04:02. The War of the Iceni.

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 04.02.

The War of the Iceni. 

04:02:01. The Iceni

The territory of the tribe known to history as the Iceni covered most of what is now Norfolk plus parts of  Cambridgeshire and possibly some of Lincolnshire. Like all such native “states”, its make-up was very fluid and its borders fluctuated greatly and often, but if the coin distribution [Allen 1970 p5] is an indicator of the Icenian domain, as it may well be, the heartland of the realm was bounded, more or less by the Ouse, the Lark and the Waveney. Like the Cattuvellauni, the ancestors of the Iceni had begun to arrive from a continental homeland from about 500 BCE onwards and had established themselves as a military aristocracy over the earlier people of the area. In about 150 BCE, more newcomers had descended, arriving from the Marne area of northern Gaul. These were Belgic Celts belonging to the sophisticated Hallstat culture. These mounted and chariot-borne warriors held their horses in great esteem and used them so effectively that they were able to establish themselves as a further ruling elite over their predecessors. These horse-loving Marnian nobles were the ancestors of the chieftains of the Cenimagni who approached Caesar when first the legions of Rome crossed the Thames and who, with others, offered submission. They were also the ancestors of the magistrates and chieftains who ruled in Icenia as kings when at last the legions of Claudius swept away the ancient dynasties forever.

The Cenimagni who Caesar mentions in this Commentaries were possibly the Iceni as a whole, but were much more likely to have been one of the several subdivisions – clans or septs – of that tribe. It is also possible that the otherwise unattested tribes mentioned by Caesar [DBG v:2], the Ancalites, Sogontiaci, Bibroci and Cassi, who evidently inhabited the Lea Valley at least as far as Braughing and perhaps as far as Cambridge, were in some way allied to the Iceni or were part of the same cultural grouping.

Thus it was that a permanent and formal link with Rome was established, a link under which Roman protection was offered, tribute paid in return and perhaps favourable trading conditions flowered. Following Caesar’s departure, the Iceni and their associates enjoyed a period of relative peace and prosperity for a generation or more.

Their power and numbers grew. With the ambitions of Cassivellaunos contained, the threat from the south west was kept at arm’s length. Over the years the Iceni managed to keep the squabbling dynasts of the south at bay, but there can be little doubt that as time went by and authority became entrenched they were to become a target for the warriors of Cunobelinos. The Cattuvellauni began to press hard on Icenian territory, and there would have been internal squabbling and rivalry to further weaken resistance. When the legions of Claudius arrived, the invaders were looked upon as friends and deliverers who would keep the rumbustuous neighbours in check, allowing the Iceni to live in peace. Having been clients of Rome since the days of Caesar, a more or less cordial relationship existed between patron and client throughout the earliest period of the conquest.

The Iceni first began minting coins in about 10 BCE in imitation of the Cattuvellaunian issues of Tasciovanos [Cunliffe 1978 p79]. They soon developed their own styles and motifs, however, principal among them an animal that could be either a boar or a horse, both animals venerated by the Gallo-Belgic warrior caste, and both deeply imbued with mystical symbolism. Eventually the animal became recognisably a horse, symbolising the supreme importance of this creature. It is probable that the pressure of Roman tributary demands was one of several forces that conspired to the creation of a native Icenian currency, and that this coinage flowed out of Icenia into Roman coffers. Such was the level of exaction that gold had virtually vanished from Icenia by the last decade of the first century BCE [Allen 1970 p14].

Examination of the coin finds reveals the first named individual of the Iceni. Antedios began his reign somewhere between 15 and 25 CE, ending in about 50 CE, a long period for the times to be sure, but not impossibly long and certainly not unprecedented. The Iceni were not, at this time, a single united polity but a grouping of tribes over whom Antedios may have exercised some sort of paramountcy or High Kingship. The Iceni, indeed, may be seen as the eponymous leaders of a group of federated tribes [Allen 1970 p14], the most powerful clan amongst a much larger grouping held together by ties of a community of language and culture and in the face of a common foe. Antedios reigned at one period alongside at least two others, kings or magistrates, whose names are abbreviated on their coinage to Aesu and Saenu. They may have been joint rulers, as was sometimes the custom, or they may have ruled separate divisions of the tribe, or even three distinct but associated tribes. Certainly three distinct sub-districts or pagi have been identified [Cunliffe 1978 p80], centred probably on Breckland, Norwich [Allen 1970 p15], and perhaps at Burnham Thorpe in the north.

With the coming of Claudius and the collapse of the empire of Caratacos, the Iceni had extended the hand of friendship to Rome in gratitude for deliverance from their old enemies and the client-patron relationship with Rome continued. At first that relationship was mutually beneficial, the Iceni enjoying peace, prosperity and security under the rule and laws of their own magistrates, the Romans reaping a handsome harvest of tribute. Of even greater importance to Rome, however, was the fact that Icenia formed a friendly buffer state between the lands of direct Roman rule and the potentially unruly northern tribes. Antedios ruled from a royal seat somewhere in the Breckland area [Webster 1978 p48], but his status is ambiguous. What the Romans thought him to be and what he actually was to his people were two different matters. He was probably one of the eleven who offered submission to Claudius at Camulodunum in the autumn of 43, receiving recognition as rex. Under his subsequent rule the three pagi merged closer and closer, the better to conform to Roman notions of centralised rule, and Antedios also established an exchange rate of three of his silver coins to the denarius the better to conform to Roman fiscal policy [Allen 1970: p16].

The honeymoon period was of short duration, and the Iceni were soon to learn who exercised real power in Britain. In the autumn of 47, Governor Publius Ostorius Scapula ordered the tribes of the east to be disarmed. He wanted to move troops to the west, and he wanted his rear as secure as possible. The edict extended to the Iceni as well as those within the Roman sphere, and certain members of the Iceni objected violently, raising the spectre of rebellion. The brief and localised altercation was put down quickly and decisively by a column of auxiliaries, possibly under the command of the Governor’s son, Marcus Ostorius Scapula, but passions smouldered. There was enmity and confusion as totally different expectations and perspectives warred.

