05:01. A World in Flames.


Britannia Capta Part 5.


Chapter 05:01

A World in Flames



05:01:01. Cartimandua.

The Egyptian geographer Ptolomy reports that a Brigantian ‘confederation’ dominated northern England “from sea to sea”. The nature and composition of the confederation is now impossible to know exactly, but some form of community of identity had evolved over the generations to permit some unity of purpose to emerge amongst a number of otherwise different groups. This had created, by the middle decades of the first century of the Christian era, an embryonic but as yet factious and politically unstable grouping with several primary centres. This somewhat unsteady polity encompassed, at the time of the Claudian invasion, that large area that lies roughly between the Mersey and the Humber with an extension into the Derbyshire Peak District to the south, and the Solway and the Tyne to the north [Frere 1987 p41]. Strong bonds of alliance linked the Brigantian peoples with the Carvetii of the circum-Solway region, who may indeed have been a sub-tribe of the Brigantes as Brigantian territory seems to have extended in the west beyond the later line of Hadrian’s Wall [Ibid p41], and the Novantae of Galloway and the Selgovae of the central lowlands of Scotland.


            Unstable though it may have been, the grouping of perhaps eighteen or twenty disparate sub-groups seem nonetheless to have been cohesive enough to accept at least the nominal authority of an overall paramount. How real this authority was in practice is open to question, but subsequent events would indicate that, at least under some circumstances, it was effective.


The Brigantes were less advanced socially and politically than their southern neighbours, their agriculture was small in scale and unsophisticated in technique, their economy being largely based on flocks and herds [Frere 1987 p42]. The nature of the country, a land largely of moors and bogs riven by the Pennines, their unsophisticated political organisation, and their primitive economy would suggest a very loose polity rather than a fully centralised autocracy along the lines of those evolving in the south. It is considered that both the obvious wealth of the aristocracy, and the appearance of centralised authority under an overall monarch were more the result of Roman patronage to a client state than to anything else and the emergence of the Brigantes as a single entity may date to no earlier a period than the Claudian invasion of 43 [Frere 1987 p42].


In the first years of the Roman occupation the Brigantes, under their Queen Cartimandua, had come to an arrangement with the invader. The how and the when of the formal client monarch relationship is long lost, but it certainly happened, perhaps during Claudius’ triumphal visit, perhaps a little later when the legions were starting to get uncomfortably close, and the Queen became a firm friend of Rome, amicus atque socius. A telling token of her loyalty came in 51 when she handed Caratacos over to Scapula, but the strongest index of her adherence was her ability to somehow keep her people out of Caratacos’ war with Rome in the west, preventing them from forming a northern front to further confound the legions with a war in the west and north both, and later in restraining them from involvement in Boudica’s war. Her loyalty was recognised by Rome and she was rewarded well materially and politically.


            The relationship was of considerable mutual advantage to both parties. The strategic advantages of a quiescent northern border under the control of a compliant administration was obvious to Rome, as it allowed the deployment of troops into the West where they were needed for the subjugation of the highland areas. For Cartimandua, access to Roman troops if required would have been a significant factor in the social control of potentially unruly and rebellious elements within her own ambit of power. Roman manufactures and luxury goods were clearly desirable items in Iron Age societies and a steady supply of such material would have enabled her and her favourites and appointees to enjoy a high standard of living and to maintain their positions through the traditional means of display, conspicuous consumption and the distribution of largesse. While such goods were possibly paid for, at least in part, by exports from Brigantia, there is a strong probability that they were largely subsidised by the Roman authorities, giving Cartimandua the additional political leverage inherent in the ability to acquire abundant material manifestations of Roman civilization without cost or the disadvantage of direct Roman rule [Hanson & Campbell 1096 p75].


The relationship was never an easy one, and clearly the Brigantes were never totally behind their Queen. An uprising in 49 that threatened to cut off Ostorius Scapula in the Welsh Mountains would have given that worthy general more than a few sleepless nights, and would indicate that the Queen’s control over her people, especially those in more remote areas, was less than complete. Scapula was forced to abandon his assault on Mona, setting the Roman cause back by years, and yet he disciplined the rebels in a surprisingly mild manner: a few ringleaders were executed and the rest pardoned. His forbearance is instructive and would support the notion that Rome desperately needed Brigantia and the loyalty of Cartimandua because it simply did not have the arms to contain a concerted attack by the British on two fronts. Scapula would not have dared to alienate Cartimandua and her powerful and numerous people.


            The whereabouts of Cartimandua’s seat has long been a subject of considerable debate. The 3.2 hectare hillfort at Almondbury near Huddersfield was once thought of as the most likely candidate, as, later, was Barwick in Elmet, but for both the evidence is very tenuous [Hanson & Campbell 1986 p74]. There has been speculation that York itself may have been the Queen’s centre, or Aldborough, which later became the civitas capital, but both notions are based almost entirely on their convenient positions. The strategic positioning of these sites, however, is based on the requirements of Roman administration, which may or may not necessarily have been relevant to earlier power structures and in neither case has pre-Roman material been adduced to support the theory [Hanson & Campbell 1986 p76]. By far the most likely candidate in the debate so far seems to be the huge system of earthworks at Stanwick near Scotch Corner. By far the largest Iron Age site in the presumed Brigantian area, it has produced huge quantities of Roman material such as amphorae, indicating extensive use of Roman luxury consumables, and imbrices and tegulae, suggesting romanised buildings within the iron Age context [Hanson & Campbell 1986 p77]. Stanwick, therefore, may be considered for the moment as the most probable site of Cartimandua’s power base.


When Caratacos, fleeing to the Pennines after defeat in central Wales, was handed over to the Romans by Cartimandua, the price of the Queen’s collaboration began to become more apparent. Caratacos had expected help and an alliance from Cartimandua, and it would seem that many of Cartimandua’s people agreed with him. He had assumed a Robin Hood-like mystique amongst those many British who opposed Rome and Venutios, the husband of Cartimandua, was a firm admirer. Even the Romans themselves displayed a grudging admiration for the warrior king, as evidenced by his later treatment by Claudius. When the Queen betrayed Caratacos to the Romans, deep rifts began to appear in what was an already shaky domestic unity. Cartimandua’s wealth may have increased as a result, but her popularity amongst her subjects came under severs strain as a result of the betrayal. Many felt that by handing over the hero she “had paved the way for Claudius’ triumph” [Tacitus: Histories iii:45]. A pro-Caratacos, anti-Roman faction had existed from the beginning and was prepared to rebel against the authority of the Queen. The fracas of 49, localised and speedily resolved though it might have been, had been a deliberate and effective counter to a perceived Roman strategy that sought to drive a wedge between Wales and Brigantia. Scapula had been trying to separate Caratacos from possible reinforcement from the north by annexation of the Cheshire gap and the coastal lowlands and Venutios was quite aware of his intentions. Quite probably Scapula, Veranius and Gallus all in turn were themselves aware that security in the north was reliant upon Cartimandua alone.


The exact sequence of events following the betrayal of Caratacos is uncertain, as the two relevant passages in Tacitus [Annals xii:40, Histories iii:45], appear to describe two series of events separated by almost two decades. On closer examination [Braund 1984] he appears to become somewhat confused and may indeed describing one on-going event that had its beginning in 51 and its denouement in 69. A reconstruction of that sequence of events may be as follows.


