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Chapter II, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 1 page 3


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It was not long before the storm burst upon the wretched inhabitants, whom the insurgents massacred without pity or remorse, although the majority of them consisted of their own countrymen, against whom their rage appeared quite as much excited as against the Romans, on account of their submission to the common enemy.

Seventy thousand are computed to have perished in the slaughter.

Never before had such an indiscriminate destruction been witnessed in the island. Tacitus, in speaking of the Britons,

"They would neither take the vanquished prisoners, sell them, nor ransom their lives and liberties; but hastened to massacre, torture, and crucify them, as if to avenge themselves beforehand for the cruel punishments which the future had in store for them."

Suetonius, uniting the fourteenth legion, the auxiliaries of the twenty-first, and the garrisons of the neighbouring towns, soon found himself at the head of 10,000 men; and with such an army no longer hesitated to meet the enemy, before whom he had hitherto deemed it advisable to retreat. With great skill, he took up his position at the entrance of a narrow defile, his infantry in the centre, the cavalry forming the wings.

The Britons, a countless multitude, advanced to battle without order and discipline, animated by the desire of vengeance and the hope of recovering their liberty.

Before the struggle commenced, a chariot was seen, drawn slowly through their ranks; in it was a female of tall stature and dignified bearing, enveloped in the folds of a long mantle, a chain of gold round her waist, and her long hair floating to the ground. It was the outraged Boadicea, who, accompanied by her daughters, appealed to the courage of her countrymen.

"The Britons," she cried, "are accustomed to fight under the command of a woman; there is no question now of avenging so many illustrious ancestors from whom I am descended, my kingdom, or my plundered treasures. Avenge me as a simple woman - as one of your own class. Avenge my liberty outraged; my body torn by the scourge; and the innocence of my daughters dishonoured! The Romans respect neither the age of our old men nor the chastity of our children; their avarice is insatiable. Are not our persons taxed? - do we not pay even for the permission to bear our heads? Nor is that all; the tax must be paid for those who cease to live. It was reserved for the execrable tyranny of the Romans," she added, "to raise a revenue from the dead. But there are just gods - avenging gods. A legion that dared oppose us has perished; the rest of the Romans conceal themselves, or already think of flight. They cannot hear without trembling the cries of so many thousand men; how, then, will they support the shock of your blows? Consider your countless battalions, reflect on the motives of this war, and you will understand that the day has arrived to vanquish or die. Such will - shall be the fate of one woman; let men live slaves if they will." (Tacitus, Annal xiv.)

Animated by these inspiring words, the recollection of their injuries, and the blood they had already shed, the Britons commenced the combat. The legion, with their eyes fixed upon their chief, waited the signal. It was given, and they advanced in a triangular battalion; the auxiliaries followed the impetuous movement, and the squadrons charged with their lances in rest. Nothing could resist that fearful shock. The immense multitude was put to flight, but the chariots containing their wives and children, who had followed to be spectators of their victory, barred the way. The victors spared neither women, children, nor animals. The carnage was fearful: 80,000 Britons remained upon the plain.

Boadicea, the witness and victim of this sad defeat, kept the promise she had made - not to fall into the power of the Romans - but ended her life by poison.

This victory re-established the reputation of the Roman arms; but it was not permitted to Suetonius to complete the task he had begun; he was shortly afterwards recalled to Rome, to answer charges brought against him by his enemies, and, although acquitted, lost the favour of a prince in whose reign no man of celebrity was spared.

Suetonius had the honour of training in the art of war the illustrious Agricola.

The first three successors of Suetonius in Britain were Petronius Turpilianus, Trebellius Maximus, and Vettius Bolanus; their government did not advance the empire, then divided between Galba and Otho, and afterwards between Otho and Vitellius.

During the reign of the last prince a civil war broke out among the Brigantes, whose queen, Cartismunda, proud of the alliance and support she received from Rome as the recompense of her treachery in delivering Caractacus into its hands, had given way to' her lascivious passions. According to Tacitus, she expelled her husband Venusius from her throne and bed, and raised to his place his esquire Vellocate. This crime shook her authority; the people declared themselves in favour of the outraged husband, whose rival was supported only by the adulterous passion of the queen and the cruelties which he exercised.

