Chapter II, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 1 page 4
The victor dared not, however, present himself to the acclamations of the people, for fear of exciting the jealousy of his imperial master. He entered Rome privately, and by night, and presented himself before the tyrant, who received him coldly and in silence. He soon became confounded with the crowd of courtiers, and only escaped from the peril of his glory by appearing himself to forget it.
Domitian reigned some years after his return, and the fury with which he persecuted Salustius Lucullus, one of the successors of Agricola, sufficiently proved the violence he had done to his cruel nature in sparing the life of the latter.
Salustius had had the temerity to give his name to a new kind of lance, which he had, in all probability, invented. The monster looked upon this little harmless piece of vanity as an offence, and put him to death.
Little is known of the state of Britain from Domitian to Adrian, when many of the nations who had been subject to the yoke of Rome began to show signs of impatience, and all the cares of the new emperor were to confirm the peace of the world. He re-established the system of Augustus, abandoned the conquests of Trajan, and limited the empire in the east to the Euphrates. He visited the provinces, and arrived at last in Britain, where he corrected many abuses, and built the celebrated wall which bore his name, in order to repress the incursions of the Caledonians; it extended upwards of eighty miles, from the mouth of the Tyne to the Irish Sea.
Rome abandoned without a struggle the country included between the wall of Adrian and that of Agricola, an extent of about 100 miles; a portion of it, however, was regained under Antoninus Pius, the adopted son and successor of Adrian.
During the thirty years which succeeded, the empire experienced the extreme vicissitudes to which all despotic empires are liable, in passing from the sceptre of the wise and good Marcus Aurelius into the hands of the infamous Commodus. The glory of Rome during the reign of this execrable monster had no other asylum than in her armies, which caused her frontiers to be respected by the barbarians, and crushed the several attempts at revolt in Germany, Dacia, and Britain.
The Caledonians, who had recovered from the cruel defeat they had suffered under Agricola, made a successful irruption into the north of the island, where they surprised and cut to pieces a body of Roman troops.
The peril of the province became extreme.
Commodus, to avoid the disgrace of losing it, conferred the government of the island upon Ulpius Marcellus, a general worthy of the antique days of Rome, being a sober man, just, and of undaunted courage. He obtained a signal victory over the Caledonians, and re-established peace. He was soon afterwards recalled.
He was succeeded by Perennis, a favourite of Commodus, who by his arbitrary, tyrannical conduct so excited the hatred of his legions, that they forgot their long habits of discipline and slavish obedience to the emperor.
The soldiers delegated 1,500 of their number to lay their complaints before the imperial throne. This numerous deputation passed peaceably through Gaul and Italy, and Commodus himself set forward to meet it. He listened to their complaints, and, led by his terrors rather than the love of justice, abandoned their general to the vengeance of his rebellious troops.
Perennis was scourged to death by them with rods.
The legions in Britain, emboldened by their success, demanded and obtained from the feeble hands of their master a general of obscure origin but undoubted merit, Publius Helvius Pertinax, who attempted to restore discipline in their ranks, but only partially succeeded. The habit of obedience was broken, and the same troops who had so clamorously demanded his appointment soon afterwards solicited his recall.
He returned to fill a civil employment in Rome, where fortune held in store for him supreme grandeur and a cruel fall.
Decimus Clodius Albinus, who succeeded him, was successful not only in reducing the army to obedience, but in obtaining their affection. He administered the province so well that the emperor, in a fit of gratitude, conferred on him the title of Caesar; an honour which, in all probability, would very soon have been repented of, or led to his disgrace, had not a revolution in the palace removed Commodus from the throne, and raised Pertinax in his stead.
The new reign lasted but three months; Pertinax fell a victim to his attempt to reform the abuses which were corroding the very heart of the empire. He was massacred by the Pretorian guards.
