Sunday, November 29th, 2020

British Isles


The British Isles are a group of islands off the north-western coast of continental Europe that include: Great Britain, Ireland and over six thousand smaller isles. The sovereign states of Ireland and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are on the islands. The British Isles also include three dependencies of the British Crown: the Isle of Man and, by tradition, the Bailiwick of Jersey and the Bailiwick of Guernsey in the Channel Islands, although the latter are not physically a part of the archipelago.1

Great Britain is the largest island of the British Isles and is comprised of England, Scotland and Wales.

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland consists of the union of what were once four separate countries: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (most of Ireland is now independent). 2 “England” is sometimes inaccurately used in reference to all of the United Kingdom, the entire island of Great Britain (or simply Britain), or the British Isles. This is incorrect and can offend people from other parts of the United Kingdom. British people can be Scottish, Welsh, Irish (living in Northern Ireland) or English. The Scots and the Welsh are proud of their separate identities and tend to refer to themselves as Scottish or Welsh.

Britain
Prehistoric Britain BC was home for a wide variety of sophisticated small cultures, societies and tribes.

First Peoples of Britain: The regional physical stereotypes familiar to us today, a pattern widely thought to result from the post-Roman Anglo-Saxon and Viking invasions (red-headed people in Scotland; small, dark-haired folk in Wales; and lanky blondes in southern England) already existed in Roman times. Insofar as they represent reality, they perhaps attest to the post- Ice Age peopling of Britain, or the first farmers of 6,000 years ago.3   Native Tribes of Britain

Celtic culture (The Iron Age 600 BC–50 AD) dominated modern-day Germany, France and as far east as Turkey before Ancient Rome and the Germanic tribes expanded throughout Europe. The word “Celt” refers to a culture or influence (not an empire) and it comes from the Greeks, who called the tribes to their north the “Keltoi,” which means barbarian.

Celtic tribes lived for the glories of battle and plunder and they fought among themselves as willingly as they fought other enemies. There is no evidence that the Celts ever referred to themselves as Celts. Between 500 and 100 BC, the Celts brought the Iron Age to Britain and within a few hundred years the Bronze Age culture disappeared and Celtic culture predominated throughout the Pretanic Islands, a Celtic term for Britain and Ireland. 4


55 BC: Before Julius Caesar invaded Britain, he sent military envoy, Gaius Volusenus, to find suitable landing places. Unfortunately, for Caesar, the envoy never went ashore and did not notice that late summer weather made the Channel and North Sea very violent. The Romans’ deep ships were also not designed not the Channel’s high tides and very powerful currents. 5

When some of the British tribes learned about Caesar’s upcoming invasion, they offered their
submission to him with envoys. Caesar sent the envoys back to Britain with Commius, a Gaul whom Caesar had recently made king of the Atrebates (a Belgic tribe that lived on both sides of the Channel) to persuade the tribes to come to terms. As soon as Commius arrived in Britain, he was taken prisoner by other British tribes. The Romans retaliated by sending their infantry “in a flotilla of eighty transports guarded by warships, from an unnamed port, undoubtedly Portus Itius — later known as Gesoriacum (modern Boulogne)—but the cavalry, which was to set out from a different place, was held up by contrary tides and never did take part in the campaign. Their absence would be keenly felt.” 6


The Standard Bearer of the Tenth Legion leads the Roman invasion by jumping from his ship and marching toward shore on the coast of Kent,
by James William Edmund Doyle.

26 August 55 BC: Julius Caesar’s Seventh and Tenth Legions (about 12,000 men) intended to invade Britain from the beach at Dover but they saw that the cliffs were heavily defended when they arrived. The Romans headed north along the coast to Deal but an offshore shelf prevented their large ships from landing on the beach. With no smaller boats to use as landing craft, the Roman soldiers reluctantly realized that they had to make their way to shore on their own, weighed down by their arms and armor. Suddenly, the standard bearer of the Xth Legion jumped out of the ship and advanced towards the enemy with the eagle in his hands crying in a loud voice: “Jump down, comrades, unless you want to surrender our eagle to the enemy; I, at any rate, mean to do my duty to my country and my general.” 7 The legionnaires followed him and after much hard fighting they drove the Britons back. The Britons quickly released Commius, sued for peace, and agreed to hand over hostages.


