Roman Hostage Taking: Caesar’s Invasion of Britain

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The mythological hero, setting forth from his common-day hut or castle, is lured, carried away, or else voluntarily proceeds, to the threshold of adventure. There the hero encounters a shadow presence that guards the passage—Joseph Campbell 

INTRODUCTION

The unpublished epic historical fantasy [1st novel: APOLLO’S RAVEN; 2nd novel: RAVEN’S FIRE] is envisioned to be a series in the Celtic Spirit Odyssey set in Celtic Britain,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 when the heroine Catrin—a Celtic warrior warrior—begins a perilous odyssey that starts in Britain (modern day Kent), ventures into Gaul (modern day France) and finally ends in Rome where she must overcome slavery before she returns to her homeland.

This is Part 6 of historical and archaeological evidence supporting 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 for the trilogy where Catrin meets the great-grandson of Marc Antony and is destined to become a warrior queen

Roman Hostage Taking 

The previous post highlighted the importance Julius Caesar placed on the retention of several hostages from the most powerful Celtic tribes in 54 BC Celtic Britain, requiring him to make two trips between the island and Gaul to transport his army and hostages.

Any of the below were reasons that Romans took hostages:

  • Use hostages as collateral to secure an agreement or a treaty
  • Enhance network of allies by treating hostages as guests entitled to kindness, security, and even luxury
  • Represent hostages as symbols of conquest by carefully orchestrating their public appearances, such as in triumphs
  • Realign  loyalties by accepting hostages as wards into an extended Roman family headed by the paterfamilias, Roman father
  • Acculturate hostages to the Roman thinking by offering formal, controlled education

Ultimately, Romans expected to exercise authority over their hostage and it was their belief that they could alter the hostages’ thinking about melding into the Roman culture.

Frieze Roman Cavalry

Roman Cavalry Frieze

Collateral

Hostages were secured to coerce some kind of desired behavior from a country. Often hostages were used as collateral to assure that scheduled tributes were paid on time, probably one of the key reasons Julius Caesar took so many hostages. Hostage-based coercion was also used by Caesar to cease the large-scale fighting in Britain and to secure peace with the southeast British tribes.

Enhance Network of Allies

Taking hostages was considered a more favorable outcome for many of the weaker kingdoms versus the scenario where Romans could exterminate or enslave them. Releasing hostages was, at times, used to convince the kingdom of Rome’s generosity. Caesar won the support of the Trivovantes tribe by negotiating the return of their prince, Mandubracius, who had fled to Gaul after the execution of his father by the rival king, Cassivellaunus. In exchange for grain to feed his Roman troops and forty hostages, Caesar recognized the rightful claim of Mandubracius to be king. Consequently, the young prince persuaded five other tribes bordering the kingdom of Cassivellaunus to join him in submitting to Rome.

Roman Lighthouse Dover

Ancient Roman Lighthouse

Symbols of Conquest

Public image and prestige were critical in the Romans’ eyes to enhance one’s social standing in the form of a base of clients and economic clout beyond level of true personal wealth. Thus, Caesar’s public image was carefully orchestrated with the senate house. The British hostages were proof of his victories and accomplishments. Without a significant number of hostages, his victories in Britain would have been brought into question.

White Cliffs Deal UK

Hillside Leading to White Cliffs from Deal UK

Conclusions

The role of hostages played a significant role in the outcome of Caesar’s invasion of Rome. Not only did hostage-taking help forge alliances with influential southeast tribal kingdoms, but it enhanced his public image in Rome. The role of hostages continued to be an important strategy for Rome’s influence over Britain whereby British wards could be accepted into Roman families and acculturated by offering them a formal, controlled education. The use of peaceful intimidation and acculturation to control Celtic Britain after Caesar’s invasion will  be discussed in the next post.

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.

Joseph Campbell, The Writer’s Journey; 3rd Edition Reprinted by Sheridan Books, Inc., Chelsea, Michigan

Hostage-Taking, Caesar’s Invasion of Celtic Britain; Part 5—Apollo’s Raven

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The ultimate adventure, when all barriers and ogres, have been overcome, is represented as a mystical marriage of the triumphant hero-soul with the Queen Goddess of the World. This is the crisis at the nadir, at the zenith, or at the uttermost edge of the earth, at the central point of the cosmos, in the tabernacle of the temple, or within the darkness of the deepest chamber of the heart—Joseph Campbell

 

Introduction

This is part 5 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 spirit warrior destined to meet the great-grandson of Marc Antony and to become queen of her Celtic kingdom.

