The Landing-Place of Julius Cæsar in Britain

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The following articles, drawings and extracts covering the 208 year period from 1800 to 2008
are presented in date order of publication, i.e. the oldest first.

Articles
  1. "The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent" (1800) Edward Hasted Volume 10 at page 1 and Volume 9 at page 549
  2. The South Eastern Gazette Tuesday 4 January 1853 at page 6
  3. The South Eastern Gazette Tuesday 18 March 1856 at page 5
  4. "On Cæsar's Landing-Place in Britain" (1858) R.C. Hussey, Archæologia Cantiana, volume 1 at pages 94 to 110
  5. "The Landing-Place of Julius Cæsar in Britain" (1860) Archæologia Cantiana, volume 3 pages 1 to 17
  6. The South Eastern Gazette Tuesday 6 November 1860 at page 3
  7. "Archaeologia or miscellaneous tracts relating to antiquity" (1863) Society of Antiquaries of London at pages 277 to 314
  8. "Ramsgate Scientific Association" (1873) The South Eastern Gazette, Tuesday 25 November at page 5
  9. "The Landing-Place of Julius Cæsar" (1873) The South Eastern Gazette, Tuesday 2 December at page 6
  10. "Deal and its Environs" (1900) Archæologia Cantiana, volume 24 pages 108 & 109
  11. "A Peep into the Past: Britain in the Days of Cæsar" (1904) The South Eastern Gazette, Tuesday 16 February at page 3
  12. "The Coming of Rome - Britain before the conquest" (1979) John Stewart Walcher at pages 2 to 8 and 51 to 53
  13. "Richborough Environs Project, Kent"Aerial Survey Report Series AER/12/2002 at page 9
  14. "Julius Cæsar's First Landing in Britain" History Today, Volume 55 Issue 8 August 2005
  15. "Tide and time: re-dating Cæsar's invasion of Britain" Texas State University, Thursday 25 June 2008
  16. "Doubt over date for Brit invasion" BBC, Tuesday 1 July 2008
  17. "Hidden Roman coastline unearthed by archaeologists in Kent" The Telegraph, 2 October 2008

"The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent" (1800) Edward Hasted Volume 10 at page 1

"The town and parish of Deal lies adjoining to Sholdon north-eastward, being written in ancient writers, both Dola [1] and Dale; in the survey of Domesday, Addelam, taking its name from its situation - a low open plain upon the seashore."

Eastern Kent has changed considerably since Roman-British times; the Wantsum Channel has completely silted up, connecting the Isle of Thanet to the mainland and the Claudian bridgehead port at Richborough now lies 2 miles (3.2 km) from the sea.

Historians have often questioned why Julius Cæsar did not use the natural harbour at Richborough for either of his British expeditions, particularly the second one, and landed instead on the shingle beach between Deal and Walmer Castle. The only possible answer must be that the harbour did not exist in 54 BC, but by the Claudian invasion almost one-hundred years later (in AD 43) the harbour had been created, possibly by the titanic forces of a particularly violent - though unrecorded - winter storm.


Eastern Kent AD 43
Adapted from "The Cantiaci" by Alec Detsicas (page 34, figure 7)

[1] Nennius (a Welsh monk of the 9th century attributed with authorship of the Historia Brittonum) says "Cæsar ad Dola bellum pugnavit" ("Cæsar fought a battle at Deal"). William Baxter (1650 - 1723), in his "Glossarium Antiquitatum Britannicarum" published in 1719, suggests that this place was anciently so called from the crookedness of the shore; Dol being the same in the British, as (Dolos) in the Greek.

In Greek mythology, Dolos is the spirit of trickery and guile; bait (figuratively), deceit (trickery) using bait to "hook" people; "deceit motivated by guile") uses decoys to snare (deceive) people which implies treachery to exploit the naïve, from δέλω (delo) to catch with a bait). Dolos is also a master at cunning deception, craftiness, and treachery. He is an apprentice of the Titan Prometheus, and Pseudologi. His female counterpart is Apate who is the goddess of fraud and deception. He was parented by the Gaia and Ather or Erebos and Nyx. Dolos became known for his skill when he attempted to make a statue of Veritas, again in order to trick people into thinking they were seeing the real statue. But he ran out of clay, which he was using to create the statue, and had to leave the task unfinished as he quaked in fear while his skill-master overviewed his attempt at deceitfulness. But to his surprise, Prometheus was amazed at the similarity between the statues - then Dolos became the master at his crafty and tricky ways. There are even some stories of Dolos tricking gods into lies. His Roman equivalent is Mendacius.


MOST AUTHORS have agreed in opinion, that Julius Cæsar, in his first expedition, landed somewhere near this place, after having been repulsed by the Britons, in his attempt to land at Dover.

Dr. Halley has proved in a discourse, which he published on this subject, that the cliffs, mentioned by Cæsar in his Commentaries, were those of Dover; and that the plain and open shore, which he next arrived at, was that along the downs here, where he made his landing good; some have contended that he landed to the northward of the present town of Deal, on some part of the sand downs; but there is a greater probability that the actual spot was between where the windmill of Upper Deal now stands and Walmer castle, where there are remains of intrenchments still visible.

On the fourth night, after Cæsar's arrival, a great storm having damaged and destroyed many of his ships of burthen, and filled the gallies, which were drawn on shore, with the tide; he caused the remains of his fleet, with great toil and labour, to be hauled further up the shore on dry land, and inclosed it with his camp, within the same fortification.

Where this naval camp was, can only be conjectured. Some have supposed it to have been on the same spot where the southern part of the town of Deal now stands; whilst others think, that the cut, now called the Old Haven, mid-way on the sand-downs between Deal and Sandwich, is the place where Cæsar secured his shattered fleet; and at this time, upon the shore about Deal, Sandown, and Walmer, is a long range of heaps of earth, where Camden, Lambarde, Dr. Plot, and some others, suppose this ship camp to have been, and which the former says, in his time was called by the people Rome's work, that is, the work of the Romans; whilst others will have it, that they are only sand hills, brought together by the force of the weather.

Next year, when Cæsar made a second expedition hither, he most probably landed at or not far from the same place he had done the year before; so that in whatever particular spot this naval camp, or where he landed, was, it was all the same as to his route from hence afterwards; for as he could not cross the great marshes to Great Mongeham, Norborne, or Ham, he must necessarily march to Upper Deal mill and Ripple, in pursuit of the enemy, and accordingly from thence by Little Mongeham, Sutton, Maimage, Barville, Eythorne, Barston, and Snowdowne, to his main camp on Barham downs, along all which route there is a continued course of Roman works and intrenchments, and tumuli, mounts or barrows, most of which are taken notice of in the description of those parishes, and of Barham Downs in particular.

But after Cæsar's taking his final departure from Britain, nothing further occurs relating to this place, the Romans afterwards constantly using the port of Richborough upon all occasions, when they sailed to this part of the coast, till the time of their wholly abandoning this island; and the haven of Sandwich, after that, on the decay of the port of the port of Richborough, in great measure succeeding to it.

