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Down to the middle of the first century before Christ the British Isles were scarcely more known to the civilised nations of southern Europe than the North Pole is to the men of our own day. The trade which had probably long existed in the tin of Cornish mines had been purposely kept in mysterious darkness by the Phoenicians who profited thereby, so that Herodotus, the much inquiring, only mentions the Tin-islands (Cassiterides) to say that he knows naught concerning them. That trade had now probably become, save for the short passage of the channel, an overland one, and enriched the merchants of Marseilles. A citizen of that busy port, Pytheas by name, who seems to have been contemporary with Alexander the Great, professed to have travelled over the greater part of Britain, and afterwards to have sailed to a great distance along the northern coast of Germany. It was the fashion of later authors, such as Polybius and Strabo, to sneer at his alleged voyage of discovery and to doubt his veracity, but the tendency of modem inquiry is in some degree to restore the credit of this Marco Polo of pre- Christian times, to show that in some points he had a more correct knowledge of geography than his critics, and to deepen our regret that his work is known to us only in a few passages selected and perhaps distorted by his hostile reviewers. It must be admitted that if he reported that the circumference of Britain was 40,000 stadia (about 5,000 of our miles), and that he had traversed the whole of it on foot, his statement was not altogether consistent with fact.

Such, however, was all the information that the Greeks and Romans possessed concerning our island near the middle of the first century B.C., at the time when Cicero was thundering against Catiline, and Pompey was forcing his way into the temple at Jerusalem. Her time, however, for entrance on the great theatre of the world was near at hand, and it was for her a fortunate circumstance, and one not inconsistent with the part which she has played thereon in later ages, that the man who brought her on to the stage should have been himself the central figure in the world’s political history—Gaius Julius Caesar.

Sprung from one of the oldest and proudest families of Rome, yet nephew by marriage of the peasant-soldier Marius, Caesar, the high-born democrat, possessed in his own person that combination of qualities which has ever been found most dangerous to the rule of a narrow and selfish oligarchy. The outworn machine which men still called the Roman republic was obviously creaking towards an utter breakdown, and must soon, if the provinces were not to be bled to death by greedy senators, be replaced by the government of a single man, whether that man were called king, or general, or dictator. The only question was who that single man should be. Caesar felt that he was the man of destiny, foreordained to stand on that awful eminence. He flung out of the Roman forum and senate-house, teeming as they were with squalid intrigues and echoing to the cries of ignoble factions, and at the age of forty set himself to a ten years’ apprenticeship to empire on the banks of the Loire and the Saône, amid the vast forests of Britain or of Gaul.

At the end of the first three years of Caesar’s proconsulship (58-56 BC) having apparently almost completed the conquest of Gaul, he stood a conqueror on the southern shore of the Straits of Dover, looked across at the white cliffs of Albion, and dreamed of bringing that mysterious island within the circle of Roman dominion. Pretexts for invasion were never lacking to an adventurous proconsul. There were close ties of affinity between many of the northern tribes of Gaul and their British neighbours. Some tribes even bore the same name. The Atrebates of Arras were reflected in the Atrebates of Berkshire; there were Belgae in Somerset and Wiltshire as well as in Belgium; even men call Parisii were found, strangely enough, in the East Riding of Yorkshire. Then there was also the connexion, whatever may have been its value, between the religion of the continental and the insular Celts. Our information concerning the Druids (chiefly derived from Caesar himself) is somewhat vague and unsatisfactory, but there is no reason to doubt his statement that the Druidic “ discipline ” had originated in Britain and had been carried thence into Gaul, and thus any religious element that there may have been in the resistance of the Gallic tribes to Roman domination would look across the channel for sym­pathy and inspiration.

There was already a certain amount of commercial intercourse between Britain and Gaul, and Caesar endeavoured to ascertain by questioning the merchants engaged in that trade what was the size of the island, what were its best harbours, and what the customs and warlike usages of the natives. On none of these points, however, could he obtain satisfactory information. The proconsul therefore sent a lieutenant named Volusenus with a swift ship to reconnoitre the nearer coast, but he returned in five days without having ventured to land. Meanwhile, as the object of the general’s prolonged stay in the territory of the Morini became more and more evident, messengers from certain of the British tribes began to cross the channel, charged—so Caesar says—with a commission to promise “obedience to the rule of the Roman people”, and to give hostages as a pledge of their fidelity. The arrival of the ambassadors and their attempt to turn the proconsul from his purpose by fair speech and unmeaning promises we may well believe. How much the Regni and the Cantii knew about the rule of the Roman people, and what intention they had of loyally submitting to it, may be left uncertain. Caesar, however, availed himself of the opportunity to send over with these returning envoys a certain Celtic chieftain named Commius, whom he had himself made king of the continental Atrebates, and on whose fidelity he thought that he could rely, to exhort the native tribes peacefully to accept the dominion of the Roman people, as the representative of whom Caesar himself would shortly make his appearance among them. This mission of Commius proved quite fruitless. As soon as he landed—so he said—the Britons arrested him and loaded him with chains, and it was only after the defeat which will shortly be described that they sent him back to Caesar. As we find Commius only four years later taking a leading part in the insurrection of the tribes in the north of Gaul, and professing an especial hostility to all who bore the name of Roman, we may, perhaps, doubt whether, even at this time, his pleas for subjection were as earnest, or the chains imposed upon him by the Britons as heavy, as Caesar’s narrative would seem to imply.

Caesar had determined to make his exploratory voyage with two legions, the Seventh and the Tenth. He perhaps hoped that actual war would not be necessary to bring about the formal submission of the tribes on the coast, and he therefore did not take with him more than the 8,000 to 10,000 men, which were probably the actual muster of two legions, and a body of cavalry whose precise number is not stated. As fighting, however, might, after all, prove to be necessary, he took care that one of the legions which accompanied him should be the famous Tenth on whose courage and devotion he often relied, not in vain. To transport the legions he had collected about eighty cargo ships (naves oneraria), many of which had been employed the year before in his naval campaign off the coast of Brittany. He had also a certain number of galleys (naves longa) capable of being rowed much faster than the heavy transport ships could sail. On these latter his staff of officers, quaestors, legates and prefects were embarked, and no doubt the proconsul himself was their companion.

The fleet set sail about midnight on August 26, BC 55, or on some day very near to that date. The port of embarkation was probably near to Cape Gris Nez and at the narrowest part of the channel, but almost every sentence of the following narrative has been the subject of an animated topographical discussion, and Caesar himself mentions no names of places that can be certainly identified. Whatever may have been the harbour from which the legions embarked it was not the same which had been appointed as a rendezvous for the cavalry. These latter were to be borne upon a little fleet of eighteen transports which were detained by a contrary wind at a port eight miles farther up the channel. As we shall see, their ill fortune in the matter of weather continued throughout the expedition, and their consequent inability to co-operate with the legions may have been the chief cause of the expedition’s failure.

As for the main body of the fleet, it must have made an extremely slow voyage, for it was not till the fourth hour of the day (about 8.30 A.M.) that the foremost ships caught sight of the shores of Britain. The landing was evidently not to be unopposed: on all the hills armed bodies of the enemy were drawn up. The word used by Caesar signifies properly “ills,” but as he goes on to say that “the sea was commanded by such steep mountains that a weapon could easily be hurled from the higher ground to the shore,” we are probably right in understanding these “hills” to be the well-known chalk cliffs of Kent. Seeing therefore no suitable place for landing, Caesar signalled for his fleet to gather round him, and lay quietly at anchor for five hours. Summoning his staff he imparted to them such information concerning the nature of the country as he had been able to gather from Volusenus, and explained that in maritime warfare such as that in which they were now engaged, liable to be affected by rapid changes of the weather and the sea, it was pre-eminently necessary that they should give prompt obedience to his orders. At about 3 P.M., apparently, the fleet weighed anchor, and, wind and tide having become favourable, moved forward about seven miles and there halted opposite a level and open shore which seemed well adapted for landing.

The barbarians, however, who were of course watching Caesar’s movements, sent forward their chariots and their cavalry, and following themselves with rapid movements were on the spot to oppose the Romans’ disembarkation. It seemed for some time as if their opposition would be effectual. The ships drawing many feet of water could not approach near to the land, and the soldiers, with their hands encumbered by the pilum or the sword and their bodies weighted with the heavy armour of the Roman legionary, found it no easy matter to jump from the ships, to stagger through the slippery ooze, to defend themselves against the attacks of the nimble and lightly armed barbarians. Seeing this, Caesar ordered up the galleys, which were rowed rapidly backwards and forwards between the transports and the shore, and from the decks of which slings, bows and balistae freely employed worked havoc among the barbarians, already disposed to terror by the unwonted sight of the triremes. But as the soldiers still hesitated, chiefly on account of the depth of the water into which it was necessary to plunge, the standard-bearer of the Tenth legion, after a short prayer to the gods for good luck to his legion, leapt into the sea, shouting with a loud voice: “Jump! Comrades¡ unless you would see your eagle fall into the enemy’s hands. I at any rate will do my duty to the Republic and our general”. His example was contagious. All the soldiers leapt from the ships and were soon engaged in a hand-to-hand struggle with the Britons, each man rallying to the standard that was nearest to him as it was hopeless in such a melée to form regular rank by legions and cohorts. The barbarians, charging with their horses into deep water, were sometimes able to surround smaller parties of the invaders or to harass them from a distance with their darts. Hereupon, Caesar filled the boats of the long ships and some of the lighter skiffs with soldiers, who rowing rapidly backwards and forwards carried help where it was most needed.

It was probably at this stage of the encounter that an inci­dent took place which is recorded not by Caesar himself but by Valerius Maximus, an anecdote-collector of a later date. He tells us that a legionary named Scaeva with four comrades rowed to a rock surrounded by the sea and from thence dealt destruction with their arrows among the Britons. Before long the ebbing tide made their rock accessible from the shore and the other soldiers thought it was time to row back to their ship. Scaeva, refusing to accompany them, was soon surrounded by the barbarians, with whom he fought single-handed. Many he killed, but he himself suffered fearfully. His thigh was pierced by an arrow, his face smashed by a stone, his shield broken. At last he threw himself into the sea and swam to his vessel. Caesar and the officers began to applaud him for his bravery, but he flung himself at the proconsul’s feet and with tears implored forgiveness for the military crime of the loss of his shield.

When the great body of the soldiers had at last struggled to the shore and could fight on firm land, Roman discipline soon prevailed over barbarian ardour. The Britons took to flight, but the absence of cavalry, bitterly regretted by Caesar, checked pursuit. Next day there came ambassadors from the dispirited Britons praying for pardon, bringing the liberated Commius and promising to obey all Caesar’s orders. After a grave rebuke for having violated the laws of nations by imprisoning his messengers, the proconsul granted his forgiveness and ordered the natives to hand over hostages for their good faith. A few were given, the rest who were to be sent by the more distant tribes were promised but never came. The reason of this failure of the negotiations (if they had ever had a chance of success) was the catastrophe which befel the lingering squadron with its freight of cavalry. On the fourth day after Caesar’s landing, the eighteen ships with the horsemen on board drew nigh to Britain. Already they were descried by their comrades on shore when so violent a storm arose that they were hopelessly beaten off their course. Some were driven straight back to the harbour which they had quitted, others with imminent danger of shipwreck drifted down channel and at last, waterlogged and nearly helpless, regained some port in Gaul.

On the night which followed this disastrous day, a night of full moon, the unusually high tide, a marvel and a mystery to these children of the Mediterranean, surrounded the Roman ships which had been drawn up, as they hoped, high and dry on the beach. Cables were broken, anchors lost, some of the ships probably dashed against one another; it seemed as though Caesar would be stranded without ships and without supplies on the inhospitable shore of Britain. He at once sent out some of his soldiers to collect supplies from the Kentish harvest fields, and set others to repair those ships, whose repair was yet possible, at the expense of their hopelessly ruined companions. He admits an entire loss of twelve, but leaves us to infer that the remainder were patched into some sort of seaworthiness. By this time undoubtedly the one thought of both general and army was how to get safe back to Gaul; and naturally the one thought of the Britons, who knew all that had occurred, was how to prevent that return. The promised hostages of course never appeared; and a troop of barbarians ambushed in a neighbouring forest watched for a favourable opportunity of attacking the Romans. That opportunity came one day when the soldiers of the Seventh legion were out foraging in the harvest fields. The sentinels in the Roman camp descried a cloud of dust rising in the direction whither their comrades had I gone, and brought word to the general, who at once suspected that the precarious peace was broken and that mischief was abroad. Sallying forth with four cohorts he found that it was even so. The barbarians had emerged from their ambush, had fallen upon the unsuspecting legionaries, quietly engaged in reaping the British harvest, had slain a few of them and were harassing the rest with “alarums and excursions” by their cavalry and their charioteers.

