Claudius Roman Invasion Britain

Emperor Claudius Credited with Roman Conquest of Britain

Emperor Claudius Credited with Roman Conquest of Britain

“Claudius undertook, in all, one expedition and that one was of no great extent. When he was granted triumphal ornaments by decree of the Senate, he thought that the title was not weighty enough to grace the imperial magistracy and craved the distinction of a proper triumph.”
—Suetonius, Life of Claudius.


Claudius Roman Invasion Britain

Ancestral Legacy of Claudius

Emperor Claudius is credited for the Roman invasion of Britain in 43AD. He was the first emperor born outside of Italy in Lugdunum (Lyon, France). As the son of Drusus and Antonia Minor, he emphasized his right to rule as a member of the Julio-Claudian dynasty.

Cameo of Claudius Cabinet des Médailles

Cameo of Claudius Cabinet des Médailles

Claudius was also the grandson of Mark Antony, whose marriage to Octavia (Octavian’s sister) resulted in the birth of two daughters, one being Claudius’ mother. Shortly after Antony’s defeat and death in 30 BC, Octavian declared his rival’s birthday, 14 January, as nefastus (unholy). Of note, Claudius’ father also had the same birthday on January 14—a day no public business could be transacted in Rome.

Octavian also convinced the Senator to damn Antony’s memory forever (damnatio memoriae). By discrediting Antony, Octavian hoped to elevate his standing as Emperor Augustus in history. It took Claudius, almost one hundred years later, to restore Antony’s memory

Bust of Mark Antony

Bust of Mark Antony

Not only did Claudius restore the memory of Antony, he also needed a conquest which he could earn a triumph to legitimize his rule against potential usurpers. Suetonius dismissed the Roman invasion of Britain by Claudius as of no great importance. “Claudius decided that Britain was the country where a real triumph could be most readily earned. Its conquest had not been attempted since the days of Julius Caesar. The Britons were now threatening vengeance because the Romans had refused to return some fugitives.”

The written account of the Roman invasion of Britain in 43AD is primarily based on Cassius Dio’s “Roman History.” Unfortunately, his account gives very little detail about the campaign. The only resistance the Romans encountered was the forces led by Caratacus and Togodumnus, the anti-Roman sons of Cunobelin from the Catuvellauni tribe.

 

Britain_WEB_SIZED_INK[1]

Opportunity for a Triumph

In 41AD, Caratacus strategically positioned himself in Silchester, so he could thrust westward to grasp the lands of the Dobunni and of the Atrebates, ruled by the elderly Verica. Verica fled to Rome seeking help from Claudius to stop the aggression. Caratacus and Togodumnus countered by arrogantly demanding that Claudius return their pro-Roman brother, Adminius, and Verica to Britain. Their demand instead triggered the emperor’s decision to send four legions to settle the political differences. Claudius would later use this as a propaganda tool to convince the Senate that he deserved a triumph for conquering Britain—a task left undone by his great ancestor Julius Caesar.

Bust of Emperor Claudius

Bust of Emperor Claudius

The Britons must have been misled to believe that Rome’s only intent was to provide legions for peace-keeping. Most tribes that felt the expansionist weight of the Catuvellani had no reason to resist the Romans. The Atrebates viewed the empire as their saviors.

No Initial Resistance

In the summer of 43AD, the Roman legions led by Plautius did not encounter any British resistance after they landed. They had to search for the troublemakers, Caratacus and Togodumnus.

Possible Landing Richborough Roman Fort at Sandwich, Kent

Possible Roman Landing Site Richborough Roman Fort in Kent

The first battle took place at a river that many believed was the Medway in Kent. Armed Britons waited for the Romans on the other side of the waterway that had no bridge. Plautius sent some auxiliaries, who were accustomed to swimming in full armor, across the waterway to wound the horses that drove the British war chariots.

Celtic Chariot

Celtic War Chariot in Britain

Soon after, Flavius Vespasian crossed the river with his troops and surprised the Britons. The ensuing battle lasted for two days until reinforcements from another Roman legion proved the turning point.

