Agricola and Roman Britain

By Andrew Robert Burn | Go to book overview

Chapter Fourteen
The Invasion of Caledonia

IT was a pity to have to surrender so many legionaries for the Rhine, but Agricola knew that it was no use arguing; especially with a young emperor and one liable to take umbrage. He set himself to plan the campaign on the basis of a striking force of three legions, all three perhaps somewhat under strength, and one certainly very much so. This would enable him to leave the main body of one legion in the south, in case of any stirrings of trouble in Wales or Northumbria.

He had numerous auxiliary regiments; in Hadrian's time, the army in this big, thinly-populated province contained more than twice as many auxiliaries as legionaries. but many of them would have to be used on lines of communication in the recently conquered territories. For the crowning battle in the following year, he was able to concentrate probably the same three legions, less detachments sent to Germany and guards left at their depôts-- perhaps 8,000 to 10,000 men in all--plus 8,000 light infantry and as many as 5,000 cavalry.

Using every available weapon to compensate for his deficiency in legionaries, Agricola also brought up his fleet on the east coast. The fleet had naturally been important in Roman Britain, since the earliest days, but only as a transport service, Agricola, Tacitus tells us, was the first to "make it part of his forces"; in modern terms, to give it an operational rôle. Using the experience gained in western waters, he would employ it not only for transport but for raiding, keeping the natives guessing, as unopposed sea-power so well can, where the next blow would fall.

As to strategy, Agricola was in no doubt. Reconnaissance and interrogation of natives, for which there had been

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