‘Cities and Thrones and Powers,
Stand in Time’s eye,
Almost as long as flowers,
Which daily die.
But, as new buds put forth
To glad new men,
Out of the spent and considered Earth
The Cities rise again’
This is part 4 of historical and archaeological evidence supporting the theory that Julius Caesar’s invasions of Ancient Britain in 55-54 BC helped establish Celtic dynasties in southeast Britain loyal to Rome. The subsequent political unrest between rival Celtic tribal rulers provides the backdrop to the epic historical fantasy, of which the first unpublished novel, APOLLO’S RAVEN, is a tale about the heroine, Catrin—a spiritual warrior destined to meet the great-grandson of Marc Antony and to become queen of her Celtic kingdom .
Below are highlights of Caesar’s second expedition after he learns several of his ships were damaged in a storm.
Caesar’s Second Invasion Celtic Britain
Purpose of Second Expedition
In his accounts, Julius Caesar gave no rationale for his return to Britain in 54 BC. However, it can be surmised that the purpose of his single minded march to the Thames and from there to Essex was to barter with agents from the Trivovantes tribe in a pre-arranged meeting for the return of their young prince, Mandubracius. The prince had escaped to Gaul seeking Caesar’s protection after his father was brutally slain by Cassivellaunus, the ruler of the Catuvellauni tribe. Mandubracius was Caesar’s trump card for dividing the tribal kingdoms in their resistance to Rome. The strategy of ‘divide and conquer’ was a tactic that the Roman general had often used in his conquest of Gaul.
March to Thames
Caesar had to halt his initial advance so his soldiers could repair ships which had been damaged in an overnight storm off the coastline. His army worked day and night for ten days to repair the sea vessels and to drag them on the beach into a fortified encampment. The huge task of protecting the fleet required a defensive line of four to five miles. The loss of time cost Caesar a resounding conquest, as the Britons had time to forget their political differences and to ally under a supreme commander, Cassivellaunus—the ruler of lands bounded by the north bank of the Thames River.
Cassivellaunus had learned not to actively engage the Roman army in open battle, but he instead resorted to guerrilla tactics to menace the Roman army. Nonetheless, three Roman legions routed his main forces, forcing the Celtic warriors to withdraw to dense woodlands north of the Thames. There, the Britons prepared to resist.
Yet once again, the Roman troops displayed their discipline and training by fording the river in neck-high water. Not willing to risk an open engagement with the enemy, Cassivellaunus disbanded most of his forces and kept only 4000 charioteers to harass the flanks and rear of advancing Romans. He must have been bitterly disappointed that his forces could not even hold the Thames.
Caesar’s plunge into hostile territory, separating him from the main supply line, might have appeared to be fool-hardy. Notwithstanding, Mandubracius proved to be a valuable ally when he negotiated with envoys from the Trivovantes tribe to supply the Roman troops with grain and forty hostages in exchange for Caesar’s recognition of his rightful claim to be king. Further, the young prince persuaded five other tribes that bordered the kingdom of Cassivellaunus to join him in submitting to Rome. The political implications of these tribal defections to Caesar were dramatic, as the leaders informed the Roman general of the location of Cassivellaunus’ forces in the thick woodlands and marshes. The Roman legions promptly and effectively attacked the enemy warriors that resulted in the slaughter of many Britons.
In one last desperate attempt, Cassivellaunus ordered Kentish tribes along the coastline to attack the Roman naval encampment to cut off Caesar from Gaul. But the Romans were ready for the attack, and they subsequently inflicted several Celtic casualties and captured the leaders.
The British commander now had no other option but to negotiate peace, with Commius, a king of the Atrebates tribe in Gaul, acting as negotiator. Any plans that Caesar had for staying in Britain had to be abandoned when he learned of serious trouble in Gaul that demanded his attention. He collected several British hostages, levied an annual tribute on the hostile tribes, and ordered Cassivellaunus not to attack either Mandubracius or the Trivovantes.
By the autumn equinox, Caesar’s troops returned to the coastline, where all of the sea vessels had been fully repaired. The ships had to make two voyages to ferry the innumerable hostages, prisoners and Roman legions back to Gaul.
In both expeditions, Caesar failed to understand his most formidable enemy, which turned out to be the ocean and not the Britons. The ocean continued to be an obstacle that the Romans had to be overcome in their invasion eighty years later.
(To be continued)
The next series of posts will discuss the role of British hostages in forging alliances from Rome, the subsequent political unrest with emerging anti-Roman tribal leaders, and the culture differences between Rome and Celtic Britain which precipitated the invasion by Claudius in 43 AD.
Julius Caesar, translated by F. P. Long, 2005. The Conquest of Gaul; United States: Barnes & Noble, Inc.
John Peddie, Conquest: The Roman Invasion of Britain; Reprinted 1997 by St. Martin’s Press, New York.
Graham Webster, The Roman Invasion of Britain; Reprinted 1999 by Routledge, New York.
Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey; 3rd Edition Reprinted by Sheridan Books, Inc., Chelsea, Michigan