Cartimandua and Venutios quarrelled. In 51, probably as a result of the Caratacos affair [Braund 1984 p6], they parted acrimoniously. Formerly a friend (albeit a cool one) of Rome, Venutios now became her implacable foe and, with the removal of Caratacos, the pre-eminent war-leader of Free Britain [Tacitus: Annals xii:40]. Together with a group of followers, he fled from the nuptial home and internecine warfare broke out immediately between partisans of the two principals, a period of strife that appears to have dragged on for some years. Venutios remained free, but by dint of some cunning stratagems, Cartimandua’s warriors at last managed to capture his brother and others of his kin [Ibid: Annals xii:40]. The former royal consort’s reaction was swift and almost successful. Raising a strong force, Venutios attacked his former spouse with such energy that, in perhaps 56 or 57, she was forced to appeal to the Governor for military assistance.


Gallus was old, approaching the end of his long term of office and quite possibly unwell. A furious ride into the rugged Yorkshire moors and the Pennine hills was work for younger men, so he did not come himself but assistance he certainly provided in the form of a force of auxiliaries whom Venutios promptly threw back after a battle near the Queen’s stronghold. Where this might have been is unknown but suggestions include Almondbury near Huddersfield [Frere 1987 p42], Elmet and Aldborough with perhaps the strongest case being presented for Stanwick [Hanson & Campbell 1986]. Stronger measures were needed and a column of regular troops, almost certainly drawn from Legio IX and led by Caesius Nasica had to be hastily brought up to relieve the beleaguered auxiliary cohorts. This was much more than was required to crush a mere war band of a few hundred and would imply that Venutios now had a substantial force to call upon [Webster & Dudley 1965: p177] although, as is to be expected, he seems to have lacked the logistical infrastructure to maintain a prolonged campaign. Venutios’ warriors were unable to withstand the battle-hardened regulars of Legio IX with the result that, after a battle that was probably fought somewhere north of Eboracum, he was forced to retire even further north.


The position now was something of a stand-off. Didius ordered the building of forts within eastern Brigantia [Tacitus: Agricola 14], no doubt with Cartimandua’s gracious consent, but their whereabouts is uncertain for several reasons, not least of which is that the precise boundaries of Brigantia are conjectural even if any such things existed. There are few securely dated pre-Flavian forts west of the valley of the Trent, which may be assumed to be a Brigantian – Coritanian boundary, but some early forts seem to hug the south eastern line of the Pennines. Occupation began at Strutt’s Park, on the west side of the Derwent, by at least the mid 50’s [Hanson & Campbell 1986: p82]. This establishment can be linked with the contemporary forts at Chesterfield, Templeborough [Webster & Dudley 1965: p178] and Rossington Bridge [Hanson & Campbell 1986: p82] into a military cordon across southern Brigantia as an advanced line of defence against possible incursion from the north or as a springboard for a speedy advance up the eastern lowlands should that be required. It is also possible that a vexillation fort was established at Eboracum at this time, although this cannot as yet be substantiated, and forts at Bawtry, Doncaster and Castleford may also have been part of the defensive system [Webster & Dudley 1965: p178]. The archaeological evidence to date would suggest that there was very little Roman military intervention into Brigantia in pre-Flavian times.


Venutios was not again assailed and Cartimandua continued as Queen. It was once speculated that there was some sort of reconciliation between man and wife, but there are no real grounds for the supposition [Braund 1984 p3], and the assumptions that there was both a reconciliation and a remarriage [Hanson & Campbell 1986: p78} or even a divorce, remarriage and a second divorce, is to impose an unnecessarily convoluted solution to an otherwise straightforward situation. Logic would suggest that Venutios remained in the north west, perhaps building his strength for whatever ambitions he may have held, but essentially unable to command sufficient popular loyalty amongst the people, or the military strength to seriously challenge the combined forces of Rome and Cartimandua. Even when Boudica’s hard but whirlwind war brought Rome within an ace of eviction from Britain, Venutios did not stir to her aid for whatever reasons he may have had. Perhaps he was not then ready to declare his strength, or perhaps Cartimandua was still strong enough to contain him [Frere 1987 p82]. The support of their queen by the people was by no means unanimous, but it was nevertheless widespread and in a majority, loyalties no doubt lubricated by the generous distribution of largesse of Roman origin. It seems more than likely that during the years between his split with Cartimandua and his eventual return he was essentially an exile. Return he did (see below), but he did so at the head of a force that had been raised outside Brigantia, perhaps men of the Carvetii, Selgovae or Novantae of the north.


In 69, or shortly before, [Braund 1984 p6] Cartimandua took Venutios’ former armour bearer, Vellocatos, as her new consort. This could have been a move on her part to secure factional support: the king’s armour-bearer would have been a man of the very highest rank, and probably would have commanded the support of a considerable group, perhaps a whole sub-tribe. As may be, her action disaffected a substantial group, and those who had not previously been followers of Venutios rose in anger:


“The royal house was immediately scandalised by this event: the people sided with the husband, the adulterer was bolstered by the lust and savagery of the Queen “ [Tacitus: Histories iii:45].


Who can say what taboos she had broken, what religious, moral or social constraints with which she had played fast and loose? There may have been complex political and spiritual reasons behind her actions, or it may have been something as simple a desire for a bit of ‘fresh meat’. Her age, after all, can only be speculative, but even assuming that she was already Queen in 43, she need then only have been in her late teens or early twenties, in which case she need not have been in much more than her mid forties by 68 or 69. I would suggest, however, that the latter reason, simple as it may be, was not her real motive. Cartimandua was, after all, the most powerful person in a society that clearly was used to having women in positions of authority. It is probable that she was able to take lovers if she so wished whenever she so wished and none would deny her. It is possible, indeed, that she and Vellocatos had been lovers for years, and living in an open de facto relationship that, provided it remained no more than that, was acceptable to all. But she did something more than take a lover, and the key is the words “Vellocatum in matrimonium regnumque accepit” [Tacitus: Histories iii:45]: “She received Vellocatos as her partner in marriage and upon her throne both”. That the sentence begins “spreto Venutio” “she spurned Venutios” – need not mean anything as strong as the English translation would imply [Braund 1984 p3] and may simply mean that she took no notice of him or that she considered that he was no longer relevant. What is important is that she went beyond simple matrimonium and declared him King, sharing the rule with him on equal terms. Clearly this transgressed some stern and absolute law.


Her real purposes in taking this other man as husband must remain forever obscure, but the result is known. There was a popular uprising [Tacitus: Histories ii:45] in which Venutios, with no more than a few auxiliis (which, at first glance, appears to mean ‘auxiliaries’, but is perhaps better rendered [Wellesley 1964] as ‘outside help’), but assisted by the general uprising against the Queen, descended upon the royal stronghold and quickly brought her into the gravest of danger. This would lend weight to the theory that Venutios had been little more than a brigand for the years of his separation with Cartimandua, harboured by allies to the north who were prepared to aid him but were not yet so supportive as to back him to the point of facing up to a Roman legion, and commanding insufficient loyalty at home to enable him to return and capture Stanwick by internal strength. Previously, the strength of Cartimandua had been too much for him. The Romans were willing and able to provide the Queen with military support whenever she required it, and she had evidently enjoyed the loyalty of a majority of her people up to that time. Venutios needed these two factors removed from the strategic equation if he was to entertain any hope of a successful military expedition against his former Queen and wife. In 69 those two factors were removed. First, Cartimandua married Vellocatos and alienated the vast majority of her people. With the help of the legions she might even then have been able to defy Venutios and hold her throne, but the mind of Rome was preoccupied elsewhere.


