Classis Britannica

The British Fleet

One of the prefects in command of the British Fleet we know by name is Marcus Maenius Agrippa, whose curriculum vitae is contained in a dedicatory inscription from Camerinum in Umbria (CIL xi.5632 infra). This man also dedicated an altar to Jupiter Best and Greatest at Alauna Carvetiorum (RIB 823; Maryport, Cumbria) in northern Britain, while he was tribune in command of Cohors I Hispana, a five-hundred strong infantry unit. Another prefect of the Classis Britannica, Lucius Aufidius Pantera, dedicated an altar to Neptune at Portus Lemanis (RIB 66; Lympne, Kent). The last reference to the Classis Britannica occurs during the reign of Philip, on an inscription from the continent dated to the period AD244-249 (CIL xii.686; vide infra).

Evidence for the Fleet in Britain

  1. Lympne (RIB 66; altar to Neptune; dated: c.AD115-135).
  2. Folkestone (Burn 216; RIB II; undated roofing tiles).

Cohors Primae Aeliae Classicae - The First Cohort of the Aelian Fleet

  1. L'Année Épigraphique 1997.1001 diploma dated 27th February AD158.
  2. Ravenglass (RIB 2411.94; lead seal).
  3. Tunnocelum (Notitia Dignitatum).

Pedites Classicorum Britanniorum - The Infantry of the British Fleet

  1. Hadrian's Wall between Birdoswalds and Castlesteads (RIB 1944 et 1945).

Vexillatio Classis Britannicae - A Detachment of the British Fleet

  1. Benwell (RIB 1340 AD122-126).

Epigraphic Evidence from the Continent

The Curriculum Vitae of Marcus Maenius Agrippa
Former Prefect of the British Fleet

M MAENIO C F COR AGRIPPAE L TVSIDIO CAMPESTRI HOSPITI DIVI HADRIANI PATRI SENATORIS PRAEF COH II FL BRITTON EQVITAT ELECTO A DIVO HADRIANO ET MISSO IN EXPEDITIONEM BRITANNICAM TRIB COH I HISPANOR EQVITAT PRAEF ALAE GALLOR ET PANNONIOR CATAFRACTATAE PROC AVG PRAEF CLASSIS BRITTANNICAE PROC PROVINCIAE BRITTANNIAE EQVO PVBLICO PATRONO MVNICIPI VICANI CENSORGLACENSES CONSECVTI AB INDVLGENTIA OPTIMI MAXIMIQUE IMP ANTONINI AVG PII BENEFICIO INTERPRETATIONIS EIVS PRIVILEGIA QVIBVS IN PERPETVVM AVCTI CONFIRMATI SVNT L D D D
'For Marcus Maenius Agrippa, son of Gaius, of the Cornelian voting tribe, a gentleman of Tuscany, host on the Campus Martius of the divine Hadrian, Father of the Senate, prefect of the Second Flavian Cohort of Britons, part-mounted, chosen by the divine Hadrian and sent on the expedition to Britain, tribune of the First Cohort of Spaniards, part-mounted, prefect of the Gallic and Pannonian Wing of Heavy-Armoured Cavalry, imperial procuratorial prefect of the British Fleet, procurator of the province of Britannia, holder of the public horse,¹ patron of the municipal district of Censorglacensium,² as a consequence of the indulgence of the best and greatest of emperors, Antoninus Augustus Pius, thanks to his interpretation, .'
(ILS 2735; CIL xi.5632; Smallwood, Nerva #265; Camerinum in Umbria)
  1. i.e. a member of the ordo equester, the knights of Rome.
  2. I don't know where this is.

Testament of Saturninus, ex-Captain in the British Fleet

[...] SATVRNINVS EX [NAVARCH] CLASSIS BRITTANNICAE PHILIPPIANAE NATIONE AFER BIZACINVS ORIVNDVS MVNICIPIO SEPTIMIA LIBERA THYSDRITANVS TESTAMENTO [...]
'[...] Saturninus, ex Captain in Phillipian's British Fleet, of the African race, a descendant of Bizacinus,¹ from the provincial town of Septimia Libera.² Thysdritanus by the will [...]'
(ILS 2911; CIL xii.686; Arelate; dated: AD244-249)
  1. I don't know who this African descendant of Saturninus was.
  2. I don't know where this is either.

