HumanitiesWeb HumanitiesWeb
Sort By Author Sort By Title

Sort By Author
Sort By Title


Get Your Degree!

Find schools and get information on the program that’s right for you.

Powered by Campus Explorer

& etc

All Rights Reserved.

Site last updated
28 October, 2012
Real Time Analytics
Early Britain--Roman Britain
The Julian Invasion, B.C. 55, 54
by Conybeare, Edward


Caesar and Britain—Breakdown of Roman Republican institutions—Corruption abroad and at
home—Rise of Caesar—Conquest of Gaul.

A. 1.—If the connection of Britain with Rome is the pivot on which the whole history of our island turns, it is no less true that the first connection of Rome with Britain is the pivot whereon all Roman history depends. For its commencement marks the furthest point reached in his career of conquest by the man without whom Roman history must needs have come to a shameful and disastrous end—Julius Caesar.

A. 2.—The old Roman constitution and the old Roman character had alike proved wholly unequal to meet the strain thrown upon them by the acquisition of the world-wide empire which they had gained for their city. Under the stress of the long feud between its Patrician and Plebeian elements that constitution had developed into an instrument for the regulation of public affairs, admirably adapted for a City-state, where each magistrate performs his office under his neighbour's eye and over his own constituents; constantly amenable both to public opinion and to the checks provided by law. But it never contemplated Pro-consuls bearing sway over the unenfranchised populations of distant Provinces, whence news filtered through to Rome but slowly, and where such legal checks as a man had to reckon with were in the hands of a Court far more ready to sympathize with the oppression of non-voters than to resent it.

A. 3.—And these officials had deteriorated from the old Roman rectitude, as the Spartan harmosts deteriorated under conditions exactly similar in the days of the Lacedaemonian supremacy over Hellas. And, in both cases, the whole national character was dragged down by the degradation of what we may call the Colonial executive. Like the Spartan, the Roman of "the brave days of old" was often stern, and even brutal, towards his enemies. But he was a devoted patriot, he was true to his plighted faith, and above all he was free from all taint of pecuniary corruption. The earlier history of both nations is full of legends illustrating these points, which, whether individually true or not, bear abundant testimony to the national ideal. But with irresponsible power, Roman and Spartan alike, while remaining as brutally indifferent as ever to the sufferings of others, lost all that was best in his own ethical equipment. Instead of patriotism we find unblushing self-interest as the motive of every action; in place of good faith, the most shameless dishonesty; and, for the old contempt of ill-gotten gains, a corruption so fathomless and all-pervading as fairly to stagger us. The tale of the doings of Verres in a district so near Rome as Sicily shows us a depth of mire and degeneration to which no constitution could sink and live.

A. 4.—Nor could the Roman constitution survive it. From the Provinces the taint spread with fatal rapidity to the City itself. The thirst for lucre became the leading force in the State; for its sake the Classes more and more trampled down the Masses; and entrance to the Classes was a matter no longer of birth, but of money alone. And all history testifies that the State which becomes a plutocracy is doomed indeed. Of all possible forms of government—autocracy, oligarchy, democracy—that is the lowest, that most surely bears within itself the seeds of its own inevitable ruin.

A. 5.—So it was with the Roman Republic. As soon as this stage was reached it began to "stew in its own juice" with appalling rapidity. Reformers, like the Gracchi, were crushed; and the commonwealth went to pieces under the shocks and counter-shocks of demagogues like Clodius, conspirators like Catiline, and military adventurers such as Marius and Sulla—for whose statue the Senate could find no more constitutional title than "The Lucky General" [Sullae Imperatori Felici] Well-meaning individuals, such as Cicero and Pompey, were still to be found, and even came to the front, but they all alike proved unequal to the crisis; which, in fact, threw up one man, and one only, of force to become a real maker of history—Caius Julius Caesar, the first Roman invader of Britain.

A. 6.—Caesar was at the time of this invasion (55 B.C.) some forty-five years old; but he had not long become a real power in the political arena. Sprung from the bluest blood of Rome—the Julian House tracing their origin to the mythical Iulus, son of Aeneas, and thus claiming descent from the Goddess Venus—we might have expected to find him enrolled amongst the aristocratic conservatives, the champions of the régime of Sulla. But though a mere boy at the date of the strife between the partisans of Sulla and Marius (B.C. 88-78), Caesar was already clear-sighted enough to perceive that in the "Classes" of that day there was no help for the tempest-tossed commonwealth. Accordingly he threw in his lot with the revolutionary Marian movement, broke off a wealthy matrimonial engagement arranged for him by his parents to become the son-in-law of Cinna, and in the very thick of the Sullan proscriptions, braved the Dictator by openly glorying in his connection with the defeated reformers. How he escaped with his life, even at the intercession, if it was indeed made, of the Vestals, is a mystery; for Sulla (who had little regard for religious, or any other, scruples) was deliberately extirpating every soul whom he thought dangerous to the plutocracy, and is said to have pronounced "that boy" as "more to be dreaded than many a Marius." He did, however, escape; but till the vanquished party recovered in some degree from this ruthless massacre of their leaders, he could take no prominent part in politics. The minor offices of Quaestor, Aedile, and Praetor he filled with credit, and meanwhile seemed to be giving himself up to shine in Society, which was not, in Rome, then at its best; and his reputation for intrigue, his skill at the gaming-table, and his fashionable swagger were the envy of all the young bloods of the day.

A. 7.—The Catiline conspiracy (B.C. 63), and the irregular executions that followed its suppression, at length gave him his opportunity. While the Senate was hailing Cicero as "the Father of his country" for the stern promptitude which enabled him, as Consul, to say "Vixere" ["They have lived"] in answer to the question as to the doom of the conspirators, Caesar had electrified the assembly by his denunciation of the view that, in whatsoever extremity, the blood of Roman citizens might be shed by a Roman Consul, secretly and without legal warrant. Henceforward he took his place as the special leader on whom popular feeling at Rome more and more pinned its hopes. As Pontifex Maximus he gained (B.C. 63) a shadowy but far from unreal religious influence; as Pro-praetor he solidified the Roman dominion in Spain (where he had already been Quaestor); and on his return (B.C. 60) reconciled Crassus, the head of the moneyed interest, with Pompey, the darling of the Army, and by their united influence was raised next year to the Consulship.

A. 8.—A Roman Consul invariably, after the expiration of his year of office, was sent as Pro-consul to take charge of one of the Provinces, practically having a good deal of personal say as to which should be assigned to him. Caesar thus chose for his proconsular government the district of Gaul then under Roman dominion, i.e. the valley of the Po, and that of the Rhone. In making this choice Caesar was actuated by the fact that in Gaul he was more likely than anywhere else to come in for active service. Unquiet neighbours on the frontier, Germans and Helvetians, were threatening invasion, and would have to be repelled. And this would give the Pro-consul the chance of doing what Caesar specially desired, of raising and training an army which he might make as devoted to himself as were Pompey's veterans to their brilliant chieftain—the hero "as beautiful as he was brave, as good as he was beautiful." Without such a force Caesar foresaw that all his efforts to redress the abuses of the State would be in vain. As Consul he had carried certain small instalments of reform; but they had made him more hated than ever by the classes at whose corruption they were aimed, and might any day be overthrown. And neither Pompey nor Crassus were in any way to be depended upon for his plans in this direction.

A. 9.—Events proved kinder to him than he could have hoped. His ill-wishers at Rome actually aided his preparations for war; for Caesar had not yet gained any special military reputation, while the barbarians whom he was to meet had a very high one, and might reasonably be expected to destroy him. And the Helvetian peril proved of such magnitude that he had every excuse for making a much larger levy than there was any previous prospect of his securing. On the surpassing genius with which he manipulated the weapon thus put into his hand there is no need to dwell. Suffice it to say that in spite of overwhelming superiority in numbers, courage yet more signal, a stronger individual physique, and arms as effective, his foes one after another vanished before him. Helvetians, Germans, Belgians, were not merely conquered, but literally annihilated, as often as they ventured to meet him, and in less than three years the whole of Gaul was at his feet.


Sea-fight with Veneti and Britons—Pretexts for invading Britain—British dominion of Divitiacus
—Gallic tribes in Britain—Atrebates—Commius.