The British warriors then retreated to the River Thames, possibly the Tidal Pool of London, east of the Tower Bridges. After some more fighting, Plautius stopped his advancement and sent for Claudius to lead the final charge. By this time, Togodumnus had died from injuries suffered from battle.

Roman Infantryman in Ancient Britain

Roman Infantryman

Claudius’ Final Victory

Extensive preparation had already been made in advance of Claudius’ arrival. Various types of equipment, including elephants, were gathered to support the emperor’s final charge into battle.

Roman and Celtic Shields Used in Ancient Britain

Roman and Celtic Shields Used in Ancient Britain

Claudius arrived at the Thames toward the end of summer. He crossed the river, defeated the enemy, and captured Camulodunum (Colchester). Cassius Dio says, “He won over many people, some by diplomacy, some by force of arms. He confiscated the weapons of these peoples and handed the tribes over to Plautius, and left him with orders to subdue the remaining regions.”

Claudius depicted as the Roman god Jupiter

Claudius depicted as the Roman god Jupiter

Claudius was in Britain for only sixteen days to achieve his glorious victory. He rushed back to Rome for his triumph and accolades. The inscription dated 52AD on the Arch Claudius in Rome was dedicated by the Senate and the People of Rome in recognition of Claudius receiving the submission of eleven kings without loss. The phrase “without loss” confirms Suetonius’ account that British princes submitted without battle or bloodshed to the emperor in Colchester.

Linnea at Roman Wall at Colchester

Linnea at Roman Wall at Colchester

Conclusions

It is now theorized that Rome culminated the processes of subjugating at least southeast Britain and of bringing that area under its complete control before 43AD. Viewed in this light, the Claudius’ campaign in 43AD was not a military invasion, but rather a political annexation of an already ‘Romanized” region.

Celtic Tribal Territories in Southern Britain

Celtic Tribal Territories in Southwest Britain

The primary evidence leading to this conclusion is as follows:

  1. Archaeological findings suggest the region was populated with increasing multiple cultures with different ethic identities and languages between the time of Caesar and Claudius.
  2. Children and other close relatives of indigenous rulers in Britain were educated in Rome. There was a growing practice that British kings first sought recognition from Rome when they took control of a region. Augustus also personally appointed client kings.
  3. There are increasing hints from archaeological sites that Roman soldiers were present in Britain before 43 AD. Orthogonal structures, more typical of Roman architecture, have been discovered near Colchester and the Fishbourne Palace.
Replica of a Dining Room at Fishbourne Palace

Replica of a Dining Room at Fishbourne Palace

There was precedence of Romans stationing legions beyond the formal frontier of the empire’s rule. Julius Caesar stationed three to four legions with Cleopatra after he restored her to the throne in 47 AD. Feel free to comment on whether you believe the theory that the invasion of Britain was nothing more than a ploy by Claudius to legitimize his role as the Roman emperor.

Julius Caesar Statue

Statue of Julius Caesar

References

  1. John Manley, AD 43 The Roman Invasion of Britain: A reassessment; Tempus Publishing, Inc., Charleston, SC, 2002.
  2. Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, The Twelve Caesars, Translated by Robert Graves; Reprinted 2007 by Penguin Books, New York.
  3. Graham Webster, Roman Invasion of Britain, Reprinted 1999 by Routledge, London.
  4. Graham Webster, Rome Against Caratacus: The Roman Campaigns in Britain AD 48-58; Reprinted 2002 by Routledge, London.
  5. Graham Webster, Boudica: The British Revolt against Rome AD 60; Reprinted 2004 by Routledge, London.
  6. Cassius Dio, Roman History, published in Vol. VII of the Loeb Classical Library, Edition 1924; Book LX   http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Cassius_Dio/60*.html

Coming Soon!

My website is undergoing development in anticipation of the launch of my epic historical fantasy, APOLLO’S RAVEN, next year. The next series of posts will focus on the historical background and themes in the upcoming series.

