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Chapter II, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 1 page 2


Pages: 1 <2> 3 4 5

The warlike Briton had assembled under his command all who had vowed an eternal resistance to the invaders, and fortified his position by entrenchments of earth, in imitation of the Roman military works.

In Shropshire, where the great struggle is supposed to have taken place, there is a hill which the inhabitants still call Caer Caradoc. It corresponds exactly with the description which Tacitus has given of the fortifications erected by Caractacus, and answers to the Latin words Castra Caractaci.

The warrior, whose devotion to the liberties of his country merited a better fate, did all that a patriot and a soldier could do to excite the spirit of his countrymen. He reminded the chiefs under his command that the day of battle would be the day of deliverance from a degrading bondage, and at the same time appealed to their patriotism, by reminding them that their ancestors had defeated the attempts of Caesar.

The address was received with acclamation, and the exited Britons bound themselves by oaths not to shrink from the darts of their enemies.

The cries of rage with which the invaders were received, the resolute bearing of the Silures, astonished the Roman general, who examined with inquietude the river which defended the rude entrenchment on one side, the ramparts of earth and stone, not unskilfully thrown up, and the rugged rock, which towered above them, crowned with numberless defenders. His soldiers demanded to be led to the contest, urging that nothing was impossible to true courage; the tribunes held the same language, and Ostorius lad on his army to the attack. Under a shower of arrows it crossed the river, and arrived at the foot of the rude entrenchment, but not without suffering severely.

Then was seen the advantage of discipline over untrained courage. The Roman soldiers serried their ranks, and raising their bucklers over their heads, formed with them an impenetrable roof, which securely sheltered them whilst they demolished the earthworks. That once accomplished, the victory was assured. The half naked Britons, with their clubs and arrows, were no match against the well-armed legions of Rome; they retreated slowly, but from the summit of the rocks still poured death upon their enemies till the light troops succeeded in slaying or dispersing them. The victory of the Romans was complete. The wife and daughter of Caractacus were taken prisoners, and the illustrious chief of the Silures soon afterwards shared a similar destiny. His mother-in-law, Cartismunda, queen of the Brigantes, to whom he had fled for shelter, delivered him in chains to his enemies.

Ostorius sent him and his family to Rome, as the noblest trophies of his conquest.

The fame of Caractacus had penetrated even to Italy. The Roman citizens were anxious to behold the barbarian who had so long braved their power. Although defeated and a captive, the natural greatness of his soul did not abandon him. Tacitus relates that his first remark on beholding the imperial city was surprise that those who possessed such magnificent palaces at home should envy him a poor hovel in Britain.

The British chief was conducted before the Emperor Claudius, who received him seated on his throne, with the Empress Agrippina by his side. The praetorian guard were drawn up in line of battle on either side.

First came the servants of the captive prince; then were borne the spoils of the vanquished Britons; these were followed by the brothers, the wife, and daughter of Caractacus, and last of all Caractacus himself, calm and unsubdued by his misfortunes.

Advancing to the throne, he pronounced the following remarkable discourse, which history has consecrated: -

"If I had had, O Caesar , in prosperity, a prudence equal to my birth and fortune, I should have entered this city as a friend, and not as a captive; and possibly thou wouldest not have disdained the alliance of a man descended from illustrious ancestors, who gave laws to several nations. My fate this day appears as sad for me as it is glorious for thee. I had horses, soldiers, arms, and treasures; is it surprising that I should regret the loss of them? If it is thy will to command the universe, is it a reason we should voluntarily accept slavery? Had I yielded sooner, thy fortune and my glory would have been less, and oblivion soon have followed my execution. If thou sparest my life, I shall be an eternal monument of thy clemency."

It is impossible not to be struck by the great dignity as well as simplicity of this address. It was complimentary without meanness, and truthful without exaggeration.

To the honour of Claudius, he not only spared the life of his captive, but the lives of his brothers, wife, and daughter, and treated him with all honour. Their chains were removed, and they expressed their thanks, not only to the emperor, but to Agrippina, whose influence is supposed, not without reason, to have been exerted in their favour.

The public life of Caractacus ended with his captivity; for the tradition that he afterwards returned to Britain, and ruled over a portion of the island, rests on so uncertain a foundation as to be unworthy of belief. Had fortune afforded him a wider field for the exercise of his genius, he would have bequeathed a more brilliant, but not a nobler name to history.

