During the reign of Emperor Wu, he sent out Zhang Qian as his envoy to distant lands in the west, he brought back important information in regards to the Kushans, the Sogdians, and the Bactrians, as well as Parthia. Though the Xiongnu still operated fiercely in the area during his travels (100BC- contemporaneous to the Civil Wars of the Roman Republic,) his journey would pave the ways for formal relations to be established between China and the various polities along the vast trade network, eventually leading to the creation of the Silk Road.

Eastern Han Heavy Cavalry

Western Han Ge Cavalry

Western Han Armor-Spear Cavalry


The anarchy that followed the fall of the Ch’in was complete. The various provinces fell to the army commanders, as a “free-for-all” threw the unified Empire back into chaos.

Liu Pang, an adventurer of sorts, while serving as a police official in Kiangsu province, carved out a personal kingdom in a rather novel way. Finding himself as the escort for a body of condemned prisoners, he decided to remove their chains and form a regiment of brigands. Naturally, they were delighted at the prospect, and eagerly followed their new-found ” condottiere ” captain, Liu Pang. Liu Pang then anointed the drums with his blood, and adopted blood red as the color for his standards. At the head of his “brigand band” he proceeded to carve out a kingdom in Kiangsu. In 207 B. C., he marched on Shensi and took it by popularity, not force-a kind of “Anschluss”. For five years, Liu Pang fought his rival, Hsiang Yu, and finally defeated him in 202 B. C. This commoner’s son, the leader of an army of convicts, was now the unchallenged Emperor of China. This Empire , the Han (named after the Han River and Liu Pang’s Imperial name, Han Kao-tzu) was to last until 220 A. D., and leave such a mark on China and her history that even today the Chinese refer to themselves as The Sons of Han.


The Han were masters at administration and this is reflected in their army organizations. Michael Loewe’s work on the Chu-yen bamboo strips has brought to light much detail on the Han chain of command and unit organization.

Field army commanders, the Shang Chin or Ta Chun, were at the head of the army organization, responsible only to the Emperor . They might also command the military regions or provinces

At the head of a particular army was the commanding officer, the Chiang Chin, or general. The army was then brigaded into physical areas and commanded by generals of lower rank. The front or vanguard, commanded by the Ch’ien Chun, was supported by the left wing, commanded by the Tso Chin, and the right wing, commanded by the Yu Chin. The rear was brought up by the Hou Chun. These were aided in administrative duties by the Lieh Chun , or general staff . Colonels (Hsiao wei) were not included in a normal chain of command as we know today, but rather seem to have been administrative officials and not necessarily military commanders.

According to the Chu-yen strips, three Tu-wei-fus or battalions, were allocated to a Chun, or army.

The Tu-wei-fu was the basic unit in the Han organization. This unit was composed of local troops assisted by a Ch’eng and a Ssu-ma. This Tu-wei-fu would consist of any number of Hou-kuan , or (provincial units), local cavalry , but mainly of conscripted infantry . It was commanded by a Tu-w companies, each of which was commanded by a Hou. In turn, each Hou-kuan was composed of from four to six platoons, or Hou. Each platoon was commanded by a Hou-chang, and consisted of six to seven squads or Sui. These squads were commanded by a Sui-chang, and usually consisted of up to eleven men.

Within the army, the best fighter of every Sui was transferred to a special unit, the shock or elite troops. This theoretically would be ten percent, or one in ten. Mainly held as a reserve, in Han times they were called the “Gallants from the Three Rivers.”

Cavalry were detached directly from army headquarters to Tu-wei-fu, Hou-kuan, or Hou headquarters.

They may have followed standard army organization, but this is not known for sure. A document unit of unknown type had 182 men. The Han made much use of allied auxiliary cavalry units-the majority of which were usually border tribes of the Hsiung-nu.

Prisoners and convicts were frequently used in the army, in two capacities. The common labor troops were convicts merely serving out a prison sentence. They performed the menial tasks around the camps, dug ditches and latrines, built fortifications and the like, and much to their chagrin, served as “cannon fodder” in battle. However the Ch’ih-hsing were amnestied convicts, serving out their sentence in the combat arm of the army. These frequently were very fierce fighters, not hampered with too much military training

Pioneers were not engineers or the like, as we might call them today. They were the static garrisons that manned the Chinese limes and the Great Wall. These troops were mainly armed farmers and actually cultivated the areas around their posts when not on duty, much like their 4th and 5th century Roman counterparts.

In addition to the above, there were several specialized units in the Han Army, brought to light by Chao Chung-huo’s campaign against the rebellious Western Ch’iang in 61 B. C.. It is here that we first hear of the “Volunteer Expert Marksmen”, who distinguished themselves by their uncanny marksmanship. These operated as a Jager or Rifle Brigade-type in battle, but as to whether they were armed with a bow or crossbow the histories do not tell us. The “Winged Forest Orphans” were an elite body of armored infantry, all of whom were orphaned as a direct result of their fathers’ dying in battle. The “Liang Chia-tzu” were elite noble-born cavalrymen, and more than likely armored. Finally, the “Yung-kan” archers are mentioned but not elaborated upon.

The Han were noted for their use of artillery and long-ranged crossbows. These weapons clearly gave them an advantage as they generally outranged any weapons their enemies possessed.

Han Dynasty likely phased out stone-throwers because their main adversary was nomadic Xiongnu. Heavy siege equipment will slow down the army, making them vulnerable to ambush and raids, there isn’t many trees lying in the desert and grasslands to build one on the spot, Xiongnu being nomadic meaning very few permanent settlements for them to lay siege, and in the rare instance when the Han army DID lay siege on Xiongnu, they burned everything down and took the fortified city in two days with overwhelming numbers, without resorting to siege engine.

Towards the end of Han Dynasty (Three Kingdoms period), the Chinese were warring among themselves again, and siege warfare become necessary once more. Thus the resurgence of stone-thrower and other siege engine.


As is evident in the battle narratives of the Han period, not much in the way of stratagems and innovations were ignored by Han generals. They learned much from Sun-tzu and applied his principles.

Basically, much attention was focused on the missile weapon as the main arm, and the crossbow simply outclassed any opponent’s weapon. On repeated occasions (Battle of Sogdiana, 38 B. C., Li Ling, 90 B. C., for examples) the crossbows were formed up in ranks protected by the armored infantry who carried large shields and long spears. Even the armored cavalry at times were equipped with these crossbows, forming a kind of “self-propelled artillery.”

The chariots were used for the final blow, after the bows had done the real work. Cavalry was used for the shock assault if the ground wasn’t suitable for the chariots. Generally, the cavalry arm was used in two ways–one, as a reconnaissance and pursuit force, and two, if a highly mobile force such as the Hsiung-nu were involved as an enemy in battle, the Han cavalry attempted to pin the enemy cavalry, allowing the infantry and chariots to close.


In this category, the Han Army was far superior to any previous Chinese Army and most of her enemies.

During the early Han, all males between the ages of 23 and 56 were conscripted for two years active service. During the years 155-74 B. C. the age was reduced to 20 for conscription. At the age of 56, all low-ranking infantry and marines were classed as ” elderly and decrepit ” and were “made civilians.”

Training was not left in boot camp either. Every year, on the eighth month, the entire army, no ranks or arms excepted, was involved in a General Inspection and testing program. All units were graded on performance, and woe to the unit commander whose unit was not up to par! Thus, training and combat proficiency were a constant and ongoing operation during the Han period.

Approximate Composition of the Han Dynasty Army

Maximum percentages of types within the total force employed:

Armored cavalry = 50%

Unarmored or lightly armored cavalry = 50%

Tribal auxiliary unarmored cavalry = 50%

Labor troops =10%

Convict Combat troops =10%

Armored infantry = 50%

Unarmored infantry = 50%

Of the last two categories, 30 % could be armed with the crossbow.

Artillerists =10%

Charioteers = 5 % scout, 5% war chariots


By this time, Pan Ch’ao seemed to demonstrate that he was invincible Ansi (the Arsacid Parthian Empire) was defeated. Now Han China stood, the greatest land-owning empire possibly only second to Rome.

Pan Ch’ao ordered his second in command, Kan Ying, to set forth across newly conquered Ansi, to “Ta-ts’in” the Chinese name for the Roman Empire.

As Pan Ch’ao only allocated a portion of the army to subdue this “additional Kingdom”. it is obvious that to call this a “planned invasion” is stretching things a bit.

Kan Ying advanced across the middle-eastern expanses towards Antioch thought to be the capitol of the Roman Empire. Kan Ying was anxious to know of his enemy, so the Parthians began to tell him of the might and expanse of the Roman Empire. Upon gaining this new intelligence information, Kan Ying decided that his force was not sufficient for the task, so he turned around and rejoined Pan Ch’ao.

In 116 A. D., Trajan’s advances into Parthia to Ctesiphon would be within one day’s march of Han Chinese border garrisons. As a side note, 97 A. D. was the first year of the Emperor Trajan’s reign. It is quite interesting to speculate on the consequences had Kan Ying pursued his objective and attacked Roman Antioch.


Brothers: Tiberius and Drusus in War

Tiberius was sent to the Balkans where trouble had broken out again, encouraged by the news of Agrippa’s death. His brother Drusus went back to Gaul, and for the next three years both would campaign aggressively on these frontiers. It was clearly part of a concerted plan, although modern claims that Augustus was striving to create defensible boundaries based on the Danube and ultimately the Elbe do not convince. After years of tidying up the existing provinces, completing the conquest of the Iberian Peninsula and most recently occupying the Alps, Imperator Caesar Augustus was determined on large-scale conquests in Europe. This was clean glory, winning the victories that would fulfil the promise of peace through strength celebrated in the Ara Pacis and justify his supervision of the provinces facing military problems. It was also a chance for Tiberius and Drusus to add to their reputations and win further experience of high command.

These aggressive campaigns were premeditated, and in the last few years troops and supplies had gathered on the Rhine and in the Balkans to undertake them. That is not to say that they were unprovoked, and modern cynicism over claims that almost every Roman war was fought in response to earlier raids is unnecessary. Raiding was common and often serious, but the Roman response to it was less predictable, varying from minor reprisals to heavy attacks or outright conquest. The coincidence of available resources and a commander with the freedom of action and the desire to win glory determined the scale and type of Roman response. These factors and the opportunity offered by the migration of the Helvetii in 58 BC had led to Julius Caesar’s conquest of Gaul, rather than the Balkan war he had expected to wage.

Untroubled by serious warfare elsewhere, and with a freedom of action unmatched by any Roman leader in the past, Augustus decided to add to Roman territory in both these areas. Like any Roman, he did not think so much in terms of physical as political geography, seeing the world as a network of peoples and states. It was these he would attack, and ‘spare the conquered and overcome the proud in war’. Some would be added to the provinces while others would simply be forced to acknowledge Roman power. The Greeks and Romans had only a vague sense of the lands far from the Mediterranean, and certainly did not appreciate the sheer size of central Europe and the steppes beyond. It is quite possible that Augustus believed that he could conquer all of Europe as far as the ocean that was believed to encircle all three known continents, but such possibilities were for the future. At the moment his ambitions were more restrained. He would add to Rome’s imperium, punishing the peoples who had attacked the provinces in the past and preventing them from doing this in the future.

Tiberius and Drusus would lead the legions in person, while Imperator Caesar Augustus supervised from a distance. In a change from the recent pattern of long tours of the provinces, over the next years he made short trips to be near the theatres of operations, stationing himself in Aquileia in northern Italy on the border with Illyricum or at Lugdunum in Gaul. Neither were so very far from Rome, and he returned to the City on several occasions, usually after the campaigning season was over. Suetonius provides a glimpse of these trips in an extract of a letter handwritten by Augustus himself, telling his older stepson about the five-day festival celebrated between 20 and 25 March in honour of the goddess Minerva:

We spent the Quinquatria very merrily, my dear Tiberius, for we played all day long and kept the gaming board warm. Your brother made a great outcry about his luck, but after all did not come out so far behind in the long run; for after losing heavily he unexpectedly and little by little got back a good deal. For my part, I lost 20,000 sesterces, but because I was extravagantly generous in my play, as usual. If I had demanded of everyone the stakes which I let go, or had kept all that I gave away, I should have won fully 50,000. But I like that better, for my generosity will exalt me to immortal glory.

The informal style is typical of surviving letters to family and friends, and at least openly Augustus got on well with his stepsons. Drusus was famous for his charm and affability, and had quickly become a popular favourite. Tiberius was a reserved and complex character, easier to respect than to like, but the fragments of letters written to him contain repeated statements of affection and a gentle, bantering tone and heavy use of irony, such as the talk of ‘immortal glory’. In another he describes a dinner where he and his guests ‘gambled like old men’. There are many echoes of Cicero’s letters in Augustus’ correspondence, in the repeated statements of affection, the frequent quotations and jokes and perhaps also in false claims of deep affection. Even so, at this stage there is no hint that the relationship between the princeps and the man soon to become his son-in-law were anything other than cordial.

Early in 12 BC Drusus completed a formal census in the three Gauls, no doubt helping to organise the provinces, recording property and the taxation due to Rome, and ensuring that they would give him plentiful supplies for the forthcoming campaigns. The process had perhaps begun before Augustus left the provinces the previous year, and the princeps had personally supervised the first such census held in the region in 27 BC. Perhaps it was also intended to be fairer than the existing system of levies which had been so recently exploited by Licinus. Apart from Luke’s Gospel, we have no other evidence claiming that at some point Augustus issued a single decree to hold a census in, and arrange the taxation due from, the entire empire. It is perfectly possible that there actually was such a single decree, effectively making clear what already happened in an ad hoc way, and that this – like so many other details – is simply not mentioned in our other sources. On the other hand, the Gospel writer may merely reflect the perspective of a provincial, for whom census and taxation were imposed by the Roman authorities with a regularity that must have seemed as if it was a system imposed by a single decision.

Sometimes the holding of a census provoked resentment and even rebellion, especially in recently settled provinces – the prospect of paying tax is rarely a pleasant one, especially if it went to an occupying power. Livy claims that there was some trouble in Gaul in response to the census, and Dio hints that this was the case, but gives no details, and if there were disturbances then they were probably small-scale. There were advantages to individuals and communities in registering property and rights, since these were recorded in a form that had unimpeachable legal authority. Most areas quickly became used to the process, and Drusus efficiently suppressed whatever resistance did occur.

As well as organising the finances of the Gallic provinces and keeping order, there was considerable activity preparing for the forthcoming advance across the Rhine. A series of large military bases were established to accommodate the troops mustering for the planned war. Numbers are difficult to establish, but probably at least eight legions were gathered, supported by substantial numbers of auxiliary troops and some naval squadrons manning both small war galleys and transport ships. One of the bases was at modern-day Nijmegen on the River Waal, and excavations suggest that it was constructed somewhere between 19 and 16 BC. Some forty-two hectares in size, and built of earth, turf and timber, it probably housed two complete legions as well as auxiliary units. Like most of the other forts built by the army in these years, whether on or to the east of the Rhine and in Spain, it does not quite conform to the neat, playing-card shape so familiar for Roman army bases in the first and second centuries AD. Augustus’ legions exploited good natural positions and often sited forts on high ground, the ramparts roughly following the contours to produce six-, seven- or eight-sided shapes. Their internal layouts also vary, as does the design of individual building types, but in each case the variation is less marked than the very close similarities. If it lacks the greater uniformity of practice of the next century, it suggests the ongoing development of such regular planning, evolving from traditional methods. Many of the regulations for the army were set down by Augustus and would remain in force for over a century without significant change.

Used to seeing the big stone forts of later years, it is all too easy for us to accept without remark the scale and organisation of these camps. Nijmegen was occupied for less than a decade, perhaps only for a few years, and yet for that time the soldiers lived in well-built, neatly ordered barrack blocks constructed to a standard design, with a pair of rooms for each tent group (or contubernium) of eight men. Some of the excavated barrack blocks are a little smaller and have been identified as auxiliary rather than legionary, but even these offered considerable comfort for men living through a north European winter. Far more generous are the headquarters building and the substantial houses built for the senator serving as legate in charge of a legion – or perhaps in such camps one man in charge of both legions – and for the equestrian and senatorial tribunes. All of these buildings are matched by similar structures in other forts built during these campaigns. In size and organisation, such army bases resembled well-ordered Mediterranean-style cities springing up on the fringes of the empire.

