Searching For Julius Caesar

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Metal detectorists could play a huge part in uncovering the facts surrounding Julius Caesar's invasion of the Britain, so little is known about the locations of battle sites and camps that I believe detectorists are the only people that have any chance of solving the many 'Caesar mysteries'

I am hoping that other metal detectorists will join me in this search, if you are interested in getting involved email me

Have you found scatters of early roman sling shot, early roman coins, pottery or weapons? If so I would really like to hear from you. You could provide clues that might lead to the discovery of one of Caesars camps or even the site where Julius Caesar fought iron age king Cassivellaunus.

Some of the many questions that need to be answered are; where was Cassivellaunus's stronghold? Where did Caesar camp? Where did the final decisive battle take place? With patience and whole lot of work I believe we can answer these questions.

55 BC

In 55 BC, Julius Caesar landed on the coast, perhaps in what was intended as a reconnaissance mission, although it is also thought to be politically motivated invasion. He had set off from Portus Itius, now Boulogne. During his campaigns in Gaul, as recorded in Gallic Wars, he had determined that the Gauls were receiving aid from Britain. Towards the end of the summer, he decided that it would be useful to get some reliable information about the people, localities and harbours of the island, since little useful information was available from the Gauls or the merchants who visited it. First he sent out Caius Volusenus in a ship of war to investigate the coast, while assembling a fleet of ships and settling an uprising by the Morini tribe of Gaul. Within days he received ambassadors from British tribes, promising that they would give hostages and submit to the Romans. He received them favourably and sent them back with Commius of the Atrebates, whom he thought would be influential in Britain. Volusenus reported back after five days, but had not identified a harbour.

Caesar's fleet comprised about 80 transport ships for two legions, the Legio VII and Legio X. He also had ships of war and 18 ships of burden for his cavalry. Caesar sailed for Britain with the legions, but was met by the massed forces of the Britons gathered on the hills and cliffs overlooking the shore. After waiting at anchor for several hours, he sailed about seven miles, tracked all the way by the British cavalry and chariots, and made an opposed landing on an open beach. The size of the ships meant that the Romans had to disembark in deep water, while the British attacked from the shallows. The British were eventually driven back with projectiles fired from the ships of war and the Romans managed to land and drive them off. The cavalry had been delayed by adverse winds, so no pursuit was possible.

The Romans established a camp and received ambassadors. Caesar demanded hostages; Commius, who had been seized on arrival, was handed over as part of the negotiations. However when Caesar's exposed ships were damaged in a storm, the Britons took the opportunity to renew hostilities, ambushing one of the legions as it foraged near the Roman camp, making use of a form of cavalry attack that was novel to the Romans. The foraging party was relieved by the remainder of the Roman force and the Britons were put to flight once again.

After several days of storms, the British regrouped with a larger force and attacked the Roman camp, but were once again driven off. Commius had been able to provide some horsemen from his people, so a large number of Britons were killed in retreat, and the Romans laid waste to the surrounding area. Once again the British sent ambassadors. Caesar demanded double the number of hostages, but realising his position was untenable ordered them to be delivered to Gaul (only two tribes eventually made good this promise). With as many of the ships as were salvageable repaired and the equinox drawing near, the Romans returned to Gaul.

54 BC

In 54 BC, Caesar returned with a larger force. According to Caesar's own account the fleet comprised some 800 ships, many of which were built to Caesar's specifications: broader and lower for easier beaching. Men of all ranks across the Roman Republic swarmed to join the expedition.

The Britons did not oppose the landing, apparently intimidated by the size of the fleet. Caesar made an immediate night march inland, driving the Britons back, but when his ships were once again damaged in a storm he was forced to retreat and regroup.

The Britons had appointed Cassivellaunus, who had recently overthrown the king of the Trinovantes and forced his son, Mandubracius, into exile, to lead their forces. Cassivellaunus knew he could not defeat Caesar in an open engagement and used guerrilla tactics, relying on the mobility of his chariotry and superior knowledge of the terrain, but he was unable to prevent the Roman advance. Ambassadors from the Trinovantes told Caesar the location of Cassivellaunus's stronghold, which he proceeded to besiege. Cassivellaunus sent word to his allies in Kent to attack the Roman naval camp, but when this attack failed he surrendered, mediated by Commius. Tribute and hostages were agreed, Mandubracius was installed as king of the Trinovantes and Cassivellaunus undertook not to make war against him. All this accomplished, Caesar returned to Gaul.

The invasion could only last a season as Caesar was preparing for the emerging conflict amongst the First Triumvirate and growing unrest in his actual area of command, the conquest and submission of Gaul. No territory was conquered, but Caesar had brought Britain further into Rome's sphere of influence, and over the next century diplomatic and trading links grew.

43 onwards

Aulus Plautius: AD 43 - Landing to Thames battle

By the 40s AD the Catuvellauni had displaced the Trinovantes as the most powerful kingdom in south-eastern Britain, taking over the former Trinovantian capital of Camulodunum (Colchester), and were pressing their neighbours the Atrebates, ruled by the descendants of Julius Caesar's former ally Commius. Verica, the king of the Atrebates and an ally of Rome, was ousted and appealed to the emperor Claudius for aid. In response Claudius mounted an invasion of the island in 43. Aulus Plautius, a distinguished senator, was given charge of four legions, totalling about 20,000 men, plus about the same number of auxiliaries. The legions were:

  • Legio II Augusta
  • IX Hispana
  • XIV Gemina
  • XX Valeria Victrix

The II Augusta is known to have been commanded by the future emperor Vespasian. Three other men of appropriate rank to command legions are known from the sources to have been involved in the invasion. Gnaeus Hosidius Geta probably led the IX Hispana. Gnaeus Sentius Saturninus and Vespasian's brother Titus Flavius Sabinus probably commanded the other two legions. Cassius Dio says that Sabinus was Vespasian's lieutenant, but as Sabinus was the older brother and preceded Vespasian into public life, he could hardly have been a military tribune.

The main landing is thought to have been at Rutupiae, in modern Kent in Southeast England. Some archaeologists have questioned the evidence for this, and believe that at least part of the force may have come via another route, eg. the Solent.

British resistance was led by Togodumnus and Caratacus, sons of the late king of the Catuvellauni, Cunobelinus (Cymbeline in Shakespeare's play). A substantial British force met the Romans at a river crossing thought to be near Rochester on the River Medway. The battle raged for two days. Hosidius Geta was almost captured, but recovered and turned the battle so decisively that he was awarded the ornamenta triumphalia.

The British were pushed back to the Thames. The Romans pursued them across the river causing them to lose men in the marshes of Essex. Whether the Romans made use of an existing bridge for this purpose or built a temporary one is uncertain. At least one division of auxiliary Batavian troops swam across the river as a separate force.

Togodumnus died shortly after the battle on the Thames. Plautius halted and sent word for Claudius to join him for the final push. Cassius Dio presents this as Plautius needing the emperor's assistance to defeat the resurgent British, who were determined to avenge Togodumnus. However Suetonius says that Claudius received the surrender of the Britons without battle or bloodshed. Claudius was no military man, and it is likely that the Catuvellauni were already as good as beaten, allowing the emperor to appear as conqueror on the final march on Camulodunum. Cassius Dio relates that he brought war elephants and heavy armaments which would have overawed any remaining native resistance. Eleven tribes of South East Britain surrendered to Claudius and the Romans prepared to move further west and north. The Romans established their new capital at Camulodunum and Claudius returned to Rome to revel in his victory. Caratacus escaped and would continue the resistance further west.

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