At this point Caesar interrupts his narrative to describe the British custom of using chariots in war, a custom which was evidently strange and disconcerting to the Roman soldiery. “This,” he says, “is their manner of fighting. First they drive their horses about in all directions, hurling darts, and by the very terror of their horses and clashing of their wheels often throw the ranks [of their enemies] into confusion. Then when they have insinuated themselves between the squadrons of the [hostile] cavalry they leap from their chariots and fight on foot. The charioteers meanwhile gradually draw out of the fray and so place the cars that if their friends should be overborne by the multitude of the enemy they may easily take refuge with diem. In this way they combine the rapid movements of cavalry with the steadiness of infantry, and have acquired such a degree of dexterity by daily practice that they can hold up their galloping horses in the steepest descents, check and turn them in a moment, run along the pole or sit on the yoke, and then as quickly as possible fly back into the car”.

It will be observed that Caesar says nothing about the famous scythe-armed chariots of the Britons which, as has been often suggested, would surely on a battlefield be as dangerous to friends as to foes.

Caesar’s arrival rescued his troops from their perilous position, and he was able to lead them back in safety to the camp. Many stormy days followed, during which warlike operations were necessarily suspended on both sides, but the barbarians employed the interval in beating up recruits from all quarters, attracted by the hope of plunder and of making an end at one blow of the army of invasion, whose scanty numbers moved them to contempt. When fighting was resumed the legions easily repelled the British attack, and some horsemen who had been brought by Commius, though only thirty in number, enabled Caesar to pursue the flying foe for some distance, to kill many of them and to lay waste a wide extent of country with fire and sword. The usual group of penitent ambassadors appeared the same day in Caesar’s camp; the usual excuses were offered ; were accepted as a matter of necessity; and twice the number of hostages was ordered to be surrendered. It did not greatly matter how many were demanded, for Caesar had no intention of awaiting their delivery. Soon after midnight the Roman fleet set sail, and the whole army returned eventually safe to Gaul, though two of the ships bearing 300 men drifted down the coast of Picardy, and the soldiers, attacked by no fewer than 6,000 of the Morini, had much ado to defend themselves till the general sent a force of cavalry to their succour.

On the arrival of Caesar’s despatches in Rome the senate ordered a solemn supplicatio or thanksgiving to the gods, which was to last for twenty days. The British expedition had been a daring and a showy exploit, but no one knew better than Caesar himself that it had been an entire failure, and that nothing had really been done towards bringing a single British tribe under ‘‘the rule of the Roman people”. If this island was to be conquered, it was plain that a much larger force than two legions would be needed for the work. This Caesar recognised, and accordingly he determined to make another attempt next year (BC 54) with five legions (perhaps about 21,000 men) and 2,000 cavalry. The previous campaign had evidently convinced the general of the importance of mounted men for this kind of warfare. He was also determined to have a longer interval before the autumnal equinox for the conduct of his campaign than he had allowed himself in the previous year, and accordingly somewhere about July 23 he set sail from the Portus Itius. He would, in fact, have started at least three weeks earlier, but the wind had been blowing persistently from a point a long way to the north of west. As soon as it shifted to the south­west, the fleet (which with all its companions consisted of 800 ships) started at sunset In the night, however, the wind fell and the tide (which probably neither Caesar nor any of his officers understood) carried the ships far out of their course.

When the sun arose they saw that Britain was far behind them, on their left hand. Dropping their sails, they took to the oars, and Caesar has words of well-deserved praise for his sturdy soldiers, who rowed so well that they made the heavy transport ships keep up with the lighter galleys which, as before, accompanied them. By a little after noon they readied the coast of Britain, apparently at their old landing-place. Their disembarkation was not now opposed; the Britons having, as it seems, lost heart when they saw so vast a flotilla approaching their shores. Notwithstanding his larger armament, Caesar’s second in­vasion was in many respects a mere replica of the first, and it is hardly worthwhile to describe it in equal detail. There was again a violent tempest which swept the fleet from its anchorage, destroyed forty of the ships, and obliged Caesar to waste ten precious days in repairing the remainder. Toilsome as the task must be, he judged it advisable to draw all his ships up on land and surround them with a wall of circumvallation. When we remember that this was the precaution adopted by the Greeks who warred in Troy, we see how little essential change had been wrought in naval warfare in the course of 1,000 years. Meanwhile the Britons had assembled in large numbers in order to oppose the progress of the invaders, and had entrusted the national defence to a chief named Cassivellaunus who ruled over some of the tribes north of the Thames. Hitherto he had made himself apparently more feared than loved by his dealings with neighbouring tribes: the Trinobantes, especially, who dwelt in the district now known as Essex, had seen their king mur­dered and their king’s son made a fugitive by his orders; but now in the supreme hour of danger the hard, unscrupulous soldier was by general consent chosen as a kind of dictator.

After some preliminary skirmishes in which the heavily armed Roman legionaries suffered severely from the dashing onslaught and rapid retreat of the British chariots and cavalry, Caesar determined to cross the Thames and beard the lion Cassivellaunus in his den. He was stationed on the north bank of the river which was fordable, but defended by sharp stakes placed in the bed of the stream. It is not quite clear from Caesar’s account how this obstacle of the stakes was dealt with by his soldiers. Possibly they may have been partly removed by the cavalry whom he says that he sent first into the water. They were followed by the legionaries, who went, he says, so swiftly and with such a dash, though only their heads were out of water, that the enemy, unable to stand before the com­bined rush of horsemen and foot soldiers, left their stations on the bank and scattered in flight.

As was so often the case with these Celtic tribes, domestic discord in some degree lightened the labours of the invader. We have seen that Cassivellaunus had obtained by violence the sovereignty of the Trinobantes of Essex. Mandubracius, the son of the dead king, had fled to Gaul and cast himself on the protection of Caesar, in whose train he returned to Britain. There was still probably a party in favour of the dethroned family, and it was not a mere formality when Caesar ordered the tribe to accept Mandubracius for their chief, to supply his troops with com, and to deliver forty hostages into his hands. Five other tribes whose unimportant names are given by Caesar came in and made their submission, and from them the general learned that not far distant was the town (oppidum) of Cassivellaunus, filled with a multitude of men and cattle, and defended by forests and marshes. “Now the Britons,” says Caesar, perhaps with a sneer, “call any place a town ” (oppidum) “when they have chosen a position entangled with forests and strengthened it with rampart and ditch, so that they may gather into it for shelter from hostile incursion.” Thither then marched Caesar with his legions. He found a place splendidly strong by nature and art, but he determined to attack it from two sides at once. After a brief defence, the natives collapsed before the headlong rush of the Romans, and streamed out of the camp on the opposite side. Many were slain, many taken prisoners, and a great number of cattle fell into the hands of the Romans.

In order probably to divert the forces of his enemy from his own oppidum, the generalissimo Cassivellaunus had sent orders to the four kings of Kent to collect their forces and make a sudden attack on the naval camp of the Romans. The attack was repulsed by a vigorous sortie: many of the Britons were slain and one of their noblest leaders taken prisoner. Hereupon Cassivellaunus, recognising that the fortune of war was turning against him and that his own confederates were falling away, sent messengers to offer his submission and obtain peace through the mediation of his friend, perhaps his fellow-tribesman, Commius. Caesar, who had his own reasons for desiring a speedy return to Gaul and who doubtless considered that enough had been done for his glory, accepted the proffered submission. He “ordered hostages to be delivered, and fixed the amount of tribute which was to be yearly paid by Britannia to the Roman people. He forbade Cassivellaunus to do any injury to Mandubracius or the Trinobantes,” and with these high-sounding phrases he departed. As he carried back many captives and not a few of his ships had perished in the storm, he had to make two crossings with his fleet, but both were accomplished without disaster. Of Cassivellaunus himself no further information is vouchsafed us, nor do we know what was the fate of the abandoned allies of Rome.

The great general in this instance  had come and had seen” but had not “conquered”. Most valuable, however, to us is the information which he has given us concerning our sequestered island, though in some cases it is evidently inaccurate. We need not linger over Caesar’s geographical statements, though it is curious to see how certain errors of earlier geographers still lingered on even into the Augustan age of Roman literature. Thus he thinks that, of the three sides of Britain’s triangle one looks towards Gaul and the east, another towards Spain and the west, while the third, which has no land opposite it, faces north. Besides Ireland, which is half the size of Britain, there are other islands, apparently on the west, concerning which certain writers have said that they have continual night during thirty days of winter. As to this Caesar was not able to obtain any definite information, but his own clepsydra (water clocks) showed him that the nights in July were shorter in Britain than on the continent.

One argument which doubtless influenced Caesar against attempting a third expedition was derived from the peculiarly stormy and baffling character of the sea at the Straits of Dover. Each of his expeditions had been endangered and all but ruined by these unaccountable tides, these suddenly rising gales. He had to learn by bitter experience how different was that strange chopping sea from the peaceful waters of the Mediterranean. Had he been able to survey the channel more thoroughly, he would probably have found it worthwhile to make his passage at a broader part of it, like that which now separates Newhaven from Dieppe; perhaps even to anticipate the Saxon chieftains of the fifth century, to occupy the Isle of Wight, or to seek for his fleet the shelter of Southampton Water. After all, however, a sufficient reason for not renewing the attempt to conquer Britain was to be found in the precarious state of Roman dominion in Gaul. Caesar evidently thought that his work in that country was practically finished in BC 55, when he first set his face towards Britain. Far otherwise: the hardest part of that work was yet to come. Five months after Caesar’s return from his second expedition he heard the terrible tidings of the utter destruction of fifteen Roman cohorts by the Eburones. Then followed the revolt of Vercingetorix, bravest and most successful of Gaulish champions; the unsuccessful siege of Gergovia; the siege, successful but terribly hard to accomplish, of Alesia. Certainly we may say that the two years and a half which followed his return from Britain were among the most anxious, and seemed sometimes the most desperate stages in all that wonderful career which ended when, ten years after he had sailed away from Britain, he fell pierced by more than twenty dagger wounds—

E’en at the base of Pompey’s status,

Which all the while ran blood.




The second invasion of Britain by Caesar took place, according to Roman reckoning, in the year 700 from the foundation of the City. The next, the successful invasion which was ordered by his collateral descendant in the fourth generation, the Emperor Claudius, took place in the year 797 of the same reckoning. There was thus all but a century between the two events; that century which more powerfully than any other, before or after, has influenced the course of human history; yet which for that very reason, because in our chronology the years change from BC to AD, the historical student sometimes finds it hard to recognise in its true perspective.

As far as the work of the literary historian goes, Britain is almost a blank page during the whole of this century. It may be said that to the eyes of the Romans, her own mists closed round her when Caesar left her shores, BC 54, and did not rise till Aulus Plautius approached them, AD 43. But the patient toil of the numismatist has discovered the names of some British kings and enabled us to say something as to their mutual relations ; a few brief notices of Roman historians have faintly illumined the scene; and it is now just possible to discern the actual lineaments of one who is not entirely a creature of romance—the royal Cymbeline.

As has been already mentioned, a certain Commius, king of the continental Atrebates, was sent on an unsuccessful mission to Britain before Caesar’s first invasion. In the mighty refluent wave of the Gaulish revolt against Rome, Commius either was actually swept away from his former fidelity or was suspected of being thus disloyal. However this might be, a foul attempt at his assassination, planned by Caesar’s lieutenant, Labienus, converted him into an embittered enemy of Rome. He took part in the great campaigns of Vercingetorix ; when they failed he sought succour from the other side of the Rhine; as captain of a band of freebooters he preyed on the subjects of Rome. At length (BC 51), seeing that further resistance was hopeless, he made his submission to Mark Antony, his only stipulation being that he might be allowed to go and dwell in some land where he would never again be offended by the sight of a Roman. With these words he vanishes from the pages of the historian of the Gallic war. As we find about the same time, or a little later, a certain Commius coining money in Britain, it is, at least, a tempting theory that the Roman-hating Gaulish refugee came to our island and reigned here over his kindred Atrebates and other tribes besides.

