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 Invasion Britain 43 AD

Backdrop to Roman Invasion Britain 43 AD

The events of the Roman invasion of Britain in 43 AD were primarily taken from accounts of Cassius Dio’s “Roman History” and Suetonius’s “The Twelve Caesars.” The historians give little detail about the invasion. There was no British resistance when the Roman legions first landed. Later, the Catuvellauni tribe led by Togodumnus and Caratacus primarily resisted the Roman invasion.

Ironically, Suetonius dismissed the British campaign as of no great importance. He further said, “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.”

Imperial portrait of Roman emperor Claudius

Imperial portrait of Roman emperor Claudius

Some archaeologists have proposed that the campaign was nothing more than a political annexation in a region that was already highly influenced by Rome. The following article provides the backdrop to the Roman invasion in 43 AD and the evidence that supports the theory that this was not a full-scale military campaign.

Map Ancient Britain 1st Center

Map Ancient Southeast Britain 1st Century


Evidence of Rome’s Influence Prior to 43 AD

Obsides

One strategy that Rome used to effectively control Britain between the invasions of Caesar and Claudius were to take obsides (hostages) in conjunction with peace pacts and treaties. In Rome, these hostages were indoctrinated into the Roman culture.

During Caesar’s invasions of Britain in 55 – 54 BC, he demanded several hostages as part of the peace truce with southeastern British tribes. Most of these hostages were children or close relatives of the British rulers.

Celtic Child in Roma Ara Pacis Procession Nord Particolare

Celtic child in frieze of Ara Pacis Augustae (Altar of Augustan Peace)

British rulers, many of whom were educated in Rome and fought in their auxiliary, had to first seek recognition from Rome when coming to power. From Augustus onward, the rulers in southeast Britain were appointed by the emperor. Although there may not have been large-scale occupation of Britain by Roman troops, the dynastic rulers were viewed as imperial administrators of Rome.

Presence of Roman Soldiers

There are archaeological findings that hint Roman soldiers were present in Britain prior to 43 AD. In particular, there may have been a Roman fort near Colchester. The fort can only be detected from aerial photography and is thus undated. However, it is constructed in accordance with an orthogonal Roman fort. It is possible that Cunobelin, who was most likely trained in the Roman army, constructed this fort along similar lines as a Roman encampment. Alternatively, the fort may have garrisoned a genuine Roman auxiliary prior to 43 AD.

Linnea at Roman Wall at Colchester

Linnea at Roman Wall at Colchester

There is also another evidence of Roman occupation prior to 43 AD at Fishbourne Palace. The first stage of timber buildings and the orthogonal road layout was most likely constructed prior to 43 AD. It is possible the pro-Roman ruler Verica might have organized his own forces in Roman style military buildings. More likely, there was a detachment of Roman auxiliary already stationed at Fishbourne to assist Verica.

Model of Fishbourne Palace

Replica of Fishbourne Palace

There is precedence that Romans stationed troops beyond the formal frontier of the empire’s rule. Julius Caesar stationed three legions with Cleopatra in Egypt when he left her country. Herod’ arrival in Jerusalem in 37 BC was supported by a Roman legion.

Roman Pottery

The distribution of Arretine pottery that was manufactured in the Roman Empire was widely distributed in the areas of Fishbourne and Chichester. The pottery was found in ditches with a distinct Roman military profile in both areas. Yet there is no evidence of Late Iron Age settlement activity which strongly suggests the presence of Roman soldiers prior to 43 AD.

Céramique sigillée, époque gallo-romaine, musées de la Cour d'Or à Metz.

Arretine Red-Gloss terra sigillata Roman Pottery

In contrast, Canterbury had a substantial Late Iron Age settlement activity, but very little Arretine pottery has been found from this time period. Substantial quantities of Belgic pottery were imported for at least a generation after the invasion of Britain in 43 AD.

Interactions with Rome

Influential figures from the Chichester and Fishbourne areas had significant interactions with Rome prior to 43 AD. Such contacts paved the way for a much quicker Roman transformation post 43 AD with public buildings erected in Chichester and, of course, ultimately the grand palace at Fishbourne.