During all this time, the spot where great part of the town of Lower Deal now stands, was an open plain, and the only village here, was that now called Upper Deal, which was composed of the habitations of a few poor fishermen only, though at a less distance from the sea than at present, owing to the great increase of beach thrown on this shore afterwards. Leland, who wrote in king Henry VIII's time, seems to confirm this, for in his Itinerary, he says

"Deale half a myle fro the shore of the sea, a Finsheher village iii myles or more above Sandwic, is upon a flat shore, and very open to these, wher is a fosse or a great bank artificial betwixt the town and se, and beginnith about Deale and renneth a great way up toward S. Margarets Clyse, yn as much that sum suppose that this is the place where Cæsar landed in aperto Litore. Surely the fosse was made to kepe owt ennemyes ther or to defend the rage of the se, or I think rather the casting up beche or pible."


"The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent" (1800) Edward Hasted, Volume 9 at page 549

The Hundred of Cornilo: Introduction

Lies the next northward from that of Bewsborough. It is written in the survey of Domesday, both Cornelai and Cornelest; but in the 7th year of king Edward I (1279) it was called by its present name.

In this hundred was a water, called Gestling, since called the north stream, which running from near Howe-bridge, in Norborne, flowed from thence through the marshes, and entered the sea below Sandwich. In this water, the felons, condemned to death within this hundred, suffered judgment by drowning.

This hundred contains within the bounds of it the parishes of:

  1. East Langdon
  2. Sutton
  3. Ripple
  4. Great Mongeham
  5. Little Mongeham
  6. Norborne
  7. Sholdon

And the churches of those parishes. Two constables have jurisdiction over it, who are elected annually at the court leet, held for the manor of Norborne.

The upper half hundred contains the parishes of Great Mongeham, Norborne, and Sholdon. The lower half hundred contains East Langdon, Sutton, Ripple, and Little Mongeham.

This hundred likewise contained formerly the town and parish of Deal, the parish of Walmer and the parish of Ringwold with the hamlet of Kingsdowne; all three long since united to the jurisdiction of the cinque ports, as will be mentioned further hereafter.



Marshlands of Worth Minnis and Lydden Valley lying between Deal and Sandwich


The marshlands between Deal and Sandwich: "The Wantsum and Lower Stour Marshes"
Soilscape 21: Loamy and clayey soils of coastal flats with naturally high groundwater
Habitats: wet brackish costal flood meadows
Drainage: naturally wet

The South Eastern Gazette, Tuesday 4 January 1853 at page 6

The spot on which the Duke of Wellington breathed his last is believed by scholars and antiquarians to be the identical place where Julius Cæsar disembarked with his army 1,900 years ago.


The South Eastern Gazette, Tuesday 18 March 1856 at page 5

Deal

Mutual Improvement Society

On the 11th inst. the Rev. John Rootham, of Canterbury, delivered a lecture on "Albion or Ancient Briton before its invasion by Julius Cæsar". The lecturer showed that its original inhabitants, who were of Celtic origin, were succeeded by the Goths or Scythians, who may be regarded as the chief ancestors of the Britons. He then touched upon the period and character of Phoenician intercourse with this island, which was extensively carried on more than 1,000 years before the Christian era. He next reverted, after the fall of Tyre, to the trade which the Greeks for centuries carried on with our island, and clearly showed that at the time of its invasion by Julius Cæsar, the ancient Britons were neither the painted savages nor the ignorant barbarians which they are generally represented to have been; but that they had made considerable progress in science, arts, and civil polity. It was clearly proved that the Druids had made considerable progress in astronomy; that they had some knowledge of arithmetic, geometry, botany, and medicine; and that they were able to perform the most astonishing mechanical feats, as the gigantic remains of their great national temple, at Stonehenge, and other druidical monuments clearly prove. The audience appeared deeply interested, and an unanimous vote of thanks was presented to Mr. Rootham for the vast amount of information his lecture afforded.


"On Cæsar's Landing-Place in Britain" (1858) R.C. Hussey Archæologia Cantiana, volume 1 at pages 94 to 110

NOTWITHSTANDING all that has been written with a view to determine the place of Cæsar's landing in Britain, the question is still open to further inquiry. The subject may be thought trite, but it must always possess a degree of interest for the people of Kent; and as the views here propounded differ from those of preceding writers, it is hoped that this additional treatise will be found excusable.

As the purpose of the following observations is to endeavour to ascertain the course of Cæsar's operations on the coast of Britain, it is unnecessary to refer to the transactions in which he was engaged preparatory to leaving Gaul, as they are not connected with the occurrences to be here investigated. [2]

Before attempting to trace Cæsar's movements, it is requisite to call attention to the part of the coast on which he can be supposed to have landed, viz. between Beachy Head and Dover; beyond Dover it is needless to look, for although, until recently, the general assumption has been that he debarked at Deal, it seems now to be clearly ascertained that at the time of his arrival, the current of the tide must have carried him from Dover in the opposite direction.

In the absence of any positive evidence of change, it would be natural to suppose that during the nineteen centuries which have passed since Cæsar's time, the action of the sea must have caused alterations in the coast, by wearing away the cliffs and headlands, and increasing the deposits on the low parts of the shore ; but in this respect we are not entirely dependent on conjecture, as various changes are distinctly recorded, though history does not reach, by some centuries, to the age of Cæsar.

The cliffs at Dover, and from thence to within a few miles of Folkestone, are of chalk, and therefore liable to be easily acted upon by the sea, and the state of the works next the edge of the cliff at Dover Castle shows that this hill formerly extended beyond its present limits. In the hollow occupied by the town of Dover, the land has undoubtedly advanced, and it was still advancing, by an accumulation of shingle, until the harbour of refuge, now in progress, was begun. At the end of the chalk next Folkestone is Eastwear Bay, where the cliffs become much lower, and the soil changes to a mixture of stone and clay; here the land periodically yields to the action of the sea. Immediately adjacent to this bay is the town of Folkestone, of which a considerable portion has been washed away.

At Hythe the shore has advanced to some extent, and from hence the low tract of Romney Marsh, formed entirely by a deposit from the sea, reaches (under different names) to Rye, and to the hills below Pett, near Winchelsea; within this district important changes have arisen, but the history of them unfortunately is not perfectly clear; it seems certain, however, that in the time of the Romans, an estuary ran from Hythe towards Appledore, close under the high ground on which the church of Limpne (Lympe) stands, which possibly was an outlet of the river Rother, formerly called the Limene; here the Portus Lemanis was situated, and considerable remains of Roman buildings are still to be seen on the slope of the hill under Limpne (Lympne) church. A second estuary extended across the marsh, from Romney to Appledore, apparently the main outlet of the Rother; and a third appears to have passed southward from Appledore, under the high land at Playden, and to have reached the sea at Rye, or between that town and "Winchelsea.

In this marshy tract very material changes have been effected by storms, but these three estuaries seem all to have existed at the same period. The two first mentioned have long been entirely choked, and the soil drained and made valuable land; the third is now represented by the sluggish stream of the Rother, which falls into the sea at Rye. New Romney owes its foundation to the sea having left the old town. At Dungeness the land continues to increase, from the accumulation of beach, to the extent of some feet annually.