B. 1.—One of the last tribes to be subdued (in B.C. 56) was that which, as the chief seafaring race of Gaul, had the most intimate relations with Britain, the Veneti, or men of Vannes, who dwelt in what is now Brittany.68 These enterprising mariners had developed a form of vessel fitted to cope with the stormy Chops of the Channel on lines exactly opposite to those of the British "curraghs."69 Instead of being so light as to rise to every lift of the waves, and with frames so flexible as to bend rather than break under their every stress, the Venetian ships were of the most massive construction, built wholly of the stoutest oak planking, and with timbers upwards of a foot in thickness. All were bolted together with iron pins "as thick as a man's thumb." Forecastle and poop were alike lofty, with a lower waist for the use of sweeps if needful. But this was only exceptional, sails being the usual motive power. And these were constructed chiefly with a view to strength. Instead of canvas, they were formed of untanned hides. And instead of hempen cables the Veneti were so far ahead of their time as to use iron chains with their anchors; an invention which perished with them, not to come in again till the 19th century. Their broad beam and shallow keel enabled these ships to lie more conveniently in the tidal inlets on either side of the Channel.70

B. 2.—Thus equipped, the Veneti had tapped the tin trade at its source, and established emporia at Falmouth, Plymouth, and Exmouth; on the sites of which ancient ingots, Gallic coins of gold, and other relics of their period have lately been discovered. Thence they conveyed their freight to the Seine, the Loire, and even the Garonne. The great Damnonian clan, which held the whole of Devon and Cornwall, were in close alliance with them, and sent auxiliaries to aid in their final struggle against Caesar. Indeed they may possibly have drawn allies from a yet wider area, if, as Mr. Elton conjectures, the prehistoric boats which have at various times been found in the silt at Glasgow may be connected with their influence.71

B. 3.—Caesar describes his struggle with the Veneti and their British allies as one of the most arduous in his Gallic campaigns. The Roman war galleys depended largely upon ramming in their sea-fights, but the Venetian ships were so solidly built as to defy this method of attack. At the same time their lofty prows and sterns enabled them to deliver a plunging fire of missiles on the Roman decks, and even to command the wooden turrets which Caesar had added to his bulwarks. They invariably fought under sail, and manoeuvred so skilfully that boarding was impossible. In the end, after several unsuccessful skirmishes, Caesar armed his marines with long billhooks, instructing them to strike at the halyards of the Gallic vessels as they swept past. (These must have been fastened outboard.) The device succeeded. One after another, in a great battle off Quiberon, of which the Roman land force were spectators, the huge leathern mainsails dropped on to the decks, doubtless "covering the ship as with a pall," as in the like misfortune to the Elizabethan Revenge in her heroic defence against the Spanish fleet, and hopelessly crippling the vessel, whether for sailing or rowing. The Romans were at last able to board, and the whole Venetian fleet fell into their hands. The strongholds on the coast were now stormed, and the entire population either slaughtered or sold into slavery, as an object lesson to the rest of the confederacy of the fate in store for those who dared to stand out against the Genius of Rome.

B. 4.—Caesar had now got a very pretty excuse for extending his operations to Britain, and, as his object was to pose at Rome as "a Maker of Empire," he eagerly grasped at the chance. Something of a handle, moreover, was afforded him by yet another connection between the two sides of the Channel. Many people were still alive who remembered the days when Divitiacus, King of the Suessiones (at Soissons), had been the great potentate of Northern Gaul. In Caesar's time this glory was of the past, and the Suessiones had sunk to a minor position amongst the Gallic clans. But within the last half-century the sway of their monarch had been acknowledged not only over great part of Gaul, but in Britain also. Caesar's words, indeed, would almost seem to point to the island as a whole having been in some sense under him: Etiam Britanniae imperium obtinuit.72

B. 5.—And traces of his rule still existed in the occupation of British districts by colonists from two tribes, which, as his nearest neighbours, must certainly have formed part of any North Gallic confederacy under him—the Atrebates and the Parisii. The former had their continental seat in Picardy; the latter, as their name tells us, on the Seine. Their insular settlements were along the southern bank of the Thames and the northern bank of the Humber respectively. How far the two sets of Parisians held together politically does not appear; but the Atrebates, whether in Britain or Gaul, acknowledged the claim of a single magnate, named Commius, to be their paramount Chieftain.73 In this capacity he had led his followers against Caesar in the great Belgic confederacy of B.C. 58, and on its collapse, instead of holding out to the last like the Nervii, had made a timely submission. If convenient, this submission might be represented as including that of his British dominions; especially as we gather that a contingent from over-sea may have actually fought under his banner against the Roman eagles. Nay, it is possible that the old claims of the ruler of Soissons over Britain may have been revived, now that that ruler was Julius Caesar. It is even conceivable that his complaint of British assistance having been given to the enemy "in all our Gallic wars" may point to his having heard some form of the legend, whose echoes we meet with in Welsh Triads, that the Gauls who sacked Rome three centuries earlier numbered Britons amongst their ranks.


Defeat of Germans—Bridge over Rhine—Caesar's army—Dread of ocean—Fleet at Boulogne
—Commius sent to Britain—Channel crossed—Attempt on Dover—Landing at Deal—Legionary
sentiment—British army dispersed.

C. 1.—For making use of these pretexts, however, Caesar had to wait a while. It was needful to bring home to both supporters and opponents his brilliant success by showing himself in Rome, during the idle season when his men were in winter quarters. And when he got back to his Province with the spring of A.D. 55, his first attention had to be given to the Rhine frontier, whence a formidable German invasion was threatening. With his usual skill and war-craft—which, on this occasion, in the eyes of his Roman ill-wishers, seemed indistinguishable from treachery—he annihilated the Teutonic horde which had dared to cross the river; and then, by a miracle of engineering skill, bridged the broad and rapid stream, and made such a demonstration in Germany itself as to check the national trek westward for half a millennium.

C. 2.—By this time, as this wonderful feat shows, the Army of Gaul had become one of those perfect instruments into which only truly great commanders can weld their forces. Like the Army of the Peninsula, in the words of Wellington, "it could go anywhere and do anything." The men who, when first enlisted, had trembled before the Gauls, and absolutely shed tears at the prospect of encountering Germans, now, under the magic of Caesar's genius, had learnt to dread nothing. Often surprised, always outnumbered, sometimes contending against tenfold odds, the legionaries never faltered. Each individual soldier seems to have learnt to do instinctively the right thing in every emergency, and every man worshipped his general. For every man could see that it was Caesar and Caesar alone to whom every victory was due. The very training of the engineers, the very devices, such as that of the Rhine bridge, by which such mighty results were achieved, were all due to him. Never before had any Roman leader, not even Pompey "the Great," awakened such devotion amongst his followers.

C. 3.—Caesar therefore experienced no such difficulty as we shall find besetting the Roman commanders of the next century, in persuading his men to follow him "beyond the world,"74 and to dare the venture, hitherto unheard of in the annals of Rome, of crossing the ocean itself. We must remember that this crossing was looked upon by the Romans as something very different from the transits hither and thither upon the Mediterranean Sea with which they were familiar. The Ocean to them was an object of mysterious horror. Untold possibilities of destruction might lurk in its tides and billows. Whence those tides came and how far those billows rolled was known to no man. To dare its passage might well be to court Heaven knew what of supernatural vengeance.

C. 4.—But Caesar's men were ready to brave all things while he led them. So, after having despatched his German business, he determined to employ the short remainder of the summer in a reconnaissance en force across the Channel, with a view to subsequent invasion of Britain. He had already made inquiries of all whom he could find connected with the Britanno-Gallic trade as to the size and military resources of the island. But they proved unwilling witnesses, and he could not even get out of them what they must perfectly well have known, the position of the best harbours on the southern shores.