The election of his successor shows to how fearful a state Rome had degenerated. The empire was put up to auction and sold, like common merchandise, to the highest bidder. Didius Julianus by his great wealth purchased the empire: though bought by gold, it could not be retained by the same means. Septimus Severus no sooner heard of the death of Pertinax than he hastened to Rome, at the head of his legions, and the crime was quickly avenged by the death of the assassins, and that of the feeble prince whom they had placed upon the throne.
After the death of Albinus, who, driven to extremities by the secret practices against his life, had marched into Gaul, and was defeated at Lyons, Severus, at an advanced age, visited Britain, and defeated the Caledonians, whom he compelled to sue for peace. It was whilst engaged in this memorable expedition that his son, Caracalla, tried to poison him.
At the termination of the war, the conqueror made York his residence, and employed his army in constructing the gigantic wall whose remains still bear his name. It was seventy-eight miles long, and ran parallel with the remains of the one built by Adrian; its height, twelve feet, without comprising the parapet; its width, eight feet; and it was still further strengthened by a succession of towers and fortresses. The wall was completed in 210 of the Christian era.
Falling into a severe sickness, his unworthy son took occasion to seduce the allegiance of a portion of the army, who proclaimed him emperor. The aged prince was carried to his tribunal, before which he compelled the usurper, his tribunes and centurions, to appear: the guilty son prostrated himself, and demanded pardon.
"What!" exclaimed his father, in a tone of bitter irony, "have you yet to learn that it is the head and not the feet which govern?" The reproach was the more bitter as the disease from which the speaker was dying had settled in his feet, and rendered him incapable either of mounting on horseback or walking.
Shortly afterwards he expired at York.
Septimus Severus died the 4th of April, 211, after a reign of eighteen years: his last words were, "I received the republic divided and weak at every point; I leave it at peace and consolidated, even in Britain; old and disabled in my legs, I bequeath to my sons a powerful empire, if they are prudent; if not, a feeble one."
During the third century, the empire was agitated by numerous competitions for the purple, which were somewhat appeased on the accession of Diocletian. Britain afforded to these pretenders not only an asylum, but the means of advocating their claims to the purple. One of these, Carausius, was only got rid of by assassination.
The murderer, Allectus, attempted to succeed him, and maintained himself in the island till defeated by Constantius, who had been elevated to the rank of Caesar: thus Britain was once more united to the empire.
The victor made himself loved by the Britons, by his equitable and wise administration, and continued to reside amongst them till the abdication of Diocletian and Maximian elevated him to the imperial throne.
At his death, which occurred in York, in 306, he recommended to the army, who were devoted to him, his son, the celebrated Constantine, who was immediately saluted emperor and Augustus.
The tradition that St. Paul and St. Peter preached the gospel in the island found, at one period, general credence. It must be looked upon with extreme suspicion, there not being the slightest historical evidence to support it, and the probabilities highly against it; still, it is certain that, at a very early age, Christianity was introduced amongst us. Many of the Romans, who had received the new religion and fled from the persecutions of Claudius and Nero, found refuge in Britain, where the imperial edicts were less rigorously obeyed, till the persecution of Diocletian, when the churches throughout the empire were ordered to be closed, and the refusal of the new sect to offer sacrifice to the gods of Rome punished with death.
Much as Constantius condemned, he dared not annul the impious mandate he had received. Ascending his tribunal, before which the principal officers, both of his army and household, had been summoned, he read aloud the edict, and added that those who professed the new faith must decide on abandoning either their faith or their employments. Many, doubtless, chose the former alternative; since we are told that the prince, in great indignation, dismissed the apostates from his service, observing that it was impossible for him to trust those who had denied their convictions. His lieutenants, however, were less scrupulous, and Christian blood, no doubt, was shed to maintain the state religion of the empire.
Alban, the proto-martyr - as the latter designation implies - was the first who suffered; and the names of Julius and Aaron, citizens of Caerleon, upon the Usk, have also been handed down to posterity as two of the earliest victims.
On the accession of Constantine to the throne, religious toleration was restored throughout the empire.
