Caratacus (Brythonic *Caratācos,
Middle Welsh Caratawc; Welsh
Caradog; Breton Karadeg; Greek Καράτακος; variants Latin
Caractacus, Greek Καρτάκης) was a 1st-century AD British
chieftain of the
Catuvellauni tribe, who led the British resistance to
the Roman conquest.
Before the Roman invasion
Caratacus is associated with the expansion
of his tribe's territory. His apparent success led to Roman invasion,
nominally in support of his defeated enemies. He resisted the Romans
for almost a decade, mixing guerrilla warfare with set-piece battles,
but was unsuccessful in the latter. After his final defeat he fled to
the territory of Queen Cartimandua, who captured him and handed him
over to the Romans. He was sentenced to death as a military prisoner,
but made a speech before his execution that persuaded the Emperor
Claudius to spare him.
The legendary Welsh character
Caradog ap Bran and the legendary
Arvirargus may be based upon Caratacus. Caratacus's
Claudius has been a common subject in art.
1.1 Claudian invasion
1.2 Resistance to Rome
1.3 Captive in Rome
2 Caratacus's name
3.1 Medieval Welsh traditions
3.2 Modern traditions
3.3 In the arts
4 See also
6 Further reading
7 External links
Caratacus is named by
Dio Cassius as a son of the Catuvellaunian king
Cunobelinus. Based on coin distribution
Caratacus appears to have
been the protégé of his uncle Epaticcus, who expanded Catuvellaunian
power westwards into the territory of the Atrebates. After
Epaticcus died in about AD 35, the Atrebates, under Verica,
regained some of their territory, but it appears
the conquest, as Dio tells us
Verica was ousted, fled to
appealed to the emperor
Claudius for help. This was the excuse used by
Claudius to launch his invasion of Britain in the summer of 43. The
invasion targeted Caratacus's stronghold of
Colchester), previously the seat of his father Cunobelinus.
Cunobelinus had died some time before the invasion.
Caratacus and his
Togodumnus led the initial defence of the country against
Aulus Plautius's four legions, thought to have been around 40,000 men,
primarily using guerrilla tactics. They lost much of the south-east
after being defeated in two crucial battles, the Battle of the River
Medway and River Thames.
Togodumnus was killed (although John Hind
argues that Dio was mistaken in reporting Togodumnus's death, that he
was defeated but survived, and was later appointed by the Romans as a
friendly king over a number of territories, becoming the loyal king
referred to by
Cogidubnus or Togidubnus) and the
Catuvellauni's territories were conquered. Their stronghold of
Camulodunon was converted into the first Roman colonia in Britain,
Resistance to Rome
We next hear of
Caratacus in Tacitus's Annals, leading the
Ordovices of Wales against Plautius's successor as governor, Publius
Ostorius Scapula. Finally, in 51, Scapula managed to defeat
Caratacus in a set-piece battle somewhere in Ordovician territory (see
the Battle of Caer Caradoc), capturing Caratacus's wife and daughter
and receiving the surrender of his brothers.
escaped, and fled north to the lands of the
Yorkshire) where the Brigantian queen, Cartimandua, handed him over to
the Romans in chains. This was one of the factors that led to two
Brigantian revolts against
Cartimandua and her Roman allies, once
later in the 50s and once in 69, led by Venutius, who had once been
Cartimandua's husband. With the capture of Caratacus, much of southern
Britain from the
Humber to the
Severn was pacified and garrisoned
throughout the 50s.
Legends place Caratacus's last stand at either Caer Caradoc[citation
Church Stretton or British Camp in the
Malvern Hills, but the description of
Tacitus makes either unlikely:
[Caratacus] resorted to the ultimate hazard, adopting a place for
battle so that entry, exit, everything would be unfavourable to us and
for the better to his own men, with steep mountains all around, and,
wherever a gentle access was possible, he strewed rocks in front in
the manner of a rampart. And in front too there flowed a stream with
an unsure ford, and companies of armed men had taken up position along
Severn is visible from British Camp, it is nowhere near
it, so this battle must have taken place elsewhere. A number of
locations have been suggested, including a site near Brampton Bryan.
Bari Jones, in
Archaeology Today in 1998, identified Blodwel Rocks at
Powys as representing a close fit with Tacitus's
account.[full citation needed]
Captive in Rome
After his capture,
Caratacus was sent to
Rome as a war prize,
presumably to be killed after a triumphal parade. Although a captive,
he was allowed to speak to the Roman senate.
