Aulus Plautius—Reluctance to embark—Narcissus—Passage of Channel—Landing at Portchester—Strength of expedition—Vespasian’s legion—British defeats—Line of Thames held—Arrival of Claudius—Camelodune taken—General submission of island.
B. 1.—The command of the expedition was entrusted to Aulus Plautius Laelianus, a distinguished Senator, of Consular rank. But the reluctance of the soldiery to advance “beyond the limits of this mortal world” [Greek: exo tas ohikoumenes], and entrust themselves to the mysterious tides of the ocean which was held to bound it, caused him weeks of delay on the shores of Gaul. Nor could anything move them, till they found this malingering likely to expose them to the degradation of a quasi-imperial scolding from Narcissus, the freed-man favourite of Claudius, who came down express from Rome as the Emperor’s mouthpiece. To bear reproof from one who had been born a slave was too much for Roman soldiers. When Narcissus mounted the tribune to address them in the Emperor’s name, his very first words were at once drowned by a derisive shout from every mouth of “Io Saturnalia!” the well-known cry with which Roman slaves inaugurated their annual Yule-tide licence of aping for the day the characters of their masters. The parade tumultuously broke off, and the troops hurried down to the beach to carry out the commands of their General—who was at least free-born.
B, 2.—The passage of the Channel was effected in three separate fleets, possibly at three separate points, and the landing on our shores was unopposed. The Britons, doubtless, had been lulled to security by the tidings of the mutinous temper in the camp of the invaders, and were quite unprepared for the very unexpected result of the mission of Narcissus. It seems likely, moreover, that the disembarkation was made much further to the west than they would have looked for. The voyage is spoken of as long, and amid its discomforts the drooping spirits of the soldiery were signally cheered by a meteor of special brilliance which one night darted westwards as their harbinger. Moreover we find that when the Romans did land, their first success was a defeat of the Dobuni, subject allies of the House of Cymbeline, who, as we gather from Ptolemy, dwelt in what is now Southern Gloucestershire. This objective rather points to their landing-place having been in Portsmouth harbour (the Port, as its name still reminds us, of Roman Britain), where the undoubtedly Roman site of Portchester may well mark the exact spot where the expedition first set foot on shore.