Caratacus, was a son of Cunobelinus, who was claimed to have been the greatest king in Iron Age Britain. After the death of their father about AD 40, Caratacus and his brother Togodumnus, were the dominant leaders among the Iron Age tribes of southern Britain. Their power base, like that of their father, lay north of the Thames among the Catuvellauni and Trinovantes. (1)
Julius Caesar, the first Roman to invade Britain, described it as a country that was not worth taking as a colony. (2) Strabo agreed: "We have nothing to fear from Britain, since they are not strong enough to cross over and attack us. No advantages would arise by taking over and holding the country. If we deduct the cost of maintaining an army to garrison the island from the taxes, we will find it unprofitable." (3)
In AD 43 Emperor Claudius ordered another invasion of Britain. At that time the people of Britain were ruled by several different kings. Most of these kings decided not to oppose the invasion. Caratacus was the leader of British resistance. No other ruler or war leader is mentioned as playing any part in military operations at that time. Eventually he was forced to retreat to the mountains of north Wales. (4)
In AD 50 the Roman army attacked Caratacus' mountain fortress. After another long battle Caratacus was forced to retreat to northern Britain. However, he was captured by the Brigantes tribe who had accepted the rule of the Romans. The Brigantes handed Caratacus over to the Romans. The Romans respected Caratacus because he was a brave fighter and instead of executing him sent him to live in Rome. According to Malcolm Todd: "Caratacus is reported to have addressed the emperor, remarking that his resistance had contributed largely to the conqueror's glory. If killed now he would be quickly forgotten, but if spared would become a monument to the emperor's clemency. Caratacus and his family were granted their lives." (5)
After a struggle, Roman troops scaled the hill-top stronghold and overran the British position. The family of Caratacus was captured but he himself escaped and fled to the Brigantes of northern Britain, hoping there to continue the fight. The Brigantian queen Cartimandua, however, remained loyal to her alliance with Rome and handed Caratacus over to his enemies. He was dispatched to Rome and there appeared in a public spectacle before the emperor Claudius, in which he cut an impressive and dignified figure. He is reported to have addressed the emperor, remarking that his resistance had contributed largely to the conqueror's glory. If killed now he would be quickly forgotten, but if spared would become a monument to the emperor's clemency. Caratacus and his family were granted their lives. It was on this occasion that he is said to have expressed wonderment that the Romans who possessed such palaces should have envied the British their poor huts. It is unknown how long he survived his time in Rome and where he ended his days. The tradition recorded in Welsh legend that he lived for four years after his capture and that his children became Christians and brought the Christian faith to Britain is mere fantasy.