Copy Book Archive

The Speech of King Caratacus A proud British king, taken to Rome as a trophy of Empire, refused to plead for his life.
Roman Britain 43-410
Music: Ronald Binge

© Przemysław Sakrajda, Wikimedia Commons. Licence: CC-BY-SA 3.0. Source

About this picture …

Caractacus’s chief settlement became Roman Verulamium, and this Roman mosaic was laid down in a house there. Later, it was renamed St Albans after England’s first martyr.

The Speech of King Caratacus
Caratacus, King of the Catuvellauni, led the British resistance to Roman invasion in the AD 40s, but he was betrayed and taken to Rome. The Emperor Claudius asked him why his life should be spared, and this was the King’s reply.
Tr. Church and Brodribb, slightly emended

“HAD my moderation in prosperity been equal to my noble birth and fortune, I should have entered this city as your friend rather than as your captive; and you would not have disdained to receive, under a treaty of peace, a king descended from illustrious ancestors and ruling many nations.*

“My present lot is as glorious to you as it is degrading to me. I had men and horses, arms and wealth. What wonder if I parted with them reluctantly? If you Romans choose to lord it over the world, does it follow that the world is to accept slavery?

“Were I to have been at once delivered up as a prisoner, neither my fall nor your triumph would have become famous. My punishment would be followed by oblivion, whereas, if you save my life, I shall be an everlasting memorial of your clemency.”

The king’s name appears in Tacitus both as Caratacus and Caractacus; Cassius Dio calls him both Καράτακος and Καρτάκης (Karátakos and Kartákis). The ancient Welsh form of the name is Caradog. In keeping with the consensus of modern scholarship, Caratacus has been used on this site.


From the ‘Annals’ of Cornelius Tacitus, translated by Church and Brodribb. Slightly emended.

Suggested Music

Concerto for Alto Saxophone

2. Andante espressivo

Ronald Binge (1910-1979)

Performed by Kenneth Edge, with the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Ernest Tomlinson.

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How To Use This Passage

You can use this passage to help improve your command of English.

IRead it aloud, twice or more. IISummarise it in one sentence of up to 30 words. IIISummarise it in one paragraph of 40-80 words. IVMake notes on the passage, and reconstruct the original from them later on. VJot down any unfamiliar words, and make your own sentences with them later. VIMake a note of any words that surprise or impress you, and ask yourself what meaning they add to the words you would have expected to see. VIITurn any old-fashioned English into modern English. VIIITurn prose into verse, and verse into prose. IXAsk yourself what the author is trying to get you to feel or think. XHow would an artist or a photographer capture the scene? XIHow would a movie director shoot it, or a composer write incidental music for it?

For these and more ideas, see How to Use The Copy Book.

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