The winter months of 13–12 BC saw another raid by German warriors into the Roman provinces, but this was repulsed by Drusus. In the spring he launched the first of a series of attacks against the tribes living east of the Rhine. Some of the army advanced using land routes following the valleys feeding into the Rhine, while another part embarked on board ships and sailed around the North Sea to make landings on the coast. At one point he seriously misjudged local conditions, leaving many of his vessels aground when the tide went out further than he expected. Julius Caesar had similarly underestimated the power and tidal range of the sea during his British expeditions. Fortunately the Frisii, a recently acquired local ally, arrived to protect and assist the stranded Romans. Yet on the whole the story was one of success. Tribal homelands were attacked, villages and farms burnt, animals rounded up and crops destroyed, and any warriors who gathered defeated in battle. A century or so later Tacitus would make a barbarian leader grimly joke that the Romans ‘create a desolation and call it peace’. Faced with such displays of the price paid for resisting Rome, several tribes joined the Frisii in seeking alliance. Tiberius employed similar methods with similar success in Pannonia.

Drusus returned to Rome at the end of the year for a brief visit which demonstrated how many of the old restrictions on provincial governors simply did not apply to those close to the princeps. He was elected praetor, given the prestigious post of urban praetor, but tarried for only a short time before hurrying back to the Rhine frontier to continue the war. Now aged twenty-seven, at the start of spring 11 BC the princeps’ stepson attacked again, this time leading one of the columns making its way overland. Some of the tribes which had briefly capitulated may have decided to risk war once more. Florus tells a story of the Sugambri, Cherusci and Suebi seizing and crucifying twenty centurions who were in their territory, and this episode may date to that year. The most likely reason for their presence would have been either diplomatic activity as Roman representatives or more likely raising recruits promised by treaty for service in the auxiliary cohorts. However, as so often the Romans benefited from rivalries and disunity among the tribes. The Sugambri mustered an army and attacked the neighbouring Chatti because they refused to join them in alliance against Rome. While the warriors were occupied in this way, Drusus struck quickly, devastating their homeland.

Such incidents are a valuable reminder that the area east of the Rhine was populated by many distinct and often mutually hostile communities. The Romans called them Germans, but it is unlikely that any of the inhabitants of the region thought of themselves in that way. Julius Caesar portrayed the Germans and the Gauls as clearly distinct, although even he admitted that there was some blurring with the Germanic peoples already settled in Gaul. The distinction was useful to him, since it helped to establish the Germans as a threat to Gaul, and also made it easier for him to stop his conquests at the Rhine. He and other ancient authors paint a gloomy picture of Germany and its peoples, making them more primitive and at the same time more ferocious than the inhabitants of Gaul. For them Germany was a land of bogs and thick forests, with few clear tracks, no substantial towns, no temples and a population that was semi-nomadic, who kept animals and hunted in the forests but did not farm. Many old stereotypes of barbarism, stretching back to Homer’s portrait of the monstrous Cyclops in the Odyssey, fed this impression of peoples who were utterly uncivilised, and thus unpredictable and dangerous.

The archaeological evidence challenges much of this, while presenting problems and complexities of its own. Before Julius Caesar arrived in Gaul, a wide area of central Germany closely resembled the lands west of the Rhine, boasting large hilltop towns with similar signs of industry, trade and organisation as the Gaulish oppida. There was much contact between these areas, and whatever the political relationship the cultural similarities are striking, both belonging to what archaeologists call La Tène culture. During the first half of the first century BC, these towns in central Germany are all either abandoned or shrink dramatically in size and sophistication. In at least one case there is evidence for violent and bloody destruction of the town, and in general weaponry becomes far more common in the archaeological record. The destruction was not wrought by the Romans, who had yet to reach these lands, although it is possible that a contributing factor was the ripple effect caused by the impact of Rome’s empire, whether through the shifting trade patterns or direct military action. It is unlikely that the Romans were ever aware of what was happening so far from their empire; they naturally assumed that the situation they encountered when they did reach the area was normal, and that the local peoples had always behaved in this way.

These German towns and the societies based around them had probably already collapsed before Julius Caesar arrived in Gaul. How this happened is impossible to know, and the evidence could equally be interpreted as internal upheaval causing destructive power struggles, or as the arrival of new, aggressive peoples. Migrations are often difficult to trace archaeologically, but the repeated talk in our sources of large groups moving in search of new land must at least in part reflect reality. Tribal and other groupings also frequently defy the best attempts to see them in the archaeological evidence, and are likely to have been complex, with recently formed and short-lived groups mingling with older ties of kinship. Linguistic analysis of surviving names based on later Celtic and Germanic languages does suggest real distinctions at the time, but still does not make it easy to establish the ethnic and cultural identity of particular peoples. There is a fair chance that the Romans did not fully understand the relationships between named groups like the Sugambri, Cherusci, Chatti, Chauci or Suebi, and it is more than likely that these changed fairly rapidly as leaders rose and fell.

At the higher levels of society, there was certainly enough instability and rapid change to justify some of the Romans’ view of a population constantly on the move. Lower down this was less true. The towns had gone, but in most areas east of the Rhine farms, hamlets and small villages remained in occupation for long periods of time, spanning several generations. The overall population was probably large, even if there were no big settlements. Agriculture was widespread, albeit geared mainly to feeding the local population and producing no more surplus than was needed to cushion them against bad harvests. In the longer term the social and political structures of the tribes were in a state of flux, and substantial populations periodically on the move, but even so for decades at a time some tribal groups were settled on the same lands, and had clearly acknowledged leaders. The Romans could try to identify the tribes and know where their current homelands and chieftains were, at least in the immediate future.

No doubt they misunderstood a good deal and made mistakes, but Drusus and his staff steadily added to their knowledge of the peoples they were fighting. The absence of good roads made movement of men and supplies difficult for them. The lack of large communities meant that it was hard to find large stores of food and fodder. In Gaul, Julius Caesar had frequently gone to one of the oppida and either demanded or taken the supplies needed by his army. It was far more difficult to go to hundreds of little settlements for such needs, and so in Germany the legions were forced to carry almost all that they needed. Where necessary, they built bridges over rivers and causeways through marshes and this inevitably took time. In most cases Drusus and his men followed the lines of rivers since this made it easier to carry some supplies by barge, and the difficulty of moving overland helps to explain the reliance upon sailing around the North Sea coast.

In spite of such difficulties the second season of campaigning was successful, with the Roman columns penetrating deeper than ever before into Germany before running short of supplies. With summer drawing to a close, Drusus led his men back towards the Rhine – at this stage it would have been difficult to feed and impossible to support any garrison left deep in hostile territory over the winter months. German chieftains maintained bands of warriors who had no other job apart from fighting, but these were few in number. The army of a whole tribe or an alliance of tribes relied for numbers on every free tribesman able to equip himself with weapons and willing to fight, and inevitably it took a long time for such an army to muster. This meant that a Roman army was far more likely to encounter serious resistance when it retreated rather than in the initial attack. In this particular case men had also returned from the raid on the Chatti and joined the bands gathering to fight the enemy who had ravaged their lands. The Roman column was large and cumbersome with its supply train, and thus its route was predictable. The warriors were angry and they were confident, since a retreat on the part of the invader inevitably seemed like nervous flight.

Drusus’ column marched into a succession of ambushes. The Romans steadily fought their way onwards, but even when they repulsed the attackers they were in no position to pursue them and inflict serious losses, and could not afford the time to halt and manoeuvre against this elusive enemy. Each success, however small, encouraged the warriors, and no doubt inspired more to join them. This culminated in a much larger-scale ambush, which bottled up the Roman column in a restrictive defile. The Romans were trapped and risked annihilation, but then the essential clumsiness of a tribal army saved them. German warriors did not carry enough food for a long campaign and thus wanted the fight to be over quickly so they could return home. There was no single leader able to control the army, but lots of chiefs with varying amounts of influence, while each warrior reserved the right to decide when and how he would fight. The Romans seemed to be at their mercy and so, instead of waiting and letting them starve or fight at a disadvantage, bands of Germans massed together and surged forward to wipe out the enemy and enjoy the plunder to be taken from their baggage train. Close combat of this sort played to the strengths of the legionaries, giving Drusus and his men the opportunity to strike at their opponents at last. Turning at bay, the Romans savaged the exultant warriors, whose over-confidence quickly turned to panicked flight. Drusus and his men marched the rest of the way back to the Rhine unimpeded.

The campaign was declared a victory, as was the one waged by Tiberius near the Danube. Augustus was awarded a triumph, which as usual he chose not to celebrate, and his stepsons were granted the lesser honour of an ovation combined with the symbols of a triumph (ornamenta triumphalia). In the autumn both men returned to Rome, as did Augustus himself, and 400 sesterces were given to each male citizen in the City to celebrate the success of Livia’s sons. His fifty-second birthday was marked by a series of beast fights and around this time Julia and Tiberius were married. Yet the news was not all good. Octavia died suddenly, and so the ashes of yet another family member were installed in the Mausoleum. The princeps’ sister received the honour of a state funeral, with the principal oration delivered by her son-in-law Drusus.

In spite of this personal loss the mood was confident, and the Senate decreed the closing of the doors on the Temple of Janus to signify the establishment of peace throughout the Roman world. News of a Dacian raid across the Danube prevented the rite from being performed, and in 10 BC the wars were resumed. Augustus and Livia accompanied Drusus and his family to Lugdunum in Gaul, where later in the year Antonia gave birth to their second son, the future emperor Claudius. This year most likely saw the dedication there of a lavishly built and decorated precinct enclosing an altar to Rome and Augustus. Tribal leaders were summoned from all over Gaul to attend the ceremony and take part in the rituals that would from then on be repeated annually. Julius Caesar had talked of regular meetings of all the tribes of Gaul, and it is quite likely that this new cult was intended to fill the gap left by the abolition of such potentially subversive gatherings.

Tiberius spent the year campaigning in the Balkans, supported by at least one other army whose leader also received the insignia of a triumph. Drusus fought in Germany, and the brothers regularly wrote to each other, just as they did to Augustus and their mother. On one occasion Tiberius showed such a letter to the princeps, in which his brother talked of their combining to force Augustus to ‘restore liberty’. Suetonius tells the story as the first sign of Tiberius’ hatred of his kindred, but there is no other evidence for hostility between the brothers and every indication of deep affection. Perhaps the incident was an accident or a later invention. Modern scholars tend to assume that Drusus wanted the princeps to resign and the Republican system to be revived, and like to portray both brothers as aristocrats with highly traditional views of politics. Yet the phrase is vague, and may have meant no more than a dislike of some of the people given office and influence under Augustus, and a desire that these be replaced by better men – including themselves. Drusus was certainly ambitious. Elsewhere Suetonius tells us that he was desperate to win the spolia opima, even going so far as to chase German kings around the battlefield in the hope of cornering them and killing them in single combat. It is a great leap of the imagination to connect this with the incident involving Crassus in 29 BC, rather than seeing it as the eagerness of a young aristocrat to win one of the rarest and most prestigious of all honours.

In January 9 BC Drusus became consul just over a week before his twenty-ninth birthday, and it may be that his hunt for the spolia opima came in this year, when as consul he fought under his own imperium and auspices. This was the year when he took his army to the River Elbe; a story soon circulated that he was there confronted with the apparition of a larger-than-life woman who warned him not to advance any further and prophesied that his life was almost at an end. It was late in the season, and Drusus returned to his bases on the Rhine, but was now able to leave some garrisons in Germany. In the course of the four campaigns the land between the Rhine and the Elbe had been overrun, and most of the peoples there claimed to acknowledge Roman rule. How permanent this would prove was not yet clear, but the achievement was certainly considerable. Then, on the way back to winter in Gaul, Drusus had a riding accident and badly injured his leg. The wound failed to heal and in September the young general died.

Tiberius was soon at his brother’s side, having rushed to join him in a journey that became famous for its speed. He arranged for the body to be embalmed and carried back to Rome with great ceremony. The first to bear it were tribunes and centurions from his legions. Later they passed this duty on to the leading citizens of Roman colonies and towns. On many of the stages Tiberius walked with the procession. The mourning was a genuine reflection of Drusus’ popularity – Seneca later claimed the mood was almost that of a triumph as they marked the passing of the dashing young hero. The ceremonies culminated in a public funeral in Rome. Tiberius delivered a eulogy to his brother from the Rostra outside the Temple of the Divine Julius in the Forum. Augustus gave another – perhaps to an even bigger crowd – in the Circus Flaminius and outside the pomerium, the formal boundary of a city. (He was in mourning and this prevented him entering Rome and performing the rites required to mark his latest victory.) Actors wore the funeral masks and insignia of Drusus’ ancestors in the traditional way. These were augmented by those of the ancestors of the Julii, even though Augustus had never adopted his stepson, before the body was cremated and the ashes added to those in the Mausoleum – association with the princeps clearly trumped the right to be commemorated as a member of the dead man’s real family.

Year of the Four Emperors, Roman Civil Wars


AD 69 (Year of the Four Emperors, Roman Civil Wars) – The power struggle between Marcus Salvius Otho, the former governor of Lusitania, and Aulus Vitellius, governor of Germania Inferior (Lower Germany), was the latest chapter in the Roman civil war which followed the death of the Julio-Claudian Emperor Nero in the summer of AD 68. The assassination of his immediate successor, Galba, the following January signalled the beginning of a months-long internecine struggle between these two men. The contest between Otho and Vitellius was decided in the Padus (Po) Valley in northern Italy. The first significant clash came at Placentia (Piacenza). Here, the legions of Vitellius’ lieutenant, Caecina, besieged the city in an attempt to force the capitulation of the resident Othonian forces led by Vestricius Spurinna. Once his army was across the Padus River, Caecina’s legions attacked the community, but were unsuccessful in breaching its walls and suffered heavy losses by the end of the day’s action. His army resumed the investment the next morning, this time with the aid of siege-works – fascines, manlets and sheds to mine the walls – but still failed to make progress against the defenders. Unable to overcome the city’s defences by storm, Caecina ultimately abandoned the assault, re-crossed the river and marched against Cremona some 20 miles (32km) away.

Locus Castorum

AD 69 (Year of the Four Emperors, Roman Civil Wars) – The death of Roman Emperor Nero in the summer of AD 68 proved the catalyst for a violent power struggle in the Empire that eventually pitted various Roman legions against one another in open civil war. Following the demise of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, Servius Sulpicius Galba briefly served as emperor from June of AD 68 until the following January, before his assassination again plunged the Empire into chaos. Two other contenders now openly sought the emperorship: Marcus Salvius Otho, the former governor of Lusitania, and Aulus Vitellius, governor of Germania Inferior (Lower Germany). The contest between these two pretenders was ultimately decided in the Po Valley of northern Italy. The first clash occurred at Locus Castorum, a location some 12 miles (19.3km) from the town of Cremona. Vitellian forces encountered an Othonian army led by the general Suetonius Paulinus. With the approach of Otho’s troops, the legatus Aulus Caecina Alienus prepared an ambuscade for the enemy. Deploying auxiliary troops in some woods near the road, he sent his cavalry with instructions to provoke an engagement and then feign retreat in order to draw the Othonians into the trap. The opposing generals soon learned of the intended ambush and approached the location with caution, though still intent on pursuing battle. Paulinus immediately assumed command of the infantry, while Marius Celsus led the cavalry. Before reaching the location of Caecina, Otho’s commanders assembled their army into battle formation. On the left flank, they positioned a vexillation of the Legio XIII Gemina, four cohorts of auxiliary infantry and 500 auxiliary cavalry. Opposite these troops, on the right flank, were arrayed the Legio I Adiutrix, a pair of auxiliary infantry cohorts and 500 horse. In the centre, spanning the road, were three praetorian cohorts. To the rear, Paulinus stationed a reserve of 1,000 Praetorian and auxiliary cavalry. As the Othonians advanced, a portion of the Vitellian line broke and fled. Celsus suspected a trick, and in turn initiated a feigned withdrawal which lured some of the enemy from cover. Caecina’s troops gave chase and quickly found themselves constrained by legionary cohorts to their front and auxiliary infantry on the flanks. Before they could properly react, the prompt arrival of Celsus’ cavalry closed any avenue of retreat toward Cremona. While the two sides faced one another, Paulinus paused long enough to redress his line and formulate a plan of attack. The delay offered Caecina’s men opportunity to seek the relative safety of nearby vineyards and a small grove of woods. When the Othonian army was properly arrayed, Paulinus ordered his battle line to charge. The attack proved irresistible. Even with the piecemeal arrival of reinforcements, the auxiliary cohorts of Caecina were flushed from the tangle of vines and tree cover and completely routed. The defeated remnants of the army thereafter retreated to Cremona.

