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Publius Ostorius Scapula

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Governor of Britannia from AD47 to 52

"Meanwhile, in Britain,
Publius Ostorius, the propraetor,
found himself confronted by disturbance. ..."

Tacitus Annals XII.xxxi.1

The quote above is the first line of a large section of Tacitus' Annals of Rome, which describes Scapula's campaigns in fascinating detail. There is also a short passage regarding his governorship in Tacitus' Agricola (chapter 14, verse 1).

An Abbreviated Breakdown of his Governorship

Repulsed an attack by Caratacus into Gloucestershire, and moved the Twentieth into a new fortress at Gloucester, leaving behind a colony of veterans as a reserve force in Colchester. Halted northern advance of the Ninth, possibly establishing them in two vexillation fortresses at Newton on Trent and Longthorpe. The Fourteenth was divided into two divisions and pushed west into Shropshire, the northern division building forts and camps at Wall, Water Eaton, and other sites along Watling Street, and the second vexillatio marched via Metchley and Greensforge to build a fortress at Leighton below the Wrekin hillfort, whereby the Cornovii were quickly brought to terms. Probed into Deceangli territory, but withdrew due to political pressure from queen Cartimandua of the Brigantes: this prevented him sealing off contact between Wales and Cheshire and was later to provide Caratacus with a northern escape route. Meanwhile, the Twentieth campaigned in south Wales against the Silures and held the Usk valley and Abergavenny. Established a fort at Wroxeter, from which he pushed west. Caratacus, his army defeated in battle somewhere in the territories of the Ordovices in mid-Wales, fled to the Brigantes where he was captured and handed over to Scapula by Cartimandua in AD50. Following this, Scapula established a frontier zone along the Welsh border from Whitchurch to Usk via Leintwardine, but his army began to suffer serious losses in the field whilst fighting a guerilla war against the Silures, and he died from illness intensified by exhaustion during the winter of AD51/52.

Two inscriptions recovered from the continent (CIL VI 23601 and CIL VI 9337; not shown) mention this propraetor's name, both in connection with freedmen of his, but niether sheds any light on his public career.

Click here for a breakdown of the military campaigns of Publius Ostorius Scapula

His Family Connections

Quintus Ostorius Scapula - Father

His father Quintus Ostorius Scapula was appointed joint praetorian prefect with Publius Salvius Afer by Augustus in 2BC. Quintus was evidently suffect consul, the colleague of Publius (or Gaius) Suillius Rufus, sometime after the death of Augustus (see AE 1980.907; not shown), and a legislative act of theirs dated four days before the ides of November (AE 1995.301b; also not shown) indicates that theirs were likely the last consulships of that particular year.

Marcus Ostorius Scapula - Son

We also know of the brave exploits of his son Marcus, who evidently accompanied Ostorius during his governorship of Britain. The Annals of Tacitus, in recording the supression of the AD47 uprising of the Iceni says:

"... In this battle, Marcus Ostorius, the general's son, won the reward for saving a citizen's life." (Tacitus Annals XII.xxxi)

Marcus Ostorius was evidently a favourite of the emperor Nero, who bestowed a third suffect consulship on him in september AD58 (see ILS 230; CIL VI 2042; Rome; AD58/59; not shown), but was later to get up the Nero's nose and was exiled from Rome (Tacitus Annals XIV.xlviii; AD62), then forced into suicide (ibid XVI.xiv et. seq.; AD66), reputedly for having designs on the imperial seat:

"... [Marcus] Ostorius, the owner of a considerable military reputation and a civic crown earned in Britain, had, by his great bodily powers and skill in arms, inspired Nero with a fear that he might possibly attack his sovereign, ..." (Tacitus Annals XVI.xv)

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