Actual coins of Commius are, it must be admitted, not too certainly extant, but the large number of coins struck by three British kings who are proud to proclaim themselves his sons, clearly attest his existence and justify us in attributing to him considerable importance. These three British kings were Tincommius, Verica and Eppillus, and their dominions stretched from Hampshire to Kent. Their reigns probably occupied the last thirty years before the Christian era, and their coins exhibit an increasing tendency towards Roman manners and Roman art. The old barbaric survivals of the Macedonian effigies gradually disappear; classical profiles are introduced and the cornucopias, the eagle and the lion sometimes make their ap­pearance.

A British prince who was apparently a contemporary and a neighbour, possibly a rival of the family of Commius, was named Dubnovellaunus. The obverse of his coins shows a remarkable similarity to some of those of the just-mentioned King Eppillus. But the interesting fact in connexion with this otherwise unknown British chieftain is that a monument in the heart of Asia Minor preserves his name and records his dealings with the Roman Imperator. In the Turkish town of Angora on the side of a desolate Galatian hill stand the ruins of the marble temple of Augustus and Rome: and on the walls of the porch of that temple is a long bilingual inscription, recording in Latin and Greek the most memorable events of the fifty-eight years’ reign of the fortunate Augustus. Towards the end we find this passage: “To me fled as suppliant the Kings of the Parthians Tiridates and afterwards Phraates, Artaxares, son of Phraates, King of the Medes: the Kings of the Britons Dumnobellaunus and Tim ...” (the end of the last name being obliterated). It is not likely that if there had been many similar instances of British princes imploring the protection of Augustus they would have been left unrecorded in the monument of Angora; and it is therefore probably with some little courtly exaggera­tion that the contemporary geographer Strabo says: “Certain of the rulers of that country [Britain] by embassies and flattering attentions have gained the friendship of Caesar Augustus and made votive offerings in the capital and have now rendered almost the whole island subject to the Romans”. This is certainly untrue. “The taxes which they bear are in no wise heavy and are levied on imports and exports between Britain and Gaul. The articles of this commerce are ivory rings and necklaces, and amber and vessels of glass and all such trumpery. It is not therefore desirable to put a garrison in the island, for it would require at least one legion and some cavalry in order to ensure the collection of the tribute, and the expense of keeping up such a force would equal the revenue received, since it would be necessary to lessen the customs duties if you were also levying tribute and there would be always a certain amount of danger attending the employment of force.”

A very clear and sensible statement surely of the reasons which induced the cautious Augustus finally to abandon his thrice contemplated1 scheme for the conquest of Britain.

The British kings whom we have lately been describing reigned chiefly south of the Thames. North of that river in Middlesex, Herts and Essex (the district occupied by Cassivellaunus at the time of Caesar’s invasion) there was reigning, probably from about BC 35 to AD 5, a chief named Tasciovanus, practically unknown in literary history but abundantly made known to us by his coins, which, though still for the most part barbarous, show some signs of Roman influence. His capital was Verulamium, the little Hertfordshire town which now bears the name of the martyred Saint Alban. On his death, which probably occurred about AD 5, he was succeeded by his two sons, one of whom, Cunobelinus, reigned at Camulodunum (the modem Colchester) over the Trinobantes and probably other tribes. Of him not only are the coins numerous and well known, but as the Cymbeline of Shakespeare’s drama, his name will be in the mouths of men as long as English literature endures. Of course the Cymbeline of the play has very little in common with the faintly outlined Cunobelinus of history. The lovely Imogen, faithful to her husband unto seeming death; the clownish Cloten, the wicked queen, the selfish boaster Leonatus; all these are mere creatures of the poet’s brain, of whom neither the romancer Geoffrey of Monmouth nor his copyist Holinshed had ever spoken. Yet in the conception of Cymbeline’s character, as an old king who rules his family and his court with little wisdom, there is nothing which clashes with historic truth; and the way in which Shakespeare has described the attitude of these little British princes towards the great, distant, dreadful power of Rome is surely one of the many evidences of his power of realising by instinct rather than by reason the political condition of a by-gone age. It may be noted in passing that Geoffrey of Monmouth in­forms us, whatever his information may be worth, that Kymbelinus, as he calls this king, “was a great soldier and had been brought up by Augustus Caesar. He had contracted so great a friendship with the Romans that he freely paid them tribute when he might very well have refused it In his days our Lord Jesus Christ was born.”

A certain Adminius, who seems to have been a son of Cunobelinus, being expelled by his father, fled to the Roman camp in Germany with a small band of followers, and their humble supplications to the Emperor Caligula (37-41) caused that insane egotist to vaunt himself as the conqueror of Britain. A pompous epistle conveyed to the Senate the news of this great triumph, and the bearers thereof were especially charged to enter the city in a state-chariot and to deliver their important communication only in the Temple of Mars and to a crowded assembly. But the buffoonery of the nephew was to be followed by the serious labour of the uncle. The conquest of Britain was now nigh at hand.




In the year 41 after Christ’s birth the short madness of Caligula’s dominion over the world was ended by his assassination in one of the long corridors of the Palatine. His uncle Claudius, the despised weakling of the imperial family, dragged forth trembling from his hiding-place behind a curtain, and to his intense surprise acclaimed as Augustus by the mutinous Praetorians: this was the man for whom by a strange destiny was reserved the glory of adding Britain to the Roman Empire. Yet Claudius, for all his odd ways, his shambling gait, his shaking head, his stammering speech, was by no means the mere fool whom his relatives, ashamed of his physical deficiencies, had affected to consider him. He wrote in countless books the story of his imperial ancestors and his own; he knew the old Etruscan tongue, a knowledge, alas! now lost to the world, and translated treatises written therein; he cleared out the harbour of Ostia; he planted flourishing colonies; he brought water to Rome from the Aequian hills by the aqueduct which bears his name. Could the poor timorous old man have ventured to rely on himself, and to act on his own initiative, his name had perhaps been revered as that of one of the best emperors of Rome. It was his reliance on his wives and his freedmen, the government of the boudoir and the servants’ hall, which ruined his reputation with posterity.

It was probably in the same year in which Claudius succeeded to the empire, or it may have been a year later, that old King Cunobelinus died in Britain and was succeeded by his two sons, Caratacus and Togodumnus. There was, as usual, an exiled prince (whose name was Bericus) claiming Roman assistance for his restoration to his country, but whether he was one of the sons of Cunobelinus or not, neither history nor the coins inform us. The petition of the exiled Bericus was granted by Claudius, and an expedition was resolved on, nominally for his restoration (from this point onwards his name dis­appears from history), in reality for the conquest of Britain (ad 43). The command of the expedition was entrusted to Aulus Plautius, a senator of high rank—he had been consul fourteen years before with the Emperor Tiberius—and was possibly a kinsman of Claudius by marriage. Under his orders marched four legions:—

The Second: Augusta.

The Ninth: Hispana.

The Fourteenth: Gemma Martia;

and The Twentieth: Valeria Victrix.

Alb of these but the Ninth were withdrawn from service in Germany, and that legion came from Pannonia, in modern language Hungary west of the Danube. The Second and the Twentieth legions found a permanent home in our island; the Ninth, a grave; the Fourteenth after a brilliant career was withdrawn to Italy after about twenty-five years of British service. We have no exact statement of the number of the army of Plautius. The legions, if at their full complement, should stand for 20,000 men: the cavalry and cohorts of the allies should at least double that number. We are probably not far wrong in putting the invading force at 50,000, but the difficulty of forming an exact estimate is shown by the divergence between the calculations of two such experts as Mommsen and Hübner, the former of whom reckons the total at 40,000, and the latter at 70,000 men.

Not without great difficulty (says our sole authority, Dion Cassius) was the army induced to depart from Gaul. The soldiers grumbled sorely at being called to do military service “ outside of the habitable world,” and Claudius deemed it advisable to send to them his freedman-minister Narcissus overcome their reluctance. The glib-tongued Greek mounted the general’s rostrum and began to harangue them greatly to his own satisfaction. But it was too much for the patience of the veteran legionaries to hear this imperial lackey, this liberated slave, preaching to them about their military duty. They shouted him down with a well-concerted cry of Io Saturnalia (Hurrah for the slaves’ holiday), and then with the curious illogicality of soldiers they turned to Plautius and said that for his sake they would willingly follow wherever he led them. All this hesita­tion had caused considerable delay, but at last the flotilla bearing the soldiers embarked in three divisions, in order that the whole expedition might not be put to the hazard of a single landing. The soldiers were much disheartened when they found the winds or the tides apparently drifting them back to the port from which they had started, but then a meteor flashing from east to west seemed to indicate that their voyage would be prosperous and encouraged them to proceed. Their landing, or, more properly speaking, their three landings, were accom­plished without difficulty, for the Britons, believing that the expedition was postponed on account of the mutiny, had made no preparations, and now fled to the forests and the marshes, hoping that the experience of the great Julius would be repeated and that this expedition also might soon return empty-handed.

Plautius had therefore hard work to discover his foe, but he did at last come to close quarters, first with Caratacus and then with Togodumnus, both of whom he overcame. Either now or in the following operations, Togodumnus perished, but his brother survived to be for many years a thorn in the side of the Roman general. A British tribe named the Boduni, of whose geographical position we are ignorant, but who were subjects of the Catuvellauni, came in and offered their submission. Plautius left a garrison among them and marching forward arrived at the banks of a river, possibly the Medway, which the barbarians fondly hoped could not be traversed without a bridge. The Roman general, however, had in his army many Gaulish soldiers, probably those dwelling near the mouths of the Rhine and the Waal, who were accustomed to swim with all their armour on across the swiftest streams. These men, at the word of command, plunged into the river, swam across, attacked the dismayed and carelessly encamped barbarians, and directing their weapons especially against the horses harnessed to the chariots made the usual cavalry tactics of the Britons impossible. The young Vespasian (future emperor, and conqueror of the Jews) and his brother Sabinus were ordered to lead some more troops across the stream and complete the victory, which they did, slaying multitudes of the barbarians. Still the Britons made a stubborn resistance, till at last an officer named Cnaeus Hosidius Geta, a kind of Roman paladin who had before this done knightly deeds in fighting against the Moors, almost single-handed and at the imminent risk of capture, achieved a victory which compelled them to retire, and for which he received the honours of a triumph.

Hereupon the Britons withdrew behind the Thames, at that time and place a broad and shallow stream flowing wide over the marshes of Essex. The barbarians knew well its deeps and its shallows, and could find their way across it in safety. Not so the Romans, who suffered severe loss in attempting to follow them. As a mere question of strategy Plautius could probably have marched up the stream and crossed it at some narrower part of its course. He determined, however, to reserve this achievement for the emperor who had apparently already arranged to visit Britain and pluck the laurels planted for him by his general. Claudius prepared reinforcements, including, we are told, a number of elephants (not very serviceable, one would have thought, in the Essex marshes), sailed from his own port of Ostia to Marseilles, then travelled, chiefly by water, up and down the great rivers of Gaul, arrived at the camp of Plautius, crossed the Thames, the proper appliances having no doubt been prepared by the loyal general, and then marched on Camulodunum, which he took, making the palace of Cunobelinus his own. The fall of the powerful kingdom of the Catuvellauni brought with it the submission, voluntary or forced, of many neighbouring tribes.

Claudius was saluted not once but many times as Imperator by his soldiers, and returning to Rome after a six months’ absence he was hailed by the Senate with the appellation of Britannicus, an honour which was also bestowed on his six-year-old son. He rode in his triumphal chariot up to the capitol, and he erected some years later in honour of this conquest a triumphal arch which spanned the Via Lata (now the Corso), and which was still standing almost perfect till the seventeenth century, when it was destroyed (1662) by Pope Alexander VII. Some fine sculptured slabs from this arch are still preserved in the Villa Borghese at Rome, along with fragments of an in­scription which record that “Tiberius Claudius Augustus, Germanicus and Pious, tamed the Kings of Britain without any loss [to the republic], and was the first to bring her barbarous races under the control of Rome ”.