The original town of Winchelsea stood on a low island, or peninsula (for the accounts are not perfectly clear on this point), towards the S.E. from the present town, about where the Pier-Head is marked on the map, or somewhat further seaward; this was in great part destroyed by a violent storm in 1287, immediately after which the new town was founded, and the ancient site was speedily washed away. Both before and after the destruction of the first town, the harbour of Winchelsea was one of the principal ports, if not the chief port, of assembly for the Royal Navy; it must therefore, throughout this period, have been both safe and commodious, and the position of the castle - formerly called Camber Castle, or the Castle at the Camber (harbour) - seems to prove that until a comparatively late date the sea penetrated far within the present line of coast, and the whole breadth of ground between the Pier-Head and the castle, and for some distance further inland, towards Rye, is composed of beach so recently accumulated as to be, for the most part, still bare of vegetation.

At Hastings, the high ground has certainly receded, as, before the Castle Hill was cut back to make room for Pelham Crescent, part of the wall of the castle projected beyond the face of the cliff, and a large mass which had fallen off lay below at the foot of the hill; but the cliffs between Winchelsea and Pevensey are of too compact a structure to be easily acted upon by the sea, and they are probably now but little reduced from the appearance they presented at the time of Cæsar's invasion.

Beyond Hastings, towards Beachy Head, I am unable to point out any particular alterations ; there is some evidence of changes, in mediaeval times, near Pevensey, either on the shore or about the mouths of the streams, but I have no precise knowledge of the history of this locality. Throughout the line of coast here referred to, from Dover to Beachy Head, the beach is now drifted by the tide along the shore with considerable force, and is accumulating in various places, but this kind of deposit seems to be of comparatively recent origin, for the older parts of the low lands consist (so far as my knowledge of them extends) of mud and sand; this shows that the current is now stronger, at least along the low parts of the shore, than it formerly was, a change probably caused by the wearing away of the cliffs and headlands.

We may now give attention to Cæsar's operations.

His first expedition appears to have been in some degree experimental, as it was undertaken late in the season, with a small force of two legions, unprovided with the usual quantity of baggage; and as the transporting of this body of troops seems to have required all the ships then at his command, he cannot be supposed to have contemplated at that time effecting a permanent conquest; and he says that if he could proceed so far only as to ascertain the character of the island and its inhabitants, the gaining of this information would be highly useful.

From the Gauls nothing was to be learnt of the country or people of Britain, for even the traders, to whom he made especial application, could tell neither the size of the island, nor by what tribes it was occupied, nor the customs of the inhabitants, or their usages in warfare, nor what ports were fit to receive a fleet. In this state of ignorance, Cæsar thought it prudent, before embarking on his enterprise, to send an officer, C. Volusenus, in a galley to collect what information he could, with directions to return quickly, which he did, after an absence of five days, without having ventured to land on the British coast.

Hereupon Cæsar completed his preparations, and sailing from Gaul with a favourable wind, about midnight, he reached the coast of Britain with the first of his ships at ten o'clock the following morning; here he saw the hills on all sides covered with enemies, and finding the place he had approached to be altogether unsuited for a hostile landing, he remained at anchor until the rest of his fleet were assembled, and then, having in the meanwhile called his officers together and given his orders, at three in the afternoon, with wind and tide in his favour, sailed a distance of eight (or seven) miles to a flat open part of the shore, where, after a fierce contest, he succeeded in effecting a landing. This is a general outline of Cæsar's narrative, but it is necessary for our present inquiry to make a close examination of each step in his progress.

The first thing to be noticed is, that Cæsar twice mentions his desire to learn what ports on the coast of Britain were capable of receiving his fleet; it may therefore be concluded that his wish was to land in, or close to, a haven where his ships might be made secure. The way in which he speaks of the place where he first arrived is also remarkable, and to this I wish to call particular attention, because I venture to think that Cæsar's words have been misunderstood. The general assumption has been that they are not to be interpreted with perfect strictness; it may however be presumed that he was well able to give an accurate account of whatever he intended to describe, and it is difficult to believe that he can have described a peculiar conformation of the coast which he did not find: in this respect, therefore, I must avow myself to be, though a Briton, Cæsar's advocate, and contend for a literal interpretation of his words. His description is very concise, but it has every appearance of exactness, and is perfectly clear:

"Cujus loci haec erat natura: adeo montibus angustis mare continebatur, uti ex locis superioribus in littus telum adjici posset."

The introductory words give emphasis to what follows, and the whole passage seems to imply, that he was struck, if not surprised, by the peculiarities of the place. His subsequent proceedings appear to show that he was embarrassed by the obstacles unexpectedly encountered. The delay of five hours of inactivity might be accounted for by a reluctance to begin any hostile movement before his whole force had arrived, but the calling together of his officers during this interval, and explaining to them the intelligence Volusenus had collected, pointing out what he was intending to do, and exhorting them to act with promptness and discretion, indicates a change in his plan of operations, for the carrying out of which fresh orders were necessary; and as the fleet did not quit its anchorage till within about four hours of sunset,[3] with a new landing place to be found, a landing to be forced, and the army to be secured for the night, Cæsar had good reason for urging his officers to exert themselves. A course of seven or eight miles along the coast, in the direction of the tide, brought the fleet to a flat open part of the shore, where a landing was gained with great difficulty. [4]

It is now necessary to revert to the coast of Britain, and endeavour to discover the locality of the transactions just referred to. At Dover, there may have been an inlet at the date of Cæsar's arrival, sufficient to be called a haven, but it must have been small, and the adjacent ground does not agree with Cæsar's description. [5]. A distance of seven or eight miles, in the direction of the tide from Dover, reaches to Folkestone, or a little further, where an invading force would have found very serious, though probably not insuperable difficulty ties.

At Hythe, [6] or rather at Limpne, a reasonably good harbour probably existed, but the ground abutting upon it does not in any degree possess, or appear to have possessed, the requisite peculiarities, and a movement from hence would have brought the Roman fleet to the shore of Romney Marsh, where it is impossible to suppose that Cæsar would have disembarked; neither is it credible that he could, in the first instance, have steered to Romney, or any other spot within the limits of the marsh.

At Pevensey, there may have been a harbour, but it is difficult to imagine that any of the surrounding ground can ever have suited with Cæsar's description, and a distance of seven or eight miles from hence would reach the cliff's towards Beachy Head.

