Agricola and Roman Britain

By Andrew Robert Burn | Go to book overview

Chapter Nine
Governor of Britain

IT was late summer when Agricola reached Britain, and the troops had made up their minds that there would be no major operations that year; the new governor would want to take his time going round the province, seeing how things were and making speeches. When Agricola arrived, however, he found a situation requiring prompt action. Frontinus, with his roads and forts, had dealt finally with the Silures; one is reminded once more of Edward I and his Welsh castles. But as in the Middle Ages, the natural fortress of Snowdonia was the last to fall. The Ordovices had risen in arms, and the first news that greeted the new governor was of a regrettable incident. They had caught a Roman cavalry "wing" on unfavourable ground. presumably in one of their mountain passes, and virtually destroyed it. The news, spreading rapidly, had sent a thrill through the newly conquered tribes. If the defeat was not quickly avenged, there was danger that instead of completing the conquest of Britain, the new governor would find himself beating out the embers of guerilla warfare in districts already overrun by Frontinus and Cerialis.

The army was in its winter positions, spread out as an occupying force through most of Wales and Northumbria; to mobilise it in full strength would take weeks, and there would not be much left of the summer. But Agricola, knowing the country, knew also that the numerical strength of the Ordovices was not very great. The chief problem was presented by the roughness of their country. Speed and decisive action were imperative; large numbers of armoured men were not. He wrote, probably from London, to his legion-commanders for detachments, which could be sent off much more easily than the main body of

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