Antedios disappeared from the scene at about this time, dead presumably, or deposed. Certainly there is nothing to indicate his survival beyond this point, and it may be that his departure can be linked with the brief uprising of 47. The battle near Cambridge involved only a relative few, and these could well have been explained away as brigands, which would have let Antedios out of a very embarrassing situation. There is also the possibility that his departure was a result of this unpleasantness, and perhaps he was a scapegoat to appease an angry Scapula. Perhaps his removal was the price that the Iceni had to pay for their continuance as a client group. There is the possibility that Icenia was still controlled by a “triumvirate” of the chieftains of the three major pagi, of whom Antedios was but one, in which case the damage to the Iceni may have been limited to the pagus of Antedios, an area that may have covered the north west of Icenia. Some slight evidence, for example that of the once prosperous Icenian settlement at Woodcock Hall near Saham Toney [Brown 1986, pp7-8], would suggest that that area went into something of a decline at about this time perhaps due to punitive depredations by Scapula. At this site, coin evidence would suggest that the area was impoverished, if not actually deserted, after 47 [Ibid p8].

That Tacitus does not mention so significant a fact as the deposing of a client king, and the fact that Icenia continued to be a client kingdom for another decade would tend to support this interpretation, but negative evidence must be treated with the greatest caution. Disappear he did, and it may have been at the demand of the authorities. The fact that another client king was appointed in his place would have been unusual but not impossible under the flexible Claudius. Perhaps Rome did not feel ready at that point to try and absorb a territory which still performed a very useful function. Scapula had pressing business in the west and he would have thought that one thing at a time was the best policy for the day. He had to capture Caratacos and his forces were stretched. If he could solve another crisis by diplomacy so much the better.

The probability is that Antedios was co-ruler with others, and his recognition by Rome as some sort of High King was simplistic and premature. Others, independent and thinking themselves sovereign, also ruled in their little areas although perhaps acknowledging one of their number as rex to mollify the conquerors. Among them was a certain Prasutagos, a powerful personality who was on good terms with Rome. This situation would agree with the tribal system obtaining prior to 43 CE, and would account for the fact that Prasutagos could continue to rule after Antedios had been deposed. Prasutagos may have been held blameless in the early uprising, after which he was able to take control of all Icenia with Roman support. This the Romans would have approved of, preferring to deal with one person in one place at a time, and it would have fitted neatly with their policy of amalgamating the Iceni into one single political unit.

Antedios passed into history and his title and authority passed to Prasutagos. Under the new king the process of the amalgamation of the subtribes into one polity continued over the next decade until the Iceni were a single nation. Prasutagos is unattested outside the extant works of Dio and Tacitus, and nothing is known of his life, but he may have minted coins. Five Icenian coins bearing a composite and restored legend that appears to read “subippasto” or “subiprasto” [Allen 1976 p277] on the obverse and “esicofecit” have been discovered and while the meaning of these cryptic terms must remain obscure, but they definitely follow a Romano-Icenian pattern, and subsequent evidence (Mossop 1979 p258) would seem to confirm the readings. The obverse is a Julio-Claudian head modelled on that of Nero, while the reverse sports the Icenian horse [Ibid p277]. A translation could well be “under (latin sub) (r)i(x) pras(u)t(ag)o” and “esico (a given name) made this”: Esico the Moneyer made this coin under the authority of King Prasutagos”. Other issues bear the legend, unique in Britain, “ece” or “ecen”: Iceni. These are the only coins to bear a tribal name and may represent an attempt, in the 50’s of the first century, by Prasutagos to reconcile conservatives to the notion of a single, unified tribe.

And a single tribe, united under one administration, was the situation that Rome wanted. Such a polity has a central heart, and centralised Celtic governments were known to fall quickly and easily to Roman force if the need arose. Alternatively, such a people, especially one that had been increasingly Romanised by the propaganda of their coinage, could quickly and easily be absorbed into the structure of the provincial government when the time came to finally dispose of their independence.

04:02:02. The Embers Glow.

While Paullinus was fully occupied in the west, the procurator Decianus Catus was left in charge of a province whose internal security was dangerously compromised by the removal of XX Legio from Camulodunum to the Welsh Marches. In Paullinus’ absence – and possibly in his presence – the procurator began to enforce new and harsher taxes to try to recover the enormous cost of the army of occupation. The several taxes generally imposed at the time were the land tax (tributum soli), the property tax (tributum capitis), and the customs duties (portoria), but without doubt the most onerous, and the most detested, was the annona, the corn levy, which, with an army of occupation composed of four full legions, must have been crippling.

The exaction of the annona was particularly disliked as it lent itself to some typically Roman forms of extortion [1]. In essence, the landowners were forced to provide the administration with a certain fixed quantity of grain, for which the administration paid a fixed price. The supply of grain was made up of two parts, a quantity to the legions, and a second quantity to the procurator’s establishment, and it was paid for at a fixed price that was well below the open market price. The supply to the procurator could be remitted in cash instead of kind, which naturally resulted in considerable abuses, but the supply to the legions had, perforce, to be in actual grain, which lead to a different form of abuse. The legions, naturally, kept large stocks of grain as insurance against dearth or famine. In time of short supply, the provincials were still obliged to provide their quota, and if unable to actually fill their quota, they would be forced to make up the difference by buying grain from the legion, at whatever price the frumentarii, the granary quartermasters, cared to charge, and then sell it back to them at the same low fixed rate. That is to say, they might be forced to buy at, say, 12 sestertii a peck and then sell back at 4 sestertii a peck [Ogilvie & Richmond 1967: p215], and as often as not, not a grain of corn was actually physically moved from the granary. “(The provincials) were forced to go through the mockery (per ludibrium) of waiting outside locked  granaries to buy the corn they had come to sell” [Tacitus: Agricola 19]. In other cases they might be forced to move grain long distances to remote supply depots at the other end of the country by difficult and expensive overland routes, even when there was a granary right next door. This imposition would be graciously waived upon the payment of a bribe “so that a service that was convenient for all (Britons) became profitable for a few (Romans)” [Ibid: Agricola 19].

To add fuel to the flames, Catus began to try and recover other monies from the British nobles, including those of the Iceni. Claudius had made disbursements years before, possibly during his visit to receive submission from the native kings, and the noblemen had looked upon this largitio as largesse in the traditional Celtic manner of a chief to his followers. Rightly or wrongly the procurator considered these monies to be loans rather than gifts, and called for repayment plus interest. Catus’ increasing demands caused other Roman usurers who had lent cash to British noblemen to become nervous. Vast sums had been lent at extortionate rates of interest of up to 46% or more, which was immoral but not illegal as the loans were made to non-citizens. Lucius Annaeus Seneca, the philosopher and mentor of Nero, for example, reputedly lent the huge sum of 40,000,000 sestertii [Dio lxii:2], and he could hardly have been the only one. The loans were peremptorily called in, tightening an already critically short money supply and giving cause for bitter resentment.