Apollo's Raven Book Cover Under Development

Apollo’s Raven Book Cover (Historical Fantasy)

The concept of what constitutes a heroine’s journey for the main character of Catrin, a Celtic warrior princess, will be discussed. Mark Antony—the inspiration for Marcellus, Catrin’s lover—will be explored in a new light.

Celtic Warrior Princess

Catrin, Celtic Warrior Princess Summons Raven

Please join me on my journey of discovering how history and mythology can relate to each one of us today.

Roman Empire Influence on Britain

Roman Empire Influence on Britain

Britain’s New Reality with Rome

In less than five years since Julius Caesar first entered Gaul in 58 BC, western Europe was transformed. Gaul (modern day France) was under Roman control after he finished his conquest in the winter of 51-50 BC. Civil war in Rome slowed the progress of converting Gaul into a province and there were occasional local uprisings to be brought under control. But by 27 BC, the situation was sufficiently stable for a national census to be instituted. In 12 BC the process of incorporation was marked by the dedication of an altar to Rome and Emperor Augustus at Lugdunum (Lyon, France) in the presence of representatives from sixty tribes of Gaul.

Roman Amphitheater from Lugdunum Gaul (Modern Day Lyon, France)

Roman Amphitheater from Lugdunum Gaul (Modern Day Lyon, France)

The integration of Gaul into the political and economic sphere of Rome had a significant effect on Britain, particularly the southeastern region. One of the major changes was the trade routes between continental Europe and Britain. The networks that had linked the north coast of Armorica with the port of Hengistbury Head in southern Britain came to an abrupt end and were replaced by new routes between northern Gaul and the Thames estuary. One plausible explanation for the shift in the trading axis was Caesar’s devastating attack on the rebel Armoricans in 56 BC totally disrupted the traditional networks. His negotiated treaties with the Trinovantes may have offered them a trading monopoly, or at least preferential treatment. He established Pro-Roman dynasties in the two most powerful tribes (Catuvellauni and Trinovantes).

Peoples of Southern Britain According to Ptolemy's Map

Peoples of Southern Britain According to Ptolemy’s Map

At the time Strabo was writing, late in the first century BC, there were four major routes in operation for ships wishing to cross to Britain, starting from the mouths of the four great rivers—the Rhine, the Seine, the Loire, and the Gironde. Those setting out from the Rhine usually sailed down the coast to Gesoriacum (Boulogne) before making the crossing.

Roman Lighthouse Dover

Ancient Roman Lighthouse on Dover Cliffs

 

Strabo lists the principal exports of Britain as ‘grain, cattle, gold, silver and iron…also hides and slaves and dogs that are by nature suited to the purpose of the chase’. In return the Britons received ‘ivory chains and necklaces and amber gems and glass vessels and other pretty wares of that sort’. Thus, Britain provided raw materials and manpower in return for manufactured luxuries.

Celtic Brooch

Celtic Brooch

Slave Trade

The major effect in trading with Rome was to satisfy their demand for slaves. In British society there was little need for slaves, but the Roman world was an avid consumer and by the mid-first century BC, slaves were in short supply. Caesar’s campaigns in Gaul more than met the need, some writers saying he enslaved a third of the Gaulish population. But once Gaul was transformed from a war zone to a province, the supply of slaves rapidly diminished and other sources had to be found.

Celtic Shield British Museum

Celtic Shield La Tène Style

Britain met the demands of Rome’s need for slaves. The less developed parts of the west and north provided profitable hunting grounds. The demand of the southeastern elites for marketable slaves likely encouraged their warfare and raiding on the peripheral regions. Tribes living around the periphery were willing to export people, presumably captives taken in local disputes for the slave grade. Thus, conflict became profitable. How extensive slave-trading was we can only guess.

Celtic Village of Roundhouses

Replication of Ancient Celtic Village of Roundhouses in Wales

There have been archaeological finds of gain-chains, or sets of slave neck-irons. Slave trade appeared to be centered in the Catuvellauni kingdom. The exotic British slaves commanded a premium price in the slave market. Strabo described the British slaves as taller than the Celts in Gauls and not so yellow-haired, although their bodies are of lower build. He goes on to say that he himself in Rome ‘saw mere lads towering as much as half a foot above the tallest people in the city, although they were bandy-legged (bow legged) and presented no fair lines anywhere else in their figure’.

