THE STANDARD PATH of the mythological adventure of the hero is represented in the rites of passage: separation, initiation, and return—Joseph Campbell
The unpublished epic historical fantasy [First Novel: APOLLO’S RAVEN] is envisioned to be a series set in Celtic Britain, Gaul (modern day France) and Ancient Rome prior to the invasion of Claudius in 43 AD. The first novel begins in 24 AD Celtic Britain (modern day Ken) when a Celtic warrior princess begins a perilous odyssey to help save her kingdom from rival rulers.
Historical and archaeological evidence supports the theory that Julius Caesar’s invasion in 55-54 BC helped establish Celtic dynasties in southeast Britain loyal to Rome. Political unrest of rival tribal rulers in 24 AD provides the backdrop to APOLLO’S RAVEN where the Celtic heroine first meets the great-grandson of Mark Anthony.
Caesar Second Invasion Britain
Although Caesar’s first expedition to Britain in 55 BC had limited success, the Romans were wildly enthusiastic he had conquered the ocean by invading the island. It would be similar to the excitement of landing on the moon in modern times. The Roman Senate voted twenty days of thanksgiving to celebrate his accomplishment. The political support paved the way for his second campaign in Britain the following year in 54 BC.
Based on his experience from the first expedition, Caesar’s second campaign launched in early July 54 BC was on a grander scale. It is not clear from Caesar’s accounts whether the purpose of the second invasion was to conquer Britain, punish hostile tribes, or open the British Isles to more lucrative Roman trade. The unfolding events in his accounts suggest the primary objective was to establish pro-Roman dynasties that would subsequently be rewarded with lucrative trade for their loyalty.
Lessons Learned From First Invasion
Caesar documented what he learned from the first invasion that helped him effectively prepare for the second campaign. The primary lesson was the ocean, with its massive tides, racing currents, and variable winds, was a more formidable opponent that the Britons. These forces of nature wreaked havoc on Roman logistics. Further, he gained invaluable insight on the British fighting tactics, diverse populations, political complexities, and powerful rulers that helped him in the second invasion.
Chariot Battle Tactics
In the first expedition, Julius Caesar faced stiff resistance from fierce warriors that included approximately 4,000 chariot teams. His Roman Legion had not previously faced chariot fighting tactics. Although chariot racing was a popular past time in Rome, it was not used in Roman warfare.
Caesar describes chariot battle tactics as follows:
First, they drive in all directions hurling spears. Generally they succeed in throwing the ranks of their opponents into confusion just with the terror of the galloping horses and the din of the wheels. They make their way through the squadrons of their own cavalry, then jump down from their chariots and fight on foot. Meanwhile, the chariot drivers withdraw a little way from the fighting and position the chariots in such a way that if their masters are hard pressed by the enemy’s number, they have an easy means of retreat to their own lines. Thus, when they fight they have the mobility of cavalry and the staying power of infantry. And with daily training and practice they have become so efficient that even on steep slopes they can control their horses at full gallop, check and turn them in a moment, run along the pole, stand on the yoke, and get back into the chariot with incredible speed.
Nonetheless, Caesar was able to overcome these obstacles with an established, well-disciplined army against the more chaotic battle assaults by the various tribal leaders and their armies.
Diverse Tribal Regions
Caesar describes the population along the southeast coast of Britain to be densely populated by Belgic immigrants of Germanic ancestry, who had crossed the channel from Gaul to plunder and eventually settle. The inhabitants of Cantium (modern day Kent), an entirely maritime district, were far more advanced than the inland tribes consisting of the original pastoral inhabitants who had their own traditions. Caesar’s first attack in Kent is not surprising given the long period of social relations between the peoples in Gaul and Britain. British war-leaders who had served in all Gallic wars against Romans were rewarded with gold coinage minted in Belgic Gaul.