Then, in the winter of 60-61 King Prasutagos died. Being a client monarch, he had no right under Roman law to bequeath his succession as this was an agreement between two individuals and was not usually heritable, although it was not unknown for forceful and persuasive monarchs to secure such arrangements. But he could, and did, bequeath his very considerable fortune, half to the Emperor and a quarter each to his two daughters. Had Prasutagos had a son, it is possible that the kingship would have passed to him, as it had from Antedios to Prasutagos, provided that he was acceptable to the Iceni, and more importantly, to Rome. But Prasutagos had no known son and it is unlikely that Rome would have found a female successor acceptable even if the client kingdom was considered to be worth preserving for a further generation or so.

How events would have transpired if the Iceni had been left to themselves is unknowable. Contemporary British usage in respect of royal descent is problematic, as are the prevailing concepts of royalty and chieftainship. It is a fact that descent was reckoned through the female line amongst the Brythonic peoples. Male succession was becoming increasingly common amongst the Gallo-Belgic peoples, but the Iceni were predominantly Brythonic and the indications are that the older matrilineal, if not matrifocal, traditions prevailed amongst them and therefore, as with the Brigantes, matriarchy may have been an acceptable option. It may be that precedence would have been given to the son of Prasutagos’ sister, did such a person exist, or to the husband of a daughter over a natural son. Such customs were in use, but whether this would have been acceptable to Rome is another matter. Comparison with other societies would also suggest a possible division of the kingdom between the two daughters. This would have been doubly unacceptable to Rome, who had worked hard for a long time to create a unified, centralised government. To have it broken up again, and between two women at that, would have been unthinkable.

Prasutagos did not have a son, so far as is known, but he most certainly had a wife, a most singular woman whose name has become firmly embedded in British folklore. She is now more usually known as Boadicea or Boudicea and her mighty statue on the Thames Embankment, driving her war-chariot, is a tribute to the imaginative talents of 19th century mythmakers but to little else. But what was her real name? Even the ancient writers seem to have mispronounced and thus misspelled it – Tacitus [Annals xiv 31 – 27] calls her Boudicca, and Dio [lxii:1 – 12] calls her Boudouica – and there is some argument even today as to how her name should be rendered and how she herself actually would have pronounced it. Boudicca, on the authority of Tacitus, was long the accepted version, while the version Boadicea/ Boudicea appears to be an error on the part of medieval copyists who miswrote the first ‘c’ as an ‘e’, and/or the ‘u’ as an ‘a’, [Webster 1978: p15] both quite understandable errors in light of the often crabbed writing of the period. The nearest version, Boudicca, however, makes no sense philologically, and a wider study of ancient Celtic would insist that the Lady’s name was in fact Boudica, pronounced in English ‘Bowdeekah’ with the ‘bow’ element pronounced as in ‘bow and arrow’ [Jackson 1979 p255]. Thus her name would have been spoken by the Queen in her own time, and this is the form that shall be adopted in this essay.

Lack of correlation between Boudica’s status in Roman terms and in the eyes of her people would have created additional confusion and thus even more room for offence. What her status amongst the Iceni became upon the death of her husband Prasutagos is conjectural. She does not appear to be a legatee to his vast fortune although she would hardly have been beggared thereby, very probably being extremely wealthy in her own right, and she clearly was held in the highest of status by virtue both of her position as a wealthy woman of high rank and her position as widow of the king and dowager queen. She may or may not have become queen regnant as of right under the customs of her people. More probably she would, in the normal course of events, have been appointed as regent until a suitable successor to the throne had been decided upon.

Rome held quite different views on the matter. In Roman practice the foedus, the treaty that granted the status of client king, was a personal arrangement between the Emperor and the subservient monarch of a subject people, a position that was held by the grace, and at the whim of, Caesar. The foedus, in so far as it can be called an alliance, terminated with the life of the king and did not extend to his posterity but needed renewal [Sands 1908 p67]. Following the nature of kingship under the ancient Roman usage, the imperium of the king had to be conferred on each successor by a vote of the Senate. Under the Empire, all the powers of the Emperor had to be conferred by a special law. The late Emperor’s heir succeeded to his property, but not to his imperium before that law had been passed [Ibid p68]. The arrangement with the Iceni had been made between Claudius and Antedios personally, later between Claudius and Prasutagos, and finally between Prasutagos and Nero. These arrangements did not go beyond the lifetime of the client king, and were not made for his or her convenience but for that of Rome. It is significant that no kings are recorded as following Cogidubnus of the Regni or Cartimandua of the Brigantes.

Further compounding the problem was the fact that the Iceni were not peaceable like, for instance, the Regni of Cogidubnus, who, not being subject to the exactions forced on other tribes by virtue his privileged position as a favourite of Rome, was able to keep his people under strict control. The Iceni had already risen once, when Ostorius Scapula imposed his blanket disarmament order in 48 preparatory to his expedition to Wales in pursuit of Caratacos. The Iceni were not reliable, and the fact that they had risen against Scapula twelve years beforehand would have been remembered in Rome. That there had been extreme provocation, and the fact that only a small number of hotheads had started a very localised disturbance, would not have mattered one whit. Prasutagos’ appointment as client king was more of a temporary expedient than a reflection of any reciprocal affection between him and Rome.

Clearly the confrontation of these opposing views, and an absolute refusal by Rome to compromise, was a recipe for bitter acrimony. The difference between the two points of view was vast and unbridgeable as Rome was looking towards its profits and it hegemony and the Iceni to their ancient traditions. Whatever the matter of legality, the Iceni viewed themselves as an independent and sovereign state in an alliance of equals with another state. Boudica was their natural leader. The full import of Roman suzerainty had not then been understood, and this was the true cause of the tragedy that followed.

Nero had made the decision to pursue an aggressive forward policy in Britain, and in the interests of financial and military economies had instructed Paullinus to establish a provincial limes from the Humber to the Dee across the short axis of the island. This meant not only the military conquest of the western highlands, but the incorporation of Icenia into the Roman province. The death of Prasutagos was indeed timely in this respect, for it meant that the foedus had ended, and new arrangements could now be made. A most useful tool of Roman territorial acquisition was inherent in her self-arrogated right to recognise the successor of a client king, and one way of paving the way to the annexation of a kingdom was to withhold her recognition from such a successor [Sands 1908 p83]. The precedent of the case of Ptolomy of Cyprus, who, in 58 BCE, was stripped of his possessions by the Senate, established the principle that Rome had a right to annex a kingdom if she judged the heir unsuitable or unworthy of recognition [Ibid p83]. Augustus, continuing the precedent, had made it quite clear that royal appointments and successions were entirely a matter of his pleasure, and so established an imperial status quo that was beyond debate. It is most unlikely that there was any consultation between the two parties, or that the views of the Iceni would have been considered even if heard. Rome decided that the time was now ripe for the Iceni to be integrated into the province.

