Rome & The River Taff

“And can you, then, who have got such possessions and so many of them, covet our poor tents?

Caratacus, On seeing the City of Rome

River Taff

Rivers have been a witness to human history, long before the events were recorded in written form.    So it was with the River Taff (Afon Taf in Welsh), which rises from two rivers, Taf Fechan (Little Taff) and Taf Fawr (Big Taff), in the Brecon Beacons of Wales.

Archaeological evidence suggests that in the time of Emperor Nero (CE 54-68), a Roman fort was constructed on the River Taff at the point where it comes near the Bristol Channel.  They came as conquerors.  A few years before, in 51 CE, Rome defeated the Silures, a powerful and warlike tribe of ancient Britain and dispatched their courageous leader, Caratacus, to Rome in chains to face Emperor Claudius.

Rome was elated with the capture of Caratacus.  This was no ordinary leader.  Brilliant and tenacious, Caratacus had defied the Roman war machine since CE 43, which marked the launch of the Roman invasion under Claudius.  Following a two-day battle at a river crossing near Rochester on the River Medway, Caratacus escaped capture and fled to the eastern part of Wales where he resisted Rome’s advances for another eight years. Caratacus knew his fate would be death, after a final humiliation in a triumphal parade.  Yet, destiny was to give him another outcome.

Caratacus was permitted a last word before the Roman senate.  He faced his captors with dignity and persuasive eloquence that stunned the audience.  He argued that his stubborn resistance and glorious defeat gave greater honour to Rome.  Moved by Caratacus’ speech, Claudius pardoned him and granted him the right to live in peace within the city Rome.

“If the degree of my nobility and fortune had been matched by moderation in success, I would have come to this City as a friend rather than a captive, nor would you have disdained to receive with a treaty of peace one sprung from brilliant ancestors and commanding a great many nations. But my present lot, disfiguring as it is for me, is magnificent for you. I had horses, men, arms, and wealth: what wonder if I was unwilling to lose them? If you wish to command everyone, does it really follow that everyone should accept your slavery? If I were now being handed over as one who had surrendered immediately, neither my fortune nor your glory would have achieved brilliance. It is also true that in my case any reprisal will be followed by oblivion. On the other hand, if you preserve me safe and sound, I shall be an eternal example of your clemency.”

Tacitus, The Annals, translated by A. J. Woodman, Indianapolis and Cambridge, Hackett, 2004

52 thoughts on “Rome & The River Taff

  1. Ah Rebecca! Nice to hear from you, and especially on the rivers crusade continuation. This time bella Roma part of the world, mine and Marianne’s favourite city Roma, where we should be in the late fall if all goes according to plan. Thank you for this, dear friend. JJ

    • There is something about Rome that gives me that feeling that I’m participating in an Epic. Every step signifies a moment in history. Have a wonderful time – safe travels and looking forward to hearing about your adventures.

    • Caractacus was fortunate that Claudius was Emperor. Not certain whether Nero would have pardoned him. Right time, right place, right Emperor. The universe was with Caratacus. I first encountered this narrative when I read Caesar’s Legion: The Epic Saga of Julius Caesar’s Elite Tenth Legion and the Armies of Rome by Stephen Dando-Collins. It was my first attempt at reading a book on military history. I enjoyed it immensely because of the detailed story-telling. Ancient Rome was all about conquest; even so, there was art, beauty and knowledge. Something like our time….

      “Great empires are not maintained by timidity.” Tacitus

      https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/68546.Caesar_s_Legion?from_search=true

      • I think she will enjoy the book! The reviews are mixed, but I find that most were fascinated by the stories. I especially appreciated, Gaius Crastinus, who was a soldier in Julius Caesar’s famous 10th legion during his Gallic Wars.

        In his last battle, he said to his comrades, “Follow me, my old comrades, and give your general true service. Only this battle remains; when it’s over he will regain his dignity and we our freedom.” To Caesar he said “Today, general, I shall earn your gratitude whether I live or die”.

      • A very good question. A few years ago, I read the Art of War by Sun Tzu. I wish I had read when I was much younger for it gives guidance on how to avoid conflict. The very last lines says it all because it warns the general to be very careful in choosing to go to war. A sobering thought.

        “Anger may in time change to gladness; vexation may be succeeded by content.
        But a kingdom that has once been destroyed can never come again into being; nor can the dead ever be brought back to life.”
        ― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

    • I agree wholeheartedly. He was the son of the Catuvellaunian king, Cunobelinus, and was the protege of his uncle, Epaticcus – he was well versed in military strategies. In my opinion, his greatest gift was oratory and persuasion. And it seemed that Claudius agreed!!

