Caesar’s Invasions of Britain: Celtic Perspective

“Of the inhabitants, those of Cantium (Kent), an entirely maritime district, are far the most advanced, and the type of civilization here prevalent differs little from that of Gaul. With most of the more inland tribes, the cultivation of corn disappears and a pastoral form of life succeeds, flesh and milk forming the principal diet, and skins of animals the dress. On the other hand, the Britons all agree in dying their bodies with woad, a substance that yields a bluish pigment, and in battle greatly increases the wildness of their look. Their hair is worn extremely long, and with the exception of the head and upper lip the entire body is shaved.” (Julius Caesar’s account of Britain)

Caesar’s Invasions of Britain: Celtic Perspective

Introduction

In researching Celtic history, I ran across an interesting book entitled, “History of the Kings of Britain,” that was written in Latin by Geoffrey of Monmouth in 1136 AD. This book traces the history of Britons through a sweep of nineteen hundred years stretching from the mythical Brutus, great-grandson of the Trojan Aeneas, to the last British King, Cadwallader. Geoffrey claims he translated his stories from ‘a certain very ancient book written in the British language’ that was given him by Walter the Archdeacon. Though his work has been sharply criticized for its historical inaccuracies, there are bits of truth that cannot be completely discounted.

Celtic Tribes in Britain

Celtic Tribes in Britain

Of particular interest is Geoffrey’s account of Caesar’s invasions of Britain and his battles with Cassivellaunus that is told from his patriotic British viewpoint. What rings true in his story is the fragility of the British rulers’ egos and their lust for power, a weakness that eventually plays into the hands of Claudius who invaded Britain in 43 AD. Previous posts which have summarized Caesar’s Invasions of Britain from his accounts are located in the archives under the categories: Julius Caesar and Roman Invasion of Britain

Below is a summary of Geoffrey’s version. One has to wonder if there are some truths from this version that put some of Caesar’s accounts into question.

Geoffrey’s Account of Caesar’s Invasions of Britain

Julius Caesar was fascinated with Britain as he had been told the Britons were founded by Brutus, a descendant of Aeneas who fled from the ruined city of Troy to Italy. Although the Romans descended from the same ancient Trojan stock as the Britons, he underestimated them believing it would be a simple matter of forcing them to pay tribute and to swear their perpetual obedience to Rome. Thus, Caesar dispatched a message to the British King Cassivellaunus with demands that he pay tribute.

Reading the message, Cassivellaunus became indignant and sent Caesar a written message refusing to accept the terms of slavery. He further says, “It is friendship which you should have asked of us, not slavery. For our part we are more used to making allies than to enduring the yoke of bondage…we shall fight for our liberty and for our kingdom.”

The moment Caesar read this letter he prepared his fleet to set sail to Britain.

Ancient Roman Ship Frieze

Roman Ship Image on Frieze

King Cassivellaunus—along with his brother Nennius, his nephew Androgeus (Duke of Trivovantum) and other nobles—marched down to meet Caesar after he landed and set-up his camp near the British Dover Cliffs. A fierce hand-to-hand battle ensued. In single combat, Caesar cut his sword into Nennius’ shield that he could not wrench out. Nennius, taking Caesar’s sword, raged up and down the battlefield killing everyone he met. The Britons pressed forward as a united front cutting the Roman forces into pieces. That night, Caesar reformed his ranks, boarded his ships and sailed back to Gaul in defeat.

Overview White Cliffs Britain

Dover Cliffs Kent Britain

Nennius succumbed to his wounds fifteen days after the battle and died. Cassivellaunus buried him with Caesar’s sword called Yellow Death, for no man who was struck by it escaped alive.

Celtic Sword

Celtic Sword and Scabbard

Two years later, Caesar prepared to cross the sea a second time to avenge Cassivellaunus for the humiliating defeat he had suffered at his hands. As soon as the King heard of this, he garrisoned villages everywhere and planted stakes shod with iron and lead below the water-line in the bed of the River Thames, up which Caesar would have to sail to attack Trivovantum.

Celtic Roundhouses on Hill Fort

Ancient Celtic Village on Hill Top

Cassivellaunus and every man of military age waited for Caesar to cruise up the Thames where his ships were ripped apart by the stakes. As a result, thousands of Romans drowned, but several survivors clambered with Caesar onto dry land. The King ordered his warriors to charge the remaining Romans. The Britons, outnumbering the Romans three to one, were victorious over their weakened enemy. Again, Caesar escaped to his remaining undamaged ships and sailed back to Gaul.

