A True History of The Isles Part 4- The Romans (Part I)

It is very difficult to recount any bit of history involving The Romans without having to mention them a lot, seeing has how they got to write up the accounts. Also because the accounts were in Latin, these are naturally classic and cannot be ignored.

While the Celts had been busy paddling from the continent to the Isles across a stretch of sea (The working title at the time being The Really Big and Salty River), setting up Society and acting like they own the place the Romans had an inclination to do the same in the Italic peninsula. The Romans had two advantages on account of being close to Greece (a) The opportunity for a full classical education (b) A Ready-made civilisation which they could copy and tinker with.

Initially all might have been well but some mainland Celts decided to invade the peninsula. The Romans were quite astonished by their gaul, and invaded them back just to see how they liked it; they didn’t but it was too late because it gave the Romans a taste for conquer folk other than their neighbours.

While the Celts were organising themselves into tribes, the Romans were inventing The Senate, but cleverly left out a congress and packed it with republicans so to smooth the passage of government. The Romans also did things differently, first someone got to be a Senator and then they appealed to the people, often with bread and circuses though in the latter case they sent in gladiators rather than clowns. Another way to gain favour was to take advantage of a roman military invention called The Legion, the innovation being the soldier carried a sword, spear and shield thus disagreeable in more than one way. A Senator with his own legions could travel about conquering folk and bringing home booty and slaves, he was then allowed to have A Triumph at which the people cheered him a lot.  Having a few thousand heavily armed men with him of course encouraged the cheering.

An ambitious and clever man Julius the Caesar, (or maybe Caesar The Julius- historians disagree) was very good at this and advanced north, then took a direct turn west at the Rhine and travelled forth reminding the native peoples that they were Gauls. Since very few of them understood Latin it seemed to have little impact, but the local kings with an eye for the main chance (or bon chance to be accurate) thought having the backing of roman legions against their rivals was not a bad deal, so they signed up. Somewhat pleased with this Julius unaware he was following a Celtic tradition kept on going west until he met the sea. Naturally this needed a name and so the Oceanaus Germanicus was invented without any thought for Celtic sensibilities on either side of The Germanicus.

Now by this stage some of those Celts who’d stuck with the notion of hewing the soil found out that if they hewed hard enough and wide enough they found local metal deposits which was roundly celebrated unless you were in the import business. Thus through trade the word was getting out that there was quite a lot more than rain going on across the sea. So Caesar as befitted a Senator on the Up decided to invade.

The first invasion in 55BC was not a success; merchants not wishing to lose their monopolies had not told the Romans they were invading during a Celtic holiday season. Caesar found the beaches packed with Celtics who had naturally brought swords, spears etc which put many legionaries who were already sick of the crossing quite off the business. However, others even more sick felt anything was better and leapt ashore only to be obstructed by hordes of sticky children pulling at their cloaks and saying ‘Watcha doin’ mister?’. With great perseverance (a little known roman centurion) they did eventually get ashore, but were by then were confronted by terrible British weather (or as the locals called it ‘Scattered showers’). Caesar who was the only one writing the accounts claimed this was all merely a reconnaissance in force and set up a quality excuse for many later generations of generals.

The second invasion was in 54BC; this time Caesar was not fooling around, no sir by cracky! He brought more romans and naturally more ships, otherwise the whole thing would have looked just plain silly. This time Caesar had sent other romans to sneak ahead and make sure all the Celts were doing celtish things and not hanging about beaches, thus he (and the rest) landed successfully along the south coast and marched inland. On hearing that those romans were back; an heroic Celtic king gathered an army from men (and probably a few pushy girls) of five tribes and heroically fought the romans twice, but nobly lost. The king then cleverly decided to avoid pitch battles and leap out on unsuspecting roman legionaries either by himself, or with a few other celts. Caesar did not appreciate this as romans always expected foes to stand still and be slaughtered properly. The first thing Caesar did was try to sully the reputation of the king by trying to call him Cassy Well Anus’d, when his proper and heroic Celtic name was probably Caswallawn. He was then assisted by another five tribes who told him where Caswallawn and the first five tribes were hiding. Caswallawn asked for another five tribes to help out, but the romans (probably five legions) caught them in open battle and that was that. The Celts were then all obliged to surrender and one grandly named by Caesar Mandubracius was made a king, he may have previously been named Afawy but didn’t wish to appear ungrateful. Some later British works referred to him as one of the Three Dishonored, which was a bit unfair as Caswallawn had killed Mandubracius’ father so the lad probably had ‘issues’. (his father was named Lud; grandfather Heli just had no sense of imagination). The two other Dishonoured had prudently bribed bard to have their names expunged.

