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Tacitus: Annals Book 14 [30]

30. On the shore stood the opposing army with its dense array of armed warriors, while between the ranks dashed women, in black attire like the Furies, with hair dishevelled, waving brands. All around, the Druids, lifting up their hands to heaven, and pouring forth dreadful imprecations, scared our soldiers by the unfamiliar sight, so that, as if their limbs were paralysed, they stood motionless, and exposed to wounds. Then urged by their general's appeals and mutual encouragements not to quail before a troop of frenzied women, they bore the standards onwards, smote down all resistance, and wrapped the foe in the flames of his own brands. A force was next set over the conquered, and their groves, devoted to inhuman superstitions, were destroyed. They deemed it indeed a duty to cover their altars with the blood of captives and to consult their deities through human entrails.

30. Stabat pro litore diversa acies, densa armis virisque, intercursantibus feminis, [quae] in modum Furiarum veste ferali, crinibus disiectis faces praeferebant; Druidaeque circum, preces diras sublatis ad caelum manibus fundentes, novitate adspectus perculere militem, ut quasi haerentibus membris immobile corpus vulneribus praeberent. dein cohortationibus ducis et se ipsi stimulantes, ne muliebre et fanaticum agmen pavescerent, inferunt signa sternuntque obvios et igni suo involvunt. praesidium posthac impositum victis excisique luci saevis superstitionibus sacri: nam cruore captivo adolere aras et hominum fibris consulere deos fas habebant. haec agenti Suetonio repentina defectio provinciae nuntiatur.

31. Suetonius while thus occupied received tidings of the sudden revolt of the province. Prasutagus, king of the Iceni, famed for his long prosperity, had made the emperor his heir along with his two daughters, under the impression that this token of submission would put his kingdom and his house out of the reach of wrong. But the reverse was the result, so much so that his kingdom was plundered by centurions, his house by slaves, as if they were the spoils of war. First, his wife Boudicea was scourged, and his daughters outraged. All the chief men of the Iceni, as if Rome had received the whole country as a gift, were stript of their ancestral possessions, and the king's relatives were made slaves. Roused by these insults and the dread of worse, reduced as they now were into the condition of a province, they flew to arms and stirred to revolt the Trinobantes and others who, not yet cowed by slavery, had agreed in secret conspiracy to reclaim their freedom. It was against the veterans that their hatred was most intense. For these new settlers in the colony of Camulodunum drove people out of their houses, ejected them from their farms, called them captives and slaves, and the lawlessness of the veterans was encouraged by the soldiers, who lived a similar life and hoped for similar licence. A temple also erected to the Divine Claudius was ever before their eyes, a citadel, as it seemed, of perpetual tyranny. Men chosen as priests had to squander their whole fortunes under the pretence of a religious ceremonial. It appeared too no difficult matter to destroy the colony, undefended as it was by fortifications, a precaution neglected by our generals, while they thought more of what was agreeable than of what was expedient.

31. Rex Icenorum Prasutagus, longa opulentia clarus, Caesarem heredem duasque filias scripserat, tali obsequio ratus regnumque et domum suam procul iniuria fore. quod contra vertit, adeo ut regnum per centuriones, domus per servos velut capta vastarentur. iam primum uxor eius Boudicca verberibus adfecta et filiae stupro violatae sunt; praecipui quique Icenorum, quasi cunctam regionem muneri accepissent, avitis bonis exuuntur, et propinqui regis inter mancipia habebantur. qua contumelia et metu graviorum, quando in formam provinciae cesserant, rapiunt arma, commotis ad rebellationem Trinovantibus et qui alii nondum servitio fracti resumere libertatem occultis coniurationibus pepigerant, acerrimo in veteranos odio. quippe in coloniam Camulodunum recens deducti pellebant domibus, exturbabant agris, captivos, servos appellando, foventibus impotentiam veteranorum militibus similitudine vitae et spe eiusdem licentiae. ad hoc templum divo Claudio constitutum quasi arx aeternae dominationibus adspiciebatur, delectique sacerdotes specie religionis omnes fortunas effundebant. nec arduum videbatur exscindere coloniam nullis munimentis saeptam; quod ducibus nostris parum provisum erat, dum amoenitati prius quam usui consulitur.

