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THE BRITONS AND ROMANS. B.C. 55—A.D. 446. For the earliest history of our own country we must look to the Greek and Roman writers. Long before Virgil spoke of the Britons as“ cut off afar from all the world,” the Phænicians had traded on our shores and obtained tin from the Scilly Isles, which were hence called Cassiterides (Tin Islands). The British Islands are first mentioned by name by Aristotle, in the fourth century before Christ. He calls England and Scotland Albion (probably from the native word for white), and Ireland lërne.
The Greek colonists of Massilia (Marseille) and Narbo (Narbonne ; also traded with Britain through Gaul. The chief British exports were tin, lead, skins, hunting-dogs, and slaves; and, as the natives became more civilized, they exported corn and cattle, gold, silver, and iron, and an inferior sort of pearl. The Romans had begun to talk of Britain in the second century
before Christ; but the real history of our islands begins with their invasion by Julius Cæsar, B.C. 55. His pretext was to avenge the aid which the Britons had given to one of the Gallic tribes; a most interesting testimony to the maritime habits of the people even thus early, as well as to their close relations with the Gauls.
Cæsar reached the coast, probably near Deal, Aug. 26, R.C. 55. The Roman soldiers were intimidated for a moment by the wild enemy, who crowded to defend the beach ; but the standard-bearer of the 10th legion dushed through the waves ; and the army, following his example, made good their landing. The approach of winter, and pressing affairs, soon caused Cæsar to withdraw to Gaul, having made the Britons only feel his power, and taken hostages for their obedience. His absence relieved them from the fear of the as yet unknown might of Rome. In the following year, however (B.C. 54), he returned, and, advancing beyond the Thames, he took and burned Verulamium (St. Alban's), the fortress of Cassivelaunus, or Caswallon, chief of the Trinobantes, in whose place he set up his own ally Mandubratius, and then returned to Gaul.
The people who inhabited the island at the time of Cæsar were a tribe of the great Celtic family who had passed over to Britain from the opposite continent. This is proved by the identity of their language and the resemblance in their manners, government, and religion.
The Celts were divided into two great branches, the Gael and the Cymry, of whom the former now inhabit Ireland and the highlands of Scotland, and the latter Wales. The Britons almost certainly belonged to the Cymry, and the Celtic words still found in English are of the Cymric, or Welsh, dialect.
The religion of the Britons, which formed one of the most considerable parts of their government, was a terrible form of idolatry called Druidism. The Druids, who were the priests, directed all religious duties, and presided over the education of the youth ; they enjoyed an immunity from war and taxes; they possessed both the civil and criminal jurisdiction; they decided all controversies, among states as well as among private persons, and whoever refused to submit to their decrees was exposed to the most severe penalties; the sentence of excommunication was pronounced against him; he was forbidden access to the sacrifices or public worship; he was debarred all intercourse with his fellow-citizens; and was refused the protection of the law. The Druids inculcated piety towards the gods (for they worshipped a plurality of gods), charity towards man, and fortitude in suffering; they taught their disciples astronomy, or rather, perhaps, astrology, and magic, and trained them to acuteness in legal distinctions. Their rites were mysterious and terrible ; but we know little of these rites, except their veneration for the oak and mistletoe, and that human sacrifices formed one of the great features of their worship, which was celebrated in the recesses of their forests. Gigantic ruins in different parts of England are supposed to be the remains of Druidical temples, of which the most remarkable are those of Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain, and those at Abury in Wiltshire.
The equestrian order were the next in authority to the Druids. The bards also were closely connected with the Druids. They sang the genealogy of their princes, and accompanied their songs with an instrument called the chrotta.
The inhabitants of the south-eastern parts of Britain had become somewhat civilized before the time of Cæsar; while the other tribes led the wild and roaming life of shepherds and herdsmen. The Britons tattooed their bodies and stained them with woad. They wore checkered mantles like the Scotch highlanders, girdles round their waists, and metal chains on their breasts; the hair and mustachio were suffered to grow, and a ring was worn on the middle finger. Their arms were a small shield, javelins, and a pointless sword. They fought from chariots (esseda, covini) having scythes affixed to the axles. They had no regular fortresses, and their towns were mere clusters of huts in the midst of forests, surrounded by a ditch and a rampart of felled trees.
The Britons were divided into several tribes, the government of which was monarchical, but free. The chief tribes known to the Romans were the Cantii (in Kent), the Trinobantes (in Middlesex and Essex), with the capital Londinium (London), the Cenimagni or Iceni (in Norfolk, Suffolk, and Cambridgeshire), the Segontiaci (in Hants and Berks), and the Anculites and Bibroci (in Berks and Wilts).