Caesar might have stayed but on hearing the rather biased roman news that The Gauls were revolting he journeyed back and began to cruelly divide lots of them into several parts. While cunningly writing an account in the third person about how well he’d done this he was told of more challenging news that best friends and comrade in arms Pompey was naturally being treacherous and intent on being the big noise in Rome. This promptly led to a very uncivil war which Caesar won and Pompey was so distraught he quite lost his head. By now Caesar was so famous it seemed he might become emperor but some in the Senate not being able to organise a filibuster foiled this by stabbing him (a lot). Several memorable final words are attributed to him though this writer subscribes to the theory of his last words being ‘Ouch! Ow!’ or if he had the chance “Te futueo et caballum tuum!” (classy quote 2). The whole event was recorded by Shakespeare in which Brutus and Mark Anthony had a better press than they deserved.

In the meantime, the Celts continued being celtish Mandubracius dying of mortification when he found out his Latin name was not very grand but just a sneaky roman insult. There was now much discussion amongst the various strata of Celtic Society on the impact of romans and how to deal with them when if they came back. The heroes’ being the least constructive as experience had proven that charging to where the opposition was the thickest, just suited the roman legionary fine. Those Celts of high rank were asking hard questions of their chariot drivers about this practice of dropping ‘the guv’nor’ off to do the fighting then retiring to a safe distance to discuss with other drivers the state of roads, the price of repairs, and the latest models. The Druids were scandalised by the habits of roman gods and this business of the top one apparently disguising himself as various animals to seduce women; they were having enough to do dealing with angry shepherds and their complaints about disturbance to the flocks by some of the more rustic lords, without this being made part of a state religion. However, concerns would be put to rest by the activities of the following three subsequent roman emperors

Agustus and two others took charge after Caesar as a triumvirate (Latin for three man); then August by skilful use of Euclidean mathematics and legions reduced this to unum hominem (one man). He had no time for invading Britain as he was even more skilfully convincing the Senate (which was still packed with republicans, the only democrats being in Greece) that it was they were maintaining their independence by putting him in charge of everything. He was successful and died of old age and was allowed to be a god.

Tiberius was the next emperor even if he didn’t want to be. Augustus having run out of sons of his own had said he ought to be. Tiberius being a man of duty was not one to argue with a god and set to the task. Invading Britain never occurred to him as he was having problems with German tribes and prying commentators who wanted him to tell them how he felt about the job. Eventually in old age he retired to the island of Capri and since he had not given an interviews, commentators made up stories about him and his ‘appetites’. He also died of old age, but he wasn’t allowed to be a god because this trend was beginning to worry the romans. How could you have vibrant culture without a colourful end to some one’s reign? They should have been careful what they wished for.

Caligula was definitely two or three conjunctions short of a verb. Firstly, he tried to be popular with the people by installing a horse in the senate in the hope of it talking sense. Then he became very impatient to bea god so rather than wait for the usual process told everyone he was one. Anyone who disagreed was told to take it up with the other gods and dispatched so they could do so. He did decide he should invade Britain, but being a god and aware of how much of a mare Julius Caesar had had with crossing the sea Caligula very sensibly decided he should sort out Neptune first. He thus dispatched several legion to attack Neptune’s domain by paddling and hitting the water with swords, then building strong defences (sandcastles). Many of the ordinary legionaries thought this quite lark until that calends they got their pay in seashells. Not long afterwards Caligula was assassinated, so quickly that he was not allowed to make memorable remarks. Naturally his death led to a lot of other colourful deaths, until the only qualified person left was his elderly uncle Claudius who was thus logically declared by some soldiers as The First Among Equals and made emperor.

Claudius although elderly and not imposing did two correct things he first changed his name to ‘I Claudius’ which since he did not let on what the ‘I’ stood for gave him an enigmatic air and secondly decided to do something military; in this case invade Britain. However unlike other political generals he left the details up to professionals. Which was ominous (probably a roman staff officer) for The Celts.

This would be very successful and will be discussed in more detail in the next seminar.

A True History of These Isles-Introduction and Part 1

A True History of These Isles Part 2 The Celtic Colonisation

A True History of the Isles Part 3 – Celtic Culture

A True History of The Isles Part 5 -Romans (Part II)

A True History of The Isles Part 6 (Romans III- the last part…honest!)

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4 thoughts on “A True History of The Isles Part 4- The Romans (Part I)

  1. I have a question: Why, since it is obviously how things went, didn’t they teach history this way, i.e., properly, when I went to school? I mean, shouldn’t history be not only truthful, but fun to read?

    Liked by 1 person

    • In the classic book which is my main inspiration ‘1066 and All That’ the authors said history is what you remember, and this is how I remember it.
      Anyway if this ever got out into the public domain it would be bound to upset the sort who like to have a very ‘huffy’ view of events, which would suit me fine!
      I’m having great fun anyway, glad to know you are

      Like

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