Celtic Tradition of Raven: I have fled in the shape of a raven of prophetic speech (Taliesin). The raven offers initiation—the destruction of one thing to give birth to another. For deeper understanding, the heroine must journey through darkness to emerge into morning’s new light.
Celtic Britain Setting
The unpublished historical fantasy, APOLLO’S RAVEN, is envisioned to be the first novel in a trilogy that spans from 24 to 40 AD in Celtic Britain, Gaul (modern day France), and Rome prior to the invasion of Claudius in 43 AD. Though Julius Caesar’s invasion of Britain occurred 80 years earlier in 55 and 54 BC, there is archaeological evidence that Caesar’s invasion was not a momentary diversion from his conquest of Gaul, but was instead an effort to establish dynasties of the most powerful tribes of southeast Britain who would owe their loyalty to Rome.
The next series of posts will summarize historical and archaeological evidence of possible events that precipitated the Roman invasion of Britain in 43 AD, commencing 80 years earlier with the invasion by Julius Caesar. The political unrest of competing tribal rulers provided the backdrop for the trilogy about the heroine Catrin, destined to become warrior queen of her Celtic kingdom and the lover of the great-grandson of Marc Antony.
Caesar’s Invasion Celtic Britain
In 55 AD, Caesar was anxious to invade Britain because powerful chieftains had dispatched auxiliaries to secretly abet the Gauls in their war against Rome. Most of Caesar’s limited information was derived from traders. Thus, he wanted to learn more about the island’s size, the names of tribal leaders, their military state and organization, and the harbors suitable for landing larger vessels. He dispatched Commius, a king of the Atrebates tribe from Gaul, to impress upon the Briton leaders the need to cooperate with the Romans, whose general would soon visit them in person.
As Caesar prepared his fleet for invasion from a port near modern day Boulogne France, news of his intentions were conveyed by traders to Briton leaders. In response, some Celtic tribes from southeast Britain sent envoys promising to give Caesar hostages and to acknowledge the suzerainty of Rome. Encouraged by their willingness to negotiate, Caesar sent the agents back home.
In late summer at midnight, Caesar disembarked 80 ships, sufficient to transport two legions (about 10,000 soldiers). He left instructions for 18 ships to transport the cavalry further north on the coastline. When his first vessels reached the British shores early the next morning, the whole line of hills (modern day Dover Cliffs) was crowned with Briton warriors. There was little space between the sea and rising white cliffs from which spears could easily be hurled down. As landing was impossible, Caesar directed his fleet seven miles north to an open, flat expanse of shingle beach. Celtic horsemen and charioteers followed Caesar’s ships on the hilltops as they sailed up the coastline.
Battle with Celtic Horsemen
Caesar’s forces had difficulty getting ashore as a result of Celtic warriors battling them on land while his men fought in shallow waters. Laden with heavy accoutrements, Roman troops were forced to jump overboard into the channel without knowledge of the bottom. While trying to maintain their footing in the surf, the Romans had to fight the Briton warriors who outmaneuvered them on land using trained horses and fighting from chariots.
At first, the Romans panicked in battle, but Caesar then relied on warships to hurl hot fire of sling-stones, arrows, and artillery at the Celtic troops, driving them from their point of vantage. Caesar recounts that an eagle-bearer from the Tenth Legion emboldened his comrades by leaping into the water and shouting, “I, at any rate, shall not be found wanting in my duty to my country and general.”
The battle was fiercely contested between the Romans and Britons. The Romans found it impossible to keep in formation, while the Celtic warriors seized very opportunity to dash in with their horses at isolated groups of soldiers struggling with the difficulties of landing. Once the Romans were firmly on land, their troops charged and routed the Britons.
Vanquished in battle, Celtic tribal leaders sent envoys to Caesar with promises of hostages and submission to his orders. Accompanying these envoys was Commius, who, it will be remembered, had been sent into Britain to herald Caesar’s coming.
(To be continued)
Julius Caesar, translated by F. P. Long, 2005. The Conquest of Gaul. United States: Barnes & Noble, Inc.
John Manley, 2002. AD 43—The Roman Invasion of Britain. Charlston, SC: Tempus Publishing Inc.