Tacitus records a version
of his speech in which he says that his stubborn resistance made
Rome's glory in defeating him all the greater:
Andrew Birrell (after Henry Fuseli), Caractacus at the Tribunal of
If the degree of my nobility and fortune had been matched by
moderation in success, I would have come to this City as a friend
rather than a captive, nor would you have disdained to receive with a
treaty of peace one sprung from brilliant ancestors and commanding a
great many nations. But my present lot, disfiguring as it is for me,
is magnificent for you. I had horses, men, arms, and wealth: what
wonder if I was unwilling to lose them? If you wish to command
everyone, does it really follow that everyone should accept your
slavery? If I were now being handed over as one who had surrendered
immediately, neither my fortune nor your glory would have achieved
brilliance. It is also true that in my case any reprisal will be
followed by oblivion. On the other hand, if you preserve me safe and
sound, I shall be an eternal example of your clemency.
He made such an impression that he was pardoned and allowed to live in
peace in Rome. After his liberation, according to Dio Cassius,
Caratacus was so impressed by the city of
Rome that he said "And can
you, then, who have got such possessions and so many of them, covet
our poor tents?"
Caratacus's name appears as both
Caratacus and Caractacus in
manuscripts of Tacitus, and as Καράτακος and Καρτάκης
in manuscripts of Dio. Older reference works tend to favour the
spelling "Caractacus", but modern scholars agree, based on historical
linguistics and source criticism, that the original Brythonic form was
*Karatākos, pronounced [karaˈtaːkos], which gives the attested
names Caradog ("loving, beloved, dear; friend") in Welsh, Karadeg in
Breton and Carthach ("loving, dear") in Irish.
Medieval Welsh traditions
Caratacus's memory may have been preserved in medieval Welsh
tradition. A genealogy in the Welsh Harleian MS 3859 (c. 1100)
includes the generations "Caratauc map Cinbelin map Teuhant",
corresponding, via established processes of language change, to
"Caratacus, son of Cunobelinus, son of Tasciovanus", preserving the
names of the three historical figures in correct relationship.
Caratacus does not appear in Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the
Kings of Britain (1136), although he appears to correspond to
Arviragus, the younger son of Kymbelinus, who continues to resist the
Roman invasion after the death of his older brother Guiderius. In
Welsh versions his name is Gweirydd, son of Cynfelyn, and his brother
is called Gwydyr; the name
Arviragus is taken from a poem by
Caradog, son of Bran, who appears in medieval Welsh literature, has
also been identified with Caratacus, although nothing in the medieval
legend corresponds except his name. He appears in the
Mabinogion as a
son of Bran the Blessed, who is left in charge of Britain while his
father makes war in Ireland, but is overthrown by
historical Cassivellaunus, who lived a century earlier than
Welsh Triads agree that he was Bran's son, and
name two sons, Cawrdaf and Eudaf.
Caradog only began to be identified with
Caratacus after the
rediscovery of the works of Tacitus, and new material appeared based
on this identification. An 18th-century tradition, popularised by the
Welsh antiquarian and forger Iolo Morganwg, credits Caradog, on his
return from imprisonment in Rome, with the introduction of
Christianity to Britain. Iolo also makes the legendary king
Coel Hen a
son of Caradog's son Saint Cyllin.
Richard Williams Morgan claimed
that a reference to Cyllin as a son of
Caratacus was found in the
family records of
Iestyn ab Gwrgant
Iestyn ab Gwrgant and used this as evidence of the
early entry of Christianity to Britain: "Cyllin ab Caradog, a wise and
just king. In his days many of the Cymry embraced the faith in Christ
through the teaching of the saints of Cor-Eurgain, and many godly men
from the countries of Greece and
Rome were in Cambria. He first of the
Cymry gave infants names; for before, names were not given except to
adults, and then from something characteristic in their bodies, minds,
Another tradition, which has remained popular among British Israelites
and others, makes
Caratacus already a Christian before he came to
Rome, Christianity having been brought to Britain by either Joseph of
Arimathea or St. Paul, and identifies a number of early Christians as
One is Pomponia Graecina, wife of Aulus Plautius, the conqueror of
Britain, who as
Tacitus relates, was accused of following a "foreign
superstition", which the tradition considers to be Christianity.
Tacitus describes her as the "wife of the Plautius who returned from
Britain with an ovation", which led
John Lingard (1771–1851) to
conclude, in his History and Antiquities of the Anglo-Saxon Church,
that she was British; however, this conclusion is a
misinterpretation of what
Tacitus wrote. An ovation was a military
parade in honour of a victorious general, so the person who "returned
from Britain with an ovation" is clearly Plautius, not Pomponia. This
has not prevented the error being repeated and disseminated widely.
