Caesar Second Invasion Britain

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 THE STANDARD PATH of the mythological adventure of the hero is represented in the rites of passage: separation, initiation, and return—Joseph Campbell

 


Introduction

The unpublished epic historical fantasy [First Novel: APOLLO’S RAVEN] is envisioned to be a series set in Celtic Britain, Gaul (modern day France) and Ancient Rome prior to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.

Collapse White Cliffs Wall Britain

Coastal White Cliffs Near Dover


Caesar Second Invasion Britain

Political Support

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.

Julius Caesar Statue

Statue of Julius Caesar


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.

Gallo-Roman Chariot Race Mosaic

Chariot Race Mosaic

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.

Celtic Horned Helmet

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

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.

Roman Legion

Professional Roman Soldiers in Legion


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.

Gold Coin of Suessiones

Gallo-Belgic Gold Coin

 

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.

Celtic Village of Roundhouses

Ancient Celtic Village of Roundhouses

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.

Celtic Shield British Museum

Celtic Shield La Tène Style

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.

Ancient Roman Warship Model

Roman Warship Model


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.

Pebble Beach Deal UK

Landing Site for Julius Caesar’s Flotilla (Deal UK)

Initial Conflict

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.

Hillside Coastal White Cliffs Britain

Coastal White Cliffs Britain


Storm’s Wrath

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.

Ancient Roman Ship Frieze

Roman Ship Image on Frieze

 

(To be continued)

References:

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.

6 Responses to "Caesar Second Invasion Britain"
  1. Hi Linnea,
    It’s fascinating to read what you uncover in history as you work on your novel. I look forward to reading your epic book when it publishes it. In the meantime, I enjoy journeying back with you and taking in all of the fine details you provide us readers. I wish you a wonderful weekend.

    ~Christy

    • Hi Christy,

      Thank you so much for your gracious comments. I am glad you enjoyed the post. This was a fascinating era in Ancient Britain between the time of Caesar’s invasions and almost 90 years later when the Roman Emperor Claudius finally conquered the island. In future posts, I’ll be discussing the powerful British kings who arose during these 90 years and whose divisions help set the stage for the Roman conquest.

      I appreciate your continued support. Have a great week!

      Regards,
      Linnea

  2. Aquileana says:

    An epic post and great retelling dear Linnea… As always, an intriguing post and truly interesting to learn with you!. I particularly enjoyed the excerpt called: ‘Diverse Tribal Regions’ and your summary on the previous invasion is also very useful to get the whole picture of the historical situation… Thanks for sharing and all my best wishes to you. Aquileana 😀

    • Hi Aquileana,

      I appreciate your generous comments. As you indicate, one of the most interesting facets about the history of Ancient Britain was the tribal rivalries and cultural differences of the people. For the next ninety hears after Caesar’s invasions, powerful British rulers who were forced out of Britain appealed to Roman Emperors for them to intervene on their behalf. These political rivalries helped set the stage for Rome’s decision to invade the isle in 43 AD. It was only then the British realized Roman brutality and began to unite.

      Thank you again for your continued support. Have a great week!

      Regards,
      Linnea

  3. Luciana says:

    Dear Linnea

    What an awesome article! I did not know Caesar had new ships built for his second invasion, a clever tactic. From reading about Caesar, his strategies in most of his campaigns was to strike hard and fast, catch the opponents unaware. It worked most of the time, the exception of course was the weather. No one can conquer Mother Nature.
    His descriptions are always exaggerated, especially when it came to his conquests, though they are very good sources of information.

    Thank you for a wonderful exposition.

    regards
    Luciana 😀

    • Hi Luciana,

      I appreciate your insightful comment about Caesar. In reality, it is debatable whether Caesar’s invasions could truly be considered a complete success. Nature was definitely his most formidable opponent when he invaded both times, even though the second time he thought he had prepared to overcome this force. What he did manage to do was establish treaties with some of the powerful tribal rulers. Though Rome did not conquer the isle until almost ninety years later, the Empire still had substantial influence on their politics which I will be discussing in future posts.

      Thank you for your continued support. I’ve also enjoyed your recent posts on the lost civilization of Atlantis which have been fascinating luccav.com. Have a great week!

      Best wishes,
      Linnea

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