Late in 47, Publius Ostorius Scapula arrived in Britain to begin his term as governor of the Roman province. Tacitus reports that he found a disturbed state of affairs:
… the enemy had poured into the territory of our allies with a violence all the greater from their belief that a new commander would not take the field with an untried army and with winter begun. Ostorius, aware that the first results are those which engender fear or confidence, swept his cohorts forward at speed, cut down the resisters, chased the broken bands and – to obviate a second rally, to be followed by a sullen and disloyal peace which would allow no rest either to the general or his troops – prepared to disarm the suspect and to overawe the whole district on this side of the Trent and Severn.
The first to become restive were the Iceni, a powerful community not yet broken in battle, as they had voluntarily acceded to our alliance. At their suggestion, the surrounding tribes chose for their field of battle a position protected by a rustic embankment with a narrow approach, designed to be impervious to cavalry. This defence the Roman commander prepared to carry, though he was leading allied forces without the strength of the legions, and distributing the cohorts in appropriate positions, turned even his mounted squadrons to infantry work. Then, on the signal, they broke through the embankment, and threw the enemy, hampered by his own barrier, into confusion. The Britons, with their rebellion on their conscience, and every egress closed, performed many remarkable feats; and during the engagement the legate’s son, Marcus Ostorius, earned the reward for saving a Roman life.
By the Icenian defeat all who were wavering between war and peace were reduced to quietude, and the army was led [probably in 49] against the Decangi. The country was devastated, booty collected everywhere, while the enemy declined to risk a battle, or, if he made a stealthy attempt to harass the marching columns, found his treachery punished. And now Ostorius was within measurable distance of the sea which looks towards Ireland, when an outbreak of sedition among the Brigantes recalled a leader who was firm in his resolution to attempt new conquests only when he had secured the old. The Brigantian rising, it is true, subsided on the execution of a handful of men, who were beginning hostilities, and the pardon of the rest; but neither severity nor clemency converted the tribe of the Silures, which continued the struggle and had to be repressed by the establishment of a legionary camp. To facilitate that result, a colonia was settled on conquered lands at Camulodunum [Colchester, Essex], with a strong body of veterans who were to serve as a bulwark against revolt and to habituate the friendly natives to their legal obligations.Annals XII, 31–32
M FAVON M F POL FACIThat is to say: “Marcus Favonius Facilis, son of Marcus, of the Pollian voting-tribe, centurion of the 20th Legion, lies buried here; Verecundus and Novicius, his freedmen, set this up.” The format of this inscription is evidently indicative of a first century date. It is thought likely that the 20th Legion (Legio XX) was awarded the title Valeria Victrix in recognition of its part in crushing Boudica’s Rebellion, in 60, but the title does not appear in the inscription, perhaps tending to suggest it pre-dates Boudica. Indeed, the lack of weathering indicates that the tombstone (which is now on display in Colchester Castle Museum) had been pulled-down not long after it had been set-up, and it is conjectured it was overthrown when Camulodunum was devastated during the rebellion.[*] Further, Facilis is said to be a centurion, rather than a veteran, which might indicate he died whilst Camulodunum was still a fortress. The upshot is that it is probable the 20th were stationed at Camulodunum from 43 until the colonia replaced the fortress in 49, and, therefore, it was probably the 20th that was released for service against the Silures of south-east Wales. Incidentally, the location of the legionary camp that Tacitus says Ostorius Scapula set-up is not certainly known, though Kingsholm, near Gloucester, is widely mentioned.
LIS 7 LEG XX VERECVND [*]
VS ET NOVICIVS LIB POSV
ERVNT H S E
Caratacus (often called Caractacus in older publications) of the Catuvellauni had escaped Claudius’ initial invasion assault, and was leading the resistance to Rome from the rugged territory of Wales.
The march then [probably in 50] proceeded against the Silures, whose natural ferocity was heightened by their confidence in the prowess of Caratacus; whose many successes, partial or complete, had raised him to a pinnacle above the other British leaders. But on this occasion, favoured by the treacherous character of the country, though inferior in military strength, he astutely shifted the seat of war to the territory of the Ordovices [probably in 51]; where, after being joined by all who feared a Roman peace, he put the final chance to trial. The place fixed upon for the struggle was one where approaches, exits, every local feature would be unfavourable to ourselves and advantageous to his own forces. On one side the hills rose sheer; and wherever a point could be reached by a gentle ascent, the way was blocked with stones composing a sort of rampart. Along the front ran a river with a precarious ford, and bands of warriors were in position before the defences.