Forum Julii

AD 69 (Year of the Four Emperors, Roman Civil Wars) – During the Roman civil war between Emperor Otho and Aulus Vitellius, governor of Germania Inferior (Lower Germany), envoys from Gallia Narbonensis appealed to the Vitellian general, Fabius Valens, for protection in the province from a marauding Othonian fleet. In response, he dispatched a force of auxilia, both infantry and cavalry, to secure the region, which had earlier declared its allegiance for Vitellius. A portion of these troops bivouacked at the port of Forum Julii (Frejus) to help secure the unprotected coast from indiscriminate raiding by the enemy. Upon the approach of an Othonian army, the Vitellians prepared for battle. They deployed twelve turmae of cavalry, including Trevirian horsemen, and a select detachment of infantry. These were reinforced by local auxiliaries, 500 Pannonian recruits not yet formally enrolled into service and one Ligurian cohort. Once the two armies began assembling for battle, the Vitellians, who were strongest in cavalry, formed two lines; the mounted squadrons in front, followed by the infantry in close ranks. The Ligurian auxiliaries were located on adjacent high ground. Opposing the Vitellians was a numerically superior army that included several cohorts of Praetorian infantry and a mixed contingent of marines and local militia. These were deployed over a level area extending inland from the coast. Nearby, the Othonian fleet was anchored close to shore, its ships facing the battlefield in order to better provide support for the army. The Trevirian cavalry opened the contest with an imprudent charge against the Praetorians, which not only failed to disrupt the formation of veteran infantry, but needlessly exposed their flank to the fire of slingers. While both armies were fully engaged in the struggle, the Othonian fleet attacked the enemy’s rear. The action trapped the Vitellians, who were only able to avoid complete destruction with the onset of nightfall. The Othonians returned to camp following this victory, unaware that the enemy, though defeated, was prepared to regroup for a second battle. After receiving fresh reinforcements, including two cohorts of Tungarian auxilia, the Vitellians launched a surprise assault that penetrated their opponents’ encampment and forced the Othonians to abandon their defences and rally on a nearby hill. The resulting struggle was long and stubbornly contested, and both sides accrued heavy casualties. The battle finally ended when intense missile fire overwhelmed the determined resistance of the Tungrian infantry and put the Vitellians to flight once again. An effort by the Othonians to underscore their victory with a vigorous chase was abruptly stopped when the enemy horse wheeled around and briefly surrounded their pursuers. Both armies thereafter withdrew, the Vitellians to nearby Antipolis (Antibes) and the emperor’s forces further up the coast to Albingaunum (Albenga) in Liguria.


AD 69, 14 April (Year of the Four Emperors, Roman Civil Wars) – The death of Emperor Nero in early June of AD 68 resulted in open civil war throughout the Roman Empire. Following the assassination of the hastily chosen Emperor Galba, the armies of his successor, Marcus Salvius Otho, clashed with those of Aulus Vitellius, governor of Germania Inferior (Lower Germany), near the northern Italian communities of Cremona and Bedriacum (Calvatone). In a preliminary contest outside the village of Locus Castorum, an Othonian army led by the general Suetonius Paulinus defeated an inferior rival force commanded by Aulus Caecina Alienus. The defeated Vitellian troops fled to Cremona, where they were soon joined by an army under Fabius Valens. As the two sides prepared for the coming engagement, Otho’s principal commander – his brother, Titianus, and the prefectus, Proculus – rejected the counsel of Paulinus and the legatus Marius Celsus to await reinforcements and instead elected to immediately force a major action outside of Cremona. The emperor withdrew to the safety of Brixellum (Brescello), accompanied by a strong force of his bodyguards, cavalry and Praetorian Guardsmen. The two armies arrayed for battle near Cremona. The forces of Vitellius possessed the advantage of both strength and numbers, and their greater morale permitted the legions to quickly form into orderly ranks, while confusion slowed the development of the Othonian line. The fighting concentrated along the raised causeway of the Via Postumia, a road situated on the left bank of the Padus (Po) River. In an open plain bounded by the river and road, intense fighting erupted between Vitellius’ veteran Legio XXI Rapax from Germania Superior (Upper Germany) and the less experienced Legio I Adiutrix. The First Legion, consisting of marines levied from the fleet at Ravenna, inflicted heavy casualties on the leading ranks of the Twenty-first and temporarily captured its eagle before a ferocious counter-attack drove back the Legio I with heavy losses, including its legate, Orfidius Benignus. At the same time, Vitellius’ Legio V Alaudae from Germania Inferior (Lower Germany) routed the Legio XIII Gemina based in Pannonia. On another part of the battlefield, the Vitellians attacked Otho’s XIV Gemina after successfully isolating the legion with superior forces. The general struggle remained undecided for some time until Caecina and Valens reinforced their legions by the application of reserves. The Vitellian effort was further strengthened with the arrival of Batavian auxilia under Varus Alfenus. Fresh from their victory over Othonian forces at the Padus, the Batavians immediately launched a concentrated assault against the enemy’s flank. This attack, together with continued pressure brought against the opposing ranks by the Vitellian legions, caused Otho’s centre to collapse. The loss of this central formation triggered a total rout. Both victors and vanquished were temporarily slowed by the carnage on the Via Postumia as each departed the field in the direction of Bedriacum, approximately 15 miles (24km) away. As the army of Vitellius reached the town’s fifth milestone, Caecina and Valens ended the pursuit. Total Roman dead amounted to over 40,000.


AD 69, 24 October (Year of the Four Emperors, Roman Civil Wars) – The Roman civil war that followed the Emperor Nero’s death in early summer of AD 68 resulted in the rapid manifestation of four claim- ants to the imperial purple by the spring of the following year. The power struggle eventually led to the assassination of Emperor Galba in January AD 69 after only seven months in power; the suicide of his successor Otho following his army’s defeat at Cremona in April; and the emergence of a violent contest between Aulus Vitellius, governor of Germania Inferior (Lower Germany), and Titus Flavius Vespasianus, the general appointed by Nero to crush an ongoing revolt in Judaea. Near the town of Bedriacum (Calvatone) in northern Italy, legions loyal to Vitellius and Vespasian joined in a violent battle to determine the future of the Empire. Following a sharp but largely inconclusive engagement on the first day, both armies prepared for a major battle that night. Shortly after dusk, the Flavian commander Marcus Antonius Primus drew up his army across the Via Postumia, an elevated roadway which extended between the towns of Cremona and Bedriacum, and generally followed the left bank of the Padus (Po) River. He positioned the Legio XIII Gemina on the causeway, and on the left flank in an open plain he deployed the Legio VII Galbiana and the Legio VII Claudia. To the right, Antonius stationed the Legio VIII Augusta on a secondary road. It was joined by the Legio III Gallica, which found itself hampered on the far right by its placement among dense thickets. A detachment of praetorians was then drawn up next to the Third Legion and auxiliary cohorts were posted on each wing. The Flavian cavalry, numbering some 4,000, secured the flanks and rear of the entire formation. Lastly, ahead of the legions ranged a select force of Suebian tribesmen.

Opposite Antonius’ front line, the darkness heavily obscured a formidable Vitellian battle formation. The approaching army was presently leaderless, as its general, Aulus Caecina Alienus, was in irons after plotting to defect to the Flavians. The absence of their senior commander, combined with the dark of night, served to create some initial confusion within the ranks of the Vitellians. On the extreme right, the Legio IIII Macedonica advanced in the company of the Fifth and Fifteenth legions, which were stationed in the centre along with vexillations of the Legio IX Hispana, Legio II Augusta and the Legio XX Valeria Victrix. On the left, the Sixteenth and First legions were joined by the Legio XXII Primigenia. Within the ranks of each was included a liberal distribution of soldiers from the depleted cohorts of the Legio XXI Rapax and Legio I Italica. Completing the arrangement was the army’s cavalry and auxilia, which were arrayed around the main body of heavy infantry. Some distance from Bedriacium, the contending armies met in a decisive confrontation. The battle lasted throughout the night, and proved to be a savage, confusing struggle whose outcome remained uncertain until dawn when the men of the Legio III Gallica, imbued with a certain Syrian custom after many years of service in the orient, turned and saluted the rising sun. The Vitellians misunderstood the gesture, and concluded that the Third Legion was acknowledging the arrival of reinforcements. Using the dissemination of this misinformation to best advantage, the Flavian cohorts vigorously advanced as if supported by fresh divisions. The ruse worked to further demoralize an enemy already weakened by a lack of leadership, and Antonius seized the opportunity to launch an assault against the opposing line. The forceful attack broke the Vitellian formation, and a subsequent attempt to reform proved futile because the oppressed cohorts were driven back among their own supply wagons and artillery. Unable to recover, Vitellius’ forces dissolved into headlong retreat toward Cremona, pursued by the victorious troops of Vespasian.

Via Salaria

AD 69, 20-21 December (Year of the Four Emperors, Roman Civil Wars) – In preparation for marching his legions into Rome, Flavian general Marcus Antonius Primus sent an advance column of 1,000 cavalry along the Salarian Way with orders to enter the north-eastern part of the city and secure the Colline Gate. As the detachment of horsemen led by Quintus Petilius Cerialis approached their destination, they encountered a Vitellian force, consisting of both infantry and cavalry, blocking the Via Salaria. The resulting battle occurred in a developed area outside the city walls where the maze of buildings, gardens and winding streets proved a liability for Cerialis’ troops. At the same time, the familiar surroundings permitted the Vitellians to exploit the situation to best tactical advantage and eventually put the enemy to ?ight. The subsequent pursuit by the victors lasted only as far as the town of Fidenae, some 5 miles (8km) north of Rome on the same highway.


AD 69, 20-21 December (Year of the Four Emperors, Roman Civil Wars) – The Roman civil war that followed the death of Nero in the early summer of AD 68 climaxed eighteen months later in the autumn of 69 with an intense struggle between the armies of Emperor Aelius Vitellius and his challenger, the veteran legatus, Titus Flavius Vespasianus. Following the victory of Flavian legions at Bedriacum (Calvatone) in northern Italy, Vespasian’s lieutenant, Marcus Antonius Primus, marched south toward Rome with the intention of finishing the conflict. Advancing along the Via Flaminia, Antonius’ army arrived in late evening at Saxa Rubra, a village located some 6 miles (9.6km) north of the capital. Here he learned that a 1,000-man cavalry detachment, dispatched by him earlier under the com- mand of Quintus Petilius Cerialis, had been defeated on the Via Salaria near Rome. Further, it appeared the preponderance of popular support in the city was for Vitellius. While the army halted temporarily on the far side of the river, a senatorial delegation arrived with a peace proposal for Antonius, soon followed by Vestals bearing letters from Vitellius requesting the Flavians delay their march until the next day. The general was inclined to accede to the request and camp near the Milvian Bridge, but the legions refused to stop their advance and demanded Antonius continue on despite the late hour. Once the Flavians resumed their march, they divided into three columns: one force continuing along the Flaminian Way, a second to the right of the highway following the banks of the Tiber and a third approaching the Colline Gate on the north-eastern side of the city. The Vitellians countered by deploying troops ahead of each of these columns. As a result, widespread fighting occurred near the northern and north-eastern walls of the city, on the Campus Martius and in the Sixth, or Alta Semita, Region of the city. In addition, Antonius’ legions encountered particularly stiff resistance at the Castra Praetoria, which only ended after the complete destruction of the veteran praetorian cohorts of the emperor. After hours of combat, the Flavian divisions finally gained control of the city in late afternoon. By that time Vitellius was dead, murdered by soldiers earlier in the day.

Roman Defence in Depth Against the Pictish Threat

Rome’s strategy in dealing with the Pictish threat after c.340 was essentially defensive and reactive. Retaliatory strikes deep into the Highlands were no longer part of the plan. Instead, the prime objective was maintenance of a static frontier supplemented by covert military operations between the two walls and in the wild lands further north. In an effort to maintain the integrity of Hadrian’s Wall the Romans were helped by Britons living in the lands beyond. The native population of this region between the Hadrianic line and the disused Antonine ramparts became a first line of defence. Such an arrangement suited the economic constraints and political uncertainties facing Rome at that time. It allowed a dwindling number of imperial troops to be redeployed elsewhere. At the hub of the new defensive network lay Hadrian’s Wall with its forts and crossing-points. Behind the great barrier stretched an infrastructure of roads, forts and watchtowers providing both an early warning system and a capability for rapid response. In theory at least, this strategy of ‘defence in depth’ shielded the people of Britannia from hostile attacks by Picts, Saxons, Irish and other predators. North of Hadrian’s Wall the four outpost forts garrisoned in the third century were still occupied at the dawn of the fourth. Although situated outside the Empire’s boundary, none of the quartet lay more than twenty miles from the Wall. Their garrisons supervised the natives of the intervallate zone, a population whose status vis-à-vis the imperial authorities after 300 remains a matter of debate. In this region four large amalgamations of Britons already existed in the second century: the previously mentioned Damnonii, Votadini, Selgovae and Novantae. Whether these groups owed their origin to Rome’s onslaught in the first century or were formed in spite of it we are unable to say. By c.300, they may have been in existence for two hundred years or more, but how much longer they endured is unknown. Ptolemy’s map shows their positions relative to one another and identifies their chief centres of power. Although the map shows a snapshot of political geography as perceived by Roman geographers in the second century, the distribution of peoples in the intervallate region may have remained largely unchanged two hundred years later.

On Ptolemy’s map we see the Novantae inhabiting the northern shorelands of the Solway Firth, in territory corresponding to present-day Dumfriesshire and Galloway. Although their lands were vulnerable to raids from Ireland and the Hebridean seaways, their main centres of power were sited on the western coast, in the vicinity of Loch Ryan and modern Stranraer. Here, the long peninsula of the Rhinns of Galloway, marked on the map as Novantarum Chersonesus, protrudes into the Irish Sea. The key settlements were Rerigonium (possibly Innermessan) and Loucopibia (possibly Gatehouse of Fleet). Directly north, in what is now the county of Ayrshire, lay territory associated with either the Novantae or with a people called Damnonii (or Dumnonii). Damnonian lands included the lower valley and estuary of the River Clyde, together with parts of what later became the medieval earldom of Lennox. An important centre of power in this area was the imposing mass of Dumbarton Rock, a volcanic ‘plug’ jutting into the Firth of Clyde and dominating the surrounding area. Traces of elite occupation on the summit indicate that it was used by high-status Britons as far back as pre-Roman times. Later, when local native leaders were apparently co-operating with Rome, the great Rock may have guarded imperial interests in the north-western seaways. Through the Damnonian heartlands ran the western extremity of the Antonine Wall, its turf ramparts and abandoned forts already falling into dereliction by c.300. Further east, in Stirlingshire and Lothian, the redundant barrier meandered through the northern borderlands of the Votadini, another of the four intervallate groupings. Votadinian territory extended south of the Firth of Forth to the River Tweed and perhaps even as far as Hadrian’s Wall. Its hub was evidently the Castle Rock at Edinburgh, but other hilltop strongholds, such as a probable oppidum on Traprain Law, were also used in Roman times. The northern borderlands of the Votadini faced the Maeatae of Stirlingshire and the Picts of Fife. On the south-western flank lay the Selgovae (‘Hunters’), another large amalgamation of peoples. Selgovan territory included the central and upper vales of Tweed together with vast tracts of uncharted forest. Unlike their neighbours, the Selgovan elites of the third and fourth centuries were closely supervised by Rome. Within their territory lay the last of the outpost forts: Bewcastle and Netherby in the valleys north of Carlisle, and Risingham on the strategic Dere Street highway.

The nature of the relationship between the Empire and the intervallate Britons in Late Roman times is difficult to ascertain. It may have been sustained by regular payments from the imperial coffers to purchase the continuing goodwill of the four groups described above. One theory imagines their kings and chiefs as foederati, ‘federates’, of Rome, their domains constituting a buffer-zone between Hadrian’s Wall and the northern barbarians. If these Britons did indeed serve as allies of Rome, they would have been expected to bear the brunt of raids on the imperial frontier. Thus, while nominally independent, they may have pledged to protect Roman interests against the Pictish menace. Nevertheless, to all but the most trusting Roman officials, the intervallate Britons would have represented a potential threat. Keeping an eye on them was arguably the main function of the exploratores, ‘scouts’, a class of troops whom we can envisage patrolling beyond the outpost forts. These men were perhaps similar to the colonial rangers of eighteenth-century North America, using local knowledge to gather intelligence and launching punitive raids on troublemakers. The outpost fort at Netherby became so closely associated with these ‘special forces’ that it was known along the frontier as Castra Exploratorum (‘Fort of the Scouts’). Operating alongside the exploratores were the shadowy areani or arcani, members of a secret service responsible for covert operations, whose agents spied on the Picts and other barbarians. Historians sometimes regard them as a kind of ‘Roman CIA’ and the analogy may be broadly accurate.

