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The story of Cartimandua as relayed by Tacitus

Who was Tacitus?

Publius Cornelius Tacitus was born around 56 or 57 CE when Nero was emperor. Not much known about his life – his family may have come from Cisalpine Gaul (northern Italy) or possibly France. He lived and worked under various emperors including: Domitian (ruled 81-96 CE); Nerva (ruled 96-8 CE); Trajan (ruled 98-117 CE); and probably Hadrian (ruled 117-138 CE). He was consul in 97 CE and governed western Anatolia (modern Turkey) fifteen years later.

Tacitus was a very good orator and wrote several historical works, including the Agricola which was a panegyric (a work of praise) to his father-in-law, who was governor of Britannia province (Britain) from AD77-85, and expanded Roman territory northwards and into Scotland. Tacitus most famous works are:

Histories: A chronical of the author’s own time, covering the period from 1st January AD69 to the death of Domitian in AD 96. It is uncertain how many books there were making up Tacitus' Histories but it is likely to have been fourteen; four survive entirely and a part of the fifth, and these cover January AD69 to August AD70. The Histories was probably published in parts over time from AD105 onwards.

Annals: A historical work covering the time period from just before the death of Augustus in AD14, and the reigns of Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and Nero, ending in AD68. The Annals comprises of sixteen books in total, but not all of them have survived. They were published between AD115 and AD120.

Cartimandua in the Histories (3.45):

Inspired by these differences between the Roman forces and by the many rumours of civil war that reached them, the Britons plucked up courage under the leadership of Venutius, who, in addition to his natural spirit and hatred of the Roman name, was fired by his personal resentment toward Queen Cartimandua. She was ruler over the Brigantes, having the influence that belongs to high birth, and she had later strengthened her power when she was credited with having captured King Caratacus by treachery and so furnished an adornment for the triumph of Claudius Caesar.​ From this came her wealth and the wanton spirit which success breeds. She grew to despise her husband Venutius, and took as her consort his squire Vellocatus, whom she admitted to share the throne with her. Her house was at once shaken by this scandalous act. Her husband was favoured by the sentiments of all the citizens; the adulterer was supported by the queen's passion for him and by her savage spirit. So Venutius, calling in aid from outside and at the same time assisted by a revolt of the Brigantes themselves, put Cartimandua into an extremely dangerous position. Then she asked the Romans for protection, and in fact some companies of our foot and horse, after meeting with indifferent success in a number of engagements, finally succeeded in rescuing the queen from danger. The throne was left to Venutius; the war to us.

Cartimandua in the Annals (12.36-40)

36. Caratacus himself — for adversity seldom finds a refuge — after seeking the protection of the Brigantian queen Cartimandua, was arrested and handed to the victors, in the ninth year from the opening of the war in Britain. Through that resistance, his reputation had gone beyond the islands, had overspread the nearest provinces, and was familiar in Italy itself; where there was curiosity to see what manner of man it was that had for so many years scorned our power. Even in Rome, the name of Caratacus was not without honour; and the Caesar, by attempting to heighten his own credit, added distinction to the vanquished. For the populace were invited as if to some spectacle of note; the praetorian cohorts stood under arms​upon the level ground in front of their camp. Then, while the king's humble vassals filed past, ornaments and neck-rings and prizes won in his foreign wars were borne in parade; next his brothers, wife, and daughter were placed on view; finally, he himself. The rest stooped to unworthy entreaties dictated by fear; but on the part of Caratacus not a downcast look nor a word requested pity. Arrived at the tribunal, he spoke as follows:

37. "Had my lineage and my rank been matched by my moderation in success, I should have entered this city rather as a friend than as a captive; nor would you have scorned to admit to a peaceful league a king sprung from famous ancestors and holding sway over many peoples. My present lot, if to me a degradation, is to you a glory. I had horses and men, arms and riches: what wonder if I lost them with a pang? For if you would rule the world, does it follow that the world must welcome servitude? If I were dragged before you after surrendering without a blow, there would have been little heard either of my fall or of your triumph: punishment of me will be followed by oblivion; but save me alive, and I shall be an everlasting memorial of your clemency." The answer was the Caesar's pardon for the prince, his wife, and his brothers; and the prisoners, freed from their chains, paid their homage to Agrippina also — a conspicuous figure on another tribunal not far away — in the same terms of praise and gratitude which they had employed to the emperor. It was an innovation, certainly, and one without precedent in ancient custom, that a woman should sit in state before Roman standards: it was the advertisement of her claim to a partnership in the empire which her ancestors had created.