In addition, the tribal chieftains were going round, haranguing the men and confirming their spirits by minimizing fear, by kindling hope, and by applying the various stimulants of war. As for Caratacus, he flew hither and thither, protesting that this day – this field – would be the prelude to their recovery of freedom or their eternal servitude. He invoked the names of their ancestors, who had repelled the dictator Caesar, and by whose valour they were immune from the Axes and the tributes and still preserved inviolate the persons of their wives and children. To these appeals and the like the crowd shouted assent, and every man took his tribal oath to give way neither for weapons nor for wounds.
This ardour disconcerted the Roman general; and he was daunted also by the intervening river, by the added rampart, the beetling hills, the absence of any point that was not defiant and thronged with defenders. But the soldiers insisted on battle; against courage, they clamoured, no place was impregnable; and prefects and tribunes, employing the same language, intensified the zeal of the army. After surveying the ground to discover its impenetrable and its vulnerable points, Ostorius now put himself at the head of the eager troops and crossed the river without difficulty. When the embankment was reached, so long as the struggle was carried on by missiles, most of the wounds, and numerous casualties, fell to our own lot. But a testudo was formed; and, once the rude and shapeless aggregate of stones had been demolished and matters came to an equal encounter at close quarters, the barbarians withdrew to the hill-tops. Yet even there the light and heavy troops broke in, the former skirmishing with their darts, the latter advancing in closer, while the British ranks opposite were in complete confusion: for they lacked the protection of breastplates and helmets; if they offered a resistance to the auxiliaries, they were struck down by the swords [gladii] and javelins of the legionaries; if they faced against the legionaries, they fell under the long-swords [spathae] and spears of the auxiliaries. It was a notable victory; and the wife and daughter of Caratacus were taken, his brothers being admitted to surrender.
Caratacus himself – for adversity seldom finds a refuge – after seeking the protection of Cartimandua, queen of the Brigantes, was bound and handed to the victors, in the ninth year from the opening of the war in Britain [i.e. in 51]. Through that resistance, his reputation had gone beyond the islands, had overspread the nearest provinces, and was familiar in Italy itself; where there was curiosity to see what manner of man it was that had for so many years scorned our power. Even in Rome, the name of Caratacus was not without honour; and Caesar [i.e. Emperor Claudius], by attempting to heighten his own credit, added distinction to the vanquished. For the populace were invited as if to some spectacle of note; the Praetorian cohorts stood under arms upon the level ground in front of their camp. Then, while the king’s [i.e. Caratacus’] humble vassals filed past, ornaments and torcs and prizes won in his foreign wars were borne in parade; next his brothers, wife, and daughter were placed on view; finally, he himself.[*] The rest stooped to unworthy entreaties dictated by fear; but on the part of Caratacus not a downcast look nor a word requested pity. Arrived at the tribunal, he spoke as follows –
“Had my lineage and my rank been matched by my moderation in success, I should have entered this city rather as a friend than as a captive; nor would you have scorned to admit to a peaceful league a king sprung from famous ancestors and holding sway over many peoples. My present lot, if to me a degradation, is to you a glory. I had horses and men, arms and riches: what wonder if I lost them with a pang? For if you would rule the world, does it follow that the world must welcome servitude? If I were dragged before you after surrendering without a blow, there would have been little heard either of my fall or of your triumph: punishment of me will be followed by oblivion; but save me alive, and I shall be an everlasting memorial of your clemency.” The answer was Caesar’s pardon for Caratacus, his wife, and his brothers; and the prisoners, freed from their chains, paid their homage to Agrippina also – a conspicuous figure on another tribunal not far away – in the same terms of praise and gratitude which they had employed to the emperor. It was an innovation, certainly, and one without precedent in ancient custom, that a woman should sit in state before Roman standards: it was the advertisement of her claim to a partnership in the empire which her ancestors had created.
