veranius’ legions, moving out of Brampton Bryan and Walton camps and perhaps from Brompton and Llwyn-y-Brain to the north and north east, and supplied directly from Brandon Camp, swept into the hills. Their target was the plain of Castell Collen and the Upper Wye, the inner heartland of the Silures(Ibid p71).


This, broadly, was the thrust of Veranius’ first campaign. It was a hard-fought series of small engagements against a resourceful and ever more desperate people in some of the most difficult terrain in Britain, and its ultimate objective was to clear the way for the conquest of Mona and thus the whole of Wales. Without doubt the first campaign was a success, and Veranius was able to overrun the Silures.


The matter of the conquest of Dumnonia and the Roman penetration into Cornwall could also be properly considered at this point. Nothing of this campaign is recorded in the contemporary literature, although it obviously happened and the fort at Nanstallon on the Camel may provide some clues. This permanent fort of some 0.9 hectares was clearly a pre-Flavian foundation and was built for a mixed garrison of legionaries and some auxiliary cavalry [Fox & Ravenhill 1972: pp84 – 88] and its foundation may be put to the decade 55 – 65 [Ibid p88]. The planting of such a fort at such a strategically desirable spot was not an isolated incident, and it could not have stood alone. It must have been part of a complex network of roads and forts built to link it with the securely annexed territory east of the Exe [Ibid p89] and implies a westward advance that was unlikely to have been achieved without a major campaign [Ibid p89]. Who, then, conducted this operation? It was too early for Scapula. Gallus may have ordered it, but it does seem that his attention was directed more towards Wales and the north. Paullinus, Governor from 58 – 61, was far too busy in north Wales and later with Boudica and the aftermath of the Icenian War. It is possible that the Dumnonii engaged the Romans during that conflict, which could account for the mystery of Poenius Postumus and his refusal to move Legio II during the war and could mean that Dumnonia was subsequently invaded. The excavation of the fort, however, reveals that no temporary camp preceded it and that it was built by engineers bivouacked in the near vicinity, which would imply a more leisurely pace of progress than that demanded by the furious Paullinus. His successors, Turpilianus (61 – 63) and Maximus (63 – 69) did little of a military nature, being fully occupied with repairing the shattered province. On the other hand Veranius was ambitious and energetic, and, although Tacitus makes no mention of Veranian movements into Dumnonia, it is quite conceivable that he ordered and achieved a thrust into the south west [Ibid p90], in which case Nanstallon would be a Veranian foundation of the winter of 57 – 58.


The annexation of Dumnonia seems to have been a relatively mild matter. From their base at Isca Dumnoniorum, the legionaries were scattered along the peninsula at forts such as the one at Wiveliscombe, which was very convenient to the iron workings at adjacent Clatworthy. Another small installation was maintained for a while at Nanstallon near the tin mines at Treloy and Carnanton, and a third at Nemeto Statio (North Tawton). This latter, as its name – statio – implies was primarily an office of the Treasury Department whose purpose was the oversight and/or leasing of the nearby stannaries. There were signal stations at Martinhoe and Old Burrow near Porlock Bay on the coast of the Bristol Channel, and another at Stoke Hill just outside Isca, but garrisoning, after the initial occupation, was light and little more than a police presence. Both the Nanstallon fort and the Martinhoe station were Neronian installations [Manning 1976: p33] built in the mid 60’s, the latter, together with Old Burrow, probably to guard against Silurian incursions.


A road was built south and west from Isca, crossing the river near the confluence of the Bovey and the Teign at Teignbridge. There are indications [Jermy 1992: p229] that it continued at least as far as Totnes, and probably further to the Plymouth area. Roman material has been discovered there, but if any settlement was ever made there it has yet to be found. Evidence of Roman occupation is scattered, if somewhat sparsely, over the whole peninsula. There is a considerable concentration around the sounds at the mouths of the Fal and the Tamar (Tamarus Flumen) and it is probable that settlements grew up there, along the road that passed on its way to Isca. If so, the evidence remains buried. A single villa, at Illogan a few miles from St. Ives Bay, is the only evidence of established Roman country life in Cornwall, and the nature of even this establishment is such that it is believed [Wacher 1978: p134] to have been involved with tin production rather than purely agricultural pursuits.


