Caesar Second Invasion Britain

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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 3 in the series of posts that support Julius Caesar’s invasions of Ancient Britain in 55-54 BC helped establish powerful tribal dynasties in Britain that were loyal to Rome. The subsequent political unrest between rival tribal rulers in 1st Century Britain provides the backdrop to the epic historical fantasy, APOLLO’S RAVEN, the first unpublished novel in a series about a Celtic warrior princess and the great-grandson of Marc Antony.

Below is a continuation of Caesar’s second expedition after he learns several of his ships had been wrecked in a storm after landing.

Ancient Roman Ship Frieze

Image of Roman Warship on Frieze


Caesar’s 2nd Invasion Britain

March to Thames

Caesar’s primary objective in the second invasion of Britain was to march to the Thames and from there to Essex so he could barter with agents from the Trivovantes tribe for the return of their young prince, Mandubracius. Similar to his first invasion, his most formidable enemy was the forces of the English Channel. Two days after landing, several of his ships were wrecked  in an overnight storm off the southeast coastline.

Julius Caesar Statue

Statue of Julius Caesar

When Caesar received the bad news about the catastrophic damage to the vessels, he had to abandon his speedy advance to the Thames so his troops could repair the ships. Working night and day for ten days, the Roman soldiers repaired the boats and dragged them high up 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.

Ancient Roman Warship Model

Roman Warship Model

By now the Britons had seen enough of Caesar’s legions and their battle tactics to know they could not successfully fight them in open battle. Cassivellaunus resorted to guerrilla tactics to menace the Roman army as his Celtic warriors withdrew to dense woodlands north of the Thames. There they prepared to resist.

Celtic Horned Helmet

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

Yet 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 when they reached the other side of the river, 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.

Roman Legion

Soldiers in Roman Legion


Political Tribal Division

Caesar’s plunge into hostile territory that separated him from the main supply line might have seemed fool-hardy. That was not the case. The trump card was Mandubracius who turned out to be a valuable ally in negotiating with agents from the Trinovantes tribe. As previously discussed in the last post, Mandubracius had fled to Gaul requesting Caesar’s protection after his father had been killed in a conflict with his neighbor Cassivellaunus, the Catuvellauni king.

Celtic Sword

Celtic Sword and Scabbard

In exchange for Caesar’s recognition of Mandubracius as their rightful king, the Trinovantes supplied grain to the Roman troops and forty hostages to secure the agreement. Further, Mandubracius persuaded five other tribes that bordered the kingdom of Cassivellaunus to join him in submitting to Rome. Though very little is known about these other tribes, one was assumed to be the Iceni who were initially a political ally to Rome in the invasion by Emperor Claudius almost 90 years later in 43 AD. Ironically, in 61 AD, the charismatic Iceni warrior queen, Boudica, led an uprising that almost expelled the Roman expeditionary forces out of Britain.

Boudica Statue

Statue of Boudica

The political implications of these tribal defections to Caesar were dramatic. The tribal leaders informed him of the location of Cassivellaunus’ stronghold in the thick woodlands and marshes. The Roman legions promptly and efficiently attacked the resisting Britons that resulted in the slaughter of many of the people and confiscation of their cattle.

Celtic Village of Roundhouses

Ancient Celtic Village of Roundhouses


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 this assault, and they subsequently inflicted several Kentish casualties and captured their tribal leaders.

Grassy Top Dover Cliffs

Dover White Cliffs in Kent, Southeast Britain

Cassivellaunus had little choice but to sue for peace, with Commius, the Atrebates king from Gaul who served 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 the Trivovantes or dispose of their king, Mandubracius.

Celtic Battersea Shield

Celtic Battersea Shield

Caesar’s decision to leave Britain seemed sudden because he waited in vain for additional ships from Gaul to ferry his army across the Channel. By the autumn equinox, he had to make two voyages with his repaired ship to transfer innumerable hostages, prisoners and Roman soldiers back to Gaul.

Roman Warship Cast from Trajan Pillar in Rome

Roman Warship Frieze from Fishborne Palace

Conclusions

Ultimately, Caesar’s grand scheme of adding Britain to his lists of conquests failed due to the capricious weather and tides of the English Channel. Yet he ultimately vanquished Gaul and established treaties with power British leaders that directly impacted trading routes and internal politics on the island.

The next series of posts will piece together the rise of powerful tribal dynasties descended from Mandubracius, Cassivellaunus, and Commius in Britain that, in part, impacted Rome’s final decision to invade and conquer the island ninety years later in 43 AD.

Overview White Cliffs Britain

Dover Cliffs in Britain Near Landing Site of Julius Caesar

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

6 Responses to "Caesar Second Invasion Britain"
  1. How interesting to note that while Caesar did not get the conquest of Britain that he had intended, his actions still resulted in improved trading routes. It reveals the lesson that even when we do not get what we originally intended to we still can receive advantages of another sort. Another well-written post here, Linnea! I hope your project is going well xx

    • Hi Christy,

      Thank you for your comments. Although Caesar did not ultimately conquer Britain, treaties were established in which client kings provided heavy tribute to Rome. It was the continued rivalry between the Celtic kingdoms that ultimately provided the impetus for Caligula and Claudius to reconsider their policy toward Britain in 1st Century.

      I appreciate your continued support. Best wishes for a great week!

      Regards,
      Linnea

  2. Luciana says:

    Hi Linnea

    Magnificent post! I am really enjoying reading your series on Caesar’s “conquest” of Britain. Did he ever consult the seers for a divination on his subsequent attempts at conquering Britain?

    He certainly didn’t lack confidence or arrogance in his ability to
    conquer nor the efforts to stretch the arm of Rome’s mighty power. I do wonder what Rome would have been like and the western world if he wasn’t killed. How many cities would he have named after himself? ;D

    regards
    Luciana

    • Hi Luciana,

      Thank you for your generous comment. It is interesting that you asked whether Caesar consulted the seers. I don’t believe he mentioned this in his accounts, but many Roman commanders did consult priests and seers. You also pose another interesting question about what would have happened if he had not been assassinated. His nephew and successor, Emperor Augustus, was much more shrewd as he overpowered his rival and took control, probably a result of hard lessons he learned from his uncle.

      I appreciate your continued support and look forward to the release of your new novel at the end of March, Search of the Golden Serpent, which I will be highlighting in mid-March. Best wishes for a successful launch.

      Regards,
      Linnea

  3. Ingrid MacGillis says:

    Hi,

    I am gathering photographs to be included in a book about Caesar, and I wonder if you could tell me where you found the photo of the frieze of the Roman warship included in your entry on Caesar’s 2nd invasion of Britain. It is different from the one on the Trajan Column, and I may want to use it, but not without attributing it correctly.
    Thank you for any help you can give.
    Ingrid

    • Hi Ingrid,

      How exciting that you are gathering photographs to be included in the book about Caesar. This photograph of the Roman Warship frieze on my post about Caesar was taken by my husband, Thomas Tanner, in August 2012 when we visited Fishbourne Roman Palace near Chichester, West Sussex, England. I’ll make sure this description is placed on this photograph for future reference. This is a close-up shot of the larger frieze which may be a cast from the Trajan Pillar in Rome, which I will also include in the media gallery.

      Fishbourne Palace is the largest Roman Villa north of the Alps and is a spectacular site to visit. I’ll follow-up with you in e-mail regarding using the photographs.

      Thank you for visiting my site.

      Regards,
      Linnea

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