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Victoria County History of Kent Vol. 3  1932 - Romano-British Kent - Military History - Page 41

out of Germany and were beginning to harry the Kentish coast. Naval counter-measures were taken, and there was a general liveliness in the Channel. The great seamark and (we may think) signal-station on Richborough hill, now more than ever necessary, was hastily secured with an earthwork and a triple ditch. Then the shrewd stroke of an enterprising admiral of the Channel Fleet changed the problem. Carausius beat back the pirates and at the same time battened upon the proceeds of their piracy. Finally, he aimed at empire itself, and for seven years compelled Rome to tolerate him as the petty lord of this corner of the Roman world. But his success had shown both the strength and the danger of the Channel Fleet. It is probably significant that with the Carausius-episode this fleet vanished from our records. After the recovery of Britain by the regular government in 296, the first line of defence against the Saxons was no longer the single powerful unit which had given Carausius his empire. The motto ‘divide and rule’ had more than once triumphed in Roman policy, and now again came to the rescue. A flotilla of some sort must indeed have been retained; but the main defence was now divided amongst a number of strong coastal castles, of which that of Richborough is, by excavation, the best known to us. It may ultimately be found that this new system owed its inception to the initiative of the vigorous usurper himself; that it was, in fact, intended as a means of preventing the violation of his little empire by the powers of Rome no less than by the pirates of Germany. Be that as it may, the old and timid reluctance of the Roman or Romanized mind to accept concentration and mobility as a permanent element in defence had now once more asserted itself.62  The fleet retired into the background; the old seamark on Richborough hill was swept away; and in the place of the roving fleet and its seamark rose the rigid, passive curtain-wall of the great castle. The arteries were hardening in the ageing body-politic of Rome.
   And so Rutupiae did its work in the storms of the fourth century. Of its fate in the fifth century we as yet know little. The abundance of late coinage, if it be not due to a limited period of very exceptional congestion, suggests that Richborough may, like Verulam, have sheltered a Romanized population well on into that dark century. Later, perhaps, the Saxons also for a while inhabited it; they certainly buried their dead occasionally within the shadow of its walls, and eventually established a small church there. But the town itself never revived. Its doom was sealed ultimately, perhaps less by Saxon pillage than by the gradual blocking of its harbour. The tidal estuary around it became dry land and could be drained and cultivated. Only the great circuit of its walls remained, erect though ruined, still looking out over sea and land from the lonely hill amid the marsh. In the twelfth century those ruins had power to inspire legends. To-day they excite the duller studies of the historian, and arrest for an instant the fleeting curiosity even of the present age.63
   62  The hint in the Notitia of a mobile field-force under the command of the Comes Britanniae is too ‘nebulous to provide a real exception. There is certainly no clear trace of the operation of such a force in fourth-century Britain.
63  The stories that Arviragus defeated Vespasian at Rutupiae, and that Arthur fought with Modred there, ‘are inventions of Geoffrey of Monmouth (iv, 16; xi, i). He had heard of the ruins of Richborough, as he had heard of Silchester and Porchester, and so he introduced them into his tale. The Latin name, Rutubi, he may have learnt from Bede.

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