The senate, in its pompous harangues, compared the subjection of this formidable chief to that of Syphax by Scipio, and decreed the honours of a triumph to his conqueror, Ostorius.

Ostorius was succeeded in the government of Britain by Avitus Didius Gallus, who, unlike his warlike predecessor, sought to establish the Roman dominion in the island by fomenting internal dissension. He made an alliance with the perfidious mother-in-law of Caractacus, Cartismunda, queen of the Brigantes, whose subjects had revolted. His government lasted but four years, during which period the armies of Rome made but little progress on the isle.

The monster Nero, who succeeded by crime to the throne, assigned the government of Britain to Veranius, who died a year afterwards, in a campaign he had undertaken against the Silures.

His successor, Suetonius Paulinus, proved himself fully -equal to the task he had undertaken. Hitherto the Britons had been excited to revolt by the exhortations of the Druids, whose principal sanctuary was in the island of Anglesea, up to the period of his government, had preserved its independence, and served as a refuge to the malcontents and vi squished. Of this important spot Suetonius resolved to obtain possession, as the most effectual means of crushing the spirit of resistance still existing amongst the people.

By means of a number of flat-bottomed boats, which he had constructed for the purpose, he crossed the arm of the sea which separates Anglesea from Britain.

Tacitus has left a vivid description of the effect produced upon the Romans on approaching the island: the army of the enemy drawn up like a living rampart on the shore, to oppose their lauding; the priestesses, in mournful robes of a sombre colour, rushing wildly along the sands, brandishing their torches and muttering imprecations; the Druids, with their arms extended in malediction. The invaders were appalled; and, but for the exhortations of their leaders, the expedition, in all probability, must have suffered a defeat. Excited by their reproaches, the standard-bearers advanced, and the army, ashamed to desert their eagles, followed them, striking madly with their swords, and crushing all who opposed them. Finally, they succeeded in surrounding the Britons, who perished, with their wives and children, in the fires which the Druids had commanded to be kindled for their hideous sacrifices.

This victory was a terrible blow to the influence of the Druids, who never recovered their power in the island; and its consequences would have been more severely felt, but for an insurrection which shortly afterwards broke out in that part of Britain which had been reduced to the condition of a Roman colony.

The imposts were excessive, and exacted with rigour. Hundreds of distinguished families saw themselves reduced to indigence, and, consequently, to servitude. Their sons were torn from their hearths, and compelled to serve on the continent in the auxiliary cohorts. All these evils, great as they were, might have been borne, had not an outrage been added more infamous than any the insolent invaders had yet ventured to perpetrate; an outrage which filled the hearts of the Britons with fury, and drove them once more to rebellion.

Prasutagus, a king of the nation of the Iceni, had for many years been the faithful ally of Rome; on his death, the better to ensure a portion of his inheritance to his family, he named the emperor and his daughters as his joint heirs. The Roman procurator, however, took possession of the whole in the name of his imperial master, a proceeding which naturally aroused the indignation of Boadicea, the widow of the deceased prince. Being a woman of resolute character, she complained bitterly of the spoliation, and for redress was not only beaten with rods like a slave, but her daughters were dishonoured before her eyes.

On hearing of these indignities, the Iceni flew to arms; the Trinobantes and several other tribes followed their example, and a league was formed between them to recover their lost liberties.

The first object of their attack was the colony of veterans established at Camalodunum, where a temple, dedicated to Claudius, had been raised, the priests of which committed infamous exactions, under the pretence of thus honouring religion.

It was affirmed, as is generally the case on the eve of any great event, that numerous omens preceded the catastrophe. The statue of Victory fell in the temple with its face upon the ground; fearful howlings were heard in the theatre; and it is even pretended that a picture of the colony in ruins had been seen floating in the waters of the Thames.

The report of all these prodigies, which, if they really took place, were doubtless the contrivances of the Druids, froze the veterans with terror, and raised the courage of the Britous to the highest pitch. In the absence of Suetonius, the colonists demanded succour of the procurator, who sent them only 200 men, and those badly armed; and with this feeble reinforcement, the garrison shut themselves up in the temple.

