Lessons from the Roman Conquest of the Britons


Nothing forthcoming should be alleged to be in advocacy of theocratic government, a fusion of political and social power repressive to those minds not disposed to believe in the invisible or the not easily demonstrable, and an arrangement of civil government laid to waste during The Enlightenment. But it should be noted the role religion plays in reinforcing the bases of moral authority in the state.

The following is a passage from the Scottish philosopher David Hume’s A History of England. A relatively early section on The Britons, strewn with citations from eminent first hand sources like Julius Caesar and historians of the caliber of Tacitus and the Venerable Bede, makes explicit the necessity of crushing the religion of a conquered people in order to make them obedient and useful servants of the state.

Firstly, let us consider the role of the Druids among the Britons in preserving the social and political order. In this caste resided considerable power, and its functions were varied and vital to the tribe.

The religion of the Britons was one of the most considerable parts of their government; and the Druids, who were their priests, possessed great authority among them. Besides ministering at the altar, and directing all religious duties, they presided over the education of youth; they enjoyed an immunity from wars and taxes; they possessed both the civil and criminal jurisdiction; they decided all controversies among states as well as among private persons, and whoever refused to submit to their decree was exposed to the most severe penalties. The sentence of excommunication was pronounced against him: he was forbidden access to the sacrifices or public worship: he was debarred all intercourse with his fellow-citizens, even in the common affairs of life: his company was universally shunned, as profane and dangerous. He was refused the protection of law [f]; and death itself became an acceptable relief from the misery and infamy to which he was exposed. Thus, the bands of government, which were naturally loose among that rude and turbulent people, were happily corroborated by the terrors of their superstition. [FN [f] Caesar, lib. 6. Strabo, lib. 4.]

No species of superstition was ever more terrible than that of the Druids. Besides the severe penalties, which it was in the power of the ecclesiastics to inflict in this world, they inculcated the eternal transmigration of souls; and thereby extended their authority as far as the fears of their timorous votaries. They practised their rites in dark groves or other secret recesses [g]; and in order to throw a greater mystery over their religion, they communicated their doctrines only to the initiated, and strictly forbad the committing of them to writing, lest they should at any time be exposed to the examination of the profane vulgar. Human sacrifices were practised among them: the spoils of war were often devoted to their divinities; and they punished with the severest tortures whoever dared to secrete any part of the consecrated offering; these treasures they kept in woods and forests, secured by no other guard than the terrors of their religion [h]; and this steady conquest over human avidity may be regarded as more signal than their prompting men to the most extraordinary and most violent efforts. No idolatrous worship ever attained such an ascendant over mankind as that of the ancient Gauls and Britons; and the Romans, after their conquest, finding it impossible to reconcile those nations to the law and institutions of their masters, while it maintained its authority, were at last obliged to abolish it by penal statutes; a violence which had never, in any other instance, been practised by those tolerating conquerors [i] [FN [g] Plin. lib. 12. cap. 1. [h] Caesar, lib. 6. [i] Sueton. in vita Claudii.]

It is indisputable that no present clergy of modern polities of the Western world wields such unopposed and terrible influence over their people as the Druids over the Britons; though it should be noted that the umma of the Muslim crescent presently fulfill a like role of acting as religious interpreters for the people, and indirectly, of exacting a vicious breed of justice over both social violators and apostates. The parallel is more than enough to justify continued historical analogy, whose fuller implications regarding the West’s enemies will not be fleshed out here (though it may be noted that in a recent argument with an editor of a major website, this author implied that triumphing over the inextricably political doctrine of Islam entailed a breaking of its religious authority).

Thus follows in Hume’s account the actual Roman conquest of the Britons:

The other Britons, under the command of Caractacus, still maintained an obstinate resistance, and the Romans made little progress against them, till Ostorius Scapula was sent over to command their armies. This general advanced the Roman conquests over the Britons; [MN A.D. 50.] pierced into the country of the Silures, a warlike nation who inhabited the banks of the Severn; defeated Caractacus in a great battle; took him prisoner, and sent him to Rome, where his magnanimous behaviour procured him better treatment than those conquerors usually bestowed on captive princes [l]. [FN [k] Tacit. Agr. [l] Tacit. Ann. lib. 12.]