Little is known of the kings and chieftains who ruled the intervallate Britons during the fourth century. Some appear to be named in genealogical texts preserved in medieval Wales but possibly drawing data from much older northern sources. The Welsh genealogies or ‘pedigrees’ show the lineages of a number of North British kings who lived in the sixth and seventh centuries. Each pedigree uses a sequence of patronyms (‘X son of Y son of Z’) to extend a royal ancestry back to the Late Roman period and, in some cases, to an even more remote time. Any hope of gleaning genuine fourth-century history is hindered by the stark fact that the texts containing the pedigrees were written no earlier than the ninth century. Most survive only in manuscripts of the twelfth century or later and none can be shown to be original creations by North Britons rather than by Welshmen. The pedigrees cannot therefore be regarded as storehouses of reliable information, especially for any period before the time of the historical North British kings. As repositories of genealogical data relating to the fourth century their value is even more limited. They require very careful handling if they are to be used at all.

Several pedigrees include figures whose chronological contexts seem to coincide with the final phase of Roman rule in Britain. Cinhil and Cluim, for instance, are two individuals listed as ancestors of a ninth-century king who ruled on the Clyde. We cannot be certain that these two are anything more than fictitious ‘ghosts’ inserted into the pedigree to give it a longer and more impressive lineage. If they existed, they probably belong to the second half of the fourth century and may have been members of the Damnonian elite. Another example is Padarn, apparently a Votadinian, to whom the genealogists gave the epithet or nickname Pesrut (‘Red Tunic’). Alongside Cinhil and Cluim, Padarn Pesrut is often regarded as a Briton of the intervallate zone in Late Roman times. It has been suggested that all three sprang from Romanised or pro-Roman families, their names being seen as medieval Welsh renderings of Quintilius, Clemens and Paternus. Upon this a more or less plausible scenario of loyal native foederati defending the Empire’s northern frontier has been constructed, with Padarn’s red tunic being interpreted as a Roman military garment, a gift from an imperial official to a trusted ally. Such theories are imaginative but need not be taken seriously. Regardless of whether or not the later Welsh names derive from Latin-sounding originals, we have no reason to believe that such naming was exclusive to the imperial authorities or to foederati in their service. Many non-Romans, friends and foes of the Empire alike, arguably bestowed Roman-sounding names on their children if it pleased them to do so. A young North Briton bearing a name such as Quintilius or Clemens was just as likely to develop anti-Roman sentiments as a compatriot who bore a non-Latin name. Nor is there anything uniquely Roman about the colour of Padarn’s tunic, which could have been obtained from any competent tailor whose skills included the extraction of red dye from plants such as madder. There were no doubt many red tunics among Rome’s friends in the lands north of Hadrian’s Wall, but probably just as many blue or green ones. Indeed, it is easy to imagine the nickname Pesrut being bestowed on any Pictish warrior in the hostile country beyond the Firth of Forth who chose to wear a bright red garment on military expeditions.

The Crisis of 367

The effectiveness of security arrangements on the northern frontier was put to the test in the second half of the fourth century when barbarian attacks increased. As well as the ever-hostile Picts the imperial garrison also endured raids by Gaelic-speaking groups in the western seaways – the Irish and the ‘Scots’. At this time the name Scotti seems to have been borne by, or bestowed upon, any marauding band from Ireland or Argyll. Indeed, it is likely that Roman observers regarded all the Gaels as one people. Like the Picts, these raiders from the West had taunted Rome since the time of Agricola. Three more groups now joined them: the Franks, whose descendants in the following century would leave their mark on Roman Gaul by turning it into France; the Saxons, who were soon to play a similarly important role in Britain; and a mysterious people called Attacotti who were perhaps of Irish or Hebridean origin. Eventually, the leaders of these hostile nations devised a barbarica conspiratio, a ‘barbarian conspiracy’, to co-ordinate their attacks on Roman Britain. Their plans came to fruition after crucial information was provided by traitors on the Roman side: corrupt officials, army deserters and rogue agents among the arcani. In 367, a huge barbarian assault was unleashed, its impact sweeping away the imperial defences. Seaborne raids from east and west drove far inland into the rich countryside of southern Britain, bringing death and destruction to the bewildered citizens. Towns were ransacked and villas were looted. Down from the north came the Picts, some to overwhelm the garrisons of Hadrian’s Wall while others swarmed along the eastern coast in flotillas of boats. The outpost forts north of the Wall were either bypassed or overwhelmed. In a battle between the frontier army and Pictish marauders, Fullofaudes, the senior Roman general in Britain, was taken prisoner. Leaderless and demoralised, the entire imperial garrison was thrown into chaos. Some soldiers cast off their uniforms and deserted their posts, while others roamed the land in lawless gangs. Fearing the total loss of Britain, the emperor Valentinian despatched a strike force of elite regiments led by the renowned Count Theodosius. Two years of hard fighting eventually led to the expulsion of the barbarians and, after Theodosius issued an amnesty for deserters, stability was gradually restored. The soldiers returned to their forts and Hadrian’s Wall was reinstated as the boundary of the Empire. In the wake of the crisis, however, the outposts beyond the Wall were finally abandoned. Theodosius redeployed what remained of their garrisons, disbanded the treacherous arcani and withdrew all Roman forces behind the Tyne–Solway line.

After the disaster of 367, the Britons beyond Hadrian’s Wall were effectively cut off from their countrymen south of it. Both groups had suffered grievously during the barbarian onslaught, but there is no record of Theodosius driving Pictish raiders from the lands of the Damnonii or Votadini. The natives of the intervallate zone were presumably left to fend for themselves. One medieval Welsh legend tells of a Votadinian prince or chieftain called Cunedda who led a warband to North Wales to expel a colony of Irish pirates from Gwynedd. Cunedda’s position in the genealogies makes him a figure of the late fourth to mid-fifth century and this chronology has led some historians to see him as a Roman federate transferred from Lothian during the Theodosian reorganisation. Much detailed speculation about Rome’s relationship with the Votadini has been woven around this scenario, but the data is too fragile to support it. A more sceptical, more objective view sees the story of Cunedda as a later Welsh attempt to create a fictional link between the kings of Gwynedd and their fellow-Britons of the North.

Among the repercussions of the barbarian conspiracy the most ominous development, at least for the native population of Roman Britain, was the recruitment of Germanic foederati to guard the southern towns. These were mostly Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Frisians from the North Sea coastlands of what are now Denmark and Germany. In northern Britain there were fewer towns and villas than in the south, but one area where Romanisation had taken root was the fertile Vale of York. There are archaeological hints that German warriors were settled in this district in the late fourth century, either by Theodosius after 367 or by the imperial usurper Magnus Maximus in 383. Serving Rome as mercenaries, the Germans initially performed a useful gatekeeping role against seaborne attacks by Pictish and Saxon pirates. Like all hirelings their services were not given freely, but were bought with regular gifts of cash from the imperial treasury. Any disruption to these payments was likely to turn friendship and service to ill-feeling and hostility.

In the 370s, the lands south of Hadrian’s Wall returned to a position of watchfulness. The northern frontier remained on a high state of alert, as did the lines of forts and signal-towers along the western and eastern coasts. North of the Wall the independent Britons, almost certainly without Roman help, repelled marauding bands of Picts and regained control of their own borders. But the barbarians were not so easily cowed and their raids continued to gnaw Britannia from all sides. With the situation deteriorating once more, the conspirators of 367 may have watched in gleeful disbelief as parts of the imperial garrison began to leave the island in the period after 380. The first big troop-withdrawal came in 383 when Magnus Maximus, a high-ranking officer in Britain, resolved to make himself emperor. Ironically, he had previously inflicted heavy defeats on the Picts and Scots, but now he poured his energies into his personal ambitions. Supported and encouraged by other officers, he led a substantial army across the sea to Gaul, thereby depleting Britain of forces essential for her protection. The barbarians are likely to have taken full advantage of his departure, but this time there was no Theodosius to confront them. Troubles elsewhere in the Empire made it impossible to send reinforcements to Britain. Another famous general, the half-Vandal Flavius Stilicho, is depicted in a contemporary Latin poem leading an expedition against the Picts at the end of the fourth century. It seems, however, that this campaign existed only in the imagination of the poet Claudian who used it as a literary device to illustrate the far-reaching extent of Stilicho’s fame. In reality, the Empire lacked the will to rescue Britain from the brink of catastrophe. To compound the situation, the Roman authorities now faced a peril much closer to home.

On the last night of the year 405, the imperial frontier in Germany was overwhelmed by a host of Vandals, Alans and other barbarians who crossed the Rhine to begin the dismemberment of Roman Gaul. In Britain the garrison reacted by rallying around Constantine, an ambitious officer with an auspicious name, and proclaimed him emperor. Leading a large force, Constantine sailed over to Gaul to assert his claim against forces loyal to the legitimate emperor Honorius. The loyalists were victorious and the usurper was executed. By 410, his henchmen in Britain were rooted out, but they bequeathed a desperate situation. With the depleted imperial troops struggling to stand firm against barbarian raids, the native elites of the southern towns seized control of the imperial administration. Taking the initiative, these Romanised Britons restored a semblance of order before appealing to the emperor for aid. But Honorius was grappling with the problems of a disintegrating Empire and had no help to offer to beleaguered subjects in a faraway land. Instead, he sent a letter urging the anxious Britons to organise their own defence. This had profound consequences for the remaining Roman troops, all of whom relied on wages issued by the imperial treasury. Their pay had probably been arriving erratically for some time, but now it ceased altogether. Without it the soldiers had no incentive or obligation to defend the Empire. On the northern frontier, groups of disillusioned men gradually abandoned their forts, taking their families with them and vanishing into the countryside. In the lands to the south, the last vestiges of imperial bureaucracy were swept away as power was seized by native leaders. By c.420, the Roman occupation of Britain was over.

Rome and the North Britons

Reconstruction of the Antonine Wall at Callendar Park, reproduced courtesy of Falkirk Museum and M. J. Moore DA FSA Scot

Consolidation of the Frontier

If the imperial authorities hoped that the Antonine Wall would bring a period of stability to Roman Britain, their optimism was dashed when trouble broke out among the northern tribes in 154 or 155. Which tribes were involved is a matter of debate, as is the question of how much disruption was caused. It is possible, for instance, that the unrest was confined to communities living north of Hadrian’s Wall, or that these were joined by neighbours in Dumfriesshire, or even that the main troublemakers lay further north in Caledonia. Whatever the location of the uprising it was put down by Julius Verus, governor of Britain, and special coins were minted to celebrate the restoration of order. In the next few years, however, a decision was taken to abandon the Antonine frontier and withdraw to Hadrian’s Wall. The presence of troublesome natives in the region between the two walls may have influenced the decision, but other factors, such as the strain on military resources, could have played a bigger role. When the withdrawal commenced in 158, it evacuated the Antonine line but stopped short of abandoning the region between the two walls. Some of the intervallate forts were even refurbished at this time. Buildings destroyed by fire at Birrens, known as Blatobulgium (‘The Flour Sack’) because of the distinctive shape of the nearby Burnswark Hill, were once thought to have succumbed to the native uprising of AD 154/5, but were more likely to have been demolished by the fort garrison during a makeover.

Before 160 the Antonine Wall was recommissioned and its soldiers came back to the forts, if only for a brief time. Their return to the Forth–Clyde isthmus was temporary and did not outlast the end of the decade. Trouble flared again in the early 160s, soon after the accession of Marcus Aurelius as emperor. A Roman general with the portentous name Calpurnius Agricola was ordered to quell it. The contemporary sources do not identify the culprits, who were either rebellious Britons on the northern frontier or Caledonian raiders from the lands beyond. Whoever these troublemakers were they were defeated and a semblance of stability returned. Roman sources describe another outbreak of hostilities in 169 when unidentified Britons caused trouble somewhere in the North. A war was seemingly averted by nipping the unrest in the bud, but, by 170, the Antonine Wall was again evacuated when Marcus Aurelius needed reinforcements for a campaign on the Danube. This time the troop withdrawals were intended to be permanent and many forts sustained deliberate demolition of buildings and defences. The turf frontier was abandoned, the Stirlingshire forts were left empty and the imperial boundary shrank back to Hadrian’s Wall. Some forts in the intervallate region remained in use, but these were engulfed in 181, during the reign of the emperor Commodus, when the Caledonii swept down from their Highland fastnesses to plunder the wealth of the Roman province. A high-ranking general marched out to meet the marauders, but he and his troops were slain. The ensuing wave of destruction left several forts along Hadrian’s Wall in ruins and spelled disaster for vulnerable outposts such as Newstead. Commodus, son and successor of Marcus Aurelius, dismissed the hapless governor of Britain and appointed a more effective replacement. The new governor, Ulpius Marcellus, defeated the Caledonii and restored control before following up his victory by making changes to troop dispositions in the interval-late region. Some forts were rebuilt and regarrisoned, but others, including Newstead, were condemned to dereliction. By the end of the second century, only a handful of outposts north of Hadrian’s Wall remained in use, their soldiers providing a token military presence in a region now regarded as a buffer-zone between the imperial province of Britannia and the badlands of Caledonia. The outposts lay in the south of the intervallate region, in lands nominally given over to native rule but under the watchful eye of Rome. Beyond them, in a broad band of territory encompassing Clydesdale and Lothian, the North Britons retained a measure of independence under the authority of their own leaders. It is likely that this arrangement was monitored by the Roman army during ceremonial events and tribal assemblies at specific sites called loci. The Latin word locus simply means ‘place’, but in the context of barbarian tribes bound in clientship to Rome these ‘places’ may have held administrative and diplomatic significance. Each of the four major groupings of North Britons had one or more loci within its territory, some being centred on sacred stones of immense antiquity which had long been used for ceremonial purposes. A public gathering at a locus would have given Rome an opportunity to remind the natives of their obligations to her Empire. How much autonomy was actually delegated to the intervallate Britons is unclear, but the surviving outpost forts were doubtless a constant reminder of imperial authority. At Birrens the Roman garrison used a native hillfort at nearby Burnswark for target practice by bombarding its decaying ramparts with catapults, an exercise which may have served the dual purpose of providing in-house artillery training as well as discouraging dissent among the North Britons. The latter thus approached the third century sandwiched between two implacably hostile forces: the Empire to the south and Caledonia to the north. Treaties forged in the aftermath of troop withdrawals from the Antonine Wall created an uneasy peace between the protagonists, but neither side, still less the Britons caught in the middle, expected it to last. It was little more than a temporary respite, a breathing-space, before a new round of raiding and retribution began.

Native communities in the land between the two Roman walls dwelt in the shadow of a conquering power. Their fellow-Britons living south of Hadrian’s Wall in what is now northern England were subjects of the Empire and, by the third century, had grudgingly or willingly accepted the situation. Earlier revolts by the Brigantes had been brutally crushed and were never to be repeated. Acceptance of subjugation was an easier option, even if it meant a loss of pride and a tax obligation to the imperial treasury. North of the Hadrianic frontier the Britons of the intervallate region remained nominally independent while acknowledging some measure of Roman authority. Unlike their Brigantian neighbours they continued to be ruled by their own leaders but these had presumably forged long-term treaties with Rome.

South of Hadrian’s Wall, the Brigantes and other conquered Britons experienced the full impact of the Roman occupation. The native upper classes, comprising the major landowning families, had watched their privileged status slip away after the conquest. Their lifestyles had collapsed as soon as Rome dismantled the old economic networks. Tithes of agricultural produce formerly rendered to local headmen were now collected by imperial tax-gatherers, while a strict prohibition of civilian military activity brought an end to tit-for-tat raids by predatory bands of Britons upon their neighbours. The resulting net loss of plunder severed the native upper class from its traditional methods of amassing surplus wealth through the acquisition of cattle and slaves. In such circumstances the neutered elites of Brigantia had little choice but to accept new roles delegated to them by the imperial administration. Some were probably allowed to retain a measure of authority in local contexts, as leaders nominated by Rome to oversee districts where their ancestors had once held substantial power. Such folk would have become more or less Romanised, maintaining their elevated status by exploiting opportunities for social advancement in the northern military zone. Some, no doubt, were allowed to remain on their ancestral estates and would have continued to receive tithes from tenant farmers.

A wholly new type of civilian settlement, the vicus, appeared in the wake of conquest. The typical vicus was a small village established outside the main gate of a Roman fort and along the primary access road. It tended to attract entrepreneurs seeking business opportunities at places where large numbers of military folk had disposable incomes. By definition, the vicus owed its existence to the presence of the fort and was wholly dependent on the patronage of soldiers. Its inhabitants, known as vicani, were generally a mixed bag of individuals drawn from local native communities and from places further afield. Some manufactured clothes, shoes or craft goods in small workshops, while others established taverns and hotels. Female vicani included wives and girlfriends of the garrison, their residence outside the fort initially being a requirement of the Army’s prohibition on married soldiers until Septimius Severus changed the law. In reality, even before the Severan reform, the authorities routinely turned a blind eye to liaisons between soldiers and native women, many of whom bore sons who eventually succeeded their fathers in the garrison.