C. 5.—His first act, therefore, was to send out a galley under Volusenus "to pry along the coast," and meanwhile to order the fleet which he had built against the Veneti to rendezvous at Boulogne. Besides these war-galleys (naves longae) he got together eighty transports, enough for two legions, besides eighteen more for the cavalry.75 These last were detained by a contrary wind at "a further harbour," eight miles distant—probably Ambleteuse at the mouth of the Canche.76

C. 6.—All these preparations, though they seem to have been carried out with extreme celerity, lasted long enough to alarm the Britons. Several clans sent over envoys, to promise submission if only Caesar would refrain from invading the country. This, however, did not suit Caesar's purpose. Such diplomatic advantages would be far less impressive in the eyes of the Roman "gallery" to which he was playing than his actual presence in Britain. So he merely told the envoys that it would be all the better for them if he found them in so excellent and submissive a frame of mind on his arrival at their shores, and sent them back, along with Commius, who was to bring in his own clan, the Atrebates, and as many more as he could influence. And the Britons on their part, though ready to make a nominal submission to "the mighty name of Rome," were resolved not to tolerate an actual invasion without a fight for it. In every clan the war party came to the front, all negotiations were abruptly broken off, Commius was thrown into chains, and a hastily-summoned levy lined the coast about Dover, where the enemy were expected to make their first attempt to land.

C. 7.—Dover, in fact, was the port that Caesar made for. It was, at this date, the obvious harbour for such a fleet as his. All along the coast of Kent the sea has, for many centuries, been constantly retreating. Partly by the silting-up of river-mouths, partly by the great drift of shingle from west to east which is so striking a feature of our whole southern shore, fresh land has everywhere been forming. Places like Rye and Winchelsea, which were well-known havens of the Cinque Ports even to late mediaeval times, are now far inland. And though Dover is still our great south-eastern harbour, this is due entirely to the artificial extensions which have replaced the naturally enclosed tidal area for which Caesar made. There is abundant evidence that in his day the site of the present town was the bed of an estuary winding for a mile or more inland between steep chalk cliffs,77 not yet denuded into slopes, whence the beach on either side was absolutely commanded.

C. 8.—Caesar saw at a glance that a landing here was impossible to such a force as he had with him. He had sailed from Boulogne "in the third watch"—with the earliest dawn, that is to say—and by 10 a.m. his leading vessels, with himself on board, were close under Shakespeare's Cliff. There he saw the British army in position waiting for him, crowning the heights above the estuary, and ready to overwhelm his landing-parties with a plunging fire of missiles. He anchored for a space till the rest of his fleet came up, and meanwhile called a council of war of his leading officers to deliberate on the best way of proceeding in the difficulty. It was decided to make for the open shore to the northwards (perhaps for Richborough,78 the next secure roadstead of those days), and at three in the afternoon the trumpet sounded, the anchors were weighed, and the fleet coasted onwards with the flowing tide.79

C. 9.—The British army also struck camp, and kept pace by land with the invaders' progress. First came the cavalry and chariot-men, the mounted infantry of the day; then followed the main body, who in the British as in every army, ancient or modern, fought on foot. We can picture the scene, the bright harvest afternoon—(according to the calculations of Napoleon, in his 'Life of Caesar,' it was St. Bartholomew's Day)—the calm sea, the long Roman galleys with their rows of sweeps, the heavier and broader transports with their great mainsails rounding out to the gentle breeze, and on cliff and beach the British ranks in their waving tartans—each clan, probably, distinguished by its own pattern—the bright armour of the chieftains, the thick array of weapons, and in front the mounted contingent hurrying onwards to give the foe a warm greeting ere he could set foot on shore.

C. 10.—Thus did invaders and defenders move on, for some seven miles, passing, as Dio Cassius notes, beneath the lofty cliffs of the South Foreland,80 till these died down into the flat shore and open beach of Deal. By this time it must have been nearly five o'clock, and if Caesar was to land at all that day it must be done at once. Anchor was again cast; but so flat was the shore that the transports, which drew at least four feet of water, could not come within some distance of it. Between the legionaries and the land stretched yards of sea, shoulder-deep to begin with, and concealing who could say what treacherous holes and quicksands beneath its surface. And their wading had to be done under heavy fire; for the British cavalry and chariots had already come up, and occupied every yard of the beach, greeting with a shower of missiles every motion of the Romans to disembark. This was more than even Caesar's soldiers were quite prepared to face. The men, small shame to them, hesitated, and did not spring overboard with the desired alacrity. Caesar's galleys, however, were of lighter draught, and with them he made a demonstration on the right flank (the latus apertum of ancient warfare, the shield being on every man's left arm) of the British; who, under a severe fire of slings, arrows, and catapults, drew back, though only a little, to take up a new formation, and their fire, in turn, was for the moment silenced. And that moment was seized for a gallant feat of arms which shows how every rank of Caesar's army was animated by Caesar's spirit.

C. II.—The ensign of every Roman legion was the Roman Eagle, perched upon the head of the standard-pole, and regarded with all, and more than all, the feeling which our own regiments have for their regimental colours. As with them, the staff which bore the Eagle of the Legion also bore inscriptions commemorating the honours and victories the legion had won, and to lose it to the foe was an even greater disgrace than with us. For a Roman legion was a much larger unit than a modern regiment, and corresponded rather to a Division; indeed, in the completeness of its separate organization, it might almost be called an Army Corps. Six thousand was its normal force in infantry, and it had its own squadrons of cavalry attached, its own engineer corps, its own baggage train, and its own artillery of catapults and balistae.81 There was thus even more legionary feeling in the Roman army than there is regimental feeling in our own.

C. 12.—At this time, however, this feeling, so potent in its effects subsequently, was a new development. Caesar himself would seem to have been the first to see how great an incentive such divisional sentiment might prove, and to have done all he could to encourage it. He had singled out one particular legion, the Tenth, as his own special favourite, and made its soldiers feel themselves the objects of his special regard. And this it was which now saved the day for him. The colour-sergeant of that legion, seeing the momentary opening given by the flanking movement of the galleys, after a solemn prayer that this might be well for his legion, plunged into the sea, ensign in hand. "Over with you, comrades," he cried, "if you would not see your Eagle taken by the enemy." With a universal shout of "Never, never" the legion followed; the example spread from ship to ship, and the whole Roman army was splashing and struggling towards the shore of Britain.

C. 13.—At the same time this was no easy task. As every bather knows, it is not an absolutely straightforward matter for even an unencumbered man to effect a landing upon a shingle beach, if ever so little swell is on. And the Roman soldier had to keep his footing, and use his arms moreover for fighting, with some half-hundredweight of accoutrements about him. To form rank was, of course, out of the question. The men forced their way onward, singly and in little groups, often having to stand back to back in rallying-squares, as soon as they came within hand-stroke of the enemy.82 And this was before they reached dry land. For the British cavalry and chariots dashed into the water to meet them, making full use of the advantage which horsemen have under such circumstances, able to ply the full swing of their arms unembarrassed by the waves, not lifted off their feet or rolled over by the swell, and delivering their blows from above on foes already in difficulties. And on their side, they copied the flanking movement of the Romans, and wheeled round a detachment to fire upon the latus apertum of such invaders as succeeded in reaching shallower water.

C. 14.—Thus the fight, in Caesar's words, was an exceedingly sharp one. It was not decided till he sent in the boats of his galleys, and any other light craft he had, to mingle with the combatants. These could doubtless get right alongside the British chariots; and now the advantage of position came to be the other way. A troop of irregular horsemen up to their girths in water is no match for a boat's crew of disciplined infantry. Moreover the tide was flowing,83 and driving the Britons back moment by moment. For a while they yet resisted bravely, but discipline had the last word. Yard by yard the Romans won their way, till at length they set foot ashore, formed up on the beach in that open order84 which made the unique strength of the Legions, and delivered their irresistible charge. The Britons did not wait for the shock. Their infantry was, probably, already in retreat, covered by the cavalry and chariots, who now in their turn gave rein to their ponies and retired at a gallop.

C. 15.—Caesar saw them go, and bitterly felt that his luck had failed him. Had he but cavalry, this retreat might have been turned into a rout. But his eighteen transports had failed to arrive, and his drenched and exhausted infantry were in no case for effective pursuit of a foe so superior in mobility. Moreover the sun must have been now fast sinking, and all speed had to be made to get the camp fortified before nightfall. But the Roman soldier was an adept at entrenching himself. A rampart was hastily thrown up, the galleys beached at the top of the tide and run up high and dry beyond the reach of the surf, the transports swung to their anchors where the ebb would not leave them grounded, the quarters of the various cohorts assigned them, the sentries and patrols duly set; and under the summer moon, these first of the Roman invaders lay down for their first night on British soil.


