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The unpublished epic historical fantasy [1st novel: APOLLO’S RAVEN; 2nd novel: RAVEN’S FIRE] is envisioned to be a series in the Celtic Spirit Odyssey set in Celtic Britain,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

2 Responses to "Roman Hostage Taking: Caesar’s Invasion of Britain"
  1. Tom says:

    All I care to know is a man is a human being- that is enough for me; he can not be much worse. You think? Tom

  2. Very great post. I simply stumbled upon your blog and wanted to mention that I’ve really loved browsing your blog posts. After all I’ll be subscribing in your feed and I am hoping you write again soon!

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