Aulus Plautius and the Fosse Way Frontier
Aulus Plautius spent his later years focusing on strengthening the Roman presence in Britain. Legionary vexillations had been established in permanent quarters near the limit of the advance. Colchester was still the main base. with at least the headquarters of a legion there. Another important centre for supplies had been established at Richborough (Rutupiae). A network of auxiliary forts guarded the lines of communication and the zone of the frontier itself along the route of the Fosse way from Exeter (Isca Dumnoniorum) to Lincoln (Lindum).
was able to after his departure, the native tribes rebelled fiercely against their Roman rulers.
Publius Ostorius Scapula & a Frontier in flames
In 47 AD, during the winter, tribes from beyond the Roman-controlled territory launched attacks on southern positions. The newly appointed governor, Publius Ostorius Scapula arrived to find the frontier in flames. Late in 47 AD, after the close of the campaign season, one of the tribes, we are not told which, raided allied territory.
The enemy had burst into the territories of our allies with all the more fury, as they imagined that a new general would not march against them with winter beginning and with an army of which he knew nothing.Cornelius Tacitus – The Annals, Book 12, Chapter 31
Who were the allies that had been attacked in the uprising of 47AD?
Assuming the rebellion was started by Caracatus and his Silurian and Orodovican allies then the fury would probably have fallen on the Dobunni tribe. The tribe had been split in two, between the north and the south, sometimes with two kings and sometimes with one. The northern half had submitted to Plautius prior to the Medway battle, and this would have given rise to great bitterness. Another possibility would have been an attack on the Cornovii.
Publius Ostorius Scapula’s Response
Publius Ostorius Scapula promptly responded to these uprisings by attacking with a small force of lightly armed Auxiliaries, rather than the full might of the Roman army.
Ostorius, well aware that first events are those which produce alarm or confidence, by a rapid movement of his light cohorts, cut down all who opposed him, pursued those who fledCornelius Tacitus – The Annals, Book 12, Chapter 31
Roman Frontier Expanded
Publius Ostorius Scapula’s first season in office was probably spent on campaign with Legion XIV Gemina who were advanced westwards along the line of Watling Street, leaving vexillation-sized camps at Mancetter (Manduessedum) in Warwickshire and Leighton near Wroxeter in Shropshire, probably also at Wall (Letocetum) and Eaton House (Pennocrucium) in Staffordshire and at Drayton Lodge in Shropshire, where there are auxiliary forts dating to this period.
Marching camps and an auxiliary fort was also built at Greensforge.
All of these encampments were obviously directed at the Cornovii tribe who occupied Shropshire and the Cheshire plain.
an unquiet and treacherous peace might allow no rest to the general and his troops, he prepared to disarm all whom he suspected, and to occupy with encampments the whole country to the Avon and SevernCornelius Tacitus – The Annals, Book 12, Chapter 31
During this period, the Romans intensified their efforts to consolidate their position by extending their influence beyond the Trent and Severn rivers. Roman troops were dispatched to the northern frontier, indicating their intention to conquer the remaining territories.
In order to do this he needed to secure his rear. The southern tribes whether allied or not were to be disarmed. This amounted to an application of long-observed law called the Lex Julia de Vi (Dig. 48.6.1) that restricted the carrying of weapons for purposes other than hunting or for protecting one’s self while travelling, despite the fact that allied tribes were bound by treaty rather than Roman law.
The Roman expansion and disarmament of the tribes was met with resistance from the southern tribes who saw it as an attempt to subjugate the entire country under Roman rule and erase their cultural identity.
During the invasion, the Iceni had been supportive of the Romans but eventually rebelled, along with ‘surrounding nations’. The tribes were ultimately defeated after a fierce battle, possibly at Stonea Camp, a fortified island near modern-day March in Cambridgeshire.