            Either by good luck or good management, Venutios stepped into the ideal position of the colonial rebel: he could strike when the energies of the colonial power were otherwise engaged. The situation is a classic one and the analogy of the American War of Independence is apposite: what would have been the fate of George Washington and the nascent United States of America had not Britain been distracted by urgent concerns of war in Europe?


In 69 civil war erupted within the Empire as dynasts vied with each other for power. Nero had already drawn the entire Legio XIV back to Italy for service in the far east, reducing the British garrison by twenty five per cent, and more troops were drawn off to reinforce the armies of the Rhine that now moved, under Caecina and Valens, towards Rome. Although the Queen sent urgent word to the Governor describing her plight and begging for the aid of the Legions, little help was forthcoming. Venutios and his ‘auxiliaries’, together with Brigantian insurgents had clearly swept Cartimandua’s warriors from the field and the Queen was in full flight, perhaps even besieged at Stanwick.


Help arrived, but all that could be spared were some auxiliary infantry and cavalry, sufficient, we are told [Tacitus: Histories iii:45], to enable Cartimandua to escape but unable to do more. The Queen was rescued and presumably was given sanctuary with the Governor, Vettius Bolanus, while Venutios was left as Lord of Brigantia and Rome had another war on her already busy hands.


Of Vellocatos no more is heard, and his subsequent history is purely conjectural. Celtic vengeance was bloodthirsty and his fate at the hands of his rival would have been grievous had he come within Venutios’ power. We can but hope, for his sake, that he was able to reach safety with Cartimandua, and that they sank at last into peaceful oblivion together. Happy endings are rare in real life but they do happen sometimes.




05:01:02. M Trebellius Maximus: legatus segnior.

His duties done, P Petronius Turpilianus, the “special duties” governor under whose mild administration the last flickerings of the War with Boudica were finally quenched, returned to Rome and Nero. His replacement was Marcus Trebellius Maximus who duly arrived in Britain in 63. Not a great deal is known of the new man’s antecedents and what there is open to considerable debate.


He appears to have been the first non-Italian Governor of Britannia as his origins seem to lie in southern Gaul [A Birley 1981: p377]. Certainly there is epigraphic evidence for Trebellii from Tolosa (Toulouse) in Gallia Narbonensis, and one Trebellius Rufus Maximus of this family is known to have been in Athens during the reign of Domitian [Ibid p60]. He had surely had a long and reasonably distinguished career in public office, although he was of relatively lowly birth [ibid p60], and he was probably at least sixty by the time he arrived at the Governor’s palace in Londinium.


Tacitus [Agricola 16] did not think much of Maximus. He describes him as segnior, meaning even lazier or more dilatory than, presumably, his predecessor Turpilianus. He also adds that the new Governor was nullis castrorum experimentis, which is usually translated as “of no military experience” [Ogilvie & Richmond 1967 p203], but seems to be an amazing comment upon a man who had been given command of one of the most militarily powerful of all provinces. Perhaps this was another slight against one whom Tacitus had some sort of grudge, or whose achievements had to be reduced the better to enhance those of the adored Agricola. The fact remains that Tacitus records, briefly, an exploit in the career of one Marcus Trebellius in the year 36 CE.


It would appear that in 36 CE the Cietae [Tacitus: Annals vi;41], a tribe subject to the Cappadocian prince Archelaus, refused to pay their taxes in the correct Roman manner and took to the hills rather than submit. The hills, in this case, were actually the Taurus Mountains which were (and still are) very difficult terrain indeed. This country is hard enough to traverse in peacetime, and almost impossible when people are trying to kill you, which led Archelaus (whose own troops were obviously not up to the problem), to appeal to Lucius Vitellius, then Governor of Syria. His Excellency despatched a full legion together with auxiliaries under the command of Marcus Trebellius to sort things out. Trebellius cornered the Cietae on two fortified hilltops at adjacent places known as Cadra and Davara, constructed earthworks after the standard pattern and, after inflicting casualties, forced their surrender. Furthermore it is considered that Trebellius was the friend of the great agricultural writer Columella [A Birley 1981: p59] who served as a tribune in Legio VI Ferrata (the Ironsides). Were they comrades in the same or adjacent formations at the same time? Was the Trebellius of Cadra and Davara fame really our man? The matter is conjectural, but surely the statement that Maximus had no military experience must be examined. Was it really what Tacitus was saying? Or would another translation suit? Instead of “he had no military experience”, may we not read rather “he neglected to make trial of the army” [A Birley 1981 p60] or simply “he did not put the army in the field”. Such a translation is quite acceptable and would sit much better with the context.


We should assume, then, that Maximus had covered the usual steps of the cursus honorum during the 20’s and 30’s, holding in turn the various junior magistracies, the praetorship, and eventually legionary command. He then took up a career as a senator, and is known to have been present at a meeting of the Senate shortly after the assassination of Caligula in 41 [Josephus: Jewish Antiquities XIX:185]. He was awarded the consulship under Nero in 56, an office he held with the noted philosopher and statesman Seneca and it is certain that the two were amici [A Birley 1981 

p59], if not actually familiares.



In 61 Maximus, along with Quintus Volusius Saturninus and Titus Sextius Africanus, was appointed to conduct a census of Gaul [Tacitus Annals; xiv:46], and it is possible that, if he actually did hail from Gaul, his task would have been that much easier [A Birley 1981: p60]. The other two were rivals in some way or another, and Maximus seems to have been able, for whatever reasons and with whatever results, to have used this acrimony to further his own ends. His colleagues despised him, possibly because they were annoyed at his somehow using their animosity to boost his own reputation, but the context of Tacitus’ anecdote suggests that it was because they were of ancient and aristocratic families and he was a mere novus, an upstart of middle-class origins. It may also be that Maximus was a replacement. It is possible that originally the third appointment to curator census Gallici had been Flavius Sabinus [Nicols 1978: p28] who had resigned prematurely to take his old position of praefectus urbi that had been made vacant by the recent murder of the previous incumbent, Lucius Pedianus Secundus [Tacitus Annals: xiv;41]. Perhaps the two aristocrats felt that they had been fobbed off with a ‘make-do’ colleague who had been foisted on them by virtue of his influence with Seneca and thus with Nero, and this deepened their resentment even further.


Whatever the personal relationships between the three, the job seems to have been done and done reasonably well. Indeed the success of this difficult and onerous exercise, and the experience of the Celtic peoples thus gained, could well be one of several reasons why Maximus received his appointment as Governor of Britain. Others may also be inferred. Perhaps his friendship with Nero’s mentor Seneca had something to do with it: the wily old fox was past the peak of his influence but was perhaps still worth placating [A Birley 1981: p61]. If he was indeed the legionary commander who had campaigned successfully in the Taurus Mountains in his youth, Nero may well have considered him something of an expert in mountain warfare [Ibid: p61] which hints at contingency plans for a renewed assault on the Silures.