38. The Fathers, who were convened later, delivered long and florid orations on the capture of Caratacus — "an incident as glorious as the exhibition to the Roman people of Syphax​ by Publius Scipio, of Perseus​ by Lucius Paulus, of other manacled kings by other generals." Triumphal insignia were awarded to Ostorius; whose fortunes, so far unclouded, now became dubious — possibly because, with the removal of Caratacus, our energy in the field had been slackened in the belief that the war was won, or possibly sympathy with their great king had fired the enemy's zeal to avenge him. A camp-prefect and some legionary cohorts, left behind to construct garrison-posts in Silurian territory, were attacked from all quarters; and, if relief had not quickly reached the invested troops from the neighbouring forts — they had been informed by messenger — they must have perished to the last man. As it was, the prefect fell, with eight centurions and the boldest members of the rank and file. — Nor was it long before both a Roman foraging party and the squadrons despatched to its aid were totally routed.

39. Ostorius then interposed his light cohorts; but even so he failed to check the flight, until the legions took up the contest. Their strength equalized the struggle, which eventually turned in our favour; the enemy escaped with trivial losses, as the day was drawing to a close. Frequent engagements followed, generally of the irregular type, in woods and fens; decided by individual luck or bravery; accidental or prearranged; with passion or plunder for the motives; by orders, or sometimes without the knowledge of the leaders. Particularly marked was the obstinacy of the Silures, who were infuriated by a widely repeated remark of the Roman commander, that, as once the Sugambri had been exterminated or transferred to the Gallic provinces,​ so the Silurian name ought once for all to be extinguished. They accordingly cut off two auxiliary cohorts which, through the cupidity of their officers, were ravaging the country too incautiously; and by presents of spoils and captives they were drawing into revolt the remaining tribes also, when Ostorius — broken by the weary load of anxiety — paid the debt of nature; to the delight of the enemy, who considered that, perhaps not a battle, but certainly a campaign had disposed of a general whom it was impossible to despise.

40. On receiving the news of the legate's death, the Caesar, not to leave the province without a governor, appointed Aulus Didius​ to the vacancy. In spite of a rapid crossing, he found matters deteriorated, as the legion under Manlius Valens had been defeated in the interval. Reports of the affair were exaggerated: among the enemy, with the hope of alarming the commander on his arrival; by the commander — who magnified the version he heard — with the hope of securing additional credit, if he settled the disturbances, and a more legitimate excuse, if the disturbances persisted. In this case, again, the loss had been inflicted by the Silurians, and they carried their forays far and wide, until repelled by the advent of Didius. Since the capture of Caratacus, however, the Briton with the best knowledge of the art of war was Venutius, whose Brigantian extraction has been mentioned earlier.​ He had long been loyal, and had received the protection of the Roman arms during his married life with Queen Cartimandua: then had come a divorce, followed by immediate war, and he had extended his hostility to ourselves. At first, however, the struggle was confined to the pair; and Cartimandua adroitly entrapped the brother and family connections of Venutius. Incensed at her act, and smarting at the ignominious prospect of submitting to the sway of a woman, the enemy — a powerful body of young and picked warriors — invaded her kingdom. That event had been foreseen by us, and the cohorts sent to the rescue fought a sharp engagement, with dubious results at the outset but a more cheerful conclusion. The conflict had a similar issue in the case of the legion, which was commanded by Caesius Nasica; since Didius, retarded by his years and full of honours, was content to act through his subordinates and to hold the enemy at distance. — These operations, though conducted by two propraetors over a period of years, I have related consecutively, lest, if treated separately, they should leave an inadequate impression on the memory. I return to the chronological order.

[Text from Lacus Curtius*.html]