This book focuses on the events of 43 AD, the first year of Claudius’s invasion of Roman Britain, a year that saw the Romans finally establish a permanent presence in Britain, win two known and apparently many obscure battles, and the first Imperial visit, when Claudius arrived in time to justify holding a Triumph for ‘his’ conquest.
One of the interesting features of this account is just how much uncertainty there is about the events of the invasion. The author’s overview of the available sources makes it clear how limited our information actually is. We can’t be entirely sure where the invasion force landed, or even which legions were involved – one is certain, but the other three that are often allocated to the invasion are only known to have been in Britain from later inscriptions. We have short but useful descriptions of two battles – at the Medway and the Thames – and a brief mention of a significant campaign further to the west (commanded by the future Emperor Vespasian).
Probably because of our lack of detailed knowledge about the actual campaign, we get good sections on the nature of the Roman and British forces (including a bit more than is really needed on the Roman fleet, which was only really used to ferry the army across the Channel), the Roman and British leaders and the motivation for the invasion. We also get a good section on Caesar’s earlier invasions, which probably played a part in convincing Claudius to attempt his own invasion. During the account of the campaign there are some digressions, including one looking at the ability of the Batavians to cross rivers in full armour then immediately enter battle, that are relevant to the campaign, but that would probably have only justified a paragraph in an account of a better documented campaign!
I don’t agree with the author’s conclusion that the Roman invasion was a temporary occupation of little value to Rome – the more archaeology is done on Roman Britain, the more a picture emerges of an increasingly Romanised and prosperous province, and one that remained in Roman hands for three and a half centuries – the same gap that separates us from the reign of Charles II! Other than that this is an excellent account of this important but rather sparsely documented campaign.
Origins of the Campaign
Author: Nic Fields