The Fathers [i.e. the Senate], who were convened later, delivered long and florid orations on the capture of Caratacus – “an incident as glorious as the exhibition to the Roman people of Syphax by Publius Scipio, of Perseus by Lucius Paulus, of other manacled kings by other generals.”Annals XII, 33–38
A much quoted speech is put into Caratacus’ mouth by Cassius Dio (Zonaras):
Caratacus, a barbarian chieftain who was captured and brought to Rome and later pardoned by Claudius, wandered about the city after his liberation; and after beholding its splendour and its magnitude he exclaimed: “And can you, then, who have got such possessions and so many of them, covet our poor tents?”Roman History (Epitome, Zonaras) LX, 33
Triumphal insignia were awarded to Ostorius; whose fortunes, so far unclouded, now became dubious – possibly because, with the removal of Caratacus, our energy in the field had been slackened in the belief that the war was won, or possibly sympathy with their great king had fired the enemy’s zeal to avenge him. A camp-prefect and some legionary cohorts, left behind to construct garrison-posts in Silurian territory, were attacked from all quarters; and, if relief had not quickly reached the invested troops from the neighbouring forts – they had been informed by messenger – they must have perished to the last man. As it was, the prefect fell, with eight centurions and the boldest members of the rank and file. Nor was it long before both a Roman foraging party and the squadrons despatched to its aid were totally routed.
Ostorius then interposed his light cohorts; but even so he failed to check the flight, until the legions took up the contest. Their strength equalized the struggle, which eventually turned in our favour; the enemy escaped with trivial losses, as the day was drawing to a close. Frequent engagements followed, generally of the irregular type, in woods and fens; decided by individual luck or bravery; accidental or prearranged; with passion or plunder for the motives; by orders, or sometimes without the knowledge of the leaders. Particularly marked was the obstinacy of the Silures, who were infuriated by a widely repeated remark of the Roman commander, that, as once the Sugambri [a Germanic tribe] had been exterminated or transferred to the Gallic provinces, so the Silurian name ought once for all to be extinguished. They accordingly cut off two auxiliary cohorts which, through the cupidity of their officers, were ravaging the country too incautiously; and by presents of spoils and captives they were drawing into revolt the remaining tribes also, when Ostorius – broken by the weary load of anxiety – died [presumably in 52]; to the delight of the enemy, who considered that, perhaps not a battle, but certainly a campaign had disposed of a general whom it was impossible to despise.
On receiving the news of the legate’s death, Caesar, not to leave the province without a governor, appointed Aulus Didius [Aulus Didius Gallus] to the vacancy. In spite of a rapid crossing, he found matters deteriorated, as the legion under Manlius Valens [probably the 20th] had been defeated in the interval. Reports of the affair were exaggerated: among the enemy, with the hope of alarming the commander on his arrival; by the commander – who magnified the version he heard – with the hope of securing additional credit, if he settled the disturbances, and a more legitimate excuse, if the disturbances persisted. In this case, again, the loss had been inflicted by the Silures, and they carried their forays far and wide, until repelled by the advent of Didius. Since the capture of Caratacus, however, the Briton with the best knowledge of the art of war was Venutius from the state of the Brigantes, as mentioned earlier[*]. He had long been loyal, and had received the protection of the Roman arms during his married life with Queen Cartimandua: then had come a divorce, followed by immediate war, and he had extended his hostility to ourselves. At first, however, the struggle was confined to the pair; and Cartimandua adroitly entrapped the brother and other relatives of Venutius. Incensed at her act, and smarting at the ignominious prospect of submitting to the sway of a woman, the enemy – a powerful body of young and picked warriors – invaded her kingdom. That event had been foreseen by us, and the cohorts sent to the rescue fought a sharp engagement, with dubious results at the outset but a more cheerful conclusion. The conflict had a similar issue in the case of the legion which was commanded by Caesius Nasica [probably the 9th]; since Didius, burdened by his years and full of honours, was content to act through his subordinates and to hold the enemy at distance. These operations, though conducted by two propraetors [governors] over a period of years, I have related consecutively, lest, if treated separately, they should leave an inadequate impression on the memory. I return to the chronological order.Annals XII, 38–40
The above account (Annals XII, 31–40) of the governorships of Publius Ostorius Scapula and Aulus Didius Gallus (the period 47–57) is tagged onto the events of the year 50 – hence Tacitus’ closing remarks.
