One of the things that stands out from the recent "Wonder of Rome" blog-hop is the consensus that exists among those of my fellow authors who commented directly on Rome's emperors, that Vespasian was one of the best. One can, perhaps, overstate this (he was, after all, a military dictator who, among other things, brutally suppressed a Jewish insurgency) but, when judged against other Roman emperors, he was certainly one of the most successful, and his ten year reign bought peace and prosperity to the empire.
He is also one of very few Roman emperors to have spent a significant period of time in Britain. He commanded the II Augusta, one of the four legions involved in the Roman invasion of Britain in 43 AD, and probably remained on British soil for four years. The only detailed account of the invasion is by Cassius Dio, writing 150 years after the event. He has both Vespasian and his brother, Sabinus, playing key roles in the battles fought at the crossing points of the Medway and Thames.
What is more certain, because the movements of the II Augusta have left their traces in the archaeological record, is that Vespasian spent most of his four years in Hampshire, Dorset and Devon. The Durotriges of Dorset, in particular, put up fierce resistance, and here Vespasian would have been in his element, since he was campaigning in a landscape dominated by hill-forts, just as Julius Caesar had done in Gaul. All educated Roman men had read Caesar's account, and Vespasian may well have carried a copy with him.
Sir Mortimer Wheeler, who excavated the hill-fort of Maiden Castle in the 1930s, found a cemetery there with the remains of fourteen people, some of whom had clearly died in action against Vespasian's troops. He painted a vivid picture of the fall of the hill-fort itself, but there is little real evidence for this, and it is just as likely that these warriors fell elsewhere, and were simply brought back to Maiden Castle for burial. More convincing evidence for a Roman attack comes from the hill-fort of Hod Hill, where eleven Roman ballista bolts have been found. In both cases, Vespasian seems to have required the inhabitants to leave their fortified enclosures and re-settle elsewhere, leaving small garrisons to guard against any possibility of their return.
Vespasian, however, seems to have understood the importance of winning the peace as well as the war. It seems likely that it was he who cultivated and befriended the British king, Cogidubnus, and persuaded the Emperor Claudius to grant him the title, "Great King of the Britons." Whether this gave him any real power over other client rulers, such as Prasutagus of the Iceni, or Cartimandua of the Brigantes, is unclear, but he must certainly have been Rome's man.
Thirty years later, Vespasian was to cultivate a very similar friendship with the Jewish leader, Flavius Josephus, and he, unlike Cogidubnus, has left us a detailed account:
"...the inhabitants of Sepphoris of Galilee met him, who were for peace with the Romans. These citizens had beforehand taken care of their own safety and, being sensible of the power of the Romans, they had been with Cestius Gallus before Vespasian came, and had given their faith to him, and received the security of his right hand, and had received a Roman garrison; and at this time, withal, they received Vespasian, the Roman general, very kindly and readily, and readily promised that they would assist him..."
Josephus himself had been leading an army against the Romans, but was captured and brought before Vespasian.
"...he did not set Josephus at liberty from his hands, but bestowed on him suits of clothes and other precious gifts; he treated him, also, in a very obliging manner, and continued to do so..."
Mark Patton's novels, Undreamed Shores and An Accidental King, are published by Crooked Cat Publications, and can be purchased from www.amazon.co.uk and www.amazon.com.