With the cunning which seems peculiar to all semi-barbarous nations, the Britons continued to reassure their enemy of their pacific intentions. The consequence was that instead of raising a rampart and digging a ditch round the building, which they might easily have done, the Romans remained in a state of fancied security, neglecting oven to send away their women and children, and such as from age and sickness were unable to bear arms.

Suddenly the mask was thrown off. The insurgents, who had gained sufficient time to collect their forces and mature their plans, fell upon the colony, destroying everything before them, and sparing neither sex nor age. After a siege of several days, the temple was taken by assault, and the garrison put to the sword.

Emboldened by their success, the victors inarched to meet Petillius Cerealis. who, at the head of the ninth legion, was hastening to the assistance of his countrymen. After a bloody battle, in which the Britons massacred all his infantry, the Roman lieutenant was compelled to seek refuge with his cavalry in the camp.

Terrified at the disaster which his avarice and cruelty had caused, the procurator, Cato Declaims, fled to Gaul, followed by the maledictions of the inhabitants of the province on which he had brought so many evils.

Whilst engaged in the subjugation of the natives of Wales, Suetonius Paulinus received intelligence of the revolt of the Britons against the colonies of the eastern parts of the bland. Immediately he sat out on his march for London (Tacitus, "An.," lib. xiv.) This is the first mention which we have in history of this city by the title of Londinum - a city destined, in after years, to become the chief centre of political power and commercial enterprise in Europe; to rival, if not to eclipse, the most famous cities of antiquity in splendour and in influence. Whether London owes itę origin to the Romans or the Britons, has long been a disputed, and still remains an unsettled, question. Geffrey of Monmouth, a Welsh historian, gives an account of its foundation, and the origin of its name, which, though treated as a mere superstition by Maitland, is alike interesting and ingenious. He tells us that Brutus formed the design of building a city in Britain, and with this object had a careful survey of the kingdom made, and at last fixed on a spot of ground on the banks of the Thames as the most suitable for his purpose. There he erected a city which was long known by the dignified title of New Troy. That name became subsequently corrupted into Trinovaut, and in later days, when Lud, the brother of Cassivellaun, obtained the government, he strongly walled and fortified the city, and changed its name to Caer Lud, or Lud's Town. The subsequent change to London was of course easy. Maitland, however, rejects this story as absurd, and denies the existence of such a city in the days of Caesar. In justification of this view he very fairly urges the fact that Caesar makes no mention of any such city, although he is most minute and accurate in his enumeration of the places of importance, camps, fortification?, and towns in Gaul. Moreover, on the banks of the Thames Caesar's troops had one of their most desperate encounters, forcing the passage of that river, and putting to the route the troops of Cassivellaun. Now, had London been in existence at this time, the defeated forces of Cassivellaun would have retreated thither, or at all events have made the attempt. In either case we should expect some mention of the fact by Caesar - either as a successful movement on the part of the enemy, or one defeated by his superior strategy. The most probable account is that London was one of those colonies founded, about a.d. 49, by Ostorius Scapula, the successor of the praetor Plautius, for the protection and consolidation of Roman interests. Suetonius advanced from his campaign in Wales - as we have before recorded - to the relief of London; in a.d. 64, and although at this time London was famous for the number of its inhabitants and the extent of its commerce, which had been fostered and cherished by the influence of the Roman power, still the small force which Suetonius had under his command was unable successfully to govern it against the fury of the native enemies, who eagerly panted for the destruction of a town which was at once the monument of Roman triumph and the stronghold of Roman tyranny. Anxious that his small army should not be destroyed in an attempt to defend what was hopeless, Suetonius resolved to retreat and give up the city to the plunder of the Britons. All such as were willing to leave it were taken into his army, and, amid the cries and lamentations of the inhabitants, the city was abandoned by the Roman troops.

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Pictures for Chapter II, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 1 page 2

THE DRUIDS
THE DRUIDS >>>>
Caledonians, or Picts.
Caledonians, or Picts. >>>>
Landing of Julius Caesar.
Landing of Julius Caesar. >>>>
Julius Caesar.
Julius Caesar. >>>>
Roman Soldiers
Roman Soldiers >>>>
The Romans leaving London.
The Romans leaving London. >>>>

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