miércoles, 7 de febrero de 2018

Roman Britain and the Rebellion of Boudica (part 3).

Rome, the Eternal City

The roman eagles would stay in Britain almost three hundred and fifty years after the rebellion of Boudica. Were peaceful or turbulent times, with many ups and downs, depending on the situation of Rome. The excessive growth of the empire, had increased the problem of guarding the borders. Besides, the political intrigues at the metropoli marked their influence over the provinces... as some generals became very prominent (and powerful), were the object of imperial suspicions. The reality often demonstrated that this mistrust was not wrong.

The insurrection of Boudica had such a severe punishment, that emperor Nero decided to replace the governor of Britain, to avoid the worst. But soon Rome would sink into anarchy... loosing control over its farther provinces: were good times for the celtic resistance. By the year 77 AD, Vespasian finally could send his legions, under the command of general Gnaeus Julius Agricola. He was father-in-law of the historian Tacitus, and had been present in times of the warrior queen.

Romans versus Celts
The general imposed the roman peace again. With successive campaings he controlled the western lands (Wales). They also advanced far north, reaching central Caledonia (Scotia) in the year 84, defeating the celtic tribes at Grampio. Agricola became very successful, as a soldier, and as a civilizing agent... spreading the roman culture in Britain.

Gnaeus Julius Agricola
The next emperor, Domitian, decided that was no longer worthwhile the conquest of the northern lands of the island. Soon he called Agricola back to Rome, to carry out other assingments. It seems possible that he wanted to have a closer look on the conspicuous  general.

The Caledonians and Picts tribes searched for shelter in the northern mountains. They continued harassing the romans for years, consuming time and resources needed in other regions. At the same time it was producing a progressive fatigue on the troops. In times of emperor Trajan, by the year 100, the Roman Empire reached its largest extent... and the contingents in Britain suffered a severe reduction.

Hadrian: between 117-138 AD
When emperor Hadrian visited Britain in 122, he saw the necessity to secure the northern limits. For Rome, it was only a heavy load and a constant threat. With a clever strategic view, he ordered to build a wall, from east to west, at a narrow point of the island. There were 117 strongly guarded kilometers of walls and moats. He established that limit further south from the place Agricola had conquered years before. Was an exchange of land for calm... Today we still can stare at the remains of this impressive wall, full of history, between England and Scotland.

Map of Londinium, 2nd century AD
As expected, then came times of peace and well-being for Britain. The cities continued their growth, the roads extended everywhere. Londinium turned into an important port and acquired the glance of any roman city. But the ambition of the imperial power did not let that calm last too much. 

Antoninus Pius
Hadrian's sucesor, Antoninus Pius, ordered his legions to move forward. It seems that he wanted to make history for some achievement or conquest... a disastrous habit to keep the peace. The romans went very far to the north, and built a second wall, in the year 142. Again they chose a narrow point of the island (58 kilometers). Antonino's Wall had fortresses and moats, although the construction was not very solid. Now its ruins have the World Heritage status of UNESCO, and may be visited in the lands of Scotland.

Ruins of Roman wall,
at Stanwick Hill, Scotland.

The new border presented serious issues: it was very distant, in the middle of a hostile territory. The fragile wall permited the celtic warriors to pass through without great efforts. Moreover, the lands  between the two walls were refuge of many rebels, this would cause more struggling and more fatigue for the romans... they knew how it was: they could defeat those people, but never finished them. At the same time, still persisted the political instability in Rome, and the endless war in many fronts at the same time. The loss of all those territories was only a matter of time.

Then came times of some stability and wealthness in Britain, till Commodus reign. His awful government ended with his death, in the year 192. The ghost of civil war again stroke Rome, and brought consequences to the island.

Septimius Severus
The roman commander in Britain became a contender for the crown. With most of his army he moved to Gaul, abandoning their positions at the island. At the end, he was defeated by another general, Septimius Severus (year 197), who turned out to be the next emperor. By that time, the tribes from the north could cross at their will the unattended walls. Peace on the province was in inminent risk...  

Hadrian's Wall. England.
Severus reacted with all his power. Again he took control of the situation with the Picts and the Caledonian tribes, in the year 209. But he understood the difficulty for Rome to keep that northern frontier. So it happened that the romans left the Wall of Antoninus for good, holding Hadrian's as the northern limit. Emperor Severus died in Eboracum (the modern city of York), it was the year 211.