30 August 55 BC: A violent storm forced Rome’s transport ships to return to Gaul with their cavalry and it wrecked much of the main fleet that was anchored just off shore. While the Romans repaired their ships, the Britons summoned additional troops and waited for the Romans to run short on food and other supplies. When the Romans sent parties inland for corn, the Britons ambushed them so aggressively that Caesar could see a cloud of dust form where it was happening. Roman reinforcement troops soundly defeated the Britons but rain prevented them from chasing the Britons inland. Caesar’s exasperation with Britain’s weather reached its limit and the Romans returned to Gaul.8

In Gaul, Mandubracius9 asked Caesar for his protection from the Catuvellauni tribe. Mandubracius was the exiled son of Imanuentius, the king of the powerful Trinovantes tribe, who’d recently been overthrown and killed by Cassivellaunus,10 a legendary British tribal chief of the Catuvellauni and warlord from north of the River Thames.

July, 54 BC: Caesar invaded Britain with 800 broad ships with a shallow draught that could make beach landings, 5 Legions (about 25,000 men) and 2,000 cavalry – the largest naval landing operation in the history of the world until D-Day in 1944. Caesar’s fleet was also accompanied by Roman and Gaulish traders riding on a flotilla of ships. Labienus, a skilled cavalry commander and military genius who was Caesar’s second-in-command, stayed behind in Gaul with 3 Legions and 2,000 cavalry with orders to regularly send food supplies to the troops in Britain.11

Despite making a night landing in Pegwell Bay, Caesar almost immediately pursued the retreating British warriors with most of his troops. Near the River Stour, the Britons turned and attacked twice. Both times they were defeated and scattered to fortifications in the forest to regroup. Unsure of the territory, the Romans decided to make camp. Caesar learned the next morning that a coastal storm had seriously damaged about 40 of his anchored ships, so, the Romans returned to the beach to repair the damage and ordered Lieutenant Labienus to build and send more ships from Gaul. 12

After the Romans repaired their ships, Mandubracius accompanied them back to the River Stour. The British warriors had multiplied in number and chosen Cassivellaunus to lead them in battle. When Cassivellaunus realized that he could not defeat the Britons in pitched battle, he disbanded most of his foot soldiers and combined the speed of his 4,000 chariots with his detailed knowledge of the terrain to slow the Romans’ advance. When the Romans got to the River Thames, the Trinovantes welcomed Mandubracius as their king and promised Caesar aid and provisions. The Cenimagni,
‘Cassivellaunus, British chieftain’
by Angus McBride, Renegade Tribune

Segontiaci, Ancalites, Bibroci and Cassi tribes surrendered to Caesar and told him the location of Cassivellaunus’ stronghold. Caesar put it under siege. Cassivellaunus and and the kings of the Cingetorix, Carvilius, and Segovax tribes attempted to divert Caesar’s attention by attacking the Romans’ stronghold on the coast. This tactic failed and Cassivellaunus sent ambassadors to negotiate a surrender. “Cassivellaunus gave hostages, agreed an annual tribute, and undertook not to make war against Mandubracius or the Trinovantes. Caesar wrote to Cicero on 26 September, confirming the result of the campaign, with hostages but no booty taken, and that his army was about to return to Gaul. He then left, leaving not a single Roman soldier in Britain to enforce his settlement. Whether the tribute was ever paid is unknown.” 13

Over the next hundred years “the Catuvellauni, grew rich from exporting grain, cattle and hides, iron and precious metals, slaves and hunting dogs to Rome. From Rome, they imported luxury goods such as wine and olive oil, fine Italian pottery, and silver and bronze drinking cups, and they minted huge numbers of gold coins at their capital, Camulodunum.”14 Despite the fact that Rome grew increasingly dependent on resources and commercial goods from Britain, the relationship deteriorated because Rome had not left a physical presence, there.