The ancient Dumnonii were left pretty much to themselves, their typical ‘round’ house settlements continuing throughout the Roman period, remaining firmly rooted in iron-age tradition and technique. Some Roman innovations seem to have been adopted, and certainly Roman manufactured goods would have been widely circulated and much desired, but in the main Roman social patterns did not take hold. The elaborate and sophisticated villa buildings of further east did not appear, and this may be put down to simple conservatism on the part of the natives, an attitude that seems to have been strongly resistant to change. Even the excellent farmland around the later civitas of Isca Dumnoniorum failed to produce the expected crop of villas. Dumnonia seems to have been content to quietly and peacefully rusticate.


Unfortunately for Rome, Octavia and Verania Gemina, Veranius’ first campaign in Britain was to be his last. The Governor died before the first year was up, leaving a final testament that spotlighted an apparently high opinion of himself: he boasted on his death bed that, given his full three years, he would have presented his Emperor with a whole province. Following Tacitus, later historians have often taken the statement as no more than the chest beating of one known for self-aggrandisement. But is it? What did Veranius mean by this intriguing comment? To understand properly, it is necessary to work out what he meant by ‘Britain’. He could hardly have meant the entire island from Land’s End to John O’Groats. Did he mean Britannia up to the line of the Mersey and the Humber? Or did he simply mean the territory that he had set out to win, ie Wales? If either of the latter, he may not have been too far wrong in his estimate, for he certainly made greater inroads into Silurian territory that Tacitus’ slighting remark would imply. Certainly there was no further trouble from the Silures, which would imply that he had established some fairly firm control over them. Veranius inflicted far more on them than a few looting expeditions, and his deathbed remark may have been no more than simple fact, even more credible if he had achieved an early success over the Dumnonii as well as his near victory over the Silures [Fox & Ravenhill 1972: p90]. But of that we shall never know, for fate decreed that if Veranius left Britain at all it was as a jar of ashes, and the conquest of Wales would be the work of his successors.


The man who would attempt the next phase of the conquest of the western highlands was another of Nero’s leading military men, a certain Gaius Suetonius Paullinus.




04:01:04. Strategic Considerations.

The death of Veranius sent the central administration into a flurry of activity. A coherent and so far successful military advance had already begun into western central Britannia and a suitable man had to be found to head it as soon as possible, before the impetus faltered. The situation now was primarily military rather than administrative, and therefore a soldier was needed, a military man of proven capability. The choice was Gaius Suetonius Paullinus, a native of the Umbrian town of Pisaurum in the ager Gallicus [A Birley 1981: p55] and another acknowledged expert in mountain warfare. For some years, beginning in 42, he had conducted a spectacular campaign in Mauritania [Dio: lx:4], where he had become the first Roman general to cross the Atlas Mountains [Pliny: Natural History 5:14], thus firmly establishing a sound military reputation. It is probable that he was rewarded for this exploit with ornamenta triumphalia and perhaps a consulate, but this is nowhere directly attested [Birley 1981: p55]. Beyond that, almost nothing is known of him before his arrival in Britain.


The new Governor arrived to take up his post in the autumn of 58. A very able soldier, Paullinus was bad tempered but known for his caution [Tacitus: Histories ii:32]. He was blunt, forthright, and treated the natives with complete contempt. He was quite lacking in any of the diplomatic skills and had the soldier’s disdain for the deviousness of politicians. His primary interest was the protection of the military zone and its extension into the territory of the Ordovices. His brief was the reduction of Mona and, ultimately, the conquest of the Welsh mountains. This matter he approached with a very professional expertise, and the needs of the army and of the campaign came above all other considerations. If the delicate sensibilities of the natives were bruised by his demands and edicts, that was just too bad.


Britannia was a troublesome spot, and expensive to administer. Nero, indeed, was by this time seriously considering withdrawing his forces entirely, keeping them there only, perhaps, because such a decision would have reflected badly on the glory won by his adoptive father Claudius (whom he admired immensely) and later because it would have reflected badly upon himself. Certainly the temptation was there, for there was trouble elsewhere in the Empire and the legions of the powerful British army group could have been put to good use. Seneca, Nero’s mentor and most trusted advisor, certainly thought that Nero might be persuaded to withdraw his legions from the Great Island, which may be why he called in the loans that he had made to British chieftains at such exorbitant interest. Even later, Nero was far from sure of the province, largely, perhaps, on economic grounds. Britain was not rich. It was useful, and an increasing source of minerals and grain, but the cost of the administration and military establishment was such that the province was, and would remain for many years, a net drain upon the fiscus. Although probably much heartened by the testamentary letter of Veranius, some pretty spectacular successes would be needed to convince the Augustus that Britannia was worth the effort of holding. His enthusiasm for the province, as for so many things, fluctuated wildly and depended a great deal upon the influence of Seneca and Burrus.


