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Webb Carausius Scottish Chroniclers


As we have seen, the English Chroniclers are disappointing. Two northern writers have, however, dealt very fully with the history of Carausius. They are certainly not open to complaint on the score of lack of detail and appreciation of their hero; but as they are not entirely in agreement with each other, and as we have no knowledge on what information they based their evidence, their accounts must be accepted with great reserve.

John of Fordun, in his Chronica. Gentz's Scotorum, written, it is believed, in the fourteenth century, speaks of the continual struggles between the Scots and their treacherous neighbours the Picts, and says in chap. xxxvii. that peace was restored by means of Carausius, a Briton, who intended to lead the nations against the Romans. In chap. xxxviii. he writes as follows :

"While fickle Fortune was in this wise not turning her wheel without uncertainty, the diminished strength of the Romans is so changed for the worse that the whole world was disturbed by land and by sea. Moreover, this same Carausius, a man born of the very dregs of the people, but yet well skilled in the duties of a soldier, while the Saxons and the Franks, with all the skill of pirates, were devastating with their ships the waters of the Belgian sea and the shores of the same, received from the Senate the office of pacifier. And he immediately summoned to his standard brigands from all parts, men whom any one could always have ready and willing for sedition: he often took large shares of plunder from the enemy, but did not divide them fairly with his people, nor restore to the natives their goods : nor did he share any of the booty with the Senate, or for the advantage of the republic, but with skillful proficiency kept it intact for himself, and thus enriched himself. And so on this ' account, fearing lest he should take to himself the barbarians in too close friendship and draw them to him and bring them to the destruction of the Roman interest, sealed orders that he should be put to death were issued by the Senate. But he, indeed, prudent and cautious as he was in all his doings, getting a clue to the instructions of Caesar, rising at once, in all his might against the Romans, retained in his own hands the whole of Britain, bestowing nothing thereof upon them, and put it all under his own supremacy. And, moreover, immediately urging vehemently to peace and friendship all the tribes of the island, the Scots also and the Picts, whom he had formerly visited with the most cruel depredations, he most earnestly, by promising many gifts, urged upon them to join with him and to rise up together and drive the Romans out of the island. Nor could he have brought them over by any means to conclude peace on this wise, if their possessions, gained by the sword, in the time of Nero, were not left to them under the same form of peace, and he had, moreover, granted that they should remain intact for all time. Accordingly, having joined these nations to help him, be rushed upon the Romans, and wresting them from all their fortresses and towns, he cruelly banished them all from Britain, and adorned himself with the diadem of the Kingdom.

"Accordingly, the Britons, although they knew that this Carausius was base born, yet by reason of his skill in warfare, in which he excelled, gladly accepted him as King, hoping that, by his ability, they would be the sooner rescued from Roman rule. Moreover, of their own accord they ratify the agreements he had lately made with the Scots and Picts, and for the sake of the agreement, they readily granted to him the domains, as far as the banks of the Humber, of their late leader Fulgentius, which Gotharius, his daughters son, by the help of the Scots, through many gliding years, had held with difficulty safe from the Romans up to that time, and they assigned them to him in perpetuity. And it was settled that, in times to come, having been made one people, so to speak, they should without treachery render faithful help to one or the other against the Romans or any other nations soever as shall be wanting to make war upon them or any one of them.

"Meantime, a Roman force under Bassianus is sent by the Emperors into Britain, to either slay or put to flight Carausius, and recover it from those barbarous and untame able races, and bring it back to the republic again : but if he could not do that, he should bestrew their fields with the corpses of the inhabitants who wished to breathe sorrow (Le. were ill disposed to Rome). Meanwhile Bassianus, immediately upon his arrival, began to make overtures to the Picts to the effect that if they would make a treaty with him and hasten to help him in war against the Britons, he himself also would not refuse them his continual help against the Scots. But, as they were previously bound by their agreement with Carausius, they gave no final answer concerning his promises, cunningly dismissing him, thinking that they would either send him reinforcements or withdraw from the war. For they wanted, in their cunning craftiness, to foresee the end of the war, and being certain of the winning side, they might then more safely come to terms with the conqueror.

"So Bassianus, arriving in Britain, after he had crushed and pulverized the Britons by divers massacres and proscriptions, was slain, in a desperate engagement, with many of his soldiers, by Carausius and the Scots and Picts who had joined him.

"So, after this victory, Carausius, preeminent over all in every-shape and form of warfare, was the first, since the subjection of Britain by the Emperor Julius, to expel the Romans and restore the people to their old freedom, and to rule in an excellent manner, but he was betrayed by his own familiar officer, and, not without the mark of treachery, died by the sword. Carausius, for seven years most bravely held the Britains he had won, and was at length slain by the treachery of his partner Allectus. For Carausius was nobly faithful, in accordance with his vow, and maintaining right down to the nail the covenants arranged with the Scots and Picts, he brought them over by frequent embassies, exhorting them to real fellowship, and by much more frequent letters.