Coinage appeared as early as 125 BC in Britain. Early coins adopted the Greek design showed the head of Apollo and the horses and chariot on the reverse side. This design was eventually abstracted more in line with Celtic art. Low value bronze coins were minted in the Kent region to support the early first century development of their market economy. The bronze coins used by the Cantiaci tribe in this region were prototypes of those produced in Massilia (Marseille) that featured a charging bull. For the first time the British were exposed to writing in the form of Latin script. In the 70s and 60s BC other tribes in Britain followed the example of the Cantiaci and adopted coinage: the Atrebates in Hampshire/Berkshire and the Catuvellauni/Trivovantes north of the Thames.
There were major centers of population, the oppida (town), where traders assembled. Many of these tribal centers were built from fortified hill-forts. Structures in southeast Britain were set close together and included thatch-roof, round houses. Flocks of sheep and herds of cattle were plentiful. Interestingly, the Britons had a taboo against eating hares, fowls, and geese, which they kept as pets.
Powerful Tribes and Rulers
No doubt the preparation for the second invasion included political negotiations with powerful British leaders, one of whom was Mandubracius. He was a prince of the Trivovantes, a powerful tribe occupying the Essex region. Mandubracius fled to Gaul to put himself under Caesar’s protection after his father was killed in a conflict with his neighbor Cassivellaunus, the king of the Catuvellauni. According to Caesar, the Catuvellauni had been in continual state of war with other tribes in the area.
Mandubracius was an invaluable source of intelligence about the complexities of the local politics and the primary centers of power in eastern Britain. He also provided information about the terrain through which Caesar would fight. Armed with this information, Caesar’s strategy was clear. He would move with lightning speed through Kent to the Thames where he would meet Cassivellaunus. Caesar also planned to use Mandubracius as a political pawn to negotiate the prince’s reinstatement as ruler of the Trivovantes.
Redesign of Ships to Counter Tidal Changes
Due to the frequent tidal changes that Caesar encountered in his first expedition, he ordered his generals to construct smaller transports with shallower drafts for easier loading and beaching. The vessel’s beam was built wider to carry heavy cargoes, including large numbers of horses and mules. As a result of the redesign, the ships were difficult to maneuver and thus were equally fitted for rowing and sailing.
Landing Without Opposition
At sunset on July 6th, Caesar embarked from Portis Itius (modern day Wissant France) to Britain with a fleet of 800 ships that transported five legions (25,000 soldiers) and 2,000 cavalry. The tide turned the following morning and took the ships with it. As a result, the soldiers had to row the ungainly vessels without stop to reach the Kent coast (near Deal) by mid-day. Unlike the first expedition, there were no signs of enemy to oppose the landing. Caesar learned later the tribal forces had been dismayed to see the vast flotilla in the English Channel and thus decided to seek a stronger position inland to fight.
Without any opposition, Caesar’s ships anchored and a site was chosen for camp.
With typical audacity, Caesar immediately marched his legions 12 miles inland in early morning darkness the next day to the River Stour near Canterbury. Shocked at the sudden appearance of the Roman army, Britons fell back to a formidable position in the woods which Caesar described as being fortified by immense natural and artificial strength. The hill-fort was strongly guarded by felled trees that were packed together. Possibly this site was initially built for tribal wars. The Roman soldiers locked their shields above their heads to form a testudo (tortoise) to protect themselves from missiles while they hacked their way into the fortress and drove the British forces into the woods. Further pursuit was forbidden by Caesar as the countryside was unfamiliar. He needed sufficient time to entrench his camp.
The following morning, the Roman pursuit of the British fugitives began in earnest. Again Caesar underestimated the powerful forces of the English Channel. A terrible storm along the coast tore the ships from their moorings and drove them ashore. When Caesar received the bad news about the shipwrecks, he abandoned his speedy advance which would have desolated the Britons He returned his army to repair the damages to his vessels.
(To be continued)
Barry Cunliffe, Britain Begins; Reprinted 2013; Oxford University Press, United Kingdom
Julius Caesar, translated by F. P. Long, 2005. The Conquest of Gaul; United States: Barnes & Noble, Inc.
Graham Webster, The Roman Invasion of Britain; Reprinted 1999 by Routledge, New York.
Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces; 3rd Edition Reprinted by New World Library, Novato, CA.