Decianus Catus promptly began to consolidate the imperial property. His demeanour was arrogant, his treatment of the people totally unfeeling but, before condemning him outright as an utter villain, some precursor of the evil Sheriff of Nottingham of legend, his position must be seen in perspective. He was no different to any other of the hordes of Roman officials and civil servants of the day. He was working under the precedent set by Augustus, who had appropriated all the property of Herod on the occasion of the Jewish King’s death. His action in impounding the property of Prasutagos was certainly not taken on his own initiative as he was acting under established precedent, probably on direct and unequivocable orders from Nero, and almost certainly with the full approval and backing of Paullinus. Nero may well have ordered the seizure of all property. Desperate for money after virtually bankrupting the treasury at Rome through his profligate ways, the Emperor had, amongst other measures, taken to seizing the estates of those who had “shown ingratitude for not leaving him enough” [Suetonius: Nero 32] of their property in their wills. Indeed, if a “freedman died who had taken a name connected with his (Nero’s) own – five sixths of the estate, not merely one half, was forfeited to the privy purse [Ibid: Nero 32]”, and he fined the lawyers responsible for writing up such men’s wills. Nero’s extravagances led him to take quite extraordinary steps to confiscate money, and the known wealth of Prasutagos would have been a sore temptation. It may be that, unable to resist such a prize, he directly ordered Catus to confiscate everything as punishment for the Iceni for producing such a “mean” and “ungrateful” will.

The real crime of Catus was not so much the appropriation of all goods and the seizing of the royal estates, but the high-handed manner in which acted, and the illegality of his actions in the eyes of the Iceni. Tacitus reports that the Icenian aristocracy was “deprived of their hereditary estates” [Tacitus: Annals xiv:30]: avitis bonis exuuntur. If bonis in this context indeed refers to land, the Icenian nobles clearly regarded it as theirs [Black 1987 p8], but possession is a notion open to wide interpretations. We have no way of knowing if they would have been able to alienate their estates if they had wanted to. The Romans, however, obviously believed that the territory now accrued to Rome in some way and there are two possibilities. The principle that the land of conquered populations belonged to the Roman government as ager publicus unless and until a city was formally constituted on it seems to have prevailed well into Flavian times [Lloyd-Jones 1984: p194], and Icenia may have been seen as conquered territory. Also, and more plausibly, Nero may have felt that with the death of Prasutagos the Emperor was the rightful and sole heir of the client king, in which case Icenia could have been thereafter adjudged as the res privata of the Emperor. Nero’s profligacy is legendary, and his constant need for funds, whether legally or illegally obtained, was boundless.

But whatever the legal niceties, the Romans were now in Icenia.

Like a flock of vultures, the procurator and his squads of assessors descended upon the still grieving  people. The beneficarii, old soldiers acting as orderlies and agents of the procurator, began seizing whatever took their fancy. They would also have looted upon their own account and demanded bribes as was standard practice for imperial revenue officers. In what may have been a studied slight, Decianus and his treasury officials were particularly overbearing in their manner to Boudica. The widow of Prasutagos stood upon her dignity and pointed out that the Iceni were not conquered slaves, but a free and independent people. For this insolence, Decianus had Boudica flogged like a common criminal. Her daughters were raped by the beneficarii as if they were prizes of war, and all Icenian property was sequestered. All members of the royal family were made guarantors for payments, the chieftains were deprived of their estates, the estates themselves were plundered and the tribespeople treated like slaves. Decianus could quite reasonably have taken the justifiable outrage of Boudica as an act of rebellion, in which case everything in sight would have been sequestered with substantial amounts falling into the capacious pockets of the procurator, with a percentage being shared out amongst his beneficarii, of course. “Kingdom and household alike were plundered like prizes of war, the one by Roman officers, the other by Roman slaves” [Tacitus: Annals xiv:31].

The entire native aristocracy was alienated, and the rank and file enraged. Rome may not have forgotten that the Iceni were both proud and belligerent, but Decianus Catus obviously had.

04:02:03. The Woes of the Trinovantes.

The woes of the Trinovantes were quite different, but equally painful. They had long been subservient to the Cattuvellauni and, after the conquest of that tribe by the Romans, had passed as chattels into the hands of their new owners and were treated as such. This must have rankled bitterly. Mandubracios, Addedomaros and Dubnovellaunos had been friends of Rome. They had given long and loyal service to the Empire and the people considered themselves allies of Caesar. Almost certainly there would have been an expectancy amongst the Trinovantes that they would be treated as friends, their lands restored to them, their dignity acknowledged. Quite possibly there was the expectancy in aristocratic circles that, having surrendered, perhaps some scion of the old royal house would be restored to the throne.

Rome did not see it that way at all. From the point of view of the conquerors, the Trinovantes were not simply a newly-conquered people but rebels. By entering into a client relationship with Rome, as had happened when Caesar had replaced Mandubracios back on his father’s throne, they had become de jure subjects of Rome and as such Trinovantia was technically part of the Empire. Rome did not see her occupation of south east Britain as a primary conquest but as the de jure ratification of a long-standing de facto relationship. Having rebelled against Rome by giving their allegiance to another paramount and taking up arms against their lawful patron they were now, in defeat, dediticii and as such had no rights whatsoever save those that the Romans cared to bestow. Their surrender, unlike that of the Cattuvellauni, was complete and unconditional. The trauma of their disappointment ran deep.

There must be further considered the matter of Caratacos in respect of the Trinovantes. There is the possibility that he was in fact a Trinovantian prince, the son of Cunobelinos by a lady of the line of Mandubracios, and thus a half brother of Togodumnos. The Celts were in general practice monogamous, but there is no suggestion that this custom was backed by law and men of the highest rank are known to have had several wives, a privilege legitimated by its obvious diplomatic advantages. It is possible and even probable that Cunobelinos, having conquered the Trinovantes militarily, then married a Trinovantian princess to cement his authority in place. Caratacos may have been the result of such a union, which would explain both his apparently secondary position to Togodumnos and his command of the Trinovantes. The unity of the conquering Cattuvellauni and the loyalty of the subservient Trinovantes may then be seen as no more than superficial: who can now say what rifts were occurring in the face of the death of Togodumnos and a string of devastating defeats?