"'In this island,' said Carausius to them (anticipating the words of a greater author), 'I hold that the Romans are in no wise to be feared, provided only that the various tribes of this island, united under loyal chieftains, keep a firm peace with one another.

"Meanwhile, by reason of the death of Carausius their chief, the greater part of the British nation renewed the treaty of alliance with the Scots, and did their best either to put Allectus to death or to banish him from Britain. But Allectus, leading with him the Picts who had eluded the treaty promised before to the Britons, afflicted the Britons with manifold disasters.

"After Carausius, Allectus held Britain for the space of three years: he was crushed by the Praetorian guard, under the leadership of Asclepiodotus. But when war was made upon the British people by the Romans, the Scots assisting the Britons brought them loyal aid,- against the Britons the Picts gave invariably help to the Romans. Now the craftiness of Allectus parted the Picts from the Britons, and they continuously right down to the time of Maximus,2 Emperor of Gaul, devastated each other, and massacred and were massacred."

The Chronicler then proceeds to describe the arrival of Constantius with three legions, and says that he "easily compelled the southern Britons to make peace, not by war but by threat of war," and afterwards with the aid of the Picts attacked the Britons of Albania and the-Scots.

The other Scottish Chronicler, Hector Boethius, was born about the year 1470. In Bk. VI. of his History of the Scots, he describes the death of King Findock of Albania (no doubt the Fulgentius of the previous narrative), slain by "two naughty persons procured by Donald, King of the Isles," to go ~over into Albany. The murderers were caught, and confessed that they were procured unto it "not onelie by Donald of the Isles, but also by Carantius the Kings owne brother."

"Not long after Carantius was sought after for execution; but he, being informed of the murder of his brother and the execution of the conspirators, fearing that he would be condemned for treason and afford a sorry sight to the peoples, withdrew into exile: this withdrawal was the main cause of the general hatred of him. Having tarried for a considerable time in Britain, he at length went away to Italy with the Roman soldiers. By his services under Aurelian, Probus, Cams, and Diocletian, he gained great renown as a warrior.  

"Meantime Quintus Bassianus, the Roman Governor, found affairs in Britain in great disorder. Carantius who, as we have mentioned above, had gone into voluntary exile, "Magnus Maximus assumed the purple in Britain in 383, seized part of Italy in 387, and was slain in 388.

in fear of punishment for his brothers murder, after staying and afflicting with sore disasters the Roman garrisons, wrested Britain from the Romans. He, as he was thought at Rome to be of lowly birth (for he had concealed his origin), had gained, as a private soldier, great renown in Illyria, in Gaul, and in Italy, and so, in consequence of his military skill, he was regarded by Caesar and the Senate as a fit and proper person to be put in charge of a province, to keep the seas against the Saxon pirates." The author then describes the conduct of Carausius in his office, and the warning he received that Maximian had given orders for his execution, and continues

"He himself, with his fleet and troops and ill-gotten wealth, sailing over the Hibernian Ocean, passed into Westmoreland, a district of Britain, and at that time a Roman province, not far from the lands of the Scots and Picts, from whom he hoped to gain assistance against the Romans. There he landed his forces, and, with no great trouble, as the inhabitants surrendered of their own accord, he gained the submission of the province. Then he sent ambassadors to Crathlint, his nephew (son of his brother), to say that Carantius, after he had gone into exile by reason of the charge of the murder of his brother which had been brought against him, had wandered long in poverty, and then enlisted for the Persian war which the Emperor Carus had waged: that before long, ready in speech and action as he was, and enjoying great confidence with Caesar, he was made centurion, then praetor, and, as such, had given so splendid a specimen of his worth that by the suffrages of all his fellow-soldiers he was appointed to command the fleet to clear the Channel of the Saxon and Frank pirates."

He then tells the story of his flight and arrival in Westmoreland, and proceeds by the embassy to inform Crathlint "that if the Scots and Picts would only help him, he hoped to expel quite easily the Romans from Albion; for he knew for a certainty that the Roman forces in Britain were growing weaker every day, and Diocletian was too much troubled by rebellions elsewhere to help them.

"Let them lay aside all ill-feeling and unite against the Romans. As for the murder of King Findock, he had nothing to do with it."

When King Crathlint heard of all the power and wealth of his uncle Carausius, he promised him help, but declared "that he was bound to stay at home for fear lest, if he marched with his forces against the Romans, he should expose his wives, children, and possessions to the outrages of his hostile neighbours, the Picts."

