The main invasion of Britain was planned by Caesar in Gaul in the winter of 55-54 B.C.E. This time, Caesar’s preparations would be a lot more carefully made.
He took 800 ships, some of which included merchant vessels, 5 legions, which would equal around 25,000 men, and 2000 cavalry. It should be remembered that the size of a legion, or legio, differed widely over the years, but at this point 5,000 men would be fairly accurate.
Caesar set out and decided to land once again at Walmer. This time there was no reception committee. Whether the Celts were afraid, which is unlikely. Whether they were off gathering as many men as they could, which is more likely, or whether they simply weren’t concerned about this landing. I can hardly see that this would be the case, but there are historians who opt for this explanation.
Following Caesar’s landing, he made a night march of 12 miles inland. He came across the Celts at a crossing on the river Stour, the future site of Canterbury. The Britons attacked, but were repulsed. They regrouped, probably at a hill fort in the forest at Bigbury Wood, in Kent. Again they were scattered, but Caesar, being unsure of the territory, called off the attack and made camp.
A gale blew up in the Channel overnight, and word came to Caesar the following morning that he’d lost 40 ships. He made haste back to the coast, and his men worked night and day dragging the damaged vessels up onto the beach and repairing them. This took them 10 days, which was an unfortunate delay. Once the work was completed, he headed back to the Stour and found the Britons massed there.
A warlord named Cassivellaunus had been chosen by the Celts to lead them. He realized that a pitched battle with the Romans was an exercise in futility and that he should resort to guerrilla tactics. Caesar found that the one fordable place on the Thames, probably what is now Westminster, had been booby trapped with sharpened wooden stakes both under the water and on shore. Even so, Caesar managed to cross, beat the defenders back, and enter Cassivellaunus’ territory.
Cassivellaunus decided to rely just on his 4,000 chariots and his knowledge of the surrounding countryside. He was like a large fly on a hot afternoon. He’d fought with most of the British tribes. His latest battle had been with the Trinovantes, who’s king he overthrew. Not content with that, he forced the king’s son, Mandubracius, into exile. Nevertheless, Caesar described the Trinovantes as the most powerful tribe in the area. They weren’t fools, either. They knew perfectly well that to continue to fight against Caesar was pointless. It also gave them a way of paying back Cassivellaunus for the wrongs he’d done to them.
They sent ambassadors to Caesar and promised him troops and supplies. In his turn, Caesar ensured that Mandubracius took his rightful place as their king. More tribes saw the wisdom of the Trinovantes, among them the Cassi, Ancalites and Segontiaci. Since Cassivellaunus had been a large thorn in their flesh too, they didn’t hesitate to point out his stronghold to Caesar. It may have been a hill fort at Wheathampstead.
Caesar immediately invested it, but Cassivellaunus, who strangely enough still had allies, asked them to attack the Roman beach-head in an effort to divert Caesar away from him. The effort failed. Even so, Caesar was in a hurry to return to Gaul. Word had reached him that there was unrest among the tribes over there and in any case, it was far too late in the year to mount another serious attack on the Celts. Winter would be upon him were he to wait any longer.
The whole invasion fizzled out like a damp squib. He didn’t even leave a garrison in Britain. The final gathering of Britain into the Roman bosom was to be left in the most unlikely hands of Claudius, 90 years hence.
Hello, Mike again, trying to delve into Caesar’s mind as to the real point of this invasion. Mind you, trade ties were developed with Rome, but you’d have thought he would at least have left a strong garrison in Britain. He’d organized hostages and tribute to be paid to him, but there’s no word from history as to whether these actually found their way to him. Have you had a look yet at The Knight’s Site? Well worth a visit. Lots of weapons, armour and clothing. They even have interior designers who can turn your house into any period in history you choose. I’d welcome an E-mail, too, if anyone feels like chatting.