Death of a City
First edition cover




Short story



Historical era



Charles Keeping


Stories from Scottish History, BBC Scotland


The Capricorn Bracelet

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"Death of a City" is the first story in the 1973 collection The Capricorn Bracelet, originally written as episodes of the BBC Scotland radio programme "Stories from Scottish History".


Lucius Calpurnius, a soldier of the Second Legion, narrates how, as a thirteen-year-old boy in the first Londinium, he had wished to join the Eagles, inspired by his deliveries to the fort, but his father, a wine-merchant, forbade it.

The next year, Londinium hears news of the death of the King of the Iceni and the inheritance of the Emperor; and the displeasure of the Queen, who is being dunned by Roman debt-collectors, who reportedly struck her and drove her and her daughters out of their capital. Lucius's British house-keeper Cordaella explains that the Iceni tribe follow the Queen, not the King, and that Iceni wealth was not the King's to give. She predicts trouble.

At the end of the summer, a messenger gallops in with the news of Queen Boudicca's total destruction of the city of Camulodunum, then the defeat of the Ninth Legion. Londinium anxiously awaits the return of the Governor General Suetonius Paulinus from the west, but he arrives only to remove the garrison and warn the citizens to flee the city, as he cannot commit his two remaining Legions to the defense of one city.

Lucius's father chooses to remain, and Lucius stays with him. That night they mount the defense of the North Gate, and the next day Lucius's father is killed in the attack, while Lucius and the other defenders fall back to their last stand in the temple of Diana. Lucius revives later under a pile of the dead, and walks out of burnt and silent Londinium to wander in circles until he stumbles into Suetonius Paulinus's camp. The next day Suetonius's army utterly defeats Boudicca's.

Lucius becomes a mule-driver, then joins the Second Legion when he is of age. He serves under the General Agricola in the Caledonian campaigns, receiving a Good Conduct bracelet with the legion's Capricorn badge, the same as his father the wine-merchant's old seal. He never returns to the rebuilt Londinium.


Dates for The Capricorn Bracelet are given in the chapter headings. The principal event of "Death of a City" is the destruction of Londinium by Boudicca in 61 CE.

  • 60 CE, Lucius is 13 and tells his father his wish to join the Eagles
  • 61 CE, the King of the Iceni dies
    • End of summer, Boudicca sacks Camulodunum
    • 2 days later, news of the 9th Legion's defeat
    • Suetonius P's arrival
    • Next day, Boudicca's attack
    • Lucius wakes up
    • The next night, Lucius wanders in to the Roman camp
    • The next day, Boudicca's defeat
  • Next couple of years, Lucius works as a mule-driver
  • Later, Lucius joins the 2nd Legion, serves in Agricola's Calednoian campaigns


  • Lucius Calpurnius, 13, a would-be soldier
  • Boudicca, the Killer Queen
  • Calpurnius, Lucius's father, a wine-merchant
  • Centurion Gavrus, an example to Lucius, peripatetic
  • The King of the Iceni, deceased
  • The Emperor, an heir
  • Kaeso, a leather-merchant
  • Octavius Pudens, a silver dealer
  • Cordaella, Lucius's housekeeper and nurse, wise in the Old Ways
  • Messenger form Camulodunum
  • Suetonius Paulinus, the Governor General, in the west with the 20th and 14th
  • The Magistrates


  • Londinium, a Roman mercantile centre on the Tamesis River less than twenty years old when it was sacked by Boudicca, now rebuilt
    • The Street of the Amber Dolphin, near the river, site of Lucius's house
    • the fort
    • the Bath House
    • Water Street
    • Bryn the sandal-maker's shop, in the Forum colonnade
    • the Armoury
    • the temple of Diana, the defenders' last stand in its portico
    • the North Gate, next to the fort, where the main attack is expected
  • Isca Silurium, HQ of the 2nd Augustan Legion, Lucius's new home
  • Gaul, Syria, Dacia, Africa, scenes of Centurion Gavrus's heroism
  • Iceni territory, flat lands to the northeast
    • The Royal Town
  • Camulodunum, first town sacked by Boudicca
  • Verulamium, second town sacked by Boudicca, on the North road