The Brigantian Revolt (69AD)

As the civil war in Europe was drawing to a close or had already ended, turmoil resurfaced in Britain, particularly involving the Brigantes in an internal conflict.

Trouble in Brigantia (52–57 AD)

We read earlier that over a decade prior, Queen Cartimandua had usurped the throne from her spouse, Venutius, with Roman support. Subsequently, she spurned Venutius, choosing her armour bearer, Vellocatus, as her new consort. This angered Venutius, who, with backing from neighboring tribes, plotted an uprising. The Brigantes, a prominent and formidable tribe in the British midlands, were known for their militancy. Neighboring tribes remained vigilant due to their strength. Cartimandua, however, showed no interest in territorial expansion, which provided a sense of security to the adjacent tribes. The Brigantes’ power also served as a shield against raids from the northern tribes not yet under Roman control.

Venutius Rebels against Queen Cartimandua

The Romans were weakened by the civil war, in the Year of the Four Emperors, A.D. 69. At this time Venutius seized the opportunity to rebel against his wife, believing the Romans would be too preoccupied in Europe to intervene.

Inspired by these differences between the Roman forces and by the many rumours of civil was that reached them, the britons plucked up courage under the leadership of Venutius, who, in addition to his own natural spirit and hatred of the Roman name, was fired by his personal resentment towards queen Cartimandua. She was ruler over the Brigantes, having the influence that belongs to high birth, and she had later strengthened her power when she was credited with having captured king Caratacus by treachery and so furnished an adornment for the triumph of Claudius Caesar. From this came her wealth and the wanton spirit which success breeds. She grew to despise her husband Venutius, and took as her consort his squire Vellocatus, whom she admitted to share the throne with her. Her house was at once shaken by this scandalous act. Her husband was favoured by the sentiments of all the citizens; the adulterer was supported by the queens passion for him and by her savage spirit. So Venutius, calling in aid from outside and at the same time assisted by a revolt of the Brigantes themselves, put Cartimandua into an extremely dangerous position.

Tacitus (Histories iii, 45)

Bolanus Rescues the Queen

However, Bolanus dispatched auxiliary infantry and cavalry to quell the revolt. Despite fierce resistance, the Roman forces eventually succeeded in narrowly rescuing the Queen. Venutius reclaimed the Brigantes’ throne.

Then she asked the Romans for protection, and some of our auxiliary troops, cavalry and infantry, after meeting with indifferent success in a number of engagements, finally succeeded in snatching the queen from danger. The throne was left to Venutius, the war to us.

Tacitus (Histories iii, 45)

Queen Cartimandua survived the revolt, but was forced into exile and was not heard of again. This upheaval significantly altered the dynamics in Britain. The other tribes no longer felt safe. There was a possibility that the Brigantes might ally with regions still resentful of Roman handling of the Boudicca rebellion. The Romans had to reevaluate their strategy for the entire country to prevent another rebellion.

Petillius Cerialis Retaliates against Venutius

Bolanus was succeeded by Quintus Petillius Cerialis, a tactician known for his erratic nature. His reputation from the civil war and possible ties to the Vespasian family through a speculated marriage to Domitilla, Vespasian’s daughter, likely influenced his appointment. Cerialis faced a challenging task: not only did he need to pacify the tribes, but he also had to heal divisions within the Roman legions, many of whom had been adversaries during the civil war. Cerialis was selected for his diplomatic skill in unifying troops from the opposing Flavian and Vitellian factions.

The Roman forces in Britain were demoralized and undisciplined, a downfall attributed to Bolanus’ leadership. Tacitus noted that this period marked the beginning of a series of distinguished commanders and formidable armies. Cerialis revitalized troop morale and introduced the Legio II Adiutrix, formed during the civil war. This legion was stationed in Lincoln (Lindum), while Cerialis led the 9th legion into Brigantian territory, joining forces with the 20th legion under Agricola. They advanced up the western coast without encountering significant resistance from Venutius’ supporters. Tacitus documented several battles, noting some were quite bloody. Venutius’ fate remains a mystery; whether he perished or faded into obscurity is unknown. Ultimately, he lost his hold over the Brigantes and vanished from historical records.