Celtic Horned Helmet

Celtic Horned Helmet Found at River Thames Date 150-50BC

Elated from his overwhelming victory, Cassivellaunus invited all his noblemen to a glorious feast where cows, sheep, fowl, and wild beasts in the hundreds were sacrificed as offerings to the gods. At the sporting events that night, the King’s nephew was beheaded by the nephew of Duke Androgeus in a dispute. Enraged, Cassivellaunus demanded that the Duke present his nephew in court for sentence. Androgeus refused.

Celtic Round House

Celtic Round House for Assembly

Enraged by the Duke’s refusal, Cassivellaunus ravaged his lands. In desperation, Androgeus dispatched a message to Caesar with a plea to help him restore his position. Only after the Duke sent his son, together with thirty young nobles as hostages, did Caesar depart for Britain a third time.

Ancient Roman Ship Replica

Model of Ancient Roman Ship

This time, Cassivellaunus was sacking Trinovantum when Caesar landed. Upon hearing the news of Caesar’s return, the King abandoned his siege and rushed to meet his Roman adversary. When the two sides met, they hurled deadly weapons at each other and exchanged mortal blows with their swords. In an unexpected move, Androgeus and his forces attacked the rear of the King’s battle line, forcing his warriors to give ground from the assaults on both sides.

Roman Legion

Roman Soldiers in Legion

The King took flight from the battlefield and retreated to a hill top. Caesar besieged the hill, but he still could not defeat the King. Even now, when driven off the battle-field, Cassivellaunus and his battered forces continued resisting a man whom the whole world could not withstand. Caesar resorted to cutting off all means for the King’s retreat and to starving them.

Maiden Castle Hill-Fort

Ramparts and Ditches Maiden Castle Hill-Fort

After two days without food, Cassivellaunus sent a message asking Androgeus to make peace for him with Caesar. When the envoys delivered the message to Androgeus, he said, “The leader who is as fierce as a lion in peace-time but as gentle as a lamb in time of war is not really worth much.” Nonetheless, he was moved by the King’s pleas and went to Caesar to plead mercy for the King. He told Caesar, “All that I promised you is this, that I would help you humble Cassivellaunus and conquer Britain. He is beaten, and, with my help, Britain is in your hands. Yet I cannot allow you to kill him while I myself remain alive.”

Celtic Carnyx War Horn

Celtic Carnyx Serpent War Horn

Ultimately, Caesar made peace with Cassivellaunus who, in turn, promised yearly tribute to Rome. The tale ends well as Caesar and Cassivellaunus become great friends and give each other gifts. Androgeus travels to Rome as a guest of Caesar.

Concluding Remarks

Certainly the above tale of Caesar’s Invasions of Britain differs from the Roman General’s account, but there are some similarities. Caesar wrote that, after Cassivellaunus brought down the King of the Trinovantes, his son Mandubracius fled to Gaul. He asked for Caesar’s help in regaining the Trinovantes kingdom. On Caesar’s second invasion of Britain in 54 BC, Cassivellaunus fiercely resisted the Romans, but he eventually surrendered after they devastated his territories and other rival kings sought peace with his enemy.

Celtic Greaves

Celtic Greaves

Though Caesar was proclaimed a hero by the Roman Senate for his accomplishments in Britain, it can be argued his expeditions were not successful as he did not complete the conquest. The scenario of British rulers fleeing to Rome and asking for help to regain their sovereignty from rival rulers repeats time and time again up to the final conquest by Emperor Claudius in 43 AD. At that time, the King of the Atrebates, Verica, asked for help from Claudius in regaining his territory from Caratacus, a chieftain from the Catuvellauni tribe.

Richborough Roman Fort Ruins

Richborough Roman Fort, Site of Roman Invasion Under Claudius

To be continued

The next posts will provide an overview of rival dynastic kings that came to power in Britain between the time period of Caesar’s invasion of Britain in 54 BC up to Claudius’ conquest in 43 AD.

References:

Geoffrey of Monmouth, The History of the Kings of Britain, translated with an introduction by Lewis Thorpe; Penguin Books, New York; first published 1966.

Julius Caesar, The Conquest of Gaul, translated by Rev. F. P. Long and introduction by Cheryl Walker; Barnes  & Noble, Inc.,  New York; 2005.

Julius Caesar Impact on Ancient Britain

Of the inhabitants, those of Cantium (Kent), an entirely maritime district, are far the most advanced, and the type of civilization here prevalent differs little from that of Gaul—Julius Caesar

Introduction

In 1st Century, Celtic maritime networks were revitalized in the northern Atlantic region as a result of Roman commercial activities in southern Gaul (modern day France). Celtic social ties on both sides of the British channel were strengthened and new alliances were formed.

When Julius Caesar marched into free Gaul in 58 BC, these maritime networks were disrupted as he conquered Gaul and put the region under Roman control. His forays into Britain in 55-54 BC introduced the Britons to the reality of Roman power and the consequences of sending their warriors to aid fellow Celts in Gaul.