32. Meanwhile, without any evident cause, the statue of Victory at Camulodunum fell prostrate and turned its back to the enemy, as though it fled before them. Women excited to frenzy prophesied impending destruction; ravings in a strange tongue, it was said, were heard in their Senate-house; their theatre resounded with wailings, and in the estuary of the Tamesa had been seen the appearance of an overthrown town; even the ocean had worn the aspect of blood, and, when the tide ebbed, there had been left the likenesses of human forms, marvels interpreted by the Britons, as hopeful, by the veterans, as alarming. But as Suetonius was far away, they implored aid from the procurator, Catus Decianus. All he did was to send two hundred men, and no more, without regular arms, and there was in the place but a small military force. Trusting to the protection of the temple, hindered too by secret accomplices in the revolt, who embarrassed their plans, they had constructed neither fosse nor rampart; nor had they removed their old men and women, leaving their youth alone to face the foe. Surprised, as it were, in the midst of peace, they were surrounded by an immense host of the barbarians. All else was plundered or fired in the onslaught; the temple where the soldiers had assembled, was stormed after a two days' siege. The victorious enemy met Petilius Cerialis, commander of the ninth legion, as he was coming to the rescue, routed his troops, and destroyed all his infantry. Cerialis escaped with some cavalry into the camp, and was saved by its fortifications. Alarmed by this disaster and by the fury of the province which he had goaded into war by his rapacity, the procurator Catus crossed over into Gaul.

32. Inter quae nulla palam causa delapsum Camuloduni simulacrum Victoriae ac retro conversum, quasi cederet hostibus. et feminae in furore[m] turbatae adesse exitium canebant, externosque fremitus in curia eorum auditos, consonuisse ululatibus theatrum visamque speciem in aestuario Tamesae subversae coloniae; iam Oceanus cruento adspectu, ac labente aestu humanorum corporum effigies relictae, ut Britanni[s] ad spem, ita veterani[s] ad metum trahebantur. sed qua procul Suetonius aberat, petivere a Cato Deciano procuratore auxilium. ille haud amplius quam ducentos sine iustis armis misit; et inerat modica militum manus. tutela templi freti, et impedientibus qui occulti rebellionis conscii consilia turbabant, neque fossam aut vallum praeduxerunt, neque motis senibus et feminis iuventus sola restitit: quasi media pace incauti multitudine barbarorum circumveniuntur. et cetera quidem impetu direpta aut incensa sunt: templum, in quo se miles conglobaverat, biduo obsessum expugnatumque. et victor Britannus, Petil[l]o Ceriali, legato legionis nonae, in subsidium adventanti obvius, fudit legionem, et quod peditum interfecit: Cerialis cum equitibus evasit in castra et munimentis defensus est. qua clade et odiis provinciae, quam avaritia e[ius] in bellum egerat, trepidus procurator Catus in Galliam transiit.

33. Suetonius, however, with wonderful resolution, marched amidst a hostile population to Londinium, which, though undistinguished by the name of a colony, was much frequented by a number of merchants and trading vessels. Uncertain whether he should choose it as a seat of war, as he looked round on his scanty force of soldiers, and remembered with what a serious warning the rashness of Petilius had been punished, he resolved to save the province at the cost of a single town. Nor did the tears and weeping of the people, as they implored his aid, deter him from giving the signal of departure and receiving into his army all who would go with him. Those who were chained to the spot by the weakness of their sex, or the infirmity of age, or the attractions of the place, were cut off by the enemy. Like ruin fell on the town of Verulamium, for the barbarians, who delighted in plunder and were indifferent to all else, passed by the fortresses with military garrisons, and attacked whatever offered most wealth to the spoiler, and was unsafe for defence. About seventy thousand citizens and allies, it appeared, fell in the places which I have mentioned. For it was not on making prisoners and selling them, or on any of the barter of war, that the enemy was bent, but on slaughter, on the gibbet, the fire and the cross, like men soon about to pay the penalty, and meanwhile snatching at instant vengeance.

