Aulus Plautius – Governor of Britannia from 43 to 46AD
“The first consular governor to be placed in command of Britain was Aulus Plautius: …” Tacitus Agricola 14.1
Plautius’ Campaigns in BritainThe only existing classical account of Plautius’ invasion of Britain in the summer of 43AD, is contained in Cassius Dio’s History of Rome (book LX, chapter xix); there are also interesting anectodal references to the Claudian invasion in Suetonius Claudius (chapter xvii). There is also a passing reference to Plautius in Suetonius’ biography of Vespasian (chapter iv, verse 1).
Following the capitulation of the British tribes and the subsequent departure of Claudius from the island, Plautius pushed his legionary forces inland; the Ninth were marched through the north-eastern territories of the Catuvellauni northwards into the lands of the Coritani in Leicestershire and Lincolnshire, establishing vexillation fortresses at Water Newton in Cambridgeshire near the borders with the ‘client’ Iceni and at Newton-on-Trent in Derbyshire near the borders with the , another client state; the Fourteenth moved north-west reducing the last pockets of central Catuvellaunian resistance before conquering the [link_post post_id="1320" type="link"]Dobunni in Gloucestershire, establishing an advance post at Mancetter in Warwickshire, perhaps even at Wall near Lichfield in Staffordshire, though this would have encroached upon the territories of the Cornovii; the Second Augusta were deployed in the south-west, where, under the command of the future emperor Vespasian, they conquered first the Belgae of Wiltshire and Hampshire then the Durotriges in Somerset and Dorset, assisted by the Classis Britanniae ‘the British Fleet’, who were to build naval supply bases at Chichester in the lands of the Regnenses client state, and along the south coast at Hamworthy in Dorset and Topsham in Devon; the Twentieth, meanwhile, were kept behind at Colchester to act as a reserve force and to establish the infrastructure of the newly-fledged province, replacing the tactical roads used during the campaigns through Cantium with proper metalled roadways, also building posting-stations along Watling Street and the other main supply routes.
The ‘Fosse Way Frontier Zone’
The territories captured during the years of his governorship comprised much of the lowland area of Britain south and east of a line drawn from the mouth of the Severn to the mouth of the Trent on the Humber estuary. These lowland areas were excellently suited to agriculture and much of it was already under the plough, especially along the river valleys. Plautius’ occupation army had, therefore, captured almost all of the arable land in the province during the first three years in Britain, and these conquests were seemingly delineated by a Roman road which ran from Exeter in Devon through Leicester in the midlands all the way to Lincoln.
This road has since been named the ‘Fosse Way’ which betrays its origins, for the Romans were in the habit of building roads upon raised banks, or fossae in Latin. Although by building this route Plautius seemingly established what has since been termed ‘the Fosse Way frontier zone’, many now refute its existence as a planned frontier, so although Plautius may not have actually conceived of a ‘frontier zone’ per se, he certainly consolidated gains to the south and east of a perimeter marked by the rivers Humber, Trent and Severn.
Honoured with an Ovatio
“2 Plautius for his skilfull and successful conduct of the war in Britain not only was praised by Claudius but also obtained an ovation. …” (Dio History of Rome LXI.xxx)
An ovation was a minor form of a triumphal parade, and as Augustus had set a precedent reserving the triumph exclusively for the imperial dynasty, Claudius honoured his friend with this lesser form, in which the conquering general entered the city upon a caparizoned horse instead of the triumphal chariot, did not smear his face with red lead in imitation of the terracotta image of triumphant Mars, and although the procession followed the same route through the City, everything was scaled-down. Plautius celebrated his Ovation upon returning to Rome in early 47, and this was to be the last time the distinction was granted to anyone outside of the immediate imperial family. Being related to Plautius through his first marriage to Plautia Urgulanilla, and possibly sharing childhood experiences with him while a young prince, Claudius’s own affection for Plautius is evident in Suetonius’ rendition of the same event…
“… To Aulus Plautius he also granted an ovation, going out to meet him when he entered the city, and walking on his left as he went to the Capitol and returned again. …” (Suetonius Claudius xxiv.2)
Other Evidence of Aulus Plautius’ Life
An inscription honouring one Marcus Aedius Celerus (AE 1990.222; not shown) mentions that he was ‘as a legate, despatched by the divine Augustus, along with Aulus Plautius …’. This undoubtedly places a man named Aulus Plautius during the reign of the emperor Augustus Caesar, who died 14AD. The wording suggests that Celerus and Plautius were equal in power, which indicates that their commissions were as legionary commanders rather than as joint governors of the province – i.e. they each served as legatus legionis rather than Legatus Augusti pro praetore, which would have been unconstitutional. Given the fact that legionary commands were usually offered to men shortly after their entry into the senate, sometime during their mid-thirties, it is certainly possible that the A. Plautius mentioned in this inscription is the same man who later organised the Roman invasion of Britain. The fact that Plautius’ name occurs at all is also significant, as Celerus obviously considered his service alongside Plautius to have been a highlight of his career, which points to the inscription being produced sometime after 46AD. One can imagine the man Celerus himself in his later years, reclining at dinner with his friends and family and proudly boasting of the exploits of his younger days, fighting alongside the man who had later become Ovator.
