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
In Search of
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.
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.
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.
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. The 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.
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:-
"Had I made that prudent use of my prosperity, which my rank and
fortune would have enabled me to make, I had 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, disgraceful as it is to myself, reflects
glory on you. Possessed as I once was of horses, men, arms and wealth,
what wonder is it if I parted from them with reluctance. Had I sooner
been betrayed, I had neither been distinguished by misfortune nor you
by glory. But if you now save my life I shall be an eternal monument of
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Caer Caradoc, Nr
Knighton and Clun, this ancient hill fort stands alone on the 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.
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 lets out Caer Caradoc at Church Stretton as there is
no river there.
time I visited Bucknell was very early one misty October morning. The
mist was low on the ground and occasionally I was high enough to see
over it. Just over Linden Bridge, which spans the river Teme, I stopped
and looked across the low ground towards Coxall Knoll which was just
visible above the mist. Perhaps it was on a day like this, centuries
ago, that Caractacus made his final stand against the invading Romans.
(They may have come from nearby Brampton Bryan, where there is a site
of a Roman camp.) There are those who say that Tacitus was not writing
about Coxall Knoll, even though it could be said to closely fit the
description, but on that misty morning I could almost hear the passage
of the Roman soldiers as they crossed the Teme and marched resolutely
towards Coxall Knoll.
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
The Breiddens also has a river, the River Severn, which is certainly a
formidable obstacle, particularly in the winter.
recently, historians have suggested Llanymynech Hill as being the site
of the battle. Here the River Vyrnwy would have been the obstacle for
the attackers. This perhaps fits the description best of all, but the
present summit of Llanymynech Hill, with its carefully tended golf
course is not a place to sense the ghosts of Caradoc's men today.
The trouble is that whichever hill fort you visit in Shropshire, it is
not impossible to sense that you are on the very spot where Caradoc
stood against the might of Rome. - Such is the atmosphere of these
places. (continued on next page)