Notwithstanding these misfortunes, the Britons were not subdued; and this island was regarded by the ambitious Romans as a field in which military honour might still be acquired. [MN A.D. 59.] Under the reign of Nero, Suetonius Paulinus was invested with the command, and prepared to signalize his name by victories over those barbarians. Finding that the island of Mona, now Anglesey, was the chief seat of the Druids, he resolved to attack it, and to subject a place which was the centre of their superstition, and which afforded protection to all their baffled forces. The Britons endeavoured to obstruct his landing on this sacred island, both by the force of their arms and the terrors of their religion. The women and priests were intermingled with the soldiers upon the shore; and running about with flaming torches in their hands, and tossing their dishevelled hair, they struck greater terror into the astonished Romans by their howlings, cries, and execrations, than the real danger from the armed forces was able to inspire. But Suetonius, exhorting his troops to despise the menaces of a superstition which they despised, impelled them to the attack, drove the Britons off the field, burned the Druids in the same fires which those priests had prepared for their captive enemies, destroyed all the consecrated groves and altars; and, having thus triumphed over the religion of the Britons [Ed., note], he thought his future progress would be easy in reducing the people to subjection. But he was disappointed in his expectations. The Britons, taking advantage of his absence, were all in arms; and headed by Boadicea, Queen of the Iceni, who had been treated in the most ignominious manner by the Roman tribunes, had already attacked with success several settlements of their insulting conquerors. Suetonius hastened to the protection of London, which was already a flourishing Roman colony; but he found, on his arrival, that it would be requisite for the general safety to abandon that place to the merciless fury of the enemy. London was reduced to ashes; such of the inhabitants as remained in it were cruelly massacred; the Romans and all strangers, to the number of 70,000, were every where put to the sword without distinction; and the Britons, by rendering the war thus bloody, seemed determined to cut off all hopes of peace or com- position with the enemy. But this cruelty was revenged by Suetonius in a great and decisive battle, where 80,000 of the Britons are said to have perished; and Boadicea herself; rather than fall into the hands of the enraged victor, put an end to her own life by poison [m]…[FN [m] Tacit. Ann. lib. 14]

As Hume points out, the religious ardor of the Britons was not yet crushed. The Roman Empire’s victory over the unruly tribe was a purely military one. What was required was a process of cultural assimilation, and that meant the suppression of the Britons’ superstition, and intensive education into the Roman way. Thus was the object of Nero’s governor Agricola, as will be shown in the cited passage below:

This great commander formed a regular plan for subduing Britain, and rendering the acquisition useful to the conquerors. He carried his victorious arms northwards, defeated the Britons in every encounter, pierced into the inaccessible forests and mountains of Caledonia, reduced every state to subjection in the southern part of the island, and chased before him all the men of fiercer and more intractable spirits, who deemed war and death itself less intolerable than servitude under the victors. He even defeated them in a decisive action, which they fought under Galgacus, their leader; and having fixed a chain of garrisons between the firths of Clyde and Forth, he thereby cut off the ruder and more barren parts of the island, and secured the Roman province from the incursions of the barbarous inhabitants [n]. [FN [n] Tacit Agr.]

During these military enterprises, he neglected not the arts of peace. He introduced laws and civility among the Britons, taught them to desire and raise all the conveniences of life, reconciled them to the Roman language and manners, instructed them in letters and science, and employed every expedient to render those chains which he had forged both easy and agreeable to them [o]. The inhabitants, having experienced how unequal their own force was to resist that of the Romans, acquiesced in the dominion of their masters, and were gradually incorporated as a part of that mighty empire. [FN [o] Ibid.]

What regret we might have for the fierce and spirited people of the Britons must be contextualized one step further, if we are to grasp the full import of the Romans’ unending campaigns of military and cultural conquest.

