Thorns in the Roman Side
This is an article about some of those people who drove the Romans crazy. This first entry is about the Briton Queen, Boudicca.
The best estimate at that Boudicca was born sometime around 25 or 26 AD as part of the Iceni Celtic Tribe near modern Norfolk, Great Briton. As best we can tell she led a normal life for many years and married the son of the reigning Chieftain at the age of 16. Her husband came to power when she was 21, and they ruled in relative peace. He husband came to power after an Iceni rebellion, against the ruling Romans, was put down. Even though his father was part of the rebellion, the Romans installed Boudicca’s husband, Prasutagus, as king of the Iceni, and a few other neighboring tribes.
At this time, Nero was ruling in Rome and the Britons were forced to indure huge taxes, conscription and basically inhumane treatment at the hands of Roman authorities. In around 59 AD, Prasutagus had a will drawn up giving half of his lands to the Roman Empire, and the other half to his two daughters, in an attempt to continue the peace. However, in 60AD when he died, the Romans took his gesture as complete subservience to the Roman Empire, and attempted to seize all of the Iceni lands. The invading Romans flogged Boudicca and raped her daughters.
With the Roman governor, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, busy in Wales putting down a rebellion led by the druids, the Iceni and Trinovantes tribes rebelled, under Boudicca’s leadership. They targeted the former Trinovantian capital of Camulodunum, which had been rebuilt as a true Roman city. The Iceni destroyed the Roman veterans that had settled in the area, and razed the town. During the conflict, the IX Legion, arrived and tried to force the rebels to retreat, but found themselves routed instead.
The governor, learning of the events, returned to London, but realized he did not have the manpower necessary to hold it. He retreated with his forces, and Boudicca’s army burnt London to the ground. Over the following weeks, Verulamium (St Albans) was razed as well.
Suetonius was able to garner troops from the XIV and XX legions, and some local auxilliaries. All together, the governor fielded 10000 men. They encountered 230000 Britons in an unknown field surrounded by sparse groups of forest. Although one might have expected a Roman rout, their superior tactics won the day, and in fact many thousands of the Britons got caught trying to marshall their families away from the battlefield and were slaughtered. When the day ended, 80000 Britons were dead compared to only 400 Romans. Boudicca herself took poison and died, rather than letting herself be captured.
The remaining Britons returned to their homes, and continued life under Roman rule. Within the year, Suetonius found himself removed from power for incompetence. The main result of this uprising was the discontinued use of local rulers. The Romans used the military to completely occupy the lands and subdue the people. It was a dark day for Briton freedom indeed.
The second entry deals with perhaps my favorite thorn, Arminius.
Arminius was born in 18BC as the eldest son of the chief of the Cherusci Germanic Tribe. As part of the conscription policy of the day, in 1 AD, Arminius was given command of a cavalry auxilla, and apprently did well for himself. He learned much about the Roman military tactics, and even earned Roman citizenship. When he returned to his tribe in 7 AD, he found that the Roman governor was oppressing his people and taking away their Germanic heritage. He gathered together the other war chiefs and proposed a grand plan.
In mid-9 AD, Arminius had a false revolt staged in northern Germania and convinced Varus that his forces would aid him if he went to punish the revolt. Although warned of treachery, Varus trusted Arminius and marched into the Germanic forests with the XVII, XVIII, and IXX legions, over 20000 men. Fewer than 100 would return.
Within a few months, the organized Roman column, was disheveled and spread out over miles of forest. To make matters worse torrential downpours turned dirt roads into mud-soaked paths. The wagons of the caravan became stuck and broken down, and instead of stopping the entire entourage, men were left to protect the wagons, and the main force moved on. Then two days before disaster would strike, Arminius excused himself from the formation and went to rally his forces. Varus would come to wish he had not.
Varus continued north and after resting for a night, found an ambush awaiting him in the morning. Eighteen thousand Germans swarmed the spread out column and over the course of four days, the legionnaires and auxilla were slaughtered and their bodies left in the mud. An entire contingent of cavalry tried to flee the battle only to find themselves cut off and destroyed. At the end of the four days, with Arminius’ armies closing on his main encampment, Varus threw himself upon his sword in an act of suicide. Of the more than 20000 Romans who started this battle, only 79 were ever seen alive again. Perhaps the greatest insult was the capture of three gold Roman Eagles. These were standards that were carried before the legion and represented the honor of the Empire. When they were lost, it was a grave distubance to the glory of the legions, and in fact campaigns were mounted specifically to recover them.
