A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology

Smith, William

A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology. William Smith, LLD, ed. 1890

(or, as Dio Cassius calls him, Καράτακος or Καταράκατος), was a king of the British tribe of the Silures, and by various prosperous enterprises had raised himself above all the other British chiefs. He appears to have been a most formidable enemy of the Romans. When they made their last attack upon him, he transferred the war into the country of the Ordovices,

and there took a position which was as favourable to himself as it appeared detrimental to the Romans. When Caractacus, in addition to this, had also fortified himself with artificial means, he exhorted his men either to die or to conquer in the approaching battle. The Roman propraetor, P. Ostorius, who saw the disadvantages under which the Romans were labouring, would not have ventured upon an engagement, had not the courage of his soldiers and officers demanded it. The superior military skill of the Roman legions overcame all the difficulties, and a splendid victory was gained : the wife and daughters of Caractacus fell into the hands of the Romans, and his brothers surrendered. Caractacus himself sought the protection of Cartimandua, queen of the Brigantes; but she betrayed him, and he was delivered up to the Romans, and carried to Rome, A. D. 51, after the war in Britain had lasted for nine years, as Tacitus says. The emperor Claudius wished to exhibit to the people this old and formidable foe in his humiliation, and ordered Caractacus and the members of his family, with their clients and ornaments, to be led in a sort of triumph before an assembly of the people and an array of soldiers. The emperor himself was present. The relatives of Caractacus walked by his side cast down with grief, and entreated the mercy of the Romans; Caractacus alone did neither of these things, and when he approached the seat of the emperor, he stopped and addressed him in so noble a manner, that Claudius pardoned him and his friends. They appear, however, not to have returned to Britain, but to have spent the remainder of their life in Italy. (Tac. Ann. 12.33-338 Hist. 3.45; D. C. 60.20.)