Sunday, March 18, 2007

Tacitus and Caractacus

Caractacus was the Chieftan/King of the Catuvellauni tribe (lands central/west Britian, north-west of London towards Wales) at the time of the Roman invasion under the Commander Aulus Plautius (circa 50 CE). He had a brother named Togodumnus, together they were sons of the British King Cunobelinus. As a strong and dominant force, Caractacus and his tribe resisted the Roman invasion for over 9 years, although they were defeated by Roman forces in the East.
Caractacus moved west to the Silures (Glamorgan in Wales) where another skirmish took place with Roman troops, although it was an undecisive conflict. Then he moved north to the tribal lands of the Ordivices (central Gwynned, south Clywd, north Powys) in preparation for a major battle. The exact location of Caractus's last stand is unknown, despite archeological surveys, though local legend suggests a place called Caer Caradog, or Llanymynech, a limestone bur in Shropshire, a natural location for strong defense/offence position.

Caractacus was apparently an intelligent and capable General. It was at this location that he was defeated by a force under the command of the Roman Governer Ostorius Scapula in 51CE, however, Caractacus escaped the carnage of the battle and ran northwards to the lands of the Brigantes under Queen Cartimandua. The Brigante Queen was a Roman sympathiser and under a 'client/ruler' contract (the Romans allowed her to rule with comparitive automny). Queen Cartimandua therefore welcomed, held and then handed Caractacus over to the Roman authorities. He was then dispatched to Rome as a slave (together with his wife and son). Such was Caractacus's sense of nobility and justice that the Emporer Cladius pardoned him, and allowed him and his family to live out their life in peace in Italy. Caractus's place and time of death are unknown. For me, the most poignant part of Tacitus's record of these events, is his record of Caractus's speech at the Emperor's tribunal;"Had my moderation in prosperity been equal to my noble birth and fortune, I should have entered this city as your friend rather than as your captive; and you would not have disdained to recieve, under treaty of peace, a King descended from illustrious ancestors and ruling many nations. My present lot is as glorious to you as it is degrading to myself. I had men and horses, arms and wealth. What wonder if I parted with them reluctantly? If you Romans choose to lord it over the world, does it follow that the world is to accept slavery? Were I to have been once delivered up as a prisoner, neither my fall nor your triumph would have become famous. My punishment would have followed oblivion, whereas, if you save my life, I shall be an everlasting memorial of your clemency"In this speech, Caractacus displays a well informed knowledge of the international politics of the day, I wonder also if he was fluent in Latin (or the Romans in Gaelic)? He is also acutely aware that his life and actions have a historical importance, knowing that his captors are recording everything for posterity. Strange as it may seem, had it not been for the Romans we may never have known about Caractacus, the Gaels, the Druids and have such important documentation. There is an ancient stone which commemorates Caractus:

Pictured above, at Winsford Hill (SS 88983355) The inscription reads "CARAACI NEPUS', or the 'kinsman of Caractus.' The location of the stone is Exmoor, an expansive and wild plain located in the south-east of Britian in Devon. A shelter was built for it in 1906. The stone was first documented in 1219 as a Forest boundary and called the "Langeston". A little stone hut has been built round it! There seems a modern impulse somehow to domesticate standing stones, to impose our suburban mind set upon their wildness.The practice of siting a Romano-British memorial stone, along a track way up on the hill is a Roman one - think of the tombs along the Appian Way.

Tacitus. Annals, Book XIICoutrell, Leonard, "The Roman Invasion of Britian," Barnes & Noble, New York, 1992

1 comment:


The stone is in South West Britain and is located in the county of Somerset!!