Wreck of fleet—Fresh British levy—Fight in corn-field—British chariots—Attack on camp—Romans
driven into sea.

D. 1.—Meanwhile the defeated Britons had made off, probably to their camp above Dover, where their leaders' first act, on rallying, was to send their prisoner, Commius, under a flag of truce to Caesar, with a promise of unconditional submission. That his landing had been opposed, was, they declared, no fault of theirs; it was all the witlessness of their ignorant followers, who had insisted on fighting. Would he overlook it? Yes; Caesar was ready to show this clemency; but, after conduct so very like treachery, considering their embassy to him in Gaul, he must insist on hostages, and plenty of them. A few were accordingly sent in, and the rest promised in a few days, being the quota due from more distant clans. The British forces were disbanded; indeed, as it was harvest time, they could scarcely have been kept embodied anyhow; and a great gathering of chieftains was held at which it was resolved that all alike should acknowledge the suzerainty of Rome.

D. 2.—This assembly seems to have been held on the morrow of the battle or the day after, so that it can only have been attended by the local Kentish chiefs, unless we are to suppose (as may well have been the case), that the Army of Dover comprised levies and captains from other parts of Britain. But whatever it was, before the resolution could be carried into effect an unlooked-for accident changed the whole situation.

D. 3.—On the fourth day after the Roman landing, the south-westerly wind which had carried Caesar across shifted a few points to the southward. The eighteen cavalry transports were thus enabled to leave Ambleteuse harbour, and were seen approaching before a gentle breeze. The wind, however, continued to back against the sun, and, as usual, to freshen in doing so. Thus, before they could make the land, it was blowing hard from the eastward, and there was nothing for them but to bear up. Some succeeded in getting back to the shelter of the Gallic shore, others scudded before the gale and got carried far to the west, probably rounding-to under the lee of Beachy Head, where they anchored. For this, however, there was far too much sea running. Wave after wave dashed over the bows, they were in imminent danger of swamping, and, when the tide turned at nightfall, they got under weigh and shaped the best course they could to the southern shore of the Channel.

D. 4.—And this same tide that thus carried away his reinforcements all but wrecked Caesar's whole fleet at Deal. His mariners had strangely forgotten that with the full moon the spring tides would come on; a phenomenon which had been long ago remarked by Pytheas,85 and with which they themselves must have been perfectly familiar on the Gallic coast. And this tide was not only a spring, but was driven by a gale blowing straight on shore. Thus the sleeping soldiers were aroused by the spray dashing over them, and awoke to find the breakers pounding into their galleys on the beach; while, of the transports, some dragged their anchors and were driven on shore to become total wrecks, some cut their cables, and beat, as best they might, out to sea, and all, when the tide and wind alike went down, were found next morning in wretched plight. Not an anchor or cable, says Caesar, was left amongst them, so that it was impossible for them to keep their station off the shore by the camp.

D. 5.—The army, not unnaturally, was in dismay. They were merely on a reconnaissance, without any supply of provisions, without even their usual baggage; perhaps without tents, certainly without any means of repairing the damage to the fleet. Get back to Gaul for the winter they must under pain of starvation, and where were the ships to take them?

D. 6.—The Britons, on the other hand, felt that their foes were now delivered into their hands. Instead of the submission they were arranging, the Council of the Chiefs resolved to make the most of the opportunity, and teach the world by a great example that Britain was not a safe place to invade. Nor need this cost many British lives. They had only to refuse the Romans food; what little could be got by foraging would soon be exhausted; then would come the winter, and the starving invaders would fall an easy prey. The annihilation of the entire expedition would damp Roman ambitions against Britain for many a long day. A solemn oath bound one and all to this plan, and every chief secretly began to levy his clansmen afresh.

D. 7.—Naturally, hostages ceased to be sent in; but it did not need this symptom to show Caesar in how tight a place he now was. His only chance was to strain every nerve to get his ships refitted; and by breaking up those most damaged, and ordering what materials were available from the Continent, he did in a week or two succeed in rendering some sixty out of his eighty vessels just seaworthy.

D. 8.—And while this work was in progress, another event showed how imperative was his need and how precarious his situation. He had, in fact, been guilty of a serious military blunder in going with a mere flying column into Britain as he had gone into Germany. The Channel was not the Rhine, and ships were exposed to risks from which his bridge had been entirely exempt. Nothing but a crushing defeat would cut him off from retiring by that; but the Ocean was not to be so bridled.

D. 9.—It was, as we have said, the season of harvest, and the corn was not yet cut, though the men of Kent were busily at work in the fields. With regard to the crops nearest the camp, the legionaries spared them the trouble of reaping, by commandeering the corn themselves, the area of their operations having, of course, to be continually extended. Harvesters numbered by the thousand make quick work; and in a day or two the whole district was cleared, either by Roman or Briton. Caesar's scouts could only bring him word of one unreaped field, bordered by thick woodland, a mile or two from the camp, and hidden from it by a low swell of the ground. Mr. Vine, in his able monograph 'Caesar in Kent,' thinks that the spot may still be identified, on the way between Deal and Dover, where, by this time, a considerable British force was once more gathered. So entirely was the whole country on the patriot side, that no suspicion of all this reached the Romans, and still less did they dream that the unreaped corn-field was an elaborate trap, and that the woodlands beside it were filled, or ready for filling, by masses of the enemy. The Seventh legion, which was that day on duty, sent out a strong fatigue party to seize the prize; who, on reaching the field, grounded shields and spears, took off, probably, their helmets and tunics, and set to work at cutting down the corn, presumably with their swords.

D. 10.—Not long afterwards the camp guard reported to Caesar that a strange cloud of dust was rising beyond the ridge over which the legion had disappeared. Seeing at once that something was amiss, he hastily bade the two cohorts (about a thousand men) of the guard to set off with him instantly, while the other legion, the Tenth, was to relieve them, and follow with all the rest of their force as speedily as possible. Pushing on with all celerity, he soon could tell by the shouts of his soldiers and the yells of the enemy that his men were hard pressed; and, on crowning the ridge, saw the remnant of the legion huddled together in a half-armed mass, with the British chariots sweeping round them, each chariot-crew86 as it came up springing down to deliver a destructive volley of missiles, then on board and away to replenish their magazine and charge in once more.

D. 11.—Even at this moment Caesar found time to note and admire the supreme skill which the enemy showed in this, to him, novel mode of fighting. Their driving was like that of the best field artillery of our day; no ground could stop them; up and down slopes, between and over obstacles, they kept their horses absolutely in hand; and, out of sheer bravado, would now and again exhibit such feats of trick-driving as to run along the pole, and stand on the yoke, while at full speed. Such skill, as he truly observed, could not have been acquired without constant drill, both of men and horses; and his military genius grasped at once the immense advantages given by these tactics, combining "the mobility of cavalry with the stability of infantry."

D. 12.—We may notice that Caesar says not a word of the scythe-blades with which popular imagination pictures the wheels of the British chariots to have been armed. Such devices were in use amongst the Persians, and figure at Cunaxa and Arbela. But there the chariots were themselves projectiles, as it were, to break the hostile ranks; and even for this purpose the scythes proved quite ineffective, while they must have made the whole equipment exceedingly unhandy. In the 'De Re Militari' (an illustrated treatise of the 5th century A.D. annexed to the 'Notitia') scythed chariots are shown. But the scythes always have chains attached, to pull them up out of the way in ordinary manoeuvres. The Britons of this date, whose chariots were only to bring their crews up to the foe and carry them off again, had, we may be sure, no such cumbrous and awkward arrangement.87

D. 13.—On this scene of wild onset Caesar arrived in the nick of time [tempore opportunissimo]. The Seventh, surprised and demoralized, were on the point of breaking, when his appearance on the ridge caused the assailants to draw back. The Tenth came up and formed; their comrades, possibly regaining some of their arms, rallied behind them, and the Britons did not venture to press their advantage home. But neither did Caesar feel in any case to retaliate the attack [alienum esse tempus arbitratus], and led his troops back with all convenient speed. The Britons, we may well believe, represented the affair as a glorious victory for the patriot arms.88 They employed several days of bad weather which followed in spreading the tidings, and calling on all lovers of freedom or of spoil to join in one great effort for crushing the presumptuous invader.