Neither of these localities therefore entirely fulfils the conditions requisite to establish the probability of its having been the place of Cæsar's arrival; but there is one other spot to examine, viz. Winchelsea; here, as already noticed, there was a spacious harbour at the earliest date which is recorded, and I think there is the strongest ground for assuming it to have-existed at the time of the Roman invasion; there is also very great probability of the deposit on which the old town of Winchelsea stood having been formed at that time, but of this no proof is to be found. I have not met with any evidence of the position of the harbour, but it can hardly have been anywhere else than between the site of the old town and the hills towards Pett. The whole of what is now Pett level, as far inland as to the cliff on which modern Winchelsea stands, has unquestionably been occupied by the sea, and I have not any doubt that at the date of Cæsar's invasion, and for centuries later, the greater part, if not the whole, of this tract was under water, with the shore on the western side following the blue line on the accompanying map. The high ground next Pett slopes rapidly down to this line of shore, and ends in a succession of small bays and promontories; at no part, however, of the whole distance from Winchelsea to the point marked A, excepting in the valley from Pannel Bridge, and a length of perhaps two hundred yards at the back of the bay C, does the declivity reach the water-level, as the skirt of the hills is worn away so as to form a step or low cliff, perhaps forty feet high, or rather more, at the end of the promontories, but in general of much less elevation. [7]

The peculiarities of this spot are very remarkable, and as they bear strongly on our present inquiry, it is necessary to describe them with some minuteness. Beginning at the end of the military canal, marked A, where the cliffs which face the sea under Fairlight end rather suddenly, and calculating distances along the bank of the canal, there is, first, an opening, forming a bay, about 450 yards wide; then follows a cliff, something more than 450 yards long, part of which may be as much as forty or fifty feet high, but the greater portion is much less, this, when viewed from the south-east, has the appearance of a promontory, but the ground at the back slopes very rapidly down to the level of the water, and it is actually an island; after this comes another opening or bay, about 600 yards, or rather more, in width (still measuring on the bank of the canal), to the point of the promontory B; to which succeeds a third bay and an oblique line of coast, reaching about 700 yards further, to the point D. Now, if we look back to the time when Pett level was covered by the sea, all the characteristics of this locality appear consistent with Cæsar's narrative; every probably is in favour of the existence of a harbour; and in the irregularities of the shore are seen the angusti montes which turned away the Roman forces; not high cliffs conspicuous from a distance, but low mounts, slight eminences, high enough to stop the advance of invaders, and low enough to allow the Britons collected on them to throw their missiles with effect; and between these the water was so held in, that had Cæsar attempted to force a landing, his troops would inevitably have been broken into separate detachments, and, in the then high state of the tide, some of his ships might have floated under the cliffs, within reach of his enemies: so that the spot not only agrees most exactly with Cæsar's description, but also thoroughly justifies the opinion he gives

"Hunc ad egrediendum nequaquam idoneum arbitratus locum".

It may perhaps be urged that Volusenus would have discovered such peculiarities as these, and have warned Cæsar against attempting a descent on this part of the coast; but he is not likely to have ventured with his single ship into an unknown harbour in a hostile country, and, judging from the imperfect idea which I myself gained on seeing the place from the Pier-Head, a distant view would not have enabled him to detect the true character of the ground.

Following the coast in the direction of the tide, from Winchelsea towards Beachy Head, the first opening in the high cliffs in any degree practicable for Cæsar's purpose is between St. Leonard's and Bulverhithe, exactly at the right distance from Pett level to agree with his history. [8] Here two small valleys unite on the shore, having between them a peninsular hill connected at the back by a narrow isthmus with the high ground of the inland country. The width of the interval existing at the time of the Roman invasion between Bulverhithe and the end of the cliffs at St. Leonard's is doubtful, and it must have varied according to the depth of the curve which the shore may have followed along the skirt of the hills next St. Leonard's; it is also uncertain whether at that time the water reached the peninsular hill just mentioned; it is clear, however, that the end of this hill has formerly been washed by the sea, and if it was so at the period referred to, the gap in the cliffs must have been divided into two spaces, one (next Bulverhithe) about five furlongs wide at high tide, and the other of uncertain width, perhaps a mile, perhaps half a mile. But the breadth of these openings at high tide is of little, importance to our investigation, as Cæsar reached the place of his debarkation about, or a little before, the time of low tide, when, if this part of the coast was then like what it now is, there must have been a firm open shore of unbounded length, and nearly a furlong in width, between the cliffs and the edge of the water, affording ample space for a hostile landing, while the narrowness of the intervals through which the Britons could descend to the shore would have been favourable to Cæsar's small army.


Sketch of Ground between Bulverhithe and St. Leonard's.

No peculiarities in any degree at variance with Cæsar's narrative appear to be discoverable in this locality, nor any cogent reason to exist why his first landing in Britain may not have been effected at this spot: the "apertum ac planum littus" is not to be understood as a low line of coast, but merely a flat shore exposed to the sea, in contradistinction from a haven, in which he had designed to land. No occurrences are recorded after the Roman forces were established on land that will help our present inquiry, but it may be noticed that Cæsar describes his galleys to have been drawn ashore, and the transports to have remained at anchor in the open sea, implying that no creek or haven was available for their security; and in this respect the spot under consideration suits with the narrative.

The year following the events which, thus far, we have been examining, Cæsar embarked much earlier in the season, on his second expedition, with a force of five legions, and on reaching the coast of Britain, about midday, found no enemy in sight; he therefore landed without opposition, and having selected a spot for his camp, marched in search of the British army, leaving his ships at anchor. On this occasion he steered from Gaul to the part of the island which he had ascertained in the preceding year to be best fitted for a landing; he does not say distinctly that he reached, or intended to reach, the very spot where he arrived in his first expedition, but his words may well be interpreted to signify that he did so, and as Dion Cassius asserts plainly that the second landing was at the same place as the first, there is no good reason to doubt that such was the fact. Cæsar again speaks of the open shore, and describes it to have been soft, a characteristic sufficiently accordant with the ground between St. Leonard's and Bulverhithe. [9] In both expeditions the Roman fleet suffered very severely from storms on the coast of Britain, but after the second of these misfortunes the ships were, with much labour, drawn on shore, and protected by fortifications united with the camp, an additional proof that there was no harbour to receive them.

The peninsular hill before spoken of, the form of which may be seen on the map, deserves particular notice: its length is rather over three-quarters of a mile, and the breadth at the widest part nearly half a mile; the isthmus at the north-east end, which joined it to the neighbouring hills, is cut through by a railway, and its precise width cannot now be ascertained, but it probably did not much exceed a hundred yards; the valleys on both sides contain streams, and, when undrained, must have given considerable protection to the flanks, so that the entire hill, in its original state, possessed very much the character of a natural fortress, and was peculiarly suited for military occupation. Here, it may be supposed, Cæsar would have found a favourable site for his camp, with one end touching the high ground inland, and the other reaching to the shore, in immediate connection with the shipping. [10]

Very little of the entrenchments thrown up by the Romans can now be supposed to remain; the Britons would have destroyed whatever they thought formidable, and in later ages the tides and floods in the valleys, and the plough on the hills, will have obliterated the traces which the Britons left. The greater part of the ground here referred to is ploughed land, on which I can find no indications of entrenchments; but at the north-east end of the hill are several meadows, and in these there are various irregularities and banks which deserve to be very carefully examined by those who are skilled in such investigations. It does not seem easy to account for them, except by supposing that they are the remains of military works; but I leave it to others, better acquainted with such subjects than myself, to determine their origin and object; and in the hope of assisting further research, I have added a rough sketch of the ground. [11]

How far the foregoing ideas are consistent with Cæsar's narrative, and the faint aids which are discoverable to guide us in tracing the course of his proceedings, it is for my readers to decide, but to myself they appear to lead to this conclusion, that on his first expedition Cæsar brought his fleet to the foot of the hills descending to what is now Pett level, with the intention of landing there, but finding himself unexpectedly baulked by the peculiarities of the place, and compelled to alter his plan of operations, he resolved to make a dash at some other part of the coast, and while waiting for his ships to assemble, he called his officers together, explained what he intended to do, and admonished them to be prepared to act with energy, and then (at three o'clock in the afternoon, about four hours before sunset) moved off towards Beachy Head, and turned his attack to the very first opening in the cliffs, in any degree practicable, which he came to; and, that on his second expedition Cæsar landed at the same place, and established his camp on the hill referred to between Bulverhithe and St. Leonard's.