This was the last durable conquest made by the Romans; and Britain, once subdued, gave no farther inquietude to the victor.[…]

But the period was now come when that enormous fabric of the Roman empire, which had diffused slavery and oppression, together with peace and civility, over so considerable a part of the globe, was approaching towards it final dissolution. Italy and the centre of the empire, removed, during so many ages, from all concern in the wars, had entirely lost the military spirit, and were peopled by an enervated race, equally disposed to submit to a foreign yoke, or to the tyranny of their own rulers.

Thus we grasp that such a cynical abuse of the instrumentalities of power, used not to preserve one’s cultural and social institutions, but to engage in rapacious conquests over various peoples, leads the absorbing regime to cultural corrosion and dissipation of its moral authority. The result is a collapse of the regime due to rampant and shameless corruption, and a resulting lack of political legitimacy. When the time comes for the depraved rulers to call upon the people to save them from a foreign power or from a mass civil uprising, they find their exhortations fall upon deaf ears. Such was the case with the barbarian invasions, when the Romans, distrustful of arming the populace lest they employ them to revolt, were completely and irrevocably overrun.

Let us extrapolate a few potentially useful lessons that may be applied to the situation today. While one is loathe to blame the political left for the dissolution of religious ardor in the American republic, as we are in a scientific era that makes it difficult to believe in the unseen or to throw up one’s hands at the unknown, it is certain that the left’s socially engineered phenomenon of political correctness has made it a supposed affront to the sensibilities of the unbelievers and the nonbelievers to display the Christian faith. The current regime, like the Romans as they presided over the rebellious Britons, seeks to break the imminently conquered of their spirit by removing their moral and religious fonts of resistance, and to socially cow them into obeisance, and eventually, servitude.

But it is not just with the administrative and legal whip that the statists seek to remold the American populace into more pliable servants of the political class. It is with inducements to luxuriate in the now at the expense of the necessarily harsher future, to distract oneself with idle pleasures as the state persistently and incrementally encroaches upon civil freedoms, and to gradually and all but imperceptibly shift the public sentiment in favor of the state’s domination of society and economy.

This is accomplished foremost by slowly removing the revered and the honored from public display – whether the Bible, the cross, the creche, or the flag. Over the course of a generation, the reinforcement of these patriotic and religious images will have become rarer, their effect on the sentiment of the forthcoming youth weaker, and the resultant void in the individual’s emotional attachment to society the stimulus for implementing the state’s ready-made collectivist ideology. Ever louder, ever more radical, the cries of atheistic state worship that is socialism encapsulated will pour forth, until there can be no moral basis for the state except what the historically ignorant and ideologically indoctrinated have been conditioned to accept. The Pyrrhic victory of the triumphant state will be complete, and the moral, social, and economic decay of the polity accelerated in earnest.

Read also: Parallels between the Obama administration and the Romans in 60AD. from Boudica’s blog

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19 thoughts on “Lessons from the Roman Conquest of the Britons

  1. Boudica was flogged by the Romans, our Constitution is being flogged by our government. Her 2 daughters were raped in front of her, our children’s future is in effect being raped by our government. The Romans had no regard for the Britons and our government has no regard for the will of the American people. There are many parallels between the Romans and Britons in 60AD and our government and the American people today. I have posted on this before.

  2. So, why aren’t you advocating “theocratic” government?!!! All that means is government ruled by God. Are you REALLY for Godless government?