33. At Suetonius mira constantia medios inter hostes Londinium perrexit, cognomento quidem coloniae non insigne, sed copia negotiatorum et commeatuum maxime celebre. ibi ambiguus, an illam sedem bello deligeret, circumspecta infrequentia militis, satisque magnis documentis temeritatem Petil[l]ii coercitam, unius oppidi damno servare universa statuit. neque fletu et lacrimis auxilium eius orantium flexus est, quin daret profectionis signum et comitantes in partem agminis acciperet: si quos imbellis sexus aut fessa aetas vel loci dulcedo attinuerat, ab hoste oppressi sunt. eadem clades municipio Verulamio fuit, quia barbari omissis castellis praesidiisque militare [horre]um, quod uberrimum spoliant[i] et defendentibus intutum, laeti praeda et laborum segnes petebant. ad septuaginta milia civium et sociorum iis, quae memoravi, locis cecidisse constitit. neque enim capere aut venundare aliudve quod belli commercium, sed caedes patibula, ignes cruces, tamquam reddituri supplicium, at praerepta interim ultione, festinabant.

34. Suetonius had the fourteenth legion with the veterans of the twentieth, and auxiliaries from the neighbourhood, to the number of about ten thousand armed men, when he prepared to break off delay and fight a battle. He chose a position approached by a narrow defile, closed in at the rear by a forest, having first ascertained that there was not a soldier of the enemy except in his front, where an open plain extended without any danger from ambuscades. His legions were in close array; round them, the light-armed troops, and the cavalry in dense array on the wings. On the other side, the army of the Britons, with its masses of infantry and cavalry, was confidently exulting, a vaster host than ever had assembled, and so fierce in spirit that they actually brought with them, to witness the victory, their wives riding in waggons, which they had placed on the extreme border of the plain.

34. Iam Suetonio quarta decima legio cum vexillariis vicesimanis et [e] proximis auxiliares, decem ferme milia armatorum, erant, cum omittere cunctationem et congredi acie parat. deligitque locum artis faucibus et a tergo silva clausum, satis cognito nihil hostium nisi in fronte et apertam planitiem esse, sine metu insidiarum. igitur legionarius frequens ordinibus, levis circum armatura, conglobatus pro cornibus eques astitit. at Britannorum copiae passim per catervas et turmas exultabant, quanta non alias multitudo, et animo adeo fero[ci], ut coniuges quoque testes victoriae secum traherent plaustrisque imponerent, quae super extremum ambitum campi posuerant.

35. Boudicea, with her daughters before her in a chariot, went up to tribe after tribe, protesting that it was indeed usual for Britons to fight under the leadership of women. "But now," she said, "it is not as a woman descended from noble ancestry, but as one of the people that I am avenging lost freedom, my scourged body, the outraged chastity of my daughters. Roman lust has gone so far that not our very persons, nor even age or virginity, are left unpolluted. But heaven is on the side of a righteous vengeance; a legion which dared to fight has perished; the rest are hiding themselves in their camp, or are thinking anxiously of flight. They will not sustain even the din and the shout of so many thousands, much less our charge and our blows. If you weigh well the strength of the armies, and the causes of the war, you will see that in this battle you must conquer or die. This is a woman's resolve; as for men, they may live and be slaves."

35. Boudicca curru filias prae se vehens, ut quamque nationem accesserat, solitum quidem Britannis feminarum ductu bellare testabatur, sed tunc non ut tantis maioribus ortam regnum et opes, verum ut unam e vulgo libertatem amissam, confectum verberibus corpus, contrectatam filiarum pudicitiam ulcisci. eo provectas Romanorum cupidines, ut non corpora, ne senectam quidem aut virginitatem impollutam relinquant. adesse tamen deos iustae vindictae; cecidisse legionem, quae proelium ausa sit; ceteros castris occultari aut fugam circumspicere. ne strepitum quidem clamorem tot milium, nedum impetus et manus perlaturos. si copias armatorum, si causas belli secum expenderent, vincendum illa acie vel cadendum esse. id mulieri destinatum: viverent viri et servirent.

