It’s probable that there was a Brigantes settlement at the junction of the Irwell and Irk when the Romans arrived, and it’s likely that the name of the place was a forerunner of the later Welsh name Maen Ceinion. Meaning something like Beautiful Rock but the Romans record dozens of different spellings for their own name of the fortress they built on the Medlock/Irwell – the most common ones being Mamucio and Mamucium.
Although the Roman fort in Manchester was founded in 79 AD, Roman involvement in the area goes back much further in the annals.
The Romans had first landed in Britain over a century before in in both 55 and 54 BC when Julius Caesar had invaded Britain with the aim of conquest but revolt in Gaul had drawn him away.
Then in 43 AD, with a new emperor Claudius on the throne, 40,000 professional soldiers – half citizen – legionaries, half auxiliaries were recruited on the wilder fringes of the empire – were landed in Britain under the command of Aulus Plautius.
For a time they remained in the south of the country, happy to let the northern tribes continue to rule unhindered using the Briganti tribe as a buffer state.
There are only two mentions of the North West in those early Roman annals.
Tacticus though mentions two previous occasions – firstly in 48 AD when Ostorius Scapula the 2nd governor of the Roman province launched a campaign against the Deceangli who were based in modern Flintshire. It is speculated that his troops probably got as far as the Dee estuary when the Brigante legions and the prospect of unsettling a shaky alliance sent him back.
Twelve years later Suetonius Paulinus initiated the same strategy attacking the island of Anglesey though his successes were somewhat negated by the Boudican revolt in the south.
The collapse of the Buffer zone in the AD 60’s would bring about the permanent occupation of the North West.
Mystery surrounds this tribe that inhabited much of Northern England, they were probably a federation of smaller states, once independent but at some time uniting under a single tribal banner.
The word Briga or Brica was used by the ancient inhabitants of Gaul and Germany simply to signify a town or settlement. Although this could be the root of the tribal name, the Briga – prefix in this instance probably refers to the Celtic goddess Brigit. This deity is often associated with the Roman Minerva, Greek Athene, and probably the Irish Morrigan, all fertility – curative-knowledge deities. She was perhaps also known by the name Brigantia.
The Romans had first become aware of the tribe soon after 43 AD when the Roman legions reached the Fosse Way under the command of Plautius and much of what we know about them comes from Ptolemy’s Geographia Book II, Chapter 2 which gave the ancient names of a number of rivers and other geographical features within the territories of the Brigantes tribe.
The vast earthworks still visible at Stanwick on the North Yorkshire Moors was a moot of the tribe, and it was here most probably where the widely-separated branches of the Brigantian federation would meet once a year to exchange goods and livestock, to bandy tall tales and to arrange marriages between their children.
Cartimandua is one of only two British women to be mentioned in the ancient sources, the other being Boudicca and whilst the latter has become a legendary role model for Britain, because of her leadership of the rebellion against the Roman occupation in the South, her northern equivalent has been shunned by history perhaps because unlike Boudicca she welcomed the “good life” offered by the Roman regime.
Married to Venutius, who was for all intents and purposes, no more than a prince consort, he would establish formal alliances with the Romans who recognised that it was her who was the power behind the throne.
In 51 AD, she was to capture Caratacus son of Cunobelinus, the leader of Celtic resistance to the Romans in the south and promptly turned him over to the Romans.
However the event that brought the legions to the sandstone bluff lay in a love betrayed as she, as written by Tacticus, “grew to despise her husband Venutius and took as her consort his squire Vellocatus, whom she admitted to share the throne with her.”
The act was to lead to civil war as the historian continues:
“Her house was at once shaken by this scandalous act. Her husband was favoured by the sentiments of all the citizens; the adulterer was supported by the Queen’s passion for him and by her savage spirit. So Venutius, calling in aid from outside and at the same time assisted by a revolt of the Brigantes themselves, put Cartimandua in an extremely dangerous position.”
This dangerous position was to see her flee to the Romans and vanish from the annals of time, but the civil war would give the Romans the excuse to invade her former territories.