Sunday, December 1, 2013

Caradoc (Caractacus)

by Tim Carrington

In 51 A.D. Caradoc (Caractacus) was taken to Rome as a prisoner. This is the first time that the area we know today as Shropshire specifically comes into the lime light.

In Search of Caradoc

The recorded history of Britain of that time is extremely sketchy.

In the main the only records are those by the conquering race, the Romans. But to set the scene it is necessary to remember that the country was, at that time, a tribal state, each with its own leader but perhaps having allegiance, when advantageous, to other tribes and other leaders, and at times, even to the Roman invaders themselves.

In AD 40, Cunobelinus, of the Trinovantians (an area north of present-day London) expelled his son, Adminius, who fled overseas and made an act of submission to the Roman Emperor Gaius. At the death of Cunobelinus, his kingdom was divided between Togodumnus and Caractacus.

The invasion by Rome is said to have coincided with a plea by Adminius for help, as well as an economic need for Rome to conquer Britain. This economic need was simply that it was easier to conquer Britain than it would be to create a mainland Europe defence against possible invasion from British tribes. Plus the fact that Britain had valuable commodities, not least of all was salt, but also copper, tin, gold and silver.

In AD 43, when the Romans landed in force, the Britons' resistance was led by Togodumnus and Caractacus, but, although there were successes, the general result was a retreat by Togodumnus and Caractacus who gathered support from the various tribes as they retreated. But some tribes sensed that the end was nigh, and made peace with the invaders. Eventually, Caractacus found refuge with the Ordovices of Powys, although some say it was with the Cornovii of Shropshire, but either way it would put the scene of his last battle firmly in the area we know today as Shropshire and Powys.

There is no doubt that a character by the name of Caradoc, or Caractacus, made a final and dramatic stand against the might of Rome. Effectively, his stand was the last in a long line of resistance against an invading force. But almost two thousand years after the event can we determine the actual location, or even determine whether it was in Shropshire, as there are other counties that also make that claim?

It is logical to assume that, as the Romans took control, resistance forces would retreat, and the most logical direction of that retreat is westwards towards the safety of the mountains of Wales. Such logic is reinforced by later events, (the invasion of Saxons and Normans), when the mountains of Wales gave shelter to the defenders of their country.

Little seems to be known about Caractacus except what was recorded by the Roman historian Tacitus who, in turn, obtained his information from eye-witness reports. Yet Caractacus is important enough to be listed under Prominent People in my edition of Pears Cyclopaedia.

The Romans called him Caractacus, although he is better known as Caradoc. (the name Caradoc still can be found in use in Wales today) He was the last of the British leaders to stand against Rome.

Details of the battle, including a description of the terrain, were recorded by Tacitus at the time, and he states that the British leader artfully availed himself of his knowledge of the country, and posted himself on a spot, the approaches and retreats of which were as advantageous to his own party as they were perplexing to the enemy.

It is estimated that the Roman army numbered from 20,000 to 25,000 being made up of two legions, the XIV Gemina and XX Valeria, together with cohorts of others, possibly some 10 to 12,000 legionaries with an equivalent number of auxilia.

Theoretically, Caradoc and his army outnumbered the Romans, but many of his followers would have been women and children who had been driven from their homes by the advancing Romans. Despite inferior weapons, it is said that Caradoc encouraged his men and told them that the work of that day would be the beginning of a new liberty or of eternal slavery. Their resolution astonished the Roman general, and the river which flowed at the foot of the hill, together with the ramparts and steeps, presented to the assailants a formidable and resolute appearance.

But despite their resolution, the Britons had no chance against the superior strength of the Roman legions. Caradoc's wife and daughter were taken prisoner, his brother surrendered and Caradoc himself was treacherously delivered up to the Romans soon after by the Queen of the Brigantes with whom he had sought protection. AREGWEDD FOEDDAWG was the name of Cartimandu, the Brigantine Queen from the north of Britain who had been placed in power by the Governor Plautius. It is generally believed that Caradoc hoped to persuade the Queen to join him in his fight against Rome, but she turned against him or tricked him and handed him over to the Romans. Most modern historians believe that this decision was probably made on political grounds, for had she supported Caradoc she may have also found herself no longer Queen, having to defer to Caradoc as leader.

However, story of Caradoc does not end here as he and his family were taken as prisoners to Rome where the news of his valour had preceded him. Tacitus recorded it thus:

First in the procession came the king's dependents and retinue; next his brothers, his wife and daughter, and last himself was presented to public view; his body was mostly naked and painted with figures of beasts; he wore a chain of iron about his neck, and another about his middle; the hair on his head hanging down in curled locks covered his back and shoulders. Caradoc neither by his looks nor language pleaded for mercy, and when he came before the Emperor's seat expressed himself in these terms:

"Far to the west, beneath the sunset, lies an island, girt by ocean. There ye shall see green hills from willowed banks rise gently forth. Where running waters in the sunshine sleep clothed in deep shade. There ye shall see wide plains ridged with their grey, green slopes and, far beyond, the blue of shadowed mountains. It is from thence I came, for I am Caradoc, son of Cunobelinus who was Lord of the Trinovantes.