North of Hadrian’s Wall, the much briefer occupation of Roman forts made the vici a fleeting addition to the landscape. Even when the Antonine Wall provided a temporary screen against Caledonian incursions, the intervallate region was not a place where civilians could put down roots outside a fort. Thus, while some vici south of Hadrian’s Wall thrived for two hundred years or more, in the lands further north a long period of habitation for vicani was out of the question. No fort north of today’s Anglo-Scottish border was permanently garrisoned after the end of the second century, a statistic which helps to explain why archaeologists have identified so few vici in Scotland. One of the few examples unearthed by excavation is a large village clustering outside the east gate of the fort at Inveresk near Musselburgh in East Lothian. Another has been discovered at Carriden, known to the Romans as Veluniate, a fort perched on the eastern extremity of the Antonine Wall overlooking the Forth estuary. The vicani at Carriden were a community of sufficient stability and cohesion to be granted a measure of self-government by the military authorities. However, neither of these settlements endured for long. They were wholly dependent on their forts and disappeared when these were abandoned.

Caledonii and Maeatae

Beyond the Antonine Wall lay the enemies of Rome: the Caledonii and their neighbours. During the northern campaigns of the second century, the Empire’s relationship with these barbarians was characterised by raid and counter-raid across the borderlands around the Firth of Forth. This region became a volatile conflict zone while Roman troops still garrisoned the Antonine forts, and likewise in the years following its final abandonment in the 160s. Hostilities continued until Rome forged treaties with the main barbarian groups at the end of the century, probably by paying them to stop raiding. At that time the Caledonii were still the main threat, but another people, the Maeatae, were recognised as an equally belligerent foe. Roman writers located the Maeatae immediately north of the Antonine Wall in what are now Stirlingshire and Clackmannanshire. They may have been a fusion of smaller groups on the model of the Caledonian ‘confederacy’ further north. Some historians wonder if these political fusions may have occurred because an aggressive foreign power held sway south of the Forth–Clyde isthmus. They see Rome’s occupation of the southern part of Britain as a catalyst for political developments in the North. In this scenario the creation of large tribal confederacies is viewed as a logical progression arising from the proximity of large numbers of Roman troops. An alternative theory sees amalgamation as an outcome of conflict between neighbouring communities, rather than as a voluntary or co-operative response to the threat of Roman invasion. Indeed, Rome might even have been responsible for creating tensions by favouring some native groups while neglecting others. Thus, it is possible that the pro-Roman queen Cartimandua might not have been a ‘pan-Brigantian’ sovereign after all, but merely a local ruler who exploited imperial patronage to impose her will on other Pennine peoples. By applying this model further north, we might envisage the Caledonii not so much joining with their neighbours as subjugating them by force. Such a process may have placed the Caledonian leadership at the head of a large, powerful amalgamation of tribes in a region centred on the valley of the River Tay. If this is what happened, then the Maeatae may have similarly seized the initiative among their own weaker neighbours.

High on a shoulder of the Ochil Hills, commanding a wide vista across Stirlingshire and the Firth of Forth, stood the great oppidum or tribal centre of the ancestors of the Maeatae. This stronghold may already have been abandoned when the Maeatae themselves first came to Rome’s attention, but it remained an imposing feature in the landscape. Its ancient name is unrecorded, but the hill on which it stands is known today as Dumyat, a name deriving from Gaelic Dun Myat (‘The Fort of the Maeatae’). Five miles south-east, and a little to the south of the modern town of Clackmannan, stood an unshaped boulder venerated in pre-Christian times as a sacred stone. In the medieval period this monument became known as King Robert’s Stone after its role in a folktale about Robert the Bruce, but its original name was Clach Manonn (‘The Stone of Manau’). The stone’s proximity to the heartlands of the Maeatae suggests its adoption by their forefathers as a venue for sacred rites and public ceremonies. It now sits on top of a pillar beside the old tolbooth in Clackmannan and has given its name to the town.

The Maeatae make their first appearance in the historical record around the year 200. At that time, according to the Roman writer Cassius Dio, they overturned a treaty with Rome and mustered their forces for war. They chose the right moment, for substantial numbers of Roman troops had recently been withdrawn from Britain by Clodius Albinus, an ambitious governor who hoped to set himself up as emperor. Seeking to exploit the situation, the Maeatae crossed the abandoned Antonine Wall to rampage southward, wreaking havoc wherever they went. To make matters worse, the Caledonii were preparing to break their own treaty with the Empire by joining the assault. In a desperate bid to avert a major crisis the newly appointed governor of Roman Britain, Virius Lupus, tried to placate the Maeatae with a substantial payment. The offer was accepted: the raiders went home and released a small number of Roman prisoners. But peace did not last and a new spate of raiding began. This time, no bribe was forthcoming from the imperial treasury. What the barbarians received instead was a full-scale assault. In 208, the warlike emperor Septimius Severus arrived in Britain to deal personally with the situation on the northern frontier. With him came his sons, Geta and Caracalla, two young men rescued from the sleaze of Rome by a father who regarded the Forth borderlands as a somewhat more wholesome environment. Assembling a large army, Severus marched north to hammer the Maeatae into submission and to discourage the Caledonii from joining them. His strategy seemed to work: he received pledges of peace from the barbarians and returned to his base at York. In 210, however, the Maeatae again reverted to their old ways. They may have heard a rumour that Severus was sick and unable to leave his bed. He was indeed too ill to command a new campaign, but, despite his infirmity, he had no intention of letting the enemy run amok. Leadership of the counter-attack was delegated to Caracalla who unleashed upon the Maeatae a harsh retribution. He arrived in Stirlingshire with a clear instruction from his father to slaughter the natives and to leave none alive. Until this point, the Caledonii had merely observed from the sidelines, but new tales of Roman savagery towards their neighbours brought them swiftly into the fray. They had another incentive to confront the invader, for Severus intended to build a massive fortress at Carpow at the mouth of the River Earn on the southern edge of their heartlands. The new base was designed to accommodate an entire legion and, when completed, would have posed a major threat to native ambitions. A prolonged and bitter conflict seemed unavoidable until fate intervened to remove Severus from the equation. In February 211, at his military headquarters in York, he finally succumbed to illness. Caracalla became emperor, but no longer shared his father’s enthusiasm for the northern campaign. He saw little gain in resuming it: the fighting was hard, the short-term rewards were meagre and the prospect of a lasting solution looked increasingly remote. Moreover, the drain on military resources was becoming acute and difficult to justify at a time when other parts of the Empire demanded urgent attention. Foremost among Caracalla’s anxieties was a bitter rivalry with his younger brother, Geta, whose growing influence at the imperial court was an irritation. Caracalla therefore called a halt to the war, made peace with the Maeatae and Caledonii and relinquished any serious claim on their lands. He returned to Rome to assert his authority and, within a few months, masterminded his brother’s assassination. Meanwhile, in northern Britain, the forward bases occupied during the Severan campaign were evacuated. Construction at Carpow was halted and the soldiers withdrew. A token military presence lingered at Cramond on the Forth until it, too, was abandoned in the 220s. The imperial frontier again retreated to Hadrian’s Wall, leaving only four outpost forts in the lands beyond: Risingham and High Rochester in the east; Bewcastle and Netherby in the west. With this retreat the Roman adventure in the Highlands finally came to an end.

The Emperor, his sons and the military leadership wintered in York. Sadly for them however the terms which had so satisfied the Romans in AD 209 were not so agreeable to at least the Maeatae as in AD 210 they revolted again. The Caledonians predictably joined in, and Severus decided to go north again to settle matters once and for all. On this occasion he’d obviously had enough of the troublesome Britons, giving his famous order to kill all the natives his troops came across.

This second campaign re-enacted the AD 209 campaign exactly, though this time solely under Caracalla as Severus was too ill. It was even more brutal than the first as afterwards there was peace along the northern border for four generations afterwards, the longest in pre-modern times. Archaeological data is now emerging to show this was because of a major depopulation event, indicating something close to a genocide was committed by the Romans in the central and upper Midland Valley.


Some Roman writers poured scorn on Caracalla’s readiness to let the barbarians off the hook, but his treaties held firm and ultimately proved the doubters wrong. The third century passed in relative peace. No new outbreaks of trouble on the northern frontier are known from the surviving literary sources. Only in the century’s last decade did the situation once again grow volatile. In 297, the poet Eumenius referred to a people called Picti (‘Picts’), whom he named alongside the Irish as enemies of the Britons. He did not say where they came from, but they plainly lived outside the Empire. Their location was made clearer by an anonymous writer of the early fourth century who referred to ‘the woods and marshes of the Caledones and other Picts’. This clearly identifies the Caledonii of earlier times as a component of the Picti. It also shows that Perthshire, the ancient Caledonian heartland, must have lain within Pictish territory. Later in the fourth century, the historian and ex-soldier Ammianus Marcellinus regarded the Picts as a fusion of two distinct peoples, the Verturiones and Dicalydones. The latter name relates in some way to Caledonii and indicates that this ancient grouping still functioned as a political force three hundred years after the Agricolan invasion. The Verturiones are previously unknown, but their name connects them to Fortriu, an area of importance during the second half of the first millennium AD. In the nineteenth century, the Scottish antiquary William Forbes Skene equated Fortriu with the later earldom of Strathearn and Menteith. This identification remained largely unchallenged until 2006, when its weakness was highlighted in a groundbreaking paper. Fortriu is now regarded as a more northerly territory centred on Moray. In another recent development, some historians have adopted the adjective ‘Verturian’ when referring to the land and people of this region.

Picti means ‘Painted People’ or ‘People of the Designs’. When and why this name originated are questions to which several plausible answers can be offered. So far, no consensus has yet been achieved. The name may be derived from, or related to, a collective term used by the Picts of themselves, but it is equally possible that no such term existed until the Romans began to distinguish the peoples of northern Britain from one another. Sadly, the Pictish language vanished after c.900 and, as no Pictish writings have survived, there is now little hope of ascertaining whether or not a native precursor of Latin Picti ever existed. Historians are left instead to muse on the nature and purpose of the ‘designs’ that gave rise to the name. Did the Picts tattoo their skin, or did they merely daub their bodies with warpaint? Tattooing was regarded as archaic and primitive by the Romanised Britons living south of Hadrian’s Wall, but it possibly lingered as a custom further north. If so, its continuing use far beyond the frontier might explain why the poet Claudian, writing in the late fourth and early fifth centuries, referred to Roman soldiers observing the decorative body-art of slain Pictish warriors.

Whatever the origin of their name, the Picts posed a major threat to Roman Britain throughout the fourth century. They were a numerous people whose lands encompassed a broad swath of territory stretching from the Western Isles to Fife and from Shetland to the Ochil Hills. Within this large area many communities shared cultural traits we now regard as essentially ‘Pictish’. They shared a common language similar to, and no doubt once indistinguishable from, the language of the Britons. On a political level, however, the Picts were not a single entity but a patchwork of separate groups, each of which was probably ruled as a small kingdom. In early times, when they first came to Rome’s attention, their most frequent foes were likely to have been fellow-Picts rather than people living south of the Forth–Clyde isthmus. Much of the slave-raiding and cattle-reiving undertaken by Picts in Roman times was surely conducted within their own homelands. Ambitious leaders would have had little incentive to act in unison against an external power unless persuaded or coerced to do so. Thus, although the notion of pan-Pictish unity might have simplified matters for Roman chroniclers, we should not feel tempted to run too far with it. Temporary pooling of military forces in response to Roman aggression perhaps occurred from time to time, but the Picts were not a homogeneous group. Their default political framework was rooted in local allegiances rather than in abstract concepts of nationhood. Although this pattern began to change in the sixth century, with the emergence of one or more Pictish overkingships, the marauding bands of ‘Painted People’ who troubled Roman Britain in 297 were almost certainly not acting in unison.

What distinguished the Picts from other indigenous peoples of the British Isles? The simplest answer to this question is that Pictish culture must have been unique, distinctive and recognisable to outsiders. It was sufficiently distinct for Roman writers to differentiate the Picts from the Britons and the Irish. All three were part of a Celtic cultural zone, but, despite this shared heritage, they each exhibited certain traits that set them apart from one another. One important difference was language: the Picts and Britons spoke variants of a Brittonic language of the ‘P-Celtic’ group, while the Irish used Goidelic or Gaelic speech which modern linguists define as ‘Q-Celtic’. The Pictish and British varieties of Brittonic represented separate dialects which, although mutually intelligible, may have sounded quite distinct when spoken. The date at which the two diverged is unknown but their separation perhaps began in Roman times, when the influence of Latin south of Hadrian’s Wall might have made northern dialects seem barbarous and different. By 297, when the Picts emerged into recorded history, it is possible that their speech already sounded sufficiently different to set them apart.

In ethnic terms the Picts of the third and fourth centuries were simply the most northerly of the Britons. There is no doubt that they were a ‘Celtic’ people. Like their southern cousins they had been exposed to Celticisation during the first millennium BC when cultural influences from Continental Europe spread throughout the British Isles. Unsurprisingly, the Pictish landscape contains a number of ‘Celtic’ features, the most visible being hilltop fortresses defended by concentric walls of unmortared stone laced with timber. Certain other structures are not found elsewhere in the Celtic world, or are encountered only rarely, and seem to be indigenous to the Pictish zone. Of these, the best-known are the brochs, the enigmatic towers found all over the Pictish area, with a major concentration north and west of the Great Glen. Isolated examples in southward districts such as Lothian suggest that the design was not confined to what is usually regarded as the main Pictish zone. As previously noted, archaeological study has dated their main occupation phase to the period 500 BC to AD 100 which means that they had probably fallen out of use when Roman writers first mentioned the Picts. The northern concentration of brochs has led to their builders being seen as ‘proto-Pictish’ ancestors of the later raiding bands. A simpler explanation is that the brochs were built by ‘Britons’ whose descendants in the early centuries AD remained largely untouched by Romanisation.

The Picti were none other than the Caledonii, Verturiones and other indigenous peoples previously recorded as separate entities but now appearing under a new collective name. Aside from this ‘rebranding’ of Rome’s old enemies, the situation on the northern frontier remained largely unchanged for much of the fourth century, except perhaps for an increasing number of barbarian raids. Whether these incursions became as serious as those of the Severan era in the early 200s is unknown, but they caused sufficient anxiety to provoke a Roman response. In 305, the respected general Constantius Chlorus marched from his base at York to deal with the Picts. He presumably defeated them. Likewise, his son Constantine, whom the frontier army proclaimed emperor in 306, took a break from civil war in Europe to wage a Pictish war in 312. Hostilities with the Picts continued up to the middle years of the fourth century when the emperor Constans, son of Constantine, came to Britain to oversee the imperial response.

The Achaean War and After

In the summer of 147 BC when Aurelius Orestes arrived in Corinth. The Roman legate brought with him a diplomatic bombshell. Not only had the Senate decided that Sparta could leave the League, but Corinth, Agos, Orchomenus and Heraclea were to leave as well. This effectively ripped the heart out of the League, leaving basically a rump of cities in the northern Peloponnese. It is difficult to see how the Senate expected the League to go along with this directive, especially as none of these cities, apart from Sparta, had shown any inclination towards independence. In the absence of clear information about the Senate’s motivation, several theories have been advanced.

One is that, as the Epirots had discovered twenty years before, the Romans were at their most dangerous when they were annoyed and had a spare army in the region with which to demonstrate the fact. The League was intended to keep the peace in Greece, and having clearly proven itself unfit to do so, it could pay for flouting the explicit requests of Metellus to stay away from Sparta. Now the League could either disband, or face the consequences.

Another theory is that the Romans had decided to make Macedon a province of their growing empire, and concluded that they might as well take over Greece at the same time. Therefore the proposal of Orestes was a deliberate attempt to force the Achaeans into a war that would end with Greece under direct Roman rule.

Alternatively, it has been suggested that what Orestes proposed was more of a threat than an ultimatum, and that the Achaeans were supposed to be shocked at how far the Romans were prepared to go. By this theory, the Romans expected the Achaeans to send tearful embassies to the Senate abjectly apologizing for flouting the directives of Metellus and begging to be allowed to keep the League intact. The Senate would agree, and the partition of Sparta from the League would then pass through with the Achaeans grateful things had been no worse than that.

If this latter was indeed the plan, it backfired spectacularly, for when the Roman directive became public there was a wave of popular outrage amongst the Achaeans that left Orestes feeling in actual physical danger. Certainly any Spartans whom the mob could catch suffered badly, and other Spartans in Corinth were arrested, including those who had fled to the Romans for protection. Orestes left hurriedly and later complained of his ill-treatment to the Senate. It is highly likely that the Senate itself was at this point undecided about what to do about Achaea. It may well be that different sections of the Senate held one apiece of the opinions suggested above, and that the only consensus was that the situation in Greece needed to be sorted out one way or the other. Certainly, Rome’s next move indicated no fixity of purpose. A senior ambassador was sent (the consul of 157 BC, Sextus Julius Caesar) and his tone was decidedly conciliatory.

