‘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’
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tribal rulers in 1st Century Britain provides the backdrop to the epic historical fantasy, APOLLO’S RAVEN, the first unpublished novel in a series about a Celtic warrior princess and the great-grandson of Marc Antony.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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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