Paullinus was at this time getting along in years. Exactly what his date of birth was is not known, but it must have been at the latest 11 CE [A Birley 1981: p55] and perhaps quite a bit earlier. He was therefore at least 47 when he took up his post in Britain, and was possibly in his mid fifties, but he was one of the leading soldiers of his time and ambitious to boot. He wanted a glorious victory. He was generally held to be at least the equal of the great Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo in military science [Tacitus: annals xiv:29] and he wanted to equal, if not better, his rival’s recent re-conquest of Armenia. Paullinus had made his reputation in mountain warfare some fifteen or sixteen years beforehand during his north African campaign. It may be that it was solely upon this feat that his reputation rested, for no other military action of his is known, although it is conjectured [A. Birley 1981: p55] that he may have served as Governor in one of the Germanies, Pannonia or Dalmatia between his African triumph and his posting to Britain.


He was quick to see the parallels between Mauritania and Wales. Both were mountainous regions inhabited by fierce tribes backed by more distant and productive hinterlands, in the latter case Mona (Anglesey) and the plain of Glamorgan.


Mona, where the proscribed Druids were still ensconced, supported a large population augmented by many refugees, and was a hotbed of sedition. Roman fear of the Druids was very strong, and Mona was one of the chief centres of the Celtic religion in Britannia, if not in northern Europe. Votive offerings from all over the Great Island and some even from Ierne (Ireland), found their way there. Indeed, Britannia was said to be the source and fountainhead of Druidism. Caesar himself reports that “the Druidic system was invented in Britain and then imported into Gaul. There it is that those wishing to make a more detailed study generally go to learn” [Caesar: DBG vi:13]. Continental Druids travelled to Britain to finish their long training, sometimes as much as twenty years’ [Ibid vi:13] worth, and to study at the most learned centres. Mona was such a centre, perhaps the greatest then surviving, and its initiates were fanatically antagonistic to Rome. They knew only too well that they were fighting a battle to the death and that they were losing, for nothing, it seemed, could withstand the juggernaut of the legions. Plainly the island was a centre of resistance to Rome, offering material support to the tribes of the mountains. Plainly, also, it was much more than that. Mona was the fountainhead of spiritual inspiration and religious fervour and the centre of the hierarchy, a sort of Celtic Vatican. Its reduction would have been a shattering blow to native morale as well as a sound strategic move in a purely military sense.


There can be no doubt that Caratacos’ authority rested heavily on Druidic backing, and that Mona had been a primary source of his moral and logistical support. Now that the great war leader had gone that support was freely given  to his successors in the struggles, the Silures and their confederates. Western Britain could never be subdued while the Druids held the island of Mona.


How well the Romans understood the relationship between Druidism and British politics is not easy to say, but they were not fools and it is reasonably certain that they knew very well what they were dealing with. As a rule, Rome maintained a policy of strict non-intervention when it came to local religions and cults, being very tolerant of or even indifferent to native beliefs provided that said beliefs and religious practices did not run counter to Roman law or Roman interests. Religion is always a very sensitive area and to interfere with the local superstitions is to engender deep and abiding resentments. Pragmatic, prosaic Rome was well aware of this fact and did not interfere with local religious practices without good reason. Intensely superstitious themselves, if not actually religious, the Romans were aware that local deities had power over their own lands and to displease them was to court disaster. Furthermore, they were not out the convert the heathen: priests of Jupiter and Vestal Virgins did not hike off into the hills and jungles on missionary work. Provided the local people paid their taxes, kept the peace, abode by the law and acknowledged the authority of Rome, Rome in its turn could not have cared less what gods were worshipped. Ultimately, as provincials became increasingly romanised the process of translatio romanum would ensure that the local deities were gradually syncretised to the deities of the Roman pantheon and old identifications would become increasingly blurred and at last subsumed within the concept of the analogous Roman deity. Thus British Sul became identified with Minerva, Cocidius with Mars, Camulos with Jupiter and so on.


