Seminar: The Romans invasion of Mona, Religious Genocide or Realpolitik
Was the Roman invasion of Mona an attempt to destroy the religious leadership of Celtic Britain or an attempt to spread the Pax Romana? In this Seminar I intend to look at the reasons the Romans sent Gaius Suetonius Paullinus and the XIV Germina with auxiliary support all the way through England and Wales to the Island they called Mona, and why once there they 'unleashed hell' (as one more famous, if fictional, Roman General would put it). As druids, we tend to romanticise this event as the last stand of our forebears against mighty oppressors hell bent on ending our spirituality, but I for one am not so sure this is the case. Firstly I intend to look at the actual event and what else was going on in Roman Britain around 60 AD. Following on from that I want to look at the Roman state at about this time, how was she evolving from the late republic into the imperial state, and what effect did this have on her leaders. Finally I want to look at the actions of the state and army in one of her most famous provinces, Egypt. I hope that after all of that some of you too may question just why the Romans invaded Mona. What will not be covered is an in-depth account of who or what the Druids were, or their relationship with the Romans, as there are many books on this issue, and is far beyond the scope of this seminar, and let’s not forget even Ronald Hutton would tell you that all we really know is that there were some people called druids.Roman Britain
Rome had first visited Britain on the orders of Caesar, in retaliation to the British tribes’ support of several tribes in Gaul. However, he was too busy getting ready to take on Pompey, and needed quick victories in Gaul to raise money to be thinking about engaging in the conquest of the island. That was left to Claudius who sent the legions in 43 AD under the command of Aulus Plantinus. It is quite clear for Goldsworthy, writing in Roman Warfare, why Claudius undertook this campaign. He points out that “Claudius, lame since birth and denied any military service as a result, was eager to achieve military glory after his unexpected elevation to the throne” This was a Roman doing what Romans did when they need to make a name for themselves, and had been working for many generations of Roman nobles. By 47 AD most of the island had fallen as the local Celtic tribes. Either they were happy to be client kingdoms, having built up long relationships with Rome through years of trade, or they could put up little resistance to the might of the Roman Army. Plantinus was not however going to make the mistakes of their predecessors in Spain and allow the likes of Virathus to gather any force of great size and set about causing any trouble for the legions. The Welsh tribes had to a degree managed to put their differences aside, leading the Romans to put some considerable effort into quelling resistance. The Romans had from time to time in their history been ruthless in the pursuit of victory, with Goldsworthy again telling us “a Roman war could only end when the enemy ceased to be a threat, having either been absorbed as a subordinate ally or destroyed as a political entity.” The island of Mona was going to be one of these times. Griffiths gives a very detailed account of the battle, telling us how the Roman army brought siege engines, cavalry and infantry against the inhabitants of the island, to which they had no defences. The Romans were well organised and prepared, and were well used to withstanding that first horrific charge that had been the Celtic response to the legions since the Romans first met the Celtic peoples.
After the atack Paullinus, had to turn his army around and go deal with the uprising of the Iceni and Trinovantes, and it was not until 15 years later that Agricola put a permanent garrison on the island. There are many reasons for the uprisings in Roman Britain, Alston tells us that “in Britain, if Tacitus is to be believed a major contributory factor in the Boudiccan revolt was the behaviour of the military colonists at Colchester who were not restrained by officials when they seized land from the local tribesmen”, and Matthews tells us that “Cassius Dio alleged that among the causes of the revolt of Boudicca was Seneca’s calling in of loans of 40,000,000 sesterces he had made to the Britons, with an eye to the high interest rates he might extract. The significance of Mona
Mona, or Anglesey as she is now known, is situated off the North West tip of Wales. She is a beautiful blend of Mountains and low fertile land. She is cut off from the main land by the Menai Strait, which at its narrowest point is only some 250 metres, but don't let that fool you. Those 250 metres is a dangerous mix of quick sand and fast moving currents. On the main land we have the Snowdonia National park, which although beautiful is 830 square miles of 3000ft mountains. On the Island at the time of the invasion there were known deposits of coal and more notably copper, with the Parys Mountain having been exploited since the Early Bronze Age. It is also known that a trade route passed through Mona, where gold was imported from Ireland, and this would have been an attractive prospect for the Romans. Not only was the direct trade with Ireland controlled from Mona, but also the indirect trade that used the coast and a trade route. The Romans never got around to invading Ireland, so again a strong hold on Mona would provide an opportunity to keep an eye out for any possible invading or raiding. The remains of a watch tower do in fact remain on Holyhead Island, known by its welsh name Caer y Twr. Because of her isolation she was a stronghold of resistance to Roman rule, and as mentioned above the Romans were well known for not seeing a war at an end until her enemy was no longer able to peruse action against her. The local tribe, the Ordovices, could not be allowed to be a beacon of hope to the Iceni who were about to go on a march of their own, where they razed three Roman towns to the ground before they were able to be quelled by Paullinus. The Roman army in the Roman World
The Roman world had gone through many changes in the century before AD60. The Republic had encouraged men to strike out for the glory of Rome, to come home in triumph and be given greater prestige and influence. The Republican elite followed a career path called the cursus honorum, which involved a mixture of civilian and military posts. Men of the 300 strong senate would seek election to one of two annual consulships. However, according to Goldsworthy, this meant that, “Competition was fierce to gain election, and that even more intense to achieve distinction during a man’s year of office, so that he returned to assume the influential place in the senate befitting his great reputation.” As the easiest way to gain this was through military triumph “Competition for status among the Roman aristocracy demanded frequent warfare.” This created a powerful army of ambitious men, which in turn led to the civil wars that started in 49BC when Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon to take on Pompey. With the founding of the Principate in 27BC, favour and power was suddenly in the hands of one man. But we are reminded that “the senate still provided the governors who ran the Empire and commanded armies in the field” meaning that ambitious men could still rise through the ranks of the army, and that campaigning still needed to be done.
