This is a documentation of my personal research on Caesar’s invasions, Claudius’ conquest and the romanization of England starting from 55 BC, but it will also serve as a general topic article about England, Wales (and part of Scotland) in the Ancient times. I hope my learning helps you in some way.
Prehistoric Britain was occupied by Celtic peoples, very similar to those in Europe at the time – and they spoke the same language as well. It also had a lot of extractable wealth, such as hunting dogs, tin, iron and coal, which was useful for making the Romans richer and advancing the empire. The People of Rome considered the strange and wild island of Britannia to be the very edge of the world, over the ocean, and guarded by fierce and unorganised warriors. Mediterranean sailing was much different than sailing in the English Channel and North Sea, notably much more dangerous, and this fact is proved correct when over half of Caesar’s fleet was destroyed during his invasions.
However, this does not mean the population was sparse. People merely lived in spread out settlements but the overall addition of all individual units added up to a significant number, which likely wasn’t surpassed in Medieval times.
The once popular belief that Britain was largely covered with forest until it was cleared by the Anglo-Saxons is now discredited. By the Roman Conquest, although there was still a great deal of natural forest, the population had grown to something of the order it was under the Romans, two or three times greater than the reign of William the Conqueror.
The start of the Oxford History of Britain provides a great insight into England shortly before and within Roman rule.
The island caught Caesar’s attentions because by conquering it he could one-up his rival, Pompey. I wrote an unpublished article on his invasions of Britannia:
Although it was initially considered a success by the Romans, Caesar’s first invasion of the wild and divided Celtic lands of Britannia gained next to no land or wealth but cost the lives and resources of many roman legionaries.
Basically, it only got him a small area of land on the coast of Kent…
Although some land had been gained near the sea, the operation was mostly a loss. However, Caesar believed it to have been a success, as he brought the Romans to the northernmost point of the world and destroyed British resistance.
So what was important to the Empire of the invasion was that it was a clear demonstration of Rome’s ability to spread to the furthest frontiers of the lands, and also the strength and loyalty of the legions.
In a simple, chronological step-by-step, here is how the first invasion planned out:
- Caesar sends Commius (a captured King of the Gauls) to Britannia to try and negotiate peace with more of the tribes
- Commius is captured instantly. Now the Britons know an attack is on the way
- Eighty ships with the seventh and tenth legions cross the channel – a tribune, Gaius Volusenus has advised they land at Dover
- But the towering white cliffs are impossible to land at! Furthermore, if they sail too close to the coast, they’ll be in spear throwing range of the Celtic Britons. Lastly, it would take a long time for the linearly organised soldiers to get into position, and without this, their primary strength would be useless
- Caesar moves the ships several miles down the coast – but even deploying on the beaches will be difficult. As the Celts have control of the shallow waters, the Romans will be forced to stop in deep water, meaning the men must swim to the shores
- Terrifying chariots follow the invaders along the coast
- The Aquilifer of the tenth legion jumps out of the boat, and urges the soldiers, who are reluctant to swim in their armour, to get out of the vessel
- Although he won the initial battle, he couldn’t run down the retreating Britons because his cavalry had not yet arrived
- Commius is given back to the Romans
- A camp is set up, but the ships are not anchored at the beaches! Consequently, they are smashed against the cliffs and much of the fleet is destroyed
- Then the Britons realise that Caesar’s army is stuck on the island, so together they plan to starve the intruders and murder them
- An advance is led against the Roman camp, so the foraging party, which is desperately looking for food, returns to the settlement to help fight off the Britons
- Commius gets some improvised cavalry, which really helps beat back the main attack
- This time, Caesar demands many more hostages to be given back to him than when he first arrived on the beaches and defeated the Celts
- Finally, they all go home and plan another invasion for winter of the next year
I plan to add to this article every now and then when I have learn sufficient information to contribute to the post.
If you ever see a blog post saying “Addition to…” or something like that, then, if you are interested in what new content I’ve added, just click on the addition post and click through the link to the updated original 🙂