There were exceptions to this rule when the local religion was tied to concepts of nationalism, and politics were essentially theocratic. There were at least two dramatic examples of this, at opposite ends of the Empire: Judaism and Druidism. The two religions were completely different in many ways, but in some ways were remarkably similar. Both faiths posed a threat to internal security, both were in the hands of a politically powerful priesthood that would brook no compromise to their traditional authority. Both were causing problems in their respective areas, and at more of less the same time. Both faiths underpinned national cohesion and formed the basis of local political structures. In the case of the Druids, a group whose order was made up of men and women drawn from all tribes, they represented the nearest thing to a supratribal polity and the one force capable of welding the disparate and factious Celtic peoples into a coherent confederacy. Both Druidism and Judaism, albeit for totally different reasons, viewed Roman domination with abhorrence. Rome saw a need not so much as to extirpate the religions as such but to destroy the power of the ruling hierarchs. Roman elites had, from the earliest times, recognised the political importance of the control of religion and religious functions, and the occupancy of priesthoods was a preserve and monopoly of the elite rather than of a specialist group of religious professionals. The notion of the control of religion and tradition by such a group was, therefore, a direct challenge to the authority of the elite and indeed a threat to the whole basis of the legitimation of that authority. So far as was possible, Rome eliminated such forces in reality; where they could not do this they either appropriated them or excluded them from notice [North 1995 p146].


The last two of these three options were clearly impossible in this case; Druidism in its form at that time could not be appropriated nor could it be ignored. The only possible course of action was extirpation, a dire course and one fraught with peril and no doubt the authorities would have weighed very carefully the advantages and disadvantages of an attempted destruction, knowing full well that they risked buying trouble on a massive scale. Paullinus saw the need to strike at the island for purely military reasons, but both he and his superiors would have understood the wider implications of the assault and probably approached the campaign only after much soul searching. The make or break decision was made, knowing that not only would the reduction of Mona be of great value strategically, but that the blow would be devastating in a much wider context.


An additional and rather more straightforward incentive to the conquest of Mona was the problem of the Brigantes. A campaign against the sacred island would drive a wedge of Roman territory across the North of Wales, which would cut off moral and logistical support to the Ordovices and any other groups who still resisted. It would also prevent these peoples from linking up with the disaffected elements of the north. Cartimandua, Queen of Brigantia, was still solidly pro-Roman, but her estranged husband Venutios was a force to be reckoned with and could well have been sympathetic to Silurian pleas for help, provided he could also stamp out opposition in his own very extensive back yard. He was still lurking in the north having only recently been driven back by Caesius Nasica and IX Legio, and was rapidly consolidating his powerbase as warlord of northern Britain. To a large extent he had inherited the mantle of Caratacos.


The enmity between Venutios and his estranged wife could erupt at any moment, and Venutios could call upon the vast reserves of manpower of the western lowland tribes of the Selgovae and the Novantae, and of the Carvetii who dwelt around Ituna Aesturium (the Solway Firth). If he succeeded in crushing Cartimandua, he would be in a position to supply substantial and perhaps crucial support to the Britons of the western highlands. The real possibility of an alliance across the west and the north both had to be avoided at any cost.




04:01:05: The Push to Mona.

Paullinus was not a man to waste time, but his actions in that first campaigning season of the spring 60 are unclear. Beginning early, perhaps by March [Carroll 1979: pp197 – 202], he would have consolidated the Roman hold on the Severn valley possibly as far as Caersws [Webster 1978: p87] on the upper river, perhaps at a point not too far from Caratacos’ last stand. XIV Legio Gemina and XX Legio Valeria headed for north Wales. Some at least of XX Legio remained on the banks of the river known as Deva (Dee) after the local river goddess to whom it was sacred, to build a fort as a rear support base. They could do no more at this stage than build a temporary camp, and some twenty more years were to pass before Agricola headed into the region to order its reconstruction on a permanent basis. He would name it Deva, after the river, and it would still be flourishing, under the name of Chester, some two millennia later.


Sensibly, Paullinus avoided the difficult and dangerous passes of Snowdonia and followed the known and probably still pacified coastal route taken by Scapula some years before through the territory of the Degeangli. The passage through northern Wales was nonetheless a hazardous one. The Degeangli had been subdued by Scapula a decade before and no doubt retained sullen memories of their defeat, but what control, if any, had been exercised over them during the intervening ten years and what arrangements, if any, had been struck, is not known. Beyond them again were the Gangani, who controlled the coast of the mainland opposite Mona and who would have been anything but welcoming to Rome, while the Ordovices were on the left flank, a continuing menace. What measures Paullinus took against these people is conjectural, but it seems unlikely that the passage of the army could have remained uncontested. That he won through is a matter of record [Tacitus: Annals xiv: 29:30], but it could not have been easy, and he would have had to have left a substantial proportion of his forces behind him along the line of advance to guard his rear.