But no such aggressive forward policies were to be pursued under the administration of Maximus. His rule instead was one of reconciliation and consolidation: later Neronian politicians and men in public life adopted a conservative attitude. Do not rock the boat was the motto almost universally applied under the reign of an increasingly erratic Emperor. The administration of Maximus is notable only for the fact that during his six years of incumbency almost nothing happened. The Silures were left alone, despite the fact that Veranius had brought them to their knees and little more than a mopping-up expedition would have been required to bring them completely under Roman domination. Doubtless they were only to happy to lay low for a while and lick their wounds, thankful for a respite from further incursions. It is most probable that the south west had also been subdued by this time and the Dumnonii of Cornwall were pacified. The evidence would indicate that the fort at Nanstallon on the Camel was operational no later than 65 CE (Fox & Ravenhill 1972: p88]. Such a garrison could not have stood alone in isolation, and its existence implies a network of roads and forts extending into mid-Cornwall, which in turn suggests that the conquest of the Dumnonii was substantially complete by the early 60’s [Ibid p89]. The Brigantes under Cartimandua were quiet and nothing was done to move the limes north.


The south was peaceful and “didicere iam barbari quoque ignoscere vitiis blandientibus” [Tacitus: Agricola 16], “the barbarians too now learned to condone seductive vices”, the “attractive weaknesses” being the Roman way of life [Ogilvie & Richmond p203]. In other words, the process of the Romanization of Britain was well under way. Maximus obviously saw his priorities as being the keeping of the peace, the making of friends, the repairing of bridges, and the full integration of the new province into the Roman world. He succeeded very well, to the extent that the outbreak of peace was real enough to persuade Nero to reduce the military establishment of Britain dramatically and the most remarkable troop movement of Trebellius’ incumbency was the removal from Britain of Legio XIV.


In 64 the Empire was at peace. The pax Romana extended throughout the world to the point that Nero was able to order the closure of the doors of the Temple of Janus [Suetonius: Nero 13]. But trouble was not long in coming, and there were murmurings of unrest in the east. Britain, however, was sufficiently quiet to enable Nero order the withdrawal of Legio XIV Gemina from its base at Viriconium in 66. The Emperor planned an expedition to the Caspian Gates against the Albani [Tacitus: Histories i:6] and the XIVth, covered in glory after their victory over Boudica and the Iceni a few years before, were considered one of the crack formations of the Army. Their selection for the campaign was a sign of especial favour and greatly enhanced their already fearsome reputation [Ibid: Histories ii:11]. Thus, along with the eight auxiliary Batavian cohorts whose swimming abilities were already legendary and various other picked units from Germany and the Balkans, they were summoned to Rome to await embarkation with their Emperor. Neither the XIVth nor the Batavians were destined to travel to the Caucasus. They were to be diverted elsewhere as events in the West rapidly escalated towards boiling point.


But meanwhile Legio XIV was in Rome, withdrawn from the key fortress of Viriconium and, for all anyone was to know, they were gone for good. Their departure substantially depleted the army establishment in Britain and some fairly fast redeployment of the remaining troops was necessary in order to plug the gap as effectively as possible as Wales was still unconquered. The garrison at Viriconium had been the primary bulwark against incursions from the west, and without doubt Legio XIV, of all the units in Britain, was the last that Maximus would have wanted to lose. But the Emperor had specifically requested it for his campaign and that was that. Maximus would have to make do with what he had.


Legio XX, who had up to this point been stationed at Burrium (Usk), moved out and took over the fortress at Viriconium [Frere 1987: p75]. The direct evidence for this move, admittedly, rests entirely on a single inscription [Tomlin 1992: p142], but the circumstantial evidence leaves little other choice: Legio IX quite obviously stayed where it was at Lindum, and Legio II moved northwards. The latter unit began to move from its base at Isca Dumnoniorum (Exeter), and a new and larger base was begun at Glevum (Gloucester) a short distance from the earlier fort at Kingsholm [Frere 1987: p75]. This position enabled it to stand guard over Dumnonia and Siluria both, and the older bases at Burrium and Isca were given up. They were not immediately deserted however, and the evidence would suggest that a military presence was maintained at both for some years to come [Ibid p75]. The pace was unhurried, for there was no campaigning to demand speed, and the moves were further complicated by the return of Legio XIV the following year. It was to remain in Britain for a further year, when it was withdrawn again to the Continent, permanently this time, to deal with the revolt of Civilis. It is suggested that during the period of its return it was stationed at the new base at Glevum [Ibid p75], thus even further confusing and slowing down the various redeployments.


The six year tenure of Trebellius Maximus was one of peace between Roman and native, and a busy period of rebuilding as at Camulodunum and building as at Gloucester. But tensions were mounting. The troops grew restive through lack of action. Boredom bred indiscipline, indiscipline ultimately bred mutiny, fed by an obviously public spat between the Governor and his top officer whom Maximus accused of disloyalty and disrespect [Tacitus: Histories i:60]. The matter came to a head with the counter-accusation by Roscius Coelius, the long-serving commander of Legio XX and the senior military man in Britain, that Maximus was responsible for the “despoiled and impoverished state of the legions” [Ibid: Histories i:60]. The meaning of this blast is not immediately apparent, but may have something to do with the fact that eight years of peace had denied the troops their usual perquisite of booty [Frere 1987: p76], and without doubt the almost continual campaigns of the eighteen years previous to the conclusion of peace with the Iceni would have been lucrative ones for the men. They resented the loss of this substantial secondary income. The bickering reached the point that even the auxiliary regiments ultimately went over to the side of Roscius Coelius and refused to have anything to do with the Governor [Tacitus: Histories i:60].


Then, just as tension in Britain was being wound up to breaking point, the entire world suddenly began to crumble. For a few brief months of fratricidal insanity, the Empire seemed on the point of flying apart and no less than four Emperors held the tribunician power.




05:1:03: The Long but Single Year.

Those twelve turbulent months between the suicide of Nero on 9 June 68 and June 1 69, when the legions of the East hailed Vespasian as Emperor, was one of the most chaotic years in Roman history. There were two civil wars and no less than four men held the crucial tribunician power: Lucius Sulpicius Galba, Marcus Salvius Otho, Aulus Vitellius and lastly Titus Flavius Vespasianus. There were troop movements of bewildering intricacy as legions, regiments, vexillations and whole army groups marched and countermarched across the Empire from Wales to Armenia, from the Danube to the Nile. Lies, deceits and treachery were commonplace as men intrigued and conspired, formed alliances and switched allegiances in an Empire-wide and multi-sided struggle of Byzantine complexity. But if the flow of events of the period are convoluted, the underlying political motives are quite simple. There can be no question of overpowering ideological, philosophical or even economic differences between various groups. The root of the devastation was raw power and no more. The struggle was for the control of Rome, and in the end power went to the strongest.


Britain did not suffer the death and destruction that fell upon Gaul and Italy during that terrible year, but it, like every province in the Empire, was deeply affected by the struggles and by the results of those struggles. Further, the history of Roman Britain can only be understood within the context of its position within the Empire as a whole. Therefore, while the events in Gaul, Germany, Italy and the East during the year 68 – 69 are necessarily beyond the ambit of this essay, a brief account of the conflict is necessary to form the backdrop to the next drama that was to be played out in Britain.


