MORE ON THE CLAUDIAN INVASION OF BRITAIN

In my previous blog on the Claudian Invasion of Britain, I featured Dio’s History and ignored other ancient historians who made brief mention of Claudius’s glorious Triumph. Without a doubt, Dio remains our main source for information on the invasion, but while researching the subject, I found two other references by ancient historians:

One was Eutropius in his Abridgment of Roman History(Historiae Romanae Breviarium) written in the fourth century and translated by Rev. John Selby Watson in 1853-1856: Book VII (XIII)  “After him reigned Claudius, the uncle of Caligula, and son of that Drusus who has a monument at Moguntiacum, whose grandson Caligula also was. His reign was of no striking character; he acted, in many respects, with gentleness and moderation, in some with cruelty and folly. He made war upon Britain, which no Roman since Julius Caesar had visited; and, having reduced it through the agency of Cnaeus Sentius and Aulus Plautius, illustrious and noble men, he celebrated a magnificent triumph. Certain islands also, called the Oracades, situated in the ocean, beyond Britain, he added to the Roman empire, and gave his son the name of Britannicus. So condescending, too, was he towards some of his friends, that he even attended Plautius, a man of noble birth, who had obtained many signal successes in the expedition to Britain, in his triumph, and walked at his left hand when he went up to the Capitol.  He lived to the age of sixty-four, and reigned fourteen years; and after his death was consecrated and deified.”

The other reference is better known. It’s included in The Lives of the Caesars by C. Suetonius Tranquillus as translated by J.C. Rolfe in the Loeb Classical Library 1914:  ”He made but one campaign and that of little importance. When the senate voted him the triumphal regalia, thinking the honour beneath the imperial dignity and desiring the glory of a legitimate triumph, he chose Britain as the best place for gaining it, a land that had been attempted by no one since the Deified Julius and was just at that time in a state of rebellion because of the refusal to return certain deserters. On the voyage thither from Ostia he was nearly cast away twice in furious north-westers, off Liguria and near the Stoechades islands. Therefore he made the journey from Massilia all the way to Gesoriacum by land, crossed from there, and without any battle or bloodshed received the submission of a part of the island, returned to Rome within six months after leaving the city, and celebrated a triumph of great splendour.  To witness the sight he allowed not only the governors of the provinces to come to Rome, but even some of the exiles; and among the tokens of his victory he set a naval crown on the gable of the Palace beside the civic crown, as a sign that he had crossed and, as it were, subdued the Ocean. His wife Messalina followed his chariot in a carriage, as did also those who had won the triumphal regalia in the same war; the rest marched on foot in purple-bordered togas, except Marcus Crassus Frugi, who rode a caparisoned horse and wore a tunic embroidered with palms, because he was receiving the honour for the second time.”

Neither one of these sources contribute anything to our knowledge of the actual invasion but merely attest to the fact that Claudius celebrated a Triumph as a result. Both of these accounts were written many years after the invasion took place so we can be fairly confident that the authors had access to earlier more contemporary and comprehensive written histories that are now lost. It saddens me to think that we may never know more details about this important historic event now known  as the Claudian Invasion of Britain.

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