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Carausius is most famous in Romano-British history as the rebel turned usurper who successfully managed to maintain a 'British Empire' for six years in the face of Roman authority. Admittedly, he was an opportunist who took advantage of the dire military situation of the Roman Empire and central government at the end of the third century. However, he proved to be a competent leader who managed to disobey centralised authority and, worryingly for the legitimate emperors, did so with bare-faced arrogance and style.
Carausius, whose full name was Marcus Aurelius Mausaeus Carausius, was of the Menapii tribe who were from Belgica (modern Belgium and the Netherlands). As a young man, Carausius joined the Roman navy and rose to the rank of a helmsman. He also served in the auxiliary infantry, fighting runaway slaves and rebels (the Bagaudae) under the Emperor Maximian in Gaul. Due to his naval experience, Carausius was commissioned by the emperor to build a fleet and clear the seas of Saxon and Frankish pirates in the autumn of AD286. The new fleet was called the classis Britannia (British Fleet) and it was based at Boulogne (Gesoriacum). Although he carried out his commission successfully, Carausius did not turn over to the imperial treasury all of the loot which he recovered from the pirates. Due to these irregularities, a warrant was issued for his arrest and execution. Carausius decided to escape the emperor's wrath and he fled to Britain with his fleet and declared himself emperor. Carausius now controlled the province of Britain and parts of northern Gaul.
Imperium Britanniorum (British Empire)
The legitimate emperor Maximian was furious but his hands were tied. He had committed his forces to a war against the Germans in AD287 so Maximian could not begin to consider reprisals against Carausius until the spring of AD288. He began to build a fleet which he would be able to use against the rebel. While he and his imperial colleague Diocletian invaded Germany, Maximian's praetorian prefect Constantius Chlorus fought the Franks who had allied themselves with Carausius. Constantius succeeded in forcing the Germans to submit to the emperor. Although Maximians's fleet was ready in AD289 to sail against Carausius, it was destroyed by a storm before it could set sail. Maximian then attempted to push Carausius out of northern Gaul in AD290 but his attempts failed. The tide turned in AD293 when Constantius Chlorus was appointed Maximian's deputy. His main mission was to break the back of Carausius' rebellion and recover the rebel province. He did this by besieging the city of Gesoriacum and by closing its harbour. Although the city surrendered, the victory must have seemed hollow because Carausius was murdered by his chief minister, Allectus, amidst the confusion and panic. Managing to escape from the besieged city, Allectus fled and sailed to Britain; Constantius, lacking a fleet of his own, was unable to follow him.
The End of the Breakaway Province
By AD296 Constantius had built two large fleets, one under his own command at Gesoriacum and the other under his praetorian prefect, Asclepiodotus, at Rouen. The two fleets set sail for the British coast and under cover of a thick fog, Aslcepiodotus managed to avoid the British Fleet and landed near Southampton. On hearing the news of the invasion, Allectus gathered his army and hurried westwards but he was defeated and killed. The scattered remains of his army fled back to London but were prevented from sacking it by the arrival there of Constantius. This event was celebrated by a large gold medallion showing Constantius entering the gates of London and the legend REDDITOR LVCIS AETERNAE (Restoration of Eternal Light).
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