The rebel army of Boudica had been decisively beaten (at an unknown site) in 60. However, the Romans had suffered heavy losses during the rebellion, in terms of both men and pride. Troops were sent from Germany to rectify the loss of men. To rectify the loss of pride, the Roman governor, Gaius Suetonius Paullinus, pursued a harsh policy of retribution – so harsh that it was feared the province would fall into a prolonged period of warfare. Tacitus:
“Excellent as he [Suetonius Paullinus] was in other respects, his policy to the conquered was arrogant, and exhibited the cruelty of one who was avenging private wrongs. Accordingly Petronius Turpilianus was sent out [in 61] to initiate a milder rule. A stranger to the enemy's misdeeds and so more accessible to their penitence, he put an end to old troubles, and, attempting nothing more, handed the province over [in 63] to Trebellius Maximus. Trebellius, who was somewhat indolent, and never ventured on a campaign, controlled the province by a certain courtesy in his administration. Even the barbarians now learnt to excuse many attractive vices ...”
‘Agricola’ Chapter 16
The situation in Britain became sufficiently stable for Nero, in about 67, to withdraw one of the four legions, the 14th (Legio XIV Gemina Martia Victrix), from the province, with the intention of campaigning in the Caucasus. The project was, however, overtaken by events. Nero was overthrown, and, on 9th June 68, he committed suicide. Rival claimants vied for the throne, and 69 was to become known as the Year of the Four Emperors.
On 15th January 69, Nero's successor, Galba (formerly governor of Tarraconensis), was assassinated and replaced by Otho (formerly governor of Lusitania), but he was challenged by Vitellius (whom Galba had placed in command of the army in Germania Inferior). Tacitus comments that:
“In the army stationed in Britain there were no hostile feelings; and indeed no other legions through all the confusion caused by the civil wars made less trouble, either because they were farther away and separated by the ocean, or else they had learned in many campaigns to hate the enemy by preference.”
‘Histories’ Book I Chapter 9
All things are relative of course, and the British legions may have “made less trouble”, but, as Tacitus himself reports, they did not stay entirely aloof from events on the Continent, and there was certainly no lack of dissension in the ranks.
“... the occurrence of the civil war gave a good pretext for [Trebellius'] inaction. But we were sorely troubled with mutiny, as troops habituated to service grew demoralised by idleness. Trebellius, who had escaped the soldiers' fury by flying and hiding himself, governed henceforth on sufferance, a disgraced and humbled man. It was a kind of bargain; the soldiers had their license, the general had his life; and so the mutiny cost no bloodshed.”
‘Agricola’ Chapter 16
In the ‘Histories’, written a decade after ‘Agricola’, Tacitus both expands and modifies his previous account of the mutiny:
“The forces in Raetia did not delay joining his [Vitellius'] side at once; nor was there any hesitation even in Britain.
The governor of Britain was Trebellius Maximus, whose greed and meanness made him despised and hated by his soldiers. Their hostility towards him was increased by Roscius Coelius, the commander of the Twentieth Legion [Legio XX Valeria Victrix], who had long been at odds with him; but now, on the occasion of civil war, the hostility between the two broke out with great violence. Trebellius charged Coelius with stirring up mutiny and destroying discipline; Coelius reproached Trebellius with robbing the legions and leaving them poor, while meantime the discipline of the army was broken down by this shameful quarrel between the commanders; and the trouble reached such a point that Trebellius was openly insulted by the auxiliary soldiers as well as by the legions, and when deserted by the auxiliary foot and horse who joined Coelius, fled to Vitellius. The province remained quiet, although the consular governor had been removed: control was in the hands of the commanders of the legions, who were equal in authority; but Coelius actually had the greater power because of his audacity.”
‘Histories’ Book I Chapters 59–60
Meanwhile, the armies of Otho and Vitellius were amassing in northern Italy. Tacitus puts words into the mouth of Suetonius Paullinus (now one of Otho's commanders):
“The whole army of Vitellius has now arrived, and there are no strong reserves behind them ... The troops in Britain are kept away by their enemies' assaults and by the sea ...”