This defeat stopped the Roman policy of unchecked conquest, and Emperor Augustus in fact ordered the German borders sealed to prevent an invasion south into Roman lands.
Arminius represented the Cherusci tribe for many years, and he was finally defeated by Germanicus Caesar in 16 AD. But Germanicus was recalled to Rome and no real gains were achieved by the victory. In 19 AD, the Germans returned to their traditional ways of infighting and Arminius was slain by his own relatives.
Lastly, I will discuss perhaps the biggest thorn ever…Attila the Hun.
Attila the Hun
Attila had a long and infamous career as a conqueror, but for brevities sake, I shall focus on the part that affected Rome, after some basic details of his life.
Attila was in 406 AD into the ruling family of the Huns. When his uncle died in around 434 AD, Attila and his brother Bleda were left to rule the Huns.
The first direct intervention between the Huns and the then Eastern Roman Empire was in 443 AD, when they struck along the Danube and overran the defensive settlements of the area. This left them a clear path to Constantinople, capital of the Easten Roman Empire. They met and defeated a Roman force outside the massive walls, but their battering rams and seige towers were not strong enough to breech the city. In return for 8100 lbs of gold, the Huns abandoned the seige.
After the Huns left, many things happened. The families that raced within the Hippodrome began a bloody feud. There were plagues in 445 and again in 446, and finally in 447 earthquakes struck and leveled entire sections in Constantinople. For the Huns, Attila’s brother died and left Attila in charge of the entire empire. All of these things led Attila to again go after Constantinople.
Attila marched with an army of several thousand and met the Romans at the Vid River. Although the Romans were defeated, they inflicted heavy losses amongst the Huns. But still the Huns continued on their path and arrived outside of Constantinople. Had the prefect Flavius Constantinus not organized the populace to repair the damage to the walls that the earthquakes caused, Constantinople likely would have fallen.
In 450 AD, Attila announced his intentions to take the fight to the Western Roman Empire and its allies. While before this time Attila had been friendly with the west, a woman brought about the decline of the courtesy.
Roman Emperor Valentinian’s sister, Honoria, was promised to a Roman senator for which she felt no affections, and she thought that perhaps she could use the power of Attila to protect her. She sent her royal ring, and a plea for help to Attila early in 450AD, Attila took this as a marriage proposal and accepted, announcing to Valentinian his intention to come claim what was his.
While his plans undoubtedly had little to do with Honoria, he used this as an excuse to rally together and army and head west into Europe. It is likely that since Eastern Europe had been plundered so extensively by the Huns, that it was the wealth of the west that drew Attila in. Accounts tell us that he arrived in the west with an army of 500000 men.
Former foes, the Visigoths and Romans, allied to stand against Attila. The allies headed north to Orleans and were able to check the Hunnish advance. The allies pursued the Huns and engaged in a massive battle near the Chalons-en-Champagne, and the Gothic-Romans were successful. They drove Attila from their lands, but the alliance couldn’t withstand the loss of a common foe and fell apart.
In 452 AD, Attila returned for Honoria’s hand. Valentinian was forced to abandon his capital of Ravenna and return to Rome. Attila’s armies raged across northern Italy and obliterated entire cities. Many were razed, never to be rebuilt. As he headed towards Rome, Attial halted at the Po River. A council met with him and presuaded him to leave Italy be. Persuaded assumedly with a huge amount of gold.
Late in 452 AD, Attila returned home and began preparing to again attempt to conquer Constantinople in the spring. However, in 453 AD while celebrating his latest marriage, Attila passed out, broke his nose, and drowned on his own blood.
The fate of the Eastern and possibly Western Roman Empires were saved by the untimely death of Attila the Hun.
I have tried to show some of the challenges that the Roman Empire had to face over many of the years that will be addressed by the new expansion to Rome Total War. I hope that this simple article encourages you to delve into the more recent future of the Roman Empire, and experience the greater challenges that they met, and in fact defeated.
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