Tiberius Claudius Augustus Germanicus (1 August 10 BC – 13 October AD 54) was Roman emperor from 41 to 54 AD. Due to a childhood illness (possibly polio, cerebral palsy or Tourette’s) that left Claudius with a bad limp, impaired hearing, and a severe stammer, his family ostracized him and
excluded him from public life. Claudius was not seen as a threat because of his imperfections and this probably saved his life during the purges of Tiberius’s and Caligula’s reigns. After Caligula’s assassination, the Praetorian Guard made Claudius emperor in 41 AD. His lack of experience did not stop him from becoming a very capable leader. His accomplishments as emperor included presiding over public trials, constructing many new roads, aqueducts, and canals across the Empire, annexing or putting under direct rule the provinces of Thrace, Noricum, Lycia, and Judea, and completing the annexation of Mauretania.15
Claudius also wrote “dozens of volumes on the history of Carthage, the Etruscans, the Roman Republic and even the Roman alphabet. All of the future emperor’s works have since been lost, but they appear to have been reasonably respected in their time. The legendary Roman historian Tacitus even used Claudius’ work as a source for his own writings.”16

By 40 AD, the Catuvellauni king, Cunobelinus, had subjugated so much of southeastern Britain that the Roman historian Suetonius called him “King of the Britons;” under Cunobelinus’ rule, Camulodunon also replaced Verlamion as the most important settlement in pre-Roman Britain. After Cunobelinus died, his sons, Togodumnus and Caratacus, expanded their influence further south and King Verica of the Celtic Atrebates fled to Rome. 17 As a nominal ally of Rome, he asked Claudius to help him restore his rule.

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Battle of Medway, June 43 AD: Roman legionaries crossing the River Medway by Cecil Doughty
43 AD: Claudius mounted an invasion force of four Legions (about 20,000 men and about the same number of auxiliaries) to reinstate King Verica’s rule. Aulus Plautius, the future emperor Vespasian and Gnaeus Hosidius Geta led the Legions: XX Valeria, IX Hispania, XIV Gemina, and II Augusta, and they faced little resistance when they arrived on the southeast coast of Britannia in 43 AD. King Antedios of the Iceni tribe took a neutral position, other tribes supported the Romans and some like the Catuvellauni tribe, who lived south of the Iceni, resisted. Togodumnus and Caratacus formed an alliance of tribes and battled the Romans near Rochester on the River Medway and River Thames. According

to Cassius Dio in Roman History (LX.20.4), “the struggle was indecisive until Gnaeus Hosidius Geta, after narrowly missing being captured, finally managed to defeat the barbarians so soundly that he received the ornamenta triumphalia, though he had never been consul.” 18 Caratacus escaped to Wales and continued his resistance in the west for seven years. According to Tacitus, the Romans appointed Togodumnus as a friendly king over the territories of the Regini, the Atrebates, the Belgae and the Dobunni. Dio, on the other hand, believes that Togodumnus was killed after the battle on the Thames.19

Plautius waited for Claudius and his reinforcements of artillery and elephants to cross the English Channel, so, Claudius could lead the attack on Camulodunon as the victor. King Antedios and ten other British leaders who’d been under Caratacus’ control, peacefully surrendered to Claudius.

47 AD: When the Romans started building fortresses throughout eastern Britannia, Caratacus responded by continuing his guerrilla-style attacks with fresh troops. Ostorius Scapula replaced Plautius as Britannia’s Roman governor and became so distrustful of the Britons that he disarmed many of the tribes, including the Iceni.

49-54 AD: Prasutagus was now king of the Iceni and he ruled them as a nominally independent client state of Rome. Around 49 AD, he married Boudica (a.k.a Boudicca, Boadicea, Boudicea/boʊdɪˈsiːə, Buddug in Welsh and Warrior Queen of the Iceni) who was about 24 years old and came from a noble Iceni or Trinovantes family. She was a very intelligent, tall woman with striking red or tawny blonde hair that fell to her hips.

