Tacitus /

edited by Cynthia Damon

Sketch of the Roman Occupation of Britain

From Pearce, J. W. E. 1901. The Agricola of Tacitus. London: George Bell and Sons. Pp. xviii-xxiii.

I. Before Agricola's governorship. The conquest of Britain was undertaken by the Romans to round off and secure their conquest of Gaul.

In B.C. 54 and 55 Julius Caesar invaded Britain rather by way of a 'demonstration ' than an attempted conquest. For a hundred years after this, Rome's interference with Britain went no further than diplomacy, which aimed at (xix) preventing danger from Britain by fostering internal jealousies. But the ultimate necessity of reducing Britain to the safer status of a province was never lost sight of by Roman statesmen. In A.D. 43 the Emperor Claudius took up the work in earnest by dispatching a large force to Britain under Aulus Plautius. The following is a list of the Roman governors of Britain up to Agricola's arrival: —

A. Plautius (A.D. 43-47). Taking Winchester (Venta) as his base, he pushed the line of conquest as far as Colchester (Camulodunum) in the east and the Bristol Channel in the west. Britain was declared a Roman province, and the task of Romanizing the island was begun.

Ostorius Scapula (A.D. 47-52). He moved forward his camp in the west between the Avon and the Severn. In the east he fought against the Iceni and Trinobantes, and established Camulodunum as a military colony.

He attacked the Silures of S. Wales, who still held out, and took their leader, Carataeus, prisoner, but did not succeed in ending the war.

Didius Gallus (A.D. 52-57) and Veranius (A.D. 58) had no great wars, but under them the work of consolidation was steadily going on.

Suetonius Paulinus (A.D. 39-61) reached Lincoln (Lindum) in the east and Chester (Castro) in the west. In A.D. 60 he crossed over into Anglesea (Mona), the head-quarters of Druidism, leaving only one legion — the ninth— to keep watch in the east. The result was the terrible revolt under Boudicca, which was not crushed till Camulodunum, Londinium, and Verulamium had been sacked by the insurgents.

The causes of the rebellion were not so much isolated acts of oppression as the national hatred of the growing Roman power. In ten years after the establishment of the first Roman colony there were 100,000 Roman citizens in the land. The worship of the emperor was threatening the supremacy of the native gods. A network of roads, secured by fortresses, was springing up through the South of Britain for the (xx) furtherance of the traffic in tin and lead; and, worst of all, the curse of Rome's subjects —the negotiatores — were ruining the finances of the country.

Petronius Turpilianus, Trebellius Maximus, and Vettius Bolanus (A.D. 61-71) made no further advance. The pacification of the island after the rebellion gave work enough for a time, and then came the civil wars, during which the operations in Britain were at a standstill. On the settlement of the Empire by Vespasian in A.D. 71 an energetic policy was again adopted.

Q. Petilius Cerialis (A.D. 71-74) subdued part of the Brigantes.

Julius Frontinus (A.D. 74-77) put an end at last to the resistance of the Silures in South Wales.

2. During Agricola's term of office. Agricola had already seen considerable service in Britain — as military tribune under Paulinus, and legates of the 20th legion under Bolanus and Cerialis, before Vespasian appointed him to the governorship of the island in succession to Frontinus. The account given by Tacitus of Agricola's campaigns is vague in the extreme. No modern conjectures can attain certainty, but a critical investigation of existing Roman remains in Scotland and an intimate knowledge of the strategical possibilities of the localities near the Clyde and the Forth may combine to give highly interesting results. Sir J. H. Ramsay has worked out the subject very thoroughly in his Foundations of England, to which I am indebted for the following account of Agricola's Scottish campaigns: —

A.D. 78. Reduction of the Ordovices and Mona. This leaves Agricola free for his northern advance. The winter is spent in carrying out administrative reforms.

A.D. 79. Agricola is probably occupied in reducing the north of what is now England. This is presupposed by his advance in the following year. He establishes garrisons; perhaps on the line between the Solway and the Tyne.

