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The Roman Invasion of Britain
Transcript of The Roman Invasion of Britain
Scapular began to conquer the westernmost part of Britian, now known as Wales. 4 tribes lived in this region, the Silures, the Dementae, the Ordovices, and the Deceangli. The general moved against him, but only one of the tribes gave him big resistance. The Ordovices and the Deceangli gave some minor trouble, but the Romns quickly dealt with it. The Silures provoked and angered Scapular so much that multiple times in public he stated that he wanted them off the face of the universe. The Silures were a very warlike tribe, and they would've caused trouble on their own, but what made them lethal was the alliance they'd formed with another tribe's leader, none other than Caratacus from Caravelluani. He had fled to Wales, yet his standing was such that he was able to get other tribes on his side. The Romans thought the Silures would be lethal, and they knew the alliance had to go. Scapular sent 2 legions to Wales with the orders of doing just that. The Roman army was prepared to engage the Silures and Caratacus in a remorseless battle. To the Romans' surprise, early clashes went to the British. The Romans were having trouble staying disciplined, for the Silures could disappear and reappear in the mountains, and they could hardly see around the next bend. Nevertheless, they were still the Roman army, and they were prepared to do anything for victory. Caratacus knew this, so he and his followers made a tactical change of course and headed north to the Ordovices tribe. He knew he was being followed, and he decided he had to make a stand. His army was so enraged that Scapular almost chose to retreat, but the Roman legion soldiers were also in a battle frenzy, and they persuaded Scapular to attack. Caratacus' force tried to win by throwing boulders, but Scapular ordered his men to form a testudo, or tortoise formation, allowing the Romans to advance. The British were crushed by the Roman army. It was just too formidable. Caratacus fled the battlefield, but his family were taken prisoners. His people were either slaughtered of enslaved. Caratacus turned to a tribe in the north for help, but they handed him over to the Romans and a victorious Scapular. He and his family were carted to Rome where they would take part in a show trial with Claudius, the emperor of Rome. The Romans had conquered almost all of Britain, and they were thrilled that Caratacus had been captured. Britain was finally under Roman control.
Why did the Romans want to conquer Britain and how did they plan to do it?
It was AD 43 in Ancient Rome. The emperor at the the time, Claudius, was a very troubled man. He hadn't ruled for very long and he needed to do something to strengthen his hold on power and save him from assassination. The previous emperor, Gaius, had died suddenly and made Claudius emperor. Claudius needed to do something that would wipe away the doubts that he was a fit emperor to rule Rome. He chose to gain the trust in the Roman way: conquest. Conquering Britain was a perfect option for 3 main reasons. One, studies had shown that the land was rich with natural resources, and it had many people that could taken as slaves. One thing the country, Britannia, didn't have a national identity. He also knew that he would be succeeding where his famous ancestor, Julius Caesar, had failed. This would show that Claudius couldn't only match the deeds of his famous processors, he could exceed them.
The general, Aulus Plautus, was a very warlike and experienced military commander. Even so, he
found it difficult to construct a strategy that would meet the challenge and win it over. He was having a hard time because he had to attack across water, which Romans don't normally have to do. He would have to be extremely organized with the invasion fleet, on the boats that made up the invasion fleet, and on land. He also had to plan out exactly where to land, and he thought his soldiers would be attacked like Caesar's army. They thought Britain was made up of savage barbarians, and they underestimated their enemy, one of Aulus Plautius' mistakes. He also failed to spot a mutiny brewing in his army. The soldiers were so nervous to go to Britain and the English channel, for they thought the country and waterway was populated by supernatural forces. Although the soldiers were almost positive they would do the mutiny, it didn't end up happening. Claudius had asked a previous slave, Narcissus, to oversee the process. When he got wind of the impending mutiny, he knew he had to act. So, one night around the fire, he stood up and said something to the effect of 'If I, a mere slave, can go to Britain, surely for you true Romans this should be no problem.' These words had a definite effect on the army, and they ended up setting sail. Just as they set sail with their 4 legions and 800+ ships that made up the invasion fleet, their luck began to change for the better. By the end of his reign in A.D. 47, a huge chunk of Britian was under Roman control.
