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Roman Military Campaigns

Publius Ostorius Scapula (ad47-52)

The exploits of this Roman general are documented in a large section of Cornelius Tacitus' Annals of Rome (book XII, chapter xxxi.1), there is also a short passage regarding his governorship in Tacitus' Agricola (chapter 14, verse 1). The campaigns, strategies and archaeological evidence attributed to this governor is covered in chapters 1 through 4 of Rome Against Caratacus by Graham Webster (Batsford, London, 1981).

The first season of this governor's tenure in office was probably spent on campaign with Legio XIV Gemina who were advanced westwards along the line of Watling Street, leaving vexillation-sized camps at Mancetter in Warwickshire and Leighton near Wroxeter in Shropshire, probably also at Wall and Eaton House (Water Eaton) in Staffordshire and at Drayton Lodge in Shropshire, where there are auxiliary forts dating to this period. All of these encampments were obviously directed at the Cornovii tribe who occupied Shropshire and the Cheshire plain. Another line of forts heading westwards through Metchley in Birmingham and Greensforge in Staffordshire indicate that the Fourteenth was probably used in a 'pincer' movement with the focus on the prominent hillfort which crowned the Wrekin, as is the auxiliary fort at Wroxeter which safeguarded the strategic bridge over the Severn. The Scapulan fortress at Rhyn Park close to the Shropshire/Clwyd border and overshadowed by the Berwyn Mountains of North Wales, may be associated with the campaign against the Cornovii, but it is equally likely that this represents an attempt to contain the British warlord Caratacus.

Jay Lane - VRML Model
Jay Lane Auxiliary Cavalry Fort at Leintwardine in Hereford & Worcester
VRML Model Prepared in the RBO Scriptorium

It appears likely that Scapula moved Legion II Augusta further westwards along the southern coast of England, perhaps abandoning their vexillation fortress at Chichester to auxiliary forces and moving a number of legionary cohorts into a new campaign fortress at Isca DUmnoniorum (Exeter) in East Devon. The supply port at Topsham at the mouth of the River Exe may have been in use at this time, but it is unknown whether it supplied a legionary garrison or an auxiliary fort. It is thought that the small Fort at Statio Deventiasteno - 'The Station at the Narrows of Deventia' - (Nanstallon) in Cornwall was established by Scapula in order to control the Dumnonii tribe who inhabited the south-western peninsula of England. Again, it is uncertain whether the legionaries of the Second Legion merely built this fort or actually formed the garrison.

In ad50 the British warlord Caratacus, who had fled south-east England for the relative safety of the foothills of South Wales, launched an attack on the Roman province. Operating from a base in the homelands of the Silures tribe of Glamorgan, he struck deep into Gloucestershire through the lands of the Dobunni, the tribe who had offered their surrender to Plautius almost as soon as the Roman invasion army had built their bridgehead. To counter this incursion Scapula mobilised Legio XX Valeria, converting their relatively new legionary fortress in Colchester into a colonia for retired citizen soldiers and bolstering the military presence in the old British capital by building an auxiliary fort at Stanway in the centre of the royal enclosure of the Trinovantes. The Twentieth were then installed in a new vexillation fortress at Kingsholm in Gloucester.

It is interesting that Verulamium, the ancient capital of the Catuvellauni tribe and the probable birthplace of Caratacus, was granted the status of a Roman Municipium in ad50, the same year that he decided to launch his offensive upon the Roman province. Coincidence?

During this period of consolidation in South-West England by II Augusta, the offensive against the Cornovii and into North Wales by XIV Gemina and the 'cat and mouse' campaigns of XX Valeria against Caratacus in the Welsh Marches, Legio IX Hispana appear to have been relatively inactive by comparison. It would appear that Scapula was content to leave this legion to secure the northern borders of his province while he tackled the problems in the south-west and in Wales.

The production of British lead/silver from the mines at Charterhouse-on-Mendip commenced under the jurisdiction of the Roman military during the administration of this governor, as evidenced by ingots of lead found at various sites in the Mendip Hills and date-stamped to ad49. It appears likely that the auxiliary fort overlooking these mine workings was established by the Second Legion Augusta, possibly even being garrisoned by legionary troops.

Military Installations Attributed to Ostorius Scapula in Britain
NameN.G.Ref.Description
Manduessedum (Mancetter, Warwickshire)SP3296vexillation fortress Legio XIV Gemina
Isca (Exeter, Devon)SX9292signal-station, possible vexillation fortress Legio II Augusta
Glevum (Gloucester)SO8318legionary fortress Legio XX Valeria
Viroconium (Wroxeter, Shropshire)SJ5607Leighton vexillation fortress Legio XIV Gemina?
Wroxeter auxiliary fort Cohors Primae Thracum?
south of the later civitas capital of the Cornovii.
Rhyn Park, ShropshireSJ3037vexillation fortress Legio XIV Gemina?
Topsham, DevonSX9688naval base serving the fortress at Exeter.
Statio Deventiasteno (Nanstallon, Cornwall)SX0356fort
Charterhouse on Mendip, AvonST5056fort guarding the silver mines in the Mendip Hills.
Corinium (Cirencester, Gloucestershire)SP0201fort Ala Gallorum Indiana?
later civitas capital of the Dobunni.
Alcester, WarwickshireSP0857fort
Letocetum (Wall, Staffordshire)SK0906fort
Drayton LodgeSJ7609fort close to the Watling Street near Vxacona.
Metchley, BirminghamSP0483fort
Pennocrucium (Water Eaton, Staffordshire)SJ9010fort
Greensforge, StaffordshireSO8688fort
Stretton Grandison, Hereford & WorcesterSO6343fort
Gobannium (Abergavenny, Gwent)SO2914fort
Cardiff, South GlamorganST1876fort
Stretford Bridge, Craven Arms, ShropshireSO4284fort
Brandon Camp, Hereford & WorcesterSO4072Roman fort in corner of Iron-Age hillfort.
Jay Lane, Leintwardine, Hereford & WorcesterSO2493Cavalry Fort
Brompton, ShropshireSO2493fort and campaign camps
Hindwell Farm, Walton, PowysSO2560fort
Clifford, Hereford & WorcesterSO2446large fort
The main sources used in compiling the above information were:
Rome Against Caratacus by Graham Webster (Batsford, London, 1981);
Britons and the Roman Army by Grace Simpson (Gregg, London, 1964);
Historical Map and Guide: Roman Britain by the OS (3rd Edition, 1956; 4th Ed., 1990; 5th Ed., 2001);