Today’s #Welcome Wednesday slot is a little different. I’m welcoming a fairly shady character, not shady as in his traits are legally questionable (none that I know of, anyway), but it’s more that the historical character Sallustius Lucullus is a virtual unknown who was doing what I think was an unenviable job.
As an author of contemporary mysteries, I really love getting stuck into ‘what if’ scenarios and I love creating the situations to work around my mystery plots. The choice of first to third centuries northern Roman Britain, as my particular historical focus, throws up more mysteries and questions than I can find answers for—which is why it’s a fabulous time to write about. I crave archaeological evidence and interpretation to make sense of the thin-on-the-ground details that have been written about the period in northern
Sallustius Lucullus hovers in the background in my manuscript for Book 4 of my Celtic Fervour Series and plays a small role as Governor of Britannia from the beginning of AD 85. His tenure as Governor of Britannia isn’t actually known, but he plays his part in my novel till his 'execution' in AD 89.
Lucullus is a mystery character, except from a reference to his death written by the historian Suetonius, but here’s a little historical background to what came before him…
Autumn AD 84 northern Britannia. (date approximate)
Gnaeus Julius Agricola—in command of the legions of Rome who were stationed in Britannia and also as the Governor of Britannia—marched his legions to northeast ‘Scotland’ where a large battle was fought against the barbarian Caledons. This ‘Battle of Mons Graupius’ was said to have taken place at an unnamed location—though if you’ve read After Whorl: Donning Double Cloaks, Book 3 of my Celtic Fervour novels, you’ll know I favour the Aberdeenshire range of hills named Bennachie as the prime contender for the battle site. According to the only source for this, written by Cornelius Tacitus, the Roman death count was 360 and those of the Caledonians 10,000.
Soon after this fantastic victory, if the battle actually did happen, Agricola was recalled to
If the battle details were accurate, Agricola would indeed have merited the honours
given to him on his return to Rome
in late AD 84, or early AD 85. Though not a ‘triumphal entry into Rome’, since
it’s written that he entered Rome under cover of darkness, Agricola was awarded
triumphal decorations and a statue which were still regarded as
notably high honours, whether or not they were grudgingly given by the Emperor Domitian. (Tacitus’ opinion indicates that Emperor Domitian was
jealous of Agricola’s achievements in Caledonia and he believes Domitian
recalled Tacitus to Rome
so that Agricola would no longer be a successful military rival in the
troublesome spots of the Empire.)
|Wikimedia commons - Domitian|
Whatever Domitian’s reasons, having recalled Agricola to
Rome, he had to appoint a
successor as Governor of Britannia. Agricola had served an unusually long term
of office having served some 6 years instead of the more normal 4 years as Governor,
and also as Commander of the legions, in Britannia.
The Governor of Britannia (even with no direct military command) was a prestigious position.
Between AD 43 and Agricola in AD 78-84, the Governors of Britannia were all men who had served in some high capacities for the Roman Empire, either in the stricter military sense or as non-military officials in senior organisational employment. They had experience and varied skills and the post of Governor was a highly sought after job. From the limited texts available for the era, there were some names in
who may well have been hoping to be the next appointment for Britannia but that
doesn’t seem to be what happened. The most likely, and, as yet, only known
successor to Agricola is the enigmatic Sallustius
Lucullus—a man with, as far as I can tell, no known background in Rome. That in itself is very unusual, I
think. The circumstances of Sallustius Lucullus' death in AD 89 pr 90 are also highly interesting if the rumour put about by Suetonius (?) was true that Emperor Domitian had Lucullus put to death because he had dared to name a new type of lance after himself.
At the same time as Agricola was recalled to Rome, a good quota of the legionary troops of Britannia was also redeployed in mainland Europe, sent to quell the unrest that was closer to Rome. So Agricola’s successor as governor had the job of maintaining peace in northeast
but he also had fewer troops at his disposal to do this. The remaining legions
in Britannia had to spread a lot more thinly to ensure that southern Britain
really was ‘Romanizing’ in a peaceable and successful manner, many recent civic
reforms in the south having been started by Agricola. Maintaining control was especially
true in the territory of the Ordovices and Daecangli ( Wales) since they had recently been subdued to
the point of almost annihilation by Agricola around AD 79, and it had taken
considerable pressure from Agricola, and his predecessors Cerialis and
Frontinus, during the years AD 71-80 to control the Brigantes of northern ‘ England’. A reasonable degree of manpower was needed to maintain stability.
Recent archaeological evidence is pointing towards some (small forces) occupation of the north-east of Scotland for a few years after Agricola's northern campaign of AD 83/84, perhaps till around AD 90. It seems that if Agricola was immediately succeeded by Sallustius Lucullus, then Lucullus continued a small Roman presence as far north as the Moray Firth. The huge garrison fortress at Inchtuthil (Tayside) was intended, it's thought, to be a supplies base for any troops going further north and this appears to have been garrisoned till about AD 86/AD 87 after which a strategic withdrawal was made. If Lucullus was in post at this time, the gradual withdraw of the Roman presence from the north may have been because he decided the territory wasn't worth expending any more effort on.
Though, in my Celtic Fervour Series book 4 manuscript, I have a few different ideas...
And there is also the question of which governor built and maintained the Gask Ridge forts in Perthshire...but that's a topic for another day.
However, Lucullus seems to have managed to continue to have some reduced Roman presence in the central belt and southern areas of Scotland, possibly by the Tungrian and Batavian auxiliaries who were said to have been the pivot for success at the Battle of Mons Graupius. (Later Vindolanda tablet evidence indicates the area was garrisoned by Tungri and Batavian troops.)
Therefore when Lucullus (or another governor) withdrew all troops from the Aberdeenshire areas, perhaps the hope was that the Caledonians and 'Taexali' tribes ( name from Ptolemy's map approx AD 150) wouldn't cause any trouble if left to their own devices.
I think that the battle-crushed Caledonians of the north were left a lot less guarded than Agricola would have intended when he first set out to conquer the whole of the
But back to Sallustius Lucullus. The supposition that Domitian chose a man who had some ‘native’ blood/ background as successor to Agricola as Governor of Britannia, is highly interesting and makes me wonder (and no doubt many before me) if Domitian had long since decided to focus Roman effort only on Romanising already firmly-held territory and that he had largely decided to abandon northern Britannia anyway. If Lucullus did have some blood connection to former Celtic nobility of southern Britain, then his attention would perhaps have been to deal with those territories he knew he'd be successful with and to give up on the 'barbarians' of the north who didn't even have large tribal centres (oppida/ cities) where he could impose Roman civic life, as was the case in southern Britannia. There is, so far as I know, no evidence of any really large Celtic forts in northern Scotland which would have been suitable centres of habitation to be Romanised as easily those in southern Britain.
By putting in a Governor of unknown background and ability, Emperor Domitian may have been more than testing Agricola’s successor. Perhaps the emperor believed that the smaller forces would be sufficient to control those who remained alive in the north. Or it may be that all that Domitian was prepared to agree to was to have the remaining troops in the north of
Caledonia march their way as far north as they could, if
not challenged too much by any remaining natives. Perhaps Domitian didn’t think
that there was anything worth continuing to fight for in those northern areas
and left any decisions to Lucullus.
Again, whatever Domitian's reasoning, I suspect that the enigmatic Sallustius Lucullus wasn't in Domitian's favour in AD 89 (ish), when it seems Lucullus met a pretty nasty end under orders from Domitian.