Antoninus' Wall, near Fort Cumbernauld.
Then chance played for the british settlers, when the lands to the north of the wall submerged in chaos. In that time ocurred the invasion of Scotish tribes, and Celts from the near Hibernia (now Ireland). Those turmoils brought peace and calm to the southern territories during almost a hundred years. Were times when romanization of Britain reached its peak... in particular between the higher classes from the urban zones. Beneath, there was a rebellious people, trying to keep their legacy. And they would never assimilate roman culture as other western provinces did (like Hispania and Gaul).

Trajan Column. Rome.
The good times for Britain were merely a coincidence, an illusion. It was a mix of certain events, such as the ineptitude of most emperors and the ambition of the generals. These coincided with the defense of distant frontiers, and the northern Scottish invasions. The loss of those territories and the disintegration of the empire was already looming.

 The Spear of Destiny.
Hofburg Palace. Vienna, Austria.

The celtic rebellion manifested in a curious manner: Christianity took its roots in Britain. It seems a way to oppose to the pagan beliefs of Rome. Then maybe had their origin the stories of The Holy Grail and the Sacred Spear, brought there by Joseph of Arimathea, many years before. These beautiful stories are related to King Arthur's legend, appeared some centuries later. The mix of Christianity with Celtic cults, and some of the Druid misteries is always present there. Would be very interesting to search about the historical basis of all these. 

Diocletian. Istanbul Archeological Musem.
Photo: G. Dall' Orto, 2006 (cropped).
Diocletian, another general, came to power in 284. He had the wisdom to carry out a reform the government: there would be a western and an eastern emperor. Each one would choose his successor, or Caesar. This way, Constantius Chlorus became heir of the throne of the Western Empire. He had to exert the power in Britain, so he established there. Those were times of welfare, and most of all, of tranquility... the cruel chase of Christians did not took place there. He died in Eboracum (York) as the emperor of the West: Contantius I, in the year 306. The wheel of chance was turning again!

Constantine the Great. York, UK.
The so named Tetrarchy had problems from its beginning. The son of Constantius Chlorus, Constantine, had not the nomination as succesor... but had a strong support from the army. He faced and finished every possible rival; by the year 324, he detented an absolute power. He made Christianity the official religion, and moved the capital of the empire to Constantinople (now Istanbul), in 330.

By that time, the pressure at the borders was increasing constantly. The Germans had become a real menace for the empire. In Britain, those were times of continous military weakening. As a consequence, the rebels could move and attack everywhere, with great ease.

Theodosius I
In the year of 367, Rome could control the situation at Britain for the last time. The legions defeated the rebels and settled in triumph at Londinium. It was the moment of emperor Theodosius I, who became a good ruler... but the unity of the empire was already a fiction. When he died in 395, the Western Empire was leading to nothing. The Germanic invaders finally overflowed the frontiers. Then, came the time when war touched the boundaries of the city, and they needed all their legions there, there was no other choice.

Bath Cathedral. The Roman Church.
The Roman legions left Britain in the year 407, and their boots would never walk again on that land. It has been said that the general commander aspired to the imperial power. The British community remained abandoned at their own fate: but some of them could escape to Gaul. Latin culture and everything with any relation was almost completely eradicated. Even Christianity faded away, and the Celtic spirit came back strongly. In the future, only the Roman religion would return to the island.

Germanic Warriors.
With the passage of time, the British Isles again would suffer another waves of invaders. According to their origin, they were: 1) Germanic: the Jutes, the Angles and the Saxons. 2) Nordic: The Vikings and the Normans. The Celts again  would fall, and with them even the memory of the Romans finally resulted erased. 

Even the Celtic tradition was displaced by the Anglo-Saxon culture, leaving only vestiges. Britain was the only western Roman province where such a process happened.  Now, is impossible to imagine how could the history had been if the Roman influence over these lands would have remained...

Eagle relief on stone from Picts. Scotland.
As for the Picts and the Scots... they would continue fighting for their northern lands. They always did it, and always will do. They would give birth to a great nation, which:

               "Never will be attacked with impunity..." 

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