Page images





[ocr errors]

CESAR'S sudden invasion of Britain, 55, must be ascribed to purely personal motives. Whatever legends were rife in Italy, of Phoenician and Carthaginian trade in years gone by with the tin-producing island, the Roman general at least can have had no illusions. In fact, the commerce of the island was already in the hands of one who commanded the ports of Gaul. Nor was the Republic constrained to enlarge its boundaries for its own safety. The harvest of conquest and oppression was enjoyed peaceably; no man foresaw the retribution which was one day to visit the Romans by the inroad of barbarous tribes and the insurrection of outraged nationalities. But Cæsar wished to add the romance of a brilliant adventure to the fame of great campaigns. Viewed thus, his expedition is only important as affording us the first certain knowledge of Britain, and because it designated the island as the prey of future conquests. The first expedition only proved that in Britain as in Gaul the undisciplined valour of barbarians was incapable of resisting the Roman legions. The second does not seem to have carried the conqueror farther than to the mouth of the Medway. Even that success had been almost bought with the

1 Universal Review, March, 1860.

[blocks in formation]

ruin of the army. Cassibellaun, the chief of the BritannoBelgic confederacy, had the instincts of genius, and attempted to burn the Roman fleet, that the invaders might be shut off from a retreat. He failed, and consented to purchase peace by submission, and a nominal tribute. A few hostages, a girdle of British pearls for Venus, and a splendid triumph, were the only fruits which Cæsar reaped from his victory.

During nearly a hundred years, no Roman soldier set foot on the English shore. The fear of a fierce people and the tradition of a poor country proved stronger than the lust of territorial conquest. Three several times did Augustus resolve to enforce the promised and intermitted tribute; but, delayed by revolts in the empire, or appcased by an embassy from Britain, he never executed his intention. The mad expedition of Caius Caligula to the shore of Boulogne, had the joint object of restoring an exiled prince to his country, and of asserting foreign dominion. Probably the Britons offered submission as they had before done to Augustus ; they may even have paid tribute; but the whole transaction has been disguised by the boastful exaggerations of the Emperor, and the hatred of his historians. It is difficult to believe that the rough veterans of the German wars consented to pick up shells on the coast; and the experience of the Britons might well have taught them to avert attack by a submission which left them free. During all this interval the island seems to have flourished. The partial supremacy of a Belgic prince had been shaken off; and Cunobelin, king of the Trinobantes in Essex and Hertfordshire, had established a federal jurisdiction, which was probably recognized by all the island south of the Humber. Camulodunum, near Colchester in Essex, was his capital, but London seems to have been the real centre of trade. From it highways radiated across the island, especially along the Anglian and south-eastern

1 Merivale's Romans under the Empire, vol. v. chap. 48.

2 His coins have been found as far north as Norwich and Chester. Akerman on the condition of Britain from Cæsar to Claudius.-Archæologia, vol. 33. More than forty varieties of this king's coins still exist, and attest his importance.-Mon. Brit., pp. cliii., cliv.



coasts, where the commerce with the north and with Gaul was already important. A small custom's duty was levied at the Roman ports, and apparently paid without difficulty. The rude coinage, copied from Macedonian money, was replaced by more elaborate imitations of the Roman mint. To strengthen the feeling of common nationality, religious fugitives from the province of Gaul came over to the sacred island, where no prætor could forbid their bloody sacrifices, and no foreign soldier invade their sacred groves.

This tranquillity was not destined to endure. Neglecting the precedents of the first two Emperors, who had seen the danger of extending their boundaries, Claudius sent an army into Britain. So high was the reputation of British valour, that four legions under an able commander, Aulus Plautius, were considered necessary for the enterprise, and the mere announcement of the service required, at first caused a mutiny in the camp. Nevertheless, the Roman army was unopposed on the southern strand, and advanced, after two slight victories, to a river, probably the Medway. Plautius sent his horse across the stream and followed up his victory to the Thames. There he halted, and sent to Claudius for support. The Emperor, probably not unprepared for the call, responded to the summons in person. Camulodunum was invested by the imperial army, and the Trinobantes, routed before their entrenchments, were panic-stricken and surrendered. Claudius retired to enjoy a triumph and the surname of Britannicus. But the sovereignty of Cunobelin had been too firmly established to be destroyed by a defeat, even at the gates of his capital. His son, Caractacus, to whose share the western part of the kingdom had perhaps been assigned at his father's death, took up the struggle in which his brother, the partner of his throne, had fallen.3 Vespasian, the best

1 Hawkins on English Silver Coins.

2 Can BOATHOI, in Dion, be a clerical error for PEгHOI? Some such correction is necessary for the sense, but perhaps it is safer, with Mr. Merivale, simply to regard Dion as inaccurate.