The Achaeans too were rather regretting their strong words and sent an equally-conciliatory embassy to Rome. The leaders of Achaea were too sensible to fall out with their mighty neighbour, and for a while they might have hoped that the issue of splitting the League was going to be quietly dropped. Unfortunately, the common people of Achaea were outraged with the Romans, and this outrage was harnessed by one Critolas to secure leadership of the League in the autumn of 147 BC. Critolas had a delicate balancing act to perform. He had to convince the Achaean people that he stood with them in their anger at Rome, but at the same time he had to try as hard as possible not to actually offend the Romans. This turned out to be an impossible task, not least because of a cultural gulf between Greek and Roman approaches to warfare. The Greeks regarded warfare as an extension of politics. When reason failed to achieve a desired object, the Greeks readily enough turned to war as a way of achieving political ends. This was not the view from Rome. The Romans had been fighting wars almost every year since their city’s foundation. For them politics was a way of achieving the goals of warfare without actually fighting. When politics failed, the Romans dropped back to warfare as the default condition. Consequently, Critolas needed to be careful of bringing Rome toward a political impasse, but his own perceptions caused him (wrongly) to believe that the attempted solution to any impasse would, at least initially, be political rather than military.

Critolas invited Caesar to a conference at Tegea to discuss the Spartan issue. But, after Caesar and the Spartans had been kept waiting, Critolas eventually turned up alone without the Achaean delegation and announced that whatever decision the conference came up with would have to be ratified by the Achaean assembly, which was not going to meet for another six months. Caesar could not reasonably be expected to kick his heels in Greece for this period, and returned to Rome decidedly miffed about the whole business. This probably suited Critolas. He had now six months leeway to calm the situation before anyone committed themselves to anything, and maybe in that time negotiations with the Romans would produce a discreet deal that Critolas could sell to his people. This opinion would have been reinforced by a delegation from Metellus that arrived after Caesar had delivered his report to the Senate. Though Caesar had complained about the prevarication and high-handedness of Critolas, Metellus’ delegates were softly spoken, and it appeared that, like the Achaean leaders, the Romans were looking for a way back from the brink.

Unfortunately, these delegates came into contact not just with the Achaean leadership, but also the common people of Achaea, and these made their feelings about Rome and Sparta very clear. If Critolas wanted to keep his job, and possibly his neck, he had to be seen to be doing something, and he decided that the least damaging something he could do was to make highly ostentatious moves indicating the seriousness of his intentions towards Sparta. Consequently he began to put the country on a war footing. To Roman objections Critolas made the point that he was dealing with an internal League matter, and whilst he welcomed the Romans as friends, he and the Achaeans were not in any way bound to or subordinate to Rome.

To say that this was a dangerous line to take is putting it mildly. However, little as the Romans might have liked what they were hearing, to some degree Critolas had a point. The Achaeans were friends and allies rather than subjects of Rome, and the Romans themselves had repeatedly accepted that Sparta was a part of the Achaean League. Nevertheless, in his efforts to avoid bringing his people into conflict with Rome, Critolas had greatly underestimated the danger of bringing Rome into conflict with his people. The Roman response to Critolas’ vigorously-expressed opinions about Achaean autonomy was silence; from the Roman perspective there was no more to discuss. The Achaeans had been warned, and would take the consequences if they ignored the warning. However, the Achaeans may have taken the lack of response as a sign that the Romans had washed their hands of the entire business. Nevertheless, Critolas decided to play it safe. Although he had mustered his army, it seemed a good idea to test the waters of Roman opinion by first taking it not against Sparta, but against the small city of Heraclea in Otea which had, like Sparta, renounced its ties to the League. If the Romans did not object to the forcible reintegration of Heraclea, then perhaps it would be safe to move on and deal with Sparta afterwards.

Thus, in the early summer of 146 BC, Critolas marched on Heraclea. His soldiers were still some distance from the city when the army’s outriders reported hostile contact. To their appalled horror, the Achaeans discovered that the hostile force was not the Heraclean militia but the Roman army of Metellus. The scale of Critolas’ blunder was now fully apparent; military action in the face of Roman objections had been interpreted as a de facto declaration of war. The Achaeans now had to face the legions which had conquered Andriscus, not instead of, but as well as the Heraclean levies – and Sparta.

That the Achaeans were utterly unprepared for this development is evident from the way that their army recoiled back to Locris. Metellus followed the Achaeans there with the celeritas that was becoming his personal trademark, and not unexpectedly defeated them soundly at a place called Scarpheia. Critolas chose this moment to vanish from the pages of history, leaving later commentators to ponder his fate (Livy says he committed suicide by poison). Metellus brushed past the Arcadians at Chaeronea and marched against the Boeotian League, at this point an Achaean ally. After repeated setbacks and sackings in the past decades, Thebes was already in a sorely reduced state. The population simply abandoned their city to the Romans who proceeded to dilapidate the place a good deal further.

With Critolas vanished, Diaeus took over the defence of the League. It must have been plain to him that Achaea was now fighting for survival, and the chances of coming out with the League intact were minimal. News now reached the Achaeans that in addition to Metellus, the consul L. Mummius was on the way with an army of 23,000 men to fight a full-scale war. With him was the same Orestes who had delivered the unacceptable ultimatum which had sparked the present crisis. Given that Achaea had neither the manpower nor mountain defences of Macedon, or the support of allies either in Greece or overseas, it was evident that resistance would be futile. In a very real sense, the end of Greek independence came with the outbreak of war rather than with its inevitable conclusion.

This does not mean that the Achaeans failed to go down fighting. Diaeus returned to command, and tried desperately to negotiate with the Romans even as every town mustered troops and prepared its defences. Slave volunteers were added to the Achaean army, which has been estimated at about 14,000 strong. The Boeotians, who had probably joined in the war under the mistaken belief that they were simply going to terrorize the Heracleans, had already been effectively knocked out by Metellus. Boeotian aggression had also probably incited the Eritreans to declare for the Romans, practically the only city in Greece to do so. Certainly nearby Chalcis did not, and later suffered grievously for taking the Achaean side.

The advance of Metellus took him to the isthmus, where he came to a halt against the walls of Corinth. The Corinthian resistance brought to an end the participation of Metellus in the war. Mummius was consul to Metellus’ praetor, and as soon as the senior politician arrived on the scene, Metellus was sent back to his province, where he stayed to help with the post-war settlement. Thereafter Metellus returned to Rome where he displayed the hapless Andriscus, who was executed after the customary triumph, and he received the cognomen (honorary nickname) of ‘Macedonicus’ for his efforts on behalf of Rome.

Diaeus meanwhile appears to have noted that Mummius had no great military reputation. Indeed, he had already sustained a slight reverse from a successful Achaean ambush on part of his army. However, this success was transitory, since when the Achaeans followed up Mummius sallied out of his camp and drove the Achaeans back to their lines. Now, with the Roman fleet getting established outside Corinth, the city could either stand a prolonged siege or the garrison could risk everything on a surprise assault on the Romans as they were digging in. Diaeus opted for the latter. It is quite possible that Achaean morale was flagging in any case and, without a quick victory, surrender would have come sooner rather than later. On the other hand, a short, sharp setback might bring the Romans back to the negotiating table, where things had looked rather promising until discussions were broken off.

Accordingly, Diaeus mustered his entire force and offered battle at Leucopetra, just outside Corinth. Heartened by Mummius’ refusal to draw up his army against him, Diaeus marched into the valley leading to the Roman camp. Mummius now proved that he knew a thing or two himself about ambushes and hit the Achaeans in the flank with a surprise attack by cavalry charging down the hillside. With exquisite timing, the legions hastened out and broke the Achaean vanguard whilst it was still working out what had hit them. Thereafter the battle became a rout. Diaeus returned to his native Megalopolis, burned his house and possessions and committed suicide. Those Corinthians who could immediately fled the city in anticipation of the inevitable Roman sack.

This brief action was the last fought by an independent Greek army, for thereafter the Achaean League effectively dissolved itself, with its component cities scrambling to make peace with the Romans before they arrived in the Peloponnese. According to Pausanias the war ended in 140 BC, with the final settlement of the region by Roman commissioners, but to all intents and purposes the war was over in 146 BC. Rome, which had seemed so peripheral to Greek affairs when it had sent ambassadors to Queen Teuta of Illyria in 230 BC, was now, eighty-four years later, the undisputed ruler of Greece. Likewise Greece’s former hegemon, Macedon, once all-conquering, awaited Rome’s decision as to its fate.


Mummius had won his war in a single engagement. This engagement had been outside Corinth, the city which had been at the centre of Achaean-Roman friction over recent years. It was in Corinth that Orestes had been abused for his proposal to break up the Achaean League, and it was here that Spartans who had fled to the Romans had been unable to receive protection. It was Corinth which had baulked the advancing army of Metellus, and it was Corinth which the Romans chose to symbolize their wrath with the Achaean League as a whole.

Accordingly, Mummius called a final meeting of the League. Its constituent cities, he told them, were to be ‘free’ (a word the Greeks must by now have regarded with considerable cynicism). The exception was Corinth. Mummius ordered that all Corinthians at the meeting should be seized and enslaved. Many Corinthian women and children had already been enslaved in any case, but after the taking of the city many of the men who had not been put to the sword had fled to other cities for shelter.

The lands of Corinth were declared ager publicus – fields belonging to the Roman people (the territories of Thebes and Chalcis suffered the same fate). Corinth itself was sacked. Not just in the usual comprehensive Roman fashion, but with the same thorough determination to make the place uninhabitable for the immediate future that the Romans were also showing with freshly-conquered Carthage on the other side of the Mediterranean. Mummius did not go so far as to sow salt in the fields, as the Romans did at Carthage, but his legions made sure that hardly any stone was left standing on another.

Everything of value was crated and shipped to Rome, where the populace were so impressed with what they saw, that ‘Corinthian wealth’ became a byword for opulence. Polybius, who was to play an important part in the post-war settlement, was at Corinth for the occasion. Though his report has not survived, the geographer Strabo says that he wrote heartbreakingly of

the disregard shown by the army for the works of art and votive offerings; for he [Polybius] says that he was present and saw paintings that had been flung to the ground and saw the soldiers playing dice on these. Among the paintings he names that of Dionysus by Aristeides, to which, according to some writers, the saying, ‘Nothing in comparison with the Dionysus’, refers.

Mummius himself is portrayed in legend as the archetypical Roman philistine, incapable of understanding the scale of what he was perpetrating. One story has him telling the dockers to be careful with priceless statues that he was shipping off to Rome. If any of these were damaged, he allegedly threatened, the dockers would have to replace them personally. It is quite possible that Mummius himself perpetrated some of these stories; the Romans of the day, and for some time after, liked to pose as bluff soldiers immune to the decadent influence of Greece. However, what we know of Mummius shows that he was more sophisticated than this. For example Plutarch tells us that he freed a young Corinthian who movingly quoted Homer at him when he was testing potential slaves for literacy. It is reasonably sure that Mummius was well aware of the historical and cultural significance of the city he was so comprehensively destroying.

So why did he do it? The Roman destruction of Corinth was an act of inhumanity and cultural vandalism which has been decried by generations since. Indeed Cicero, who visited the site in the early 70s BC, confessed himself deeply affected by the ruins. We can rule out those apologists such as Polybius who claim that Mummius acted impulsively and under the bad advice of those in his entourage. Such a far-reaching act must have been decreed by the Senate, and been carried out after due deliberation.

It was above all an act of terrorism, and as such it succeeded. Rome was prepared to utterly destroy Corinth, a city ancient before Rome was founded and from which, according to legend, came the ancestors of Tarquin, king of Rome. What then would Rome do to any other Greek city which aroused its anger? The intention was to utterly cow Greece, and so it did. If, as others have claimed, Rome acted to destroy a trading rival (Corinth was a centre of Mediterranean trade until its decease), then this too was successful. It should be noted that the two motives are not mutually exclusive, but the Roman Senate seldom acted purely from economic motives.

The Settlement

This time the Senate refrained from any social experiments in Macedonia. The Macedonians had shown that they were happiest as a single state under a sole ruler. This ruler, the Senate decreed, should be a Roman governor, and henceforth Macedonia was to be ruled as a province of Rome. In fact the province was expanded to take in Epirus, Thessaly and parts of Illyria and Thrace. Ironically, in being conquered, the Macedonians finally realized the ambition of their kings who had sought domination of these areas for centuries. Building began of the Via Egnatia, the great Roman highway which brought Macedon from its mountain fastnesses, and allowed trade with the west to flourish.

Macedon was not left entirely in peace, as it was briefly conquered by Mithridates of Pontus during the early 80s BC, and it suffered considerable disruption during the civil wars which brought about the end of the Roman Republic. However, with the accession of Augustus, Macedon became an ever more Romanized province. As with the equally once-troubled province of Hispania, Macedon became a quiet and productive part of the Roman Empire, and enjoyed centuries of peace before the Gothic invasions which heralded the fall of Rome in the west.

The rest of Greece was still ‘free’, but by now the Greeks had come to understand that this freedom was not eleutheria, or complete freedom in the Greek sense, but libertas, the freedom which a subordinate Roman had under his patron, bound about with duties and obligations.

The usual Roman post-war settlement commission came to Greece and Macedon in 146 to sort out matters once the dust of war had settled, and Polybius earned praise by refusing to accept any rewards for the work which he and his friends had put into ensuring that the settlement was as equitable as possible. The commissioners stayed for six months, and the main effect of their work was (as has been seen) to add to the province of Macedonia those states of southern Greece which they felt were most likely, otherwise, to cause problems for Rome in the future. Much of the commission’s time would have been spent in drawing up the lex provincia, the set of laws under which the new province would be governed. This was a task greatly complicated by the number of non-Macedonian cities added to the new province, many of which would have needed virtually new constitutions of their own. Fortunately, Metellus had spent much of the ten months or so between his dismissal from the Achaean war zone and his return to Rome on the organization of Macedon into a proto-province, and the commission evidently built upon his work.

It is (almost) certain that the same commission that sorted out the provincialization of Macedonia was also responsible for settling affairs further south. This was guided by Mummius, and at least some cities were pleased with the result, as shown by the fact that a number of monuments dedicated to Mummius have since surfaced in Greece (and one in Macedonia).

At least some of the cities of southern Greece were made subject to tribute to Rome, and laws were passed to stop members of one state holding land in another. Steps were also taken to stop Greek cities federating once more into leagues. Henceforth, each Greek polis was to be on its own under Roman tutelage. Perhaps the major winner from the war was Sparta, which finally achieved its long-desired liberation from the Achaeans, though it never regained its former dominance of southern Greece. The traditional Spartan constitution was restored in a somewhat modified form, and in its declining years the city became something of a parody of itself for the benefit of the Roman tourist trade.

Later History

Unlike Macedon, which appears to have been largely peaceful apart from the disruption caused by the Pontic invasion of the 80s, life in Greece was far from relaxing over the next century. Some of the bloodiest battles in Greek history lay in the immediate future. For a start, Mithridates invaded not only Macedonia but also central Greece.

The most enthusiastic supporters of Mithridates were the Athenians, and they paid for their defection from Rome after a bloody siege by Sulla in 87/86 BC. When the city fell in March 86, the killing spree which followed was so intense that the blood was said to have run in a small stream through the gutters and out of the city gates. Thereafter Athens, like Sparta, was a shadow of its former self. Sulla went on to fight Mithridates at Chaeronea, in a battle involving over 100,000 men, and then in a rematch at Orchomenus which involved armies of the same scale. To pay for his campaign, Sulla looted the sacred treasuries at Delphi. He was by no means alone in his looting of Greece, and the country continued to suffer from the attentions of Roman senators thenceforward. Though southern Greece, unlike Asia, did not have to pay Roman taxes and largely escaped the predatory Roman publicani (tax gatherers), the Romans had other methods of squeezing cash even from allegedly ‘free’ peoples.

One favourite technique was forcing a loan at predatory rates of interest on a city, and refusing to accept the capital back until compound interest had forced the city deep into debt. Even the noble Brutus, the assassin of Caesar, used this technique of enrichment.

Before he was assassinated, Caesar too had been on Greek soil. Greece was the unhappy host of the final rounds of the civil war between Caesar and Pompey. In fact, Caesar finally won supreme power in Rome at the Battle of Pharsalus, not far from where Philip V was defeated at Cynoscephalae.