How did the Romans begin to conquer Britain?
The Roman soldier's unopposed landing was the result of the main British tribe, the Catavelluani, sending their battle troops home. This allowed the Romans to organize their troops and create a beach head relatively easily. There is some debate as to where the Romans landed, but my main source says that it is somewhere in northeastern Kent, on the outside of a little village called Richborough, which in Roman times would've been right at the coast. The sight is dominated by a Roman fort dating back to the 3rd century A.D, 200 years after Aulus Platius' troops landed, but it marks the general area of where the Romans first landed. The fort most likely has some significance for the Romans, for it's giant and has its own triumphal arch, but when the invasion came, there was nothing there. The Romans were determined not to waste time, so they sent out search parties to build a picture of the enemy and the general area. When the scouts came back without any news of British warriors, their general ordered them to advance inland. After a few days, the Romans were still unopposed, yet they had been spotted. The leaders of the Catavelluani tribe decided to lie low and draw the Romans into a set piece battle instead of meeting them head on. Finally, the Romans saw the British forces from across a large river, possibly the river Medway. The river was too deep to wade across, so the Romans sent lightly armed auxiliary soldiers to swim across and disable the chariots and the horses, cutting of the British escape route. The rest of the Roman army continued on until they found an area shallow enough to wade across. Then the legion formed a line and waited for the British to attack. Although the British fought like wild animals, they were no match for Romes ultimate battle machine. Some of the British may have been equipped with armor and shields, but every Roman soldier was dressed in this way, and for the most part, the British natives fought in their clothes. They were outclassed and sustained heavy glossed, but their worst was certainly their leader, Tocudumnus. He was the closest thing they had to a king, and when he was down by a soldier's gladius, the rest of the warriors fled North to the river Thames or else were killed. They jumped into boats and made for their stronghold, Camuladunum, which is now the modern day city of Colchester. It was one of the most strategically placed and heavily armed fortress in Britannia. Aulus Plautius knew he had to take control of it, but he needed to cross the waterway again, and he had to think of a strategy.
What important decisions did the rulers make and how did this impact their sucess?
Aulus Platius ended up accomplishing his goal to conquer Camuladunum in a very short time, yet no one knows just how he did it. By fall of A.D. 43, 4 months after the invasion Aulus Platius had the fortress surrounded. He could have marched in at any time and forced the natives to surrender, yet he didn't, and this is one of the reasons the Romans were so successful. He left the accepting of the surrender to Rome's emperor, Claudius. Claudius had heard that hings were going well, so he got to Britain as fast as possible so he could be seen as the victorious emperor. He made a spectacular entrance on the back of an elephant, showing the enemy how much he had under control. This worked, and the capture of the Calavellauni tribe was definitely the crowning point of his career. He had come to the throne as a weakling, but now, he had conquered Britannia, he had succeeded where Julius Caesar himself had failed. He was a worthy emperor of Rome.
How did the Romans continue to Conquer Britain?
The Roman commander, Aulus Plautius, knew he had to take over the rest of Britannia. He adopted strategy requiring ruthless military action, and ordered his soldiers to begin marching not long after the conquest of Camuladunum. 3/4 of the legions that came to Britain began marching to conquer the rest of Britain. One of the legions followed a path that led them to the south coast then up into the west country, and the other two went through the middle and to the north. As the commanders traveled through the country, they were met with some serious resistance by some of the native British tribes. The Durotriges rebelled a number of times, but the bloodiest battle was the one in front of the largest British fortress. The tribe fought hard to defend it and with heavy losses, but in the end Rome's ultimate killing machine, the Roman army, had another victory. Recent evidence has seen that this place had mass slaughter and the Durotriges were outclassed once more. A number of tribe leaders (at least 11) didn't even lift a finger to stop the Romans. Either they just weren't brave enough, or they thought the Romans would leave them alone if they did.
