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Some catch! The local who wed an emperor's daughter

By Dover Express  |  Posted: August 30, 2012

CHURCH:  Dover Castle is built on the site of a former Christian church

CHURCH: Dover Castle is built on the site of a former Christian church

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THERE was a time when a resident of Dover married the daughter of the most powerful man in much of the world – the emperor of the Roman Empire.

It was about AD50 , nearly 2,000 years ago, when the British "king" Arviragus was based at the hilltop fort on Castle Hill, where Dover Castle now stands.

He had been promoted client king by the Romans on condition he collected taxes and sent the money on to Rome.

In about AD50 there was a rebellion against Rome throughout parts of Britannia but Arviragus did not join in. In fact, he did the dirty on his fellow Britons by allying his tribesmen with the Roman legions to put down the rebellion. After that he helped the Romans to make further inroads into Britannia.

History records that the Roman emperor Claudius Caesar, the first emperor to be born outside Italy, was so delighted with the support his troops received from king Arviragus that he gave his daughter Gennissa to him in marriage. No doubt this was to strengthen the alliance between Rome and subjugated Kent and Sussex.

This is just one of the many dramas involving life in Dover as the Romans captured big slices of Britannia.

The story begins in the August of 55BC when Julius Caesar tried to land at Dover but found the Dover folk too unfriendly so he landed farther along the coast, in the region of Deal. This was no more than a reconnaissance raid. But he liked what he saw.

A much stronger force returned a year later, transported by a fleet of 600 ships carrying thousands of fighting men. This time they made no attempt to land at Dover but once again went ashore to the east of Dover, near Deal and Sandwich.

On this invasion the Roman legions beat the British defenders and subjugated much of Kent and Sussex, leaving behind tributary British kings who were based on Dover's Castle Hill. This arrangement continued so long as they collected taxes and other tributes to help to finance the expanding Roman Empire.

The historian Darrell has written that, on the Emperor's direction, the British king Mandubratius built a pretorium at the top of Castle Hill where he officiated as the representative of the Romans for 35 years.

His son Cymbelinus was educated in Rome after he found favour with Augustus Caesar (ruler from 27BC to AD14) and he succeeded his father in 19BC. Cymbelinus got on so well with the invaders that very few Imperial soldiers were based in and around Dover on "peace-keeping duties".

He ruled for 35 years on Castle Hill and was the first King of Britain to have his image stamped on British coins.

In AD16 he was succeeded by his son Guiderius, who kept up the treaty with Rome for 27 years until, for some reason, he rebelled against the Romans in AD43 and was slain.

His brother Arviragus took over and was going to continue the struggle against Rome until he thought better of it. His first plan was to block the entrance to the Dover haven to prevent a landing but then a strong force of Romans landed near Hythe and began advancing.

Arviragus quickly decided to abandon his resistance and instead helped the Roman generals to subdue the hinterland.

It was this decision that so pleased Claudius Caesar, who died in October of AD54, that he arranged a marriage between his daughter Gennissa and Arviragus. We are not told if the young lady was happy in Dover!

Anyway Arviragus, trusted by Rome, continued in power until his death in AD71, when he was succeeded by his son Marius, who was also Claudius Caesar's grandson.

It is recorded that Marius, still very friendly with Rome, reigned until AD126 and was succeeded by his son and later, in AD180, by his grandson Lucius.

Lucius, according to tradition, was appointed by Emperor Aurelius (ruler from AD161 to AD180) as the supreme ruler over all the tribal kings of Britain. He was converted to Christianity and erected a church, dedicated to Christ, on the top of the hill where Dover Castle was later built.

The Chronicles of Dover Monastery affirms that Lucius was the first Christian king in Britannia and that, if it was not he who actually built the church on top of the hill, he probably converted an ancient heathen temple there.

All this time there was relative peace in and around Dover but life began to go downhill after the death of Lucius in 202 AD.

There followed a period of anarchy and, according to legend, this was the era when King Arthur took up the fight against Roman power.

Some claim King Arthur made a power base at Dover Castle, borne out by ancient documents that show the site of what is described as King Arthur's Hall on the north side of the castle keep.

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