However, this victory did not settle matters, as Caesar’s death once again brought Roman civil war to Greece, with a further bloody battle at Philippi in 42 BC which saw off Brutus and Cassius, the assassins of Caesar. The victors of that battle, Octavian and Mark Antony, returned to Greece a decade later for a final showdown at Actium, where Octavian, later Augustus, finally became emperor and master of the Roman world. Between senatorial depredations and the effects of armies marching and countermarching across its territory for the best part of 150 years, much of Greece was economically devastated.

Most Greeks of any ambition or talent took advantage of the many opportunities offered by Rome’s cosmopolitan empire, and took themselves either to Rome (where later poets such as Juvenal complained bitterly of their presence) or to the large and prosperous cities that flourished in Asia Minor under the pax Romana. A previous generation which had arrived in Rome as slaves had already helped to accelerate the fusion of Greek and Roman culture to the point where the poet Horace could remark that Greece had ‘conquered her rough conqueror’.

Augustus finally made Achaea a province in 27 BC, and included in its bounds most of south and central Greece. However, by then Greece was already a backwater in geopolitical terms.

Illyria and Dalmatia

Ironically, the last part of the peninsula to fall under Roman control, was where it all had begun: in the Balkans. Since the capture of Genthius, the fortunes of the northern and southern Illyrians had varied. The Romans had divided Illyria into four regions, rather as they had attempted with Macedonia, and with about the same degree of success. By and large, the southern areas abutting the long-established Roman protectorate were readily absorbed and partially Romanized, but the northern areas were more strongly influenced by the Dalmatians, and any control exercised by Rome tended to be transitory and limited to the ground that Rome’s soldiers stood on at any given time. Caesar was assigned Illyria as a province at the start of the 50s, but the word ‘province’ was used here in the old sense of ‘area of military operations’, rather than that of ‘administrative region’.

This was clearly demonstrated by the northern Illyrians and Dalmatians who took an opportunistic role in the civil wars. A Roman army under Julius Caesar’s henchman, Gabinius, was passing through Dalmatian territory when the Dalmatians trapped the soldiers in a narrow gorge and gave it a severe mauling which resulted in the near-total loss of the army and its standards. Caesar, preoccupied with his intentions to invade Parthia, was not prepared to undertake an Illyrian war of revenge. Therefore, he accepted Illyrian submission once he had gained power, and sent a small force of legionaries across the Adriatic to enforce that submission. However, when news of Caesar’s assassination reached the north, the locals rose up in arms once more and destroyed most of Caesar’s cohorts, with only a small force reaching safety in the south under the command of Vatinus, a general who was later to campaign successfully in Syria. This provoked a Roman response, but this was diluted by the contingencies of the civil wars raging at the time, and the weakened army which was finally dispatched was wiped out in Pannonia.

Thereafter, the Romans decided to leave this recalcitrant part of the peninsula alone until they had time to deal with it properly. Once he was emperor, Augustus started the project by an attack on the Segestani, a people in the far north of Greece. Having established a bridgehead there, he pushed southward against the Dalmatians and Illyrians. He soon found that whilst conquests were hard to come by (the terrain was both wooded and mountainous) the fractious and rebellious peoples of the area ensured that any gains were very easily lost.

Campaigning in the 30s saw several minor sieges and battles, resulting, eventually, in the return by the Dalmatians of the standards that had been captured from Gabinius. The area was still not subdued, and rose again in a major revolt a generation later. It was in this region also that Augustus’ successor, Tiberius, learned his military skills. It was not until AD 9 that the northeast was finally settled (though the difficulties of campaigning there inspired a mutiny in AD 14).

However, expansion from Rome’s bases at Dyrrhachium and Salona steadily pacified the wilder parts of Illyria, especially the obdurate Taulanti tribe of the central interior. By 27 BC, at the same time as Achaea was made a Roman province, the northwest was divided into the provinces of Illyricum and Dalmatia.

The long military tradition of the Balkans meant that when its peoples finally became reconciled to rule by Rome, they took enthusiastically to service in the legions. As Rome grew ever more cosmopolitan, Dalmatians and Illyrians were found at ever-higher ranks of the army. In the third century AD these men came into their own. Rome was beset by a series of barbarian invasions and found salvation under the guidance of a series of ‘Illyrian’ generals and emperors such as Aurelian, Diocletian, and the family of Constantine the Great. It was Constantine who founded the Roman Empire’s second capital, Constantinople, on the Bosporus, a capital which stood firm even when the western empire was overwhelmed.

Consequently Greece and Macedon remained part of the empire for hundreds of years after the fall of Rome. While barbarian cowherds grazed their flocks in the shadow of the Senate house, the Greeks and Macedonians still considered themselves Romans. One wonders what the ghosts of Queen Teuta and King Philip would have made of that.

Caesar’s Final Campaigns in Gaul I

Caesar’s own narrative ends with the entry of the legions into winter quarters. This seems to imply that he meant to continue his narrative into the following year but the political chaos at Rome and then the civil war intervened and his narrative was never finished. The book covering his last campaign in Gaul is the work of Aulus Hirtius, one of Caesar’s legates, who completed the work at the request of Caesar’s close friend Balbus. Hirtius’s narrative is our best source for the events of this year but does not have the scope or quality of the work of his former commander. This is most clearly visible in his assertion that the Gauls had an overall war plan at the beginning of 51. He claims that the Gallic tribes had decided that a strategy based on confronting the Romans with a single coalition army had failed and that they now adopted an approach in which the Roman army would be faced with too many simultaneous rebellions to respond to all of them. On the face of it this seems highly unlikely. It would demand a level of consultation and planning among the various tribes that seems impossible. It is much more likely that internal political calculations as well as a continuing underestimation of the threat posed by Caesar’s army determined the war-making policy of the individual tribes.

Leaving his quaestor Mark Antony in charge at Bibracte, Caesar on the last day of 52 moved against the Bituriges who had already suffered heavily at Avaricum. He was accompanied by a guard of cavalry and made his way to the Thirteenth Legion under Titus Sextius, which was too small a force to keep the Bituriges under control, and combined it with the Eleventh under Reginus stationed nearby. After leaving two cohorts behind to guard the baggage Caesar advanced with his customary speed and appeared before the Bituriges were aware of his arrival. He sent his cavalry on a wide sweep, capturing many of the Bituriges who, unaware of his coming, were peacefully working in their fields. Those who were warned in time made their escape to neighbouring peoples but Caesar pursued them relentlessly. He cowed the neighbouring tribes, who abandoned their resistance and so deprived the fugitives of any hope of sanctuary. The Bituriges, unable to oppose Caesar, quickly surrendered. As he had in the case of the Arverni and Aedui Caesar treated them leniently. Once the campaign was over Caesar led his men back to their winter quarters after promising a bonus for their service and returned to Bibracte. He had only been there for eighteen days when a delegation from the Bituriges arrived to complain of an attack by the Carnutes. The attack may have been set in motion by Caesar’s own expedition against them: the tribe, which was seriously weakened by his attack, would have been an attractive target for raiding. Caesar responded immediately. A campaign against the Carnutes would make clear the benefits of being a dependent of Rome and at the same time strike at an important centre of resistance in central Gaul. He took the Sixth and Fourteenth Legions, who were stationed near the Saône on logistical duties, and set out to punish the Carnutes.

The Carnutes were already weakened after having suffered severely during the rebellion. The fate of Cenabum and other towns that had fallen to Caesar had persuaded them to abandon a number of their own and seek safety in temporary shelters scattered over the countryside, even though it was winter. Instead of simply letting his soldiers loose to plunder and burn their lands as he had done with the Bituriges, to spare his men constant exposure to the harsh weather Caesar chose Cenabum as his base and sent out cavalry and auxiliary units to ravage the countryside. These raids were extremely effective and the soldiers returned to Cenabum loaded down with booty. The effects of the weather and the plundering expeditions proved too much for the Carnutes who fled to the neighbouring peoples after suffering greatly.

After these campaigns Caesar considered that there was little threat of any large-scale resistance except among the Belgae. The Bellovaci and their neighbours were planning an attack on the Suessiones, a client of the Remi who lived near modern Soissons. It was less the fate of the Suessiones that concerned him than that of their patrons the Remi. They had been consistently loyal to the Romans even during the rebellion of the year before and had been an important source of supplies for the army. In addition to practical considerations it was absolutely essential that he be seen to offer effective protection to those tribes that supported him. Leaving two legions at Cenabum to keep watch on the Carnutes under Trebonius, he assembled a force of four legions to confront the Bellovaci.

Once he arrived in their territory he sent out cavalry to reconnoitre and to collect prisoners to question about the Bellovaci’s plans. They revealed that most of the tribe had fled except for a few scouts who were captured and brought back to camp. From them Caesar learned that the Bellovaci had assembled a coalition of tribes to oppose him including the Ambiani, the Aulerci, the Caletes, the Veliocasses and the Atrebates. The coalition army had chosen to camp in a naturally strong location on high ground covered with trees and surrounded by a marsh. Their heavy baggage had been hidden out of sight deep in the forests. The precise location is unknown but it was probably in the forest of Compiègne near the town of the same name close to the confluence of the Rivers Aisne and Oise. The Belgae had several leaders but the most important were Correus of the Bellovaci who had earlier conducted successful guerrilla operations against the Romans, and Commius who had served Caesar well in Britain and had been made king of the Atrebates by him but who had joined the revolt and had been one of its major commanders. Commius had sought support from nearby German groups and brought back about 500 cavalry. The Bellovaci and their allies had developed a dual strategy depending on the number of troops Caesar brought against them. If he came with a force no larger than three legions (about 15,000 men) they would face him in battle, but if he had a larger army they would stay in their easily defended position and try to cut off his supplies as Vercingetorix had planned to do. The scarcity of grain and forage in winter would probably have made this an easier task than it had been in the summer of the previous year. Although Caesar does not specify the size of the enemy force, given their plans that might have been perhaps 30,000 men.

The strength of the confederates’ position prompted Caesar to devise a plan to draw them out. If they would engage a force of three legions he would try to persuade them that that was the total of his forces. He placed his three most effective legions, the Seventh, Eighth and Ninth, at the head of the column preceding the baggage, while he positioned the Eleventh at the rear to give the enemy the impression that he only had three legions with him. Perhaps he remembered the attack launched by many of these tribes on his column nearly six years before. His marching formation could be easily reformed to repel an attack or deploy for battle. The Belgae at the approach of the legions, which seemed to be ready for battle, drew up in front of their camp but did not move down from higher ground. They did not engage nor did Caesar, who was surprised at the size of the Gallic force. His plan had failed. He pitched camp facing the enemy with a deep, narrow valley in between. His camp was heavily fortified, with a 12 feet (3.6m) rampart surmounted by a parapet and fronted by a double ditch 15 feet (4.5m) wide with perpendicular sides. These were far more impressive fortifications than the normal marching Roman camp in the field. In addition, towers were constructed on the ramparts with gangways running between them so that the troops would be able to throw missiles at the enemy from two different levels. These defences could be held by a comparatively small garrison, a necessity at this time of year since a number of soldiers were needed for foraging.

Both sides were active and there were often skirmishes between Roman auxiliaries and the Belgae. Nonetheless the Gallic strategy of attacking the foragers was effective. The scarcity of supplies meant that Roman foraging parties were widely spread and that left them vulnerable to attack. The only obvious solution for Caesar was a direct attack on the Gallic camp but the Gauls kept to their camp and the natural strength of the site meant that if he did attack the camp directly he might not succeed and suffer heavy losses. Clearly this was a much more difficult campaign than the relatively easy victories over the Bituriges and Carnutes. He summoned three more legions to join him as quickly as possible. In addition, to defend against the raids on his foraging parties he ordered the Remi, Lingones and other Gallic states to supply additional cavalry. The Belgae set up an ambush using one of the oldest of all tactical tricks. They lured the cavalry of the Remi into the trap by placing a few horsemen where the Remi would easily see them and when the Remi attacked these men they fled back to the much larger cavalry force posted in ambush. The Remi were encircled and sustained heavy casualties.

The attacks and the skirmishing continued until the Bellovaci learned of the approach of the additional legions. The siege of Alesia was still fresh in their minds. They began organizing an evacuation of their camp. The heavy baggage and non-combatants were to form the head of their column, to be followed by their troops. The column was originally scheduled to depart during the night but the need to organize the wagons delayed the column’s departure until dawn, when their preparations were now visible to the Romans. To protect the rear of the column they formed up their infantry in front of their camp facing the Romans. Anxious to stop the enemy’s withdrawal Caesar reconnoitred the marsh and discover a ridge that almost stretched across it to the enemy camp. Only a narrow depression separated it from the enemy’s camp. It is not clear why the ridge had not been found earlier. It may be that the enemy had stationed troops there that hid it from the Romans. Caesar had boards laid over the marsh and quickly crossed it and moved up to the plateau at the top of the ridge. There he drew up the legions in battle formation and set up artillery, as the enemy was still in range.

The Gauls, confident in the natural strength of their position, were ready to give battle. Caesar was equally aware of it so instead of attacking he drew up a screen of twenty cohorts (two legions) and began to build a camp. Once this was completed he posted the cohorts and cavalry with their horses at the ready. Caesar’s new camp created a serious problem for the Bellovaci. They had had to halt their withdrawal as they were afraid that if they began withdrawing the Romans would attack them as they did so. They hit upon a plan to disguise their withdrawal. They collected bundles of straw and piles of twigs and placed them in front of their camp facing the Romans. When they were ready to move they set them alight. Their movements were hidden by the fire and smoke. They withdrew as quickly as they could. The fire and smoke also held the Romans back. Their cavalry was uncertain about what was waiting for them on the other side of the blaze, fearing a possible ambush, and the smoke so obscured their vision that they could not move forward. The Gauls were able to withdraw ten miles in safety and pitched another camp in a second naturally strong position. Despite Caesar‘s claim that they retreated in disorder it is clear that they had executed a well thought out and successful plan. Once in place at their new position they renewed their attacks on Roman foraging parties.

Once again Caesar’s intelligence gathering served him well. He learned that one of their leaders, Correus, had assembled a force 6,000 infantry and 1,000 cavalry to set an ambush near an area rich in grain and forage. Caesar hurried to the spot, sending his cavalry ahead with light-armed infantry dispersed among them, and then cautiously following with the legions. The cavalry and light-armed would screen his approach and would be taken by the enemy for a normal foraging party. The place that the Gauls had chosen for an ambush was an isolated valley that extended no more than a mile in any direction and was ringed by a river and forests. The Roman cavalry advanced into it and the Gauls sprung their trap. With the knowledge that the legions were coming up in support the cavalry fought well and for a long time both sides were evenly matched. Then the pendulum began to swing in the Romans’ favour as both sides became aware of the legions’ approach. Their arrival was decisive. The Bellovaci turned and fled, but the woods and river created a death trap. They prevented easy escape and more than half their force was lost during the flight, including Correus. After such a heavy defeat Caesar feared that the Gauls would once again retreat. Knowing that their camp lay only 7 miles (11.6km) away on the other side of the Oise he brought his troops across it and hurried to confront them.

The defeat proved too much for the Bellovaci, who opened negotiations for surrender. They argued that the loss of so many men had been punishment enough for them and they blamed the revolt on Correus, who was now conveniently dead. Caesar recognized the falsity of their second argument but decided that clemency was preferable to continued fighting. The Gauls persuaded the other rebel states to join in the surrender and spare Caesar the trouble of further campaigning. Commius had escaped and remained irreconcilable. Before the rebellion of the previous year he had been agitating among various tribes to restart the revolt. Labienus had discovered this and sent a unit of soldiers to assassinate him. The attempt failed but it ended any possibility of reconciliation. Later in 51, as winter approached, Commius and his men had fought a skirmish with Roman cavalry that was indecisive. But he had not given up hope of inciting his fellow Atrebates to rise in rebellion. Meanwhile, he used his cavalry to launch a number of raids on Roman supply convoys. Antony, the legate stationed in the area, dispatched a cavalry unit in pursuit and finally, after a number of skirmishes, Commius was defeated, although at some cost. Seeing no hope of success he entered into negotiations with the Romans. He handed over hostages and was ordered to remain where he was and follow orders in the future. Commius asked one thing in return: that he might never again have to look on another Roman, and Antony granted him his wish.

Major opposition was now crushed but many of the Gauls were still not reconciled to the new dispensation. To deal with the continuing resistance Caesar dispatched Fabius with twenty-five cohorts to support the two under-strength legions under the command of Rebilus in the land of the Pictones south of the Loire, in what later formed part of the province of Aquitania. The Fifteenth Legion, which had been with Labienus in winter quarters, was sent to Cisalpine Gaul to guard against attacks on the citizen colonies. Caesar feared a repeat of an attack launched in the previous summer against the settlement of Tergeste in Illyria (modern Trieste) and he remembered the attempt in 52 to invade the province.