Instead of a restoration of the House of Mandubracios under a client-patron relationship like that enjoyed by Cogidubnus, the Trinovantes were treated as a conquered people. Instead of a renewed Trinovantian centre, a new settlement was begun near the site of the old Belgic capitol, on the slopes overlooking the river Colne. Here the Romans first built a castrum, a vast legionary fortress. Shortly thereafter, when, in 50 CE, the military situation demanded deployment of forces along the limes of the Fosse Way, the fortress was demolished and on its site was built a model city, a miniature of Rome itself, to be an example to the province and the capitol of the new regime.

There has from time to time been mooted the attractive theory that the  Trinovantes were forced to adopt the settlement at Caesaromagus (Chelmsford) as their tribal civitas and they did not want it. Camulodunon had been more than an administrative and residential centre. It held very deep spiritual significance that we today can only guess at. Roman Caesaromagus was quite conceivably designed initially as a civitas capitol as the complete absence of any evidence of Boudican destruction suggests a foundation after 61 CE (Going 1987 p108), and the town is unique in Britain in having the ‘Caesar’ prefix to its name. This usage was fairly common in Gaul, where it usually denotes a civitas capitol [Dunnet 1975: p82], but even though it may have been designated as the new tribal centre, even being the site of an ancient pre-Roman religious centre, it was never much of a success.

Caesaromagus was certainly a Roman foundation, but there are indications that the site on the south side of the Chelmer Valley overlooking the confluence of the Can and the Chelmer Rivers had been occupied since the earliest times as evidenced by a mesolithic pit (Drury 1988: p43) together with residual flintwork and prehistoric pottery. Excavated evidence would suggest that the area was farmland for perhaps three millennia prior to the Roman occupation and that the site was cultivated regularly but not necessarily continuously  from the early Neolithic period to the middle of the first century CE when the Roman settlement was begun (Drury 1988: p125). There is no suggestion of a pre-Roman Belgic village – although this cannot be totally ruled out – but without doubt Caesaromagus occupied a position of strategic importance in pre-Roman times, principally because of its position half-way between Belgic Camulodunon and the lowest fords of the Thames at Westminster and the ferry crossings at Gravesend. But while a fort was established there very early in the occupation period, and a small town grew up around it, events militated against its growth. There were never the amenities of a proper town and it remained a small rural centre, noted chiefly for its mansio and used primarily as a stopover on the journey from the important centres of Londinium and Camulodunum. Without doubt the Trinovantes felt that they had been fobbed off with a make-do, while the conquerors grabbed the prime site.

Worse was to come. In about 50 CE the new Camulodunum was declared a colonia. This was standard practice, and, from the Roman point of view, sound common sense. Every veteran, upon completion of his service, was entitled to a plot of land of 50 iugera, roughly twelve and a half hectares, and a small plot in the town, the size of the latter being contingent upon rank. This established a large reserve force in the heart of the civil zone of the province, a source of trained and battle-hardened man-power in the event of trouble. It furnished a convenient retirement area for men who had served out their time, and it set up a staunchly loyal centre of latin-speaking Roman citizens, thoroughly imbued with romanitas, in a model town. All this would seem eminently logical and reasonable in theory, but the manner in which the old soldiers settled into their new home turned Camulodunum into a plague pit of rebellion.

Large tracts of the best land were permanently confiscated for the settlers. In the first stages this may have involved no more than the extensive personal estates of Caratacos, as, in accordance with normal usage, the estates which the late king had owned directly and kept for his personal enjoyment and profit, in addition to the royal treasures, became the property of the Emperor [Sands 1908 p147]. Such was the custom during peaceful annexation, and even the acquisition of a kingdom by conquest entailed similar treatment, Rome taking for herself the domain land and the rest being left generally to its possessors [Ibid p150]. But the brief and abortive rebellion of 48 in which elements of the Iceni had risen against Scapula’s disarmament edict may have altered matters somewhat as it is quite possible that some Trinovantes had also joined in the uprising. Reprisals and further land confiscation would then have been in order, and substantial areas of some of the best farm land in Britain were seized by Roman hands. Whatever the attitude of the Romans might have been to the Trinovantes prior to the uprisings, there was no looking back afterwards. The natives were serfs and treated as such.

But it was not simply confiscated land that was taken for settlement. There seems to have been some illegal seizure of land that should have remained in native ownership, although there is no means of knowing exactly what that might have been and no proof that private ownership of land on the Roman model existed in pre-Roman Britain. However, there is no proof that direct Roman dominium existed over provincial land except for a few small areas as, for example, the personal estate of a conquered paramount [LLoyd Jones 1984 p195]. It would be reasonable to assume, therefore, that some sort of native title existed over very large areas and that the continued Roman expropriations were unlawful. More, the land-grabbing was frequently accompanied by extortion, and many natives of every station were simply evicted from their homes, literally kicked out onto the roadside. “The veterans – were driving the natives from their homes, forcing them off the land, and calling them prisoners and slaves [Tacitus: Annals xiv: 31]”. Many were forced to work in labour gangs on the construction of the new colonia, which was not only humiliating but meant that funds and manpower were poured into the new town at the expense of Caesaromagus. Others were compelled to till the fields that had once been their own, virtually as slaves of the brutal ex-soldiers. Many of these former soldiers were, in fact, little better than barbarians themselves and had been further brutalised by years of harsh discipline. They were savage masters to those who had once looked to them as friends and protectors. The administration, instead of curbing these injustices, or even looking the other way, seems to have actively joined in the plunder of a once rich people, and many senior purses became very heavy. Serving troops encouraged and abetted the settlers in their outrages against the tribespeople: “The veteran’s lawless activities were even encouraged by the troops, who had a similar way of behaving and hoped for the same licence in their turn [Ibid: Annals xiv:31]”.

To add insult to injury, Camulodunum had been selected as the centre of the state cult of Rome and the focus of the cult of the Emperor. This entailed the worship of the numen, the divine will or inspiration of the Emperor and his predecessors, a mechanism that was designed to impose and inculcate Roman culture within the conquered territories and to integrate those territories into the unity of the Empire. The centre of this worship in Britain was the flamboyantly grandiose temple of divis Claudius, a huge classical edifice dedicated to the worship of the Emperor, the enormous cost of which would have been exacted from the natives. Worse, the games, festivities and spectacles that were an integral part of Roman religious practice would have had to have been funded by the native aristocrats who had been appointed as priests of the cult, an ‘honour’ they could not refuse. The temple and its expenses were a crushing financial burden on a society already severely strapped for cash. The temple rapidly became a focus for the anger of the conquered British, symbolising, as it did, everything hateful and humiliating in the new regime. It was truly “a blatant stronghold of alien rule” [Tacitus: Annals xiv:31].

