Britain Invaded

By Ichbinian

The country of Britain is one of, if not the most famous country in the world. It has that distinctive accent, which historians believe came from the Romans, who occupied the island in 43 AD under Claudius. It has made a large impact on the world in many ways. However, Gaius Julius Caesar, the most famous Roman, led the first civilized expeditions to Britain, which changed the course of history forever. Most facts of ancient Britain came from Caesar. Britain was to be made Roman, and he was determined to do it himself.

The reasons for an attack on Britain are not always understandable. Most historians agree that Caesar wanted to explore the island, while hunting down a few Briton clans providing the Gauls with supplies and military assistance against him.

In the first century BC, Britain had a good economy, no wars between the different tribes, and populations were pretty big. Mining of iron, tin, and other minerals was part of the economy also. It was a strong country, so it proved that the Roman invasion was not going to be easy.

On August 26, 55 BC, the 7th and 10th Legions (just under 12,000 men) crossed over to the English Channel from Portus Itius (known today as Boulogne). At Dover the next morning, Caesar observed a Briton war force. The Romans averted them, and sailed for Deal, a few miles up from Dover. The Britons rushed over to fight. The legions disembarked, formed up, and marched toward the enemy. The skirmishers ran up to the front and let loose their javelins. The barbarians did the same. After this quick fray, the Britons called for a ceasefire.

On August 31, 500 cavalry troops started to sail across to the island. However, a huge storm forced them to fall back to Gaul. The same storm damaged many Roman ships across the channel at Deal. Consequently, Caesar was in a tight spot - no cavalry, not much food, and his legions were constantly hindered by Briton raids, covered by their war-chariots. He ordered the ships be repaired, and the army return to northern Gaul. The Romans had been in Britain for three weeks.

However, Caesar would not let a storm stop him from conquering Britain. After spending a whole winter in northern Gaul, he assembled a great army for a second invasion - five legions (25,000 soldiers), and 2,000 cavalry. To transport the invasion force, he built 800 transports and 28 men of war (warships). In addition, Caesar even brought an elephant! The army left on July 6, 54, and landed unchecked.

Caesar marched his men to the Stour River, 12 miles inland from the landing beaches of Deal, where Briton war bands were congregating. The Romans shattered them, and pursued them to a hill fort farther inland. The 7th Legion itself took the stronghold, thereby giving Caesar a cushion to plan the next exploits of the campaign. He decided to pursue the Britons even farther, so as to know of any impending attacks on his forces. During the march, Caesar was informed of a gale that mauled his fleet, damaging 40 ships and forcing much of it onto the shore. He doubled back to Deal, and observed the damage. He ordered the repairing of the fleet. During this time, Cassivellaunus, king of the Catuvellauni tribe, allied himself with the other clans. He gathered an army and made his way to the Thames River.

The repairs finished, Caesar rushed to meet Cassivellaunus. Despite being harassed along the way, the legions managed to cross a knee-deep ford and battle the barbarians. They won the battle, and it broke the back of Cassivellaunus' main force. Then Cassivellaunus' stronghold was captured. He escaped with what men he could, and launched a surprise attack on Caesar's camp in the South. It failed, so he made peace terms with Caesar. These terms were actually quite fair, because Caesar received reports of trouble in Gaul. He hated Britain, so he sailed back across the channel, never to return.

Sources: /britain/
Selected Latin Readings - B.C. Taylor, K.E. Prentice
Battles - A history of warfare from ancient to modern times