Roman Hostage Taking — Caesar’s Invasion Britain Part 5

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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



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unrest between rival Celtic tribal rulers provides the backdrop to the epic historical fantasy, of which the first unpublished novel, APOLLO’S RAVEN, is a tale about the heroine, Catrin—a spirit warrior destined to meet the great-grandson of Marc Antony and to become queen of her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

British Roman Lighthouse and Cathedral

Dover Roman Lighthouse and Cathedral

Roman Hostage Taking

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.

Roman 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.

Celtic Child in Roma Ara Pacis Procession Nord Particolare

Celtic child in frieze of Ara Pacis Augustae (Altar of Augustan Peace)

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.

Julius Caesar Statue

Statue of Julius Caesar

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.

Celtic Round House

Celtic Round House for Assembly

Caesar’s Motivation for Roman Hostage Taking

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.

Ancient Roman Ship Frieze

Roman Ship Image on Frieze


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.

Frieze Roman Cavalry

Roman Cavalry Frieze


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.


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.

2 Responses to "Roman Hostage Taking — Caesar’s Invasion Britain Part 5"
  1. Tom says:

    “There’s always a hole in theories somewhere,if you look close enough.” Mark Twain
    I think you may have found some new theories with Roman history. Very Good Job!

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