The queen, seeing her throne in peril, called the Romans to her aid. They marched to her succour, and succeeded in delivering her from the hands of her indignant subjects, but Venusius remained master of her kingdom, and the Romans had the weight of another war to sustain.

Such was the state of Britain when Vespasian, having conquered his rival Vitellius, succeeded to the throne.

The new emperor entrusted the government of the island to an experienced general named Petilius Cereales, who partially subdued the Brigantes, and was pushing the war with energy when his master recalled him.

His successor was Julius Frontinus, who reduced the Silures to obedience.

But it was reserved to another general to achieve the conquest of a proud and warlike nation, and to render it durable by the qualities of justice and moderation. The great man who gave this useful lesson to the world was Agricola, named governor of Britain in the year 78 of the Christian era. He had already visited the island, having served in the army as tribune, under the command of Suetonius Paulinus, who esteemed and treated him as a friend.

His first step was to repress the revolt of the Ordovices, whom ht punished with rigour; he next renewed the attack on the island of Anglesea, which he took, owing to the courage of his German auxiliaries, who, not having vessels at their command, swam over the arm of the sea which divides it from Britain.

In the following campaign he extended the limits of the Roman government to the Tay, leaving strong garrisons on all the important points.

In his fourth campaign, Agricola crossed the Forth to the southern frontier of Caledonia, or Scotland, and erected, to repress the invasion of the warlike inhabitants, a line of fortifications between the Forth and the Clyde.

But it is as an administrator or civil governor that Agricola chiefly merits our praise. He lessened, as much as possible, the tribute levied on the vanquished Britons by an equitable adjustment, suppressed the most onerous monopolies, and multiplied the means of transport and commerce.

Having succeeded in gaining the good opinion of the people he was called to rule over by his valour and equity, the governor next tried to keep them peaceable by inculcating a taste for the arts and pleasures. He encouraged the erection of temples and forums, aided all public works by grants from the treasury, and caused the sons of the principal chiefs and princes to be instructed in the sciences. Gradually those who had disdained the language of the conquerors devoted themselves to its attainment. They assumed the toga, and affected the tastes, and in too many instances the vices, of their masters.

Titus, who had succeeded to the throne of his father, Vespasian, reigned but two years, and left the empire to the ferocious Domitian, who, like most suspicious natures, felt jealous lest any other name should become greater than his own. He did not venture, however, to recall Agricola, who was permitted to pursue his career of glory, and, in the fifth year of his government, advanced with his legions to the west, as far as the coast opposite to Ireland.

A statesman, administrator, and soldier, like the illustrious pupil of Suetonius, must have comprehended the advantage of conquering the sister island; the facilities which it would afford to the increasing commerce between Spain, Gaul, and Britain: he renounced, however, the enterprise from some unknown reason, and Ireland, for nearly a thousand years longer, preserved her independence.

The hostilities which were continually breaking out between the Maaetae and the Caledonians drew Agricola to the north of Britain. In his first campaign against them, which commenced in the sixth year of his government, the Romans experienced a severe check, as the enemy nearly forced their camp, and were only repulsed after causing considerable damage.

In the seventh and last year of his residence on the island, Agricola made his great attempt to subdue these ferocious nations, and his preparations were worthy his great military reputation and the magnitude of the task he had undertaken. He joined to his legions and auxiliaries from the continent, cohorts of Britons, drawn from the southern portion of the island; and supplied his army by means of a numerous fleet, which sailed along the coast.

The Romans advanced without encountering any serious obstacle as far as the Grampians, where the Caledonians, under the celebrated chief Galgacus, were drawn up to oppose them, 30,000 strong. The first ranks, consisting of the bravest of the tribes, occupied the level plain; the next and secondary ones covered the sides of the mountain, rising in half-circles one above another, as in a vast amphitheatre.

Tacitus has recorded the harangue of the leader of the Caledonians; it is bold, energetic, and worthy of the chief of a nation which - whatever its other defects - was, at least, impressed with an indomitable love of freedom and undoubted courage.

