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as the eye could see. The Roman forces were skilfully
disposed so as to guard against the barbarian tactics ; for
while their enemy was fully engaged at the front the
Britons pushed their wings forward under cover so as
to intercept his rear.^ In this case the manoeuvre was



were all fortified in later times, and their walls long remained among the
most conspicuous of the monuments left by the Romans. Woodward's
letter to Sir Christopher Wren contains a good description of the Roman
walls of London. Hearne's Leland, viii. App. i. The walls of Colchester
are perfect in some places. Archceologia. (Winchester, 1849) Porch. Cast. 16.
The fortress of Verulam remained standing until its materials and " fine
masonrie work, some Porphyrie, some Alabaster," were required for building
St. Alban's Abbey. " The walls, the massive tower, and in fact the whole
of the church were built out of the ruins of Verulamium ; even the newels of
the staircases are constructed with Roman tiles ;" ibid. 17, and see Leland,
Itin. V. introd. 18, and Lowe's Description of the Roman Theatre at Verulam,
published by the St. Alban's Architectural Society in 1848.

■^ Compare the description of the Battle of "Mons Graupius " : Those of
the Britons, who having as yet taken no part in the engagement occupied
the hill-tops, and without fear for themselves sat idly disdaining the



304 Origins of English History.

impossible, for the Fourteenth Legion was drawn Hke a
wall of steel from cliff to cliff, with the light troops thrown
forward on a curved front supported on the flanks by
cavalry. The Britons covered the plain with their horse-
men, riding up and down in their troops and squadrons
^' in such numbers as never were elsewhere seen." They
seem to have delivered their assault in the old British
fashion, charging along the enemy's line with masses of
mounted men, while the infantry pushed up behind and
drove back the Roman skirmishers under a shower of
darts and stones. The legionaries are described as
standing bare-armed and poising their heavy javelins, and
never moving a step until all their missiles had been
discharged with effect. Then, suddenly wheeling into a
wedge-shaped formation, they charged and cut the enemy's
line in two. As the heavy troops moved out, guarded
with their bucklers, and forcing a way with their short
stabbing swords, the auxiliaries charged alongside, hewing
down the enemy with their sabres, and striking at the face
with the spikes of their targets ; and the cavalry deployed
into line with spears in rest, and rode down the only
force that still remained unbroken. The greatest slaughter
was at the waggons, with which the crowd of fugitives
became entangled, and the bodies of men women and
horses were piled together in indiscriminate heaps.^

smallness of our numbers, had begun gradually to descend and to hem in
the rear of the victorious army." Tac. Agric. c. 37 (Church) ; Annal, xiv.

•^ "The victory," says Tacitus, "was very noble, and the glory of it not
inferior to those of ancient times j for by the report of some there were
slain little less than fourscore thousand Britons, whereas the Romans lost
but about four hundred killed and had not many more wounded." Annal.
xiv. 37 (Camden). The battle is supposed to have taken place at



Origins of English History. 305

This battle practically decided the fate of Britain. Large
reinforcements were forwarded from the provinces on the
Rhine ; and the mutinous and suspected tribes alike were
ravaged with fire and sword. The punishment was so
sharp and long-continued that Paulinus was at last accused
of personal feeling: " his policy," it was said, "was arrogant,
and he showed the cruelty of one who was avenging a
private wrong." The matter came in time to Nero's ears,
and one of the imperial chamberlains was despatched to
arbitrate between the governor and the party of mercy,
and if possible to bring the rebels to terms. Italy and
Gaul were burdened with the vast array of troops and
courtiers. Polycletus, the enfranchised slave, a name
hated and feared by all the Roman world, passed over in
royal pomp to Britain to the terror of the general and his
armies and the amazement of the free barbarians.^ It was
fortunate for them that Nero never heard of their con-
temptuous reception of his favourite. Paulinus was quietly
removed, and the province remained at peace until the
accession of Vespasian. Even then we hear of no great
combinations among the tribes; the states of the Brigantians
were divided in Cartismandua's quarrel, and the Silures
were left to fight alone in their final contest with Frontinus.^

Burrough Hill, near Daventry, ' where the nature of the ground agrees with
the description given by Tacitus.' It is said to have afterwards formed the
site of the Roman station of Bennaventa. Scarth. Roman Britain, 41.

