Early Britain—Roman Britain eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 242 pages of information about Early Britain—Roman Britain.

E. 9—­It is noticeable that in Mona alone do we meet with “Druidesses.”  Female ministers of religion, whether priestesses or prophetesses, are always exceptional, and usually mark a survival from some very primitive cult.  The Pythoness at Delphi, and the Vestals at Rome, obviously do so.  And amongst the races of Gaul and Britain the same fact is testified to by such female ministrations being invariably confined to far western islands.  Pytheas, as he passed Cape Finisterre (in Spain) by night, heard a choir of women worshipping “Mother Earth and her Daughter"[175] with shrill yells and music.  A little further he tells of the barbarous rites observed by the Samnitae or Amnitae[176] in an island near the mouth of the Loire, on which no male person might ever set foot; and of another island at the extreme point of Gaul, already known as Uxisana (Ushant), where nine virgin sorceresses kept alight the undying fire on their sacred hearth and gave oracular responses.  These cults clearly represented a much older worship than Druidism, though the latter may very probably have taken them under its shadow (as in India so many aboriginal rites are recognized and adopted by modern Brahmanism).  And the priestesses in Mona were, in like manner, not “Druidesses” at all, but representatives of some more primitive cult, already driven from the mainland of Britain and finding a last foothold in this remote island.

E. 10.—­The stamping out of the desperate fanaticism of Mona was barely accomplished, when tidings were brought to Suetonius of Boadicea’s revolt.  By forced marches he reached London before her, only to find himself too weak, after the loss of the Ninth Legion, to hold it.  London, though no Colony, was already the largest and most thriving of the Roman settlements in Britain, and piteous was the dismay of the citizens when Suetonius bade the city be evacuated.  But neither tears nor prayers could postpone his march, and such non-combatants as from age or infirmity could not retire with his column, were massacred by the furious Britons even as those at Camelodune.  Next came the turn of Verulam, the Roman town on the site of Tasciovan’s stronghold,[177] where like atrocities marked the British triumph.  Every other consideration was lost in the mad lust of slaughter.  No prisoners were taken, no spoil was made, no ransom was accepted; all was fire, sword, and hideous torturing.  Tacitus declares that, to his own knowledge,[178] no fewer than seventy thousand Romans and pro-Romans thus perished in this fearful day of vengeance; the spirit of which has been caught by Tennyson, with such true poetic genius, in his ‘Boadicea.’

E. 11.—­Suetonius, however, now felt strong enough to risk a battle.  The odds were enormous, for the British forces were estimated at two hundred and thirty thousand, while his own were barely ten thousand—­only one legion (the Fourteenth) with the cavalry of the Twentieth. (Where its infantry was does not appear:  it may have been left behind in the west.) The Ninth had ceased to exist, and the Second did not arrive from far-off Caerleon till too late for the fight.  The strength of legionary sentiment is shown by the fact that its commander actually slew himself for vexation that the Fourteenth had won without his men.

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Early Britain—Roman Britain from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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