D. 14.—The news spread like wild-fire, and the Romans found themselves threatened in their very camp (whence they had taken care not to stir since their check) by a mighty host both of horse and footmen. Caesar was compelled to fight, the legions were drawn up with their backs to the rampart, that the hostile cavalry might not take them in rear, and, after a long hand-to-hand struggle, the Roman charge once more proved irresistible. The Britons turned their backs and fled; this time cut up, in their retreat, by a small body of thirty Gallic horsemen whom Commius had brought over as his escort, and who had shared his captivity and release. So weak a force could, of course, inflict no serious loss upon the enemy, but, before returning to the camp, they made a destructive raid through the neighbouring farms and villages, "wasting all with fire and sword far and wide."

D. 15.—That same day came fresh envoys to treat for peace. They were now required to furnish twice as many hostages as before; but Caesar could not wait to receive them. They must be sent after him to the Continent. His position had become utterly untenable; the equinoctial gales might any day begin; and he was only too glad to find wind and weather serve that very night for his re-embarkation. Under cover of the darkness he huddled his troops on board; and next morning the triumphant Britons beheld the invaders' fleet far on their flight across the Narrow Seas.


Caesar worsted—New fleet built—Caesar at Rome—Cicero—Expedition of 54 B.C.—Unopposed
Landing—Pro-Roman Britons—Trinobantes—Mandubratius—British army surprised—"Old
England's Hole."

E. 1.—Caesar too had, on his side, gained what he wanted, though at a risk quite disproportionate to the advantage. So much prestige had he lost that on his disembarkation his force was set upon by the very Gauls whom he had so signally beaten two years before. Their attack was crushed with little difficulty and great slaughter; but that it should have been made at all shows that he was supposed to be returning as a beaten man. However, he now knew enough about Britain and the Britons to estimate what force would be needful for a real invasion, and energetically set to work to prepare it. To make such an invasion, and to succeed in it, had now become absolutely necessary for his whole future. At any cost the events of the year 55 must be "wiped off the slate;" the more so as, out of all the British clans, two only sent in their promised hostages. Caesar's dispatches home, we may be sure, were admirably written, and so represented matters as to gain him a supplicatio, or solemn thanksgiving, of twenty days from the Senate. But the unpleasant truth was sure to leak out unless it was overlaid by something better. It did indeed so far leak out that Lucan89 was able to write: Territa quaesitis ostendit terga Britannis.
"He sought the Britons; then, in panic dread, 
Turned his brave back, and from his victory fled." 
E. 2.—Before setting off, therefore, for his usual winter visit to Rome, he set all his legionaries to work in their winter quarters, at building ships ready to carry out his plans next spring. He himself furnished the drawings, after a design of his own, like our own Alfred a thousand years later.90 They were to be of somewhat lower free-board than was customary, and of broader beam, for Caesar had noted that the choppy waves of the Channel had not the long run of Mediterranean or Atlantic rollers. All, moreover, were to be provided with sweeps; for he did not intend again to be at the mercy of the wind. And with such zeal and skill did the soldiers carry out his instructions, by aid of the material which he ordered from the dockyards of Spain, that before the winter was over they had constructed no fewer than six hundred of these new vessels, besides eighty fresh war-galleys.

E. 3.—Caesar meanwhile was also at his winter's work amid the turmoil of Roman politics. His "westward ho!" movement was causing all the stir he hoped for. We can see in Cicero's correspondence with Atticus, with Trebatius, and with his own brother Quintus (who was attached in some capacity to Caesar's second expedition), how full Rome was of gossip and surmise as to the outcome of this daring adventure. "Take care," he says to Trebatius, "you who are always preaching caution; mind you don't get caught by the British chariot-men."91 "You will find, I hear, absolutely nothing in Britain—no gold, no silver. I advise you to capture a chariot and drive straight home. Anyhow get yourself into Caesar's good books."92

E. 4.—To be in Caesar's good books was, in fact, Cicero's own great ambition at this time. Despite his constitutional zeal, he felt "the Dynasts," as he called the Triumvirate, the only really strong force in politics, and was ready to go to considerable lengths in courting their favour—Caesar's in particular. He not only withdrew all opposition to the additional five years of command in Gaul which the subservient Senate had unconstitutionally decreed to the "dynast," but induced his brother Quintus to volunteer for service in the coming invasion of Britain. Through Quintus he invited Caesar's criticisms on his own very poor verses, and wrote a letter, obviously meant to be shown, expressing boundless gratification at a favourable notice: "If he thinks well of my poetry, I shall know it is no mere one-horse concern, but a real four-in-hand." "Caesar tells me he never read better Greek. But why does he write [rhathumôtera] ['rather careless'] against one passage? He really does. Do find out why."

E. 5.—This gentle criticism seems to have somewhat damped Cicero's ardour for Caesar and his British glories. His every subsequent mention of the expedition is to belittle it. In the spring he had written to Trebatius: "So our dear Caesar really thinks well of you as a counsel. You will be glad indeed to have gone with him to Britain. There at least you will never meet your match."93 But in the summer it is: "I certainly don't blame you for showing yourself so little of a sight-seer [non nimis [philotheôron]] in this British matter."94 "I am truly glad you never went there. You have missed the trouble, and I the bore of listening to your tales about it all."95 To Atticus he writes: "We are all awaiting the issue of this British war. We hear the approaches [aditus] of the island are fortified with stupendous ramparts [mirificis molibus]. Anyhow we know that not one scruple [scrupulum] of money exists there, nor any other plunder except slaves—and none of them either literary or artistic."96 "I heard (on Oct. 24) from Caesar and from my brother Quintus that all is over in Britain. No booty.... They wrote on September 26, just embarking."

E. 6.—Both Caesar and Quintus seem to have been excellent correspondents, and between them let Cicero hear from Britain almost every week during their stay in the island, the letters taking on an average about a month to reach him. He speaks of receiving on September 27 one written by Caesar on September 1; and on September 13 one from Quintus ("your fourth")97 written August 10. And apparently they were very good letters, for which Cicero was duly grateful. "What pleasant letters," he says to Quintus, "you do write.... I see you have an extraordinary turn for writing [hypothesin] scribendi egregiam. Tell me all about it, the places, the people, the customs, the clans, the fighting. What are they all like? And what is your general like?"98 "Give me Britain, that I may paint it in your colours with my own brush [penicillo]."99 This last sentence refers to a heroic poem on "The Glories of Caesar," which Cicero seems to have meditated but never brought into being. Nor do we know anything of the contents of his British correspondence, except that it contains some speculations about our tide-ways; for, in his 'De Natura Deorum,'100 Cicero pooh-poohs the idea that such natural phenomena argue the existence of a God: "Quid? Aestus maritimi ... Britannici ... sine Deo fieri nonne possunt?"

E. 7.—Neither can we say what he meant by the "stupendous ramparts" against Caesar's access to our island. The Dover cliffs have been suggested, and the Goodwin Sands; but it seems much more probable that the Britons were believed to have artificially fortified the most accessible landing-places. Perhaps they may have actually done so, but if they did it was to no purpose; for this time Caesar disembarked his army quite unopposed. On his return from Rome he had bidden his newly-built fleet, along with what was left of the old one, rendezvous at Boulogne; whence, after long delay through a continuous north-westerly breeze [Corus], he was at length enabled to set sail with no fewer than eight hundred vessels. Never throughout history has so large a navy threatened our shores. The most numerous of the Danish expeditions contained less than four hundred ships, William the Conqueror's less than seven hundred;101 the Spanish Armada not two hundred.