1 Tac. Ann. 39 ; Hist. ii. 95.

^ Cerealis attacked the revolted Brigantians in a.d. 69. " There were
many battles, some by no means bloodless, and his conquests, or "at least
his wars, covered a great part of the territories belonging to the Brigantes.
Indeed he would have thrown into the shade the activity and renown of
any other successor j but Julius Frontinus, a great man so far as greatness
was then possible, proved equal to the burden and subdued by his arms
the powerful and warlike nation of the Silures." Tac. Agric. 17.

20



3o6 Origins of English History.

The province was finally consolidated by the valour and
prudence of Agricola, who had learned to like the people
and to prefer their native wit to the laboured smartness of
the Gauls. He determined to root out " the causes of
w^ar " by reforming the abuses of the government, and by
persuading the natives to leave their rude ways of living,
to build "temples and courts and fine houses," to speak
Latin, and to wear the Roman dress. The hostile tribes
were alarmed by sudden campaigns, and then bought over
by the offer of a generous peace. ^ His first year of office
was taken up by the expedition against the Ordovices and
the conquest of the Isle of Mona. In his second campaign
he was engaged with the tribes of the western coast
between the Dee and the Solway Firth ; we are told that
he always selected the place of encampment himself and
marched with his soldiers in their explorations of the
estuaries and forests. Many of the nations in those parts
submitted to give hostages and to allow permanent forts to
be erected within their territories; " and it was observed
by the best masters of war that no captain ever chose
places to better advantage, for no castle of his raising was
ever taken by force, or surrendered upon terms, or quitted
as incapable of defence."^

The next campaign was directed against "new nations"
and tribes as yet untouched in the long Brigantian wars.
But their hasty levies were easily thrust aside, and their
lands were ravaged as far as the mouth of a northern river
called "Taus," or " Tanaus," which is usually identified

^ Before he was appointed to the chief command Agricola had served
in Britain under Vettius Bolanus and CereaHs. His final victory over the
Caledonians was in the year a.d. 84.

^ Tac. Agric. 22 (Camden).



Origins of English History. 307

with the Tay.^ A fourth summer was spent in securing
what had been gained, and no better boundary could be
desired than the line of the Forth and Clyde. " Two arms
of two opposite seas," said Tacitus, "shoot a great way
into the country, and are parted only by the strip of land
which was covered by the Roman forts ; and so we were
masters of all upon this side, and the enemy was as it
were pent up within the shores of another island."^ In the
year a.d. 82 Agricola concentrated a force in "that part of
Britain which looks on Ireland," not from anv fear of
invasion, but in the hope that something might occur
which would help him to bring Ireland within the Empire.
We learn from Tacitus that the coasts and ports of that
country were alreadybetter known by the reports of sailors
and merchants than the northern parts of Britain. One of
the petty kings, who had been expelled in some domestic
war, took refuge with Agricola, who received him with
friendship, meaning to use his claims as a pretext for
intervention and conquest. It was calculated that a force
of about ten thousand men would be sufficient for the
subjugation of the island.^

The province of Britain was thus at last established ; for
neither the defeat of Galgacus in Caledonia, which closed
the fifty years' war, nor the occasional campaigns required
for the chastisement of the Highland tribes, had any
permanent effect in extending the selected boundary.

1 Mr. Skene traces his route through Stirlingshire and Perthshire to
the Firth of Tay. Celtic Scotland, i. 45. The reading " Tanaus," which
is adopted by Wex from the MSS. in the Vatican, makes the whole
question of the advance to the Tay uncertain.

^ Tac. Agric. c. 23.

^ Picts of Galloway, Archaeol. Rev. i. 48.

20 *



3o8 Origins of English History.

Thirty-five years after Agricola's return to Rome the
Emperor Hadrian^ was summoned to the defence of the
frontier, and the epigram tells us how he " roamed among
the Britons, and shivered in the Scythian cold."

The beginning of his reign was troubled by border-wars,
and in Britain, as elsewhere, he found that the natives had
broken the first line of defence and were threatening the
heart of the province. The Ninth Legion had suff'ered so
severely that it w^as either broken up altogether, or was
united with the Sixth, which came over with Hadrian,
and was established as a permanent garrison at "Ebura-
cum," the site of the modern city of York.^

Of the four legions which Claudius had posted in the
island only two now remained. The " Twentieth Valens
Victrix" was permanently stationed at " Deva," or Chester,
where all the north-western roads converged.^ The

^ Spartian. Vita Hadrian, c. 12. Hadrian arrived in the year a. d. 120:
the publication of Ptolemy's Geography took place about the same time,
too soon for any notice of the "Wall " to appear in its tables.

