At the Home of Aulus Plautius (from Quo Vadis)
|Suffect Consul of the Roman Empire|
AD 29 – 29
Serving with Lucius Nonius Asprenas
|Governor of Roman Britain|
AD 43 – 47
|Preceded by||New title|
|Succeeded by||Publius Ostorius Scapula|
|Occupation||Ancient Roman politician and general|
|Known for||Beginning the Roman conquest of Britain|
Little is known of Aulus Plautius's early career. It was previously believed that he was involved in the suppression of a slave revolt in Apulia, probably in AD 24, alongside Marcus Aelius Celer. However, the "A·PLAVTIO" of the inscription is now associated with Aulus' father of the same name, Aulus Plautius. The younger Plautius was suffect consul for the second half of 29, and held a provincial governorship, probably of Pannonia, in the early years of Claudius's reign; another inscription shows he oversaw the building of a road between Trieste and Rijeka at that time.
Claudius appointed Plautius to lead his invasion of Britannia in 43, in support of Verica, king of the Atrebates and an ally of Rome, who had been deposed by his eastern neighbours, the Catuvellauni. The army was composed of four legions: IX Hispana, then in Pannonia; II Augusta; XIV Gemina; and XX Valeria Victrix, plus about 20,000 auxiliary troops, including Thracians and Batavians. Legio II Augusta was commanded by the future emperor Vespasian. Three other men of appropriate rank to command legions are known to have been involved in the invasion: Vespasian's brother, Titus Flavius Sabinus, and Gnaeus Hosidius Geta appear in Dio Cassius's account of the invasion; Gnaeus Sentius Saturninus is mentioned by Eutropius, although as a former consul he may have been too senior, and perhaps accompanied Claudius later.
On the beaches of northern Gaul Plautius faced a mutiny by his troops, who were reluctant to cross the Ocean and fight beyond the limits of the known world. They were persuaded after Claudius's freedman and secretary Narcissus addressed them. Seeing a former slave in place of their commander, they cried "Io Saturnalia!" (Saturnalia being a Roman festival in which social roles were reversed for the day) and the mutiny was over.
The invasion force sailed in three divisions, and is generally believed to have landed at Richborough in Kent, although parts may have landed elsewhere (see Site of the Claudian invasion of Britain). The Britons, led by Togodumnus and Caratacus of the Catuvellauni, were reluctant to fight a pitched battle, relying instead on guerrilla tactics. However, Plautius defeated first Caratacus, then Togodumnus, on the rivers Medway and Thames. Togodumnus died shortly afterwards, although Caratacus survived and continued to be a thorn in the invaders' side.
Having reached the Thames, Plautius halted and sent for Claudius, who arrived with elephants and heavy artillery and completed the march on the Catuvellaunian capital, Camulodunum (Colchester). A Roman province was established in the conquered territory, and alliances made with nations outside direct Roman control. Plautius became governor of the new province, until 47 when he was replaced by Publius Ostorius Scapula. On his return to Rome and civil life, Plautius was granted an ovation, during which the emperor himself walked by his side to and from the Capitol.
Plautius was the son of Aulus Plautius and Vitellia. Quintus Plautius, consul in 36, was probably his younger brother. His sister has been identified as the wife of Publius Petronius, consul in 19; their daughter would marry a son of Lucius Vittelius. Plautius married Pomponia Graecina, whom Anthony Birley has identified as the daughter of Gaius Pomponius Graecinus, suffect consul in 16. After the execution of her kinswoman Julia Drusi Caesaris by Claudius and Messalina, Pomponia remained in mourning for forty years in open, and unpunished, defiance of the emperor. In 57 she was charged with a "foreign superstition", interpreted by some to mean conversion to Christianity. According to Roman law, she was tried by her husband before her kinsmen, and was acquitted.
Plautius was probably the uncle whose "distinguished service" saved Plautius Lateranus from the death penalty in 48 after his affair with Messalina. By the time Lateranus was eventually executed, in 65 for his part in a conspiracy against Nero, his uncle was probably dead and could no longer help him.
His son may be the man with the same name, Aulus Plautius (fl. 1st century), alleged to be the lover of Agrippina the younger, who was murdered by Agrippina's son Nero. However, Birley notes that despite the shared praenomen this Aulus Plautius "is generally thought to have belonged to the other branch of the family, and not to be the son of our man."
Portrayals in fiction
In the 1951 film Quo Vadis, based on the novel, Plautius (played by Felix Aylmer) and his wife Pomponia are (unhistorically) Christians. He is played by David Morrissey in the 2018 TV series Britannia, which portrays the Roman conquest.
- Celer's inscription reads:
"legate despatched by Tiberius Caesar Augustus with Aulus Plautius in Apulia to turn back the slaves" (Birley p. 38)
- Birley, Roman Government, p. 21
- Dio Cassius, Roman History 60:19–22; Suetonius, Lives of the Twelve Caesars: Vespasian 4; Eutropius, Abridgement of Roman History 7:13
- Tacitus, Agricola 14
- Dio Cassius, Roman History 60:30.2; Suetonius, Lives of the Twelve Caesars: Claudius 24
- Birley, Fasti of Roman Britain, pp. 37f
- Ronald Syme, Tacitus (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1957), p. 386 n. 5. Syme admits that this woman, attested in CIL VI, 6866, does not appear in either the Pauly-Wissowa or Prosopographia Imperii Romani.
- Tacitus, Annals 13.32
- Tacitus, Annals 11:36, 15:60
- Suetonius, Lives of the Twelve Caesars: Nero 35
- Birley, Fasti of Roman Britain, p. 40
- William Smith (ed) (1870), Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology Vol 4 p. 405
- George Patrick Welch (1963), Britannia: the Roman Conquest and Occupation of Britain
- Anthony R Birley (1981), The Fasti of Roman Britain, pp. 37–40
- Anthony R Birley (2005), The Roman Government of Britain, pp. 17–25
- Paul L. Maier (1981), "The Flames of Rome"
Gaius Fufius Geminus, and
Lucius Rubellius Geminus
| Suffect Consul of the Roman Empire
with Lucius Nonius Asprenas
Marcus Vinicius, and
Lucius Cassius Longinus
|New title|| Roman governors of Britain
Publius Ostorius Scapula