Nero was the architect of his own destruction. Having started his career as Emperor well enough, he rapidly degenerated into an autocratic, megalomaniac, paranoid monster, the classic exemplar of the old adage that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. In 59 he engineered the murder of his mother Agrippina. In 62 he divorced Octavia, the innocent, unassuming and popular daughter of the Emperor Claudius, to marry his mistress Poppaea Sabina. Shortly thereafter, at Poppaea’s urging, Octavia was banished to a remote island and there murdered by a squad of Praetorians: the ex-Empress was not yet twenty years old. He may or may not have been involved in the setting of the terrible fire that, in 64, began in the Circus and in the course of a week completely destroyed ten of the fourteen city districts [Tacitus: Annals xv:39 – 44], but he certainly had ambitions to build a brand new city and name it after himself as Neropolis. The assassinations continued and Nero spent money as if the treasury was bottomless. Indeed, many wealthy men were falsely accused of trumped-up crimes and forced to commit suicide after first leaving all their estate to the Emperor. In 65, for almost every motivation imaginable but united in a common hatred of Nero, a group of influential people gathered around the urbane, popular and aristocratic Gaius Calpurnius Piso [Ibid xv:49ff]. It was betrayed, of course, and hundreds died in the ensuing pogrom personally overseen by Nero and his Praetorian Prefect, the loathsome Ofidius Tigillinus. Some the noblest blood in Rome was spilt, and many ancient houses vanished into history. Men such as the philosopher Seneca, the sophisticated Petronius the Arbiter, and Domitius Corbulo, victor of Armenia, died. The following year Nero kicked the heavily pregnant Poppaea to death in a fit of anger. When rebellion flared in Judaea, the Emperor, deprived of some of his leading military men, despatched one whom he considered to be an unimaginative and unambitious old bore to deal with the problem. The man’s name was Titus Flavius Vespasianus.


But the Furies were fast closing in on Nero. In March of 68 Julius Vindex, Governor of Gallia Lugdunensis and a man of Gaulish blood, raised the banner of rebellion. Nero seemed stunned at first, but regained his composure, treating the affair almost flippantly [Suetonius: Nero 40 – 41]. But worse was to come, much worse. In early April Galba, Governor of Nearer Spain, not only rose in rebellion but was hailed as Emperor by his legions. Nero’s reaction was quite different this time: on hearing the news he fainted dead away and remained mute and insensible for some time [Ibid: Nero 42.].


In early 68 Servius Sulpicius Galba was seventy years old (his birthday was 24 December) and had been Governor of Hispania Tarraconensis for eight years. News of Vindex’s revolt, in the form of an appeal for help from the Governor  of Aquitania and another from Vindex himself asking him to take the lead in rescuing humanity from Nero [Suetonius: Galba 9], reached him at about the same time that he accidentally discovered Nero’s secret orders for his own (Galba’s) assassination. He promptly declared himself Governor of all Spain, successfully urged the provincials to rebel against Nero, and raised another legion (Legio VII Galbiana) to augment his existing one legion, as well a number of new auxiliary regiments. He appears to have maintained a correspondence and to have been in league with Vindex, who had no legions at his command and was supported only by native militia. Vindex himself had no designs on the purple, but Galba was a different matter. The old disciplinarian was of ancient lineage and had enjoyed close connections with the Imperial household. Indeed, when Caligula was assassinated, Galba’s was one name bandied around as a successor. He was a viable alternative to the Julio-Claudians, and he was supported by Titus Vinius Rufus, Governor of Southern Gaul, Caecina Alienus, procurator of Baetica (Southern Spain), and Marcus Salvius Otho, Governor of Lusitania.


Galba did not have things all his own way and there were at least two attempts at assassination both of which failed but would have served to remind him of the stakes in his dangerous game. Then came bad news. Word of the revolt of Vindex had reached the Rhine and Virginius Rufus, Governor of Germania Superior, had marched south and utterly crushed the rebels at Vesontio (Besançon). Galba’s covert ally, and the man who had actually put the match to the powder keg, Gaius Julius Vindex, was dead. Galba was embarrassed and possibly hesitant, but then messengers brought news of a different sort: Nero was dead by his own hand and the citizens of Rome had sworn obedience to Galba. On 9 June the Senate formally recognised him as the new Emperor, and, at the head of Legio VII Galbiana and the Praetorian Guard, who had been sent to escort him as befitted his station, Servius Sulpicius Galba headed for Rome. The time of his arrival is unknown, but it would have been in late September or early October of 68.


Almost immediately there were rumblings of discontent. Galba was known as a strict disciplinarian with a very tight fist and he immediately imposed financial strictures, trying to recoup some of the vast amounts of money that Nero had frittered away, and this caused a lot of bad feeling. But it was necessary as the treasury was empty and Rome was virtually bankrupt. Despite that the usual donatives awarded to the troops on the accession of a new Emperor had been promised by Galba’s agents they were not forthcoming, which stirred up more discontent. Galba, in fact, is reported to have said, in his usual blunt way, “It is my custom to levy troops, not to buy them” [Suetonius: Galba 16], a sentiment that would have amused no-body and would have alienated many key people. The naval legions raised by Nero, the Legiones I and II Adiutrix, were ordered back to the onerous, low status and lowly paid ranks of sailors. When they protested and demanded their eagles back, Galba ordered his cavalry to charge the unarmed men with murderous results, and subjected the survivors to decimation, the execution of every tenth man chosen by lot. He disbanded the German guard and sent them home without a donative, and imposed many harsh measures on private citizens.


Amongst his contemporaries, Galba’s critics were numerous, and words such as meanness, brutality and senility were often applied to him but there is no doubt that he was a stern man who exercised his belief in traditional virtues to control his rabble subjects. The charge of meanness so often levelled at him exceeds the evidence. He did not spend money, for the very simple reason that there was none to spend, and this was a dreadful shock to a privileged populace used to the incredible prodigalities of Nero, and the lavishness generally of the Julio-Claudians. Brutality, equally, is a charge that has little substance. He was a hard man doing a hard job, and using time-honoured methods of Roman military discipline. The charge of senility is simply silly, and can be dismissed as pure spite. Despite his arthritis and advanced years, there was nothing whatsoever wrong with Galba’s mind and he had all his wits about him.


Galba was to wear the purple for some seven months, and his downfall may be traced, if indeed such things can be so simply stated, to three areas. Firstly, he had been away from Rome in the provinces for eight years, and despite his good connections he lacked the support network of highly placed and influential men vital to one in his position. Secondly, although his rearrangement of military commands along the periphery of the Empire rendered the powerful army groups of the north temporarily quiescent, he had disaffected the large and disparate forces now centred, by dint of a variety of chances, on the capitol. Thirdly, and fatally, he made a very grave error of judgment in his choice of heir.


Elderly and childless (his wife had died many years before and, for whatever reasons may be, he never chose to remarry), Galba needed an heir and one of his own choosing. Marcus Salvius Otho was in his thirties, was popular with the army and had done a good job of governing Lusitania. Moreover, he had been amongst the first to back Galba’s bid for the purple. From the very first he had had every expectation of being adopted by Galba as the old man’s heir and his expectations grew the more as time passed. It was therefore a crushing blow to him and his supporters when Galba selected as his adopted son one Piso Frugi Lucianus, a handsome and aristocratic young courtier of the impeccable lineage of Pompey the Great and Marcus Crassus, and son of Claudius’ crony Marcus Licinius Crassus Frugi. Young Piso’s elevation was announced to the Praetorians on 10 January 69, and Otho set the wheels of conspiracy in motion immediately. Five days later, on 15 January 69, Galba was cut down by the Cutian Pool in the Forum, his fellow consul Titus Vinius transfixed by a spear in front of the temple of Julius Caesar, and Piso was dragged from hiding in the temple of Vesta and murdered on the steps. Their heads were impaled on spikes and Otho was recognised as the seventh Emperor of Rome.