The capture of Camulodunum involved the downfall of the house of Cymbeline, and the acceptance, at any rate the temporary acceptance, of Roman domination in all the south-eastern part of Britain. While Caratacus escaped to South Wales and there organised a desperate resistance to the Roman arms among the Silures, most of the smaller British chieftains seem to have bowed their necks beneath the yoke. An inscribed stone still standing in Goodwood Park, but originally found at Chichester, seems to record the building of a temple to Neptune and Minerva for the safety of the imperial house, at the command of King Tiberius Claudius Cogidubnus, “ legate of Augustus in Britain ”. This inscription is an interesting confirmation of the statement made by Tacitus that “certain cities were handed over to King Cogidubnus who remained till our own day most faithful to the emperor, according to the old and long-established custom of the Roman people to make even kings the instruments of their dominion ”

It was probably about the same time that Prasutagus, King of the Iceni, who inhabited Norfolk, Suffolk and a part of Cambridgeshire, became a subject ally of Rome. Farther south the invaders were making less peaceful progress, if it be true, as we are told by the biographer of the future Emperor Vespasian, that he in these early years of the conquest “fought thirty battles as commander of the Second legion, subdued two powerful nations, took more than twenty towns and brought into subjection the Isle of Wight”. We learn from another source that he was once, when surrounded by the barbarians and in imminent peril of his life, rescued by his brave son Titus, and further that it was the elder soldier’s distinguished successes in this British war which won him the favour of the Roman people, and led to his being eventually clad in the imperial purple. An interesting evidence of the rapid development of this first act of the Roman conquest is afforded by the fact that a pig of lead mined in the Mendip Hills has been discovered, bearing the name of Claudius and his son with a date equivalent to AD 49, only six years after the landing of the legions.

In the year 47, Aulus Plautius left Britain to receive the honour of an ovation, then almost exclusively reserved for the imperial family, and to find his wife Pomponia (a woman of gentle nature but touched with sadness) tending towards “a foreign religion” which, there is good reason to believe, was none other than Christianity. He probably left the frontier of the Roman dominion nearly coincident with a line drawn diagonally from the Bristol Channel to the Wash, though outlying districts like Cornwall and Devonshire were not yet assimilated by the new lords of Britain. But even so the fairest and most fertile half of Brythonic Britain was now apparently won for the empire.

To the new Roman legatus, Ostorius Scapula, fell the hard labour of fighting the Goidelic nation of the Silures who occupied the hills and valleys of South Wales and were nerved to des­perate resistance by the counsels of their willingly adopted leader Caratacus. Wales must therefore undoubtedly have been the main objective of the general, but meanwhile even the part of the country already conquered was not too secure. The lands of the friendly tribes were being overrun by the still unsubdued Britons beyond the border, who thought that winter and the change of commander would both be in their favour. Ostorius, who knew the importance of first impressions, hurriedly col­lected a sufficient number of troops to repel and harass these marauders, but the stern measures which he took for the defence of the line between Severn and Trent so angered the Iceni (proud of their unconquered condition, “the allies not the subjects” of Rome) that they took up arms, gathered round them a confederacy of the neighbouring tribes and drew themselves up in battle array in a position difficult of access and protected by an embankment, probably of turf. Without much difficulty, Ostorius stormed this rude fort, using only the irregular allied troops and without moving the legions from their quarters. As these irregulars were mostly cavalry and the Icenian camp was impervious to horsemen, the riders had to fight on foot, but nevertheless they won.

Deeds of great valour were performed on both sides, and the son of Ostorius won the civic crown for saving the life of a Roman citizen. With the Iceni forced back into sullen tranquillity, and with the wavering tribes round them now siding with the victors, Ostorius was free to turn his attention to the difficult problem of Wales. He led his army into the territory of the Decangi, who probably inhabited what is now Flintshire; he ravaged their fields; he gazed on the sea which separated him from Ireland; he would perhaps have anticipated the conquest of Anglesey had not some hostile movements among the Brigantes of Yorkshire, threatening his communications with the Midlands, warned him against a further advance. When the Brigantes were chastised and in a manner reconciled, he turned again to the work which he probably ought never to have delayed—the vanquishing of the Silures.

This war against the Silures evidently occupied many years, and it is almost admitted by the Roman historian that Caratacus won many victories. Gliding rapidly, however, over this unpleasant interval, Tacitus brings us to the final battle—decisive so far as Caratacus was concerned—which, as a result of the strategy of Caratacus, was fought not in the territory of the Silures but in that of their northern neighbours the Ordovices. On the border of three counties, Shropshire, Hereford and Radnor, is the district in which tradition or the conjecture of learned men has placed the battlefield. High up soars Caer Caradoc, commanding a splendid view of the distant Wrekin. Not far off are the strongly marked lines of Brandon Camp (possibly the work of the soldiers of Ostorius); the quiet little village of Leintwardine, encircled by the rapid waters of the Terne, sleeps at the foot of hills, any one of which may have been the chosen position of the British king. Tacitus describes to us the way in which that position, already strong by the steepness of the hill and the treacherous deeps and shallows of the river, was further strengthened by a barrier of stones where approach seemed least difficult Caratacus flew from rank to rank, exhorting his countrymen, descendants of the men who had repulsed the great Julius, to do their utmost on that eventful day which would decide their freedom or their slavery for ever. Ostorius, on the other hand, awed by the strength of the British position, was almost inclined to evade the encounter, but the legionaries loudly demanded battle and the officers backed their ardent entreaties. Ostorius thereupon moved forward and crossed the river without great difficulty. At the stone wall matters for a time went ill with the Romans and death was busy in their ranks, but after they had formed a testudo, with their locked shields held on high, they succeeded under its shelter in pulling out the stones of the roughly compacted wall. Once inside the camp, the well-drilled ranks of the Romans soon pierced the disorderly crowd of the barbarians, who had neither helmet nor breastplate to protect them from the sword and the pilum of the legionary, from the rapier and the spear of the auxiliary cohorts. The victory was a brilliant one, and though Caratacus himself escaped, his wife, his daughter and his breth­ren fell into the hands of the Romans. The liberty of the fugitive prince was of short duration. Having escaped to the court of Cartimandua, Queen of the Brigantes, he was by her basely surrendered, in chains, to the victorious general. This event which may possibly have taken place some time after the battle, happened, as Tacitus remarks, in the ninth year after the commencement of the British war. This probably means AD 51 or 52, the same year in which the inscription was engraved on the triumphal arch of Claudius.

The exhibition of the captive British king who had for so many years defied the power of Rome, was made the occasion of a splendid Roman holiday. The praetorian cohorts were drawn up in the meadows outside their camp (near where now stands the Villa Torlonia), and through the lane formed by their glittering spears passed first the train of the followers of Caratacus, bearing the golden torques, the embossed breastplates and other ornaments which he himself had won in former wars from vanquished kings, then his brothers, his wife and his daughter, and last of all Caratacus himself. He did not crouch or fawn, but looked boldly in the emperor’s face, and (if the speech recorded by Tacitus be not a mere rhetorical exercise) with quiet dignity reminded his conqueror that but for adverse fortune he might have entered Rome in very different guise as an ally, not as a captive.  

“I had horses, men, arms, wealth. Do you wonder that I was reluctant to lose them? If you wish to lord it over all the world, must others at once accept slavery? Slay me if you will, and I shall soon be forgotten. Preserve my life and I shall be an eternal memorial of your clemency.”

The courageous and manly address touched the not ignoble nature of Claudius, who granted pardon to the British king and all his family. He was required, however, to offer thanks for his preservation to the emperor’s wife, Agrippina, mother of Nero, who sat haughtily on a tribunal of her own, not far from that of her husband: “a new and strange sight,” says Tacitus, for Roman soldiers to behold. Far better known than the speech thus recorded by Tacitus is the remark of the British king, preserved by the Greek historian Dion. After his liberation, when he was taken round through the streets of Rome, and saw all the wonders of the city, he said: “And yet you who possess all these things, and many others like them, actually covet the shanties of Britain ”. With the capture and pardon of Caratacus, the house of Cymbeline disappears from history. It is implied that he and his family spent the rest of their days in Italy.


For the next seven years (52-59), under Didius Gallus and Veranius, the history of Roman conquest was void of strik­ing events. Didius was elderly and disinclined to risk his already great reputation by distant operations against the natives. Veranius, who was probably younger, certainly more adventurous, promised his master Nero (who succeeded Claudius in 54) that in two years the province should be at his feet, but died in his first year of office, with his high hopes unrealised. However, these two governors had apparently succeeded in pushing the Roman frontier northward as far as Chester and Lincoln: they had checked, though not subdued, the Silures, and had rescued their ally Cartimandua from the perilous position in which she had been placed by her indignant subjects, as a punishment for summarily dismissing her husband and handing herself over to his armour-bearer. Probably these seven years of rest were really useful to the cause of the empire. The more civilised tribes in the south and east were adopting Roman ways, and some of them, at any rate, were growing fat on Roman commerce, and if the subordinate officials of the empire would have used their power with moderation Britain might have become Roman without more blood-spilling. Unfortunately, these con­ditions were not observed, and a day of vengeance was at hand.

In the year 59 Suetonius Paulinus, one of the two greatest generals that obeyed the orders of Nero (Corbulo, conqueror of Armenia, being the other), was appointed legatus of Britain, and began his short but memorable career. Believing that he had a tranquil and easily governed province behind him, and desiring to rival the fame of Corbulo, he determined to attempt the con­quest of Anglesey, which was invested with a mysterious awe as the high place of Druidism. After all, the difficulties of the enterprise were spiritual rather than material. A flotilla of flat-bottomed boats transported the legionaries across the Menai Straits; of the cavalry some swam, and some, we are told, forded the channel. But there on the other side stood not only a dense mass of armed men, but women, dressed like Furies with their hair hanging down and with lighted torches in their hands, were rushing about through the ranks, and Druid priests, with their hands upraised to Heaven, in terrible voices called down vengeance on the foe. At the unaccustomed sight the awed legionaries hung back ; then the cheering speech of the general and their own reflection—“We must never let ourselves be frightened by a parcel of women and priests”—revived their fainting courage. They carried the eagles forward, hewed down the armed Britons, and used the terrible torches to bum the hostile camp. A fort and garrison were placed in the island in order to maintain the conquest, and the woods in which human sacrifices had been offered and cruel auguries practised with the bleeding limbs of men, were by Roman axes cleared from the face of the earth.

All seemed going splendidly for Roman dominion in Britain, when a breathless messenger brought to the tent of Suetonius (AD 60) a tale not unlike that with which we were thrilled half a century ago at the outbreak of the Indian mutiny. The outburst of the flame of British discontent was in the country of the Iceni, and the exciting cause was the shameless and heartless greed of the Roman officials. The capital of the new province at this time seems to have been Cymbeline’s old city, Camulodunum (the modem Colchester), which had been turned into a Roman colony, a place in which the time-expired veterans might spend their old age, surrounded by their families, and lording it with no gentle mastership over their British slaves. High in this town, which took its name from Camulus, the Celtic war-god, rose the great temple dedicated to Claudius and Rome, a temple which was almost a fortress; but the town itself was surrounded by no walls, a piece of improvidence for which Tacitus justly blames the generals, who were thinking more of pleasurable ease than of military utility. In the chief house of the colony resided Catus Decianus, the procurator, who represented the emperor in all civil and financial matters, as Suetonius, the legatus, represented him in military affairs. Of all the grasping and unjust officials who made the name of the empire hated, this Catus seems to have been one of the worst. While oppressing the peasants by rigorous exaction of tribute, he de­manded from the chiefs the return of the property (probably the result of confiscations from their own fellow-countrymen) which Claudius had bestowed upon them, saying that gifts such as this, of course, reverted to the giver. The financial distress of the unhappy province was aggravated, according to Dion, by the selfish timidity of the philosopher Seneca, Nero’s minister, who chose this opportunity suddenly and harshly to call in loans to the amount of 10,000,000 sesterces (about £90,000 sterling), which he had lent at usurious rates of interest to the natives or the settlers in Britain.

Thus all was ready in Essex for revolt, when Norfolk and Suffolk, the country of the Iceni, were the scenes of outrages which set fire to the gathered fuel. King Prasutagus, the old and apparently loyal ally of Rome, who had long been famous for his wealth, died leaving the emperor and his own two daughters his joint heirs. There were old examples of this testamentary liberality in Roman history, both Pergamum and Cyprus having been bequeathed by their kings to the Roman people. Prasutagus hoped, we are told, by this display of confidence in the honour of the emperor that he would, at least, safeguard his kingdom and his family from violence. Bitterly was this hope disappointed. At the bidding of the legates, centurions tramped across his kingdom ; at the bidding of the procurator, clerks of servile condition swept bare the palace of its treasures, just as if all had been lawful prize of war. Nor did they even stop there. With incredible stupidity, as well as wickedness, the governor ordered or permitted the widow of Prasutagus, herself daughter as well as spouse of kings, to be beaten with rods, and gave over her two daughters to be violated. The chiefs of the Icenian nation were banished from their ancestral homes, and the kinsmen of the royal family were treated as slaves. At this all the manhood of the nation rose in rebellion; the widowed queen, who is known to posterity as Boadicea, put herself at the head of the maddened confederates (for the Iceni were at once joined by the Trinobantes, possibly also by some of the other neighbouring tribes), and the numbers of the insur­gent army are said to have reached 120,000.