The Iceni, a powerful tribe, which war had not weakened, as they had voluntarily joined our alliance, were the first to resist. At their instigation the surrounding nations chose as a battlefield a spot walled in by a rude barrier, with a narrow approach, impenetrable to cavalry. Through these defences the Roman general, though he had with him only the allied troops, without the strength of the legions, attempted to break, and having assigned their positions to his cohorts, he equipped even his cavalry for the work of infantry. Then at a given signal they forced the barrier, routing the enemy who were entangled in their own defences.Cornelius Tacitus – The Annals, Book 12, Chapter 31
Although which other tribes supported the Iceni elements of the Corieltauvi were likely to be involved. It may also be the case that not all of the Iceni rebelled. It may have been solely the western Iceni, the eastern Iceni may have been ruled by Prasutagus and after the rebellion was put down he was rewarded for his loyalty by his territory being expanded.
Ostorius made a grave mistake by not considering the impact of his policy of disarmament, which had triggered the uprising. This was a recurring pattern for the Romans, who often made changes to conquered territories without considering the consequences for the local population.
Ostorius advances up the Cheshire Gap (48AD)
In early 48AD with he rear made safe Ostorius advances along the Cheshire Gap, dividing the tribes in Wales from those in the Penines.
Ostorius began his campaign by heading northwest into Wales, where he encountered the Deceangli. With little resistance, Ostorius continued to pillage and loot the area, taking anything that could be of use to the Romans.
Then the army was marched against the Cangi [Deceangli]; their territory was ravaged, spoil taken everywhere without the enemy venturing on an engagement, or if they attempted to harass our march by stealthy attacks, their cunning was always punished. And now Ostorius had advanced within a little distance of the sea, facing the island Hibernia.Cornelius Tacitus – The Annals, Book 12, Chapter 32
As they advanced, news reached them of uprisings among the Brigantes.
The Brigantes had a feudal system which made close control by their leader Queen Cartimandua difficult. Many of the tribesmen on the Western Brigantes had connections with the Marches. Their anger was probably fuelled by the Druids from Anglesey.
This was a serious threat to Roman security, as maintaining peace in non-occupied regions was crucial. Ostorius reacted swiftly and harshly, executing those who had rebelled. While this may have been an overreaction, it served as a warning to the rest of the country that the Romans would use extreme measures to quell any form of resistance. Ostorius wanted to expand the province, not engage in unnecessary battles with revolutionaries. Nevertheless, the signs of unrest were becoming evident in the client kingdoms, indicating that this was only the beginning of a long period of trouble and unrest.
The Roman frontier was safeguarded by a system of Auxiliary forts. These forts were manned by garrisons of around 500 soldiers who were sufficient for maintaining law and order. However, they were not capable of withstanding well-planned attacks that involved a large number of soldiers. During the campaign season, many of the soldiers were away on active service, further weakening the forts’ defenses.
At that time, Legion XIV Gemina had been newly deployed and was likely stationed in the area of the Wall at Penkridge. The extension of Watling Street had reached the west bank of the Severn River at Wroxeter (Viroconium Cornoviorum), where they established a fort and pushed farther west. Other forts were probably established at Stretton Mill near Penkridge and at Red Hill.
Meanwhile, Legio II was fully occupied with holding the southwest, with its headquarters located at Exeter or Dorchester. Similarly, Legio IX Hispana was stretched thin in the northeast, behind the Trent River.
Legio XX remained stationed in Colchester, although detachments from it were probably deployed on campaign. This legion was the logical choice to launch an attack against the Silures in South Wales. Consequently, they constructed a fortress at Gloucester (Glevum) in 49 AD.
a colony of a strong body of veterans was established at Camulodunum on the conquered landsCornelius Tacitus – The Annals, Book 12, Chapter 32
A group of military veterans was left behind to hold Colchester. Their primary objective was to establish a Roman presence in the area and to educate the locals on the rules and procedures they must follow to become obedient Roman citizens. This marked the establishment of the first Roman colony (colonia), typically consisting of discharged soldiers and deliberate foundations of inhabitants classed as Roman citizens. Colchester became a top provincial city and a symbol of Roman power. When a territory was conquered, the land and estate would become the Emperor’s property, which was then given to Claudius’ legionary veterans in this case.