‘Histories’ Book II Chapter 32
Paullinus advises Otho to wait for reinforcements:
“In a few days the Fourteenth Legion itself, a force of great renown, will be here ...”
‘Histories’ Book II Chapter 32
The 14th had earned its “great renown” in Britain, under Paullinus, defeating Boudica:
“Nero had added to their fame by selecting them as his best soldiers, so that they had long been loyal towards him and were enthusiastic for Otho.”
‘Histories’ Book II Chapter 11
Nevertheless, Otho chose not to wait and to engage the enemy immediately. His forces were defeated near Cremona, and, on the 16th April he committed suicide.
“In the meantime, Vitellius, quite ignorant of his success, was bringing with him all the remaining forces from Germany, as if he had to face a war whose issue was undecided... He supplemented his own forces with eight thousand men picked from the army in Britain.”
‘Histories’ Book II Chapter 57
Vitellius, now emperor, despatched Marcus Vettius Bolanus to Britain as Trebellius Maximus' replacement.
“Nor did Vettius Bolanus, during the continuance of the civil wars, trouble Britain with discipline. There was the same inaction with respect to the enemy, and similar unruliness in the camp, only Bolanus, an upright man, whom no misdeeds made odious, had secured affection in default of the power of control.”
‘Agricola’ Chapter 16
Vitellius also sent the 14th Legion, where they could pose the least threat, back to Britain.
Vespasian, who commanded the 2nd Legion (Legio II Augusta) during the invasion of Britain in 43, had been campaigning in Judaea since 67. On 1st July 69, the legions at Alexandria hailed him as emperor. Thereafter, support for Vespasian spread rapidly.
“They [Vespasian's supporters] addressed communications to the Fourteenth Legion in Britain and to the First in Spain, for both these legions had been for Otho and opposed to Vitellius ...”
‘Histories’ Book II Chapter 86
“... [Vitellius] declared that there was no occasion to fear civil war, keeping back Vespasian's name and sending soldiers round through the city [Rome] to check the people's talk. Nothing furnished rumour with more food.
Nevertheless he summoned auxiliaries from Germany, Britain, and the Spains; but he did this slowly and tried to conceal the necessity of his action. The governors and the provinces moved as slowly as he. Hordeonius Flaccus already suspected the Batavians and was disturbed by the possibility of having a war of his own; Vettius Bolanus never enjoyed entire peace in Britain, and both of them were wavering in their allegiance....


Hordeonius Flaccus, since the departure of Vitellius, commanded all the, now depleted, Rhine garrison (i.e. the army in both Germania Superior and Germania Inferior).The Batavians were a Germanic people whose homeland was in Germania Inferior (today it would be in the Netherlands), though they had actually only settled there during the later-1st century BC. Tacitus explains:
“The Batavians formed part of the Chatti so long as they lived across the Rhine; then, being expelled by a civil war, they occupied the edge of the Gallic bank which was uninhabited, and likewise an island close by, which is washed by the ocean in front but by the Rhine on its rear and sides. Without having their wealth exhausted – a thing which is rare in alliance with a stronger people – they furnished our empire only men and arms. They had long training in our wars with the Germans; then later they increased their renown by service in Britain, whither some cohorts were sent, led according to their ancient custom by the noblest among them. They had also at home a select body of cavalry which excelled in swimming; keeping their arms and horses they crossed the Rhine without breaking their formation.”