Of the long harangue which Dion represents Boadicea as having delivered to her army “ffrom a tribunal made after the Roman fashion of peat-turves,” it is not necessary to quote anything here, as it is obviously but a literary exercise by a Greek rhetorician. The most interesting things which it contains are the description of the grievances endured under the Roman rule, as the rhetorician imagines her to have painted them, and her invocation of the Celtic goddess, Andraste, whom she seems to invoke as the special protectress of her nation. The description which the same author gives of the appearance of the warrior­queen is life-like, and we must hope that it is trustworthy. “Tall in stature, hard-visaged and with fiercest eye: with a rough voice : with an abundance of bright yellow hair reaching down to her girdle : wearing a great collar of gold : with a tunic of divers colours drawn close round her bosom and a thick mantle over it, fastened with a clasp. So she was always dressed, but now she bore a lance in her hand to make her harangue more terrible.”

The first onset of the barbarian army was directed against the hated colony, and thus there were soon a hundred thousand or more enraged Britons howling round, not the walls, but the unwalled enclosure of Camulodunum. Help for the defenceless city there was none or next to none. The four brave legions were far away: one in quarters at Caerleon upon Usk, two fighting with Druids in Anglesey or quartered at Chester, one, the nearest, at Lincoln. The greedy procurator, Catus, when appealed to for help, sent two hundred imperfectly armed soldiers to reinforce the scanty garrison, and then began to arrange for his own speedy flight to Gaul. Within the city there were treachery and the paralysis of despair. No ditch was dug nor even the hastiest rampart reared : the non-combatants, the old men and the women, were not sent away; as passive as if in profound peace they awaited the approach of the multitude of the barbarians. The city was stormed at once: the great temple-citadel, in which the few soldiers were collected, stood a two days’ siege and then likewise fell. Both here and in the two Roman cities which were yet to fall, indescribable horrors of murder, rape, ghastly and insulting mutila­tions are reported to have been practised by the barbarians. The Ninth legion under its commander (Petillius Cerialis), marching southward to the rescue, was met by the exultant conquerors, routed and almost destroyed. All the foot soldiers perished in the battlefield or in the flight; only Cerialis himself with his cavalry escaped to his former camp and was sheltered behind its fortifications.

Some part of these dismal tidings must have been brought to Suetonius on the shore of the Menai Straits. “With marvellous constancy,” says Tacitus, “he marched through the midst of enemies to Londinium, a place which is not indeed dignified with the name of colony, but which is greatly celebrated for the number of its merchants and the abundance of its supplies.” This is the first mention of London in history. At this time it had not apparently attained anything like the dimensions of which even Roman London could boast in later times. It formed an oblong which measured probably about 800 yards from east to west and 500 from north to south, and covered a little more than 600 acres. The northern boundary was almost certainly the line of Cheapside and Comhill, the southern that of Upper and Lower Thames Street The eastern and western frontiers of the city are still obscure, but it is generally admitted that neither St Paul’s on the west nor the Tower on the east would have been included within it Such was the little busy city which Suetonius reached at the end of his daring march. He heard there, if he had not heard before, the terrible news of the loss of the Ninth legion. He probably also learned at the same time that the officer in charge of the Second legion, daring to disobey his general’s orders, was lingering at Caerleon, instead of marching to join him in the defence of the eastern portion of the province. The double ill-tidings upset all his plans for the defence of London. His army, which consisted of the Fourteenth legion and a detachment of the Twentieth, amounted only to about 10,000 men; provisions were running short, and the perpetual raids of the enemy made foraging difficult It was too late to save Verulam, once a British capital, now a Roman municipium, which Boadicea had taken and where the bloody scenes of Camulodunum had been only too faithfully repeated. Now, with a heavy heart, notwithstanding the prayers and the tears of the citizens, Suetonius decided that London also must be left to its fate; by the loss of that one city all the rest of the province might haply be saved. Only this much he could grant, that those of the male inhabitants who could march with his troops might do so. Those whom the weakness of their sex or the weariness of age, or even their attachment to their homes, retained in the city were left, and were soon massacred by the barbarians, who took no captives and had no desire for ransoms, feeling that now was their day of vengeance, and foreboding that that day would be short The Roman historians compute the loss of life in the three cities at 70,000 persons, by no means all Romans, but including many of British, perhaps also of Gaulish extraction, who in the years of peace had become peaceable and trade-loving subjects of the empire.

The movements of Suetonius, after he had decided to abandon Londinium to its fate, are not clearly indicated by Tacitus, but it seems probable that he retraced his steps northward in order to effect a junction with the troops which he had left at Chester and with the wreck of the Ninth legion still bravely defending itself at Lincoln. Boadicea with her vast horde of exultant Britons was probably hanging on his rear. Battle was inevitable, but the Roman general had some power of choosing the ground, and he chose it in a place protected on each side by the steep hills of a narrow defile and on the rear by a forest

The enemy could only move towards him across the open plain in front and there could be no lurking in ambush. The line was not too long to prevent the legionary soldiers from being drawn up in close ranks; on each side of them were the more lightly armed cohorts of the allies, and the cavalry were massed upon the wings. In great disorderly squadrons the Britons prepared to charge, full of fierce exultation at their past successes and so certain of their impending triumph that they had brought their wives, in waggons drawn up at the farther side of the plain, to behold their victory.

The barbarians came on with loud clamour and menacing war-songs; the Romans awaited them in silence and perfect order till they were within reach of a javelin’s throw. Then at the signal given, raising the battle-cry, they hurled the pilum and rushed at the double against the slow-marching barbarians, broke their ranks, and pierced through the dense mass like a wedge. After a desperate hand-to-hand struggle, the barbarians, whose lack of defensive armour had caused them to suffer terribly from the arrows and the pita of the Romans, fled in disorder before them. The fugitives reached and were stopped by the waggons. The pursuers, maddened probably by the remembrance of the horrors of the sack of the three Roman cities, hewed down not only the fugitive combatants but the women, and even the horses that drew the chariots. So the victory was won. The Romans admitted a loss of some 800 killed and wounded, and claimed to have slaughtered a little less than 80,000 Britons. The apparent accuracy of these words, “a little less,” need not deceive us as to the general untrustworthiness of such estimates as these, but the victory was undoubtedly decisive, and, as such things are reckoned, glorious. Boadicea is said by Tacitus to have ended her life by poison. Dion Cassius, with less probability, says that she died of disease.

Far away in Monmouthshire there was another suicide, the result of this great encounter. “Poenius Postumus, prefect of the camp of the Second legion” (who had presumably held the command in the temporary absence of the legatus), “when he heard how well things had gone with the Fourteenth and the Twentieth, enraged with himself because he had cheated his own legion of like glory, and had, contrary to military rule, disobeyed the orders of his superior, pierced himself through with his own sword.” Possibly he was neither a coward nor a mutineer, but a man suddenly called to assume a crushing load of responsibility in a terrible crisis, who had failed to read aright the signs of the times. The Fourteenth legion, which had borne the greatest part of the work in the suppression of the rebellion, was called, when its officers would stimulate its military pride, the “Tamers of Britain” (Domitores Britannia). The renown which it had acquired caused its services to be eagerly sought for in the great game of Caesar-making which followed upon the death of Nero. It was transferred to Belgic Gaul in AD 70, helped to quell the insurrection of Civilis, and never afterwards returned to Britain.

The tenure of office by Suetonius Paulinus was a very short one. He had indeed shown himself

A daring pilot in extremity;

but Nero, who with all his viciousness was not destitute of statesmanlike ability, probably considered that the pilot ought not to have taken his ship into such dangerous channels. After replacing the losses of the Ninth legion by the transfer of some 7,000 soldiers from Germany, the emperor sent a certain Julius Classicianus as successor to the detested procurator Catus. Suetonius seems to have been in favour of stem repression, laying waste with fire and sword the territories of all the tribes of doubtful loyalty. Classicianus, on the other hand, held that the real foe that had now to be fought was famine, especially since the insurgents, intent on the plunder of the Roman warehouses, had neglected the sowing of their spring com. Differences soon arose between the merciful procurator and the stern legatus. To settle the quarrel Nero sent one of his freedmen, named Polyclitus; who travelled with great pomp and a long train of attendants, burdensome to the provinces through which he passed, but calculated to impress the Roman soldiery with a sense of his importance. The barbarians, on the other hand, who had heard from what a low and servile condition Polyclitus had risen, marvelled that so great a general and so brave an army should tamely submit to the arbitrament of a slave. They profited, however, by that docility; for Polyclitus, though, as his after career showed, not averse from plundering on his own account, made a report to the emperor in favour of the lenient policy of the procurators and Suetonius, after an eventful lieutenancy of not more than two years, was recalled to Rome (AD 61).

In the ten years that followed the recall of Suetonius (61-71), years which witnessed the downfall of Nero and the terrible civil war which shook the empire after his death, no great commotion disturbed the much-needed repose of the exhausted province. In the career of Trebellius Maximus, the governor who held nominal power for the greater part of this time, we have a typical instance of the bickerings, sometimes between the civil and military authorities, sometimes, as in this case, between the chief legatus and his military subordinates, which varied the monotony of existence in a conquered province. Tacitus tells us that Trebellius, who was an indolent man, with no experience of camp life, endeavoured to hold the province by mere good nature; a policy not altogether impracticable, because the barbarians had now begun to look more favourably on the pleasant vices of civilisation. The army, however, despised and hated the governor for his avarice and meanness, and their discontent was fomented and forcibly expressed by Roscius Coelius, the legatus of the Twentieth legion. “It is your fault,” said the governor to him, “that discipline is relaxed and the troops are on the verge of mutiny.” “It is yours,” replied Coelius, “that the soldiers are kept poor and defrauded of their pay.” Soon not the legionaries only, but the humbler auxiliaries, dared to hurl their taunts at the governor, who, at last alarmed for his safety, fled to some obscure hiding-place. Drawn out from thence, he prolonged, apparently for a little while, the precarious tenure of his rule; the implied bargain between him and the army being: “ To you licence to do as you please; to me unthreatened life ”. Then the situation again became desperate. The miserable Trebellius escaped to Germany, took refuge in the camp of the insurgent Emperor Vitellius, did not share his transient success, and never returned to Britain.

When the civil war was ended by the triumph of the strong, sensible, common-place emperor Vespasian, a new impulse was given to Roman conquest in Britain. Petillius Cerialis, a near relative of the new emperor, a capable if somewhat rash soldier, the same who, at the head of the Ninth legion, had vainly sought to stem the torrent of Boadicea’s rebellion, held office for four years (ad 71-75), during which time he humbled and perhaps subdued the Brigantes, who ever since Cartimandua’s marital troubles had been more or less at enmity with the empire. This conquest, if really made at this time, involved the addition of Yorkshire to the empire, perhaps the foundation of Eburacum (York), once the capital of Roman Britain. Julius Frontinus (75-78) followed Cerialis, and completed die long-delayed subjugation of the Silures in South Wales, who at this time, twenty-four years after Caratacus had been led in triumph through the streets of Rome, were still unreconciled to the Roman dominion. An interesting point in connexion with the name of Julius Frontinus is the fact that nearly twenty years after his return from Britain (AD 97) he was appointed by the Emperor Nerva Curator Aquarum, and in that capacity, though he was already advanced in years, carried great reforms and corrected many abuses which had grown up in connexion with the water-supply of the Eternal City. His treatise on the sub­ject is still the source from which we derive almost all our information concerning the splendid aqueducts of Rome.