Claudius had died in 54.
And the Britons beyond in their unknown seas,Earlier in the work, Clotho, the Fate responsible for spinning the thread of human life, comments:
Blue-shielded Brigantians too, all these
He chained by the neck as the Romans’ slaves.
He spake, and the Ocean with trembling waves
Accepted the axe of the Roman law.[*]Apocolocyntosis §12
Upon my word, I did wish to give him [Claudius] another hour or two, until he should make Roman citizens of the half dozen who are still outsiders. (He made up his mind, you know, to see the whole world in the toga, Greeks, Gauls, Spaniards, Britons, and all.)Apocolocyntosis §3
In 57, his successor, Nero, appointed Quintus Veranius governor. Veranius died within a year.
… Aulus Didius, had done nothing but retain the ground already won, while his successor Veranius, after harrying the Silures in a few raids of no great significance, was prevented by death from carrying his arms further. Famous, during life, for uncompromising independence, in the closing words of his testament he revealed the courtier; for amid a mass of flattery to Nero he added that, could he have lived for the next two years, he would have laid the province at his feet.Annals XIV, 29
In his Agricola, Tacitus sums up the province’s first decade and a half:
The first of the consular governors was Aulus Plautius, who was succeeded by Ostorius Scapula: both were distinguished soldiers. By degrees the nearest parts of Britain [to Rome, i.e. the south-east] was reduced into the form of a province, and a colonia of veterans was founded. Certain states were bestowed as a gift on the king, Cogidumnus, whose allegiance lasted up to our own time. It is indeed an old-established principle of Roman government to employ the kings themselves as instruments of slavery. The next governor, Didius Gallus, held what his predecessors had won, and advanced a very few forts into more remote parts. He wished it said that he had enlarged his sphere. He was succeeded by Veranius, who died within a year of his arrival.Agricola 14
… thought of withdrawing the army from Britain and changed his purpose only because he was ashamed to seem to belittle the glory of his father [i.e. Claudius].Suetonius gives no indication of when Nero contemplated abandoning Britain, but, if he really did seriously consider such a move, it may have been prompted by the events that were to unfold under the governorship of Gaius Suetonius Paullinus.Lives of the Twelve Caesars ‘Nero’ 18
Veranius’ replacement (in 58) was Gaius Suetonius Paullinus:
… in military skill and in popular report – which allows no man to lack his rival – a formidable competitor to Corbulo, and anxious to equal the laurels of the recovery of Armenia by crushing a national enemy.Annals XIV, 29
… Suetonius Paulinus had two years of success [58 and 59]: he subdued tribes, and strengthened garrisons. Thus encouraged, he commenced an attack [in 60] on the island of Mona [Anglesey], which, he thought, supplied forces to the rebels; and thus he exposed his rear to attack.Agricola 14
… [Suetonius Paulinus] prepared to attack the island of Mona, which had a considerable population of its own, while serving as a haven for fugitives; and in view of the shallow and variable channel, [he] constructed a flotilla of boats with flat bottoms. By this method the infantry crossed; the cavalry, who followed, did so by fording or, in deeper water, by swimming at the side of their horses.
On the beach stood the adverse array, a serried mass of arms and men, with women flitting between the ranks. In the style of Furies, in robes of deathly black and with dishevelled hair, they [the women] brandished their torches; while a circle of Druids, lifting their hands to heaven and showering imprecations, struck the troops with such an awe at the extraordinary spectacle that, as though their limbs were paralysed, they exposed their bodies to wounds without an attempt at movement. Then, reassured by their general, and inciting each other never to flinch before a band of females and fanatics, they charged behind the standards, cut down all who met them, and enveloped the enemy in his own flames. The next step was to install a garrison among the conquered population, and to demolish the groves consecrated to their savage cults: for they considered it a duty to consult their deities by means of human entrails. While he was thus occupied, the sudden revolt of the province was announced to Suetonius.Annals XIV, 29–30