“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
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