Attacking the Silures (49 AD)
The Twentieth Legion campaigned in south Wales against the Silures and held the Usk valley and Abergavenny (Gobannium). The Silures were to prove the toughest and most successful opponents of Roman Army would face in Britain. They conducted a successful guerrilla war against the Romans. They were assisted by the terrain which was broken and well wooded, difficult to penetrate and easy to be ambushed in.
The army then marched against the Silures, a naturally fierce people and now full of confidence in the might of Caractacus, who by many an indecisive and many a successful battle had raised himself far above all the other generals of the Britons.Cornelius Tacitus – The Annals, Book 12, Chapter 33
Caratacus transfers resistance to the Ordovices 51AD
In 51AD Caratacus transferred his resistance to the lands of the Ordovices. The heart of their country was the mountain fasntess of Snowdonia. Tacitus implies that the purpose of the move was to bring more warriors to his standard especially from the large and important tribe of the Ordovices which he could expect to join him.
Inferior in military strength, but deriving an advantage from the deceptiveness of the country, he at once shifted the war by a stratagem into the territory of the Ordovices, where, joined by all who dreaded peace with us, he resolved on a final struggle.Cornelius Tacitus – The Annals, Book 12, Chapter 33
Caratacus, having experienced Roman battle tactics, had to strategize on how to effectively use his ill-equipped levies against the highly disciplined and professional Roman army. He had witnessed the legionaries’ immense weight and power as they cut through the packed mass of Celts, and he knew that his men would suffer heavy losses in a standing fight. Caratacus realized that it was crucial to have a line of retreat for his tribesmen before they were killed or forced to surrender. Therefore, he carefully chose a site deep into British territory to lure the Roman force far from its bases. The location had to be suitable for his men to escape by melting into the forests and mountains where they could not easily be hunted by cavalry. Caratacus also had to select a site that could not be easily surrounded so that the legions would be forced to launch a frontal assault at a carefully chosen narrow front.
He selected a position for the engagement in which advance and retreat alike would be difficult for our men and comparatively easy for his own, and then on some lofty hills, wherever their sides could be approached by a gentle slope, he piled up stones to serve as a rampart. A river too of varying depth was in his front, and his armed bands were drawn up before his defencesCornelius Tacitus – The Annals, Book 12, Chapter 33
Where was Caratacus’ last stand?
To begin with, the chosen site had to be located within the territory of the Ordovices and situated by a river that posed a difficult crossing. Based on the description, the river would have to be sizable and the only one fitting that description is the Severn. While earlier historians have suggested a hill-fort, there is only mention of a stone rampart defending a steep slope at one point, with the rest of the hill rising sheer. As a result, the site could be one of several hills in the vicinity of the Severn in its upper reaches, likely in the narrow valley below Caersws. The most probable hills would be those above Newtown, since this is where the old east-west trackway meets the Severn and this is likely the route the Roman army would have taken.
The Battle Against Caratacus
Ostorius was hesitant to launch a full-scale attack on this fortified position, but his soldiers were eager to fight and demonstrated their loyalty to Rome. They crossed the Severn and, using their tactical expertise and sheer determination, were able to defeat the British warriors.
Scapula led his men across the river without difficulty. The Britons, on the other hand, were well prepared. They had fortified their positions with a steep rampart, and they rained down a hail of missiles on the Romans as they approached. The legionaries were well trained for such a situation, however. They grouped together in a testudo, a formation that protected them from the Britons’ arrows and spears. With their hands free, they began to pry out the stones of the rampart, loosening it until it began to crumble.
But his soldiers insisted on battle, exclaiming that valour could overcome all things; and the prefects and tribunes, with similar language, stimulated the ardour of the troops. Ostorius having ascertained by a survey the inaccessible and the assailable points of the position, led on his furious men, and crossed the river without difficulty. When he reached the barrier, as long as it was a fight with missiles, the wounds and the slaughter fell chiefly on our soldiers; but when he had formed the military testudo, and the rude, ill-compacted fence of stones was torn down, and it was an equal hand-to-hand engagement, the barbarians retired to the heights.Cornelius Tacitus – The Annals, Book 12, Chapter 35
The Romans gradually made their way up the rampart, and as soon as they came within reach of the Britons, they launched a fierce attack. The Britons were no match for the Romans’ discipline and ferocity, and they were soon driven back.