E. 8.—Caesar was resolved this time to be in sufficient strength, and no longer despised his enemies. He brought with him five out of his eight legions, some thirty thousand infantry, that is, and two thousand horse. The rest remained under his most trusted lieutenant, Labienus, to police Gaul and keep open his communications with Rome. According to Polyaenus102 (A.D. 180), he even brought over with him a fighting elephant, to terrify the natives and their horses. There is nothing impossible about the story; though it is not likely Caesar would have forgotten to mention so striking a feature of his campaign. One particular animal we may be sure he had with him, his own famous charger with the cloven hoof, which had been bred in his own stud, and would suffer on its back none but himself. On it, as the rumour went, it had been prophesied by the family seer that he should ever ride to victory.

E. 9.—It was, as the Emperor Napoleon has calculated, on July 21 that, at sun-set this mighty armament put out before a gentle south-west air, which died away at midnight, leaving them becalmed on a waveless sea. When morning dawned Britain lay on their left, and they were drifting up the straits with the tide. By and by it turned, oars were got out, and every vessel made for the spot which the events of the previous year had shown to be the best landing-place.103 Thanks to Caesar's foresight the transports as well as the galleys could now be thus propelled, and such was the ardour of the soldiers that both classes of ships kept pace with one another, in spite of their different build. The transports, of course, contained men enough to take turns at the sweeps, while the galley oarsmen could not be relieved. By noon they reached Britain, and found not a soul to resist their landing. There had been, as Caesar learnt from "prisoners," a large force gathered for that purpose, but the terrific multitude of his ships had proved quite too demoralizing, and the patriot army had retired to "higher ground," to which the prisoners were able to direct the invader.

E. 10.—There is obviously something strange about this tale. There was no fighting, the shore was deserted, yet somehow prisoners were taken, and prisoners singularly well informed as to the defenders' strategy. The story reads very much as if these useful individuals were really deserters, or, as the Britons would call it, traitors. We know that in one British tribe, at least, there was a pro-Roman party. Not long before this there had fled to Caesar in Gaul, Mandubratius, the fugitive prince of the Trinobantes, who dwelt in Essex. His father Immanuentius had been slain in battle by Cassivellaunus, or Caswallon104 (the king of their westward neighbours the Cateuchlani), now the most powerful chieftain in Britain, and he himself driven into exile.

E. 11.—This episode seems to have formed part of a general native rising against the over-sea suzerainty of Divitiacus, which had brought Caswallon to the front as the national champion. It was Caswallon who was now in command against Caesar, and if, as is very probable, there was any Trinobantian contingent in his army, they may well have furnished these "prisoners." For Caesar had brought Mandubratius with him for the express purpose of influencing the Trinobantes, who were in fact thus induced in a few weeks to set an example of submission to Rome, as soon as their fear of Caswallon was removed. And meanwhile nothing is more likely than that a certain number of ardent loyalists should leave the usurper's ranks and hasten to greet their hereditary sovereign, so soon as ever he landed. The later British accounts develop the transaction into an act of wholesale treachery; Mandubratius (whose name they discover to mean The Black Traitor) deserting, in the thick of a fight, to Caesar, at the head of twenty thousand clansmen,—an absurd exaggeration which may yet have the above-mentioned kernel of truth.

E. 12.—But whoever these "prisoners" were, their information was so important, and in Caesar's view so trustworthy, that he proceeded to act upon it that very night. Before even entrenching his camp, leaving only ten cohorts and three hundred horse to guard the vessels, most of which were at anchor on the smooth sea, he set off at the head of his army "in the third watch," and after a forced march of twelve miles, probably along the British trackway afterwards called Watling Street, found himself at daybreak in touch with the enemy. The British forces were stationed on a ridge of rising ground, at the foot of which flowed a small stream. Napoleon considers this stream to have been the Lesser Stour (now a paltry rivulet, dry in summer, but anciently much larger), and the hill to have been Barham Down, the camping-ground of so many armies throughout British history.

E. 13.—The battle began with a down-hill charge of the British cavalry and chariots against the Roman horse who were sent forward to seize the passage of the stream. Beaten back they retreated to its banks, which were now, doubtless, lined by their infantry. And here the real struggle took place. The unhappy Britons, however, were hopelessly outclassed, and very probably outnumbered, by Caesar's twenty-four thousand legionaries and seventeen hundred horsemen. They gave way, some dispersing in confusion, but the best of their troops retiring in good order to a stronghold in the neighbouring woods, "well fortified both by nature and art," which was a legacy from some local quarrel. Now they had strengthened it with an abattis of felled trees, which was resolutely defended, while skirmishers in open order harassed the assailants from the neighbouring forest [rari propugnabant e silvis]. It was necessary for the Seventh legion to throw up trenches, and finally to form a "tortoise" with their shields, as in the assault on a regularly fortified town, before the position could be carried. Then, at last, the Britons were driven from the wood, and cut up in their flight over the open down beyond. The spot where they made this last stand is still, in local legend, associated with the vague memory of some patriot defeat, and known by the name of "Old England's Hole." Traces of the rampart, and of the assailants' trenches, are yet visible.105


Fleet again wrecked—Britons rally under Caswallon—Battle of Barham Down—Britons fly to
London—Origin of London—Patriot army dispersed.

F. 1.—It was Caesar's intention to give the broken enemy no chance of rallying. In spite of the dire fatigue of his men (who had now been without sleep for two nights, and spent the two succeeding days in hard rowing and hard fighting), he sent forward the least exhausted to press the pursuit. But before the columns thus detailed had got out of sight a message from the camp at Richborough changed his purpose. The mishap of the previous year had been repeated. Once more the gentle breeze had changed to a gale, and the fleet which he had left so smoothly riding at anchor was lying battered and broken on the beach. His own presence was urgently needed on the scene of the misfortune, and it would have been madness to let the campaign go on without him. So the pursuers, horse and foot, were hastily recalled, and, doubtless, were glad enough to encamp, like their comrades, on the ground so lately won, where they took their well-earned repose.

F. 2.—But for Caesar there could be no rest. Without the loss of a moment he rode back to the landing-place, where he found the state of things fully as bad as had been reported to him. Forty ships were hopelessly shattered; but by dint of strenuous efforts he succeeded in saving the rest. All were now drawn on shore, and tinkered up by artificers from the legions, while instructions were sent over to Labienus for the building of a fresh fleet in Gaul. The naval station, too, was this time thoroughly fortified.

F. 3.—Ten days sufficed for the work; but meanwhile much of the fruit of the previous victory had been lost. The Britons, finding the pursuit checked, and learning the reason, had rallied their scattered force; and when Caesar returned to his camp at Barham Down he found before it a larger patriot army than ever, with Caswallon (who is now named for the first time) at its head. This hero, who, as we have said, may have been brought to the front through the series of inter-tribal wars which had ruined the foreign supremacy of Divitiacus in Britain, was by this time acclaimed his successor in a dignity corresponding in some degree to the mythical Pendragonship of Welsh legend.106 His own immediate dominions included at least the future districts of South Anglia and Essex, and his banner was followed by something very like a national levy from the whole of Britain south of the Forth. When we read of the extraordinary solidarity which animated, over a much larger area, the equally separate clans of Gaul in their rising against the Roman yoke a year later, there is nothing incredible, or even improbable, in the Britons having developed something of a like solidarity in their resistance to its being laid upon their necks. Burmann's 'Anthology' contains an epigram which bears witness to the existence amongst us even at that date of the sentiment, "Britons never shall be slaves." Our island is described as "Libera non hostem non passa Britannia regem."107

F. 4.—Even on his march from the new naval camp to Barham Down Caesar was harassed by incessant attacks from flying parties of Caswallon's chariots and horsemen, who would sweep up, deliver their blow, and retire, only to take grim advantage of the slightest imprudence on the part of the Roman cavalry in pursuit. And when, with a perceptible number of casualties, the Down was reached, a stronger attack was delivered on the outposts set to guard the working parties who were entrenching the position, and the fighting became very sharp indeed. The outposts were driven in, even though reinforced by two cohorts—each the First of its Legion, and thus consisting of picked men, like the old Grenadier companies of our own regiments. Though these twelve hundred regulars, the very flower of the Roman army, awaited the attack in such a formation that the front cohort was closely supported by the rear, the Britons pushed their assault home, and had "the extreme audacity" to charge clean through the ranks of both, re-form behind, and charge back again, with great loss to the Romans (whose leader, Quintus Labienus Durus, the Tribune, or Divisional General in command of one of the legions, was slain), and but little to themselves. Not till several more cohorts were dispatched to the rescue did they at length retire.