For nearly a century Roman conquest ceased in Britain, but Roman civilization continued to spread, chiefly through intercourse with Gaul. To this period belongs the Prince Cunobelin, a successor of Caswallon, immortalized by Shakspeare under the name of Cymbeline. The mad emperor Caligula only talked of invading Britain, as his soldiers gathered shells on the opposite beach for trophies of his conquest of the ocean, A.D. 40; but his successor, Claudius, in A.D. 43, sent Aulus Plautius, with four legions, to conquer the island. The emperor himself followed, and the southeastern part, from Essex to Hampshire, became a Roman province. The other tribes, however, held out under their heroic leader Caradoc, or CARACTACUS, against whom the emperor sent Ostorius Scapula in A.D. 47. After a brave resistance all the tribes south of the Tyne were defeated, except those of Wales, whither Caractacus had retreated. At length his stronghold, Caer Caradoc, was taken, together with his wife and family, and he himself was soon afterwards surrendered to the Romans by his step-mother, Cartismandua, queen of the Brigantes, with whom he had taken refuge. Carried as a prisoner to Rome, he asserted in chains before the throne of Claudius his free-born rights as boldly as he had defended them in arms; and he was treated with the respect due to his courage.
His valour was soon emulated by “the British warrior queen," BOADICEA, princess of the Iceni, whose daughters had been outraged and herself scourged by the Roman tribunes. Suetonius Paulinus, whom Nero sent as governor in A.D. 59, attacked the island of Mona (Anglesey), which was at once the retreat of those who still resisted, and the chief seat of the worship of the Druids. He burned them in the fires which they had prepared for their captive enemies, and cut down their sacred groves. But his absence was used by the subject Britons as an opportunity for insurrection. Boadicea inflamed their fury by the recital of her cruel wrongs and the exhibition of her outraged daughters with her in her warchariot. London (Londinium), already one of the chief Roman colonies, was reduced to ashes, and 70,000 Romans and other strangers were massacred. But Suetonius avenged this cruelty in a great battle (A.D.,62), in which 80,000 Britons perished, and Boadicea only saved herself from captivity by poison. Suetonius was recalled by Nero; and, after the successive administrations of Cerealis (A.D. 71) and Julius Frontinus, Vespasian intrusted the government to JULIUS AGRICOLA, who completed the conquest of the island, and whose campaigns are recorded by his son-in-law, the great historian Tacitus. His government lasted seven years (78-85). In 81 he drew a line of fortresses across the island, between the Firths of Clyde and Forth. In 84 and 85 he advanced into Caledonia (Scotland), and in the latter year he defeated the Caledonians, under Galgacus, at the foot of the Grampians. His fleet also circumnavigated the island.
Thus was the country subdued by the Romans as far north as the feet of the Scottish highlands, in which the Caledonians kept their ground. The frontier on this side was not well defined till the reign of Hadrian, who visited the island in person, and fixed the limit of the empire with his characteristic moderation. He raised an earthen rampart across from the Solway Firth to the Tyne, the remains of which are known as the Picts' Wall. The frontier was extended under his successor Antoninus Pius, so as to embrace the southern part of what is now Scotland; and a new rampart was drawn by the governor, Lollius Urbicus, along the line of Agricola's forts, between the Firths of Forth and Clyde, A.D. 140, which was
called the WALL OF ANTONINUS, and is now known as Graham's Dyke.
This more advanced line, however, was not maintained. The great emperor Severus was mummoned in his old age to repel the Caledonians. Though so ill with the gout that he had to be borne in a litter, he penetrated to the extremity of the island, but with the loss of 50,000 mer. On his return to York (where he died in A.D. 211) he caused the WALL OF HADRIAN to be repaired; and that wall may be regarded henceforth as the true frontier of the empire.
Thus limited on the north, the Roman province of Britain was governed by a consular legate and a procurator down to A.D. 197, after which it was divided into two provinces, Britannia Superior and Inferior; and at a later period (under Diocletian or Constantine) into four; namely-(1) Britannia Prima, south of the Severn and Thames ; (2) Britannia Secunda, containing Wales and the border counties, or all to the west of the Severn and the Dee; (3) Flavia Cæsariensis, the whole middle portion from the Humber to the Thames, except Wales ; (4) Maxima Cæsariensis, embracing all to the north of the estuaries of the Mersey and the Humber. To these was added in A.D. 369 a fifth province, called (5) Valentia, north of the Wall of Severus; and the writers of the Middle Ages divide this into Valentia, between the Walls of Severus and Antoninus; and Vespasiana, north of the latter. The whole island was subject to the Vicarius Britanniæ, whose residence was at Eboracum (York). The next city in importance was Londinium or Augusta (London); and there were numerous other Roman cities, including several colonies. The chief ports connecting the island with the continent were Portus Dubris (Dover) and Rutupiæ (Richborough), the ruins of which are still to be seen near Sandwich.
On the death of Severus, his son Caracalla hastened back to Rome, after concluding a peace with the wild tribes on the northern frontier. But a new enemy soon appeared in an opposite quarter, namely, the Saxon pirates, whose descents on the eastern coast from the opposite shores of Germany, in the third century, caused the appointment of an officer for the protection of that coast, called Count of the Saxon shure (Comes littoris Saxonici). The first two of these officers, Carausius (A.D. 286) and Allectus (293), used their power to seize the purple; but Allectus was subdued by Constantius (296), and the island remained quiet till the end of the Roman sway over it. Constantius himself was the last emperor who resided in Britain. He died at York (306), where his son, Constantine the Great, assumed the title of Cæsar. Constantine is believed to have had a share of British blood, through his mother Helena.
Soon after this the province was again disturbed on the north by