Roman and Celtic Shields Used in Ancient Britain

Roman and Celtic Shields Used in Ancient Britain

Acculturation of British Rulers

Not only were Britons enslaved, hostages were taken from the families of the British elite. Many of the subsequent British rulers after Caesar’s invasion spent their youth in Rome, growing up in aristocratic circles and conceivably gaining experience in the Roman army before returning to Britain to assume leadership roles.

Celtic Child in Roma Ara Pacis Procession Nord Particolare

Celtic Child with Roman Noblemen on Frieze of Ara Pacis Augustae (Altar of Augustan Peace)

Minted coins proclaimed the identities of indigenous rulers loyal to Rome. The practice of establishing client-kings outside the boundaries of direct control of Rome was a standard device of their diplomacy. During this period, evidence suggested shifts in political powers of rulers in the most powerful tribal kingdoms as manifested where the minted coins were found. There was adoption of specific Roman rituals, use of orthogonal street systems in settlements, use of rectangular building, and construction of large dyke systems to mark out areas of territory.

Celtic Gold Stater Catuvellauni Tasciovanus

Celtic Gold Stater Catuvellauni Tasciovanus

Mobility of people between Britain and the Roman world increased over time. There was a tacit acceptance, at least by some of the major tribes of the southeast, that Britain was subservient to Rome. In an ode written about 15 BC the poet Horace would list the Britons among those who ‘admired’ or ‘heard’ the Emperor Augustus and a little later Strabo noted that ‘certain of the British dynasts have obtained the friendship of Caesar Augustus by embassies and courtesies and have set up offering to the Capitol.’ Acts of this kind helped to maintain the pretense that Britain had been conquered.

Augustus of Prima Porta

Statue of Emperor Augustus Caesar

In Britain, support for Rome was a powerful diplomatic weapon in the constant power struggles that engaged the British elite. It probably became custom and practice for rulers in southeast Britain to consult formally with Rome about who should succeed the ruler of a client-kingdom. For some, Rome provided a safe haven when they were forced to flee. About 10 AD two British leaders, Tincomarus and Dubnovellaunus from the southern kingdoms, were obviously on the losing side in a British political dispute, as they were put under the emperor’s protection in Rome. This event was considered significant enough to be recorded on an imperial monument in Ankara.

Ancient Ruins of Verulamium Wall near St. Albans

Ancient Ruins of Verulamium near St. Albans Tribal Center of the Catuvellauni Tribe

The ousting of pro-Roman leaders provided Rome with the opportunity to invade Britain. In 39 AD, Adminius, a son of the powerful king Cunobelin, deserted to the Romans with a small force. The Roman historians recorded the surrender of Adminius to Caligula as a farce. The Emperor told his troops to pick-up seashells as spoils of war to give to the Senate. The more likely scenario is Adminius persuaded Caligula that Britain was vulnerable to attack and that an invasion would construe a great victory for him. The troops probably refused to follow Caligula into the channel to invade Britain. Nonetheless, the planning and movement of troops benefited Claudius in 43 AD when Rome finally invaded Britain.

Young Roman on Horseback

Statue of Caligula on Horseback

 

To be Continued

The next posts will provide an overview of the powerful tribes and rulers in Britain between Caesar’s invasion in 54-55 BC to the time of Claudius’ invasion in 43 AD.

References:

Barry Cunliffe, Britain Begins; Oxford University Press, 2013.

Graham Webster, The Roman Invasion of Britain, Reprinted 1999 by Routledge (Imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group), NY.

John Manley, AD 43 The Roman Invasion of Britain: A Reassessment; Tempus Publishing, Inc., Charleston, SC.

Julius Caesar, translated by F. P. Long, The Conquest of Gaul; United States: Barnes & Noble, Inc., 2005.