The rebel army of Boudica had been decisively beaten (at an unknown site) in the year 60.[*] However, the Romans had suffered heavy losses during the rebellion, in terms of both men and pride. Troops were sent from Germany to rectify the loss of men. To rectify the loss of pride, the Roman governor, Gaius Suetonius Paullinus, pursued a harsh policy of retribution – so harsh that it was feared the province would fall into a prolonged period of warfare. Tacitus:
Accordingly Petronius Turpilianus was sent out [to replace Suetonius Paullinus, in 61], who was said to be more accessible to pity. He was new to the enemies’ faults, and so more merciful when they repented. He restored tranquillity, and, without venturing on any further exploits, handed over the province to Trebellius Maximus [in 63]. Trebellius was unenterprising, and had no experience of camp-life. He commanded, one might say, by courtesy.Agricola 16
The situation in Britain became sufficiently stable for Nero, in about 66/67, to withdraw one of the four legions, the 14th (Legio XIV Gemina Martia Victrix), from the province,[*] with the intention of campaigning in the Caucasus. The project was, however, overtaken by events. Nero was overthrown, and, on 9th June 68, he committed suicide. Rival claimants vied for the throne, and 69 was to become known as the Year of the Four Emperors.
Nero’s successor, Galba (formerly governor of Tarraconensis), was assassinated on 15th January 69, and replaced by Otho (formerly governor of Lusitania), but he was challenged by Vitellius (whom Galba had placed in command of the army in Germania Inferior). Tacitus comments that:
In the army stationed in Britain there were no hostile feelings; and indeed no other legions through all the confusion caused by the civil wars made less trouble, either because they were farther away and separated by the Ocean, or else they had learned in many campaigns to hate the enemy [rather than other Romans] by preference.Histories I, 9
All things are relative of course, and the British legions may have “made less trouble”, but, as Tacitus himself reports, they did not stay entirely aloof from events on the Continent, and there was certainly no lack of dissension in the ranks.
The barbarians had now learnt to look with indulgence on attractive vices, and the intervention of civil war gave a good excuse for [Trebellius’] inaction. But the troubles of mutiny resulted. The men were accustomed to campaigns and demoralized by peace. Trebellius fled and escaped his angry troops by hiding. On his return, humiliated and despised, he governed merely on sufferance. It was a kind of bargain; the soldiers had their license, the general had his life. So the mutiny ended without bloodshed.Agricola 16
In the Histories, written a decade after Agricola, Tacitus both expands and modifies his previous account of the mutiny:
The forces in Raetia did not delay joining his [Vitellius’] side at once; nor was there any hesitation even in Britain.
The governor of Britain was Trebellius Maximus, whose greed and meanness made him despised and hated by his soldiers. Their hostility towards him was increased by Roscius Coelius, the commander of the Twentieth Legion [Legio XX Valeria Victrix], who had long been at odds with him; but now, on the occasion of civil war, the hostility between the two broke out with great violence. Trebellius charged Coelius with stirring up mutiny and destroying discipline; Coelius reproached Trebellius with robbing the legions and leaving them poor, while meantime the discipline of the army was broken down by this shameful quarrel between the commanders; and the trouble reached such a point that Trebellius was insulted even by the auxiliaries, and finding himself altogether isolated, as the cohorts and cavalry sided with Coelius, fled to Vitellius. The province remained quiet, although the consular governor had been removed: control was in the hands of the commanders of the legions, who were equal in authority; but Coelius actually had the greater power because of his audacity.Histories I, 59–60
Meanwhile, the armies of Otho and Vitellius were amassing in northern Italy. Tacitus puts words into the mouth of, the erstwhile governor of Britain, Suetonius Paullinus, who was now one of Otho’s commanders:
“The whole army of Vitellius has now arrived, and there are no strong reserves behind them … The troops in Britain are kept away by their enemies’ assaults and by the sea …”Histories II, 32
Paullinus advises Otho to wait for reinforcements:
“In a few days the Fourteenth Legion itself, a force of great renown, will be here …”Histories II, 32
The 14th Legion had earned its “great renown” in Britain, under Paullinus, defeating Boudica:
Nero had added to their fame by selecting them as his best soldiers, so that they had long been loyal towards him and were enthusiastic for Otho.Histories II, 11
Nevertheless, Otho chose not to wait, and to engage the enemy immediately. His forces were defeated near Cremona, and on the 16th April he committed suicide.
In the meantime, Vitellius, quite ignorant of his success, was bringing with him all the remaining forces from Germany, as if he had to face a war whose issue was undecided.… He supplemented his own forces with eight thousand men picked from the army in Britain.Histories II, 57
Vitellius, now emperor, sent the 14th Legion back to Britain (where they would pose the least threat). He also appointed one Marcus Vettius Bolanus to replace Trebellius Maximus as the province’s governor.
Nor did Vettius Bolanus, during the continuance of the civil wars, trouble Britain with discipline. There was the same inaction towards the enemy, the same insubordination in the camp. However, Bolanus was a decent man, with no misdeeds to make him hated. For authority he had substituted popularity.Agricola 16
Vespasian, who commanded the 2nd Legion (Legio II Augusta) during the invasion of Britain in 43, had been campaigning in Judaea since 67. On 1st July 69, the legions at Alexandria hailed him emperor. Thereafter, support for Vespasian spread rapidly.
They [Vespasian’s supporters] addressed communications to the Fourteenth Legion in Britain and to the First in Spain, for both these legions had been for Otho and opposed to Vitellius …Histories II, 86
… [Vitellius] summoned reinforcements from Germany, Britain, and the Spains; but he did this in a leisurely manner and tried to conceal the necessity of his action. The governors and the provinces moved as slowly as he. Hordeonius Flaccus already suspected the Batavians and was disturbed by the possibility of having a war of his own; Vettius Bolanus never enjoyed entire peace in Britain, and both of them were wavering in their allegiance.