In the year 78, the Emperor Vespasian appointed as his legatus the most celebrated and probably the greatest of the governors of Britain, Gnaeus Julius Agricola. Verging as he was upon his fortieth year he was in the very prime of his matured and disciplined strength. He knew Britain well, having served when quite a young man as tribune (a rank nearly corresponding to our lieutenant) under Suetonius Paulinus, and having probably heard the clamour of the barbarian multitude who crowded round the chariot of Boadicea. Again, ten years later, he had been sent over to Britain to confirm the doubtful loyalty of the Twentieth legion. Since then he had been governor of the important province of Aquitaine, afterwards consul, and he was actually holding the distinguished and well-paid office of Pontifex Maximus when he was appointed to the British command. What was more important for his future fame and for our knowledge of the history of Britain, he had given his daugh­ter in marriage to that master of grave historic style, shot with indignant epigram, Cornelius Tacitus. When the new governor landed in Britain, both soldiers and natives thought that, the summer being now nearly ended, there would be no more fighting that year. Not so, decided Agricola. The Ordovices, dwellers in North Wales, had lately almost destroyed an ala (squadron) of cavalry stationed within their borders. This insolence, it was felt, must be chastised, and the might of Rome speedily displayed by the new legatus, who at once marched against them with a moderate force of legionaries and allies. The Ordovices refused to descend into the plain and fight there on equal terms. Agricola having climbed the hills of Denbighshire at the head of his troops, defeated and all but destroyed that clan of mountaineers. He looked westwards to the sacred Isle of Anglesey, once conquered by his old general Suetonius, but almost immediately abandoned on account of the terrible tidings from Camulodunum. He had no ships in which to cross the Menai Straits, but he had among his auxiliary troops men, probably from the mouths of the Rhine and the Waal, expert swimmers and skilled in finding possible fords, and these men laying aside the cumbrous loads which the Roman soldier was accustomed to carry, dashed into the stream, appeared on the shore of Mona and received the submission of the surprised and terrified islanders, who thought that till ships appeared in the straits they at least were safe from conquest Having thus displayed his power, the governor now set himself to win the hearts of the natives by reforms in the administration, especially the financial administration, and redress of grievances. The burdens which rested upon the provincials of Britain were of two kinds, the tributum and the annona: the former a payment in money which was, it may be presumed, remitted by the revenue officers direct to Rome; the latter a payment in kind of the various stores needed for the sustenance of the army—fodder, lard, fish, firewood, but pre-eminently corn; and these things would of course not be sent out of the country but consumed in the various camps and cities where the soldiers were quartered. There was some good work to be done by Agricola in equalising the assessments to tributum, or rendering them proportionate to the ability of the British town or village responsible for its payment But the chief abuses seem to have arisen in connexion with the annona. Fraudulent revenue officers would probably contract for the harvest on low terms before it was reaped, would gather it into the granaries, close the doors and laugh in the faces of the unhappy natives who were ordered to furnish so many bushels of com and could only comply with the order by buying it from them at their own extortionate price. Then they would purposely fix the place where the annona had to be delivered as far off as possible, in districts traversed by the poorest of roads. All these various abuses were, we are told, at once removed or greatly mitigated by the firm hand of Agricola

It was not enough to remove causes of complaint. He would also win over the natives to positive affection for the Roman rule. He was constantly urging all the wealthier Britons to come into the towns and to take part in building operations. Everywhere temples, market-places, well-built houses were rising, reared by British natives, and pledges for their future loyalty. He gathered round him the sons of the chiefs, had them instructed in liberal arts, praised their aptness to learn at the expense of their Gaulish contemporaries, listened before long to eloquent declamations, delivered, of course, in the Latin tongue, by young Britons, gracefully clad in the Roman toga. The bath and the luxurious banquet offered their attractions not in vain to the late hunter of the forests, and as Tacitus sarcastically observes “the simple folk called that civilisation (humanitas) which was really the beginning of slavery ”.

The summer of A.D. 79, the second year of Agricola’s command, seems to have been chiefly occupied in measures for completing the military occupation of the recently conquered territory, that is, probably, Yorkshire, Lancashire and Northumberland, the country of the Brigantes. “He himself chose the site of the camps; he himself reconnoitred the forests and the estuaries” (probably of the Tees, the Wear and the Tyne, and perhaps also Solway Firth), “and meanwhile he gave the enemy no rest, but was for ever harassing them by sudden excursions, and when he had terrified them sufficiently, then by holding his hand he gave them an inducement to desire peace. In consequence hereof many native states which up to that time had treated the empire on a footing of equality now gave hostages and laid aside their animosity. They found themselves surrounded with forts and garrisons, and all was done with so much science and system as had never before been applied to any newly conquered part of Britain.” It is possible that Eburacum, which at this time, or very soon after, became the headquarters of the Ninth legion, was one of the strong places thus founded or fortified by Agricola.

The record of the year 80, the third year of Agricola’s command, is one of the most interesting to all north-country English­men, but it is unfortunately also one of the most obscure. It will be well to quote the words of Tacitus as they stand, without attempting conjectural amplification.

“The third year of expeditions opened up to us new tribes, all the nations up to the estuary called Tanaus having their lands laid waste. The enemy cowed by these operations did not dare to harass the army, though it was buffeted by fierce tempests, and thus a respite was afforded which was employed in building more forts. It was observed by military experts that no general ever showed greater ability in his choice of suitable sites for such defences. No fort founded by Agricola was ever stormed by hostile violence, or surrendered, or abandoned by its fugitive garrison: yet frequent sallies were made from them, for they were fortified against a tedious siege by a yearly renewed stock of provisions. This gave the defenders courage for the winter; each garrison relied on itself for its safety, and the enemy were driven to despair by the uselessness of their attacks. For aforetime they had been wont to recoup themselves for the losses of the summer by the successes of winter, but now they found themselves repelled in both seasons alike.”

We have here evidently to deal with an extensive system of fortification; but we are provoked by being unable precisely to identify the region in which it took place. What is the meaning of the estuary called Tanaus “up to which Agricola ravaged the land?” It is certainly not the Tay (which was indicated by the corrupt reading Taum); it may be the Firth of Forth; only that estuary is immediately after called Bodotria. The little Scottish river Tyne near North Berwick has a kind of estuary, and Mommsen’s conjecture that this is the Tanaus of Tacitus would have much probability, were it not so near to the far mightier estuary of the Forth that it is difficult to imagine any one choosing it as a landmark. The better known Tyne of Newcastle would be clearly the strongest claimant if the course of the narrative did not seem to have already carried us to the north of it No piece of water would meet the geographical condition better than the splendid estuary of the Tweed, so well fitted by nature for a limitary stream, but no other passage of any author has been found in which any name resembling Tanaus has been applied to that river. In the next year (81) Agricola undoubtedly reached and fortified the narrow neck of land between Clyde and Forth (Clota and Bodotria); but the point practically at issue is this: “May we understand that we have in this passage of Tacitus a description of the building by Agricola of some at least of the forts between Tyne and Solway on the line which was afterwards marked by the Roman wall?” It has been often suggested, and in the opinion of the present writer with some probability, that we may. In that case great additional interest attaches to Chesters, Housesteads and others of the ruined Roman stations in Northumberland, when we think that they may have been planned by the exceptional military genius of Agricola.

With the three remaining campaigns of this general (82-84) we have no special concern, as they were all fought beyond the limits of England. We must not follow him as he cruises about the Kyles of Bute and the Mull of Cantire, gazes across to Ireland (an island, Tacitus thinks, with better harbours and more frequented by merchants than England), nor discuss his opinion, often expressed to his son-in-law, that with one legion and a moderate supply of auxiliaries he could have added Hibernia to the empire. Nor must we linger over Tacitus’ celebrated description of the great fight on the Mons Graupius, and the spirited war-speech of the Caledonian hero Galgacus, which according to Tacitus preceded the encounter. Almost immediately after this victory—perhaps more dearly bought and less decisive than would appear on the surface of the Tacitean narrative—Agricola, whose term of command was already of exceptional length, was recalled to Rome. The Emperor Domitian’s jealousy of a soldier whose admiring legions might insist on proclaiming him as a candidate for the empire, may have been, as Tacitus suggests, the sole reason for his recall; but nearer danger was also threatening Rome from the region of the Danube, and, as Mommsen has pointed out, one of the British legions was actually recalled for service in Pannonia. True statesmanship as well as mean personal jealousy may have prompted the recall of so adventurous a general from the scene of his triumphs. Agricola made no attempt to resist his supersession, but returned to Rome, lived there as a private but harassed citizen, declining the governorship of Syria (which was offered to him with a hint that it would be dangerous to chap. accept it), and died at Rome in the fifty-fourth year of his age on August 23, A.D. 93. The suggestions of foul play and of poison stealthily administered by order of Domitian are men­tioned, but hardly endorsed, even by the suspicious pen of his son-in-law. That son-in-law was absent from Rome at the time of his death, but describes the deathbed scene from the reports of the bystanders; and his farewell to the departed spirit of the beloved one, the celebrated peroration of the Life of Agri­cola, is one of the most beautiful things in Roman literature.




With the departure of Agricola the literary history of Roman Britain comes to an end. For three centuries longer the legions were to remain in our island, and the buildings which they reared, the altars which they inscribed, the roads which they constructed, tell us something of the life which they led during that long space of time, as long as the whole period that has elapsed from Elizabeth’s days to ours. Archaeology has much to tell us concerning it, but history is almost altogether silent.

The greatest monument of Roman power in Britain and that which has yielded the most fruitful results to archaeology is the Roman Wall between the two estuaries of Tyne and Solway. Almost all that we know of Roman life in Britain during the second century centres round this one great work. Towards the end of the first century a change took place in the organi­sation of the defence of the empire on the frontiers. Hitherto the republic, and after it the empire, had been satisfied to keep a strong body of troops in all the imperfectly conquered provinces, and to plant well-garrisoned castles near the river or the range of mountains on the other side of which were the barbarians of Europe or Africa, or the hostile monarchies of Asia. Soon after 52 the death of Nero a different system was adopted, involving the formation of a definitely marked boundary which when not protected by very strong natural barriers was guarded by an actual wall of stone or earth upon which the garrisoned fortresses were strung, like beads on a chain. Not only in Britain are traces of these limiting walls to be found, but also in Germany, between the Lower Rhine and the Danube, and in the Dobrudscha on the western shore of the Black Sea: and there is reason to believe that a similar wall of defence shut out the barbarians of Mount Aures who threatened the provincials of Roman Africa.

The real authors of the frontier system were the Flavian and Antonine Emperors, and the period extending from the accession of Vespasian to the death of Marcus Aurelius, or, roughly, from 70 a.d. to 180 A.D., witnessed its complete organisation. The interest of these emperors in the matter was no doubt quickened by the growing anxiety, an anxiety unknown to the Augustan age, but perceptible in Tacitus, as to the increasing pressure from without upon the empire. ... It is well for students of the British frontier to remember that the emperor with whose name the organization of the imperial frontier system is most closely connected is Hadrian.

There has been much discussion about this matter. As we shall see, there is good reason for connecting the name of a later emperor, Severus, with the building of the wall, but, on the whole, the testimony of inscriptions and the labours of archaeologists tend to confirm the clear statement of the biographer Spartianus (writing, it is true, a century and a half after the event): “Hadrian visited Britain, in which island he corrected many things that were amiss, and was the first to draw a wall across for eighty miles, in order to divide the barbarians and the Romans”. In all the long list of Roman emperors it would be hard to find a more fascinating figure than that of this great wall­builder. By no means the best of his class, far surpassed in moral excellence by Trajan, Antoninus and Marcus, but removed by an immeasurable distance from the worst, from such men as Nero, Domitian and Commodus; architect, artist, author, and, above all things, indefatigable traveller, Publius Aelius Hadrianus united a truly Greek versatility and brilliancy of intellect to all the Roman’s strong sense of duty towards the great Res Publica, and willingness for Rome’s sake to sacrifice many of the sensual gratifications in which his soul only too clearly delighted. The traveller who wanders for hours through the ruins of the vast collection of luxurious palaces which is called the Villa Hadriani, or who, in sunny Athens, sees the arch which bears the proud inscription, “On this side the city of Theseus, on that the city of Hadrian”, can in some measure realise the self-denial which must have been involved in Hadrian’s presence with the legions during the setting out of eighty Roman miles of wall across the misty moors of Northumberland and Cumberland.

