Publius Ostorius Scapula

Publius Ostorius Scapula – Early Life

His father Quintus Ostorius Scapula was appointed joint praetorian prefect with Publius Salvius Afer by Augustus in 2BC. Quintus was evidently suffect consul, the colleague of Publius (or Gaius) Suillius Rufus, sometime after the death of Augustus (see AE 1980.907; not shown), and a legislative act of theirs dated four days before the ides of November (AE 1995.301b; also not shown) indicates that theirs were likely the last consulships of that particular year.

Nothing is known of his early career. He was suffect consul, probably in 46.

Governor of Britannia from 47 to 52AD

In the winter of 47 he was appointed the second governor of Roman Britain by the emperor Claudius, succeeding Aulus Plautius.

Meanwhile, in Britain, Publius Ostorius, the propraetor, found himself confronted by disturbance.

Cornelius Tacitus – The Annals, Book 12, Chapter 31

The quote above is the first line of a large section of Tacitus’ Annals of Rome, which describes Scapula’s campaigns in fascinating detail. There is also a short passage regarding his governorship in Tacitus’ (The Agricola, Chapter 14).

Repulsed an attack by Caratacus into Gloucestershire, and moved the Legio Vicesimae Valeria Victrix (The Twentieth Legion, Valiant and Victorious) into a new fortress at Gloucester (Glevum), leaving behind a colony of veterans as a reserve force in Colchester(Camulodunum). Halted northern advance of the Legio Nonae Hispana – The Ninth Spanish Legion, possibly establishing them in two vexillation fortresses at Newton On Trent Roman Fort and Longthorpe Roman Vexillation Fort. The was divided into two divisions and pushed west into Shropshire, the northern division building forts and camps at Wall (Letocetum), Eaton House (Pennocrucium), and other sites along Watling Street, and the second vexillation marched via Metchley Roman Fort and Greensforge to build a fortress at Leighton Vexillation Fort below the Wrekin Hillfort, whereby the Cornovii were quickly brought to terms.

He probed into Deceangli territory, but withdrew due to political pressure from queen Cartimandua of the Brigantes : this prevented him sealing off contact between Wales and Cheshire and was later to provide Caratacus with a northern escape route.

Meanwhile, the Twentieth campaigned in south Wales against the Silures and held the Usk valley and Abergavenny (Gobannium). Established a fort at Wroxeter (Viroconium Cornoviorum), from which he pushed west. Caratacus, his army defeated in battle somewhere in the territories of the Ordovices in mid-Wales, fled to the Brigantes where he was captured and handed over to Scapula by Cartimandua in 50AD.

Following this, Scapula established a frontier zone along the Welsh border from Whitchurch (Mediolanum) to Usk (Burrium) via Leintwardine (Bravinium), but his army began to suffer serious losses in the field whilst fighting a guerrilla war against the Silures, and he died from illness intensified by exhaustion during the winter of 51/52AD.

Two inscriptions recovered from the continent (CIL VI 23601 and CIL VI 9337; not shown) mention this propraetor’s name, both in connection with freedmen of his, but niether sheds any light on his public career.

Click here for a breakdown of the military campaigns of Publius Ostorius Scapula.

Marcus Ostorius Scapula – Son

We also know of the brave exploits of his son Marcus, who evidently accompanied Ostorius during his governorship of Britain. The Annals of Tacitus, in recording the supression of the 47AD uprising of the Iceni says:

“… In this battle, Marcus Ostorius, the general’s son, won the reward for saving a citizen’s life.” (Tacitus Annals XII.xxxi)

Marcus Ostorius was evidently a favourite of the emperor Nero, who bestowed a third suffect consulship on him in september 58AD (see ILS 230; CIL VI 2042; Rome; 58/59AD; not shown), but was later to get up the Nero’s nose and was exiled from Rome (Tacitus Annals XIV.xlviii; 62AD), then forced into suicide (ibid XVI.xiv et. seq.; 66AD), reputedly for having designs on the imperial seat:

“… [Marcus] Ostorius, the owner of a considerable military reputation and a civic crown earned in Britain, had, by his great bodily powers and skill in arms, inspired Nero with a fear that he might possibly attack his sovereign, …” (Tacitus Annals XVI.xv)