3 The loyal support which the Silures lent to a prince not of their own race seems to imply a close previous connection with him as a governor.




general of the age, beat the British prince before him to the hills of Wales, in a bloody conflict which cost more than thirty battles, and the storming of more than twenty towns. Britain, south of the Thames, was then Roman, but Caractacus was unsubdued. For nine years he hung upon the onward Roman march, never able to advance far from his Welsh stronghold, and from the tribes still faithful to his cause, never willing to intermit the contest, and live unmolested in a mountain principality. Such a struggle could only have one end. In an attempt to intercept Ostorius Scapula, who had penetrated into North Wales, Caractacus sustained a decisive rout. The worthless Queen of the Brigantes, to whom he fled for shelter, betrayed him to the invader. Caractacus graced a Roman triumph; but his courage commanded the respect of his enemies, and he and his family were allowed to live in an honourable captivity.

The fortified towns of the Romans, more numerous relatively in Britain than in any other province of the empire, attest the obstinate nature of the struggle by which their dominion was won inch by inch from the foe. The strength of the national movement lay in Druidism; the professors of that faith could not hope for tolerance from Roman contempt. Human sacrifices were forbidden in Gaul: the very possession of a Druidical amulet had been punished by Claudius with death. Accordingly, eleven years (A.D. 61) after the capture of Caractacus, the new præfect, Suetonius Paulinus, penetrated to the sacred island of Mona, exterminated the priests and whiterobed Sibylline women who thronged the shores, and cut down the sacred groves. Druidism disappears from this time as a historical religion. It is probable that it was still a recognized faith in Ireland, and that it lingered on in England, for centuries after altars had been raised to other faiths, a superstition without temples or rites. The Bards, whom Roman policy

1 Pliny, lib. xxix., s. 12; lib. xxx., ss. 3-4. Suetonius, i., lib. v., c. 25. It is worth while to observe that the Romans, much to their honour, put down human sacrifices in Africa as well. We must not, therefore, assume any exceptional hatred to Druidism. Compare Juvenal, Satire xv., 1. 115-119.



proscribed as vigorously as the Druids, re-appear to exult in the fall of the Roman empire; but the priestly caste, if it was ever distinct from the poetical, perished absolutely.1

During the absence of Paulinus in the west, a rebellion had broken out which threatened to sweep the invaders back into the sea. During twenty years of dominion, the Romans had organized tyranny till it became insufferable. Independent princes were controlled by Roman residents; the flower of the British youth was drafted into the legions; heavy taxes were exacted from a people little accustomed to bear taxation; and money lent out on usury to the needy provincials by rich capitalists, such as Seneca, the moralist and the sycophant, was recovered by the stringent processes of Roman law. So complete was the subjugation of the conquered, that Prasutagus, king of the Iceni, inscribed the republic as his heir, in the hope of securing an honourable provision for his wife and daughters. That hope was deceived. Boadicea, the widowed queen, was publicly scourged, and her daughters given to the camp. Roused by this unutterable shame, and fired by the passionate eloquence of their Queen, the Iceni sprung to arms. Roman colony of Colchester, deceived by the Trinobantes with friendly assurances, was stormed on the second day of the siege, and the happiest of its defenders were those whom the sword did not spare for the torture. The insurrection was now national, and the British forces successively sacked Camulodunum (Lexden), Verulam, and London, turning round fiercely on the ninth legion, which hung in their rear, and defeating it at Wormingford on the Stour. The commander of the second legion was panic-struck, and remained inactive at Caerleon (Isca Silurum). But while the insurrection wasted its strength in storming towns, Suetonius, rapidly marching up from


1 Villemarqué's Bardes Bretons, pp. xxii., xxiii. Mr. Davis denies the extinction of Druidism, but I think on insufficient grounds. The "rusticus Aruspex," who misled Severus, can hardly have been a Druid, if the word is construed literally, and was probably either the "spae man" of the district, or the priest of an imported religion.-Crania Brit., Decade v., pp. 120, 121.

2 Quarterly Review, vol. xcvii., "The Romans at Colchester."

« PreviousContinue »