A few observations may be added relative to Cæsar's movements after his landing. I agree in opinion with, the Astronomer Royal, that the battle fought immediately after Cæsar's second arrival was on the banks of the river Rother, and in all probability at Robertsbridge, for although the road across the valley at Bodiam most likely existed at the time, and would undoubtedly have been guarded by the Britons, Cæsar must be supposed to have made his attack at the narrowest part of the valley, which is at Robertsbridge. [12] Mr. Airy also expresses his conviction, in reference to the stronghold which Cæsar captured directly after this battle, that a large wood, called the Burg Wood, adjoining the hamlet of Hurst Green, once contained a British fortress. Upwards of twenty years ago I learned that indications of something of this land existed; and they are to be found in the highest part of the wood, near the eastern extremity, as marked in the accompanying map; the principal object is a somewhat irregular oval excavation, rather more than a hundred yards long from east to west, and perhaps eighty yards wide from north to south; eastward of this, about a hundred yards outside the wood, is a hollow in the ground, very much like the commencement of a trench, and curved as if intended to surround the oval excavation, but the traces are not clear except at the eastern part. These works are too incomplete to be satisfactorily interpreted, except by those who are well accustomed to the investigation of ancient entrenchments, and I do not venture to express any opinion concerning them. The site is such as the Britons usually chose for their fortresses, but if this is a remnant of one of their settlements, it appears never to have been perfected. [13]

There is another indication to be noticed in this locality. On the rise of the hill, to the south of the old road ascending from Echingham Church, there is a step in the ground winding round in a curve towards the new road by Haremare; this is marked partly by a hedge and partly by a narrow belt of wood between the fields. As the natural effect of long-continued cultivation on sloping ground is to produce steps of this kind next the fences, there would be nothing noticeable in this circumstance, were it not that a continuation of the irregularity is to be traced in the wood on the opposite side of the old road.

Of the direction of Cæsar's advance into the country we have no evidence. The road through Lamberhurst and Tunbridge may be considered to be of British origin; but the Britons never would have allowed him to pass the Medway without a sharp contest, more especially as they had a camp overhanging the line of his approach within about a mile of the latter place; and if an important battle had been fought there, Cæsar could hardly have failed to make some allusion to the peculiarities of the ground. [14] If he had accurate information of the character of the country, he would probably have avoided Tunbridge, and have moved in the direction of Wadhurst and Frant; supposing this to have been his line of march, his second camp may have been near Broadwater Down, between Tunbridge Wells and Groombridge.

[2] For information on these and various other circumstances relating to Cæsar's operations, not here alluded to, the reader is referred to a most valuable paper by the Astronomer Royal, in the 'Archæologia', vol. xxiv., in which also full particulars of the tides, etc., will be found.

[3] According to Halley's computation, Cæsar arrived on the coast of Britain at the end of August.

[4] The effect of the fleet remaining so long stationary, must have been to draw the Britons towards the neighbouring coast; and it is possible Cæsar may have prolonged his stay to the utmost, in the hope of enticing them away from the parts to which he was about to direct his course.

[5] The site of Dover Castle has much the appearance of having been a British fortress; if it really was so, and Cæsar had attempted to land immediately below, he could hardly have failed to mention its existence.

[6] There once was a small harbour at Hythe, apparently a narrow creek formed by a bar of sand or mud, a short distance off the firm shore; it seems to have been in great part choked by an accumulation of the same kind of deposit, and subsequently to have been obliterated by the drift of beach; or perhaps the bar was washed away before the beach began to collect.

[7] The cliff under the town of Winchelsea is higher.

[8] Dion Cassius says Cæsar sailed round a promontory, and this the line of coast would form to any one proceeding from Pett level to Bulverhithe. As Cæsar does not describe the character of the coast, Dion Cassius must have derived his information from some other source, and he may therefore be regarded as an independent authority.

[9] "Eo minus veritus navibus, quod in littore molli atque aperto deligatas ad anehoram relinquebat." Ibid., lib. v. c. 8. It may reasonably be inferred from the word mollis, that Cæsar did not find the deposit of beach which now exists on this part of the coast, and both an examination of the shore and history tend alike to show that it is a very recent accumulation; that which lies on the shore, as well as that which covers the surface of the ground for a short distance inland, appears to have been thrown up in very modern tunes. The soil of the valleys is clay, lying over sea-sand, in, or immediately under which many trees are found, some of considerable size, at depths varying from a few feet to fourteen feet below the surface. I have not been able to learn that any traces of early occupation have been met with in these valleys. In Cæsar's time the soft shore may here have extended further towards the sea than it does at present.

[10] The military advantages of this hill may have influenced Cæsar in determining the course of his second expedition.

[11] The best time to examine this ground is during a bright day in winter, when the sun is low enough to show clearly the irregularities of the surface. A good view of some of the lines of embankment is obtained from the rise in the road, a little beyond (towards the north-east) the bridge over the railway. The accompanying plan is not to be regarded as anything more than a very rough sketch: an approximate scale may be applied to it, of about nine-eighths of an inch to a hundred yards.

[12] Cæsar marched twelve miles from his camp to the place of the battle; this is exactly the distance from the valley at Robertsbridge to the hill referred to between Bulverhithe and St. Leonard's; from Bodiam Bridge the distance would be about two miles further.

[13] No tradition or name seems to be attached to this spot; a cottager to whom I applied knew the circular excavation merely as a deserted sand hole, but it was originally assuredly not a sand pit; and when seen from the south-west, with the wood cleared away, it certainly looks like the beginning of a fortress. The soil of this neighbourhood is too tenacious of wet to admit of the formation of dry moats, except in situations where the ends of the trenches can run out on the side of a hill; the ground in the Burg Wood has a steep descent towards the north from the chief excavation, and in this respect is well suited for a British camp. Cæsar describes the entrances of the place which he stormed to have been defended with felled trees; and his troops applied the testudo and also raised an agger in the attack. An assault on this spot must have been made from the south-or east, and there is a mound projecting into the south side of the oval excavation, which an ardent imagination may claim to be the very work of Cæsar's soldiers.

[14] There are remains of a British camp at Castle Hill, close to the pike road opposite Summer Hill Park, rather more than a mile south south-east of the town of Tunbridge.


The South Eastern Gazette, Tuesday 6 November 1860 at page 3

It was mentioned in the course of the evening, by Mr. Dunkin, author of a "History of Kent", or "The Archaeological Mine", that the site on which the ploughing match had that day taken place was a portion of the enormous British city once ruled over by Caswallon. By a still existent road adjacent to the field Julius Cæsar marched to this spot 54 years before the Christian era. In the hamlet of Swanley, Mr. Dunkin further said, the camp of Julius Cæsar is to be found, at Col Arbhar, two Celtic words, signifying a camp on the hill, but which is now corrupted into 'Cold Arbour'.