‘Histories’ Book IV Chapter 12
It is generally believed that Batavian auxiliaries formed part of the Roman invasion force in 43 – their speciality, i.e. crossing rivers in full battle-kit, being evident at the Medway and the Thames. Later, in 60, Suetonius Paullinus probably used Batavian cavalry for his assault on Anglesey. It is clear (‘Histories’ Book I Chapter 59) that eight cohorts of Batavian auxiliaries were attached to the 14th Legion when Nero withdrew it from Britain around 67. When the civil wars began, however, there was dissension between the 14th and their Batavian cohorts, and the Batavians divorced themselves from the legion. In fact, relations between Rome and Batavia became very strained after 68, and, apparently in the late summer of 69, Batavian nobleman and auxiliary unit commander, Julius Civilis, instigated a revolt.
.... Nor did troops hurry from the Spains, for at that moment there was no governor there.”
‘Histories’ Book II Chapters 96–97
In late October, Vitellius' forces – which included, “the flower of the army in Britain” (‘Histories’ Book III Chapter 1), detachments from the 2nd, 9th and 20th Legions – were defeated by Vespasian's, near Cremona (again), in northern Italy. News of this defeat, and the later capture of Vitellius' leading general (Fabius Valens), brought more backing for Vespasian.
“... everything turned to the victor's advantage. The movement in Spain was begun by the First Legion Adiutrix, which was devoted to the memory of Otho and so hostile to Vitellius. This legion drew the Tenth and Sixth after it. The Gallic provinces did not hesitate. In Britain a favourable sentiment inclined toward Vespasian, because he had been put in command of the Second Legion there by Claudius and had distinguished himself in the field. This secured the island for him, but only after some resistance on the part of the other legions, in which there were many centurions and soldiers who owed their promotions to Vitellius, and so hesitated to change from an emperor of whom they had already had some experience.
Inspired by these differences between the Roman forces and by the many rumours of civil war that reached them, the Britons plucked up courage under the leadership of Venutius, who, in addition to his natural spirit and hatred of the Roman name, was fired by his personal resentment toward Queen Cartimandua. She was ruler over the Brigantes, having the influence that belongs to high birth, and she had later strengthened her power when she was credited with having captured King Caratacus by treachery and so furnished an adornment for the triumph of Claudius Caesar. From this came her wealth and the wanton spirit which success breeds. She grew to despise her husband Venutius, and took as her consort his squire Vellocatus, whom she admitted to share the throne with her. Her house was at once shaken by this scandalous act. Her husband was favoured by the sentiments of all the citizens; the adulterer was supported by the queen's passion for him and by her savage spirit. So Venutius, calling in aid from outside and at the same time assisted by a revolt of the Brigantes themselves, put Cartimandua into an extremely dangerous position. Then she asked the Romans for protection, and in fact some companies of our foot and horse, after meeting with indifferent success in a number of engagements, finally succeeded in rescuing the queen from danger. The throne was left to Venutius; the war to us.”
‘Histories’ Book III Chapters 44–45
Meanwhile, Vespasian's troops marched on Rome (Vespasian himself was in Alexandria), and, on 20th December 69, Vitellius was killed. Vespasian was duly confirmed as emperor by the senate. Proper attention could now be given to the revolt which had been stirred up by the Batavians and their leader, Julius Civilis. Joint leader (alongside one Annius Gallus) of the Roman army assembled to restore order was Petillius Cerialis, who, in 60, had been commander of the 9th Legion when it was routed by Boudica. The 14th Legion was again, and finally, withdrawn from Britain to take part in the campaign.
“Civilis had been beset also by another fear: he was anxious lest the Fourteenth Legion, supported by the fleet from Britain, might injure the Batavians along their coast. But Fabius Priscus, leading his legion inland, directed it against the Nervii and Tungri, and accepted the surrender of these two states: as for the fleet, it was actually attacked by the Canninefates and most of the ships were sunk or captured.”
‘Histories’ Book IV Chapter 79
In the autumn of 70 the Batavians were forced to capitulate, and it was probably in the spring of 71 that Petillius Cerialis took up his new position as governor of Britain.
