A Friendly Visit by Caesar

Only a few months ago I heard that many British people were actually Romans or of mixed Roman/British blood (very likely on the History Channel). Now, researching Scotland’s history, I find that the whole island of Britain except the Scottish Highlands was once under Roman rule. I had come upon information that the only written records we have of early Scotland, in particular, the Picts, were from Tacitus, the son-in-law of Gnaeus Julius Agricola, a commander who eventually drove the Picts back beyond the wall. This was not the first time Britain had been invaded by the Romans. Julius Caesar had been there before and made two attempts before he succeeded.
One of the things that struck me was the fact that the Romans considered the various people in Britain  to be “barbarians”,  a novel idea for modern times, considering our view of the ancient Romans as being the executioners of Christ. I realized I would have to go back and see what made the Romans think this way. We are already familiar with the reputation of the Picts as being wild men. They were known as the Caledoni by the Romans, but what of the south? I began to read about Julius Ceasar’s first attempt at landing at Dover in Britain. It seemed almost comical.

“Caesar initially tried to land at Dubris (Dover), whose natural harbour had presumably been identified by Volusenus as a suitable landing place. However, when he came in sight of shore, the massed forces of the Britons gathered on the overlooking hills and cliffs dissuaded him from landing there, since the cliffs were so close to the shore that javelins could be thrown down from them onto anyone landing there. After waiting there at anchor “until the ninth hour” (about 3 pm) waiting for his supply ships from the second port to come up and meanwhile convening a council of war, he ordered his subordinates to act on their own initiative and then sailed the fleet about seven miles along the coast to an open beach.  
………  Having been tracked all the way along the coast by the British cavalry and chariots, the landing was opposed. To make matters worse, the Roman ships were too large to go close inshore and the troops had to disembark in deep water, all the while attacked by the enemy from the shallows. The troops were reluctant, but according to Caesar’s account were led by the aquilifer (standard bearer) of the 10th legion who jumped in first as an example, shouting: “Leap, fellow soldiers, unless you wish to betray your eagle to the enemy. I, for my part, will perform my duty to the republic and to my general.”  Further on it says ” his beached warships filled with water, and his transports, riding at anchor, were driven against each other.”
The British were eventually driven back with catapultae and slings fired from the warships into the exposed flank of their formation and the Romans managed to land and drive them off. The cavalry, delayed by adverse winds, still had not arrived, so the Britons could not be pursued and finished off, and Caesar could not enjoy what he calls, in his usual self-promoting style, his “accustomed success”
Winter was creeping in and Caesar decided to leave after routing the Britons one more time. He returned a second time with an extra 15,000 troops, this time securing a surrender from the Britons with a “scorched earth” policy. Nothing was left that could be of any use to the enemy, in short everything was burned.  An agreement would be made for the Britons to pay tribute (which could be a portion of their land), give hostages and sometimes  become a client state which was comprised of Britons who sided with the Romans. One of the client states was in south-east Scotland and north-east England (Northumberland) between the two walls. These were the Votadini people and they created a buffer zone between the Caledoni and Roman Britain between 138AD and 162 AD. Britain was left in the hands of those who had an interest in keeping the peace. After all, Rome was a wealthy nation.
Roman Britain

Roman Britain

Sources for this post:
BBC History of Ancient Romans
BBC The Romans in Scotland
The History files
Scotlands History
Caesars Invasion of Britain Wikipedia
Client State Wikipedia
Tacitus Wikipedia
BBC Scotlands History The Kingdom of the Gaels
Yolande of Dreux Queen of Scotland- Wikipedia
Chronicles of the Picts, Chronicles of the Scots
Boudica The Warrior Queen Wikipedia

© 2014 Yolanda Presant


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