Aulus Plautius

Aulus Plautius was a Roman politician and general of the mid-1st century. He began the Roman conquest of Britain in 43, and became the first governor of the new province, serving from 43 to 46.

Aulus Plautius
At the Home of Aulus Plautius (from Quo Vadis)
Suffect Consul of the Roman Empire
In office
AD 29  29
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Governor of Roman Britain
In office
AD 43  47
Preceded byNew title
Succeeded byPublius Ostorius Scapula
Personal details
OccupationAncient Roman politician and general
Known forBeginning 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.[1] However, the "A·PLAVTIO" of the inscription is now associated with Aulus' father of the same name, Aulus Plautius.[2] 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.[3]

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.[4] 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.[5]


Aulus Plautius was the son of Aulus Plautius suffect consul in 1 BC and possibly Vitellia. [6]

Quintus Plautius, consul in 36, was his younger brother.[7]

His sister Plautia has been identified as the wife of Publius Petronius, consul in 19; [8] the marriage is attested in an inscription. [9]. The daughter of Plautia and Publius Petronius, named Petronia, married Lucius Vittelius, who during the 'Year of Four Emperors' 69 AD was briefly emperor. They had divorced prior to the year 69 AD: Tacitus states that Lucius Vitellius 'feared and hated' a man by the name of Dolabella, as he had married his divorced wife Petronia. He consequently had Dolabella put to death by the side of the road. [10].

Aulus Plautius married Pomponia Graecina, whom Anthony Birley has identified as the daughter of Gaius Pomponius Graecinus, suffect consul in 16.[11] 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. [12] 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.[13] There are no attested children of this marriage; though it has been suggested that a later Aulus Plautius, alleged to be the lover of Agrippina the younger, who was consequently raped and murdered by Agrippina's son Nero, may have been their son.[14] However, some modern historians, such as Birley, have suggested that, despite the shared name, this Aulus Plautius is the son of Aulus Plautius' brother, Quintus Plautius[15]

Aulus Plautius was the uncle whose "distinguished service" saved his nephew Plautius Lateranus, (another son of Quintus Plautius) [16] from execution in AD 48 after his affair with Messalina was discovered; though Lateranus was removed from his senatorial position and exiled instead. [17]. Lateranus was later executed for his involvement in the Pisonian conspiracy against Nero in AD 65; from which it is concluded that his Uncle Aulus Plautius was by that time deceased.[18]

Portrayals in fiction

Plautius is a character in Henryk Sienkiewicz's novel Quo Vadis. Plautius is also a character in Simon Scarrow's novel The Eagle's Conquest.

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 a fantasy version of the Roman conquest.



  1. Celer's inscription reads:
    "legate despatched by Tiberius Caesar Augustus with Aulus Plautius in Apulia to turn back the slaves" (Birley p. 38)
  2. Birley, Roman Government, p. 21
  3. Dio Cassius, Roman History 60:19–22; Suetonius, Lives of the Twelve Caesars: Vespasian 4; Eutropius, Abridgement of Roman History 7:13
  4. Tacitus, Agricola 14
  5. Dio Cassius, Roman History 60:30.2; Suetonius, Lives of the Twelve Caesars: Claudius 24
  6. Lily Ross Taylor, Trebula Suffenas and The Plautii Silvani, in Memoirs of the American Academy at Rome Vol. 24, 1956, pg 24
  7. Lily Ross Taylor, Trebula Suffenas and The Plautii Silvani, in Memoirs of the American Academy at Rome Vol. 24, 1956, pg 24
  8. Ronald Syme, Tacitus, 1957, Oxford: Clarendon Press, p. 386
  9. CIL|6|6866. Syme notes that she does not appear in either the Pauly-Wissowa or Prosopographia Imperii Romani
  10. Tacitus, The Histories, Bk 2, ch 63.
  11. Birley, Fasti of Roman Britain, p. 37
  12. Tacitus, The Annals of Imperial Rome, Bk 13, ch 30
  13. Tacitus, The Annals of Imperial Rome, Bk 13, ch 30.
  14. Suetonius, Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Nero, ch 35.
  15. Birley, Fasti of Roman Britain, p. 40
  16. Lily Ross Taylor, Trebula Suffenas and the Plautii Silvani, 1956. pg 24
  17. Tacitus, Annals Bk 11, ch 27
  18. Tacitus, Annals Bk 15, ch 60

Secondary sources

  • 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, p 37–40
  • Anthony R Birley (2005), The Roman Government of Britain, p 17–25
  • Paul L. Maier (1981), The Flames of Rome
Political offices
Preceded by
Gaius Fufius Geminus, and
Lucius Rubellius Geminus
Suffect Consul of the Roman Empire
with Lucius Nonius Asprenas
Succeeded by
Marcus Vinicius, and
Lucius Cassius Longinus
New title Roman governors of Britain
Succeeded by
Publius Ostorius Scapula
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