36. Nor was Suetonius silent at such a crisis. Though he confided in the valour of his men, he yet mingled encouragements and entreaties to disdain the clamours and empty threats of the barbarians. "There," he said, "you see more women than warriors. Unwarlike, unarmed, they will give way the moment they have recognised that sword and that courage of their conquerors, which have so often routed them. Even among many legions, it is a few who really decide the battle, and it will enhance their glory that a small force should earn the renown of an entire army. Only close up the ranks, and having discharged your javelins, then with shields and swords continue the work of bloodshed and destruction, without a thought of plunder. When once the victory has been won, everything will be in your power." Such was the enthusiasm which followed the general's address, and so promptly did the veteran soldiery, with their long experience of battles, prepare for the hurling of the javelins, that it was with confidence in the result that Suetonius gave the signal of battle.

36. Ne Suetonius quidem in tanto discrimine silebat. quam[quam] confideret virtuti, tamen exhortationes et preces miscebat, ut spernerent sonores barbarorum et inanes minas: plus illic feminarum quam iuventutis adspici. imbelles inermes cessuros statim, ubi ferrum virtutemque vincentium totiens fusi agnovissent. etiam in multis legionibus paucos, qui proelia profligarent; gloriaque eorum accessurum, quod modica manus universi exercitus famam adipiscerentur. conferti tantum et pilis emissis post umbonibus et gladiis stragem caedemque continuarent, praedae immemores: parta victoria cuncta ipsis cessura. is ardor verba ducis sequebatur, ita se ad intorquenda pila expedierat vetus miles et multa proeliorum experientia, ut certus eventu[s] Suetonius daret pugnae signum.

37. At first, the legion kept its position, clinging to the narrow defile as a defence; when they had exhausted their missiles, which they discharged with unerring aim on the closely approaching foe, they rushed out in a wedge-like column. Similar was the onset of the auxiliaries, while the cavalry with extended lances broke through all who offered a strong resistance. The rest turned their back in flight, and flight proved difficult, because the surrounding waggons had blocked retreat. Our soldiers spared not to slay even the women, while the very beasts of burden, transfixed by the missiles, swelled the piles of bodies. Great glory, equal to that of our old victories, was won on that day. Some indeed say that there fell little less than eighty thousand of the Britons, with a loss to our soldiers of about four hundred, and only as many wounded. Boudicea put an end to her life by poison. Poenius Postumus too, camp-prefect of the second legion, when he knew of the success of the men of the fourteenth and twentieth, feeling that he had cheated his legion out of like glory, and had contrary to all military usage disregarded the general's orders, threw himself on his sword.

37. Ac primum legio gradu immota et angustias loci pro munimento retinens, postquam [in] propius suggressos hostes certo iactu tela exhauserat, velut cuneo erupit. idem auxiliarium impetus; et eques protentis hastis perfringit quod obvium et validum erat. ceteri terga praebuere, difficili effugio, quia circumiecta vehicula saepserant abitus. et miles ne mulierum quidem neci temperabat, confixaque telis etiam iumenta corporum cumulum auxerant. clara et antiquis victoriis par ea die laus parta: quippe sunt qui paulo minus quam octoginta milia Britannorum cecidisse tradant, militum quadringentis ferme interfectis nec multo amplius vulneratis. Boudicca vitam veneno finivit. et Poenius Postumus, praefectus castrorum secundae legionis, cognitis quartadecimanorum vicesimanorumque prosperis rebus, quia pari gloria legionem suam fraudaverat abnueratque contra ritum militiae iussa ducis, se ipse gladio transegit.