Roman Eagle Standard

Roman Eagle Standard

Caesar wrote, ‘no one goes there [Britain] except traders, and even they are acquainted only with the sea-coasts and the areas that are opposite of Gaul.’ Prior to his first excursion in 55 BC, Caesar summoned ‘traders from these parts’ for information of Britain, but they told him nothing of value. This would seem surprising given the extensive trade between Gaul and Britain. A likely explanation is these traders chose to be highly selective with the intelligence they shared. The Gallic traders warned the Britons of Caesar’s intention to land on their island. As a result, several of the British tribes send envoys offering hostages and allegiance to Caesar while he was in Gaul.

Side-by-side Comparison of Celtic and Roman Chariots

Celtic Chariot Comparison to Roman Chariot


Commius, King of the Atrebates

Caesar pursued the offers made by British envoys by sending Commius—a chief of the Atrebates in Gaul and confidant of the Romans—to persuade the Britons not to resist the Romans when they landed in 55 BC. However, Commius was immediately imprisoned by the Britons. He was later handed back as part of of Caesar’s peace settlement with the Celtic leaders on his first expedition. During Caesar’s second expedition to Britain in 54 BC, Commius negotiated the surrender of the British leader Cassivellaunus (see below). Commius remained loyal to Caesar through the Gaulish revolts of 54 BC, and Rome rewarded him by allowing the Atrebates tribe to remain independent and to be exempt from tax.

Diplomatic Gift to a Chieftain ruling in Southern Britain, possibly Commius of the Atrebates.

Diplomatic Gift to a Chieftain ruling in Southern Britain, possibly Commius of the Atrebates.

Although Commius was at first an ally of Rome, he switched sides to join the revolt in Gaul led by Vercingetorix in 52 BC. He later escaped to Britain to join his people who had already settled there. He established a powerful kingdom based at Calleva (modern day Silchester). By about 30 BC, Commius had established himself as king of the Atrebates in Britain and was issuing coins.

Statue of Vercingetorix

Statue of Vercingetorix

Lessons Learned Caesar’s First Expedition

Caesar’s first expedition to Britannia had limited success. The main lesson learned was the ocean and its massive tides and racing currents was a more formidable opponent than the Britons. Natural forces wreaked havoc on the Roman logistics and destroyed several ships. Even though the native Britons were fierce fighters, they were totally unused to facing the disciplined Roman army. The various tribes were politically fragmented and made Roman diplomacy to divide them an effective weapon.

Overview White Cliffs Britain

Dover Cliffs Near Julius Caesar’s Landing in Ancient Britain


Mandubracius, King of the Trinovantes

To take advantage of the fragmentation between the tribal kings, Caesar negotiated a deal with Mandubracius, the son of the king of the Trinovantes. He had fled to Gaul to put himself under Caesar’s protection after his father had been killed in a conflict with his neighbor—Cassivellaunus, the king of the Catuvellauni. According to Caesar, the Catuvellauni were in a continual state of war with the other tribes in the area.

Celtic Horned Helmet

Celtic Horned Helmet Found at River Thames Date 150-50BC

Caesar’s campaign in early July 54 BC was on a more massive scale. Five legions and 2,000 cavalry –some 27,000 men—were transported in over 800 vessels. The landing was unopposed. Mandubracius proved to be invaluable as a source of intelligence about the complexities of local politics and the principal centers of power in eastern Britain. He helped Caesar navigate through the terrain he would fight on. Armed with this information, Caesar made a rapid, though heavily opposed advance through Kent that let him to the Thames, which he crossed, probably near London.

Roman Cavalryman in Ancient Britain

Roman Cavalryman in Ancient Britain

Mandubracius was a political pawn that played to good effect for Caesar. The Trinovantes, whom Caesar describes as the strongest tribe in southeast Britain, sent a deputation to discuss terms for their surrender. In this agreement, Mandubracius was reinstated as the tribal king who Caesar promised to protect his sovereignty. In exchange, the Trinovantes surrendered to Caesar, sending forty hostages as an assurance of their good behavior and providing grain for the Roman army. The concession by the Trinovantes was the major turning point and other tribes quickly followed. In all likelihood the basic deal had already been negotiated during the winter, when Mandubracius was under Caesar’s protection in Gaul. Knowing that he could rely on the Trinovantes to come over to Rome would have emboldened Caesar to make his rapid advance into hostile territory across the Thames, dangerously far from his supply base.