(xxi) A.D. 80. He advances through hitherto unknown tribes to the 'Tanaus' (see note on 22.1). This seems to have been across the Border.

A.D. 81. He consolidates his previous conquests and occupies the isthmus between the Clyde and the' Forth.

As to the line of advance in A.D. 80-81, there are advocates for the east and for the west routes. A simultaneous advance on both sides would imply that he had larger forces at his disposal than he can have had. Of his four legions (about 20,000 men) and their complement of auxiliary forces (about 25,000 men) he must have left the greater part to garrison Britain, and in the battle against the Caledonians he seems to have had 8,000 auxiliaries and considerably fewer legionaries – about 12,000 or 13,000 in all.

Furneaux thinks it likely he took the west route, (1) because of the prominent mention of estuaries among the difficulties of his march; (2) because, if Cerialis had advanced in the east, it would be natural for Agricola to march against the unsubdued Britons of the west; and (3) because his previous operations in the west (ch. 18) might suggest that his forces had wintered in Chester.

Sir J. H. Ramsay believes that he took the east route, (1) because that was the route taken by almost all invaders from the South, (2) because it would be a shorter journey to the Forth, and (3) because he would bring himself earlier into communication with his fleet. He thinks the Tanaus may be the Tyne.

A.D. 82. Agricola explores the west of Scotland where it faces Ireland. He plans the invasion of Ireland.

A.D. 83. The danger from the tribes north of his scientific frontier of the Clyde and Forth leads him to attempt to intimidate them by a simultaneous invasion by land and sea. The employment of his navy points to the coast of Fife, with its convenient landing-places, as the scene of his operations. The Caledonian tribes muster and attack Agricola's forts west of the Tay. Leaving the forts to (xxii) hold their own, he advances in three divisions parallel with the Tay into the flat country north of the river, now left open by the native attack on his western forts. He establishes a camp at Cupar Angus, another rather to the south-east at Lintrose, and a third in the south-west to command the passage of the Tay. The enemy, abandoning their western expedition, attack the ninth legion in the second camp by night, but Agricola hastens from a place near Cupar Angus and takes them between two fires. The barbarians are dispersed, and Agricola returns into winter quarters.

A.D. 84. A series of camps of a size that would suit Agricola's presumed strength of about 12,000 men seems to show that his advance lay through Ardoch, Perth, Gray's Wells, Lintrose, Cupar Angus, and stopped at Delyine, where the battle of the Mons Graupius probably took place. The Caledonians under Calgacus are defeated. Agricola orders his fleet to sail round the north of Britain.

A.D. 85. Agricola is recalled.

3. After Agricola' s recall. A.D. 120. Hadrian has a wall built between the Tyne and the Solway.

A.D. 139. The Brigantes break bounds and are subdued by Lollius Urbicus. The wall of Antoninus Pius is built between the Clyde and the Forth.

A.D. 208. The tribes again break out. Severus advances northwards in person, with the result that the province is secured as far as the Tay.

A.D. 287. Carausius, a Menapian in the service of the Romans, who was appointed to check the piracy of the Saxons, revolts and is recognized as co-emperor.

A.D. 296. Allectus the murderer and successor of Carausius is defeated and slain in a battle fought with Constantius Chlorus, who reunites Britain to the Roman Empire.

A.D. 297. Diocletian divides Roman Britain into four provinces: Prima, Secunda, Flavia Caesariensis, and Maxima Caesariensis. A fifth province — Valentia — was subsequently added.

(xxiii) A.D. 360. The Picts and Scots invade the province as far as Hadrian’s wall.

A.D. 364. They invade the Romanized South Britain.

A.D. 368. Theodosius is sent against them, and re-establishes the stations along the line of the Clyde and the Forth.

A.D. 409. The Romans are compelled by dangers threatening them at home to abandon Britain.

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