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unrest between rival Celtic tribal rulers provides the backdrop to the epic historical fantasy, of which the first unpublished novel, APOLLO’S RAVEN, is a tale about the heroine, Catrin—a spiritual warrior destined to meet the great-grandson of Marc Antony and to become queen of her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

Quest for Catrin: Photographic Adventure—Celtic Spiritual Warrior (Part 3)


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I have fled in the shape of a raven of prophetic speech —Taliesin’s Song of his Origins, 6th century

Raven Tattoo

One of the challenges in the photo shoot was to transform my eleven-year-old granddaughter, Maylin, into the adolescent Celtic warrior princess, Catrin—the heroine in APOLLO’S RAVEN. Isabelle Kai, a makeup artist from Boulder, worked with Rebekah West (Rebekah West Photography), and myself to design a raven tattoo for placement on Maylin’s forehead. The raven is the protector animal that guides Catrin and helps her prophesy.

Isabelle created a unique stencil template that was used to spray paint the raven on Maylin’s head. The British Celts were known for tattooing their bodies by using the leaves of the Woad plant to create a viscous blue dye. The indigo paste was tapped into the skin with needles to force the stain under the skin layers. In addition, feathers were pasted on Maylin’s face to highlight the strength she garners from her raven spirit.

Celtic Spiritual Warrior

Catrin, Celtic Spiritual Warrior

Mythological Raven

The mythology of ravens is widespread throughout the world, including North America, Europe, and Asia. Ravens have been associated with prophesy and wisdom, but they also conjure dark images of bad luck and death (discussed below).

Raven Animal Protector

A spiritual warrior society, the Celts revered animals as protectors and teachers. They believed the physical world is one level of existence. Overlaying this mortal world is the Otherworld, the world of spirits and forces which can guide and help us. Ravens, in particular, were revered for their ability to bridge these two worlds. They served as messengers from the Otherworld and acted as guardians and protectors.

Celtic Warrior Princess

Catrin, Celtic Spiritual Warrior Summons Raven

Raven Light Symbolism

In Greek and Roman mythology, the raven was associated with both Athena (Roman: Minerva) and Apollo—deities closely affiliated with the sun and the light of wisdom. Apollo was an oracular god, and thus, the association between the conversational raven and the god of divination made sense.

Mythological Raven

Apollo’s Raven

In Norse mythology, the god, Odin, was pictured with two ravens on his shoulders: Hugin representing the power of thought and active search for information; Mugin, representing wisdom and its ability to understand by intuition. Odin would send these two ravens out each day to spy upon the lands. They would return to tell him what they learned on their journeys.

Raven Dark Symbolism

Ravens are associated with predators, particularly wolves, which kill prey for ravens to scavenge. As human civilization became more war-like, fostering conflict and the spread of disease, ravens often picked at the bloody remains of fallen warriors in battle. People interpreted this predictable biological response as a supernatural sign and came to view ravens as omens of bad luck and harbingers of death. The sight of elongated beaks pecking into corpses reinforced the nightmarish images of ravens.

The Morrigan was the shape-shifting Celtic Goddess of war, fate, and death. She soared over battlefields in the form of a raven and frequently foretold or influenced the outcome of the conflict.

Soaring Raven

Raven Over Battlefield

The Norse god, Odin, was also known as the Raven God. His daughters, Valkyries, would transform into ravens and whisper to the souls of fallen Norse warriors to follow them to Valhalla in the sky.

My next series of posts will continue to unfold how Rebekah West prepared for the photo shoot that transformed Maylin into a Celtic warrior princess based on historical accounts in Ancient Britain.

(To be continued—Quest for Catrin: Photographic Adventure)