By a sort of poetic justice the mentality that sought such self-aggrandisement by building this huge and magnificent temple bore within itself the seeds of its own ruin. In their arrogance and confidence, the Romans had begun to build a vast and ornate temple, a large forum, elaborate public buildings and private homes, but had never got around to building a defensive wall. Indeed, the circuit defences of the old army fortress had been demolished and levelled to accommodate the new town. What, after all, did they need walls for? The lex Iulia de vi publica, the law that prohibited the bearing of arms beyond those needed for hunting or defence while travelling in dangerous areas, extended to urban fortifications. Walls and urban defences also could be a temptation to insurgents. And, most importantly, the army was there to protect the people. There was simply no need for walls.

The situation became more and more inflamed under continued Roman brutality, rapacity, arrogance, and a flagrant disregard for the very laws and agreements that they themselves had imposed. The disarming of the tribes by Scapula was remembered with smouldering resentment by many, and had offended almost everyone, the Iceni in particular. The callous and cynical land grabbing of the settlers was an open wound. The calling in of huge sums of money at extortionate rates of interest had ruined many influential people. The abomination that was the Temple of Claudius, and the loathed alien city in which it stood, were ever before the eyes of the Trinovantes.

The juxtaposition of the last three points – the calling in of loans, the land expropriations and the presence of the temple – highlights the complexity of the situation and the degree to which economics, land ownership and spirituality were intermingled, if indeed the three were even perceived as separate concepts rather than three aspects of the same concept. The analogies with the revolts of Julius Florus of the Treveri and Julius Sacrovir of the Aedui in 21 CE are inescapable. They were brought about by noblemen now desperate and penniless, and there were complaints of “endless taxation, crushing rates of interest and the brutality and arrogance of Governors” [Tacitus: Annals iii:40]. The Trinovantian nobles, like other tribal authorities, were forced to act as Augustales, priests of the imperial cult, and as such would have been forced to take out loans to finance the shows and public buildings expected of office holders in a Romanised civitas [Black 1987 p7]. To further obscure the issue and to throw a wild card into the matter of native land ownership, it must be acknowledged that security for loans can only have been land, and if land could be pledged as security it could presumably be bought and sold [Ibid p7].

This highly volatile mixture was a disaster waiting to happen.

And then came the spark to the powder barrel in the form of the blatant plundering of the Iceni and the shameful treatment of the Queen and the princesses. The British were learning the harsh realities of life under Roman rule. In the words of Tacitus, “there was nothing to be gained from submission except heavier impositions” [Tacitus: Agricola 15]. While Catus Decianus supervised the demolition of the Icenian peoples, Suetonius Paullinus was ravaging far and wide across the island of Mona, destroying the holy groves and despoiling the sacred hoards of votive objects. The Druids, seeing the time to be ripe for rebellion, in desperation blew upon the embers of discontent. They did not have to blow very hard or for very long.

04:02:04. The Flames Roar.

Tacitus indicates [Annals xiv:38] that the Britons decided to take up arms before the time for planting crops, and it is probably safe to assume that the mobilisation began by the beginning of May of that year [Carroll 1979 p199]. The Iceni arose in war under the banner of Boudica, and here a most significant point must be made. War it was, not rebellion. Over the centuries the turmoil that engulfed Britain during May and June of 60 has been thought of as a revolt by servants against masters, an uprising by the conquered against the oppressor, as “Boudica’s rebellion”, but to describe it as such is to take the viewpoint of Rome, who doubtless looked upon Icenia as subject territory. All evidence would point to the Iceni as holding quite different ideas.

To them Icenia was an autonomous and sovereign concept whose peoples lived as free allies of Rome in an association of equals. They had, in effect, been gulled into thinking that Rome respected their rights and thought of them as equals as they lived under their own lords and their own laws, and indeed client kings enjoyed complete powers of jurisdiction in their own kingdoms [Sands 1908 p118] as, for example Commios, who, as a ruler of a civitas immunis, was allowed by Caesar to retain his own iura legesque [Caesar: DBG vii:76]. They had, they thought, complete control over their own affairs, surrendering only the control of foreign affairs. They were not to realise, and could not have understood, that the main feature of Rome’s expansion was a habit of claiming permanent influence over the foreign policy of those who had opposed her in any degree, great or small. To each of her subjects in succession she adopted a tone of superiority based on a knowledge of her own force, and when once her right to dictate had been acknowledged by the victim, that right had never been withdrawn. The Iceni had the semblance of independence without the substance.

Whatever opinion the Romans may have had on the matter, to the Iceni the disgraceful treatment of their Queen and the high-handed action of Roman officials constituted what would today be called an international incident. From the Icenian point of view there was no question of rebellion against an overbearing and brutal master. Their reaction to the torment of Boudica and the shaming of her daughters was to declare war against an alien aggressor. War it was, and war it had to be.

Word spread rapidly, and large numbers of Trinovantes together with disgruntled people from all over eastern Britain flocked to Boudica’s standard in a well co-ordinated operation. The greater part of the joint forces, possibly as many as 120,000 fighting men, mustered in preparation. Before taking the road to battle, Boudica mounted a rostrum to review her massed warriors.

“In stature she was very tall, and grim in appearance, with a piercing eye and a harsh voice. She had a mass of very fair hair which grew to her hips, and she wore a great gold torque and a multi-coloured tunic folded about her, over which was a thick cloak fastened with a brooch. This was how she always dressed. And now, taking a spear in her hand so as to present an impressive sight to everyone, she [addressed the multitude]” [Dio: epitome of lxii:2].

The speech that Dio puts into her mouth has, of course, no basis in fact, being what he though she ought to have said, but no doubt it contains the sentiments that Boudica actually would have expressed: a philippic against the limitless greed of the Romans, a lament for lost dignity and freedom, a paean for the hardihood, valour and virtue of the British.

