Caractacus' Last Battle

 

 

 

 



Background information

Caractacus and his brother Togodomus led the initial British resistance against the Roman invasion, commanded by Aulus Plautius. Caractacus and Togodomus fought together in the opening battles at Medway and Thames. Togodomus was killed in the battle of the Thames and Caractacus fled with his warriors to continue the war in the land of the Silures (South Wales). There he led a successful guerilla war against the Romans.

When the Romans moved considerable forces into Silurian lands he took his warriors north into the land of the Ordivician tribes (North Wales). There, after fighting against the Romans for nine years Caractacus faced the Romans, in his last battle.

Written evidence

The Roman writer, Tacitus provides us with good evidence of the war between the Romans and the Britons; including the British leader Caractacus' last battle. The following quote is taken from Tacitus' Annals. (The language has been simplified).

Caractacus selected a hill fort, to fight a decisive battle with the Romans, where it was both easy for the Britons to move forward to attack the Romans but also to retreat if things did not go well in the battle. At the same time it would be hard for the Romans to attack or retreat. On the more gentle slopes the Britons piled up stones to make a rampart. The British warriors positioned themselves in front of these defences but they were still protected by a river which was in front of them.

The chieftains of the various tribes moved amongst their men encouraging them. Caractacus, darted everywhere, telling his men that this battle would be the beginning of the recovery of their freedom or else of everlasting slavery. He recalled how their ancestors had driven back Julius Caesar, and through their bravery the British were freed from the threat of being ruled by the Roman military and government. While he was speaking, the warriors shouted applause; every warrior swore not to flee from weapons or wounds.

The Roman leader, Ostorius faced a daunting sight: the river and the rampart the British tribesmen had added to it, the hill fort and masses of fighting men everywhere. But his soldiers insisted they had the courage for battle and the prefects and tribunes encouraged this idea. The Romans surveyed the area and worked out the easiest way to attack. Ostorius, led his furious men, and crossed the river without difficulty. When they reached the defences, the British threw their missiles and the Romans suffered the worst casualties. But when the Romans formed the testudo and tore down the stone rampart, it became an equal hand-to-hand fight and the barbarians retreated to higher ground. But the higher ground was not enough to protect the Britons from the soldiers who rushed into attack. The lightly armed Roman soldiers harassed the enemy with missiles, while the heavily-armed soldiers closed in on them, and the Britons were broken, as they had no breast-plates or helmets to protect them. They were killed by the swords and javelins of our legionaries; if they turned around, they faced the sabres and spears of the auxiliaries. It was a glorious victory; the wife and daughter of Caratacus were captured, and his brothers also surrendered.

translation: resourcesforhistory.com

Caractacus, sought the protection of Cartimandua, queen of the Brigantes. However, she put him in chains and surrendered him to the Romans.

Copyright: Nigel Cross / resourcesforhistory.com

Caractacus addressing Claudius
Caractacus in Rome

Glossary

breast-plates - armour that protects the chest

casualties - wounded or dead people

conquerers - the winners of a war

missiles - weapons that are thrown in combat

prefect - the man in charge of a legion of soldiers

rampart - a mound of stones which forms a barrier against attack

survey - examine the shape of the land and position of defensive obstacles and forces

testudo - the military formation made by soldiers when holding their shields to protect all sides and above their heads

tribune - the men who assisted the prefect in running the legion