Editor's Note: Coldharbor, Swanley TQ 53433 69498 and 51.403762, 0.204467


"The Landing-Place of Julius Cæsar in Britain" (1860) Reverend E. Cardwell Archæologia Cantiana, volume 3 pages 1 to 17

Click here to read online.

"The landing-place of Julius Cæsar on the coast of Britain has lately become a subject of considerable interest, owing to some nautical observations recently made on the currents of the British Channel. From these observations it appears to follow that Cæsar, when he quitted his anchorage off Dover and sailed with the wind and tide in his favour, was not carried up the Channel, as hitherto has been the faith of archaeologists, but westward toward the coast of Sussex. An honour which had previously been given unanimously to the coast at Deal has thus become without an owner and has been thrown among the southern Cinque-ports as an object for their competition."

Spoiler alert … "On the day in question the transports, if started with the tide in their favour at 3 p.m., with a 7.31 a.m. tide, must have gone up Channel on the first of the flood, and proceeded to the eastward … the evidence preponderates in favour of the coast of Deal as the landing-place of Julius Cæsar."

The following (translated) extracts taken from Books IV and V of Commentarii de Bello Gallico by Gaius Julius Cæsar contain references of relevance to the Reverend E. Cardwell's analysis which are emphasised by underlining.


Map of Gaul showing all the tribes and cities mentioned in De Bello Gallico

Commentarii de Bello Gallico, Gaius Julius Cæsar, Book IV, paragraphs 20 to 29 (first invasion of Britain in 55 B.C.):

  1. During the short part of summer which remained, Cæsar, although in these countries, as all Gaul lies toward the north, the winters are early, nevertheless resolved to proceed into Britain, because he discovered that in almost all the wars with the Gauls succours had been furnished to our enemy from that country; and even if the time of year should be insufficient for carrying on the war, yet he thought it would be of great service to him if he only entered the island, and saw into the character of the people, and got knowledge of their localities, harbours, and landing-places, all which were for the most part unknown to the Gauls. For neither does any one except merchants generally go thither, nor even to them was any portion of it known, except the sea-coast and those parts which are opposite to Gaul. Therefore, after having called up to him the merchants from all parts, he could learn neither what was the size of the island, nor what or how numerous were the nations which inhabited it, nor what system of war they followed, nor what customs they used, nor what harbours were convenient for a great number of large ships.
  2. He sends before him Caius Volusenus with a ship of war, to acquire a knowledge of these particulars before he in person should make a descent into the island, as he was convinced that this was a judicious measure. He commissioned him to thoroughly examine into all matters, and then return to him as soon as possible. He himself proceeds to the Morini with all his forces. He orders ships from all parts of the neighbouring countries, and the fleet which the preceding summer he had built for the war with the Veneti, to assemble in this place. In the mean time, his purpose having been discovered, and reported to the Britons by merchants, ambassadors come to him from several states of the island, to promise that they will give hostages, and submit to the government of the Roman people. Having given them an audience, he after promising liberally, and exhorting them to continue in that purpose, sends them back to their own country, and dispatches with them Commius, whom, upon subduing the Atrebates, he had created king there, a man whose courage and conduct he esteemed, and who he thought would be faithful to him, and whose influence ranked highly in those countries. He orders him to visit as many states as he could, and persuade them to embrace the protection of the Roman people, and apprize them that he would shortly come thither. Volusenus, having viewed the localities as far as means could be afforded one who dared not leave his ship and trust himself to barbarians, returns to Cæsar on the fifth day, and reports what he had there observed.
  3. While Cæsar remains in these parts for the purpose of procuring ships, ambassadors come to him from a great portion of the Morini, to plead their excuse respecting their conduct on the late occasion; alleging that it was as men uncivilized, and as those who were unacquainted with our custom, that they had made war upon the Roman people, and promising to perform what he should command. Cæsar, thinking that this had happened fortunately enough for him, because he neither wished to leave an enemy behind him, nor had an opportunity for carrying on a war, by reason of the time of year, nor considered that employment in such trifling matters was to be preferred to his enterprise on Britain, imposes a large number of hostages; and when these were brought, he received them to his protection. Having collected together, and provided about eighty transport ships, as many as he thought necessary for conveying over two legions, he assigned such ships of war as he had besides to the quaestor, his lieutenants, and officers of cavalry. There were in addition to these eighteen ships of burden which were prevented, eight miles from that place, by winds, from being able to reach the same port. These he distributed among the horse; the rest of the army, he delivered to Q. Titurius Sabinus and L. Aurunculeius Cotta, his lieutenants, to lead into the territories of the Menapii and those cantons of the Morini from which ambassadors had not come to him. He ordered P. Sulpicius Rufus, his lieutenant, to hold possession of the harbour, with such a garrison as he thought sufficient.
  4. These matters being arranged, finding the weather favourable for his voyage, he set sail about the third watch, and ordered the horse to march forward to the further port, and there embark and follow him. As this was performed rather tardily by them, he himself reached Britain with the first squadron of ships, about the fourth hour of the day, and there saw the forces of the enemy drawn up in arms on all the hills. The nature of the place was this: the sea was confined by mountains so close to it that a dart could be thrown from their summit upon the shore. Considering this by no means a fit place for disembarking, he remained at anchor till the ninth hour, for the other ships to arrive there. Having in the mean time assembled the lieutenants and military tribunes, he told them both what he had learned from Volusenus, and what he wished to be done; and enjoined them (as the principle of military matters, and especially as maritime affairs, which have a precipitate and uncertain action, required) that all things should be performed by them at a nod and at the instant. Having dismissed them, meeting both with wind and tide favourable at the same time, the signal being given and the anchor weighed, he advanced about seven miles from that place, and stationed his fleet over against an open and level shore.

  5. De Bello Gallico, Gaius Julius Cæsar, Book IV, at paragraph 23 (first invasion of Britain in 55 B.C.):

    "… he set sail about the third watch … he himself reached Britain … about the fourth hour of the day …"

    The Romans divided the night into four watches consisting of three hours each:

    1. the first (evening) commenced at six and continued until nine;
    2. the second (midnight) from nine to twelve;
    3. the third (cock-crowing) from twelve to three; and
    4. the fourth (morning) from three to six.

    The four watches are named in Mark 13:35: "Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cock-crowing, or in the morning."

    It is probable that the term watch was given to each of these divisions from the practice of placing sentinels around the camp in time of war, or in cities, to watch or guard the camp or city; and that they were at first relieved three times in the night, but under the Romans four times.


