Who was Petilius Cerialis?

Nancy Jardine

Hosting a guest blog today by Nancy Jardine who writes of some of the research she did for her new novel, The Beltane Choice.

Who was Petilius Cerialis? Why was he important during the Roman conquest of the island the Romans named Britannia? What legacy did he leave in Britannia?

Petilius Cerialis is documented in at least three of the major annals of the Roman historian, Cornelius Tacitus. The history of Celtic Britain is scant as the Celtic peoples believed in the oral tradition. They were unlike the Romans in that they did not leave us written legacies to study. That lack of evidence means studying the era of the 1st century B.C. through to c.  A.D. 450 relies heavily on the records of Roman generals who served in Britannia and the few other Romans who wrote their own histories of the times-Tacitus being one of them, Cassius Dio another. How accurate their records are, biased or not, is conjectural since commanders in the field would most likely have wanted to show up in good light to their superiors when the documentation arrived at high command, and historians like Tacitus wrote their records not from personal memories but from the narrated accounts of other people.

Quintus Petilius Cerialis Cesius Rufus was the Governor of Britannia from A.D.71 to A.D.73/4. At that time Petillius Cerialis was probably around the age of 40, this approximation being based on the fact that to become a praetor one had to be a minimum age of thirty, and a commander of a legion was generally a praetor first.

Before that time, Petilius Cerialisbecame legate (commander) of the Ninth Legion Hispania (Legio 1X Hispania) in A.D.60, under Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, Governor of Britannia from c. A.D. 58 to 61. This was a time of great instability in the region. Thesuccessful revolt of the Iceni-a Celtic tribe of the south east of England-when they sacked Londinium (London) meant Petilius Cerialis had to retreat with his forces to a place further north, now named Peterborough. (Tacitus Annales xiv.32.6). It is assumed that he did not achieve a consulship (cursus honorum), the usual next stage of advancement, since he was being held accountable for the initial success of Queen Boudicca when she led that successful revolt on Londinium. The fact that Queen Bouddica was afterwards publicly humiliated, along with her young daughters, and disappeared presumed a suicide did not matter. The reputation of Petilius Cerialis was perhaps tainted.

Yet Tacitus also makes note that Petilius Cerialis had more success when he served in A.D. 69, in Germany, as the legate of the Fourteenth Legion  (Legio XIV Gemina). Petilius Cerialis was noted as having managed to successfully overcome a revolt of the Batavian peoples. This was during the time of the five emperors- a very unstable time for the Roman Empire when one leader succeeded another as their factions removed the competition, forcibly and purposefully, after the suicide of the Emperor Nero. The role of Petilius Cerialis during this time of upheaval is uncertain, perhaps even suspect in favour of Vespasian, but what is documented is that the fifth emperor of the time, Vespasian, conferred a consulship on Petilius Cerialis in A.D. 70.  Cerialis’s success merited him being sent back to Britannia to suppress the insurgence of Venutius, the former husband of Queen Cartimandua, a Queen of the Brigantes federation of tribes.

Petilius Cerialis is documented as …“having at once struck terror into their hearts by invading the commonwealth of the Brigantes, which is said to be the most numerous tribe of the whole province: many battles were fought, sometimes bloody battles, and by permanent conquest or by forays he annexed a large portion of the Brigantes.” (Tacitus)

Petilius Cerialis is noted as being the Governor of Britannia till around A.D. 74 when he quit Britannia. He, also, had acquired a second consulship around that time, not generally the norm. During the years between A.D. 70/74 he had led some successful campaigns in the north of England, suppressing many Brigantes and other Celtic tribes but he had also signed a number of treaties with unvanquished Brigantes. That negotiation ran along the lines of …if the Celts did not put up any revolts then Cerialis would not make any new surges north.

yorkPetilius Cerialis mainly settled, during these years, at his garrison in Eburacum, also written as Eboracum, (York). This settlement, and subsequently a fine city, became a great legacy to the people of Britain. York to this day has many fine Roman visitor sites which excite the imagination, and is a fabulous city to visit. Yet, Cerialis also made other encampments in the north of England that, in some way, have also survived to the present day. They are also worth a visit.york

In the duration of the governorship of Petilius Cerialis another very famous, and important, Roman served in Britannia. Gnaeus Julius Agricola was a commander of the forces in Britain. After the exit of Petilius Cerialis, Agricola took up Governorship of Britain in A.D.77. Agricola broke the existing treaties that had been made with the Brigantes and made surges northwards, all the way into the north east of Scotland.

It was the reading of the treaties formed between Petilius Cerialis and the Brigantes, and the later breaking of the treaties by Agricola that made me want to include them as pat of my plot for my novel, The Beltane Choice.

Research from:

Tacitus: The Agricola (chapter VIII, verse ii and chapter XVII, verses i-ii), The Annals (book XIV, chapter xxxii) and The Histories (book III, chapter lix and book IV, chapter lxxix).

The works of Dio Cassius



The Beltane Choice by Nancy Jardine:The Beltane Choice

Can the Celtic Tribes repel the Roman army? AD 71

Banished from the nemeton, becoming a priestess is no longer the future for Nara, a princess of the Selgovae tribe. Now charged with choosing a suitable mate before Beltane, her plan is thwarted by Lorcan, an enemy Brigante prince, who captures her and takes her to his hill fort. Despite their tribes fighting each other, Nara feels drawn to her captor, but time runs out for her secret quest.

As armies of the Roman Empire march relentlessly northwards, Lorcan intends to use Nara as a marriage bargain, knowing all Celtic tribes must unite to be strong enough to repel imminent Roman attack. Nara’s father, Callan, agrees to a marriage alliance between Selgovae and Brigante, but has impossible stipulations. Lorcan is torn between loyalty to his tribe and growing love for Nara.

When danger and death arrive in the form of the mighty Roman forces, will Nara be able to choose her Beltane lover?

Nancy’s Bio:

A former Primary teacher, Nancy Jardine lives in the picturesque castle country of Aberdeenshire, Scotland, with her husband who feeds her well or she’d starve! Ancestry research is one of her hobbies, as is participating in exciting events with her family which drag her away from the keyboard

You can fine Nancy online at: http://nancyjardine.blogspot.com



Twitter @nansjar

Find Nancy’s books:

The Beltane Choice also available on Amazon here and here  

Other books by Nancy Jardine:

Monogamy Twist – a history mystery contemporary romance

Take Me Now- a contemporary fun read:  also on   amazon.com:


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  1. Great post, Nancy. Whilst I regard Tacitus as a “historian,” I consider Cassius Dio as a practitioner of our own art (and rather a good one). The speech that he puts into the mouth of Boudicca must surely be fictional, but it is every bit as good as the speeches Shakespeare put into the mouths of Mark Antony and Henry V. Incidentally, I think that Elizabeth I, who was fluent in Greek, drew heavily on this in her own Tilbury speech.

  2. I agree about Cassio Dio, which is why I have an even bigger pinch of salt ready regarding his ‘facts’.

  3. Interesting article — thanks for posting.

    1. Thank you, Narukami. It’s not the easiest period in history to get information for, but it is an interesting one.

  4. Quite curious and interesting. I am now writing you from a place called Ceriale along the ancient Julia Augusta roman road…
    … and one of the origins of the name of the town is just due to Petilius Cerialis who lived here …

    1. That is really neat. Thanks for dropping by.

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