"Had I made that prudent use of my prosperity which my rank and fortune would have enabled me to make, I would have come hither rather as a friend than as a prisoner. Nor would you have disdained the alliance of one descended from illustrious ancestors and sovereign over many nations. My present condition, stripped of its former majesty, is as adverse to myself as it is a cause of triumph to you. What then? I was lord of men, horses, arms and wealth; what wonder if at your dictation I refused to resign them. Does it follow that because the Romans aspire to universal domination that every nation is to accept the vassalage they would impose? I am now in your power - betrayed, not conquered. Had I, like others, yielded without resistance, where would have been the name of Caradoc? Where your glory? Oblivion would have buried both in the same tomb. Bid me live. I shall survive for ever in history one example at least of Roman clemency."

Of course, we don't know how accurate this report of Caradoc's arrival in Rome is. But the records of Rome show that either he WAS held in high esteem by his behaviour, or that Rome felt it necessary to record his time in Rome in this manner. Either way it shows that Caradoc was an enemy worthy of Rome's respect. Perhaps the Romans simply saw it as a good PR stunt!

The Emperor generously granted the pardon of Caradoc, his wife and brothers, who remained at Rome in the highest esteem. At this time Christianity was preached in the imperial city and many of his family became Christians. At the expiration of seven years they were permitted to return, and were thus furnished with a favourable opportunity of introducing the Gospel into their own country and were instrumental in reclaiming many of the Britons from their ancient superstitions.

It is not recorded whether Caradoc was converted to Christianity, but his son, Cyllin, and his daughter, Eigen, are both ranked among the British saints. Eigen married a British chieftain and one of her sisters is believed to have become the wife of Pudens, a Roman senator.

In Search of the Site

Some claim that the final battle of Caradoc (Caractacus) is said to have been on a hill now called Caer Caradoc, but this gives us a problem as there are at least two hills of that name in Shropshire alone, as well as a number of other sites claiming to be the genuine article.

Let us look at a few of them.

Although there are many hills with the name of Caer Caradoc, many simply do not fit the description given to us by the Roman historian Tacitus who wrote his account after interviewing those who took part. Amongst the sites in Shropshire that claim this distinction are;-

Bury Ditches, Nr Clun. An ancient hill fort which stands on a windswept mountainside. It certainly has the atmosphere. It has its river, in the shape of the River Redlake, but that would hardly have been an obstacle to the Romans. (Google Earth Ref. Bury Ditches, Clun, Shropshire)

Caer Caradoc, Church Stretton. This hill is certainly steep and would be a difficult place to attack, giving the advantage to the defenders. But Tacitus mentioned a river at the foot of the hill. This eliminates Caer Caradoc at Church Stretton as there is no river there. (Google Earth Ref. Caer Caradoc, Church Stretton.)

Coxall Knoll near Bucknell. Nearby is Brampton Bryan with its Roman camp site. It also has a river, but the Teme would have been of no consequence to the Romans even allowing for the fact that it may have been wider in those days. (Google Earth Ref. Bucknell, Shropshire.)

The Breiddens. This is an even more dramatic spot, and with a number of prehistoric sites in the form of settlements and forts must have at one time been an important area. The Breiddens also has a river, the River Severn, which is certainly a formidable obstacle, particularly in the winter. (Google Earth Ref. Breidden Hill, Bausley with Criggion, SY21, UK.)

More recently, historians have suggested Llanymynech Hill as being the site of the battle. (Google Earth Ref. Llanymynech, SY10.) Llanymynech Hill lies immediately to the north of the village. Here the River Vyrnwy would have been the obstacle for the attackers. But there are those who believe the battle did not even take place in present-day Shropshire. Some of those tend to look further upstream on the River Severn around Newtown and Caersws.

Perhaps we should leave the final word to Hywel y Cyfarwydd, - Hywel the storyteller.

….."You know the story of Caradoc?” he asked bluntly, without even pausing to offer his condolences to me for the death of my father.

I could not help but smile. Of all the stories I had been told, the Story of Caradoc was my favourite.

"Of course, my lord."

He looked at me, his dark eyes narrowing beneath his bushy black eyebrows.

"And you know where he fought the last battle?"

I paused before answering. My father had told me that some things were a secret even to those in power. Our heritage was our heritage and not necessarily to be shared with everyone who came to our lands.

"My lord. All who can rightfully claim this land as theirs know where he fought."

I paused again, almost daring him to speak, and then knowing exactly when he was about to speak I continued. "But if you are asking would I tell any man of where it was then I must answer that the place is lost in the mists of time."

He laughed, for in my words his confidence was restored and he was aware of the deliberate suspense I had induced.

"By all that we hold sacred, he taught you well."


Tim Carrington
(author of two 5th century novels including Hywel.)


  1. Interesting article.
    You might want to take a look at Some of the artifacts and coins they find are from the era you wrote on.

  2. What a wonderful story! Thank you!


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