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The Tribes Revolt

The Romans consolidate their position

PubliusThe later years of Aulus Plautius were taken up with consolidating the Roman position in Britain. After his departure though, the tribes began to revolt violently against their Roman masters. In the winter of 47 AD., tribes from outside the Roman occupied territory began assaults on the positions to the south. There had been a change of governor, with Publius Ostorius Scapula now in charge. He did not however, hesitate and confronted these insurrections although not with the full might of the Roman army, but a number of lightly armed cohorts of Auxilleries.

The Romans began to consolidate their position even further, by preparing to tame everything this side of the Trent and Severn. At this time, Roman troops were sent north to the frontier, in what was seen as the next move in conquering the remainder of the country. This was seen by the southern tribes as an attempt to make their lands into a total Roman province, thereby losing their identity completely.

The Iceni had been very much pro-Roman during the invasion, and rebelled for the first time. This must have been planned in advance as other tribes also joined the revolt, though history does not specify which tribes there were. The tribes were defeated after a fierce battle. For some reason, Ostorius again used his auxiliary troops instead of his regular legionaries. This battle was probably fought at Stonea Camp, a fortified island near what is now March in Cambridgeshire. This was a great victory, as Ostorius had not used heavy tactics against the Iceni, which must have made them realise that the Romans were a mighty force. Stronger than the tribes had expected. Ostorius most likely used this tactic to make the tribes less liable to revolt. If the auxiliary troops could quell a rebellion, what could the highly trained regulars do? This was noticed by the other tribes and probably made their desire for rebellion a little less intense.

The revolts begin

All this however, was a bad mistake by Ostorius, as it was the policy of disarmament that had caused the uprising in the first place. The Romans were prone to making this sort of mistake — making changes to conquered lands, without first thinking about the effect it would have on the natives.

Ostorius first drive was North-West into Wales, where he met the Deceangli. The tribes offered little resistance, maybe having heard of how the Iceni were defeated so easily. Ostorius pushed on, ravaging the territory and collecting anything he could that would be of use to the Romans.

As they progressed, news came that there were outbreaks of trouble amongst the Brigantes. This demanded his immediate attention, as peace in non-occupied areas was vital to Roman security. Their answer was swift and total. Those who had rebelled were executed. A case of total over-reaction maybe, but it gave a warning to the whole country that resistance of any sort would be dealt with using extreme measures. Ostorius wanted to spread the province, not fight needless battles with revolutionaries. Even so, the writing was on the wall. There was unrest in, what was becoming, the client kingdoms. This was the start of a long trouble and unrest.

Caratacus, returns and more tribes rise up

Now Caratacus, who had fled to Wales from eastern England after the "Battle of Medway," reappeared. He was now leader of the Silures of South Wales. Little did Ostorius know that Caratacus was later to be general commander of the opposition to Roman rule. His presence and influence would be centered on the central territory, that occupied by the Ordovices.

The date is now 49 AD and the Silures have started an uprising. This was viewed as more serious than the previous revolt started by the Brigantes and needed firmer action. Although the Romans did not know it, this was to have serious consequences. A legion was taken from Colchester in order to deal with the Silures. As the Romans had already deployed all their legions at strategic places, a group of military veterans was established to hold Colchester. Their primary purpose was to show a presence in the territory and to teach the locals the rules and procedures that they must follow — in short, to turn them into obedient Roman citizens. This was the first site to be established as a Roman colony (colonia) Many of the legionaries must have been close to being discharged. A colony was a deliberate foundation — the inhabitants all being classed as Roman citizens. Usually these colonies consisted of discharged soldiers. This meant that Colchester was at the top of the list of provincial cities, a symbol of Roman power. When a territory was conquered, the estate and land would then become the property of the Emperor. In this case they were given to Claudius' legionary veterans.

The battle continues in the west

Meanwhile, the troops sent to Wales to fight Caratacus were engaged in battle with the tribes once again. Over the years, Caratacus had been building up his power and had a high degree of authority amongst the Roman opponents. The site of this battle is not certain, although it was most likely where Newtown resides near the river Severn.

The Britons had positioned their forces on a steep ridge, above the river, and had fortified the surrounding area. Ostorius was reluctant to launch a full scale onslaught on this position, but his soldiers were loyal and eager to fight. They crossed the Severn and their tactics and the sheer willingness of the Romans to win, overcame the British warriors. Caratacus' family were captured. His wife and daughter taken and his brother surrendered. Caratacus though, fled North-west to the Brigantes. This was a bad move, as the queen of the Brigantes, Cartimandua, was pro Roman. The Roman governor had already put down a rebellion amongst the Queen's subjects. Not wanting to get on the wrong side of the Romans, she ordered that he be taken and given to the Romans.