There are a couple of snippets of information in the classical histories about the family of Aulus Plautius; a story which appears in the Annals of Cornelius Tacitus (book XIII, chapter xxii), concerns his wife Pomponia Graecina, who was tried before a family court presided over by her husband in the Roman manner, and aquitted of any unlawful involvement in ‘some foreign superstition’. This was supposed by some to have been Christianity, and the episode has been dramatised in Henryk Sienkiewicz’s superb novel Quo Vadis? and also immortalized on celluloid in a Hollywood movie epic of the same name.
Marcus Plautius Silvanus
Marcus Plautius Silvanus, son of Marcus, was Ordinary Consul for 2 BC, the colleague of Imperator Augustus Caesar during his thirteenth and last consulship.
Tombstone of Aulus Plautius Urgulanius Son of Marcus Plautius Silvanus
|M PLAVTIVS M F A N SILVANVS COS VIIVIR EPVLON HVIC SENATVS TRIVMPHALIA ORNAMENTA DECREVIT OB RES IN IL[L]YRICO BENE GESTAS LARTIA CN F VXOR A PLAVTIVS M F VRGVLANIVS VIXIT ANN IX||
“Marcus Plautius Silvanus, son of Marcus, grandson of Aulus, Consular, septemvir,¹ whom the senate granted the triumphal regalia for his deeds in Illyricum,² done so well, [and] his wife Lartia, the daughter of Gnaeus, [for] Aulus Plautius Urgulanius,³ son of Marcus, who lived for nine years.”
|Dessau, Inscriptiones Latinae Selectae – Titvli virorvm et mvliervm ordinis senatorii ILS 921; c.10AD; from Tibur; CIL XIV.3606|
- A member of the ‘board of seven’ men in charge of all the religious banquets in the city of Rome.
- Plautius Silvanus in 6AD brought much-needed reinforcements from the east to the Balkans, and thus managed to quell the revolting Delmatian and Pannonian tribes.
- Possibly the elder brother of Aulus Plautius the Claudian propraetor, who evidently died whilst a young boy. His cognomen, Urgulanius is very interesting because it matches that of the first wife of the emperor Claudius (see note#2 below).
Aulus Plautius was consule suffectus in the latter half of 1 BC, with Aulus Caecina Severus his colleague.
Quintus Plautius was Ordinary Consul for AD 36 (a.u.c. 789), the colleague of Sextus Papinius Allenius.
Aulus Plautius Junior
We are provided with a juicy piece of hearsay from the old gossip Suetonius, regarding the sad fate that was to befall Aulus Plautius Junior, the son of the Claudian ovator:
“… He¹ put to death Claudia, daughter of Claudius,² for refusing to marry him after Poppaea’s death, charging her with an attempt at revolution; and he treated in the same way all others who were in any way connected with him by blood or by marriage. Among these was the young Aulus Plautius,³ whom he forcibly defiled before his death saying ‘Let my mother come now and kiss my successor,’ openly charging that Agrippina had loved Plautius and that this had roused him to hopes of the throne.” (Suetonius Nero xxxv.4)
- The emperor Nero – not a very nice man.
- Claudius’ daughter by his first wife, Plautia Urgulanilla.
- Very likely the son of the like-named, Roman Ovator.