    John Lofton, Editor, Archive.TheAmericanView.com
    JohnLofton.com
    Recovering Republican
    JLof@aol.com

    1. Since you asked, I will let Founding Father James Madison do the talking for me. You can argue against him.

      Memorial and Remonstrance
      Against Religious Assessments
      [1785]

      To the Honorable the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia A Memorial and Remonstrance

      We the subscribers, citizens of the said Commonwealth, having taken into serious consideration, a Bill printed by order of the last Session of General Assembly, entitled “A Bill establishing a provision for Teachers of the Christian Religion,” and conceiving that the same if finally armed with the sanctions of a law, will be a dangerous abuse of power, are bound as faithful members of a free State to remonstrate against it, and to declare the reasons by which we are determined. We remonstrate against the said Bill,

      1. Because we hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth, “that religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence.” The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an unalienable right. It is unalienable, because the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own minds cannot follow the dictates of other men: It is unalienable also, because what is here a right towards men, is a duty towards the Creator. It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage and such only as he believes to be acceptable to him. This duty is precedent, both in order of time and in degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society. Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governour of the Universe: And if a member of Civil Society, do it with a saving of his allegiance to the Universal Sovereign. We maintain therefore that in matters of Religion, no man’s right is abridged by the institution of Civil Society and that Religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance. True it is, that no other rule exists, by which any question which may divide a Society, can be ultimately determined, but the will of the majority; but it is also true that the majority may trespass on the rights of the minority.

      2. Because Religion be exempt from the authority of the Society at large, still less can it be subject to that of the Legislative Body. The latter are but the creatures and vicegerents of the former. Their jurisdiction is both derivative and limited: it is limited with regard to the co-ordinate departments, more necessarily is it limited with regard to the constituents. The preservation of a free Government requires not merely, that the metes and bounds which separate each department of power be invariably maintained; but more especially that neither of them be suffered to overleap the great Barrier which defends the rights of the people. The Rulers who are guilty of such an encroachment, exceed the commission from which they derive their authority, and are Tyrants. The People who submit to it are governed by laws made neither by themselves nor by an authority derived from them, and are slaves.

      3. Because it is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties. We hold this prudent jealousy to be the first duty of Citizens, and one of the noblest characteristics of the late Revolution. The free men of America did not wait till usurped power had strengthened itself by exercise, and entangled the question in precedents. They saw all the consequences in the principle, and they avoided the consequences by denying the principle. We revere this lesson too much soon to forget it. Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects? that the same authority which can force a citizen to contribute three pence only of his property for the support of any one establishment, may force him to conform to any other establishment in all cases whatsoever?

      4. Because the Bill violates the equality which ought to be the basis of every law, and which is more indispensible, in proportion as the validity or expediency of any law is more liable to be impeached. If “all men are by nature equally free and independent,” all men are to be considered as entering into Society on equal conditions; as relinquishing no more, and therefore retaining no less, one than another, of their natural rights. Above all are they to be considered as retaining an “equal title to the free exercise of Religion according to the dictates of Conscience.” Whilst we assert for ourselves a freedom to embrace, to profess and to observe the Religion which we believe to be of divine origin, we cannot deny an equal freedom to those whose minds have not yet yielded to the evidence which has convinced us. If this freedom be abused, it is an offence against God, not against man: To God, therefore, not to man, must an account of it be rendered. As the Bill violates equality by subjecting some to peculiar burdens, so it violates the same principle, by granting to others peculiar exemptions. Are the quakers and Menonists the only sects who think a compulsive support of their Religions unnecessary and unwarrantable? can their piety alone be entrusted with the care of public worship? Ought their Religions to be endowed above all others with extraordinary privileges by which proselytes may be enticed from all others? We think too favorably of the justice and good sense of these denominations to believe that they either covet pre-eminences over their fellow citizens or that they will be seduced by them from the common opposition to the measure.

      5. Because the Bill implies either that the Civil Magistrate is a competent Judge of Religious Truth; or that he may employ Religion as an engine of Civil policy. The first is an arrogant pretension falsified by the contradictory opinions of Rulers in all ages, and throughout the world: the second an unhallowed perversion of the means of salvation.

      6. Because the establishment proposed by the Bill is not requisite for the support of the Christian Religion. To say that it is, is a contradiction to the Christian Religion itself, for every page of it disavows a dependence on the powers of this world: it is a contradiction to fact; for it is known that this Religion both existed and flourished, not only without the support of human laws, but in spite of every opposition from them, and not only during the period of miraculous aid, but long after it had been left to its own evidence and the ordinary care of Providence. Nay, it is a contradiction in terms; for a Religion not invented by human policy, must have pre-existed and been supported, before it was established by human policy. It is moreover to weaken in those who profess this Religion a pious confidence in its innate excellence and the patronage of its Author; and to foster in those who still reject it, a suspicion that its friends are too conscious of its fallacies to trust it to its own merits.