Camulodunum (formally known as Camulodunon (“stronghold of Camulos”) was the capital for the Trinovantes and Catuvellauni tribes) became a colonia base for the Roman Legions, as well as their principal city. The Britons’ resentment and outrage against the Romans grew because they were pushed off their lands and out of the area. It is the oldest town in Britain and is now known as Colchester. 20

Emperor Claudius was poisoned in 54 and his nephew, Nero, succeeded him. Nero elevated Claudius to god status and forced the Britons to finance and build a very extravagant temple in Camulodunum to honor him.

Celtic chiefs ruled by the consent of their people and could not designate their successor. Roman law stated that when the chieftain of a client state died, that chieftain’s property and estates became the property of the emperor unless the emperor chose to renew the alliance with a newly appointed client king. Though there was no precedent for it in Celtic or Roman law, Prasutagus attempted to secure the relative freedom of his people in the future, by naming the Roman emperor and his two daughters, Camorra and Tascal,21 as co-heirs in his will.22

60-61 AD: The alliance between the Iceni and Rome came to an abrupt and brutal end when Prasutagus died in 60. The Romans’ ignored Prasutagus’ will and annexed the Iceni kingdom. Around this time, Rome’s financial officer, Catus Decianus, also began demanding that the tribes pay back the high interest loans that they’d received from Claudius and Seneca (a Roman philosopher and Nero’s tutor). When Catus arrived at the royal Iceni residence to take inventory of everything on the estate (most Roman procurators usually kept a significant portion of estates for themselves), Queen Boudica objected strongly. According to Tacitus, she was stripped and flogged and her two daughters were raped in front of her because Catus wanted to teach her and others a lesson.23

These Romans were very different from the mostly peaceful troops who’d accompanied Julius Caesar a century before. To avoid living under the violence of Roman rule, druids, seers and others fled to the Isle of Mona, the center of the Celtic religion in northwestern Wales. The Romans knew that the druids on Mona controlled the gold trade that passed from Ireland into Europe and they also believed that it was the Britons’ last bastion of rebellion against Rome. In 60, Emperor Nero wanted to conquer Mona, so, he ordered that Roman troops be re-positioned around Wales from other parts of Britain. Gaius Suetonius Paullinus, Roman Britain’s current governor, knew that Rome might lose control of the rest of Britain if they attacked Mona then but they followed Nero’s orders anyway. When then they reached the shores of Mona, the Roman Legions were truly terrified by what they saw.24 Tacitus described it in his Annals like this:

      On the beach stood the adverse array, a serried mass of arms and men, with
      women flitting between the ranks. In the style of Furies, in robes of deathly black
      and with disheveled hair, they brandished their torches; while a circle of Druids,
      lifting their hands to heaven and showering imprecations, struck the troops with
      such an awe at the extraordinary spectacle that, as though their limbs were
      paralysed, they exposed their bodies to wounds without an attempt at movement.
      Then, reassured by their general, and inciting each other never to flinch before a
      band of females and fanatics, they charged behind the standards, cut down all
      who met them, and enveloped the enemy in his own flames.

      The next step was to install a garrison among the conquered population, and to
      demolish the groves consecrated to their savage cults: for they considered it a
      pious duty to slake the altars with captive blood and to consult their deities by means
      of human entrails. While he was thus occupied, the sudden revolt of the province
      was announced to Suetonius.
25

Meanwhile, an enraged Boudica led the Iceni, the Trinovantes and other neighboring tribes in an uprising against the occupying forces of the Roman Empire. Boudica was a brilliant leader who planned and executed attacks so well that there were rarely survivors. They first attacked the poorly defended garrison town of Camulodunum whose inhabitants begged Catus Decianus in Londinium for assistance. He sent only 200 troops and when Boudica’s forces overran the town, they fled to the unfinished temple that was being built to honor Claudius. Within two days, the inhabitants of Camulodunum were slaughtered, the temple was destroyed and its defenders were massacred.
Boudica leads her troops into battle,
Military Heritage Magazine November, 2015