Saturday, 1 August 2015

Septimius Severus' British campaigns

Coins commemorating the British victories of Septimius Severus and his sons, Caracalla and Geta
In 208 Septimius Severus travelled to Britain with the intention of conquering Caledonia. Modern archaeological discoveries have made the scope and direction of his northern campaign better understood. Severus probably arrived in Britain possessing an army over 40,000, considering some of the camps constructed during his campaign could house this number.

He strengthened Hadrian's Wall and reconquered the Southern Uplands up to the Antonine Wall, which was also enhanced. Severus built a 165-acre camp south of the Antonine Wall at Trimontium, probably assembling his forces there. Severus then thrust north with his army across the wall into enemy territory. Retracing the steps of Agricola over a century previously, Severus rebuilt and garrisoned many abandoned Roman forts along the east coast, including Carpow which could house up to 40,000 soldiers.

Cassius Dio's account of the invasion reads "Severus, accordingly, desiring to subjugate the whole of it, invaded Caledonia. But as he advanced through the country he experienced countless hardships in cutting down the forests, levelling the heights, filling up the swamps, and bridging the rivers; but he fought no battle and beheld no enemy in battle array. The enemy purposely put sheep and cattle in front of the soldiers for them to seize, in order that they might be lured on still further until they were worn out; for in fact the water caused great suffering to the Romans, and when they became scattered, they would be attacked. Then, unable to walk, they would be slain by their own men, in order to avoid capture, so that a full fifty thousand died. But Severus did not desist until he approached the extremity of the island. Here he observed most accurately the variation of the sun's motion and the length of the days and the nights in summer and winter respectively. Having thus been conveyed through practically the whole of the hostile country (for he actually was conveyed in a covered litter most of the way, on account of his infirmity), he returned to the friendly portion, after he had forced the Britons to come to terms, on the condition that they should abandon a large part of their territory."

Severus' campaign was cut short when he fell fatally ill. He withdrew to Eboracum (York) and died there on 4th February 211.