The Military Campaign of Aulus Plautius (AD43-46)

The only classical account of Aulus Plautius‘ invasion of Britain is Cassius Dio’s History of Rome (book LX, chapter xix), with anecdotal references in Suetonius’ The Life of Claudius . The best modern book on the subject by far is Graham Webster’s The Roman Invasion of Britain.

The original bridgehead fortifications at Richborough (Rutupiae) are well known and enclose an area of about 140 acres (c.57 ha). A military precursor to the civitas of the Cantiaci tribe atCanterbury (Durovernum) has been postulated but the only evidence which has come to light thus far are the foundations of a number of timber buildings built in Roman military style also a re-cut V-shaped defensive ditch at another location within the bounds of the later walled town. Another fortification is suspected at Rochester (Durobrivae) at the crossing of the Medway, where the Roman invasion force met its first real opposition and a major battle was fought which lasted two days and claimed the life of the British warlord Togodumnus, the brother of Caratacus. The ditch of a large (c.75 acres, 30.5ha) Claudian camp has been confirmed at London (Londinium) near the crossing of the Thames in Fenchurch Street, and it is thought that another camp, similar in size, was positioned further to the west near Hyde Park.

Following the advance through Cantium and the surrender of the British tribes near Chelmsford (Caesaromagus), a legionary fortress was built by the Legio XX Valeria Victrix within the Oppidum of the Trinovantes tribe at Camulodunum (Colchester), which was supplied along the River Colne via a harbour on the estuary at Fingringhoe Wick. With his rear guarded, Plautius then sent his remaining three legions to the task of pacification.

Many British tribes were brought under the yoke of Rome during the four years of this general’s tenure in Britain. Many of the Romanised civitas centres of these tribes began life outside the defences of Roman garrison forts built by the legionary troops and occupied by the auxilia, often being sited at the centre of the tribe’s territories or within oppida earthworks.

A notable omission from the above list is Silchester (Calleva Attrebatum) the civitas of the Atrebates tribe, who apparently continued to occupy their ancient woodland capital with no trace of a nearby Roman garrison fort.

Plautius was also active in the diplomatic arena during his governorship, installingAdminius as ‘client’ king of the Cantiaci in Cantium/Kent and recognising Tiberius Claudius Cogidumnus as ‘pro-praetorian legate’ with authority over the Regnenses tribe of Suffolk and West Sussex. He also brokered treaties with two other major tribes, recognising Cartimanduas of the Brigantes in Northern England and Prasutagus of the Iceni in Norfolk as ‘clients’ of Rome.

Military Installations Attributed to Aulus Plautius

Camulodunum (Colchester, Essex)TL9925legionary fortress Legio XX Valeria Victrix.
Longthorpe, CambridgeshireTL1597vexillation fortress Legio IX Hispana.
Lake Farm, DorsetSY9999fort, vexillation fortress Legio II Augusta.
Alchester, Bicester, OxfordshireSP5720fort, vexillation fortress Legio XIV Gemina.
Noviomagus Regnorum (Chichester, West Sussex)SU8604vexillation fortress of Legio II Augusta, later civitas capital of the Regnenses.
Ratae Coritanorum (Leicester, Leicestershire)SK5804probable vexillation fortress of Legio IX Hispana, later civitas capital of the Coritani.
Rutupiae (Richborough, Kent)TR3260invasion bridgehead and naval base.
Fingringhoe Wick, EssexTM0519naval base serving legionary fortress at Colchester.
Magnus Portus (Bosham Harbour, West Sussex)SU8003naval base serving the early fortress at Chichester.
Hamworthy, Poole Harbour, DorsetSZ0090naval base serving vex. fortress at Lake Farm.
Topsham, DevonSX9688naval base
Caesaromagus (Chelmsford, Essex)TL7006fort, later civitas capital of the Trinovantes
Canonium (Kelvedon, Essex)TL8618fort
Stanway, Colchester, EssexTL9622fort set in the middle of the British royal enclosure.
Combretovium (Baylham House, Suffolk)TM1152fort
Ixworth, SuffolkTL9369fort, possibly named Sitomagus.
Durobrivae (Water Newton, Cambridgeshire)TL1296fort
Great Chesterford, EssexTL5043fort
Verulamium (St. Albans, Hertfordshire)TL1307fort, later civitas capital of the Catuvellauni
Shapwick, DorsetST9402fort near the Lake Farm campaign fortress.
Dunum (Hod Hill, Dorset)ST8510fort in corner of a hillfort of the Durotriges.
Charterhouse on Mendip, AvonST5056fort protecting silver workings in the Mendip Hills.
Corinium (Cirencester, Gloucestershire)SP0201fort, later civitas capital of the Dobunni.
Great Casterton, LeicestershireTF0009fort
Causennae (Ancaster, Lincolnshire)SK9843fort
Ad Pontem (East Stoke, Nottingham)SK7550fort
Broxtowe, NottinghamshireSK5242fort
Marton, LincolnshireSK8382fort
Kirmington, HumbersideTA1011fort

References for Roman Military Campaigns – Aulus Plautius ( AD43-46)

  • The Roman Invasion of Britain by Graham Webster (Batsford, London, 1980);
  • Britons and the Roman Army by Grace Simpson (Gregg, London, 1964);
  • Historical Map and Guide: Roman Britain by the OS (3rd Edition, 1956; 4th Ed., 1990; 5th Ed., 2001);