Let's kick things off with an invasion!
Updated: Jun 14, 2018
Welcome to the group Legio Secvnda Avgvsta! This is the first of what will be monthly blog posts, talking about just various topics, arguments, research and views of Roman society, Roman Britain (and maybe a little earlier), and what goes on within living history and re-enactment.
I thought, as this is the first blog, it might be appropriate to briefly describe and narrate Leg ii Avg during the early phases of the invasion of Britain in AD43. You might be wondering who this random person is, writing this blog… I’m James, and I’ve been a member of the group for almost 9 years now. I’m part of the military side, usually as a legionary, but I’m also one of the group’s gladiators – specialising in gladiatorial display and combat, and fighting as a Retiarius. I’ve completed a degree and MA in Ancient History, and hope to be working towards a PHD soon on gladiatorial commemoration and spectacle-combat. If you come to see us at one of our shows, I’m normally the guy turning left when I should have turned right, and then running around in a red nappy during the gladiator show – please do come and say hi, and it would be great to talk to you, and answer an questions you have, either about the group, Romans in general, or why I’m in a red nappy..
Anyway – onto the main topic of this blog!
Once Gaius (Caligula) had found himself on the worse end of a conspiracy, his uncle – the stuttering, humped, and often ridiculed, Claudius – became emperor; not out of any personal drive himself it seems, but because without a new emperor, the Praetorian Guard would have been out of a job. During what was a culling of the imperial family, Claudius was discovered and hailed emperor by the Praetorians, and, as the held the swords, the Senate decided to follow suit. Claudius had some big caligae to fill, however – not so much those left by Caligula (indeed, several of his abandoned ventures proved useful to Claudius), but those that fitted the feet of his brother Germanicus, and of course the first Princeps, Augustus. Germanicus had been a much loved and, importantly, respected military leader, leading a campaign of revenge and commemoration for the dead into Germania in response to Arminius’ successful ambush – erasing three legions from the military map of the Roman World. Claudius, on the other-hand, did not have such a distinguished military career, and was unfortunately promote to the political position where military achievements were a must. Luckily, some instability had arose in the far off, still mostly unexplored island of Britannia, and, according to the sources, the British king, Verica, of the Atrebates – a pro-Roman client kingdom of Rome – had arrived in Rome seeking aid against the Catuvellaunians who were spreading in his lands. I might go more in depth with this during a future blog, but for now, whether this was truly happening in Britain or not, it seems this provided Claudius with both a new location to campaign to, and a reason.
In AD43 then, Rome’s military hand stretched out to grab Britannia. There’s a big debate about where the legions landed, and the total size of the force (again, a future topic), but if going by traditional interpretations, the army landed in Kent. Originally, four legions were thought to have landed during the invasion, however, it is quite likely it was three legions, with a fourth appearing later on. In Richborough, a military camp had been discovered, dating to AD43 and appearing large enough to surround three legions – most likely the Ninth, Fourteenth, and the second (cue the cheering for our legion). From there it seems the primary objective was to seize the main seat of power in Britain at the time – Camulodunum (modern day Colchester). Cassius Dio describes a battle taking place across a river, and it has been generally accepted this may have been the Medway. The Romans won, thanks to a surprise attack on the Britons from auxiliary cavalry, and the legions continued on. It seems at this point, Claudius hears news of the victory at the Medway and travels to join the invasion force, bringing elephants with him. A recent argument has pointed out, however, that for Claudius to have arrived in Britain so soon after the Medway battle, he must have already been travelling with the intention of joining the legions after they had made the initial landing, and possibly removing any initial threat, too.
The legions had made it to Caulodunum, and after what may have been a short siege, Claudius is said to have entered upon the back of an elephant, and soon after received the formal surrender of eleven British kings. Just take a moment to imagine being a Briton during that entrance of Claudius – staring at the massive creatures that you may have heard stories of but never before seen – bearing the most powerful person in the ancient world…and your new conquer. You would not condemned for thinking this may be just literary flair, and the elephants were not really present. However, the arch of Claudius, while not surviving, is presented on Claudian coinage and includes an elephant as the top figure; the transportation of such animals would have been possible also due to the mass importation and distribution of exotic animals for Venationes during the games. Whether true, or not, the capture of Camulodunum, and the surrender of the British kings certainly gave claim of South East England to Rome. Leg ii Avg was present during all of this, and the auxiliary cavalry responsible for victory at the Medway were under the command of the Second’s Legatus, Vespasian. After Camulodunum, Vespasian led the Second legion Southwards, subduing Vectis (Isle of Wight), and into the South West.
I won’t say much more as I might expand on this in a later blog, but I hope you enjoyed reading this, and hope to see you soon at one of our shows!