Testament of Titus Varius Priscus, ex prefect of the British Fleet

[T(ITO) V]ARIO T(ITI) F(ILIO) [CLA(VDIA TRIBV) CEL(EIA) PR]ISCO PROC[VRATORI P]ROVINCIARVM [...] MA]VRETAN(IAE) TINGITANAE [D]ACIAE INFERIORIS [PRA]EF(ECTO) CLASSIS BRITANNICAE [PRA]EF(ECTO) AL(AE) (PRIMAE) VLP(IAE) CONTARIOR(VM) MIL(IARIAE) [PRA]EF(ECTO) AL(AE) (PRIMAE) TAVRIANORVM TORQVAT(AE) VICTRICIS PRAEF(ECTO) AL(AE) [(PRIMAE) HISPA]NOR(VM) CAMPAGON(VM) C(IVIVM) R(OMANORVM) TRI[BVNO) LEG(IONIS) [...] PRAEF(ECTO) COH(ORTIS) (PRIMAE) LVSITANOR(VM) EQVIT(ATAE) PRAESIDI OPTIMO [DECV]RIONES ALARES COHORTALES [CE]NTVRIONES ET OFFICIALES PROVECTI AB EO
'Titus Varius Priscus, son of Titus, of the Claudian voting tribe, from Celeia,¹ procurator of the provinces of Mauretania Tingitana and Dacia Inferior, prefect of the British Fleet, prefect of the First one-thousand strong Ulpian Wing of Contarii, prefect of the First torque-bearing Wing of victorious Tauriani, prefect of the First Wing of Spanish Campagones, citizens of Rome, tribune in the [...] Legion, prefect of the First part-mounted cohort of Lusitani, the commander of the best cavalry decurions, cohort centurions and senior officials ever.'
(L'Année Épigraphique 1987.796)
  1. Or Cilia was a city in Noricum near the north-eastern border of Italy, now named Cilio in the Karawanken district of Slovenia. According to Lempriére, there are two other (smaller) towns named Celia, in Apulia Peucetia and Campania.

Testament of an Unknown Prefect of the British Fleet

[...] PRAEF CLASS BRIT ET GERMANIC ET MOESIC ET PANNONIC PROC ET PRAESIDI ALPIVM COTTIARVM SVBPRAEF CLASS PRAET MISENENS TRIB LEG XVI FL ET PRAEPOS ALAE [...]
'[...] prefect of the British, the German, the Moesian and the Pannonian fleets,¹ procurator and guardian of the Cottian Alps, subprefect of the praetorian fleet at Misenum, tribune of the Sixteenth Flavian Legion, head-man in the Wing [...]'
(CIL vi.1643)
  1. Probably not all at the same time.

Altar to Neptune by Gaius Aufidius Pantera

]NEPTVNO ARAM C AVFIDIVS PANTERA PRAEFECT CLAS BRIT [...]
'[To the god] Neptune, Gaius Aufidius Pantera, prefect of the British Fleet [dedicates] this altar [...]'
(CIL vii.18;¹ Portvs Lemanae)
  1. This inscription equates with RIB 66 from Lympne in Kent.

Testament of an Unknown Roman Praefectus Classis

]BLA[ PRAEF AEG PRAEF ANNONAE PROC PROVINCIAR LVGVDVN ET AQVITANICAE PRAEF CLASSIS PRAETOR RAVENNAT PROC[ ]T PROC MAVRET TINGITAN[ ]PRAEF CLASS BRITTAN PROC PROVINCIAR CAPPADOC ARMEN[ ]O[
'[...] prefect of the Aegean, prefect of the corn supply, procurator of the provinces of Lugdunensis and Aquitania, prefect of the Praetorian Fleet of Ravenna, procurator of [...] procurator of Mauretania Tingitana [...] prefect of the British Fleet, procurator of the provinces of Cappadocia and Armenia [...]'
(CIL xiv.5341)
See: The Roman Inscriptions of Britain by R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright (Oxford 1965);
The Romans in Britain - An Anthology of Inscriptions by A.R. Burn (Blackwell, Oxford, 1969);
Roman Britain - A Sourcebook by S. Ireland (Routlege, New York, 1986);
Gnomon Online Latin Inscriptions - An online database containing the entire I.L.S. and C.I.L. catalogues!
All English translations, including any inherent mistakes, are my own.
Togodumnus