The battle continued as the Romans advanced, and the Britons were scattered in complete confusion. The legionaries advanced in close order, with the auxiliaries darting around their flanks with their light javelins. The Britons, with little body armour to protect them, were no match for the Romans’ superior weapons and tactics. If they resisted the auxiliaries, they were struck down by the sword and pila of the legionaries. If they faced up to the legionaries, they fell under the long swords and spears of the auxiliaries.
Yet even there, both light and heavy-armed soldiers rushed to the attack; the first harassed the foe with missiles, while the latter closed with them, and the opposing ranks of the Britons were broken, destitute as they were of the defence of breast-plates or helmets. When they faced the auxiliaries, they were felled by the swords and javelins of our legionaries; if they wheeled round, they were again met by the sabres and spears of the auxiliaries. It was a glorious victory; the wife and daughter of Caractacus were captured, and his brothers too were admitted to surrender.Cornelius Tacitus – The Annals, Book 12, Chapter 35
The battle was a decisive victory for the Romans, and it marked the beginning of the end of British independence.
During the battle, Caratacus’ family was captured, including his wife and daughter, and his brother surrendered. However, Caratacus himself managed to escape and fled to the Brigantes in the northwest.
The Capture of Caratacus AD 51
We can presume that Caratacus sought both the protection of the Brigantes and alsp to persuade Cartimandua to help in their fight against Rome.
Unfortunately for Caratacus, the queen of the Brigantes, Cartimandua, was pro-Roman and had already put down a rebellion among her own people. Not wanting to antagonize the Romans, she ordered that Caratacus be captured and turned over to them. This was a significant blow to the anti-Roman factions, as Caratacus had emerged as a powerful symbol of resistance and opposition to Roman rule.
There is seldom safety for the unfortunate, and Caractacus, seeking the protection of Cartimandua, queen of the Brigantes, was put in chains and delivered up to the conquerors, nine years after the beginning of the war in Britain.Cornelius Tacitus – The Annals, Book 12, Chapter 36
The capture of Caratacus was a significant achievement for the Romans and helped to improve the image of Emperor Claudius. The customary Triumph was held in Rome to showcase the captured leader to the Praetorian Guard, and Caratacus was given the opportunity to make an address to the Senate.
The Senate was then assembled, and speeches were delivered full of pompous eulogy on the capture of Caractacus. It was as glorious, they said, as the display of Syphax by Scipio, or of Perses by Lucius Paulus, or indeed of any captive prince by any of our generals to the people of Rome.Cornelius Tacitus – The Annals, Book 12, Chapter 38
Although the content of his speech is not recorded, it is believed to have left a deep impression on the Senators. As a result, Caratacus and his family were granted a pardon, which further bolstered Claudius’ reputation and distinguished him from his predecessor, Julius Caesar. Despite their success, the Romans were aware that the Britons were still resisting, which would pose a challenge for their commanders in Britain. It is possible that Ostorius received both public adulation and private criticism for his actions.
The Silures Revenge
The Silures continued their war against Rome. The first incident he relates involves legionary cohorts who were attacked on all sides while constructing forts in Silurian territory. The Praefectus Castrorum commanded the troops, and they were building forts in Silurian territory that had been taken from the tribe. The location of the tribal boundary is unknown. The construction of several forts simultaneously meant that the legionaries were spread out over a large area. The camp prefect, an ex-chief centurion (primus pilus) of equestrian status and third in command of the legion, commanded the entire operation. Since a smaller force or less than half a legion would hardly have required such a senior officer, it is reasonable to assume that Legio XX from Gloucester was the unit involved.
the enemy, out of compassion for so great a king, was more ardent in his thirst for vengeance. Instantly they rushed from all parts on the camp-prefect, and legionary cohorts left to establish fortified positions among the Silures, and had not speedy succour arrived from towns and fortresses in the neighbourhood, our forces would then have been totally destroyed. Even as it was, the camp-prefect, with eight centurions, and the bravest of the soldiers, were slain; and shortly afterwards, a foraging party of our men, with some cavalry squadrons sent to their support, was utterly routed.Cornelius Tacitus – The Annals, Book 12, Chapter 38
This probably occurred at the vexillation fortress at Clyro in the upper Wye valley.
