One reason often given for the invasion of Britain is the desire to exploit its resources, and this would indeed seem to be one of the factors. Strabo, a prominent Greek historian and geographer during early Imperial Rome, said that Britain:
‘…bears grain, cattle, gold, silver, and iron. These things, accordingly, are exported from the island, as also hides, and slaves,
and dogs that are by nature suited to the purposes of the chase’
This account appears to be useful as evidence for the resources of Britain, however Strabo had never visited the island himself despite travelling widely. This may account for the omission of tin, abundant in Cornwall, and lead, which could be found across most of the island. However the main Roman mines at that time were in Spain, a province firmly under Roman control, and so this oversight would have been of far less importance when weighing up an invasion. Perhaps Britain’s resources were less of a factor in the invasion than has been suggested...
Claudius also needed prestige to secure his position as emperor. He had come to power following the assassination of Caligula, and ensuring that he didn’t go the same way must have been high on his list of priorities. Cassius Dio said that:
‘He was sickly in body, so that his head and hands shook slightly. Because of
this his voice was also faltering’
This seems to be a reliable assessment, as it is backed up by other historical
sources. Due to his disabilities Claudius had no previous military experience, and needed to strengthen his bond with the army. The best way to do this was through conquest and military victory. Moreover, the troops had recently been
humiliated at the hands of Caligula, and Claudius had been put in power by the army. The invasion of Britain might be seen as an attempt to prove himself more capable.
saw it as a potentially easy victory. The timing would suggest this, since there was a disturbance between the Atrebates and the
Catuvellauni at around the time. Since the tribes were divided they were unlikely to offer significant resistance, and the Atrebates were Rome’s allies, giving Claudius a legitimate reason to become involved. Strabo wrote that:
‘At present, however, some of the chieftains there, after procuring the friendship of Caesar Augustus by sending
embassies and by paying court to him, have not only dedicated offerings in the Capitol, but have also managed to make the
whole of the island virtually Roman property'
To some extent, this statement is rather unreliable, since the turmoil shows that this was evidently not the case. Despite this, it highlights that Rome had allies in Britain who would support them if they invaded. Caligula had already laid the groundwork for an invasion in 40 AD. As well as preparing the troops, he had also built a lighthouse in Boulogne, where Claudius also chose to use as the starting point of his conquest, and it is plausible that a fleet and supplies may have already been prepared. This may have influenced Claudius to decide that Britain would be best for conquest.
It would seem that there are a number of reasons why Claudius decided to invade Britain, the most convincing of which is the need for prestige and security in his new role as emperor. This was especially important since the army was responsible for his ascension to the purple, and he needed to keep them on his side. However this interpretation alone is too simplistic, since the need for an easy victory must have also played a part. Suetonius stated that:
‘He wanted the glory of a legitimate triumph, and chose Britain as the best place where he might acquire it, having been
attempted by nobody after the Divine Julius, and at that time in rebellion’
Suetonius was an imperial secretary who had access to restricted materials, however he rarely took any of his information with a pinch of salt. Despite this, his interpretation is more plausible, because it seems more likely to me that Britain was chosen only
because it was a convenient conquest; it mattered more to Claudius that he achieved a victory than where he achieved it.
That's the end of part two of this series of posts, if you enjoyed it then leave a comment and let me know! This weekend I'm off to English Heritage's History Live, the first re-enactment I've been to in a good number of years... so expect a write up of the event pretty soon!