The Roman world was governed by the army and although Purcell warns us not to think of this in terms of a bureaucracy, he pointed out that the Roman army was only answerable to itself and a soldier can only be tried by its own courts. It was a way a man could seek advancement, if not for himself, then for his heirs. He wrote that "The distinction between soldier and civilian, so clear to our minds, and in our times possessing a moral as well as a practical flavour, did not exist before the triumph of the military." He goes on to tell us that equestrian rank, "usually from the elites of Italy or the provinces and using these jobs (commands in auxiliaries) to win further status and opportunities for themselves." This gives a flavour of the kind of men that rose through the ranks. Further let’s not forget that, as Griffiths points out, Paullinus was recalled by Nero for his brutal reprisals against those who had dared to stand against Rome. What he was doing on his campaigning in Britain, of which an important part was securing Mona and with that the rest of Wales for the Empire, was doing what men for years before him had been doing, using military campaigning to better himself in the eyes of the emperor, which he hoped would lead to further social advancement for himself and his family.
The heirs of Augustus were at best incompetent and at worst insane. When Nero committed suicide in AD68 he brings about the end of the Julio-Claudians, which resulted in the year of the four Emperors. The man who would be victorious is a man who really did change his start, his grandfather was Titus Flavius Petro, a man who had served under Pompey and thus returned home disgraced, He was a man who would command part of the Claudian invasion of Britain, be given consul and governorships by Nero, and finally start a dynasty of his own, that man was Flavius Vespasianus.How the Romans saw History
The first thing to mention here is that not an awful lot of Latin Roman history survived the fall of the western half of the empire. In the east it fared a little better because of the strength of the city of Constantinople. For example only 35 books of Livy survive out of 142, and only about half of Tacitus' work survived. Roman history was primarily about the preservation of the greatness of Rome, and her heroes, whilst putting down men who fail, with Tacitus saying "I think it a particular function of annals, that virtues should not be passed over in silence, while those responsible for wrong actions and words should be threatened with disgrace in the eyes of posterity." History came in a few different forms. There were the annals recorded by the Consuls, probably dating back to 500 BC, although how these have been corrupted with time is hard to tell. Family histories are biased by their very nature, and both Cicero and Livy point this out, with Tacitus’ Agricolla as a prime example. We have the commentaries like those of Julius Caesar, which were written to serve a political purpose. And finally in the empire we have a more chronicle style with Lintott writing 'In general, however, history, as Tacitus pointed out, was corrupted in two ways, by flattery of present emperor and detraction of his predecessors.' Not only that but these later authors often had to rely on the biased works of their predecessors. The reason I point this out, is because the British Celts did not leave us written records of their own, we have to rely on those left to us by the Romans, and the Romans either wrote to their own glory, or like Caesar, to help bolster The Senate into allowing him to carry on his wars in Gaul. The behaviour of the Romans in Egypt
There are a few reasons I would like to bring Egypt into this discussion. She was an ancient land with a religion of her own, that was originally quite independent of their Greco-Roman counterparts. She had a long history with Rome, firstly as an independent Hellenistic kingdom that was ruled over by the Ptolemies and then as a province once Octavian had dealt with Antony and Cleopatra, who was the last of her line. Egypt had always been a land with a written history. Added to this Alston has this to say “One of the major differences between Egypt and the rest of the empire is the source material that historians are able to work with. The papyri provide a unique insight into provincial society and, since the source material is unique, the history we can write is unique.” What this means is that we have much more material to look at from many different sections of society. Paper and ostraka were widely available, and the geography of the land is uniquely suited to preserving this material.
I have used Richard Alston’s book, Soldier and Society in Roman Egypt to quote from and inform this next section.