It was probably in the year 120, three years after his accession to the empire, that Hadrian visited Britain. The journey may have been only part of his pre-arranged tour through the western portion of his dominions, but it is also possible that it was the result of some recent and special disaster in Britain to the Roman arms. Some forty or fifty years afterwards the orator Fronto alluded to “the great number of soldiers slain by the Britons during the reign of Hadrian”, and it is allowable at least as a matter of conjecture to couple these words with the ominous disappearance of one of the legions stationed in Britain from the army list of the empire. The unlucky Ninth legion, once quartered at Lincoln, afterwards at York, had been, as we have seen, nearly destroyed in the insurrection headed by Boadicea. It had again suffered most severely, under Agricola, from a night attack made by the Caledonians before the battle of Mons Graupius. And now, just about this time, either in the later years of Trajan or the earlier years of Hadrian, it vanishes clean out of the lists of the Roman army and is re­placed by the Sixth legion, surnamed the Victorious, which was brought over to Britain and stationed at Eburacum. There is some discussion as to the earlier cantonment of the legions, whether four or three, that had been quartered in Britain, but as to the general question of their allocation during, at least, the second and third centuries of our era there can be no doubt. The Second legion (Augusta) at Isca (Caerleon-upon-Usk); the Sixth ( Victrix) at Eburacum (York), and the Twentieth ( Valeria Victrix) at Deva (Chester), have left abundant tokens of their long-continued presence.


Under the Emperor Antoninus Pius (138-161), the successor of Hadrian, another wall was built, some fifty or sixty miles north of the first, between the Firths of Forth and of Clyde. There were no stones in this wall, which was made of layers of turf, and, moreover, it has suffered cruelly (from an archaeological point of view) through the operations necessary first for the cutting of a canal and afterwards for the building of a rail­road between the two seas; but an abundance of inscribed stones tell us much concerning the names and occupations of the soldiers by whom it was garrisoned, and abundantly confirm the testi­mony of historians who attribute its erection to Antoninus Pius (138-161), one of the best and noblest of Roman emperors. Doubtless, at the time of its building, the country between the two walls (comprising the county of Northumberland and the whole south of Scotland) was subject to Roman rule. The precise period when that district was finally lost to the empire is still unknown to us. The philosopher emperor, Marcus Aurelius (161-180), was closely occupied with the defence of the empire against the barbarians of the Middle Danube, and his name is scarcely mentioned in connexion with the history of Britain. We are told, however, that “the Britannic war pressed heavily on his mind,” and that he sent a second Agricola to settle it This general of Marcus, Calpumius Agricola, was not as far as we know, descended from his great namesake, the general of Domitian.

With the accession of Commodus (180-192), son of Marcus, the long and glorious period of the patriot emperors came to an end, and the ruin of the empire began. The foolish and head­strong boy, who was now lord of the Roman world, sacrificed some of the best generals in his service to his jealous and cowardly suspicions, and while he was devoting himself to the bloody pastimes of the amphitheatre, allowed the necessary work of the defence of the frontier to fall behind. “The tribes in the island of Britain” we are told by Dion Cassius, “over­passed the wall which separated them from the Roman armies, committed widespread ravages, and cut to pieces a Roman general with the troops under his command”. Which of the two walls is here referred to is not easy to say. It may be conjectured, however, that the wall of Antoninus had been already broken down in the reign of Marcus, during the “heavily pressing” Britannic war, and that we have here a description of one of those barbaric demolitions of which we find such abundant traces in the wall of Hadrian. To chastise the barbarians and to restore the broken Limes Commodus sent probably his best general, the sturdy old soldier, Ulpius Marcellus. If discipline were relaxed in the legions on the British frontier, here was certainly the man to restore it St Paul himself was not more resolute to “buffet his body and bring it into subjection” than this chief of many legions. A scanty sleeper himself, he framed ingenious plans to keep his centurions and officers at night harassed and awake. An old man with toothless and tender gums, he would eat only the stale hard bread which he had brought from Rome, in order that he might not fall into gluttony and excess. Such was the man who restored for a time the honour of the Roman arms, and who chastised the barbarians so thoroughly that all men marvelled that he was not, on his return to Rome, condemned to death by the jealous Commodus.

The assassination of Commodus (192), followed in less than three months by the murder of his excellent successor, Pertinax, and by the sale of the imperial dignity to the highest bidder, introduced a dreadful period of civil war in which the whole empire had nearly fallen asunder in ruin. Of the three candidates for the purple, Pescennius Niger in Syria, Albinus in Britain, and Septimius Severus oh the Middle Danube, Severus, who had the advantage of being nearest to the capital and was therefore first acclaimed as emperor, was also at last the victorious one, but he had a hard fight, especially with Albinus, who led the three legions which stiff composed the army of Britain to a bloody battle in the plains of Lyons. The confusion of the times and the absence of the Roman legions were undoubtedly favourable to the restless barbarians. The wall of Hadrian was broken through; the Maeatae, who lived immediately to the north of it, burst into the province, and the governor, Virius Lupus, purchased a precarious peace by paying a large sum to the invaders. It may be easily imagined that the condition of Britain after such an ignominious conclusion of a campaign, and even after the return of the disaffected legions of Albinus, was far from satisfactory, but it was apparently not till 208 that Septimius Severus set forth from Rome to bring the affairs of the province into order. He was already more than sixty years of age, his joints were racked by gout and his heart was sore through the fierce dissensions of his two sons, Caracalla and Geta, and the evils which these foreboded for the empire. Yet even these dissensions urged him the more to undertake the expedition, for he hoped that common labours and common dangers might in some degree tend to draw the two hostile brothers together, and that the necessary hardships of a camp life under our northern skies might restore some of the moral tone which had been lost amid the vicious indulgences of Rome. In this hope, it is true, he was completely disappointed. The hatred of Caracalla, especially for his brother, waxed fiercer and fiercer, and included also his father, for whose death he longed with scarcely concealed eagerness. Borne in his litter, on account of his sufferings from gout, the brave old soldier traversed the greater part of Caledonia, hewing down forests and throwing causeways across marshes; slaying, of course, multitudes of barbarians, but losing also 50,000 of his own troops (so we are told, but the estimate is probably exaggerated) by hostile ambuscades, severities of weather, even by the swords of his own soldiers, who often killed their own comrades to prevent their falling into the hands of the barbarians. He had a mind, too, to explore the secrets of Nature, and compared with wonder the all-but perpetual day of midsummer and the scanty measure of light at midwinter in northern Scotland.

The dates of Severus’ campaign are only obscurely indicated, but it seems probable that by the year 210 the subjection of the Caledonians had been apparently completed. Severus, accompanied by Caracalla and his staff, was riding on horseback, notwithstanding his physical infirmity, towards a certain place of meeting which had been appointed for the barbarians, that they might surrender their swords and swear fidelity to the empire. Caracalla, riding behind him, drew his sword and made his horse rear and prance, intending, apparently, to be brought into collision with his father and thus to kill him by apparent misadventure. A warning shout from some member of the staff caused the emperor to look round and the parricidal design was foiled. Severus said nothing, but rode calmly on, took his place on the tribunal and went through the ceremony that had been arranged. He then sent for his son and two of his chief ministers (one of them the great lawyer Papinian), having ordered that a naked sword should be placed in die middle of the tent He sternly rebuked his son for the impious deed which he had meditated in the sight of the allies and the enemies of Rome, and then, changing his tone, said: “ If you still desire to slay me, here is the sword, draw it and destroy me. Or, since I have associated you with me in the empire, give your orders to Papinian and let him be my executioner. You are young and strong: I am old and shall lay me down to rest without a sigh.” The invitation was not accepted, for Caracalla shrank now from the guilt of manifest parricide. But the father’s words revealed too plainly the bitterness of his soul. Many cruelties and much needless bloodshed had marked his own ascent to power, but they were surely all avenged by the misery of that day in the land of the Caledonians.

It was possibly in this same year 210, at any rate during his stay in Britain, that Severus completed a great and necessary work—the repair of the wall of Hadrian. So grievously had this long barrier suffered at the hands of the barbarians that reconstruction seemed to the soldiers engaged in it like an actual fresh construction. It is only thus that we can explain the language of the careless, inaccurate authors of the Historia Augusta, who, forgetful apparently of the fact that they have already assigned the credit of the work to Hadrian, now say of Severus: “The greatest glory of his reign is that he fortified Britain by a wall drawn across the island and ending on both sides with the ocean, for which achievement he received the name of Britannicus”. Attempts have been made to explain the apparent discrepancy between the two accounts by assigning part of the fortification to Hadrian and part to Severus—for instance, the earthen mounds to the former and the stone wall to the latter; but a careful study of the existing remains does not favour these theories. It seems better to admit that the writer was careless and forgetful, and that British affairs and the story of the Roman wall were of infinitely less importance to him than they are now to us, dwellers in Britain.

Severus was doomed to discover, like Edward Plantagenet a thousand years later, how deceptive were victories over the Northern mountaineers. Next year (211) the Maeatae were again up in arms and were joined by the Caledonians. Filled with wrath he ordered his troops again to invade their land, repeating often the lines of Homer:—

Let not one of the race escape the steepness of ruin.

None, your avenging hands, not e'en the babe at the bosom.

He was preparing himself once more to set forth in his litter in the short dark winter days for the northern moorlands, when sickness attacked him, aided, some men thought, by Caracalla and the physicians, and on February 4, 211, the old man died at Eburacum. He had lived sixty-five years and reigned seventeen, and he was the last Roman emperor of whose doings in our land we have any detailed description. Scarcely had Severus died when his sons, renouncing apparently all thoughts of vengeance on the Caledonians, left the wintry north and returned to the delights of Rome. The hardly suppressed enmity of the brothers now broke out into open flame; and after various ineffectual attempts, always foiled by the younger man’s vigilance, Caracalla’s centurions slew Geta in his mother’s arms. Wheresoever the name of his victim occurred on the monuments, it was erased by order of the murderer. This strange manifesta­tion of posthumous vindictiveness has left traces in our own country (for instance on a monument in the abbey-church of Hexham) as well as on the Arch of Severus in Rome, and in an inscription near the Second Cataract of the Nile.

Caracalla himself was assassinated in 217, but emperors of his kindred wore the imperial purple down to the year 235, and thus the dynasty of Severus may be said to have lasted for more than forty years. Both in coins and inscriptions the princes of this house have left an exceptionally full record in the British province. From 235, the date of the murder of Severus Alexander (an excellent young emperor, last of his line), down to 284, a period of almost half a century, the Roman empire was in a state of absolute disintegration. The barbarians were pressing fiercely on its frontiers. This was the era of the first and terrible invasion of the Goths (244-270), an invasion which after awful losses on both sides, and the death of a Roman emperor from the pestilence caused by the war, ended in the abandonment to the barbarians of the great province of Dacia, won for the empire by the victories of Trajan. It was the era, too, of a most humiliating defeat by the Persians, and the conversion of a Roman emperor into a footstool for the Persian king. But more dangerous, if possible, than the external foes of the empire, was its internal disorganization. In these forty-nine years no fewer than fifteen emperors were recognised at Rome, besides a multitude of obscure competitors (commonly known as the thirty tyrants) in the provinces. It is needless to say that the reigns, which thus lasted on an average little more than three years, were generally terminated by mutiny and murder; needless to dilate on the miserable collapse of law and order which inevitably followed from such continual changes in the depositary of supreme power in the state. Of this dismal period there is, naturally enough, no written record in the annals of Britain. Undoubtedly the wave of Roman influence ebbed; we can hardly be wrong in thinking that now, at any rate, if not before, the country between the two walls was permanently abandoned to the barbarians. The Northumbrian camps were probably also sacked, and we may, if we will, read some pages of that long unwritten chapter in the ruined walls of the camps erected by Hadrian and Severus, in the places where fire has evidently passed upon the corridors of a Roman villa, destroying the elaborate bathing arrangements of tribune or centurion.

For the empire as a whole this interregnum of anarchy came to an end in the year 284 when Diocletian, the second Augustus, ascended the throne. This man, of obscure, even of servile origin, showed statesmanship of a rare order, rescuing the water­logged and all-but foundering vessel of the state from destruc­tion, and steering it into a harbour in which it rode safely for a hundred years. His chief expedient was the division of the imperial power, in recognition of the fact that the vast fabric of the empire could no longer be upheld by a single ruler, and that if the supreme Augustus would not have rivals he must have partners. Dividing the empire into four great sections called prefectures, he chose for himself the prefecture of the East, including Egypt, Syria, Asia Minor and Thrace. His contemporary and colleague, the stout old soldier Maximian, who, like himself, bore the title of Augustus, ruled Italy, southern Germany and the greater part of Roman Africa. After Diocletian had reigned seven years he associated with himself in addition two junior partners, not Augusti but merely Caesars; Galerius who governed the Illyrian lands, which in the meaning then given to the name stretched from Cape Matapan to the Danube. To the youngest of all, Constantius Chlorus, was assigned the prefecture of the west, stretching from Tangier to Hexham, and including three great “Dioceses” as the divisions intermediate between prefectures and provinces were called: Western Africa and Spain, Gaul and Britain. A noble portion was this, for the junior partner of the imperial firm, and one which might have satisfied the ambition even of a Napoleon. But there was one annoying drawback to the greatness of the western Caesar. After all the rest of the empire had been restored to tranquillity the island of Britain still remained outside the imperial orbit, and what made this circumstance the more exasperating was the remembrance that it was due to the treachery of an officer chosen by the emperors themselves. Desiring to check the piratical expeditions of the Franks and Saxons who were already beginning to infest both coasts of the British channel, Maximian, who was at that time ruling and warring in Gaul, had entrusted the command of a naval squadron to a certain Carausius,a man of mean extraction, born either in Flanders or Ireland, who had already distinguished himself by his bravery and his skill in naval warfare. From his strong place of arms at Gesoriacum (Boulogne), Carausius soon made his power felt by the barbarians, but before long Maximian had reason to suspect that the officer of the empire was himself in secret league with at least some of the pirates and shared their plunder. He summoned Carausius to appear before him, but that astute personage, suspecting the motive for the summons, hastily quitted Boulogne and sailed for Britain, which in the disorganised condition of Roman affairs he had not much difficulty in making his own.