"We have no other resource but to conquer," said Galgacus; "and that is my principal hope; for battle, the glorious choice of brave men, is here the only safety for cowards. Behind us is the ocean and the Roman fleet; before us the Romans - brigands, devastators of the world, who, when they can no longer find land to ravage, search the seas. Neither the east nor the west have glutted their avarice, for they alone of all mankind covet alike the treasure of the rich and the dernier of the poor. To take, massacre, and pillage, the Romans call to govern; and when they make a desert, they say, ' Peace is established.' Our sons are carried off to serve in distant countries; our wives and sisters, if they escape the brutality of the enemy, are dishonoured by those who falsely call themselves our friends and guests; our fortunes are consumed in tributes, our food in supplies for their armies; our arms and bodies are wasted by blows and outrages whilst fortifying for them our marshes and lands.

"Courage! you who love glory, and you who hold to life. The Trinobantes, under a woman, burnt a colony and carried a Roman camp; and, if they had not slumbered in success, would have broken their yoke. We, who still are unshaken, unsubdued, and free, shall we not show on the first encounter what kind of men are the Caledonians?

"The Romans triumph by our discords; they render the vices of their enemies subservient to their advantage and the glory of their armies, who, formed by a mixture of so many nations, are kept together only by success, and will be dispersed by reverse. It is fear, it is terror - feeble bonds - which keep together these Gauls, Germans, and, I am ashamed to say, these Britons, who lend their blood to foreign dominion; these bonds once broken, and those who cease to fear will begin to hate. All the excitements to victory are here: no wife influences the courage of the Romans, no father will reproach their flight; feeble in number and ignorant of the country, they only behold the sea, and skies, and unknown forests, in the midst of which, surrounded and enclosed, they are delivered to us by the gods.

"March, then, to battle, and think of your fathers and children!"

The Caledonians received these soul-inspiring words - which have been rendered nearly word for word from the Roman historian - with tumultuous clamours of applause; their excitement was still further increased by the songs of the bards and the exhortations of the Druids.

At the sight of the Caledonians, it became difficult to keep the Romans in the entrenchments, and Agricola, seeing their impatience for battle, exhorted them to conquest.

"Defeat itself," he said, "will not be without glory; but you will not yield. The bravest of the Britons have been already overcome; those who remain are cowardly and timid, as you behold on the heights, which you will illustrate by a memorable victory. Put an end," he concluded, "to so many expeditions, and add another great day to fifty years of triumph!"

At these words the ardour of his soldiers could no longer be repressed. They quitted the camp, and their brave leader ranged them in order of battle: the auxiliaries on foot, to the number of 8,000, in the centre; 3,000 horsemen formed the wings; the legions being held in reserve.

The first line of the Caledonians descended to the plain, which trembled beneath the galloping of the horses and the rolling of the war-chariots. Agricola, seeing the superiority of the enemy in point of numbers, deployed his ranks, resolved neither to fly nor yield.

Favoured by their position, the barbarians had the advantage as long as they fought at a distance with javelins and arrows; which became useless, however, when, the Roman general having commanded the auxiliaries to engage man to man, they rushed to the encounter with their long sharp swords; another body assailed the rocks, which they carried by assault, and the Caledonians retreated behind their horsemen and chariots; whilst the Roman cavalry, falling on the confused mass, completed the rout.

The plain soon became one wide scene of carnage; 10,000 Caledonians perished; whilst their enemy lost only 360 men.

The victors passed the night in drunkenness and pillage; whilst the vanquished, men and women, wandered about the country, yielding to despair. In their rage they destroyed their habitations, to prevent their being plundered by the Romans.

Agricola rendered an account of his victory to the emperor, in terms remarkable for modesty and simplicity. The jealous Domitian received his letter with apparent joy, but secret wrath: with his usual cunning, however, he dissembled his real sentiments till time had weakened the enthusiasm of the people and the favour of the army for the man he hated. Gradually a report gained ground that the victorious general was to be recalled from the scene of his triumphs, to take the command in Syria, and Domitian demanded for him the honours of a triumph.

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Pictures for Chapter II, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 1 page 3

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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