In the chapter ‘The army in action’ he has this to say: in the Eastern Desert, in the quarries, under the emperor Trajan “an altar was erected to Helios-Sarapis when Encolpios was procurator” and that “In AD 90, men of the Legio III Cyrenaica built a bridge at Koptos”. Probus apparently put the soldiers to work on an extensive scheme of public buildings including temples, bridges and porticoes. What this shows is twofold: when the army was on civilian duties they were put to public works, and that at times these had a religious role to play. What is more is that these were set up to local not purely Roman gods. Following on from this, a papyrus of the late first century (P.Gen.Lat.1) tells us about a 10 day period in the life of a legion, unfortunately this is not complete, however it suggests that one soldier whilst he had no duties did make a trip to a local temple. This tells us two things, that soldiers were allowed to visit local temples and that they actually did. The Gueraud ostraka tells us about garrison life in the Wadi Fawakhir where “Religion also figures, with prayers offered to Serapis.” This again shows the soldiery engaged in worship of local gods, supporting the idea that this was again allowed.
Moving on to the chapter on the city of Karanis, Karanis is a town in the Fayum, it was excavated by a team from the University of Michigan starting in 1928. The site is “one of the few Egyptian sites which has both produced substantial papyrological remains and been subject to scientific archaeological excavation.” The reason it is of interest to us here is that it was a small settlement in the Ptolemaic period with a temple in the south. In the Roman period the settlement was settled by large number of veterans, the temple in the south was rebuilt and one erected in the north. With the older temple to the south the “plan and arrangement of the temple were Egyptian” and importantly there is evidence for repair and improvement of the temple in 61 and 73, which are important dates when we look at Britain. ‘The temple was dedicated to Pnepheros and Petesouchos, the local crocodile gods.’ The north temple had a typically Egyptian plan, it was erected at the beginning of the first century, and was probably dedicated to the cult of Souchos in the form Soknopaios. It has an alter dedicated to Zeus Ammon Serapis Helios and one possibly to IsisConclusion
I hope that through this seminar you have pondered why the Romans went to Mona. I hope I have shown that the British Tribes had been a thorn in the Romans sides for 20 years, and that the army were setting down a rebellion like any other. They were upholding the Pax Romana of Augustus. I hope that I have shown that the resources on, and trade through Mona were not insignificant. Gold was especially useful to the Romans as their currency depended on a supply of gold to mint its coins to pay its army and receive tax. The copper was also useful again to help keep the army equipped. Added to this were the strategic advances gained geographically by holding the island, and the mental demoralisation caused to the tribes by knowing that Rome would go to any length to put down resistance. I hope that you have seen that the man Vespasian, a one-time soldier became emperor of the world, and that it was in the fabric of the new Roman state that a man could foster such ambition. That such ambition could only be fulfilled through military campaigns, because the elite needed the triumph and resources they could gain. I hope that I have shown that the historical resources, on which we base our ideas of the reasons for the Roman invasion, and their opinions of the druids who were apparently held out on the island are not as unbiased as we would like, and that they were often written with the authors best interests at heart. I hope that I have shown that the Roman army did not destroy the indigenous religions of its new provinces, but actually accepted their gods and brought them in alongside their own. This had been happening since Greece, and let us not forget the Jews, who were constantly in revolt, but never crushed. If the Romans had set out to destroy Mona and all it stood for, they would not have to have returned in 79 AD to finish off the job. They would not have left anything that would need a second campaign. I don’t believe the Romans saw the Druids as anything more than the ruling cast and intellectuals. What the Romans actually set out to achieve by invading Mona was to get their hands on a strategic island, full of wealth and geographical importance. The Druids were at best scapegoats and at worst just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Let me leave you with just one last thought, the Romans in their writing often demonise the Druids, whatever they were, by saying that they were often engaged in human sacrifice, of which we find no archaeological evidence. What we do know is that in 105 BC, after the defeat of the legions at Arausio Goldsworthy reminds us that, “the prospect of a repeat of the Gallic sack caused such panic that for the last time in their history, the Romans performed a human sacrifice, burying alive a Greek and a Gallic man and woman in the forum.”
There is a lot of scope for development particularly on the side of the Roman histories and the writings of Caesar on his campaign in Gaul. It would also be interesting to do a detailed study into the actual archaeology of the invasion of Mona, to see what evidence there is for settlement on the island and just how much hell was unleashed. However I wanted to focus on a study of the Roman army its self, a subject that Speidel suggests should be a discipline of its own, quite outside of the confines of ancient history. Bibliography
Roman Warfare, Adrian Goldsworthy, Cassell 2000
Soldier and Society in Roman Egypt, Richard Alston, Routledge 1995
The Oxford History of the Roman World, Boardman et.al ed. Oxford 1991http://www.militaryhistoryonline.com/an
... fault.aspx, Griffiths, 2002
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Giovanna for proof reading this seminar, and Bracken for asking me to write it.