Replica of a Dining Room at Fishbourne Palace

Replica of a Dining Room at Fishbourne Palace


Backdrop Roman Invasion Britain 43 AD

Family Turmoil

Cunobelin, a great statesman, skillfully balanced between the bitterly opposing pro-and anti-Roman factions. During his later years, he ultimately lost control to his anti-Roman sons, Togodumnus and Caratacus. A third pro-Roman brother, Adminius, ruled the northeast tip of Kent. This area included the land-locked harbor along the southeast coasts and the Wansum Channel into the Thames Estuary. It was in Rome’s interest to ensure the main landing points remained in friendly hands.

Prior to Cunobelin’s death, a family upset led to the exile of Adminius from Britain in 40 AD. Suetonius records the banished prince, with a group of his followers, arrived at the camp where Caligula was reviewing the troops in Germany.  The emperor proclaimed the whole of Britain had surrendered to him. It was probably Caligula’s original plan to invade and occupy Britain, but it is unclear why this never happened. It is possible the troops refused to carry out Caligula’s orders. In early 41 AD, Emperor Gaius Caligula was assassinated and succeeded by Claudius.

Status of Caligula on Horseback

Status of Caligula on Horseback

Meantime, in Britain, Cunoblin’s eldest son, Togodumnus, took over the kingdom. His brother Caratacus began invading lands south of the Thames. Within a year, King Verica from the Atrebates tribe was also expelled from Britain during an internal revolt.

Verica journeyed to Rome, where he beseeched Claudius to help him regain power by sending Roman troops in Britain. As the acknowledged king, Verica was considered an ally of Rome. Suetonius reports the Britons threatened vengeance against the Romans unless they returned some fugitives (Adminius and Verica).

Bronze Head of Claudius

Bronze Head of Claudius

Rome could either abandon any hope of maintaining useful political and trading relationships in Britain or seize the country by force of arms. An important underlying motive for invading was economic. Trade with Britain brought in a good return and investment to the growers, the pottery factories and those dealing in general merchandise. Most important were the vast surface deposits of lead ore (galena) found in southwest Britain that Rome desperately needed.

Britain_WEB_SIZED_INK[1]

Thus, it could not have been a difficult decision for Claudius and his advisers to reach. To Claudius, the change in the political climate in Britain was a direct affront to the name of his forbear, Julius Caesar. From his point of view, he badly needed to draw public attention away from Rome where he was still at odds with the Senate. And to win the support of his army, what better way than to lead them to a great victory? The empire was in one of its rare peaceful intervals, and troops could be spared.

Roman Legion

Roman Soldiers in Legion

Thus, Verica’s exile gave the Claudius an excuse to begin his invasion. The subsequent invasion under Claudius may have initially been a campaign to annex the territories that had been ruled by Cunobelin.

Delay in Invasion

Aulus Plautius, a distinguished senator, was assigned as commander of the expedition to Britain. Similar to what may have happened to Caligula, Plautius had great difficulty in convincing the Roman army to embark from Gaul. The troops feared crossing the channel with the enormity of the task. As the Roman army was made up of free citizens, the soldiers could exercise some free will by not immediately obeying their officers’ commands.

Ancient Roman Warship Model

Roman Warship Model at Fishbourne Palace

The terror of the superstitious troops brought face to face with the ocean is understandable. They knew that three or four years earlier, the invasion planned by Caligula had been abandoned. Caligula had ordered a lighthouse be built at Boulogne, an important step in setting up a permanent communication link across the channel.

Overview White Cliffs Britain

Dover Cliffs Overlooking British Channel

Nonetheless, it is strange that Plautius was unable to exert his authority as supreme commander. He instead had to ask Claudius for help and advice. Eventually, the aid to convince the army to embark came in the form of Narcissus, a freedman and one of Claudius’ closest advisers. His speech on behalf of Plautius prompted a jibe by Cassius Dio. He said that Narcissus’s former slave status dissolved the soldiers into gales of hysterical laughter. One can only guess at the coarse ribaldry used by Narcissus to convince the soldiers to embark, to which Plautius and his staff were unlikely to descend. This wily Greek freeman ultimately succeeded in cajoling the troops aboard the ships.

The Roman army were divided into three squadrons to avoid an opposed landing, which might hold up a single force. The crossing was difficult and ships were driven back from their course. It was not until the superstitious Romans saw a shooting star flash over from east to west did they believe there was a favorable omen for the invasion.

The landing at Richborough was unopposed and the Britons seemed reluctant to fight at first.

Richborough Roman Fort at Sandwich, UK

Richborough Roman Fort at Sandwich, UK

To be continued

The next post will provide an overview of the recorded events during the Roman invasion of Britain.

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