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Whilst I was on holiday I saw a television broadcast of a dramatised documentary about Boudicca's rebellion against Rome in AD60. Entertaining stuff, however biased toward the Roman account, which is admittedly our only source and written back in the day to conform to their readers expectations of an interesting and dramatic anecdote. But as I watched, I realised the presenter was making fundamental errors about Rome's provincial policies. In short, I hereby examine three statements made during the program. 1 - That Rome ruled by violence and oppression 2 - That Rome relied on the invincibility of her army 3 - That the rebellion illustrates the truth of what life was like under Roman rule. 1 - Rome ruled by violence and oppression This is a common conception. Rome is seen as a monolithic nation state that assimilates populations to produce indentikit citizens with a generation or two. This was simply not so. Rome was at heart a city state with influence over a network of territories of varying status and native populations owing them loyalty and taxes. it is true that many regions were brought into the empire via conquest of one sort or another, but let's not forget that the realm of Iceni was a client state that Rome expected to inherit. Tacitus tells us that... The imperial agent Caisu Decianus, horrified by the catastrophe and his unpopularity, withdrew to Gaul. It was his rapacity which had driven the province to war Annals (Tacitus) Imperial agent? So Decianus was there at the orders of Nero to make sure the man the Senate had sent to make sure the province was doing fine, was doing fine. Whilst the habit of being rapacious, greedy, clumsy, and brutal was an unfortunate tendency of senior Romans in Provincial assignment, clearly not all of them were. Therefore violence and oppression was a policy pursued by individual Romans at their discretion rather than any tyrannical regime the Romans had foisted upon the unfortunate Britons. But then, the Romans didn't like tyrants all that much, never mind the Britons. 2 - Rome relied on the invincibility of her army Rome's legions were not invincible and they knew it. The sources contain many references to utter defeats and indeed, some describe one legion or another as barely resembling a military unit at all. But let's read what Tacitus says about a military mission to relieve the sack of Camulodunum. The Ninth Roman legion, commanded by Quintus Perilius Cerialus Caesius Rufus, attempted to relieve the town, but was stopped by the victorious Britons and routed. its entire infantry force were massacred, while the commander escaped to his camp with his cavalry and sheltered behind its defenses. Annals (Tacitus) Oh dear. The commander ran away with his horsemen, perhaps two or three percent of a full strength legion. How invincible was that? 3 - That the rebellion illustrates the truth of what life was like under Roman rule. The 'savage' Britons ran riot, attacking Londinium, Veralumium, and eventually meeting another legionary force under the senatorial governor Suetonius, at the Battle of Watling Street. Tacitus kindly gives us the speech made by Boudicca - which is clearly invented since no-one would have recorded it for the benefit of a Roman historian. The Britons lose, and Boudicca is said to have poisoned herself - a standard Roman style fate. Nero sends replacements for the casualties suffered by the Ninth Legion. And hot off the boat is Decianus' replacement. Still the savage British tribesmen were disinclined for peace, especially as the newly arrived Imperial Agent Gaius Julius Alpinus Classicianus, successor to Caius Decianus, was on bad terms with Suetonius, and allowed his personal animosities to damage the national interests. Annals (Tacitus) Should have all been sorted. Calmly, confidently, and decisively. But as happens in these anecdotes of Roman disorder, personality is the flaw rather than politics. Nero senses things aren't working out, and sends his freedman Polyclitus to investigate, who travelled with a seriously large entourage that stretched the patience of Italy and Gaul. it even intimidated the Roman legions. The Britons were, by all accounts, quite amused. But all this was toned down in Polyclitus' reports to the emperor. Retained as governor, Suetonius lost a few ships and their crews on the shore, and was then superseded for not terminating the war. His successor, the recent consul Publius Petronius Turpilianus, neither provoking the enemy nor provoked, called this ignoble inactivity peace with honour. Annals (Tacitus) One imperial agent ran away, his replacement pursued intrigue rather than the rebels.. The senatorial governor got the sack, his replacement did nothing until the leaderless rebels gave up. Conclusion The television presenter stopped at the defeat of Boudicca, describing Rome as a tyranny that trampled rebellions with violence and oppression. What Tacitus describes is a catalogue of folly. Greed, cowardice, intrigue, indecisiveness, and clumsiness. The war is not won, merely left to fizzle out. Violence and oppression? Truth was the Romans were too busy making mistakes.
Auferre, trucidare, rapere, falsis nominibus imperium; atque, ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant. To ravage, to slaughter, to usurp under false titles, they call empire; and where they make a desert, they call it peace. (Oxford Revised Translation) They plunder, they slaughter, and they steal: this they falsely name Empire, and where they make a wasteland, they call it peace. (Loeb Classical Library edition) Warren Hastings was the subject of a corruption trial that lasted for seven years (1788-1795). Hastings was an Englishman working for the British East India Company. He was also the former Governor-General of Bengal, India. Many in the Parliament felt that British involvement in India, despite creating great personal wealth and annexing territories for the British Empire, had a morally corrupting influence on British society. Below is a passage from British historian Thomas Babington Macaulay’s “Warren Hastings.” These are the opening remarks by the brilliant, but sometimes histrionic and over-the-top Whig stateman Edmund Burke during the trial. Reading this quote carefully, one can read that the skilled orator Burke is making a reference to the earlier famous quote recorded by Tacitus of the Caledonian chieftain Calgacus before battle with Rome: This quote is frequently cited when referring to the destructive effect of unbridled military expansionism. Now some context: This is the famous quote of the Roman historian Tacitus (56-120 AD). It is from Tacitus’ “Agricola.” Julius Agricola was a Roman general and Governor of Britain from 77-83 AD during Domitian’s reign. Agricola was also Tacitus’ father-in-law. According to Tacitus, Domitian (allegedly out of envy and distrust) recalled Agricola to Rome after Agricola’s many successes in Britain. Agricola never served in government again. As a historian, Tacitus would contrast the liberty and nobility of the Britons and Germanic tribes with the corruption, veniality, and tyranny of the invading Romans. Tacitus puts this quote in the mouth of a possibly mythical chieftain of the Caledonian Confederacy named Calgacus. Agricola defeated this possibly mythical chieftain at the battle of Mons Graupius in northern Scotland in AD 83 or 84. So, the great trial of Warren Hastings was initially dramatic and captivating but soon became an overdrawn and tiresome ordeal. Some, however, viewed Burke as a modern-day Cicero, prosecuting the former governor of Sicily Gaius Verres for corruption and extortion The seven-year trial of Hastings was finally resolved with his acquittal. Public attention, however, had long been diverted away to other issues such as the turmoil and impending revolution in France. This quote of Tacitus, however, continues to reverberate throughout history. Robert F. Kennedy on March 18, 1968, referring to the Viet Nam War: I don't want to be part of a government, I don't want to be part of the United States, I don't want to be part of the American people, and have them write of us as they wrote of Rome: "They made a desert and they called it peace." https://www.jfklibrary.org/Research/Research-Aids/Ready-Reference/RFK-Speeches/Remarks-of-Robert-F-Kennedy-at-the-University-of-Kansas-March-18-1968.aspx guy also known as gaius