  6. But the barbarians, upon perceiving the design of the Romans, sent forward their cavalry and charioteers, a class of warriors of whom it is their practice to make great use in their battles, and following with the rest of their forces, endeavoured to prevent our men landing. In this was the greatest difficulty, for the following reasons, namely, because our ships, on account of their great size, could be stationed only in deep water; and our soldiers, in places unknown to them, with their hands embarrassed, oppressed with a large and heavy weight of armour, had at the same time to leap from the ships, stand amid the waves, and encounter the enemy; whereas they, either on dry ground, or advancing a little way into the water, free in all their limbs in places thoroughly known to them, could confidently throw their weapons and spur on their horses, which were accustomed to this kind of service. Dismayed by these circumstances and altogether untrained in this mode of battle, our men did not all exert the same vigour and eagerness which they had been wont to exert in engagements on dry ground.
  7. When Cæsar observed this, he ordered the ships of war, the appearance of which was somewhat strange to the barbarians and the motion more ready for service, to be withdrawn a little from the transport vessels, and to be propelled by their oars, and be stationed toward the open flank of the enemy, and the enemy to be beaten off and driven away, with slings, arrows, and engines: which plan was of great service to our men; for the barbarians being startled by the form of our ships and the motions of our oars and the nature of our engines, which was strange to them, stopped, and shortly after retreated a little. And while our men were hesitating whether they should advance to the shore, chiefly on account of the depth of the sea, he who carried the eagle of the tenth legion, after supplicating the gods that the matter might turn out favourably to the legion, exclaimed, "Leap, fellow soldiers, unless you wish to betray your eagle to the enemy. I, for my part, will perform my duty to the commonwealth and my general." When he had said this with a loud voice, he leaped from the ship and proceeded to bear the eagle toward the enemy. Then our men, exhorting one another that so great a disgrace should not be incurred, all leaped from the ship. When those in the nearest vessels saw them, they speedily followed and approached the enemy.
  8. The battle was maintained vigorously on both sides. Our men, however, as they could neither keep their ranks, nor get firm footing, nor follow their standards, and as one from one ship and another from another assembled around whatever standards they met, were thrown into great confusion. But the enemy, who were acquainted with all the shallows, when from the shore they saw any coming from a ship one by one, spurred on their horses, and attacked them while embarrassed; many surrounded a few, others threw their weapons upon our collected forces on their exposed flank. When Cæsar observed this, he ordered the boats of the ships of war and the spy sloops to be filled with soldiers, and sent them up to the succour of those whom he had observed in distress. Our men, as soon as they made good their footing on dry ground, and all their comrades had joined them, made an attack upon the enemy, and put them to flight, but could not pursue them very far, because the horse had not been able to maintain their course at sea and reach the island. This alone was wanting to Cæsar's accustomed success.
  9. The enemy being thus vanquished in battle, as soon as they recovered after their flight, instantly sent ambassadors to Cæsar to negotiate about peace. They promised to give hostages and perform what he should command. Together with these ambassadors came Commius the Altrebatian, who, as I have above said, had been sent by Cæsar into Britain. Him they had seized upon when leaving his ship, although in the character of ambassador he bore the general's commission to them, and thrown into chains: then after the battle was fought, they sent him back, and in suing for peace cast the blame of that act upon the common people, and entreated that it might be pardoned on account of their indiscretion. Cæsar, complaining, that after they had sued for peace, and had voluntarily sent ambassadors into the continent for that purpose, they had made war without a reason, said that he would pardon their indiscretion, and imposed hostages, a part of whom they gave immediately; the rest they said they would give in a few days, since they were sent for from remote places. In the mean time they ordered their people to return to the country parts, and the chiefs assembled from all quarter, and proceeded to surrender themselves and their states to Cæsar.
  10. A peace being established by these proceedings four days after we had come into Britain, the eighteen ships, to which reference has been made above, and which conveyed the cavalry, set sail from the upper port with a gentle gale, when, however, they were approaching Britain and were seen from the camp, so great a storm suddenly arose that none of them could maintain their course at sea; and some were taken back to the same port from which they had started; others, to their great danger, were driven to the lower part of the island, nearer to the west; which, however, after having cast anchor, as they were getting filled with water, put out to sea through necessity in a stormy night, and made for the continent.
  11. It happened that night to be full moon, which usually occasions very high tides in that ocean; and that circumstance was unknown to our men. Thus, at the same time, the tide began to fill the ships of war which Cæsar had provided to convey over his army, and which he had drawn up on the strand; and the storm began to dash the ships of burden which were riding at anchor against each other; nor was any means afforded our men of either managing them or of rendering any service. A great many ships having been wrecked, inasmuch as the rest, having lost their cables, anchors, and other tackling, were unfit for sailing, a great confusion, as would necessarily happen, arose throughout the army; for there were no other ships in which they could be conveyed back, and all things which are of service in repairing vessels were wanting, and, corn for the winter had not been provided in those places, because it was understood by all that they would certainly winter in Gaul.

Commentarii de Bello Gallico, Gaius Julius Cæsar, Book V, paragraphs 7 to 11 (second invasion of Britain in 54 B.C.):

  1. Having learned this fact, Cæsar, because he had conferred so much honour upon the Aeduan state, determined that Dumnorix should be restrained and deterred by whatever means he could; and that, because he perceived his insane designs to be proceeding further and further, care should be taken lest he might be able to injure him and the commonwealth. Therefore, having stayed about twenty-five days in that place, because the north wind, which usually blows a great part of every season, prevented the voyage, he exerted himself to keep Dumnorix in his allegiance and nevertheless learn all his measures: having at length met with favourable weather, he orders the foot soldiers and the horse to embark in the ships. But, while the minds of all were occupied, Dumnorix began to take his departure from the camp homeward with the cavalry of the Aedui, Cæsar being ignorant of it. Cæsar, on this matter being reported to him, ceasing from his expedition and deferring all other affairs, sends a great part of the cavalry to pursue him, and commands that he be brought back; he orders that if he use violence and do not submit, that he be slain; considering that Dumnorix would do nothing as a rational man while he himself was absent, since he had disregarded his command even when present. He, however, when recalled, began to resist and defend himself with his hand, and implore the support of his people, often exclaiming that "he was free and the subject of a free state." They surround and kill the man as they had been commanded; but the Aeduan horsemen all return to Cæsar.
  2. When these things were done and Labienus left on the continent with three legions and 2,000 horse, to defend the harbours and provide corn, and discover what was going on in Gaul, and take measures according to the occasion and according to the circumstance; he himself, with five legions and a number of horse, equal to that which he was leaving on the continent, set sail at sun-set, and though for a time borne forward by a gentle south-west wind, he did not maintain his course, in consequence of the wind dying away about midnight, and being carried on too far by the tide, when the sun rose, espied Britain passed on his left. Then, again, following the change of tide, he urged on with the oars that he might make that part of the island in which he had discovered the preceding summer, that there was the best landing-place, and in this affair the spirit of our soldiers was very much to be extolled; for they with the transports and heavy ships, the labour of rowing not being for a moment discontinued, equalled the speed of the ships of war. All the ships reached Britain nearly at mid-day; nor was there seen a single enemy in that place, but, as Cæsar afterward found from some prisoners, though large bodies of troops had assembled there, yet being alarmed by the great number of our ships, more than eight hundred of which, including the ships of the preceding year, and those private vessels which each had built for his own convenience, had appeared at one time, they had quitted the coast and concealed themselves among the higher points.
  3. Cæsar, having disembarked his army and chosen a convenient place for the camp, when he discovered from the prisoners in what part the forces of the enemy had lodged themselves, having left ten cohorts and 300 horse at the sea, to be a guard to the ships, hastens to the enemy, at the third watch, fearing the less for the ships, for this reason because he was leaving them fastened at anchor upon an even and open shore; and he placed Q. Atrius over the guard of the ships. He himself, having advanced by night about twelve miles, espied the forces of the enemy. They, advancing to the river with their cavalry and chariots from the higher ground, began to annoy our men and give battle. Being repulsed by our cavalry, they concealed themselves in woods, as they had secured a place admirably fortified by nature and by art, which, as it seemed, they had before prepared on account of a civil war; for all entrances to it were shut up by a great number of felled trees. They themselves rushed out of the woods to fight here and there, and prevented our men from entering their fortifications. But the soldiers of the seventh legion, having formed a testudo and thrown up a rampart against the fortification, took the place and drove them out of the woods, receiving only a few wounds. But Cæsar forbade his men to pursue them in their flight any great distance; both because he was ignorant of the nature of the ground, and because, as a great part of the day was spent, he wished time to be left for the fortification of the camp.
  4. The next day, early in the morning, he sent both foot-soldiers and horse in three divisions on an expedition to pursue those who had fled. These having advanced a little way, when already the rear of the enemy was in sight, some horse came to Cæsar from Quintus Atrius, to report that the preceding night, a very great storm having arisen, almost all the ships were dashed to pieces and cast upon the shore, because neither the anchors and cables could resist, nor could the sailors and pilots sustain the violence of the storm; and thus great damage was received by that collision of the ships.
  5. These things being known to him, Cæsar orders the legions and cavalry to be recalled and to cease from their march; he himself returns to the ships: he sees clearly before him almost the same things which he had heard of from the messengers and by letter, so that, about forty ships being lost, the remainder seemed capable of being repaired with much labour. Therefore he selects workmen from the legions, and orders others to be sent for from the continent; he writes to Labienus to build as many ships as he could with those legions which were with him. He himself, though the matter was one of great difficulty and labour, yet thought it to be most expedient for all the ships to be brought up on shore and joined with the camp by one fortification. In these matters he employed about ten days, the labour of the soldiers being unremitting even during the hours of night. The ships having been brought up on shore and the camp strongly fortified, he left the same forces as he did before as a guard for the ships; he sets out in person for the same place that he had returned from. When he had come thither, greater forces of the Britons had already assembled at that place, the chief command and management of the war having been entrusted to Cassivellaunus, whose territories a river, which is called the Thames, separates, from the maritime states at about eighty miles from the sea. At an earlier period perpetual wars had taken place between him and the other states; but, greatly alarmed by our arrival, the Britons had placed him over the whole war and the conduct of it.