The ambassadors of Carausius then went on to the King of the Picts, and received much the same answer; and Carausius, hearing from his ambassadors how well disposed Crathlint was towards him, "rejoicing greatly, immediately quitted Westmoreland after he had set garrisons in the fortifications and left in the camp his troops with many commanders of tried service," met Grathlint on the banks of the Esk not far from Hadrians wall. When he came in the Kings presence, throwing himself upon the ground, he proved by various arguments that he was absolutely innocent of the murder of King Findock. He begged him, with prayers mingled with tears, not to allow so disgraceful a crime to be laid to his charge, "but to put away any suspicions he had entertained against him. This would not tend so much to the crowning glory of one who in exile, among unknown peoples, far from his father land, had gained in action such great glory, and had returned to his fatherland enriched with such wealth and repute, as to the name and fame of the King."

Crathlint replied that he would help him, but was afraid of the Picts. Carausius promised to bring about a reconciliation, should Orathlint assent.

"Not long after, thanks to Carantius, the two Kings, each attended by a small train of nobles, met with all good will to discuss terms of peace. Carantius, standing between the two Kings, tried with much skill to bring about peace between them." 

A commission of eight, four Scots and four Picts, was appointed, and under the leadership of Carausius these commissioners carried out all the wishes and decrees of the two Kings. Meanwhile Quintus Bassianus, the Roman Governor, hearing of Carausius, marched towards Westmoreland, but learning on the way that he was at York, made haste to catch him there. He succeeded in doing so, and proceeded to join battle. 

"The signal having been given, when the enemy had engaged the Romans with great force, the Britons who had followed Bassianus to York, turning their backs upon the fighting troops, and throwing off all allegiance to the Romans, with slow steps, not like running away, keeping their military order, retired upon some hills close by. The soldiers posted next them, seeing their flanks laid bare by the withdrawal of their allies, thinking more of safety than victory, were disheartened and took to flight. The victorious troops pursued them, and gave no quarter. Bassianus the legate and Hircius the procurator of Caesar were slain, besides an immense number of common soldiers. The Britons who, as we have mentioned above, deserted Bassianus, surrendered to Carantius. He retained such of the nobles among the surrendered who had not yet reached their sixtieth nor were under their twelfth year, and dismissed the rest. After dividing the spoil between them, he marched with his forces to London. There he made himself master of the city and the tower, which was very strong, and assumed the purple. He ceded to the Kings of the Scots and the Picts Westmoreland, Cumberland, and all the district lying between the country round York and Hadrians wall, and, by expelling the Britons therefrom, he excited no small hate, not so much on the part of the Romans as of the Britons. Carantius afterwards was attacked by the Romans in many bloody battles, but, victorious in them all, he established his kingdom in Britain with marvelous skill.

"Finally, by the stratagem of Allectus, the Roman legate this Allectus, a man endowed with a cunning disposition and great perfidiousness, had arrived in Britain, and, pretending peace, feigned that he had taken upon himself to uphold the cause of Carantiushe was deceived in the expectation of friendship and murdered. After the murder, Allectus, being prevented by his soldiers from restoring Britain to the Romans, cast off all his allegiance to Rome and seized the crown. Three years after he was robbed, not only of his kingdom, but his life, by Asclepiodotus."

This account is certainly most interesting, and it is difficult to regard it as purely imaginary. Its details are minute and not inconsistent with the accounts of the Roman authors, and on one point at least it definitely supplies information, and an explanation which the reader will have very probably deduced from the statements of the writers previously quoted. The Roman authors are silent as to the name of the Governor of Britain who was displaced by Carausius, but there must, of course, have been such an officer. Geoffrey of Monmouth, greatly confused in his dates, attributes to Carausius a victory over Bassianus Antoninus, the Emperor Caracalla, who had in fact been killed seventy years earlier. John of Fordun appears to think that a Roman army under one Bassianus effected a landing in Britain, and gained some preliminary successes after the flight of Carausius from Boulogne and before he had consolidated his power that is, while the control of affairs on the Roman side was in the hands of Maximian. This seems very unlikely, and it is still more unlikely that if it occurred it would have found no place in the Roman accounts. It seems highly probable, therefore, that the Bassianus whose name so persistently appears in the Chronicles was the Roman governor slain by Carausius.

The statement that the usurper owed his success in some measure to the assistance of the Picts and Scots may also be founded on fact: it occurs in both the English and Scottish Chronicles, and is very consistent with the statement of the Panegyrist, that no small amount of barbarian troops were won over, and that a mighty mass of war grew up against the Romans. That Carausius was master of the country up to the Scottish border may be gathered from the discovery of the Carlisle milestone, of which mention will be made below (see p. 39).

2. Magnus Maximus assumed the purple in Britain in 383, seized part of Italy in 387, and was slain in 388.

Webb, P.H. The reign and coinage of Carausius. (London, 1908).

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