      7. Because experience witnesseth that ecclesiastical establishments, instead of maintaining the purity and efficacy of Religion, have had a contrary operation. During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution. Enquire of the Teachers of Christianity for the ages in which it appeared in its greatest lustre; those of every sect, point to the ages prior to its incorporation with Civil policy. Propose a restoration of this primitive State in which its Teachers depended on the voluntary rewards of their flocks, many of them predict its downfall. On which Side ought their testimony to have greatest weight, when for or when against their interest?

      8. Because the establishment in question is not necessary for the support of Civil Government. If it be urged as necessary for the support of Civil Government only as it is a means of supporting Religion, and it be not necessary for the latter purpose, it cannot be necessary for the former. If Religion be not within the cognizance of Civil Government how can its legal establishment be necessary to Civil Government? What influence in fact have ecclesiastical establishments had on Civil Society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the Civil authority; in many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny: in no instance have they been seen the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wished to subvert the public liberty, may have found an established Clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just Government instituted to secure & perpetuate it needs them not. Such a Government will be best supported by protecting every Citizen in the enjoyment of his Religion with the same equal hand which protects his person and his property; by neither invading the equal rights of any Sect, nor suffering any Sect to invade those of another.

      9. Because the proposed establishment is a departure from the generous policy, which, offering an Asylum to the persecuted and oppressed of every Nation and Religion, promised a lustre to our country, and an accession to the number of its citizens. What a melancholy mark is the Bill of sudden degeneracy? Instead of holding forth an Asylum to the persecuted, it is itself a signal of persecution. It degrades from the equal rank of Citizens all those whose opinions in Religion do not bend to those of the Legislative authority. Distant as it may be in its present form from the Inquisition, it differs from it only in degree. The one is the first step, the other the last in the career of intolerance. The magnanimous sufferer under this cruel scourge in foreign Regions, must view the Bill as a Beacon on our Coast, warning him to seek some other haven, where liberty and philanthrophy in their due extent, may offer a more certain respose from his Troubles.

      10. Because it will have a like tendency to banish our Citizens. The allurements presented by other situations are every day thinning their number. To superadd a fresh motive to emigration by revoking the liberty which they now enjoy, would be the same species of folly which has dishonoured and depopulated flourishing kingdoms

      11. Because it will destroy that moderation and harmony which the forbearance of our laws to intermeddle with Religion has produced among its several sects. Torrents of blood have been split in the old world, by vain attempts of the secular arm, to extinguish Religious disscord, by proscribing all difference in Religious opinion. Time has at length revealed the true remedy. Every relaxation of narrow and rigorous policy, wherever it has been tried, has been found to assuage the disease. The American Theatre has exhibited proofs that equal and compleat liberty, if it does not wholly eradicate it, sufficiently destroys its malignant influence on the health and prosperity of the State. If with the salutary effects of this system under our own eyes, we begin to contract the bounds of Religious freedom, we know no name that will too severely reproach our folly. At least let warning be taken at the first fruits of the threatened innovation. The very appearance of the Bill has transformed “that Christian forbearance, love and charity,” which of late mutually prevailed, into animosities and jeolousies, which may not soon be appeased. What mischiefs may not be dreaded, should this enemy to the public quiet be armed with the force of a law?

      12. Because the policy of the Bill is adverse to the diffusion of the light of Christianity. The first wish of those who enjoy this precious gift ought to be that it may be imparted to the whole race of mankind. Compare the number of those who have as yet received it with the number still remaining under the dominion of false Religions; and how small is the former! Does the policy of the Bill tend to lessen the disproportion? No; it at once discourages those who are strangers to the light of revelation from coming into the Region of it; and countenances by example the nations who continue in darkness, in shutting out those who might convey it to them. Instead of Levelling as far as possible, every obstacle to the victorious progress of Truth, the Bill with an ignoble and unchristian timidity would circumscribe it with a wall of defence against the encroachments of error.