Producing a hare, the totem animal of the dread goddess Andraste [2], she released it and the beast fled away in what was considered to be the lucky direction. The hare was held in superstitious awe by the British [Caesar: DBG: v:12] and seems to have been regarded as a magical Otherworld creature throughout Celtic societies from a very early date [Frey 1998 p10]. The actions of the beast when released were seen, therefore, as a direct message of good will from the Otherworld Powers, and the crowd roared its approval [Dio: epitome of lxii:6]. The Queen then addressed a prayer to Andraste, beseeching the goddess for victory. Dio builds into this speech a ribald sneer at contemporary Rome, making Boudica beg for freedom from the men of Rome:

“if indeed we ought to call them men when they bathe in warm water, eat fancy food, drink unmixed wine, smear themselves with myrrh, sleep on soft beds with boys – boys past their prime at that – and are slaves to a lyre player – and a bad one at that!” [Dio: epitome of lxii:6].

The elegantly crafted words are those of Dio, but, again, they may not be too far from the essence of those that Boudica actually spoke.

After the standard Celtic practice, there were sacrifices and more rituals, and the solemn exchange of many oaths of allegiance, binding all to the common cause and shared purpose. The sacred spear was thrown in the direction of Camulodunum. Part of the horde, led by Boudica herself, crossed the Waveney River into the province and headed for the wall-less and lightly defended colonia while a second army hastened to the west.

It was reported that, as the British were sighted, a statue of Victory fell down and broke, her back to the approaching enemy as if in full flight. There were other prodigies: horrifying yells were heard in the senate house, throatless shrieks in the theatre. At the mouth of the Thames a phantom settlement was seen in ruins, a blood red stain had been seen in the waters, and what looked like corpses washed up at low tide [Tacitus: Annals xiv:32]. The settlers were terror stricken, the British heartened.

It was not a surprise attack. The settlers had had some warning, probably several days, but warning of an impending army of destruction was not enough. They needed protection, and armed troops. Paullinus being a long way away, the citizens frantically appealed to Catus Decianus for help, so there was enough time at least to send to the west and to receive a reply back. But Catus could send only token reinforcements, a mere two hundred poorly armed men, members of his urban cohort, and a measure of extent to which Paullinus had stripped the east of fighting troops. The coloni counted many old soldiers amongst their number, but most were elderly men and they lacked arms, armour and officers. They tried their best to rearm, as indications at the industrial district in what is now the Sheepen area would attest. Antiquated equipment such as worn-out weapons and souvenirs of active service were hastily refurbished into some semblance of usefulness. Too late. The Iceni approached with terrifying speed.

The factories and forges were overrun and piles of military hardware, helmets, shields and body armour, were buried under the ash and debris of the destruction of the workshops [Webster 1978 p117]. The coloni were ill-organised and panicked. Icenian agents apparently managed to convince the settlers to shelter in the Claudian temple rather than to erect barricades or try to rebuild the defences. Although the town had been built within the earlier legionary fortress, the walls and the ditch of the latter had been levelled [Ibid: p30] for the better growth of the City and as a matter of Imperial policy. The town was rapidly outgrowing the old fortress perimeter, and many of the public buildings such as the Theatre and the Temple of Claudius and probably the Basilica, lay without it to the east on the site of the former military annexe [Crummy 1982: p125]. There are indications also that the annexe ditch and wall fortifications, unlike those of the fortress, still existed, albeit in a derelict state [Crummy 1977: p86].

The temple, on the other hand, was a massive building. It was not then complete [Webster 1979: p89], but the vast walled temenos, covering about two hectares, offered the best protection available. There is no suggestion of any attempt to send the women and children to safety, again, most probably, on the advice of an Icenian fifth column. If not for this reason, it would suggest an incredibly stubborn belief in Roman infallibility, an arrogance that would prove fatal but is nonetheless paralleled by many outposts of imperialism when confronted by a native uprising.

The end result was that the allied tribes overran the town with ease. Some of the main public buildings such as the curia were of stone, but virtually everything else, including the Theatre, was of timber, mud brick, wattle and daub. The town burned like a torch with such intensity that the carbonised remains of timbers and the hard baked daub of walls are still apparent nearly two millennia later. The cemetery was desecrated and the tombstones of the centurion Marcus Favonius Facilis, and of the duplicarius Longinus of Ala I Thracum were thrown down. The citizens who had taken shelter in the hated temple of Claudius defended it desperately, hoping every minute for the sight of the relief column from IX Legio and the north. The relief that they prayed for never arrived. After two days the defenders had run out of missiles. The temple was stormed and destroyed, along with everyone in it. The Iceni massacred and looted, and burned the town to the ground. Survivors were dragged to the sacred groves and sacrificed under the ancient rites, especially to the dreadful Andraste, Boudica’s tutelary deity. The goddess had a particularly sacred site not too far from the town which Dio [epitome of lxii:17] describes as the ‘Grove of Andraste’. Why the Romans had not hewn it down years before is a mystery, but it is the nature of groves of trees that they are not always what they seem and the legionaries may not even have recognised it for what it was. The Romans now brought thence surely learned, and fast.

The fate of those brought there for sacrifice was nauseating, even in an age hardened to brutality:

“they hung up naked the noblest and most beautiful women, (and) cut off their breasts and sewed them to their mouths so that they seemed to be eating them. Then they impaled them on sharp stakes that ran the length of their bodies” [Dio: epitome of lxii:17].

That Dio was deliberately dwelling on matters of sexual sadism for the titillation of a jaded audience cannot be doubted, nor that the events that he describes were the culmination of a solemn and pious religious rite, the fulfilment of oaths taken by the Iceni before they marched to war. But there is an overwhelming urge also to read an element of sadistic and jealous vengefulness into such shameful treatment of innocent captives.

Help was on its way, but to no avail. News of the rising had come to the legionary fortress at Longthorpe [Frere  St. Joseph 1974 p38], and the commander, a rash and headstrong young man by the name of Quintus Petilius Cerealis Caesius Rufus, marched his entire garrison to the relief of the colonia. This young man, originally Quintus Caesius Cerealis, seems to have been the adoptive son [A Birley 1981 p66] of the notorious Petillius Rufus who had conspired with the sinister Lucius Aelius Sejanus in 28 to encompass the death of the upright Titius Sabinus [Tacitus: Annals iv:32]. His family hailed from Umbria, and it is most likely that he was the younger brother of Caesius Nasica who had commanded IX Legio under Didius Gallus only a few years before, it being common practice at that time for brothers to serve together, or to succeed to the same post [A. Birley 1981 p66].