F. 5.—This brilliant little affair speaks well both for the discipline and the spirit of the patriot army; and Caesar ungrudgingly recognizes both. He points out how far superior the British warriors were to his own men, both in individual and tactical mobility. The legionaries dare not break their ranks to pursue, under pain of being cut off by their nimble enemies before they could re-form; and even the cavalry found it no safe matter to press British chariots too far or too closely. At any moment the crews might spring to earth, and the pursuing horsemen find themselves confronted, or even surrounded, by infantry in position. Moreover, the morale of the British army was so good that it could fight in quite small units, each of which, by the skilful dispositions of Caswallon, was within easy reach of one of his series of "stations" (i.e. block-houses) disposed along the line of march, where it could rest while the garrison turned out to take its turn in the combat.

F. 6.—Against such an enemy it was obviously Caesar's interest to bring on, as speedily as possible, a general action, in which he might deliver a crushing blow. And, happily for him, their success had rendered the Britons over-confident, so that they were even deluded enough to imagine that they could face the full Roman force in open field. Both sides, therefore, were eager to bring about the same result. Next morning the small British squads which were hovering around showed ostentatious reluctance to come to close quarters, so as to draw the Romans out of their lines. Caesar gladly met their views, and sent forward all his cavalry and three legions, who, on their part, ostentatiously broke rank and began to forage. This was the opportunity the Britons wanted—and Caesar wanted also. From every side, in front, flank, and rear, the former "flew upon" their enemies, so suddenly and so vigorously that ere the legions, prepared as they were for the onset, could form, the very standards were all but taken.

F. 7.—But this time it was with legions and not with cohorts that the enemy had to do. Their first desperate charge spent itself before doing any serious damage to the masses of disciplined valour confronting them, and the Romans, once in formation, were able to deliver a counter-charge which proved quite irresistible. On every side the Britons broke and fled; the main stream of fugitives unwisely keeping together, so that the pursuers, cavalry and infantry alike, were able to press the pursuit vigorously. No chance was given for a rally; amid the confusion the chariot-crews could not even spring to earth as usual; and the slaughter was such as to daunt the stoutest patriot. The spell of Caswallon's luck was broken, and his auxiliaries from other clans with one accord deserted him and dispersed homewards. Never again throughout all history did the Britons gather a national levy against Rome.

F. 8.—This break-up of the patriot confederacy seems, however, to have been not merely the spontaneous disintegration of a routed army, but a deliberately adopted resolution of the chiefs. Caesar speaks of "their counsel." And this brings us to an interesting consideration. Where did they take this counsel, and why did the fleeing hosts follow one line of flight? And how was the line of the Roman advance so accurately calculated upon by Caswallon that he was able to place his "stations" along it beforehand? The answer is that there was an obvious objective for which the Romans would be sure to make; indeed there was almost certainly an obvious track along which they would be sure to march. There is every reason to believe that most of the later Roman roads were originally British trackways, broad green ribands of turf winding through the land (such as the Icknield Way is still in many parts of its course), and following the lines most convenient for trade.

F. 9.—But, if this is so, then that convergence of these lines on London, which is as marked a feature of the map of Roman Britain as it is of our railway maps now, must have already been noticeable. And the only possible reason for this must be found in the fact that already London was a noted passage over the Thames. That an island in mid-stream was the original raison d'être of London Bridge is apparent from the mass of buildings which is shown in every ancient picture of that structure clustering between the two central spans. This island must have been a very striking feature in primaeval days, coming, as it did, miles below any other eyot on the river, and must always have suggested and furnished a comparatively easy crossing-place. Possibly even a bridge of some sort may have existed in 54 B.C.; anyhow this crossing would have been alike the objective of the invading, and the point d'appui of the defending army. And the line both of the Roman advance and of the British retreat would be along the track afterwards known as the Kentish Watling Street. For here again the late British legends which tell us of councils of war held in London against Caesar, and fatal resolutions adopted there, with every detail of proposer and discussion, are probably founded, with gross exaggeration, upon a real kernel of historic truth. It was actually on London that the Britons retired, and from London that the gathering of the clans broke up, each to its own.


Passage of Thames—Submission of clans—Storm of Verulam—Last patriot effort in Kent
—Submission of Caswallon—Romans leave Britain—"Caesar Divus."

G. 1.—Caswallon, however, and his immediate realm still remained to be dealt with. His first act, on resolving upon continued resistance, would of course be to make the passage of the London tide-way impossible for the Roman army; and Caesar, like William the Conqueror after him, had to search up-stream for a crossing-place. He did not, however, like William, have to make his way so far as Wallingford before finding one. Deserters told him of a ford, though a difficult one, practicable for infantry, not many miles distant. The traditional spot, near Walton-on-Thames, anciently called Coway Stakes, may very probably be the real place. Both name and stakes, however, have probably, in spite of the guesses of antiquaries, no connection with Caesar and his passage, but more prosaically indicate that here was a passage for cattle (Coway = Cow Way) marked out by crossing stakes.

G. 2.—The forces of Caswallon were accompanying the Roman march on the northern bank of the stream, and when Caesar came to the ford he found them already in position [instructas] to dispute his passage behind a chevaux de frise of sharpened stakes, more of which, he was told, were concealed by the water. If the Britons had shown their wonted resolution this position must have been impregnable. But Caswallon's men were disheartened and shaken by the slaughter on the Kentish Downs and the desertion of their allies. Caesar rightly calculated that a bold demonstration would complete their demoralization. So it proved. The sight of the Roman cavalry plunging into the steam, and the legionaries eagerly pressing on neck-deep in water, proved altogether too much for their nerves. With one accord, and without a blow, they broke and fled.108

G. 3.—Nor did Caswallon think it wise again to gather them. He had no further hope of facing Caesar in pitched battle, and contented himself with keeping in touch with the enemy with a flying column of chariot-men some two thousand strong. His practice was to keep his men a little off the road—there was still, be it noted, a road along which the Romans were marching—and drive off the flocks and herds into the woods before the Roman advance. He made no attempt to attack the legions, but if any foragers were bold enough to follow up the booty thus reft from them, he was upon them in a moment. Such serious loss was thus inflicted that Caesar had to forbid any such excursions, and to content himself with laying waste the fields and farms in immediate proximity to his route.

G. 4.—He was now in Caswallon's own country, and his presence there encouraged the Trinobantian loyalists openly to throw off allegiance to their conqueror and raise Mandubratius to his father's throne under the protection of Rome; sending to Caesar at the same time provisions for his men, and forty hostages whom he demanded of them. Caesar in return gave strict orders to his soldiers against plundering or raiding in their territory. This mingled firmness and clemency made so favourable an impression that the submission of the Trinobantes was followed by that of various adjoining clans, small and great, from the Iceni of East Anglia to the little riverside septs of the Bibroci and Ancalites, whose names may or may not be echoed in the modern Bray and Henley. The Cassi (of Cassiobury) not only submitted, but guided the Romans to Caswallon's own neighbouring stronghold in the forests near St. Alban's. It was found to be a position of considerable natural strength (probably on the site of the later Verulam), and well fortified; but all the heart was out of the Cateuchlanians. When the assailing columns approached to storm the place on two sides at once, they hesitated, broke, and flung themselves over the ramparts on the other sides in headlong flight. Caesar, however, was able to head them, and his troops killed and captured large numbers, besides getting possession of all the flocks and herds, which, as usual, had been gathered for refuge within the stockade.

G. 5.—Caswallon himself, however, escaped, and now made one last bid for victory. So great was still the influence of his prestige that, broken as he was, he was able to prevail upon the clans of Kent to make a sudden and desperate onset upon the Naval Station at Richborough. All four of the chieftains beneath whose sway the county was divided (Cingetorix, Canilius, Taximagulus, and Segonax) rose with one accord at his summons. The attack, however, proved a mere flash in the pan. Even before it was delivered, the garrison sallied out vigorously, captured one of the British leaders, Lugotorix, slaughtered the assailants wholesale, and crushed the whole movement without the loss of a man. This final defeat of his last hopes broke even Caswallon's sturdy heart. His followers slain, his lands wasted, his allies in revolt, he bowed to the inevitable. Even now, however, he did not surrender unconditionally, but besought Caesar's protégé, the Atrebatian chieftain Commius, to negotiate terms with the conqueror.

