The Lessons of Camulodanum

We are not used to thinking of the Barbarians as freedom fighters.  Yet, that is the role they are cast as in a series of programs entitled “The Barbarians Rising,” on the History channel that charts the decline and fall of the Roman Empire.  The Empire had expanded to a huge size, conquering and controlling territory from Britain to Persia.  Yet, its very size was its undoing.  Both from a military and administrative point-of-view it had expanded beyond its capabilities.

The first sign of Rome’s undoing came in Britain, where the Romans had in their typical fashion defeated and ruthlessly suppressed the indigenous Celtic tribes. Queen Boudica (or Boudicea) of the Iceni tribe was humiliated by flogging and her two daughters were raped. Then the Romans destroyed the center of the Druids on the Isle of Mona (Anglesey). The Celtic tribes of the northeast then rose in revolt under the command of Boudica and they defeated the Romans and sacked the town of Camulodunum (Colchester) which was the first major defeat of the Romans. They then went on to capture and destroy Londinium (London) and Verulanium (St. Albans) and  altogether killed as many as 70,000 people and dealt a heavy blow to the Roman Empire.

The head of the Roman armies in Britain, Paulinus, after the campaign in the North returned toward Londinium, but was too late so save it from being sacked by Boudica.  He then avoided fighting the Celts because he was outnumbered three to one, until he carefully chose a field of battle that would give his legions maximum advantage.  The Romans then defeated the less well-organized Celts at the Battle of Watling Street and as many as 70,000 Celts were massacred.  Thereafter the Romans ruled Britain with an iron fist until they were forced to withdraw in 410 ce. But, they never managed to defeat the Celtic tribes in central Wales, Scotland and Ireland. (later Britain was invaded by Germanic tribes, the Angles and Saxons, from 449 ce, then the Vikings from 793 and was finally conquered by the Norman French in 1066).

In Northern Europe the Germanic tribes proved too much for the Roman legions and a line of demarcation then stretched across Europe, from Hadrian’s Wall in northern Britain and along the Rhine and Danube rivers.  Thus the expansion of the Roman Empire was halted. But, then the Huns under Attila swept in from Asia and proved unbeatable, so the Goths and Visigoths led by Fritigern made a deal with the Romans who allowed them to cross the Danube into Roman territory (in what is now Romania and Bulgaria).  But, the Romans treated them like slaves and kept them hungry and imprisoned in camps.  This eventually led to an uprising under Alaric, who eventually sacked Rome also in 410 ce.

This very brief retelling of the decline of Rome has a general lesson.  Empires such as those of Rome, Britain, Austro-Hungary, the Arabs, Turkey and the USSR eventually are destroyed by the uprisings of subject peoples.  Just as the indigenous Britons fought against Roman domination, so we indigenous Jews will continue to fight against Arab attempts at domination.


2 thoughts on “The Lessons of Camulodanum

  1. Wow, Jack. This really brought back memories of my early school days and history lessons. Actually, I did enjoy them. Shabbat Shalom to you all, and Chag Chanukah Sameach.


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