“When however Vespasian had restored to unity Britain as well as the rest of the world, in the presence of the great generals and renowned armies the enemy's hopes were crushed. They were at once panic-stricken by the attack of Petilius Cerialis on the state of the Brigantes, said to be the most populous in the entire province. There were many battles, some by no means bloodless, and his conquests, or at least his wars, embraced a large part of the territory of the Brigantes....


It is nowhere attested, but it is highly likely that Petillius Cerialis brought the, recently formed, 2nd Adiutrix Legion (Legio II Adiutrix Pia Fidelis) to Britain with him, thus restoring the garrison to four legions. It is also generally believed that he moved, his old legion, the 9th forward to a new fortress at Eboracum (York), the 2nd Adiutrix being installed in the 9ths vacated fortress at Lindum (Lincoln). Dendrochronology has shown that the first Roman fort at Luguvalium (Carlisle) was built with timber felled, in the winter of 72/73, during Cerialis' tenure, so he clearly advanced at least that far north – indeed, it is likely that he penetrated into, what is today, Scotland. In fact, Cerialis' predecessor, Vettius Bolanus, although (probably rather unfairly) criticized for his inaction by Tacitus, could conceivably have pursued Cartimandua's estranged husband, Venutius, into Scotland. In a poem, by Publius Papinius Statius (published c.95), dedicated to Bolanus' son, Crispinus, the deeds of Vettius Bolanus are recalled. Allowance has, of course, to be made for poetic licence, nevertheless it contains the passage:
“But if a land your great parent governed shall receive you, how shall fierce Araxes rejoice, what glory exalt Caledonia's plains! Then shall an aged denizen of that cruel land tell you: “Here was your father wont to dispense justice, from this mound to harangue his squadrons. The watchtowers and forts (see you?) he set far and wide and circled these walls with a ditch. These gifts he dedicated to the gods of war, these weapons – you shall see the legends. This cuirass he donned himself at call to arms, this he took from a British king” – like Phoenix telling Pyrrhus about Achilles (to him unknown) as he planned victorious battles against the Teucrians.”
.... Indeed he would have altogether thrown into the shade the activity and renown of any other successor; but Julius Frontinus was equal to the burden, a great man as far as greatness was then possible, who subdued by his arms the powerful and warlike tribe of the Silures, surmounting the difficulties of the country as well as the valour of the enemy.”
‘Agricola’ Chapter 17
Tacitus ‘Histories’ by Clifford H. Moore
Tacitus ‘Agricola’ by Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb
Statius ‘Praises of Crispinus, son of Vettius Bolanus’ by D.R. Shackleton Bailey
Publius Petronius Turpilianus
Marcus Trebellius Maximus
Hispania (the Iberian Peninsula) was, at this time, divided into three provinces. The largest was Tarraconensis – broadly, eastern and northern Spain and northern Portugal.
Another province of Hispania, comprising, broadly, most of Portugal and part of western Spain. As governor of Lusitania, Otho had originally supported Galba in his push for power. The third province of Hispania was Baetica in southern Spain – approximating to Andalucia. It would appear that Galba executed its governor (who may have been one Obultronius Sabinus).
Often Anglicized as Lower Germany. On the south/west bank of the lower Rhine – broadly, the southern Netherlands and western Germany.
Comprising parts of: Austria, Switzerland, and Germany.
Often Anglicized as Upper Germany – comprising, broadly, western Switzerland, Alsace and south-western Germany.
Quintus Petillius Cerialis Caesius Rufus. He was probably Vespasian's son-in-law, though his likely wife, Vespasian's only daughter, Flavia Domitilla, was dead by 69.
Also found spelled with a single ‘L’, i.e. Petilius.
Sextus Julius Frontinus. In May 74 Cerialis was back in Rome, so it seems reasonable to suppose that Frontinus took over the governorship of Britain in late 73. The brief mention by Tacitus is the only record of Frontinus' tenure in Britain. He is probably better known as the author of ‘De aquis urbis Romae’ – a report on Rome's water supply – and the ‘Strategemata’ – examples of military stratagems.