Otho was now Imperator, Princeps, Father of his Country, holder of the Tribunician power and master of Rome, but there were some who held that he was not the right man for this position. The powerful Army of the Rhine was aggrieved. They felt that they had not been consulted on this vital matter, an annoyance that was both understandable and, in light of the fact that the seven legions based in Upper and Lower Germany represented the most powerful army group in the Empire, was not something to be ignored.


Verginius Rufus, Governor of Upper Germany, had lead troops from the Rhine in 68 and had  destroyed the rebel Julius Vindex at Vesontio. There is no reason to believe that he was enamoured of Nero, but the fact remains that not only had he been slow to abandon his Emperor and had been somewhat dilatory about declaring for Galba, it was common knowledge that his troops has offered to hail him as Imperator [Tacitus: Histories i:8]. It was not the first time that the army would offer him the purple, nor the last, but in this instance he declined and open civil war was averted for a while at least. Why he declined must remain a mystery as he was a man of sufficient ability and popularity to have successfully become Emperor, and it may be truthfully observed of him that for the rest of his long life he dined out on the glory acquired by doing nothing and calling it patriotism [Wellesley 1975: p9]. Whatever else he was, Galba was not one to bear a grudge and after his accession he favoured Verginius with admission to his cohors amici, his inner council. The Governorship of Upper Germany, with its three legions, was given to the elderly and infirm Hordeonius Flaccus. Fonteius Capito, Governor of Lower Germany, had shortly beforehand been murdered by the legionary commanders Cornelius Aquinus and Fabius Valens, an act that Galba tacitly condoned even if he did not actively instigate it. In his place Galba appointed the indolent Aulus Vitellius, son of the great Lucius Vitellius who had been three times consul and had held the censorship. This, Tacitus [Histories i:9] remarks wryly, seemed to have been qualification enough. No doubt Galba felt that the loyalties of the Germanies could safely be counted on while two such were in command, but under Flaccus was Caecina Alienus, commander of Legio IV Macedonica and the former procurator of Baetica. Resentments did not cease with the appointment of these apparent non-entities, however, and plans were laid during the closing months of 68.


The ringleaders were Valens and Caecina. Valens, formerly a supporter of Galba, was disgruntled because he felt the Emperor had been ungrateful for the murder of Fonteius Capito, an act that had kept the four legions of Lower Germany out of any action that might have obstructed Galba’s accession. Caecina, also a former Galba partisan who had been favoured by the new Emperor, had then been prosecuted on Galba’s orders for malversion. As a result he, too, turned against Galba and began to subvert the legions of Upper Germany while Valens toadied to Vitellius, convincing him that he (Vitellius) should be the next Emperor. The storm clouds gathered, and on the first day of the new year of 69 the lightening struck.


On 1 January 69, the day when the entire Empire renewed its oaths of allegiance to the Emperor, the legions of the two Germanies were paraded and the oaths were administered. In Upper Germany, at the instigation of Legio IV but closely followed by Legio XXII, the portraits of Galba were torn up and the troops pledged allegiance to the Senate and People of Rome. In Lower Germany Legiones I and V were restive, while legiones XV and XVI muttered rebelliously, although as yet the troops did not have a focus for their loyalty [Tacitus: Histories i:55]. But messages moved fast. After dark on 1 January a standard-bearer of Legio IV arrived at Vitellius’ headquarters at Colonia Ara Agrippinensis (Cologne) with the news that Flaccus’ legions had torn up the imperial portraits and declared for the Senate and People of Rome. The time to strike was now [Histories i: 56]. Men moved quickly, and on the following morning Valens rode into Colonia Ara Agrippinensis where, on behalf of his legion, he hailed Vitellius as Emperor. The other legions fell over themselves to follow suit, and on 3 January, Flaccus or no Flaccus, the legions of Upper Germany swore allegiance to Aulus Vitellius.


The first civil war had begun.




05:01:04. The Rhine to Cremona.

Initially there was correspondence between Otho and Vitellius seeking compromise and at first the tone was diplomatic, but within weeks it became obvious that diplomacy was ineffective. The die had been cast, and the prospect of armed confrontation became increasingly inevitable as military dispositions took place and attitudes hardened.


The situation was beginning to look grim for Otho. The German legions had plainly sided with Vitellius and the Gallic provinces, including Lugudunum, also declared for him. After a little vacillation, the Iberian peninsula followed suit. The British legions also fell in behind their the German and Iberian comrades, albeit in a somewhat lukewarm manner, making the entire west a Vitellian stronghold. On the other hand, the legions of the Danube and in particular Legio VII Galbiana under its commander Antonius Primus, quickly sent word of their support to Otho. Indeed Primus was anxious to proceed at once to Italy to head off the inevitable Vitellian advance. The Danube garrison matched that of the Rhine in strength, with four in Pannonia and Dalmatia and three in Moesia. Furthermore, Otho also had Legio XIV and the garrison at Rome including the Praetorians, and when the eight eastern legions – three in Syria, three in Judaea and two in Egypt – swore allegiance to him, the resultant muster made a heavy counterbalance to Vitellius’ adherents. War was inevitable in an atmosphere of increasing acrimony in which Otho could see no need to compromise.


In the first week in March, word was sent to the Danube legions to head for Italy to block the presumed advance of the Rhine armies under Caecina and Valens. The supreme commanders of the Othonian forces were Marius Celsus and the veteran general Suetonius Paullinus. Otho himself, accompanied by his Praetorians, left Rome for the front on March 15, leaving the City under the command of the urban prefect, Flavius Sabinus.


Meanwhile on the Rhine, the garrison was on the march. Leaving holding forces at the various forts, something like half the strength of the armies of Upper and Lower Germany began the march on Rome and Galba, or, as they shortly discovered, Otho. The advance was in two prongs: Valens would lead his forces through Gaul and into Italy via Lugudunum and the Mt. Genévè Pass, while Caecina would follow the shorter but more difficult route from Upper Germany to Italy via the Great St. Bernard Pass. As luck would have it, an early spring saw the snows melting quickly and the high pass becoming easier to traverse, a situation that was no doubt seen as a good omen. Both army groups were reinforced by various other units such as a contingent from Britain and the invaluable Batavian auxiliaries. Vitellius himself followed them, and in due course would join them in Italy. Caecina and Valens could meet somewhere in the region of Mediolanum (Milan) and the combined force would then head on to Rome. The columns moved out in late February.