In the previous four posts of the APOLLO’S RAVEN blog, the significant events of Caesar’s first and second invasions were highlighted. The Roman general wrote extensively about the role of hostages in Britain. In addition to using military armaments in conquering and building the Roman Empire, hostage-taking was another stratagem in his arsenal for overcoming enemies.

Ancient Roman Ship Replica

Model of Ancient Roman Ship

Hostage-Taking in Roman Empire

The modern day image of hostages associated with terrorism and war crimes is where one group retaliates against another by inflicting torture or deprivation of an innocent prisoner. Criminals use hostages to force some kind of demand—a personal ransom or safe passage from a besieged position.

In Rome, hostage-taking represented another scheme to ensure conquered peoples met their treaty agreements and to alter their way of thinking which was akin to the Roman elite’s. Hostages were not treated like prisoners, as they were allowed to move freely in public places with minimal security measures to prevent their escape. They could communicate with ambassadors from their native lands and at times take family members and material possessions with them. The hostages were frequently young males, although taking females was not unheard of, and they came from royal families. The Roman patrician watching over them could serve as patron, father, and teacher.

Hillside Deal UK

White Cliffs Hillside Deal

Julius Caesar’s Demand for Hostages

Julius Caesar retained hostages from thirty-seven tribes in Gaul (modern day France) and powerful tribes from Britain. He boasts that along with loot he plundered during his military campaigns, the detention of several hostages won him political advances in Rome. In his most famous battle at Alesia in Gaul, he held hundreds of hostages, among other concessions. In order to persuade the Roman masses of his military accomplishments—critical for his political survival—hostages played a prominent role in representing him as a great military leader.

In Caesar’s accounts, he recounts his demand for and manipulation of hostages from Britain. Prior to the first expedition to Britain in 55 BC, Caesar had first asked for hostages from Britain with little success. Word of his preparations to cross the British channel prompted several tribes to offer hostages, a promise Caesar encouraged them to fulfill. Nonetheless, he never received any hostages and was met with stiff resistance on his first landing. It was only after he won a decisive victory, the chieftains again promised hostages, but the tribes delayed and regrouped. The cycle continued where Caesar scored additional victories whereupon he demanded double the number of hostages. Despite his efforts, he only received detainees from two tribes. Subsequently, on his return to Britain in 54 BC, he not only accomplished his objective of defeating the Britons, but he succeeded in acquiring several hostages from the most powerful tribes and he mandated a yearly tribute to Rome. He had to make two trips between Britain and Gaul to transport all of the hostages.

Caesar’s Motivation for Taking Hostages

What Caesar was seeking from the tribes in Britain was a sign of their acceptance of Roman hegemony in the region. Securing hostages represented the manifestation of his authority. His written accounts were intended to put him in favorable light with the Roman senate to gain their support. He took credit for not only defeating the Britons, but for mapping their island, observing their ethnic habits, and gauging the degree of their civilization. For the most part, most of the senators judged his expeditions to be successful based on the number of hostages he retained, though in reality he had failed to control the island or gather any substantial riches. Notwithstanding, the invasions of Britain added to Caesar’s mystique.

Cliff side White Cliffs of Dover

Dover White Cliffs

Conclusions

The Romans continued to influence the dynasties in Britain long after Julius Caesar had left the island. Hostages may have impacted the interactions between tribal rulers and Roman politicians. As long as the southeast tribes continued to meet the Empire’s demands, there was not a strong impetus for Rome to invade and occupy Britain. That all began to change at the turn of the 1st Century when some of the Celtic rulers began to harbor anti-Roman sentiments.

Cork Oak Tree Arundel

Cork Oak Tree England

 

To be continued:

The role of hostages will be discussed in the next post as it is relates to Celtic Britain. Thereafter, historical and archaeological evidence will be presented that supports Rome’s influence over tribal dynasties prior to the invasion of Claudius in 43 AD.

References:

Joel Allen, Hostages and Hostage-Taking in the Roman Empire; Printed 2006 by Cambridge University Press, New York.

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

Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces; 3rd Edition Reprinted by New World Library, Novato, CA.