Ostorius takes the upper hand

This was treated with a sigh of relief in Rome and boosted the image of Claudius. As is the norm, the Romans were eager to show off their Triumph and capturing such an important member of the enemy, that he was taken to Rome and paraded in front of the Praetorian Guard. It was also the customary for the captured leader to make an address. It is not recorded what he actually said in his speech, but he must have a made very deep impression upon the Senate. The end result was that Caratacus and his family were give a pardon. Again, this scored more points for Claudius and he had one again outshone his ancestor, Julius Caesar. While the Romans were fierce in battle, they were, for some reason, merciful to those whom they defeated.

Ostorius was honoured, but it was likely that there may have been adulation of him in public and criticism of him in private. Despite this show of support, the Senate certainly would have received word that the Britons were still resisting and this would not be good for the Roman commanders in Britain.

A change of governor and the tribes take the advantage

Ostorius directed that the Silures were to be wiped out or moved to a new location. Several attacks were launched on the Silures, the Romans gathering prisoners and treasures as they went. The Romans were gradually making a new confederacy. The Silures were only saved from complete extinction by the sudden death of Ostorius.

The Romans now had a divided province with tribes both pro- and anti-Roman each sharing border — the country had to be calmed. The Senate was tiring of the situation in Britain and wanted it resolved before the Claudian image of victory that Rome was presenting, was damaged.

A new governor was appointed with due speed. The new governor was Aulus Didius Gallus, a man with an impressive record who had been decorated for his successful campaigns in southern Russia.

Without a leader to guide them though, the Romans were lost. By the time Didius had reached Britain, the Silures had defeated a legion, something unheard of before. They were now making advances into Roman territory. While the arrival of Didius did at least restore calm. This did not last and as soon as Didius had managed to restrain the Silures, ten the Brigantes began to rise up.

Venutius, husband of Queen Cartimandua of the Brigantes, was the best military leader in Britain after the capture of Caratacus. He had been placed in power by the Romans after the last Brigantian uprising. As he was leading this revolt, this now meant that husband and wife were opposing each other. He leading the tribe in rebellion, and her trying to appease the Romans. Cartimandua took the family of Venutius prisoner, presumably to pacify the Romans and, at the same time, blackmail Venutius. He retaliated by invading her kingdom. The Romans intervened, sending first the auxiliary troops into battle. They however, did not manage to defeat Venutius, so a whole legion was dispatched to end this uprising. This they did and Cartimandua was placed back on the throne, as Queen of the Brigantes once again. For Venutius, this was merely a setback. The Romans had not heard the last from him.

Claudius dies and the revolt is quelled

PubliusEmperor Claudius died suddenly in 54 AD. in highly suspicious circumstances at the same time of the Brigantes rebellion. His stepson, Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus known as Nero, came to the throne. In his writings, Suetonius says that Nero once considered abandoning Britain as it was taken too many resources to hold the country. Resources that could be better used to expand the Roman Empire.

With the death of Claudius, his friends and advisors also disappeared from the scene, though not in such extreme ways. Claudius was elevated to the level of a God, but also allowed to become a subject of ridicule. Such was the attitude of the Romans to treat a late Emperor in this manner.

Even so, Claudius had an outstanding military reputation. The Romans were a very proud race and believed that public image was paramount. If Nero had withdrawn from Britain, it could had been viewed as a defamation of Claudius and all the victories he had had accomplished. Maybe it was for this reason that Nero stayed with the British situation.

The next governor was Quintus Veranius, who had received early promotion to this high status. He had been very successful in his campaigns on the eastern front of the Empire, in Lycia and Pamphylia. He would without doubt have invaded Wales and spread north east to the Brigantes. There was only time for a few raids against the Silures, before he died suddenly in office. On his death bed, Verabius claimed that he could have conquered the whole province in two years. (Two years being the normal length of stay in office for a governor.)

C. Suetonius Paullinus succeeded Veranius in this office. He too had a strong reputation in military circles. He had been the first Roman general to make a crossing of the Atlas mountains in Mauretania and so was experienced in mountain warfare. This may had been the reason he had been chosen to lead the forages into Wales and the Pennines.

By 60 AD, Paullinus had taken Wales and was preparing to cross the waters to Angelsey. This island had become the last point of retreat for the rebels. Being surrounded by water, this was logical since the British forces could only retreat towards the sea. The Druids, seen as one of the strongest bands of people in Britain, were also on the island. Angelsey was to be no pushover. It is written that it was defended by praying Druids, fierce warriors and wild women. The assault and taking of Angelsey was brutal, bloody and savage in the extreme. These people were fighting for their lives with no avenue of retreat. Paullinus was so engrossed in these battles that he did not see that behind him the worst from the British was yet to come.

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