By March the three groups were closing and Otho’s initial move was something of a gaffe. At the head of his somewhat motley troops, he headed into the Maritime Alps, presumably in an attempt to head off Valens and was met with resistance by Marius Maturus, the pro-Vitellian governor of the area, and local militia. These latter were easily scattered by Otho’s men, but they then fled into the mountains where the Emperor’s troops could not catch them. The Othonians, seemingly in a fit of pique, then set upon the local Italian population, burning, looting and massacring. Julia Procilla, the mother of Gnaeus Julius Agricola, was murdered near Intimilium (Ventimiglia) in Liguria during these depredations [Tacitus: Agricola 7] and the estate and a large proportion of the family fortune plundered. News of the slaughter came to Valens and he sent a small force of auxiliary infantry and cavalry who engaged the Othonians on March 22 between Menton and Intimilium [Wellesley 1975 p51]. The Othonians were thrown back and the clash was indecisive, but it was the first engagement of a brief but bitter and bloody war. This short but ugly Ligurian campaign did, if nothing else, turn Valens away from Rome and towards the north Italian plains, and it was there that the campaign was to be fought [Wellesley 1975: p52].


By March 20 Caecina had arrived on the River Po, making his base at Cremona, where he ordered the building of a large camp, sufficient for the combined force, within the angle formed by the roads to Brescia and Verona. A few days later he advanced on the city of Piacenza, but, to his chagrin, his attack was repulsed thanks to a spirited defence by Titus Vestricius Spurinna and Caecina was forced to retire to Cremona by March 24 as Valens was descending the Mt Geneve Pass. The Othonian officer Annius Gallus, meanwhile, was marching along the Postumian Way at the head of Legio I Adiutrix, two Praetorian cohorts and a cavalry regiment to the relief of Piacenza. He had not proceeded very far when he was overtaken by messengers from Spurinna appraising him of the situation and advising him that the enemy was now back in Cremona. Gallus halted his men at a small village by the name of Bedriacum. Thereafter events began to move with frightening speed. It may be simpler to take things day by day:


5 April 69. Caecina sends auxiliary infantry along the Postumian Way to lay an ambush by the little wayside shrine to the Dioscori, Castor and Pollux. This site is about half way between Cremona and a little village known as Bedriacum. Cavalry are sent out as bait to lure Gallus and his Othonians out of their camp, but Othonian intelligence manages to gain advance warning of the ploy. What is more, the Othonians have by now been strongly reinforced by regulars from  Legio XIII Gemina, Pannonian auxiliaries and cavalry, and another Praetorian cohort. The infantry was now under the command of no less a man than the veteran Suetonius Paullinus, the scourge of Boudica, and the cavalry under the very experienced Marius Celsus. What followed was the Battle of Bedriacum, in which the Othonians turned the tables on the Vitellians, routed them and Paullinus proved once again his consummate mastery of battlefield tactics.


8 April 69. Valens finally links up with Caecina and Cremona. Despite rivalry between the two commanders, and animosity between their respective armies, the joint force of approaching fifty thousand men bury their differences (for the time being) to act together. They now enjoyed considerable numerical superiority over the Othonians, but theirs is a wasting force: no more support would come from the Rhine, while Otho himself is not far away to the south with a substantial army, and the legions of the Danube command are advancing rapidly from the north east [Wellesley 1975: 71]. What to do? Stay and fight it out with Otho’s troops, or take the advantage and head for Rome with all the strategic and psychological advantages that that move would bring their cause? A decision is made: Rome it has to be.


12 April 69. Otho calls a council of war at Bedriacum with virtually all his senior commanders present. The question is: attack the Vitellians now or wait until reinforcements arrive? Paullinus, cautious as ever, Celsus and Gallus advise a week to ten days’ delay to await the arrival of Legiones XIII Gemina, VII Galbiana and XI Claudia who are known to be approaching rapidly. Otho’s brother Titianus and the Praetorian prefect Proculus argue for immediate engagement while the men are in high morale after a resounding victory. Besides, the Vitellians are building a bridge over the Po, and the Othonians stand a good chance of being bypassed as the enemy makes speed for Rome. Both points of view have their merits, but there is a further telling argument. The civil war is deeply unpopular in most circles. There is the danger that, given a delay, there would be fraternisation and secret negotiations between other elements from both sides. Many men, both Othonian and Vitellian, would be happy to arrange a compromise with the possibility that both Otho and Vitellius could be sidelined and the purple offered to another, neutral, candidate, for example Verginius Rufus [Wellesley 1975: p79]. It is this last argument that swung Otho in favour of immediate action.


13 April 69. Otho gives orders for the troops to deploy for an assault on the Vitellians with as much secrecy as is possible given the huge numbers of men, the nature of the countryside and the short distances involved.


14 April 69. Vitellian scouts become aware of the Othonian advance. The Othonians, after considerable acrimony, decide to abandon their previous caution for maximum speed and advance along the paved Postumian Way. Their force consists of Legio I Adiutrix, the Praetorians, Legio XIII Gemina and a 2,000 strong vexillation from Legio XIV Gemina, with two regiments of Pannonian and Moesian horse in the vanguard and auxiliary infantry reinforcing the whole column. In the afternoon Vitellian cavalry attack the Othonian vanguard, only to be driven back to their camp where they are reinforced by Legio I Italica. They mount a successful counterattack. The first battle of Cremona has begun. By nightfall the defeated Othonians are streaming back to the camp at Bedriacum, pursued to the death by the victorious Vitellians. Bodies lie in heaps along the Postumian Way and among the fields and vineyards of the plain.


15 April 69. Paullinus and Proculus disappear for ten days, to reappear on 25/26 April in Lugudunum, begging for an audience with Vitellius. Marius Celsus rides from Bedriacum seeking an audience with the Vitellian commanders offering recognition of Vitellius and seeking a reconciliation between the armies. The terms are accepted, the Othonians swear allegiance to Vitellius and there are emotional scenes of reconciliation at the camp at Cremona. Meanwhile Otho, encamped at Brescello and uninvolved in the battle, is the centre of emotional scenes. His remaining troops, led by the Praetorian prefect Plotinus Firmus, urge him not to give up and remind him that powerful reinforcements are approaching rapidly. But Otho is determined: he has no wish to shed yet more Roman blood, and there is but one honourable course of action. “It may be that others have held the principate longer, but no-one quits it more courageously. It is not for me to allow all these young Romans, all these fine armies, to be trampled underfoot for a second time to their country’s loss” [Tacitus: Histories 2:47]. That evening he calls for two daggers and retires to his bedroom.


16 April 69. At dawn Otho arises, dismisses his valet and falls on his dagger. His funeral is held immediately by his loyal Praetorians, some of whom, in an agony of grief, take their own lives as the pyre roars. Later, when news of his passing reaches Bedriacum, more of his followers, loyal to the end, also take their lives in the hope of joining the Emperor whom they adored.


18 April 69. Dispatch riders bring the news of the battle of Cremona and the death of Otho to Rome. City Prefect Flavius Sabinus administers the oath of allegiance to Vitellius to the garrison of Rome.


19 April 69. The Senate meets and recognises Aulus Vitellius as Emperor of Rome.


Otho was doomed from the moment he ordered the murder of Galba and Piso. The assassination horrified all classes, and he himself began to regret it very soon after the event, but he continued his path. An ambitious and callous man in many ways, he nevertheless seems to have grown in stature over the three brief months of his principate, and to have exercised a charisma that earned him the fanatical loyalty of many under his command. Few Emperors indeed could equal the ultimate accolade of the self-immolation of their followers on their deaths, and Otho is unique in the roll of Roman Emperors in that he took his own life for the single, and stated, reason that he did so to save the lives of more of his fellow citizens.




05:01:05. Vitellius to Vespasian.