Roman Wagon

Roman War Wagon Used in Ancient Britain


Cassivellaunus, King of the Catuvellauni

But the danger still existed for Caesar despite his settlement with the Trinovantes. His army made for Cassivellaunus’ oppidium (fortified town) of Verulamium in the vicinity of St. Albans. It was protected by forests and marshes, and a great number of men. Cassivellaunus sought the aid of four tribal kings in Kent to attack the Roman base and supply lines. The attack ultimately failed and there was little Cassivellaunus could do but negotiate for peace.

As it was late in the summer season, Caesar was eager to negotiate terms so he could return to Gaul. It was agreed the Catuvellanuni would pay an annual tribute to Rome and hand over hostages. Further, Cassivellaunus agreed to leave the Trinovantes in peace. With his primary aims achieved, Caesar returned to Gaul with a great many prisoners.

Ancient Ruins of Verulamium Wall near St. Albans

Ancient Ruins of Verulamium Wall near St. Albans

Julius Caesar Impact on Ancient Britain 

Roman Domination

Whether these two brief excursions into Britain could be judged a Roman success is debatable since we do not know what Caesar’s true aspirations were for this isle. It is likely he had grossly underestimated the perils of the Channel crossing and the ferocity of the British resistance. He embarked on these expeditions with considerable risk and was lucky to escape with his reputation unscathed. What he did show, even if it was at a price, was the ocean could be mastered and that the distant island was accessible. He also claimed that the first step was taken to bring Britain under Roman domination. As far as Rome was concerned, southeast Britain had been conquered and treaty relationships had been established with the most powerful tribes. Britons were now paying an annual tribute to the Roman state. Others would have to complete the conquest.

Roman and Celtic Shields Used in Ancient Britain

Roman and Celtic Shields Used in Ancient Britain

Tribal Patronage to Rome

The Britons form the southeast gained not only first-hand experience of Roman military might, but, more importantly, they learned how the Romans had politically divided the tribes. Before the Roman invasion, the Celtic tribes were engaged in local conflicts and struck-up up allegiances for mutual benefit. Now these tribal rulers had a far more powerful force enter the arena. To gain patronage from the Roman world could offer them real advantages.

Celtic Gold Torc

Celtic Gold Torc Worn by Celtic Leaders

The most important effect of Caesar on the British scene was to divide the southeastern tribes into pro- and anti-Roman groups. Those who had suffered defeat, i.e. the tribes on the north bank of the Thames and in Kent were forced to pay an annual tribute which sustained a festering hatred of Rome. Those who benefited, the Trinovantes and the Catuvellauni, were rewarded with political alliances and access to trade.

Peoples of Southern Britain According to Ptolemy's Map

Peoples of Southern Britain According to Ptolemy’s Map

Lucrative trading monopolies were negotiated, and the hostages—usually young men from elite families—could be educated in Roman ways. Those who remained abroad maintained filial links with their tribe, while those who chose to return would bring with them new knowledge and a network of contacts that could benefit all. The desire to travel and to explore the world was deeply embedded in the psyche of the Britons. Patronage to the Roman cities was expanded.

Celtic Child in Roma Ara Pacis Procession Nord Particolare

Celtic child in frieze of Ara Pacis Augustae (Altar of Augustan Peace)


To be continued

The tribes that Caesar encountered in his first incursion that are mentioned above became powerful tribal kingdoms, in part, due to favorable treaties negotiated with Rome and favorable trading treaties. The subsequent rulers of these powerful kingdoms will be discussed in upcoming posts.

References:

Barry Cunliffe, Britain Begins; Oxford University Press, 2013.

Graham Webster, The Roman Invasion of Britain, Reprinted 1999 by Routledge (Imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group), NY.

Julius Caesar, translated by F. P. Long, The Conquest of Gaul; United States: Barnes & Noble, Inc., 2005.

 

Caesar’s Second Invasion Celtic Britain; Part 4—Apollo’s Raven


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‘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’

      –Rudyard Kipling

Introduction

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.

 

White Cliffs Deal UK

Hillside leading to White Cliffs from Deal UK, close to Caesar’s landing

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.

Hidden Weapon

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.

Final Surrender

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.

Sumitt Coastal White Cliffs Britain

White Cliffs near Deal UK

Conclusions

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.

References:

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

Caesar’s Invasion Celtic Britain; Part 1— Apollo’s Raven

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Celtic Tradition of Raven: I have fled in the shape of a raven of prophetic speech (Taliesin). The raven offers initiationthe 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.

Julius Caesar Statue

Statue of Julius Caesar

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

Planning

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.

Collapse White Cliffs Wall Britain

Coastal White Cliffs Near Dover

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.

Roman Landing

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.

 

Ancient Roman Ship Replica

Model of Ancient Roman Ship

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.

Replica Celtic Helmet Britain

British Celtic Helmet

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.”

 

Pebble Beach Deal UK

Shingle Beach near Dover Cliffs

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)

 References:

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.