      13. Because attempts to enforce by legal sanctions, acts obnoxious to go great a proportion of Citizens, tend to enervate the laws in general, and to slacken the bands of Society. If it be difficult to execute any law which is not generally deemed necessary or salutary, what must be the case, where it is deemed invalid and dangerous? And what may be the effect of so striking an example of impotency in the Government, on its general authority?

      14. Because a measure of such singular magnitude and delicacy ought not to be imposed, without the clearest evidence that it is called for by a majority of citizens, and no satisfactory method is yet proposed by which the voice of the majority in this case may be determined, or its influence secured. The people of the respective counties are indeed requested to signify their opinion respecting the adoption of the Bill to the next Session of Assembly.” But the representatives or of the Counties will be that of the people. Our hope is that neither of the former will, after due consideration, espouse the dangerous principle of the Bill. Should the event disappoint us, it will still leave us in full confidence, that a fair appeal to the latter will reverse the sentence against our liberties.

      15. Because finally, “the equal right of every citizen to the free exercise of his Religion according to the dictates of conscience” is held by the same tenure with all our other rights. If we recur to its origin, it is equally the gift of nature; if we weigh its importance, it cannot be less dear to us; if we consult the “Declaration of those rights which pertain to the good people of Virginia, as the basis and foundation of Government,” it is enumerated with equal solemnity, or rather studied emphasis. Either the, we must say, that the Will of the Legislature is the only measure of their authority; and that in the plenitude of this authority, they may sweep away all our fundamental rights; or, that they are bound to leave this particular right untouched and sacred: Either we must say, that they may control the freedom of the press, may abolish the Trial by Jury, may swallow up the Executive and Judiciary Powers of the State; nay that they may despoil us of our very right of suffrage, and erect themselves into an independent and hereditary Assembly or, we must say, that they have no authority to enact into the law the Bill under consideration.

      We the Subscribers say, that the General Assembly of this Commonwealth have no such authority: And that no effort may be omitted on our part against so dangerous an usurpation, we oppose to it, this remonstrance; earnestly praying, as we are in duty bound, that the Supreme Lawgiver of the Universe, by illuminating those to whom it is addressed, may on the one hand, turn their Councils from every act which would affront his holy prerogative, or violate the trust committed to them: and on the other, guide them into every measure which may be worthy of his blessing, may redound to their own praise, and may establish more firmly the liberties, the prosperity and the happiness of the Commonwealth.

  3. Didn’t ask you anything about the government supporting “religion.” Asked why you do not want Godly government, civil government under the authority and control of God? If not God and His Law, what SHOULD limit/control civil government? Please respond directly to the questions. Thank you.

    John Lofton, Editor, Archive.TheAmericanView.com
    JohnLofton.com
    Recovering Republican
    JLof@aol.com

    1. That is not the definition of theocracy. Theocracy is when men who appoint themselves the interpreters and arbiters of God’s will enthrone themselves above the people and dictate law to them. As can be clearly seen from the above-citation, this is illegitimate. It was not a coy joke, it was a rebuttal.

  4. You rebutted nothing and continue to ignore my question: “If not God and His Law, what SHOULD limit/control civil government? ” And your definition of “theocracy” is wrong.

    John Lofton, Editor, Archive.TheAmericanView.com
    JohnLofton.com
    Recovering Republican
    JLof@aol.com

  5. I am taking nothing lightly. Am just pointing out that Locke and I agree — government is from God, must be under God’s Law. Both of us believe in a “theocracy,” that is Godly rule….and you are still ignoring my Q: ” “If not God and His Law, what SHOULD limit/control civil government? ”

    John Lofton, Editor, Archive.TheAmericanView.com
    JohnLofton.com
    Recovering Republican
    JLof@aol.com

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