seaxe left Anglo Saxon History

The First Roman Invasion 55BC - 54BC

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The following is taken from a translation of Anglo Saxon Chronicles

Book 4 chapter 20
In 55BC Julius Caesar had defeated the Belgae from modern Belgium on the borders of Gaul in Northern France, and was now intent on invading Britain publicly because the Gauls had always been supported by settlements in England (see Ptolemy Tribal map of Britain).

Book 4 chapter 21-22
He despatched one of his officers Caius Volusenus with a ship of war to spy on the Island and seek whatever information that could be gleaned in a short time. Caesar then marched with his whole army to the territory of the Morini a tribe of the Gauls who occupied the sea coast between Calais and Boulogne, where he collected 80 vessels to transport his two legions(the 7th and 10th legions) a total of 12,000 troops to Britain. His cavalry embarked in 18 other vessels from a second port but due to inclement winds they didnt catch up with the main force.

Book 4 chapter 23
He arrived at the coast of Britain probably on the 26th August (according to Edmund Halley the astronomer) but decided not to land there due to a large number of British warriors on the cliff tops.(This is commonly thought of as being at Dover, however there are two other possibilities,Beachy Head(There is an old Hill Fort at Birling Gap or the Cliffs at Hastings) He sailed along the coast about seven miles from that place, and stationed his fleet over against an open and level shore.Again this is commonly thought of as Walmer, but again two other possibilities are the Hooe Peninsular/Bexhill or the Brede valley near Winchelsea) It is interesting to note that he laid anchor here quite a way from the beach as his ships draw too much water.This is more likely to be the Sussex coast than the beach at Walmer

Book 4 chapter 24-26
However the Britons had sent cavalry and chariots to oppose the landing on the beach. The legions prevailed due to heroic action of the 10th legion standard bearer jumping out of a ship and chiding his companions to fight, and the use of large projectile devices mounted on the ships which the Britons had not seen before. The defeat was not complete as the Roman cavalry had still not arrived and so couldn't pursue and rout the Britons.

Book 4 chapter 27-29
The local tribes sued for peace, but still the Roman cavalry could still not land due to a storm in the channel, more importantly the storm wrecked the galleys and the legions transports on the shore.(Implying that the landing was not protected by any headland, so the Brede Valley seems less likely, but the Hooe Peninsular fits this)

Book 4 chapter 32-33
Caesar ordered one of his legions to forage and collect corn for food, but the Britons surprised them by attacking from a wood(perhaps the Forest of Andredsweald) and almost defeated the legion,as they had laid down their arms to cut the corn. If it hadnt been for Caesar and a couple of cohorts from the second legion they would have been completely wiped out.

Book 4 chapter 34-36
The weather being bad the Romans retired to a defensive position with the Britons massing nearby, Caesar attacked before they were fully prepared and defeated them. However due to the problems with the supply lines and transport he decided to withdraw back to Gaul.

54BC Book 5 chapter 1-2
Caesar gets the shipwrights to build modified transport ships which are a little broader than those in use in other seas. These ships are to be constructed for lightness and carrying capacity, to which object their lowness contributes greatly. He orders those things which are necessary for equipping ships to be brought from Spain.
Having overwintered in Gaul about six hundred ships of the above design have been built and twenty-eight , ships of war which are ready are ordered to the port of Itius in Gaul.

Book 5 chapter 5
After Caesar had sorted out the Treviri tribe in Gaul, he proceeded to Itius where he found that 40 ships had not been able to get to Itius due to the weather.

Book 5 chapter 8
He loaded 5 legions and 2000 horse into about 800 ships, some from the previous years invasion and set sail at sun-set, and was borne forward by a gentle south-west wind, so he did not maintain his course, in consequence of the wind dying away about midnight, was carried on by the tide, when the sun rose, saw that Britain passed on his left, so he urged the soldiers to use oars to move the ships. All the ships reached Britain around mid-day and not a single enemy was seen probably due to the number of ships.

Book 5 chapter 9
The troops dismbark and Caesar leaves ten cohorts and 300 horse to guard the ships, and progresses about 12 miles inland where he discovers a defensive fort that the Romans took and then fortified their camp.

Book 5 chapter 10-11
He orders his troops to chase the Britons, but then received word that another storm had hit the ships, of which 40 were destroyed and many damaged. He request the troops to return, and spends the next 10 days repairing and rebuilding the fleet.

Book 5 chapter 15-23
A degree of skirmishing took place over the next few days with the Britons, with the Romans being influenced by the fact that the Britons fought without armour and with chariots so were faster in attack and defense. The Britons kept attacking and harrying the foragers until the Legions fought back inflicting heavy losses.

Caesar advanced to London and crossed the river at the fording place defeating a large Cassivellaunii force in the process. The Trinobantes asked for protection by Caesar against the Cassivellaunii, and in exchange for hostages were given protection, the Cenimagni, the Segontiaci, the Ancalites, the Bibroci, and the Cassi all sued for peace. Caesar defeats the Cassivellaunii at their main town and captures much spoils, and also defeats a force from Kent. At the end of the summer he retires back to Gaul as the tribes there were revolting.

  Now to continue with the second Roman Invasion of AD45 click here.

External References in no particular order :-
Anglo Saxon Chronicles
Online Anglo Saxon dictionary
Online Etymology dictionary
Open Domesday Book - The first free online copy of the Domesday Book
The Ermine Street Guard Roman re-enactment and research Society
The "Kent A" cadastre - page 5 - Peterson 2002
Archaeologia Cantiana Online
Romney Marsh Research Trust
Romney Marsh the Fifth Continent
VillageNet the reference guide to villages in Kent & Sussex
Global warming Flood Maps
The Anglo Saxon Chronicles
Google Maps - the core of the system
GeoPlaner - Useful site for plotting map data
Julius Caesar's Gallic Wars 55BC(Books 4 & 5)
Wikipedia - Caesar's invasions of Britain
Wikipedia - Portus Istus
The Geography of Claudius Ptolemy (Bill Thayers)
Runetree Beowulf
Bayeux Tapestry Online
The Secrets of the Norman Invasion
Chronicles of John of Worcester
Battle Historic Society
Binsted village website(Mearcredesburnan Steðe)
The Spears of Andred
Find British Archaelogical Sites
Wealden Iron Research Group
Topographic Map of the UK

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