Caratacus of the Catuvellauni

Caratacus (also spelled Caractacus and Welsh form Caradoc) was the king of the Catuvellauni at the time of the Roman invasion under their commander, Aulus Plautius.

Caratacus emerges from history as one of the few early Britons with a distinct personality, thanks in large part to the accounts of Tacitus and Cassius Dio.

caratacus quotation

He and his brother, Togodumnus, were said to be sons of the British king, Cunobelinus, and, after the king’s death, became the leaders of the anti-Roman campaign that managed to resist the invaders for a period of nearly nine years.

After some early defeats in the east, Caratacus moved west into more rugged territories that would be easier to defend. His numerically inferior forces survived an indecisive engagement with the Romans in the land of the Silures (modern-day Glamorgan in Wales) and so Caratacus moved north, to the land of the Ordovices (central Gwynedd, southern Clwyd, northern Powys) to find the ideal location for a battle which he intended to be decisive.

Caratacus’ final defeat came at the hands of the Roman governor, Ostorious Scapula, in 51 AD. Although his forces were defeated, Caratacus was not killed in the battle and managed to escape to the land of the Brigantes in northern Britain, where he hoped to find safety and a base for future resistance to the Romans. Unfortunately for him, Cartimandua, the Queen of the Brigantes, was bound by a client-ruler relationship with the Romans, so she handed Caratacus over to them.

He was sent to Rome along with other captives, where he came to Claudius’ attention for his courtesy and bearing and so was pardoned. He and his family were permitted to live out their lives in peace in Italy, but the date of his death is unknown.

Coin of Caratacus

Coin of Caratacus

The account of these events is taken from Tacitus’ “Annals,” Book XII (translated by Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb):

Some investigators have come to the conclusion that Caratacus is the historic original for King Arthur, while others insist that he and Arviragus, another early British figure in the anti-Roman resistance, are one and the same.     adaptation

Caratacus’s last stand

Tacitus describes the highland position that Caratacus chose as his stronghold as well-defended by a river (which may have been the Severn), and he also describes the methods he used to rally the British fighters.

“Caratacus dashed about in all directions, telling his men that in the battle to come that day they would either begin to regain their freedom or be doomed to everlasting slavery. He recited the names of their ancestors, who had thrown out the tyrant Julius Caesar. Their bravery had kept them free from military oppression and reparations, and their wives and children safe from physical threat. The crowd responded to these and similar words with acclaim. Each soldier swore a solemn oath not to yield in the face of weapons or wounds.”   translation by Andrew Green

The description of the battle’s location is not detailed enough to allow modern historians to place it with any confidence but Caer Caradoc near Church Stretton in Shropshire which bears the Welsh form of Caratacus’s name  is a strong contender.

Caer Caradoc

Caer Caradoc



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