Another is Claudia Rufina, a historical British woman known to the
Martial describes Claudia's marriage to a man named
Pudens, almost certainly Aulus Pudens, an Umbrian centurion and
friend of the poet who appears regularly in his Epigrams. It has been
argued since the 17th century that this pair may be the same as
the Claudia and Pudens mentioned as members of the Roman Christian
community in 2 Timothy in the New Testament. Some go further,
claiming that Claudia was Caratacus' daughter, and that the historical
Pope Linus, who is described as the "brother of Claudia" in an early
church document, was Caratacus' son. Pudens is identified with St.
Pudens, and it is claimed that the basilica of
Santa Pudenziana in
Rome, and with which St. Pudens is associated, was once called the
Palatium Britannicum and was the home of
Caratacus and his family.
This theory was popularised in a 1961 book called The Drama of the
Lost Disciples by George Jowett, but Jowett did not originate it. He
cites renaissance historians such as Archbishop James Ussher, Caesar
Baronius and John Hardyng, as well as classical writers like Caesar,
Tacitus and Juvenal, although his classical citations at least are
wildly inaccurate, many of his assertions are unsourced, and many of
his identifications entirely speculative. He also regularly cites St.
Paul in Britain, an 1860 book by R. W. Morgan, and advocates other
tenets of British Israelism, in particular that the British are
descended from the lost tribes of Israel.
In the arts
William Blake's vision of
Caratacus from his series of illustrations
called the Visionary Heads
Caratach is anachronistically depicted as Boudica's general in John
Bonduca (1613). The historical Caratach was exiled
from Britain nearly a decade prior to Boudica's war.
Caratacus is the subject of William Mason's 1759 poem of the same name
and the 1776 play based on it.
Caractacus is referenced in a line of the "Modern Major General's
Song", the well-known libretto from Gilbert and Sullivan's comic opera
The Pirates of Penzance.
"Caractacus" is the title of a cantata by
Edward Elgar in 1897-8
devoted to the defeat and capture of the king by the Romans. It was
first performed at the
Leeds choral festival in 1898.
The name Caractacus appears under a poem in The Mysteries of Udolpho
by Ann Radcliffe.
Caractacus is the subject of a Victorian poem called Caractacus the
Briton by William Stewart Ross, published 1881 in a collection titled
Lays of Romance and Chivalry, and distinguished by the refrain,
"Caractacus the Briton, the bravest of the brave!"
The defeat of Caradoc (Caratacus) by the Romans is the subject of
Henry Treece's 1952 adult novel, The Dark Island, the second book in
his Celtic Tetralogy. As well, a poem titled
Caratacus appears in
Treece's Exiles, a collection of poetry published in the same year.
"Caractacus Seagoon" was the name given to Harry Secombe's Ancient
Briton character ("He's up early." "Must be one of the early Britons")
Goon Show episode, "The Histories of Pliny The Elder".
Caractacus briefly appears as a minor character in the Robert Graves
Claudius the God. In the television adaptation of Graves's
novels, he is portrayed in a brief appearance by Peter Bowles.
Caratacus's capture and life as a captive in
Rome is told from the
point of view of his fictional daughter, Eigon, in Barbara Erskine's
time-slip novel, The Warrior's Princess, pub. 2008.
Caratacus is a major character in Douglas Jackson's novel Claudius,
pub. 2009, the sequel to Caligula (2008).
Caradoc is a major character in author Pauline Gedge's 1978 novel, The
Eagle and The Raven.
Caratacus appears in several volumes of Simon Scarrow's Eagle series,
including Under the Eagle, The Eagle's Conquest, When the Eagle Hunts,
The Eagle and the Wolves, The Eagle's Prey, Blood Crows and Brothers
Caradoc is a main character in Manda Scott's series "Boudica"
("Dreaming the Eagle", "Dreaming the Bull", "Dreaming the Hound",
"Dreaming the Serpent-Spear").
