Agricola and Roman Britain

By Andrew Robert Burn | Go to book overview

Chapter Four
Fire and the Sword

TO give the necessary orders was an easy matter. Transmitting them involved plenty of work for a keen young officer. As usual, to decide what it was desirable to do was the least part of a general's task; the labour was in getting it done, especially with an army spread out between Lincoln, Holyhead and Gloucester, and with the speed of even the most vital message limited to that of a galloping horse.

The Ordovices would have to wait. The whole army must come back at least to the Dee. After that, it would be necessary to leave a skeleton force facing the mountain tribes, while the main army dealt with the Iceni. Venonæ, at the intersection of the Fosse Way and Watling Street, would be a natural meeting-place. This was assuming that Decianus' messages were not the product of mere panic; but the facts certainly sounded serious enough. That the annexation of the Iceni had run into trouble was unexpected, but not perhaps very surprising; but the fury with which the Britons rose astonished everybody. Agricola realised only later and gradually how bad the provocation had been.

To begin with, there were many widespread grievances. The ex-soldier colonists, established at Colchester, had not been content with the land allotted them once and for all, but were continuing to take in more. If they troubled even to allege any legal pretext, Tacitus does not mention it. Britons were conquered people, they said; therefore they were slaves, and their property was their masters'. The governor was far away, and busy with military matters; and armed force on the spot was represented by a detachment of probably elderly troops, who were the less disposed to

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