Christianity now made rapid progress in the island. A hierarchy became established, and at the Council of Aries, in 314, three English bishops assisted - those of York, London, and Camalodunum.
After the death of Constantine, we see two people disappear, in name at least, from the page of history - the Maaetae and the Caledonians, who were replaced by the Picts and the Scots. There is every reason to believe that the warlike nation, the Caledonians - who so long resisted the Romans - and the Picts are the same race; the last name being derived from the Gaelic word pict-ich, which signifies "plunderers."
The Scots had a widely different origin: they originally came over from Ireland, where they inhabited the eastern coasts, settled in the neighbourhood of Loch Lomond, and made an alliance with the nearest tribes, for the purpose of ravaging the possessions of the Britons.
They were severely chastised by Theodosius, who visited Britain in 343. He succeeded in expelling them from the Roman provinces and driving them back to their wild retreats.
Maximus, who afterwards assumed the title of Augustus, while in Britain, carried on the war against the Picts and Scots with unrelenting severity; his ambition, however, led him to attempt the conquest of the whole western empire, in which he failed, and was beheaded at Aquileia. His army, composed in a great majority of Britons, never returned to their native country, which consequently was left in a great measure defenceless. So favourable an occasion did not escape the vigilance of the Picts and Scots, who made successive inroads in the island, and returned to their mountain fastnesses laden with plunder.
The power of Rome was now shaken by the irruption of barbarians of various denominations, who, issuing from the east and north, depopulated her fairest provinces. Assailed at so many points at once, it seemed as if the nations of the earth had been let loose to uproot her supremacy, and break the shackles which for so many ages had fettered the greater part of the world. The Goths, Vandals, and Alans, led by Alaric, crossing the Julian Alps, swept like a torrent over the fertile plains of Italy. The German tribes devastated Gaul, and the Roman legions in Britain, deprived of all communication with the Emperor Honorius, determined on electing an emperor for themselves.
The first whom they selected for the purple was Marcus, whom his soldiers, very soon after elevating him to the imperial dignity, put to death: after him an adventurer named Constantine, who paid for his short-lived dignity with his life.
The island had for some time been in this distracted state, when the Britons, who had not ceased to regret the loss of their freedom, deeming the occasion favourable, rose in arms, deposed the Roman magistrates, and proclaimed their independence; and afterwards succeeded in driving the Picts and Scots back to their own country.
When the Emperor Honorius heard of this revolution, he wrote to the states of Britain, to say that they must provide for their safety, and govern themselves; by which concession the rule of Rome in the island was looked on as at an end.
The Britons, at various periods afterwards, demanded the assistance of the empire against their terrible enemies, the Picts, who still continued to harass them; but no aid of any consequence was accorded.
How frequently do we read, in the history of the world, of a nation urged by an irresistible, though unknown principle, to pursue the path of conquest, not for their own advantage, but for the ultimate benefit of the people whom they subject. Such was the result of the Roman invasion of Britain, which proved neither profitable nor advantageous to the conquerors.
Appianus of Alexandria, who flourished a.d. 123, wrote a history of all the nations which Rome had subdued, in twenty-four books; he says: "The Romans have penetrated into Britain, and taken possession of the greater and better part of the island; but they do not desire the rest, because that which they already possess is not of the slightest benefit to them."
The historian was right, for, despite the taxes, the produce of the mines, and the exportation of corn, the island could never have been a source of great profit to the victors; notwithstanding which we trace them, urged by a resistless combination of events, progressing step by step, till the greater part of the country was subdued. Fortunately, they sowed the seeds of a civilisation more endurable than their dominion.
For nearly a century, the portion of Britain which had submitted to their yoke formed but a single province; it was first separated into two during the reign of the Emperor Severus. This division was afterwards extended to five: -
1st. Flavia Caesariensis, which consisted of the western portion of the island.
2nd. Britannia Prima, the country between the Thames and the Humber.
3rd. Britannia Secunda, lying between the Severn and the sea, now known by the name of Wales.
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