38. The whole army was then brought together and kept under canvas to finish the remainder of the war. The emperor strengthened the forces by sending from Germany two thousand legionaries, eight cohorts of auxiliaries, and a thousand cavalry. On their arrival the men of the ninth had their number made up with legionary soldiers. The allied infantry and cavalry were placed in new winter quarters, and whatever tribes still wavered or were hostile were ravaged with fire and sword. Nothing however distressed the enemy so much as famine, for they had been careless about sowing corn, people of every age having gone to the war, while they reckoned on our supplies as their own. Nations, too, so high-spirited inclined the more slowly to peace, because Julius Classicanus, who had been sent as successor to Catus and was at variance with Suetonius, let private animosities interfere with the public interest, and had spread an idea that they ought to wait for a new governor who, having neither the anger of an enemy nor the pride of a conqueror, would deal mercifully with those who had surrendered. At the same time he stated in a despatch to Rome that no cessation of fighting must be expected, unless Suetonius were superseded, attributing that general's disasters to perverseness and his successes to good luck.

38. Contractus deinde omnis exercitus sub pellibus habitus est ad reliqua belli perpetranda. auxitque copias Caesar missis ex Germania duobus legionariorum milibus, octo auxiliarium cohortibus ac mille equitibus quorum adventu nonani legionario milite suppleti sunt. cohortes alaeque novis hibernaculis locatae, quodque nationum ambiguum aut adversum fuerat, igni atque ferro vastatum. sed nihil aeque quam fames adfligebat serendis frugibus incuriosos, et omni aetate ad bellum versa, dum nostros commeatus sibi destinant. gentesque praeferoces tardius ad pacem inclina[ba]nt, quia Iulius Classicianus, successor Cato missus et Suetonio discors, bonum publicum privatis simultatibus impediebat disperseratque novum legatum opperiendum esse, sine hostili ira et superbia victoris clementer deditis consulturum. simul in urbe[m] mandabat, nullum proelio[rum] finem exspectarent, nisi succederetur Suetonio, cuius adversa pravitati ipsius, prospera ad fortunam referebat.

39. Accordingly one of the imperial freedmen, Polyclitus, was sent to survey the state of Britain, Nero having great hopes that his influence would be able not only to establish a good understanding between the governor and the pro-curator, but also to pacify the rebellious spirit of the barbarians. And Polyclitus, who with his enormous suite had been a burden to Italy and Gaul, failed not, as soon as he had crossed the ocean, to make his progresses a terror even to our soldiers. But to the enemy he was a laughing-stock, for they still retained some of the fire of liberty, knowing nothing yet of the power of freedmen, and so they marvelled to see a general and an army who had finished such a war cringing to slaves. Everything, however, was softened down for the emperor's ears, and Suetonius was retained in the government; but as he subsequently lost a few vessels on the shore with the crews, he was ordered, as though the war continued, to hand over his army to Petronius Turpilianus, who had just resigned his consulship. Petronius neither challenged the enemy nor was himself molested, and veiled this tame inaction under the honourable name of peace.

39. Igitur ad spectandum Britanniae statum missus est e libertis Polyclitus, magna Neronis spe posse auctoritate eius non modo inter legatum porcuratoremque concordiam gigni, sed et rebelles barbarorum animos pace componi. nec defuit Polyclitus, quo minus ingenti agmine Italiae Galliaeque gravis, postquam Oceanum transmiserat, militibus quoque nostris terribilis incederet. sed hostibus inrisui fuit, apud quos flagrante etiam tum libertate nondum cognita libertinorum potentia erat; mirabanturque, quod dux et exercitus tanti belli confector servitiis oboedirent. cuncta tamen id imperatorem in mollius relata; detentusque rebus gerundis Suetonius, quod paucas naves in litore remigiumque in iis amiserat, tamquam durante bello tradere exercitu Pertronio Turpiliano, qui iam consulatu abierat, iubetur. is non inritato hoste neque lacessitus honestum pacis nomen segni otio imposuit.

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