Caesar now turned his attention to Ambiorix and the Eburones. Ambiorix had been one of his most consistent and unyielding opponents. He had been behind the destruction of Cotta and Sabinus in 54 and had sought to forge an alliance of Belgic tribes, including the Treveri, to oppose the Romans. A number of attempts to capture him had all ended in failure. This would seem to indicate that he could draw on substantial support from his own people. Unable to capture him, Caesar determined on a strategy that would make the price of supporting him too costly. He sent out columns consisting of legionaries and cavalry to ravage the lands of the tribe and to kill or capture as many of the Eburones as possible. Labienus was sent with two legions against the Treveri, who had as usual been unwilling to meet Roman demands and had operated with Ambiorix in 54. Labienus defeated the Treveri and their German allies in a cavalry battle. Despite the devastation inflicted on the Eburones and the defeat of the Treveri Ambiorix was never taken prisoner.

The subjugation of Aquitania in 57 by Crassus had been incomplete and events there were affected by the rebellion in central and the northern Gaul. A large rebel force had gathered in the land of the Pictones and part of it under a leader of the Andes, Dumnacus, was laying siege to the town of Lemonum (Poitiers), held by the pro-Roman Duratius. Learning of the siege, Rebilus set out to bring help. Nearing the town and reluctant to face the enemy with a weak force he camped in a secure location. When Dumnacus learned of his arrival he broke off the siege and turned to attack the Romans. His assault ended in failure and resulted in heavy casualties; he abandoned the attack and turned back to renew his siege of the town.

While these events were taking place another legate, Fabius, had been in action nearby and had received the submission of a number of tribes. Rebilus informed Fabius of the attack on Lemonum and Fabius set out to lift the siege. As he approached, Dumnacus and his army withdrew over the Loire. Fabius, informed by locals about the route of Dumnacus’s retreat, decided to follow the rebels. Reaching a bridge over the Loire they had used he crossed and sent out his cavalry in pursuit. They caught up with the enemy column while it was still in marching formation and inflicted a severe defeat on it, but despite the losses the Andes continued their withdrawal. The next night Fabius sent his cavalry on ahead to slow the progress of the column. They met stiff resistance as the Andes’ cavalry knew that their infantry was coming up in support. The Romans began to also attack the infantry who had formed a battle line. This was not sound tactics as cavalry usually could not successfully break infantry in formation. Its main effect was to fix the enemy column, which was exactly what Fabius had intended. The battle was not going well for the Roman cavalry when the legions came into view. The Gauls had been unaware of their presence and their sudden appearance created a panic among them. Their formation dissolved and many were killed during the pursuit: 12,000 died and their baggage train fell into Roman hands.

Dumnacus survived the defeat and remained at large. There was still the possibility that he could cause further trouble among the tribes that had joined the rebellion but had not been defeated. Fabius moved quickly and the opposition collapsed. Even the Carnutes, who had caused the Roman so much trouble and had never yet surrendered, finally did so. Dumnacus had now become a liability to the Gauls and had to seek safety in flight.

Caesar’s Final Campaigns in Gaul II

Other problems remained. A Senonian chief named Drappes had mustered a small army of 2,000 survivors from Fabius’s campaign and was moving on the province. He had already launched successful attacks on Roman supply convoys. He had been joined by Lucterius the Cadurcan, who had tried to launch a similar attack in 52 but had failed. Rebilus set out in pursuit with his two legions, which were more than sufficient to deal with the small enemy force. The arrival of Rebilus put an end to any hope of invading the province and the two Gallic chieftains halted in the territory of the Cadurci and seized control of the town of Uxellodunum in the modern Dordogne, its identification being uncertain.

Rebilus pursued them there but the capture of the town presented serious difficulties. It was perched on a sheer rock cliff with limited access. Storming it was impossible so that the only practical alternative was to starve it out. Rebilus, dividing his cohorts into three groups, constructed a camp for each of them and then as quickly as he could he began construction of a circumvallation linking the camps and enclosing the town. The sight of the construction of the siege wall stirred memories of Alesia and the other Gallic towns that the Romans had taken among the troops and townspeople. A plan was needed to maintain the town’s grain supply. Two thousand troops remained to defend the town while light-armed infantry was sent out under the command of Drapes and Lucterius to bring in grain while this was still possible. Within a few days a large amount of grain had been collected and the Gauls set up camp about ten miles from the town. Meanwhile, they launched night attacks on various forts that brought the construction of the siege wall to a halt, as Rebilus had too few soldiers to adequately man it and defend against the attacks.

Drappes and Lucterius planned to send small grain convoys to the town in order to avoid detection. They divided their responsibilities between them; Drappes stayed to guard the camp while Lucterius took charge of conveying the grain. Lucterius set out at night to avoid detection but the noise of the wagons alerted the Romans, who sent out scouts who returned and informed Rebilus of what the enemy was doing. Cohorts were dispatched from the nearest forts at dawn and attacked the convoy. The unexpected assault threw the Gauls in the convoy into a panic and they fled back to the guard posts that Lucterius had established along the route. The Romans made short work of these and few of the enemy survived. Lucterius managed to escape with a few men but did not return to camp. This was a stroke of luck for Rebilus, as the Gauls in the camp were unaware of the fate of Lucterius and the convoy. He sent his cavalry ahead along with German infantry who advanced at full speed and followed up with one of his legions. He left the other to guard his own camp and the newly-constructed fortifications. The Germans and the rest of the cavalry launched a vigorous attack on the enemy camp and then the appearance of the legionaries completed the rout. The camp was taken and all of the Gauls were either killed or captured. Drappes was among the prisoners. No longer facing external threats, Rebilus now turned his full attention to the siege of the town.

While this was happening Caesar was making a progress among the rebellious tribes. He left Antony with fifteen cohorts among the Bellovaci to watch Belgica. At this point he received letters from Rebilus informing him of the fate of Lucterius and Drappes and the progress of the siege. He also informed Caesar that although the force in the town was small it was putting up a determined resistance.

Caesar now decided to put an end to all opposition. It was not the importance of Uxellodunum that mattered but the fact that in holding out against him it could serve as a potent symbol of continued Gallic resistance. His failure at Gergovia in 52 had helped ignite the great rebellion and he was determined that there should be no repetition of it. He decided to act immediately. He ordered his legate Calenus to follow him with two legions and raced ahead with all of his cavalry to Uxellodunum.

When Caesar arrived he found the town enclosed by the Roman siege works. The problem that confronted him was how to avoid a protracted siege that would set back other projects, especially as his political position at Rome was becoming more precarious and resistance elsewhere in Gaul had not yet been suppressed. Since the town was well-supplied with grain Caesar turned his attention to cutting off its water supply. A river ran around the base of the hill on which the town sat and served as its water supply. The obvious course was to divert the stream but the nature of the ground made that option impossible. The river also presented difficulties for the besieged. The way down to it was steep and exposed to missile attack. Archers and slingers and artillery were posted covering the easiest approaches to the river. It now became too dangerous to use.

There was another source of water, a spring beneath the town walls that was made use of now that access to the river was cut off. It flowed out at a point where there was an area of about 300 feet that the river did not enclose. Caesar now moved to deprive the Gauls of that water supply as well. Soldiers brought up moveable shelters to protect themselves and began to build an earthwork, although they were subject to constant attack during the construction. The Gauls’ missiles often found their mark as they were thrown down from the town walls. The Romans also began digging mines towards the water channels that fed the spring and its source. Construction of the earthwork stopped when it had reached a height of 60 feet so that it now loomed over the spring. A tenstorey tower was mounted on it, as well as catapults to cover the spring. As it was now too dangerous for the townspeople to approach the spring they began to suffer from thirst.

Their only way to end their torment was to destroy the tower and ramp. They launched a fierce attack trying to set the tower on fire. They pressed the Romans hard and inflicted a number of casualties. To divert the attackers Caesar ordered his troops to climb the hill encircling the town and to pretend to mount a general attack on the walls. The ruse worked. The Gauls recalled their men to defend the walls and ended their attacks on the tower. The Roman mines had now reached the spring’s sources and its flow was diverted. Resistance was now hopeless and the town surrendered. This time Caesar’s clemency was hardly in evidence: he decided on judicious use of terror to deter those still holding out. He ordered that the hands of all those who had fought were to be cut off.

All that now remained in central and northern Gaul were mopping up operations. These were successfully carried out. Labienus won a cavalry engagement with the Treveri and their German allies. He captured the leaders of the revolt and all resistance ended.

Caesar then turned his attention to Aquitania in the south-west where he had never campaigned. His appearance had the desired effect; all of the tribes sent delegations and turned over hostages. All open resistance was now at an end. He turned south to the province and to Narbo its administrative centre. There he heard cases arising from the rebellion and distributed rewards to those who had supported Rome. Caesar once more claims that Gaul had now been pacified and this time he was correct. He sent his legions into winter quarters; four were posted to Belgica to watch for unrest, two were quartered among the Aedui, another two among the Turones who bordered the Carnutes, and the final two on the borders of the Arverni. After completing his business in the province Caesar moved north-east to join his legions in Belgica and wintered at Nemetocenna (modern Arras in the Pas de Calais). Although Gaul was finally at peace the Roman conquest was so recent and the area so large that further revolts remained a possibility. Caesar was especially concerned about this as the situation at Rome grew worse. He adopted a policy of reconciliation with the Gauls and made a special effort to win over the nobles and chiefs who controlled Gallic society with large cash payments.

At the end of winter 51/50 Caesar headed to Cisalpine Gaul to canvass for his quaestor Antony, who was standing for a priesthood. By the time he reached the province he heard that Antony had been elected at the end of September. This was good news as Cato and his enemies were intensifying their attacks. With the problem of Antony’s candidacy resolved Caesar spent his time making a circuit of the communities there to garner support for his own candidacy for the consulship of 49. In addition, Cisalpina was the most prolific recruiting area in Italy. If it came to civil war it was crucial for Caesar to have its support. He then returned to Nemetocenna and conducted a purification of his army, signalling the end of campaigning in Gaul.

The conquest of Gaul north of the old province and extending from the Atlantic to the Rhine was due solely to Caesar. His motivations were those of any other Roman noble in his position: wealth and military glory. The need for both was particularly pressing when Caesar arrived in Gaul in 58. He had obtained his command in Cisalpine Gaul and Illyricum in the face of intense opposition and hatred. His finances were in terrible shape and his creditors barely allowed him out of Rome. Without adequate funds he could not compete politically; Cato and his friends would, if given the chance, politically isolate and destroy him. The triumvirate on whose support he relied was unstable. There was the intense jealousy between Pompey and Crassus that constantly threatened to tear it apart. Pompey, whom Caesar’s enemies found the most acceptable of the three and who eventually moved into the camp of Cato, remained a constant worry for Caesar. Pompey was the most intractable of all of Caesar’s problems. His conquests in the east and his other military successes had given him a status that even his political ineptitude did little to undermine. Caesar needed an arena in which to equal Pompey’s achievements and Gaul provided it.

The addition of Transalpine Gaul to Caesar’s province was merely an afterthought brought about by the fortuitous death of the man who was to have governed the province. It is likely that Caesar had hoped to launch a campaign in Illyricum but the events of 58 changed that. The movements of the Helvetii and the threat of Ariovistus drew Caesar north. In both instances it could be argued that he was protecting Roman interests. The Helvetii did pose a threat to the province and the Aedui as Roman allies had to be protected for the sake of Rome’s prestige if nothing else. The stationing of the legions in the north during the winter of 58/57 was a clear indication that Caesar had adopted a policy of conquest that probably even this early included all of continental Gaul. The area was large enough to allow for extensive campaigning and conquest. Just as importantly, it was agriculturally rich and would offer the prospect of immense amounts of booty. Imperial expansion was a virtue, as it had always been for the Roman ruling class, and here was a vast field in which to exercise it. Political and personal rewards that came with it exerted a magnetic attraction. This explains the two British expeditions of 55 and 54, which were hardly serious attempts to subjugate Britain but brought Caesar a twenty-day thanksgiving and increased his popularity at Rome. The bridge over the Rhine in 55 was a similar undertaking as well as his raids into Germany, which yielded little of practical value. The conquest of all of Gaul north and west of the old province was not a strategic necessity but the product of Caesar’s personality, his needs and desires.

Caesar’s success resulted from a combination of superior Roman equipment, technique and logistics, and Caesar’s individual qualities as a general. Perhaps the most important ingredient was his ability to win and then keep his men’s loyalties. A noticeable feature of Gallic War is the frequent praise for the common soldier and in particular of centurions, who are often mentioned by name and whose individual exploits receive extensive narration. Caesar maintained his bonds with them by a judicious use of favours and rewards. But it is clear both from his own work and that of other writers that his personal bravery and willingness to share the hardships of his men were crucial ingredients in maintaining their loyalty.

His speed of movement was astonishing and time and again he arrived earlier than his opponents thought possible. It was a virtue that could sometimes get him in to trouble, as it did during his first expedition to Britain and as it was later to do in 46 when he landed in Africa with an inadequate force during the civil war. In addition, Caesar had a marvellous ability to discern the enemy’s weaknesses and to devise tactics that capitalized on it. During the rebellion of 52 he deceived Vercingetorix, whom he misled by sending troops ahead who successfully convinced the Gallic commander that the Romans had moved up river and so was able to cross the Allier River without opposition.

At Uxellodunum he saw that the water supply was the key to taking the town and devised tactics that cut off access to it. He personally suffered only one serious defeat, at Gergovia. The first British expedition was a minor failure but his other reverses such as the fifteen cohorts lost with Cotta and Sabinus during the winter of 54 or Galba’s failure in the Alps in 57 were not primarily his fault. He possessed a military machine far more effective than any Gallic army he faced and he used it with great daring and skill.

The conquest of Gaul was more than the product of military force. Crucial to Caesar’s success was his ability to forge ties with the Gallic elite. He built up links to the leading men in each of the Gallic communities. In return for their support he conferred benefits upon them and solidified their position within their own tribes. Perhaps the most striking example was Diviciacus among the Aedui who not only supported Caesar but gave him valuable military intelligence. There were others as well such as the Nervian Vertico or the two leading men among the Remi, Iccius and Andecomborius. Caesar was not always successful in his choices. The most striking example is that of Commius, who Caesar made king of the Atrebates in 57 but who later joined the great rebellion in 52 and then, when it failed, fled to Britain. Other men he supported were either unpopular or murdered by their political enemies, such as Tasgetius of the Carnutes who had loyally supported Caesar who raised him to the kingship. His unpopularity among his fellow tribesmen, as well as political rivalry with other nobles, led to Tasgetius’s assassination. There are other cases as well. But one of the key ingredients of Caesar’s success was his ability to often pick the right Gallic notables and establish lasting ties with them that endured after Caesar left Gaul.

The cost of the campaigns in human life and in the devastation of large areas of Gaul was high. We have little information about Roman losses. There are only occasional references such as the 700 legionaries and forty-six centurions killed in the siege of Gergovia, or the fifteen cohorts or approximately 6,000 men lost with Cotta and Sabinus in 54. Eight years of campaigning, often under difficult conditions, must have taken their toll. The ancient sources do preserve figures for Gallic losses but they vary greatly and their value is uncertain. Plutarch claims that Caesar took 800 towns and conquered 300 tribes. He adds that Caesar faced 3,000,000 men in battle and killed 1,000,000 while taking the same number prisoner. Other sources give 400,000 and approximately 200,000. Probably the latter figures are nearer the truth, although in no case do we know how these writers arrived at their figures, which all refer to combatants. The higher figures may reflect at least in order of magnitude the total of civilian and military casualties including those sold into slavery. The only precise figure we have is for the 53,000 Atuatuci sold into slavery, but such sales are frequently mentioned in Gallic War and the numbers must have been substantial. The devastation certainly led to starvation, which was fatal for many, the Carnutes being an obvious example. It is likely that the total of civilian casualties greatly outnumbered those killed in the fighting.

Before January 49 when the civil war began and Caesar moved to confront his enemies in Italy, he had already begun the work of turning Gaul into a province. He set a relatively-low level of tribute for the new province, which probably reflected the loss and destruction that his years of campaigning had caused.8 Gaul was a relatively unimportant backwater in the four years that the civil war lasted. No major battles were fought there and there were no major actions, except for the siege of the city of Massilia (Marseille), which chose to side with Pompey and which Caesar besieged on his march to Spain in 49. After a courageous and ingenious defence it fell to Caesar’s legate Trebonius and was leniently treated. The major battles of the civil war took place in Spain, Africa and the East. What is striking is the lack of any large-scale resistance after Caesar’s departure.