' York seems to ha\e grown out of a Roman camp, and to have taken
the place of " Isurium " now Aldborough, as the capital of the Brigantian
district. Wellbeloved, Eburacum, 38, 155 ; Hiibner, Corp. Lat. Inscr. vii.
61. Isurium is called " Isu-Brigantum " in the Antonine Itinerary, as if
it had long retained the position of the native capital. An inscription of
A.D. 108 shows that some Roman buildings were erected at York under
Trajan, whose fondness for such mural records earned him the name of
"Parletaria " or " Wall-flower."

^ There is no actual record of this legion after the death of Carausius
in A.D. 294. The Sixth and the "Second Augusta" were In this country
when the " Notltia DIgnitatum " was compiled, the one legion being then
posted at RIchborough and the other in its old quarters at York. Hiibner,
Corp. Lat. Inscr. vli. 5. The sites of the soldiers' graves, camps, and
quarters, can be traced by means of the inscriptions on tiles and other pottery
left on their routes. The soldiers were constantly engaged in brickmaking,
so that " an examination and comparison of the tiles shows the distribution
of the military forces." Birch, Ancient Pottery, 487.



Origins of English History. 309

"Second Augusta" was chiefly employed in the West,
with its head-quarters fixed at Caerleon-upon-Usk. Its
labours built the splendid City of Legions, the " towered
Camelot " of romance, of which the ruins, as they stood in
the twelfth century, are described in a vivid passage of
Giraldus. " Caerleon," he said, "was excellently built by
the Romans with their walls of brick : and there are still
to be seen many traces of its former greatness : huge
palaces aping the Roman majesty with their roofs of
antique gold : a giant tower and noble baths, ruined
temples and theatres, of which the well-built walls are
standing to this day : and within and without the city the
traveller finds underground works, canals, and winding
passages and hypocausts, contrived with wonderful skill to
throw the heat from little hidden flues within the walls. "^

Each legion may have numbered at first about 7,000
regulars, with at least as many auxiliaries, some trained like
the heavy-armed legionaries, and others fighting according
to their own methods, and in some cases under the
command of their native chiefs.^ But it must be remem-
bered that the numbers were diminished under the later

^ Girald. Cambr. Itin. Cambr. i. c. lo. His words " coctilibus muris "
(which he also applies to Muridunum, the Roman fort at Carmarthen,
Hid. c. 5) would imply that the city walls were of brick ; it is, however, a
classical phrase misquoted, and made to apply to masonry with inter-
mediate courses of building-tiles. The facings of stone may still be seen
on some of the remaining towers. Archceologia, 1846 (Winchester), Porch.
Castle, 203 see also Lee's "Antiquities found at Caerleon"; and Leland, Itin.
ix. loi. Of " Caer-went," or Venta Silurum, in the same neighbourhood.
Leland says that in his time the places where the four gates stood were
still to be seen ; " And most part of the wall yet standith but alto minched
and torne 3 in the towne yet appear pavementes of the olde streete, and
in digging they found the foundations of great brykes, tesselata pavimenta,
nuviismata argentea, simul et cereal Itin. v. 5-

" Tac. Ann. iv. 5. Of the Batavi the historian says : " Mox aucta per



310 Origins of English History.

Emperors, when an almost absolute reliance was placed on
the German mercenaries. Large forces of barbarians
were from time to time sent over to assist the legions in
Britain. Thus when Marcus Aurelius had defeated the
Moravian tribes, he compelled them to send a great part of
their army to serve on the Caledonian frontier ; and in the
same reign a contingent of 5,000 Sarmatians was drafted
from the Lower Danube to the stations between Chester
and Carlisle ;^ and there are records relating to German
soldiers from districts now included in Luxemburg, which
show that in some cases the whole population of a district
was attached to one or other of the auxiliary regiments in
Britain.^

The soldiers were pioneers and colonists. A Roman
camp was " a city in arms," and most of the British towns
grew out of the stationary quarters of the soldiery. The
ramparts and pathways developed into walls and streets,
the square of the tribunal into the market-place, and every

Britanniam gloria, transmissis illuc cohortibus quas vetere institute nobi-
lissimi popularium regebant." Hist. iv. 12,

'^ Dion Cass. i. 71. Capes, Age of the Antonines,



Online LibraryCharles Isaac EltonOrigins of English history → online text (page 26 of 38)