The Roman Invasion of Britain
What was Britain like at the time?
Britain, or Britannia as the Romans called it, was a very wild and remote place. It was rich in natural resources like grain, lead, gold, and silver, which was one of the reasons the Romans wanted it under their control. The 3 million or so people who lived were all members of independent, warring tribes who spoke variations of the same Celtic language. Other than that, they had nothing in common but their desire to kill one another. There were about 20 - 25 tribes in all of Britain's regions, but a kingdom could be created by a successful ruler, then be swallowed by a kingdom next door. Because of this, the Romans thought the natives would be unable to present a strong, unified army against an invader. This was a bit of a mistake by the Romans. Although the British weren't very unified, the had a strong native culture. To this day, people underestimate them, for unlike the Romans, they couldn't write themselves into history because they had no common literacy. The village Dinfligui in north wales is an excellent example of how resourceful they could be. Today it is still standing, giving us a good picture of how strong their culture was.
Although the Romans made quite a few mistakes, the British had their share
too. The main tribe at the time, the Catuvellauni, had been preparing for battle for a very long time. When a messenger arrived and told the leader of the tribe, Tocudumnus, and his brother and second in command, Caratacus, that the Roman Army was in danger of a mutiny, they thought they were safe and sent all their troops home.
As the crowd gathered to watch the killing, Claudius decided to allow Caratacus to make a final plea for his life. He gave and incredible speech that inclined Claudius to give him his life. Here it is below:
Caratacus' Speech, recorded by Tacitus
"Noble emperor and people of Rome,
If I had been less successful in resisting you,
I could well come to your city as your friend
not as a prisoner
you might have been glad, under those circumstances
to ally yourselves with one so nobly born
as things are, I face humiliation
while you have glory
I had horses, men, weapons
are you surprised I am sorry to have lost them?
just because you want to rule the world you think everyone else
is happy being made a slave?
If I had surrendered, without a fight
no one would've heard of my downfall or your triumph
if you kill me
they will both be forgotten
but if you spare me
I shall be an everlasting example of your mercy"
What were some major setbacks the Romans had?
One of the tribes that didn't lift a sword was the Iceni. Their leader, Prasutagus, thought Aulus Plautius had offered him a pretty good deal, so he succumbed to Roman rule. The deal was that the Romans would create a client state, meaning they wouldn't put any Romans in the area and the tribe would be able to keep their independence. They would also have security. Although Prasutagus tried to make everyone happy, the Romans didn't keep their part of the bargain. When Claudius' successor, a man called Scapular, arrived, he though he'd be able to finish the conquest of Britain in a relatively short period of time. He didn't partly due to a serious mistake he made. Scapular ordered all the tribes under Roman control to turn in their weapons. For the Iceni, this was one step too far. Your weapon was a symbol of manhood, and they decided that the only way to stop this was to revolt. The Iceni rebellion, led mostly by Boudicca, Prasutagus' wife, was one of the most major setbacks the Romans had. When Prasutagus died, he left his kingdom to the Romans and to Boudicca, thinking that this would make everyone happy. Soon after his death, the Roman broke their promise and tried to take the Iceni tribe. Boudicca claimed that she and her family were beaten and mistreated. During the rebellion in A.D. 60, she took advantage of the lack of armies and made a break for the Roman stronghold, Camuladunum. On the way other tribes joined in. She didn't make it, for the Romans caught up with her army in a pitched battle and once again, their army won. The Roman writer Tacitus says that 80,000 Britains and 400 Romans were killed, possibly exaggerations. Instead of being captured, Boudicca took poison and ended her life. The rest of the Iceni had to succumb to total Roman control. Scapular then set out to bring the rest of Britain under Roman control.
No one is sure if these are Caratacus' words, or just an exaggeration by Tacitus, but they do know that these words had a big effect on Claudius, and he spared Caratacus' and his family's lives. It's another example of Claudius' might, showing that his power is so strong that it can take away a life, or give it back.
By Grace Endrud
The Roman Invasion of Britain