The Silurian strategy involved waiting until the Roman army’s working parties were fully engaged in their projects before launching surprise attacks. It was the duty of the auxiliary units to protect the legion while they were working, either by patrolling near the new forts or by encamping on the site. However, the cunning Silures managed to elude or divert these troops before attacking the construction parties. This put the Romans in great danger, and they had to send out despatch riders (nuntii) for help. Fortunately, help arrived in time to prevent the complete loss of all the men (occidione obcubuissent). However, the praefectus and eight centurions were killed, along with many of the bravest men (promptissimus quisque e manipulis cecidere). This was a serious blow, and if there had been five cohorts, the loss of eight centurions could have indicated a twenty-five percent loss. Despite this, the Silures’ jubilation must have been tempered by their failure to achieve total annihilation and the destruction of the partially built forts. They knew that facing a large force in a pitched battle was not wise, so they quickly disappeared into the hills and forests.
However, this was only the beginning of the Silurian attacks. A forage party (pabulantis) and cavalry guards (turmas) were completely defeated. The Roman army often relied on the crops and herds of hostile enemy lands for sustenance, and if rations were short, parties were sent out to take what they could find. There was also the added incentive of finding real wealth in goods or captives. On Trajan’s Column, there is a splendid scene of legionaries using small hand sickles to cut the heads off standing crops while auxiliary guards stand by. This would have been particularly infuriating for the hill-folk, whose cereal crops were meagre and difficult to protect. By this point, their animals would have been removed from any danger unless the army penetrated deeply into their territory, which seems unlikely given the circumstances. Additional auxiliary cohorts, likely mounted infantry, were dispatched to rescue the forage party and cavalry guards, but they proved insufficient, and legions had to be brought in to equalize the battle. The tide turned in Rome’s favour only at the end of the day, and the Silures managed to escape without significant losses.
Now began a series of skirmishes, for the most part like raids, in woods and morasses, with encounters due to chance or to courage, to mere heedlessness or to calculation, to fury or to lust of plunder, under directions from the officers, or sometimes even without their knowledge. Conspicuous above all in stubborn resistance were the Silures, whose rage was fired by words rumoured to have been spoken by the Roman general, to the effect, that as the Sugambri had been formerly destroyed or transplanted into Gaul, so the name of the Silures ought to be blotted out. Accordingly they cut off two of our auxiliary cohorts, the rapacity of whose officers let them make incautious forays;Cornelius Tacitus – The Annals, Book 12, Chapter 38
The forage party, accompanied by cavalry, would have been dispatched from one of the forts being built. When the British attacked, additional auxiliary forces were sent to repel them but were unsuccessful. A main legionary force had to be summoned from the nearest base to rescue their comrades, but the enemy withdrew before any significant losses were inflicted on them by the Romans. The engagement seems to have been prolonged, as dispatch riders were sent out twice for help. What is more significant is that the plural form is used to describe the deployment of two legions, indicating that a large combined force had been established at a convenient base. However, this base may have been more than a day’s march from the original attack site. These seemingly random events now begin to look like a minor campaign involving a large number of legionaries. Once again, the Britons managed to deal a severe blow to Rome without suffering any significant losses.
The Death of Scapula (52AD / 53AD)
Ostorius’s suddenly died in 52, or possibly even 53, the year following the capture of Caratacus (which must have taken place in 51). It was clear to the authorities in Rome that urgent action was needed to prevent further losses and to establish stability on the frontier in Britain. Therefore, a capable and seasoned individual had to be promptly dispatched to the region.