"The Court of King Caractacus" is a comic cumulative song released as
a single by
Rolf Harris in 1964 and also used as the title of a 1964
studio album. The song reached No 9 in the Australian Singles
Caractacus Pott is the main character of the children's fantasy
Dick Van Dyke
Dick Van Dyke plays him in the 1967 movie
William Shakespeare's play
Cymbeline is loosely based on the reign of
Caratacus' father Cunobelin. The title character's oldest son
Guiderius (also called Polydore) can be considered a loose analog of
Caratach appears as a stage character in Harry Turtledove's alternate
history novel Ruled Britannia. In this novel, a fictional version of
William Shakespeare writes a play called Boudicca, which is almost
identical to John Fletcher's Bonduca. In the book's afterword
Turtledove acknowledges Fletcher's influence, but in the novel itself
he mistakenly suggests that Caratach was depicted as Boudicca's man in
^ Dio Cassius, trans Earnest Cary, Roman History 60:19-22
^ John Creighton, Coins and power in Late Iron Age Britain, Cambridge
University Press, 2000;
Philip de Jersey (1996), Celtic Coinage in
Britain, Shire Archaeology
^ a b Crummy, Philip (1997) City of Victory; the story of
Britain's first Roman town. Published by
Trust (ISBN 1897719043)
^ Todd, Malcolm. (1981) Roman Britain; 55BC - 400AD. Published by
Fontana Paperbacks (ISBN 0006337562)
^ J. G. F. Hind, "A. Palutius' Campaign in Britain: An Alternative
Reading of the Narrative in Cassius Dio (60.19.5-21.2)", Britannia
Vol. 38 (2007), pp. 93-106)
^ Crummy, Philip (1992)
Colchester Archaeological Report 6:
Excavations at Culver Street, the Gilberd School, and other sites in
Colchester 1971-85. Published by
Colchester Archaeological Trust
^ Crummy, Philip (1984)
Colchester Archaeological Report 3:
Excavations at Lion Walk, Balkerne Lane, and Middleborough,
Colchester, Essex. Published by
Colchester Archaeological Trust
^ Tacitus, Annals 12:33-38
^ A History of Britain, Richard Dargie (2007), p. 21
^ Tacitus, The Annals, translated by A. J. Woodman, 2004; see also
Church & Brodribb's translation
^ Tacitus, The Annals, translated by A. J. Woodman, 2004; see also
Church & Brodribb's translation
^ Dio Cassius, Roman History, Epitome of Book LXI, 33:3c
^ Kenneth H. Jackson, "Queen Boudicca?", Britannia 10 p. 255, 1979
Harleian Genealogies 16; The Heirs of
Caratacus and his
relatives in medieval Welsh genealogies
^ Geoffrey of Monmouth,
Historia Regum Britanniae
Historia Regum Britanniae 4.12–16
^ Geoffrey of Monmouth, The History of the Kings of Britain,
translated by Lewis Thorpe, 1973; Peter Roberts (trans), The Chronicle
of the Kings of Britain, 1811
^ Juvenal, Satires, 4.126-127
^ The Mabinogion: "Branwen, daughter of Llyr"
^ Rachel Bromwich, Trioedd Ynys Prydein, University of Wales Press,
1963; Triads from the Red Book of Hergest and Peniarth MS 54
^ Iolo Morganwg, Triads of Britain 17, 2, 23, 24, 34, 35, 41, 55, 79,
Richard Williams Morgan (1861). St. Paul in Britain; or, The origin
of British as opposed to papal Christianity. pp. 161–.
Retrieved 8 August 2012.
^ This article formerly made reference to a passage of Dio Cassius
Caratacus as a "barbarian Christian". This derived from
a transcription error in the version of the Cary translation of Dio
online on the Lacus Curtius website, which has now been corrected to
read "barbarian chieftain" as per the print edition (Dio 61.33.3c).
See also the Foster translation at Project Gutenberg, which also reads
^ Tacitus, Annals 13:32
^ "We are, indeed, told that history has preserved the names of two
British females, Claudia and Pomponia Graecina, both of them
Christians, and both living in the first century of our era." Lingard,
John, History and Antiquities of the Anglo-Saxon Church, 2nd. ed.
Newcastle, Walker, 1810 Vol. I., p1.
^ Martial, Epigrams, XI:53 (ed. & trans. D. R. Shackleton Bailey,
Harvard University Press, 1993)
^ Martial, Epigrams IV:13
^ Baronius, Annales Ecclesiastici, Antwerp, 1614; Archbishop James
Ussher (1637), British Ecclesiastical Antiquities, Oxford; Cardinal
Michael Alford (1663), Annales Ecclesiae Britannicae: Regia Fides, Vol
1; Williams, J. (1848), contributor John Abraham, Claudia and Pudens,
^ 2 Timothy 4:21 – "Eubulus saluteth thee, and Pudens, and Linus,
and Claudia, and all the brethren."
^ George Jowett, The Drama of the Lost Disciples, Covenant Books, 1961
^ Inc, Nielsen Business Media (11 July 1964). "Billboard". Nielsen
Business Media, Inc. Retrieved 10 December 2016 – via Google
Leonard Cottrell, The Roman Invasion of Britain, Barnes & Noble.
New York, 1992
Sheppard Frere, Britannia: a History of Roman Britain, Pimlico, 1991
Wikiquote has quotations related to: Caratacus
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