      “Great is our admiration of the orator who speaks with fluency and discretion” Marcus Tullius Cicero

    • It was indeed! We all say that words have the power to change destiny, yet I find that it is the charisma, power and passion of the one who delivers those words that moves hearts and minds to action. One of my favourite orators is Sojourner Truth, born into slavery, 1797 and freed in 1827. She became a remarkable speaker.

      “Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.”
      Sojourner Truth

      • Thank you so much!!! Actually, my inspiration came from seeing your new format! I liked your clean lines without the side widgets. And I was looking for a template that would have a larger font! I am delighted that you noticed!!! By the way, my quote for today was serendipitously,

        “Live in the moment!” Colette

    • I agree – we like to recreate events to suit our belief systems. Churchill said it better than I ever could: “History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.”
      I can only imagine the secrets hidden in the waters…

    • I agree – every generation thinks that somehow we are more advanced and knowledgeable. I always smile at this quote:

      “Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book.” Cicero

  2. Wo0nderful speech by Caractacus…

    Yes, some modern soldiers do say great things…Col Tim Collins, who had been one of my brother’s young officers said to his troops when they got the order to advance into Iraq:
    ;” Iraq is steeped in history. It is the site of the Garden of Eden, of the Great Flood, and the birthplace of Abraham. Tread lightly there… you will have to go a long way to find a more decent, generous and upright people than the Iraqies. Don’t treat them as refugees, for they are in their own country…

    “If there are casualties of war remember that when they got up and dressed in the morning they did not plan to die this day. Allow them dignity in death. Bury them properly and mark their graves… let us leave Iraq a better place for having been there…”

    Sadly, others didn’t live up to his words…

    • Thank you so much for your words. This is the first time I heard about Col Tim Collins. His words, profoundly moving, echo the great generals that have come before. I googled his name and found that Kenneth Branagh, recreated the speech so I have added the link. It seems that your brother encouraged Col Tim Collins to have compassionate voice. Your comments served as a benediction to this post – very much appreciated!

      • Rebecca, how amazing….I found it rivetting to hear Kenneth Branagh speaking those words…rather histrionically !!!
        Thank you so much, I found it fascinating…

        Thank you so much for this reply, both my husband and I found it really moving listening to this when so much water has now flowed under the bridge!

    • Thank you!! All roads lead to Rome!! There is history, drama, mythology – all tied in one place. The city that Cleopatra visited and Michelangelo created his masterpieces. I’m ready to pack my bags and head to the airport just thinking about it!!!

  3. Dear Rebecca,

    One of the few self imposed doers I know who truly gets involved with important issues, such as”rivers” for example. Consequently I have taken the liberty of sending a copy of an article written by a long time acquaintance, and friend. He among other interests , apart from his monthly column, he is also a published poet and author.

    At one point I seem to recall having communicated with you by e-mail but I can’t find an address, or I would have sent this message via said e-mail. The poetic references in Ian’s article made me think of you, and which I felt quite sure would be of interest.

    Here is an attachment of the message I refer to…

    Jean-Jacques Fournier

  4. I loved this! How fascinating. I had never heard this before……ancient Rome is full of war and the horrors of conquest. It’s good to read about something honorable and clemency for Caratacus. Great post!

    • I am so glad you enjoyed the post! I agree wholeheartedly – there is indeed honour in clemency. That this narrative has come through the centuries, gives ample proof of humanity’s need and desire for mercy. Looking forward to our dialogue!!

  5. I have missed your post dearly, I always learn and think. Lovely post!

    In rivers, the water that you touch is the last of what has passed and the first of that which comes; so with present time. Leonardo da Vinci

    • I do love Leonardo da Vinci – he was able to communicate big thoughts using a few words. I know that you have been extremely busy lately with your exciting projects. I know that whatever you do, the outcome will be remarkable.

  6. I came over frpm the Persecution of Mildred Dunlop…and came across this!
    You drew me back into the world described by Tacitus….I don’t have my Tacitus with me, but I remember well the words put into the mouth of a German chieftain at a meeeting with the Roman commander Petillius Cerealis..

    You create a desolation and call it peace….

    All too applicable to the recent past.

    • Thank you so much for your visit and for your contribution to the discussion – much appreciated. As it happens, I just found “The Complete Tacitus Anthology” on Amazon for a small pittance. I looked up the quote – I had heard of it before, but I did not know the circumstances behind the quote. Thank you!!! It was a speech by the Caledonian chieftain Calgacus, which is the contrast to “peace given to the world” which is found often on Roman medals. What you will find interesting, I think, is that Lord Byron recalls these words:

      Mark where his carnage and his conquests cease!
      He makes a solitude, and calls it — peace.

      Bride of Abydos (1813), Canto 2, stanza 20.

      It is a sentiment, that continues to plague humanity. May these words give courage to those who seek peaceful solutions.

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