Aulus Didius Gallus Appointed Governor
A new governor, Aulus Didius Gallus, was swiftly appointed due to his impressive record and decorated campaigns in southern Russia.
After Didius arrived he found things had taken a turn for the worst. After the Silures had defeated a Legion they had begun to raid far and wide.
Didius, though he quickly arrived, found matters far from prosperous, for the legion under the command of Manlius Valens had meanwhile been defeated, and the disaster had been exaggerated by the enemy to alarm the new general, while he again magnified it, that he might win the more glory by quelling the movement or have a fairer excuse if it lasted.Cornelius Tacitus – The Annals, Book 12, Chapter 40
We dont know if Manlius Valens was the Legate of the Legio II Augusta or the Legio XX Valeria Victrix, most believe it was the Legio XX. Acting on instructions from the Emperor Didius had acted defensively and sought only to contain the Silures.
No further trouble is mentioned on the west frontier in Britain, and the only reasonable conclusion to be reached is that Gallus was successful in establishing the frontier with its roads and forts.
It is unlikely that Gallus could have arrived in Britain before the campaign season of 52 was well underway, and he likely had only two more seasons to conduct military operations before news of the death of Claudius arrived from Rome on October 13, 54. This would have necessitated a cessation of all military activities until new instructions were received from the new Emperor.
The Death of Claudius
During the initial years of Nero’s reign, important policy decisions regarding Britain were made by two aged advisors, Seneca and Burrus. Being naturally prudent, they required time to ponder over the future of Britain and were satisfied, for the time being, to permit Gallus to consolidate his hold and prevent the hostile Britons from launching surprise attacks and narrowing down their areas for grouping and deployment. However, Gallus would soon encounter another challenge on his northern frontier.
Rebellion of Venutius
While Didius eventually restored peace and subdued the Silures, the Brigantes under the leadership of Venutius rose up in rebellion against the Romans.
Venutius, the husband of Brigantian Queen Cartimandua and a skilled military leader, was appointed by the Romans after the last Brigantian uprising. However, he now led the tribe in rebellion, pitting husband against wife, as Cartimandua attempted to appease the Romans and Venutius invaded her kingdom. In response, the Romans sent in auxiliary troops, but they failed to defeat Venutius, prompting the dispatch of a whole legion to quell the uprising. The Romans successfully restored Cartimandua to the throne, but Venutius remained a potential threat.
The Death of Clauius
In 54 AD, Emperor Claudius passed away under suspicious circumstances during the Brigantes rebellion. His stepson, Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, also known as Nero, ascended to the throne. According to Suetonius, Nero once contemplated abandoning Britain due to the excessive resources required to maintain control over the country, which could have been better used to expand the Roman Empire.
Following Claudius’ death, his associates and advisors vanished from the scene, albeit not in such drastic ways. Although the Romans elevated Claudius to godlike status, they also subjected him to ridicule. Despite this, Claudius boasted an impressive military record, and the Romans believed that public image was crucial. If Nero had withdrawn from Britain, it could have been perceived as an insult to Claudius and his military triumphs. Perhaps this is why Nero chose to maintain the British situation.
After Emperor Claudius’ death in 54 AD, the next governor of Britain was Quintus Veranius, who had been quickly promoted to the position due to his successes in Lycia and Pamphylia on the eastern front of the Empire. Although he was expected to invade Wales and spread north east to the Brigantes, Veranius died suddenly in office, having only conducted a few raids against the Silures. Before passing, Veranius claimed that he could have conquered the whole province in two years, which was the usual term for a governor.
Gaius Suetonius Paulinus took over from Veranius as governor and was also known for his military prowess, having been the first Roman general to cross the Atlas mountains in Mauretania, making him an experienced mountain warrior. This may have been why he was chosen to lead the expeditions into Wales and the Pennines.
By 60 AD, Paullinus had successfully taken Wales and was preparing to cross the waters to Angelsey, which had become the last point of retreat for the rebels. The island was surrounded by water, making it logical for the British forces to retreat towards the sea. The Druids, considered one of the strongest groups in Britain, were also on the island, which was to be no easy conquest. The assault and taking of Angelsey were described as brutal, bloody, and savage, with the defenders fighting for their lives and having no avenue of retreat. Paullinus was so focused on these battles that he did not realize the worst was yet to come from the British forces behind him.
