Roman Military Campaigns – Aulus Didius Gallus (AD52 -57)

The campaigns of this governor are detailed by the Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus in his Annals of Rome (book XII, chapter xl-xli), also in his Histories (book III, chapter xliv). The campaigns of Didius Gallus are covered in chapter 5 of Rome Against Caratacus by Graham Webster (Batsford, London, 1981).

Read the biography of Aulus Didius Gallus.

The last governor Publius Ostorius Scapula had been killed while on campaign against the Silures in South Wales and Didius Gallus was sent by emperor Nero with all haste to assume command of Britain. Shortly before his arrival in the province the tribe had attacked and badly mauled a Roman legion encamped within their territories which, although unnamed by Tacitus, was most likely Legio XX Valeria, which had been redeployed into the area by the previous governor to deal with the warlord Caratacus. These circumstances obliged Gallus to commence his administration with a swift retributive action against the Silures, which appears to have been accomplished very swiftly indeed, leaving behind no permanent encampments and no temporary marching camps in Silurian territory which may be positively dated to the period.

Caractacus, King of the Silures, deliver’d up to Ostorius, the Roman General, by Cartismandua, Queen of the Brigantes

The ongoing campaign against the Silures was, however, soon overshadowed by political machinations within the powerful Brigante tribe in northern England. The queen of this tribe, Cartimandua, had been recognised as a ‘client’ of Rome and, honouring her obligations in this regard, she had handed the British warlord Caratacus over to the Roman administration in 50AD. This action had stirred-up no small amount of unrest within the tribe, and with the major anti-Roman faction being led by the prince-consort Venutius, it was only a matter of time before the situation became critical.

The Campaigns of Venutius of the Brigantes

Sometime during the tenure of Gallus, the Brigantes broke into civil war, the northern, anti-Roman faction led by Venutius, the southern, pro-Roman faction led by Cartimandua. The tide of the intertribal war in the north ebbed first one way then the other, with hostages being taken and skirmishes being fought, finally resulting in the ageing queen being rescued by a timely Roman intervention.

To contain the situation on the northern borders of the Roman province the Legio Nonae Hispana – The Ninth Spanish Legion was redeployed into campaign/vexillation fortresses on the western borders of the Coritani tribe at Osmanthorpe Roman Vexillation Fort in Nottinghamshire and Newton On Trent Roman Fort in Lincolnshire; one of these vexillations appears to have been relocated further north to Rossington Bridge Vexilation Fort in South Yorkshire, perhaps as better information on the extent of the Brigantian unrest was obtained. At the same time Legio XIV Gemina was redeployed into campaign fortresses just within the north-eastern borders of the Cornovii tribe at Wall (Letocetum) and Kinvaston Fort, both sited along the Watling Street in South Staffordshire.

It appears likely that the fort at Littlechester in Derbyshire, along with the fortlets at Broxtowe Roman Fort in Nottinghamshire and Marton Roman Fort in Lincolnshire, were established at this time to facilitate communications between these frontier units. The establishment of another auxiliary fort on the Fosse Way at East Stoke (Ad Pontem) Roman Settlement in Nottinghamshire, close to the Osmanthorpe Roman Vexillation Fort, may indicate that it was the garrison here which was removed to the Rossington Bridge site, with the site on the Fosse Way being established to maintain the communication link between the two legionary groups.

The Roman interest in the lead/silver mines at Pentrich in the Lower Pennines of Derbyshire is demonstrated by the establishment at this time of a small military station overlooking the mine-workings here.

Military Establishments Attributed to Aulus Didius Gallus

Osmanthorpe, NottinghamshireSK6756vexillation fortress Legio IX Hispana?
Newton-on-Trent, LincolnshireSK8273vexillation fortress Legio IX Hispana?
Rossington Bridge, South YorkshireSK6399vexillation fortress Legio IX Hispana?
Letocetum (Wall, Staffordshire)SK0906vexillation fortress Legio XIV Gemina?
Pennocrucium (Kinvaston, Staffordshire)SJ9010vexillation fortress Legio XIV Gemina?
Ad Pontem (East Stoke, Nottingham)SK7550fort
Derventio (Littlechester, Derbyshire)SK3537fort
Marton, LincolnshireSK8382fortlet
Broxtowe, NottinghamshireSK5242fortlet
Lutudarum (Pentrich, Derbyshire)SK3852signal station near silver/lead mines in the lower Pennines

References for Roman Military Campaigns – Aulus Didius Gallus ( AD52-57)

  • The Roman Invasion of Britain by Graham Webster (Batsford, London, 1980);
  • Rome Against Caratacus by Graham Webster (Batsford, London, 1981);
  • 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);
Roman Sites to visit in South East England