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Monday, 11 July 2011

Gaius Suetonius Paulinus (Roman Soldier & Iceni Queen Boadicea's Nemesis)

Gaius Suetonius Paulinus (Boadicea's Nemesis)
Gaius Suetonius Paulinus was a high ranking Roman soldier that peaked in history, though his beginnings and eventual end are not known. He comes to historical attention in the year of AD 41 during the reign of Claudius. At this time, Rome had trouble with the client kingdom of Mauretania.


This client kingdom existed around the borders of modern day Morocco and Algeria and was inhabited by Moorish people. Although the client kingdom had a monarchy of its own; it was subservient to the Roman Empire. In AD 40 it was ruled by King Ptolemy – a puppet ruler for Rome. He was a grandson of Cleopatra and Mark Antony. However, the Emperor Caligula had called the king of Mauretania to Rome and after greeting Ptolemy with proper diplomatic formality, he had him executed. This caused a revolt by the Moorish people of Mauretania. The following year saw the assassination of Emperor Caligula and his uncle Claudius suddenly proclaimed new Emperor of Rome. I suspect that it was the moment for ambitious young men to make their mark and somehow Gaius Suetonius Paulinus had captured some high ranking official’s attention.


It is hard to guess at Suetonius’ age, but I would be inclined to stick my neck on the block and think he was a young man. This is because he would not meet Boadicea – Queen of Iceni Britons until AD 61, twenty years later.


I picture Suetonius to be around mid-twenties to thirty in AD 41 when he was created Praetor to lead a Roman army to the kingdom of Mauretania. Again, I remind the reader, that I’m guessing because of his later involvement in the British rebellion. Emperor Claudius had just been proclaimed Caesar with the Praetorian Guard firmly behind him. Perhaps Suetonius had friends among the Praetorian Guard or that he was part of that armed body – who knows? What is known is that AD 41 was the big moment for Gaius Suetonius Paulinus.


History would record him as he put down the Moor revolt of Mauretania. Not too much is made of this, but once this was accomplished he led his Roman army over the Atlas Mountains and came through the other side venturing into the Sahara. For what reason he went upon this quest is not clear. Maybe he was perusing a rebel Moor force or perhaps just exploring. His Roman army was said to have reached the Niger River and most believe this to be Northern Mali. His army also came across a number of villages inhabited by black tribesmen.


Eighteen years later, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus was given the post of Governor of Britain. The previous governor had died in office. It was AD 59 and five years into the Emperor Nero’s reign. Claudius had died in AD 54. Not too much is known about Suetonius when he returned from his quest beyond the Atlas Mountains and the Sahara, though he would have probably been performing duties of importance for Rome. This new British posting would once again propel him into the history books because he would arrive in Britain during a very turbulent time.


In AD 61, after two years of subjugating British kingdoms, Suetonius led an army into Northern Wales. He led an assault on the Isle of Mona, which is today’s Anglesey. The isle had become a sanctuary for British fugitives who sought protection within the Druid stronghold. There followed great slaughter as the Roman forces attacked the Druids, killing many before forcing the survivors of the attack to agree on terms.


Queen Boadicea of Iceni British Celts
However, to the east of Britain, in the Iceni kingdom; a warrior queen named Boadicea had stirred up a vast force of her people and neighbouring tribes. She had led them to destroy Colchester, slaughtering everyone within the settlement. From Colchester, she marched her army upon London after destroying a Roman relief force.


Gaius Suetonius Paulinus was at the moment he would burn his name into the records of history. He wanted to march to London and defend it but realised he had not enough soldiers to do this. Therefore, he sent orders to evacuate the entire settlement. Most did, but there was some foolhardy enough to remain. These wretched souls suffered the same terrible rape and slaughter that Colchester’s inhabitants had.


Suetonius needed to regroup as many Roman soldiers as possible. He had XIV Gemina, detachments of a force called XX Valeria Victrix and various other auxiliaries. These hurriedly assembled men numbered ten thousand troops. A request for another force stationed at Exeter was not met. The prefect of the Exeter garrison called Poenious Postumus would not allow his Roman soldiers of the II Augusta to go to the aid of Suetonius, who faced the oncoming force of Queen Boadicea and her estimated two hundred thousand Britons. As the British tribesman travelled across the country they were attracting more and more followers, even women and children of the warriors she commanded.


The plight of Suetonius was desperate and Roman rule in Britain would be smashed if his force fell against the vastly superior force of Britons. He had one advantage that all other vanquished Romans had not when faced with Boadicea’s army. He knew she was coming and had time to prepare for the battle. The Iceni Queen would not be able to fall upon the force of Suetonius and take them by surprise. The Roman could choose his ground and this he would do wisely, using the natural elements and the lay of the land to protect the flanks of his mishmash collection of Roman soldiers. It is believed that Suetonius had a wooded area behind his men and gully inclines to protect the flanks of his soldier’s formations. Also, the centurions had lined up in arrowhead formations – the manned ranks zigzagged out to a shielded point and back to an inner triangle point. When the Britons attacked they massed into these formations and were crushed in the triangle wedges, making them easy targets as they were squashed into the Roman shields. The short Roman swords viciously stabbed and slashed into the wretched ranks of Britons and as the fell, the organised and highly trained Romans stepped over the fallen enemy and advanced inflicting more mutilation upon the panicking British ranks. Eventually, the Celtic forces broke and fled. Straight towards the caravans where British women and children had been, watching the battle. The frenzied panic of the Britons was made worse when Roman cavalry completed the route. The slaughter and mayhem that followed were horrendous.


Boadicea is believed to have poisoned herself though no one knows what happened to her corpse. For the surviving Britons; there would be a harsh punishment that matched and exceeded the slaughter of Colchester, London and St Albans. Such was the retribution that Suetonius was relieved of his command as Governor of Britain, a short time after. His victory and recognition for saving Roman rule in Britain, no longer counted because of his harsh retribution brought fears of further uprisings.


Again, Suetonius fell into history’s mist for another eight years until reappearing once more in AD 69 during the year of four emperors. Gaius Suetonius Paulinus is recorded as being a senior advisor and general to a force caught up in the civil strife following the death of Emperor Nero. His force was defeated and he was captured. However, he was pardoned and then vanished from history again for the last time.


No one knows when Gaius Suetonius Paulinus was born or died, but parts of his military career found their way into the history books. Mainly his journey across the Atlas Mountains after defeating the revolt of the Kingdom Of Mauretania and his superb victory against Iceni Queen Boadicea of Celtic Britain. His life must have been a grand one, but he may also have been a rather ruthless soldier. I suppose in that day and age a leader had to be capable and mean - win or die.



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