But Paullinus’ position was growing stronger by the day. His pieces were all set up on the board. Strong garrisons held the strategically vital points at Glevum, Isca Siluram, Deva and probably also at Caersws and Clyro. With both the lowlands of Flintshire and Denbighshire and the Severn Valley under his control, Snowdonia and the Ordovices were now encircled on three sides. The garrisons of Glevum, Caersws and Clyro would, hopefully, ensure that any attempt by Silurian rebels at a flanking attack would meet with a swift demise. The northern seaboard of Wales was occupied and Mona lay vulnerable. Mona could then be taken, allowing Paullinus to head south along Cardigan Bay to join up with his southern garrisons and Snowdonia would be encircled. After that it was only a matter of tightening the noose. This preparatory operation would have occupied Paullinus for the campaigning season of 59. The troops were sent to winter quarters and by the spring of 60 the trap was sprung. Paullinus, with a force drawn from II, XIV and XX Legiones, and shadowed by supply ships, headed for  Mona.


Arriving on the shores of the Menai Straits, and, presumably, having subdued the Gangani, Paullinus proceeded to take precautions against flanking attacks from the islanders. A fort was built at Bangor at a point that holds a commanding view of a fordable area of the strait. Another fort was built at Segontium (Caernarfon), and it was probably here, on the river Seiont, that the assault craft for the invasion were built. The strait is narrower at Bangor, but the shores of Mona much steeper: Paullinus may have feared a diversionary attack at that point, and may have tried to give an impression that he might cross there to confuse the islanders, but he would not have actually have launched his assault from there. Almost certainly the crossing took place at Segontium.


The passing of the shallow but treacherous strait was made without difficulty, the infantry being ferried on rafts or flat bottomed boats, the cavalry fording or swimming. The British were well aware of the Roman advance: they would have had word of it since Paullinus had moved out from winter quarters, would have expected it for much longer, and the legions had been working in plain view for days or weeks, building their camps and assault craft. The British were ready and waiting. The shore was a mass of tribesmen, not only the men of Mona but die-hard partisans of a dozen tribes. Amongst them were Druids, men and women. The men pronounced fearful anathemas, the women, black-robed and dishevelled, waved firebrands and screamed curses [Tacitus: Annals xiv:30]. The warriors shouted and bellowed imprecations, the carnices, the brazen war-horns without which no Celtic battle array was complete, brayed raucously.


This terrifying spectacle so unnerved the legionaries that many were almost paralysed with terror, and only by dint of exhortations from their officers and the example of senior men did they manage to control their fear and advance. The British were driven back with great loss and the island was taken. The sacred groves were hewn down, the altars broken and a Roman garrison installed. If allowed to continue his campaign without interruption, no doubt Paullinus would have proceeded with a course of action that paralleled his Mauritanian strategy. Having cut off the source of provender and spiritual succour, the legions would then have moved up into the mountains and broken the tribes of the north and centre, and the south. But before anything like this could happen, there came a frantic cry for help from the east. The legions pulled out of Mona even more swiftly than they had come, leaving it to its rightful owners for almost another two decades.


Appalling news began to arrive from the south east. The Iceni had risen under their Queen Boudica. British tribes were rallying to her banner from all directions. Camulodunum was a smoking ruin, and Roman citizens were being slaughtered in droves. The whole east of Britannia that Paullinus had thought securely under the Roman thumb was in flames and the fire was licking its way towards Londinium.


It is not hard to see Druidic machinations into this turn of events. It was not, in fact, an original ploy: they had fomented war in Brigantia ten years before to draw Ostorius Scapula from their island. They were desperate, and anything was expendable in the defence of Mona. No doubt brains had been racked to the point of agony in an attempt to stave off, and then to reverse the invasion. Rome, in the person of the procurator Catus Decianus, had supplied an answer where there had been none. The invasion of the island of Mona was the ultimate act of iconoclasm to the Druidic faith. It struck at the very heart of their religious symbolism, for the island was the main spiritual centre of Britain, home of the senior theological colleges, and it held the greatest concentration of the tokens of worship. The sacrilege of the Roman troops deeply offended the faithful throughout Britain and it is obvious that Boudica’s war, which promptly erupted, had strong religious overtones. It may not be too fanciful to suggest that the war was the nearest British equivalent to a crusade or jihad. It is certain that the flames were fanned by the Druids to draw Paullinus from Mona, as Ordovician resistance was stiffened and Icenian anger encouraged by Druidic exhortation.


Suddenly the Roman army was faced with war on two opposing fronts and in danger not simply of defeat but of annihilation, a prospect that could well mean the abandonment of the province. This the Druids passionately desired. Their wish nearly came true.




04.01.06: Bibliography.

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