The role of Sea Routes of Publius Ostorius Scapula
The successful Plautian campaign in the south-west can be attributed mainly to the Roman army’s control of the sea approaches along the south coast and the establishment of naval bases in the natural harbours from Bosham to the Exe. This enabled them to transport men and supplies quickly and efficiently, a feat that would not have been possible via a land route. Scapula would not have overlooked this valuable resource, and it was crucial for him to expand it in his push into the Devon-Cornwall peninsula. Additionally, it was imperative for Scapula to concentrate units of the fleet in the Bristol Channel as part of his initial campaign against Caratacus and the Silures.
The primary Plautian sea base was located in Fishbourne in Bosham Harbour, situated below the grand palace of Cogidubnus. However, the military structures were apparently dismantled to create workshops with a civilian purpose when the army moved to the west around 50-39 AD, although the dating evidence was not precise enough to confirm this historical likelihood. It would have been sensible for Scapula to relocate the naval store-base closer to the main combat zone, and the Solent appears to be the most favorable option. Archaeological findings at Clausentum (Bitterne), which eventually evolved into a Saxon Shore Fort, revealed a considerable amount of Claudian pottery. This could support the theory of a potential base at Clausentum as early as AD 50, if not earlier.
Upon Exeter becoming the fortress of Legio II, the prospect of establishing a naval base on the Exe would have been explored, although it is uncertain whether this was at Topsham or closer to the Exeter (Isca Dumnoniorum) fortress fortress. The evidence from Topsham is sparse, and only the recovery of high-quality imported goods from the period provides any indication. It would have been feasible for the army to dig a deep navigable channel up to a landing point near the fortress to avoid relying on tides. During this era, the deepwater inlets at Plymouth and Falmouth were only of interest to the fleet in providing sheltered anchorage during stormy seasons. The more critical and immediate task was securing the harbours on the south side of the Bristol Channel. With Roman ships navigating around Land’s End, a system of signal stations and safe harbours was imperative on this treacherous and challenging coastline. Navigational aids, such as those used today, would have been necessary on headlands such as Star Point, The Lizard, Trevose Head, Hartland Point, and Bull Point. Little is known about such sites, and some may have eroded from the cliff faces. One possible location could be the small earthwork at High Peak near Sidmouth, where first-century pottery was discovered in a 1929 excavation.
The north Devon coast has only two known Roman sites, Martinhoe Roman Fortlet and Old Burrow Roman Fortlet, which have undergone careful excavations. These sites were constructed on commanding positions on the cliff top with wide views over the Channel, and were not visible from one another despite being approximately eight miles apart. Excavations at Old Burrow revealed the defences of a typical signal-station, including a circular outer ditch and bank about 250ft (76m) across, with a central enclosure nearly 100ft square (9.3m²) containing a single four-post entrance which functioned as a watchtower for observation and signalling. The interior had been stripped, and the only building found was a cook-house against the south rampart. Martinhoe was found to be similar in shape and size but was situated lower, which was considered advantageous when hill mists covered the headlands. It produced small timber barrack-blocks which could have held approximately fifty men and two officers, and also yielded more pottery and two coins of Nero. The conclusion drawn was that Old Burrow was temporary and earlier than Martinhoe, which was permanently established and occupied up to around c.75.
During the Plautian phase, it is likely that the military had control over the harbours and ferry-points along the south coast. Units may have been stationed at various locations, including the mouth of the Parrett, Uphill near Weston-super-Mare, Sea Mills (Abona) Roman Port, and near Berkeley. These bases would have allowed Scapula to launch a seaborne assault against South Wales with the support and protection of the Fleet. The Welsh coastline has numerous possible landing places and points of entry, but these must be considered in relation to the British power centres as indicated by their hillforts. One particularly interesting site is the small site in Lydney Park, which is known for its Roman temple.