… they furnished our empire only men and arms. They had long training in our wars with the Germans; then later they increased their renown by service in Britain, whither some cohorts were sent, led according to their ancient custom by the noblest among them.Batavian horsemen were well known for a particular skill – being able to swim across large rivers in full battle-kit, whilst maintaining control of their horses.[*] It is generally believed that Batavians formed part of the Roman invasion force in 43 – their speciality being evident at the Medway(?) and the Thames.[*] Later, in 60, Suetonius Paullinus probably made use of their equestrian skills when he attacked the island of Anglesey.[*] Certainly (Histories I, 59), eight cohorts of Batavian auxiliaries (presumably all cohortes equitatae[*]) were attached to the 14th Legion when Nero withdrew it from Britain in 66/67. When the civil wars began there was dissension between the 14th and their Batavian cohorts, and the Batavians divorced themselves from the legion. Apparently in the late summer of 69, Batavian nobleman Julius Civilis (himself a cohort commander) instigated a revolt against Rome. The eight cohorts that had been in Britain joined Civilis.Histories IV, 12
Nor did troops hurry from the Spains, for at that moment there was no governor there.Histories II, 97
In late October, Vitellius’ forces – which included, “the flower of the army in Britain” (Histories III, 1), detachments from the 2nd, 9th and 20th Legions – were defeated by Vespasian’s, near Cremona (again), in northern Italy. News of this defeat, and the later capture of Vitellius’ leading general (Fabius Valens), brought more backing for Vespasian.
… everything turned to the victor’s advantage. The movement in Spain was begun by the First Legion Adiutrix, which was devoted to the memory of Otho and so hostile to Vitellius. This legion drew the Tenth and Sixth after it. The Gallic provinces did not hesitate. In Britain a favourable sentiment inclined toward Vespasian, because he had been put in command of the Second Legion there by Claudius and had distinguished himself in the field. This secured the island for him, but only after some resistance on the part of the other legions, in which there were many centurions and soldiers who owed their promotions to Vitellius, and so hesitated to change from an emperor of whom they had already had some experience.
Inspired by these differences between the Roman forces and by the many rumours of civil war that reached them, the Britons plucked up courage under the leadership of Venutius, who, in addition to his natural spirit and hatred of the Roman name, was fired by his personal resentment toward Queen Cartimandua. She was ruler over the Brigantes [northern England], having the influence that belongs to high birth, and she had later strengthened her power when she was credited with having captured King Caratacus by treachery [in 51] and so furnished an adornment for the triumph of Claudius Caesar.[*] From this came her wealth and the wanton spirit which success breeds. She grew to despise her husband Venutius, and took as her consort his armour-bearer Vellocatus, whom she admitted to share the throne with her. Her house was at once shaken by this scandalous act. Her husband was favoured by the sentiments of the people; the adulterer was supported by the queen’s passion for him and by her savage spirit. So Venutius, calling in aid from outside and at the same time assisted by a revolt of the Brigantes themselves, put Cartimandua into an extremely dangerous position. Then she asked the Romans for protection; and our cohorts and cavalry regiments, after meeting with indifferent success in a number of engagements, finally succeeded in rescuing the queen from danger. The throne was left to Venutius; the war to us.Histories III, 44–45
At this point Cartimandua and Venutius disappear from history.
Meanwhile, Vespasian’s troops marched on Rome (Vespasian himself was in Alexandria), and, on 20th December 69, Vitellius was killed. Vespasian was duly confirmed as emperor by the senate. Proper attention could now be given to the revolt which had been stirred-up by the Batavians and their leader, Julius Civilis. Joint leader (alongside one Annius Gallus) of the Roman army assembled to restore order was Petillius Cerialis, who, in 60, had been commander of the 9th Legion when it was routed by Boudica. The 14th Legion was, again and finally, withdrawn from Britain to take part in the campaign.
… [Julius Civilis] was anxious lest the Fourteenth Legion, supported by the fleet from Britain, might injure the Batavians along their coast. But Fabius Priscus, leading his legion inland, directed it against the Nervii and Tungri, and accepted the surrender of these two states: as for the fleet, it was actually attacked by the Canninefates and most of the ships were sunk or captured.Histories IV, 79
In the autumn of 70 the Batavians were forced to capitulate, and it was probably in the spring of 71 that Petillius Cerialis took up his new position as governor of Britain.
But when Vespasian recovered Britain, together with the rest of the world, there came great generals, excellent armies, and the ruin of the enemy’s hopes. Petilius Cerialis immediately created a panic by an attack on the state of the Brigantes, the most populous, so they say, in the whole province. Engagements were frequent, and the losses often heavy; and his conquests, or at least his wars, embraced a great portion of the Brigantes.
But if a land curbed by your great parent receives you, how the savage Araxes will exult! What glory will excite the Caledonian plains, when some aged inhabitant of the savage country relates, “Here your parent used to give judgement, on this turf address the squadrons; he placed watchtowers across wide tracts, and forts a long way off – do you see them? – and surrounded these walls with a ditch; these gifts, these weapons he dedicated to the gods of war – you can still make out the inscriptions; this cuirass he himself put on at the call to arms, this one he seized from a British king.”Silvae 5.2, lines 140–149
To succeed him worthily was by no means easy: his exploits would have obscured the diligence and repute of most successors. Yet Julius Frontinus was equal to the task. He was as great a man as the times allowed. He subdued by force of arms the strong and warlike nation of the Silures [south-east Wales], triumphing over the bravery of the enemy and the difficulties of the country.[*]Agricola 17