Word of the victory at Cremona came to Vitellius while he was staying at Châlon-sur-Saône, and he received his first imperial recognition from Junius Blasus, Governor of Central Gaul, when shortly thereafter he arrived at the great city of Lugudunum. Here also he received his marshals Caecina and Valens and heard at first hand, and no doubt with great delight, the full report on the fateful battle and the death of Otho. Here also he began to issue instructions, and his first acts were auspiciously conciliatory: no leading Othonians suffered retribution either to person or property and the wills of fallen soldiers were recognised. Life was to continue as before: even Marius Celsus, Othonian partisan and consul-designate, was allowed to take up office for the coming July – August. The Othonian legions were sent back to their bases without reprimand, except that legio XIII Gemina, as punishment, was ordered to undertake the onerous task of building amphitheatres at Cremona and Bononia (Bologna). Vitellius indeed was showing a statesmanlike ability to make good friends without making notable enemies (Wellesley 1975: p101).


The new Emperor proceeded to Augusta Taurinorum (Turin) and thence to Ticinum (Pavia) where a senatorial deputation hailed him as Emperor. He then visited Cremona to examine the battlefield, where, for some macabre reason and contrary to normal usages, nothing had been tidied up. The rotting bodies of men and horses were strewn everywhere, clogging watercourses and littering the trampled fields and shattered vineyards.


In due course Vitellius headed south, reaching Rome with an army of some 60,000 men, not to mention the camp-followers, entertainers, merchants, victuallers and hangers-on too numerous to count. The actual entry into the City, via the Milvian Bridge to the Capitol and the Old Forum, was a spectacle of unprecedented magnificence and power. Vitellius was duly hailed as Augustus, and at first, despite a few ugly incidents involving some of the barbarian auxiliaries, all seemed well and augured better. The new Augustus attended meetings at the Senate, deferred to its dignity and even smiled, if somewhat crookedly, at dissent.


But problems began to arise and to gnaw away at the first euphoria. The City was crammed with some 60,000 troops with time on their hands and little discipline, a sure recipe for trouble. Disease became increasingly common, especially among the German and Celtic troops who were unused to the heat of the Roman summer. Dire news began to arrive from the east. By August the word began to circulate that the Egyptian legions had acclaimed Vespasian as Augustus on June the first. Initially this news was suppressed and Vitellius issued statements denying the rising Flavian tide. Talk about Vespasian was prohibited and Praetorians patrolled the streets breaking up groups of gossips. But no amount of denial could cover up the truth and when in early September and shortly after Vitellius’ birthday (7 September) Antonius Primus arrived in Italy, the news was rife. Vespasian was on the way to Rome.


Despite an indifference to honours and promotion, Vespasian had advanced in life far beyond his relatively humble Sabine origins. He began his military career as a staff officer in Thrace and then served a term as procurator of Crete and Cyrene. He was holding the command of Legio II Augusta in Upper Germany in 43 CE when he led it over to Britain where he served under Aulus Plautius with singular distinction. He was suffect consul in 51 and in 64 was Governor of Africa, from whence he returned to Rome with the unique distinction of being no wealthier than when he set out. Almost impoverished, he was forced for a while to suffer the indignity of going into business, running a transport company. In 67 there came the stirrings of rebellion in the troublesome province of Judaea, so Nero appointed Vespasian as Governor with instructions to restore order. He was still methodically re-imposing Roman rule on the turbulent province in 68 when Galba marched on Rome. Ever loyal to his City, Vespasian duly administered the oath of allegiance to Galba, Otho and Vitellius in turn.


But there was unease amongst the legions of the East at the unilateral and cavalier way in which the German legions has placed a man of their own choice – Vitellius – in the Empire’s highest office. Some elements began to cast around for a man of their own choice. When the name of Vespasian was first bandied around is moot, but the Moesian legions may have named him as early as April at a time when they had the news of Otho’s death and had not yet received word of the ascension of Vitellius. Given his record, it is doubtful that Vespasian would ever have sought the purple of his own accord. He needed a push, and a pusher was not too far away. Enter Gaius Licinius Mucianus, Governor of Syria.


Mucianus was a peculiar man. An aristocrat of excellent connections and with the usual literary and antiquarian pretensions of his class, he had a genius for diplomacy and intrigue. His real motives are elusive, as he does not seem ever to have had any designs upon the purple for himself and chose instead to elevate a man who was in every way his social and cultural inferior, a man whom he did not particularly like. But to this end he worked, and for Vespasian. The latter was not too hard to convince, despite (or perhaps because of) his patriotism. Indeed, ever since that strange evening in 67 at Jotapata in the Judaean Galilee when the captured Jewish general Josephus had told the incredulous Vespasian and his son Titus that it was the will of the Jewish God that Vespasian become Emperor of Rome (Josephus: Jewish War iii 398 – 404), this had been a thought growing in the old man’s superstitious mind.


At the end of May, Mucianus and a delegation of senior officers approached Vespasian and asked him to accept nomination as Emperor. With some reluctance, Vespasian agreed.


Vespasian did not immediately make any great show of things. For the next month it was business as usual while he and his legions pursued the war in Judaea, while the agents of the wily Mucianus spread far and wide. The aid of Tiberius Julius Alexander, prefect of Egypt and a relative of Herod II Agrippa was enlisted. By early June it became clear that the Danube legions would support the cause, and the Syrian and Judaean legions were also in agreement. By the end of June there was a lull in the fighting and Vespasian ensconced himself in Caesarea where he sat back and waited for events to come together. He did not have to wait long.


On 1 July 69 Tiberius Alexander assembled the two Egyptian legions, Legiones III Cyrenaica and XXII Deiotariana and read them a letter in which Vespasian announced his intention to assume the principate, and inviting the two legions and the people of Alexandria to join his cause. There was thunderous applause: Vespasian’s journey to the Golden house had begun.


On 3 July the good news reached Vespasian at Caesarea, and the three legions of the Judaean garrison hailed him as Caesar. Shortly thereafter Mucianus was informed at Antioch, and the Syrian garrison swore allegiance. More followed: the native rulers Agrippa II and his influential sister Berenice, Sohaemus of Homs, Antiochus IV of Commagene, and the Roman Governors of Asia, Galatia and Pamphylia, Cappadocia and Pontus all embraced the cause enthusiastically. In late July Vespasian, Mucianus, Titus and the legionary commanders, together with all the native rulers, gathered at Berytus (Beirut) to plan strategy. New troops were recruited to strengthen the legions, orders for armaments and munition of war were commissioned, and the mint as Antioch began to produce the first Vespasianic coins. Huge numbers of troops were needed, but the East itself could not be left defenceless, as there was still war in Judaea and the frontiers had to be manned. The details seemed endless, but were solved quickly with typical Roman thoroughness and efficiency. The plan entailed a spring offensive against Italy, with armies poised at Aquileia for a land march and in Epirus for a naval assault, and a blockade of Italy that denied it the vital supplies of Egyptian corn.


By early August the conference had broken up and the various principals headed for their different destinations. Young Titus, assisted by Julius Alexander, headed for Judaea to finish the Jewish War. Mucianus, with Legio IV Ferrata and a further 13,000 legionary troops drawn from the other formations, left Antioch and began the long march, via Anatolia, Thrace and the Balkans, for Italy. Vespasian headed for Alexandria from whence, if necessary, he could march across North Africa.




05:01:06. Novi Dei: A New Breed of God.

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