G. 6.—To Caesar this was no small relief. The autumn was coming on, and Caswallon's guerrilla warfare might easily eat up all the remainder of the summer, when he must needs be left alone, conquered or unconquered, that the Roman army might get back to its winter quarters on the Continent; more especially as ominous signs in Gaul already predicted the fearful tempest of revolt which, that winter, was to burst. Easy conditions were therefore imposed. Caswallon pledged himself, as Lord Paramount, that Britain should pay an annual tribute to the Roman treasury, and, as Chief of the Cateuchlani, that he would leave Mandubratius on the Trinobantian throne. Hostages were given, and the Roman forces returned with all convenient speed to the coast; this time, presumably, crossing the Thames in the regular way at London.

G. 7.—After a short wait, in vain expectation of the sixty ships which Labienus had built in Gaul and which could not beat across the Channel, Caesar crowded his troops and the hordes of British captives on board as best he could, and being favoured by the weather, found himself and them safe across, having worked out his great purpose, and leaving a nominally conquered and tributary Britain behind him. This, as we have seen from Cicero's letter, was on September 26, B.C. 54.

G. 8.—We have seen, too, that Cicero's cue was to belittle the business. But this was far from being the view taken by the Roman "in the street." To him Caesar's exploit was like those of the gods and heroes of old; Hercules and Bacchus had done less, for neither had passed the Ocean. The popular feeling of exultation in this new glory added to Roman fame may be summed up in the words of the Anthologist already quoted:
Libera non hostem, non passa Britannia regem,
  Aeternum nostro quae procul orbe jacet;
Felix adversis, et sorte oppressa secunda,
  Communis nobis et tibi Caesar erit.

["Free Britain, neither foe nor king that bears,
That from our world lies far and far away,
Lucky to lose, crushed by a happy doom,
Henceforth, O Caesar, ours—and yours—will be."]

G. 9.—Caesar never set foot in Britain again, though he once saved himself from imminent destruction by utilizing his British experiences and passing his troops over a river in coracles of British build.109 He went his way to the desperate fighting, first of the great Gallic revolt, then of the Civil War (with his own Labienus for the most ferocious of his opponents), till he found himself the undisputed master of the Roman world. But when he fell, upon the Ides of March B.C. 44, it was mainly through the superhuman reputation won by his invasion of Britain that he received the hitherto unheard of distinction of a popular apotheosis, and handed down to his successors for many a generation the title not only of Caesar, but of "Divus."

[68] They may very possibly have been connected with the Veneti of Venice at the other extremity of "the Gauls."

[69] See p. 37.

[70] Caesar, 'Bell. Gall.' iii. 9, 13.

[71] Elton, 'Origins of English Hist.,' p. 237. Though less massive, these vessels are built much as the Venetian. But it is just as probable they may really be "picts." See p. 232.

[72] This opening of Britain to continental influences may perhaps account for Posidonius having been able to make so thorough a survey of the islands. See p. 36.

[73] Elton ('Origins of English Hist.') conjectures that these tribes did not migrate to Britain till after Caesar's day. But there is no evidence for this, and my view seems better to explain the situation.

[74] Solinus (A.D. 80) says of Britain, "alterius orbis nomen mereretur." This passage is probably the origin of the Pope's well-known reference to St. Anselm, when Archbishop of Canterbury, as "quasi alterius orbis antistes."

[75] A Roman legion at this date comprised ten "cohorts," i.e. some six thousand heavy-armed infantry, besides a small light-armed contingent, and an attached squadron of three hundred cavalry. Each of Caesar's transports must thus have carried from one hundred and fifty to two hundred men, and at this rate the eighteen cavalry vessels (reckoning a horse as equivalent to five men, the usual proportion for purposes of military transport) would suffice for his two squadrons.

[76] An ancient ship could not sail within eight points of the wind (see Smith, 'Voyage of St. Paul'). Thus a S.W. breeze, while permitting Caesar to leave Boulogne, would effectually prevent these vessels from working out of Ambleteuse.

[77] Hence the name Dubris = "the rivers."

[78] The claims of Richborough [Ritupis] to be Caesar's actual landing-place have been advocated by Archdeacon Baddeley, Mr. G. Bowker, and others. But it is almost impossible to make this place square with Caesar's narrative.

[79] This was four days before the full moon, so that the tide would be high at Dover about 6 p.m.

[80] The "lofty promontory" rounded is specially noticed by Dio Cassius.

[81] The principle of the balista that of the sling, of the catapult that of the bow. Ammianus Marcellinus (xv. 12) speaks of "the snowy arms" of the Celtic women dealing blows "like the stroke of a catapult."

[82] Valerius Maximus (A.D. 30) has recorded one such act of daring on the part of a soldier named Scaeva, who with four comrades held an isolated rock against all comers till he alone was left, when he plunged into the sea and swam off, with the loss of his shield. In spite of this disgrace Caesar that evening promoted him on the field. The story has a suspicious number of variants, but off Deal there is such a patch of rocks, locally called the Malms; so that it may possibly be true ('Memorabilia,' III. 2, 23).

[83] Valerius Maximus (A.D. 30) states that the Romans landed on a falling tide, which cannot be reconciled with Caesar's own narrative (see p. 88). The idea may have originated in the fact that it was probably the approaching turn of the tide which forced him to land at Deal. He could not have reached Richborough before the ebb began.

[84] Every soldier was four feet from his nearest neighbour to give scope for effective sword-play. No other troops in history have ever had the morale thus to fight at close quarters.

[85] See Plutarch, 'De placitis philosophorum.'

[86] Each chariot may have carried six or seven men, like those of the Indian King Porus. See Dodge, 'Alexander,' p. 554.

[87] Pomponius Mela ('De Situ Orbis,' I) tells us that by his date (50 A.D.) it had come in: "Covinos vocant, quorum falcatis axîbus utuntur."

[88] It is thus represented by Giraldus Cambrensis, who gives us the story of Caesar's campaigns from the British point of view, as it survived (of course with gross exaggerations) in the Cymric legends of his day.

[89] Lucan, the last champion of anti-Caesarism, sung, two generations after its overthrow, the praises and the dirge of the Oligarchy.

[90] See my 'Alfred in the Chroniclers,' p. 44.

[91]'Ad Treb.' Ep. VI.

[92] 'Ad Treb.' Ep. VII.

[93] Ep. 10.

[94] Ep. 16.

[95] Ep. 17.

[96] IV. 15.

[97] III. 1.

[98] II. 16.

[99] II. 15.

[100] III. 10.

[101] Wace ('Roman de Ron,' 11,567) gives 696 as the exact total.

[102] 'Strategemata,' viii. 23.

[103] This was probably not Deal, which had not proved a satisfactory station, but Richborough, where the Wantsum, then a broad arm of the sea between Kent and Thanet, provided an excellent harbour for a large fleet. It was, moreover, the regular emporium of the tin trade (see p. 36), and a British trackway thus led to it.

[104] Otherwise Cadwallon, which, according to Professor Rhys, signifies War King, and may possibly have been a title rather than a personal name. But it remained in use as the latter for many centuries of British history.

[105] Vine, 'Caesar in Kent,' p. 171. The spot is "in Bourne Park, not far from the road leading up to Bridge Hill."

[106] See p. 244.

[107] See II. G. 8. The tradition of this sentiment long survived. Hegesippus (A.D. 150) says: "Britanni ... quidesse servitus ignorabant; soli sibi nati, semper sibi liberi" ('De Bello Judiaco,' II. 9).

[108] Polyaenus (A.D. 180) in his 'Strategemata' (viii. 23) ascribes their panic to Caesar's elephant. See p. 107.

[109] At Ilerda. See Dodge, 'Caesar,' xxviii.


Terms Defined

Referenced Works