IX Legio was at that time strung out across hundreds of miles of land, garrisoning strategic points along the Coritanian borders and perhaps as far north as Lindum (Lincoln), then only a small forward fort. The force at his immediate command would have consisted of no more than the first cohort, admittedly a double strength unit, and maybe two more cohorts, plus an ala of auxiliary cavalry. Total numbers would not have exceeded perhaps two thousand foot and five hundred horse, together with whatever he could pick up on the way. If he had been rather less precipitate he might have been able to muster more men, and perhaps events would have taken a different turn. But Camulodunum was about 124 kilometres away via Ermine Street, three days of forced marching through hostile territory. If he had waited to gather his forces, he would have been too late to save the town anyway. Perhaps he considered this factor and was prepared to take the gamble. Or perhaps he simply had his eye on the glory of a personal victory, and the advancement that this would bring him. He would not be the first Roman to act solely for this reason.

Everything was sacrificed for speed, caution was thrown out the window, and Cerealis drove his men mercilessly towards the beleaguered colony. But Boudica had not forgotten IX Legio. It was the only possible source of relief and her warriors were waiting for it. The column was ambushed, probably while on extended line of march, and cut to shreds. Cerealis managed to cut his way out and fled back to Longthorpe with a handful of cavalrymen, where frantic efforts were made to put the defences in such a form as to be defensible by the perhaps one thousand men now within the perimeter. The camp at Longthorpe was really only a temporary affair, perhaps being thrown up originally to cope with an immediate strategic demand [Frere & St. Joseph 1974: p38], probably the Icenian revolt of 48 when Scapula disarmed the tribes. It had been manned for much longer than had at first been envisaged, but the defences were still not the very best. Moreover, it had covered some 11 hectares, an excellent area for a legionary vexillation brigaded with auxiliary cavalry [Ibid: p1], but now Cerealis had no more than a thousand men. They swiftly reduced the rampart circuit to encompass some 4.5 hectares, a much more defensible position [Ibid p38], and awaited events.

Legionaries who did not die on the spot went to the Sacred Groves amid British jubilation. It would not have been a cheap victory for the British, even if they had caught their enemy unawares, but the boost for morale was huge. As a military victory at the very start of the war, it could not have come at a better time and its propaganda potential was enormous. The British had drawn first blood.

04:02:05. Choices.

            All would so far suggest a very carefully orchestrated operation from the British side. It was no spontaneous outburst of anger. The whole situation had been expected, the groundwork long prepared. The lurid rumours of visions in the Thames and of bodies on the beach were deliberately laid horror stories and the panic at Camulodunum largely the work of agents provocateurs. The ambush and humiliation of IX Legio was well planned and executed, a piece of Druidic deviousness and part of a strategy long laid out. The outrages against Boudica and her daughters were appalling but of no great significance of themselves: such incidents happened daily. The difference with this incident was that it involved a very prominent person, and was given what would today be called a very high media profile. It was something that was bound to have happened sooner or later, but it was simply the spark that lit the powder barrel, and a Druidic hand guided the course of the war from its inception.

The Iceni rampaged on in an orgy of destruction. Boudica headed for Londinium, a small but increasingly important settlement that was expanding adjacent to the site of the earlier military camp on Plautius’ Thames crossing. The rapacious procurator Catus Decianus was terror-stricken at the news of Cerealis’ column, a catastrophe that would have come to him, suitably embellished, as the massacre of an entire legion. Alarmed by the speed and ferocity of the disaster, and the hatred of the province for the man whose greed and mismanagement had caused it, he commandeered a vessel. Realising his peril from both the Iceni and Paullinus, he fled to Gaul [Tacitus: Annals iv:32] and thence to Rome, there to put his report before Caesar.

The nature of Catus’ report is quite unknown, but one could safely assume that it presented the direst possible picture of the situation and minimised his own responsibilities and might well have led Nero to believe that the province was lost irretrievably [Birley 1981: p60]. Nero was certainly adither at the news. The most unmilitary of all Roman Emperors (except, perhaps, that imperial oddity Elagabalus), his moods alternately swung between deep despair and wild exultation. The news from Britain would have been bad enough from an unbiased reporter, but without doubt Decianus painted an already very serious situation as black as possible to excuse his own flight. The eruption of violence was the result of long-standing and widespread abuse and misunderstanding, but if any one person had been nominated as a scapegoat, then that one would have had to have been Decianus, and the procurator knew it. Significantly, no record of Catus’ subsequent career has come down to us.

Even without exaggeration and selective editing, the situation in Britain was dangerous indeed and Catus would have emphasised the horrifying facts as he knew them. IX Legio had been beaten backwards and badly mauled, perhaps destroyed. II Legio was pinned down in the West Country and fighting for its life. Suetonius Paullinus was somewhere in the north west. A major town was in flames, its citizens massacred. The British were heading for undefended and virtually ungarrisoned Londinium, the administrative headquarters of the province and the de facto capitol. It may be that memories of the clades Variana returned to chill the none-too-steely imperial spine.

The temptation to abandon the province would have been very strong indeed. If, as Suetonius relates [Nero 18], Nero really did contemplate the abandonment of the province, this was the time. Britain was not then as strategically important to the Empire as a whole as it was one day to become, and it seemed to be lost anyway. There was trouble elsewhere. The powerful kingdom of Parthia was poised for war. Invasion of the wealthy and populous eastern provinces would have been disastrous and Parthia presented a threat of a totally different order to a handful of savages on an island on the edge of nowhere. Such was the perceived menace of the eastern kingdom that the garrison of Syria had been augmented from four legions to seven, drawing men from Pannonia and Moesia [Warmington 1976: p78]. This had left the Danube garrison dangerously below strength, and redeployment of the powerful British army group would have eased tensions considerably.

The fate of Roman Britain hung in the balance. But Nero did not yield to temptation. Suetonius would have it [Nero 18] that he did so only out of deference to the memory of his respected adoptive father, Claudius, whose victory he was loathe to discard, but there must have been other reasons. Who persuaded him to remain firm of purpose? It was probably Burrus [Warmington 1976 p48], a man “whose strength lay in soldierly efficiency and seriousness of character” [Tacitus: Annals xii:2] and who prevailed upon Nero to adopt a wait-and-see attitude and to refrain from precipitate action. Perhaps he suspected that the words of Catus required independent corroboration. After all, communications with Britain were long and difficult, the army had seldom lost a major engagement in Britain, and the rebels, by all accounts [Ibid: Annals xiv:33], were avoiding forts and military installations, so perhaps the situation was not quite as desperate as it may have seemed at first sight. This sober and reasoned counsel was taken, and Paullinus was left to pursue his own course.

04:02:06. Bibliography.

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            “The Twelve Caesars”: Refer Robert Graves 1957.

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            1976.   “Nero, Boudica, and the Frontier in the West” in Branigan and Fowler 1976.

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