Having declared himself emperor and having even constrained the two legitimate Augusti to recognise him as a quasi-partner of their dignity, Carausius actually succeeded in maintaining his position for six years (287-293), perhaps the only time in the history of our island when there has been a veritable “Emperor of Britain”. Of the character of his government we have unfortunately no information except some sentences of invective from professional rhetoricians; but at least the numismatist has reason to remember his reign which has supplied our museums with a multitude of coins. In these, while the obverse represents the head of the self-made emperor, a middle-aged common-place man who looks like a self-made manufacturer, the reverse bears sometimes the well-known Roman emblems of the wolf and the twins; or a lion with a thunderbolt in his mouth symbolises the valour of Augustus; or a female milking a cow the fertility of his kingdom; while in some of them the association with Jovius and Herculius (the titles of the two legitimate Augusti) attests his share in the imperial partnership.

Notwithstanding this interchange of compliments it was felt at headquarters that it was time that this separatist empire should come to an end, and it was in fact chiefly to accomplish this that Constantius had been created Caesar of the west. The history of the campaign has to be gathered with difficulty from the rhetoric of Mamertinus and Eumenius, two professional pane­gyrists of the conqueror, but we seem to perceive that Carausius or his pirate allies still held the harbour of Boulogne, and that it was necessary to seal up the channel with beams of timber and caigoes of stone to prevent their exit. Stormy weather then de­layed for some time the operations of Constantius, and mean­while Carausius had been assassinated by one of his officers named Allectus, who at once assumed the purple and struck coins describing himself as Pious, Fortunate and August.

For nearly three years Allectus reigned. At last, in 296, Constantius set forth for the overthrow of this new usurper. “Other emperors,” cries his flatterer, “have received the credit of victories won under their auspices though they themselves were tarrying in Rome. You, unconquered Caesar! put yourself at the head of your troops; you gave the signal to start, when sea and sky were alike turbid, notwithstanding the hesitation of the other leaders. The wind struck obliquely on your sail: you made your vessel tack. All the soldiers, enraptured, cried: Let us follow Caesar wherever he leads us’. Fortune did indeed favour you. We have heard from the companions of your voyage how the mists hung low over the back of the sea so that the hostile fleet stationed in ambush round the Isle of Wight never saw you pass. As soon as they touched the shore of Britain your unconquered army set fire to all their ships, urged surely, by some warning voice of your divinity, to seek their safety only in fight and victory.”

And so, with more of these pompous periods, the orator describes how the usurper Allectus fled as soon as he saw the imperial fleet, and fleeing fell into the hands of the soldiers of Constantius, how half dead with terror he thus hastened to his death, and by his neglect of all military precautions handed over an easy victory to the imperial troops. “Scarcely one Roman was killed while all the hills and plains around were covered with the ugly bodies of the slain. Those dresses worn in barbarian fashion, those locks of bright red hue were now all defiled with dust and gore. That standard bearer of rebellion himself [Allectus], having in the hope of concealment stripped off the purple robe which he had degraded by wearing it, now lay with scarce a rag to cover his nakedness.”

 The orator then goes on to describe in words of turgid obscurity how some of the soldiers of Constantius, parted from the main body of the fleet in the fog which had baffled the look-out of Allectus, wandered to the “oppidum Londiniense,” and there were fortunate enough to meet and defeat the remains of the “mercenary multitude” of the usurper’s forces which had taken refuge in that town. We thank even the bombastic orator for some slight indication of what was passing in the streets of the little Roman London at the end of the third century.

It was, as we have seen, in the year 296 that Britain was recovered for the empire by Constantius. Ten years afterwards that emperor, in failing health and knowing that he had not long to live, was looking anxiously eastwards for the arrival of his favourite son, the offspring of his concubine Helena, the brave and brilliant soldier Constantine. Diocletian and Maximian had both abdicated the empire. Constantius Chlorus was now raised from the rank of Caesar to the higher rank of Augustus, but he shared that dignity with a jealous colleague, Galerius, who had been allowed to name the two new Caesars. Of those two junior partners Constantine was not one. Worse than that, he was retained as a kind of hostage at the Bithynian palace of Galerius, and it was doubtful whether father and son would ever be allowed to meet again. But in a moment of irresolution or of alarm Galerius gave the desired permission, and Constantine, not risking the chance of its withdrawal, departed from the court without formal leave-taking and hurried across Europe to Boulogne where his father was then residing. It was currently reported two centuries later that in order to prevent the possibility of pursuit he ordered the post-horses at each imperial mutatio, which he did not himself require, to be either killed or so mutilated as to make them unfit for travel. Gibbon derides this “very foolish story,” but it is not easy to understand why, if untrue, it should have obtained such general acceptance.

However this may be, it is certain that Constantine arrived safely at his father’s headquarters at Boulogne, shared with him the labours of a short campaign against the Picts, and was present in his chamber, in the Praetorian palace at Eburacum, when, worn out with toil and disease, Constantius Chlorus breathed his last (July 25, 306). His own elevation to the imperial dignity by die soldiers, who enthusiastically hailed him as Augustus, followed immediately after, and we may fairly suppose that the same place which had witnessed the death of the father witnessed also the accession of the son. He speedily quitted Britain in order to take part in that desperate game of empire, with partners constantly changing and occasionally putting one another to death, from which after eighteen years he finally arose sole emperor. With all this later life of his, with his adoption of Christianity, with his choice of a new capital by the Bosphorus, with his convocation of the Nicene council, we have here no concern; but it is worth while to emphasise the fact that a reign so immensely important for all the after-history of Europe and of the world began in our island by the slow, wide-wandering river Ouse. Thus in a certain sense York is the mother-city of Constantinople.

We come now to another blank half century in the history of Roman Britain. Save for an obscure hint of the presence of the Emperor Constans, son of Constantine, at some time be­tween 337 and 350, we have scarcely any information as to British affairs from the proclamation of Constantine in 306 to the despatch of the elder Theodosius to Britain in 367. This general, father of the more celebrated emperor of the same name, was sent by the Emperor Valentinian to restore some degree of order in the unhappy island, which had suffered from rapacious governors, from accusations of disloyalty cruelly avenged, and more recently from bloody inroads of the Picts and Scots with whom were now joined a tribe who are called “ the most valiant nation of the Attacotti,” but who, if we may believe the extraordinary statement of St. Jerome, were actually addicted to the practice of cannibalism. In the three years of Theodosius’ command, the northern invaders were driven back to their mountains, the inhabitants of “ that ancient town which was formerly called Londinium but which (in the fourth century) “ more often bore the name Augusta ” were relieved from their terrors: a new province, the geographical position of which is not made known to us, was staked out and received the name Valentia, in compliment to the emperor. For the time, but probably not for a long time, the blessings of “the Roman peace ” were restored to Britain. The general who had achieved this result was shortly after executed at Carthage, a victim to the cowardly suspicion and jealousy of the Emperor Valens, brother of Valentinian. Soon, however, the whirligig of Time brought about a strange revenge. Valens himself perished in the awful catastrophe of Hadrianople, the battle in which the Visigoths utterly routed a great Roman army, the battle which first brought home to the minds of men the possibility of the collapse of the Roman empire. The nephew of Valens, the young and generous Gratian, looking round for some man who as partner of his throne might avert the menaced ruin, found none more suitable than the son and namesake of the murdered pacifier of Britain, and accordingly, in the year 379, Theodosius (whom historians have sumamed the Great) was hailed as Augustus at Constantinople.

But now did Britain begin to rear that crop of rival em­perors who were the curse of Europe during some of the dying days of the western empire. In 383 a general named Maximus, of whom an unfavourable witness, the ecclesiastic Orosius, testifies that he was “vigorous and honest and would have been worthy of the diadem if he had not, to obtain it, broken his oath of loyalty” was almost against his will declared emperor by the army. He crossed over into Gaul, carrying with him no doubt the bulk of his army. He skilfully played on the dis­affection of Gratian’s legions, offended at the partiality which he had showed for his barbarian auxiliaries; a general mutiny was organised; Gratian fled for his life, was pursued and murdered near the city of Vienne. For five years Theodosius had to endure the enforced partnership in the empire of his benefactor’s murderer: then in 388 the smouldering hatred broke out into a flame, and after a hard struggle Maximus was defeated and slain at Aquileia, on the northern shore of the Adriatic (388). According to traditions current two centuries later, this usurpation of Maximus and his consequent withdrawal of the British legions in order to vindicate his claims to the empire, were most important factors in the overthrow of Roman power in Britain.

A large army, on paper, still existed in the island. It was probably about the year 402 that the last edition of the Notitia Imperii, that edition which has been handed down to posterity, was issued from the imperial chancery. In this most valuable document—an army list and official directory of both the eastern and western portions of the empire—we still find cohorts of infantry and wings of cavalry stationed per lineam valli (along the line of the Wall) as they had been for three centuries. We may, however, doubt whether any Roman soldiers were actually keeping the line of the Wall so late as 402. It is remarkable that very few coins have been found in the ruins of the camps of a later date than the reign of Gratian (375-83). If there were any such military units still there, they were probably but the ghosts of their former selves.

In 395 died the great Emperor Theodosius, who had for a generation staved off the ruin which seemed inevitable at the death of Valens. He was succeeded by his two sons, Arcadius and Honorius, who, with about equal incapacity, presided over the collapse of the eastern and the western half of the empire. For the first thirteen years, however, of the reign of Honorius his incapacity was somewhat veiled by the courage and ability of the Vandal soldier Stilicho, whom Theodosius had left as the guardian of his son. When in the year 400 Alaric, the far-famed King of the Goths, entered Italy, Stilicho undertook the long and wearisome campaigns, partly, as it would seem, north of the Alps, but chiefly in what we now call Piedmont and Lombardy, by which Alaric’s designs on Rome were foiled, and at last in the year 403 the Goths were driven forth from Italy. But in order to avert the danger which thus threatened the heart of the empire, it was necessary seriously to weaken the defence of its extremities. One of the three Roman legions quartered in Britain (probably the Twentieth) was recalled to Italy and apparently never returned. Three years after the repulse of Alaric came in 406 the great cataclysm of the irruption of barbarian hordes, Vandals, Sueves, Burgundians and Alans into Gaul, which led, though not immediately, to the severance of Gaul and Spain from the empire. The inrush of the barbarians spread terror even into Britain, and caused the soldiers, weary of the inept government which was manifestly ruining the empire, to elect an emperor on their own account, and set up, as it were, a “government of national defence”. But revolutionary rulers of this kind are more easily proclaimed than established. First a certain Marcus was proclaimed : then as they found that “ he did not suit their tempers ” he was slain, and a British citizen named Gratian was invested with the purple, crowned with the diadem and surrounded with a bodyguard. After four months Gratian also was deposed and murdered, and thereupon a private soldier of the meanest rank, named Constantine, who had nothing but that great historic name to recommend him, was robed in the imperial purple. He at once crossed over into Gaul, where he maintained himself with varying fortune for three or four years, being even once, in 409, for a short time recognised as a legitimate partner in the empire by Honorius. With his later fortunes, however, and with the whole story of the fall of the Roman empire in the west we have no further concern. We have heard of the exit of the legions, but we never hear of their return, and we are probably justified in fixing on the date 407, the period of the usurper Constantine’s departure from our island, as the end of the Roman occupation of Britain.