Eastern Kent AD 43 showing old and new coastline
adapted from "The Cantiaci" by Alec Detsicas (page 34, figure 7)

De Bello Gallico, Gaius Julius Cæsar, Book V, paragraph 14:

"The most civilized of all these nations are they who inhabit Kent, which is entirely a maritime district, nor do they differ much from the Gallic customs. Most of the inland inhabitants do not sow corn, but live on milk and flesh, and are clad with skins. All the Britons, indeed, dye themselves with woad, which occasions a bluish colour, and thereby have a more terrible appearance in fight. They wear their hair long, and have every part of their body shaved except their head and upper lip. Ten and even twelve have wives common to them, and particularly brothers among brothers, and parents among their children; but if there be any issue by these wives, they are reputed to be the children of those by whom respectively each was first espoused when a virgin."


Eastern Kent AD 43 showing old and new coastline
adapted from "The Cantiaci" by Alec Detsicas (page 34, figure 7)

Gaius Julius Cæsar's two invasions of Britain are referred to in just 3 paragraphs of De vita Cæsarum (The Lives of the Twelve Cæsars) (A.D. 121) by Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus. Paragraphs 25, 47 and 58, taken from Robert Graves' 1965 translation, are set out below:

25. Briefly, his nine years' governorship produced the following results. He reduced to the form of a province the whole of Gaul enclosed by the Pyrenees, the Alps, the Cevennes, the Rhine, and the Rhone - about 640,000 square miles - except for certain allied states which had given him useful support; and exacted an annual tribute of 400,000 gold pieces. Cæsar was the first Roman to build a military bridge across the Rhine and cause the Germans on the farther bank heavy losses. He also invaded Britain, a hitherto unknown country, and defeated the natives, from whom he exacted a large sum of money as well a hostages for future good behaviour. He met with only three serious reverses: in Britain, when his fleet was all but destroyed by a gale; in Gaul, when one of his legions was routed at Gergovia among the Auvergne mountains; and on the German frontier, when his generals Titurius and Aurunculeius were ambushed and killed.

47. Fresh-water pearls seem to have been the lure that prompted his invasion of Britain; he would sometimes weigh them in the palm of his hand to judge their value, and was also a keen collector of gems, carvings, statues, and Old Masters. So high were the prices he paid for slaves of good character and attainments that he became ashamed of his extravagance and would not allow the sums to be entered in his accounts.

58. It is a disputable point which was the more remarkable when he went to war: his caution or his daring. He never exposed his army to ambushes, but made careful reconnaissances; and refrained from crossing over into Britain until he had collected reliable information (from Gaius Volusenus) about the harbours there, the best course to steer, and the navigational risks. On the other hand, when news reached him that his camp in Germany was being besieged, he disguised himself as a Gaul and picked his way through the enemy outposts to take command on the spot. He ferried his troops across the Adriatic from Brindisi to Dyrrhachium in the winter season, running the blockade of Pompey's fleet. And one night, when Mark Antony had delayed the supply of reinforcements, despite repeated pleas, Cæsar muffled his head with a cloak and secretly put to sea in a small boat, alone and incognito; forced the helmsman to steer into the teeth of a gale, and narrowly escaped shipwreck.


"Archæologia or miscellaneous tracts relating to antiquity" (1863) Society of Antiquaries of London at pages 277 to 314

XV. Correspondence between the Society of Antiquaries and the Admiralty respecting the Tides in the Dover Channel, with reference to the Landing of Cæsar in Britain, B.C. 55; together with Tables for the turning of the Tide-stream off Dover, made in the year 1862 at pages 277 to 302

XVI. Observations on the Question of the Spot at which Cæsar landed, as affected by the Communication received from the Admiralty on the Tides in the Channel. By G. B. AIRY, Esq., Astronomer-Royal at pages 303 to 308

XVII. Further Observations on the Landing of Cæsar, in connection with the Correspondence between the Society of Antiquaries and the Admiralty. By THOMAS LEWIN, Esq., M.A., F.S.A. at pages 309 to 314

Read February 12th, 1863.

As probably many of those who have heard the Correspondence with the Admiralty read have not made the subject of Cæsar's Invasion their particular study, it may be useful to state the precise question which the recent survey by the Admiralty was intended to settle. It is well known that the first invasion was in the year B.C. 55, and in the harvest month at the south of England, i.e. in August, and it is mentioned incidentally by Cæsar that the full moon occurred on the fourth day after his arrival. The expression is "post diem quartum quam est in Britanniam ventum" (Bell. Gall. iv. 28); and this, according to the Latin idiom, would mean the fourth day, not exclusive but inclusive of the day of arrival, as in the familiar passage of Cicero, "Neque te illo die, neque postero vidi … post diem tertium veni." (Cicero, Philip, ii. 35.)

The full moon here referred to has been ascertained by exact calculation to have occurred on the night of the 30th August, B.C. 56. The day of Cæsar's arrival therefore was on Sunday, 27th August. He tells us that he reached Britain himself at 10 a.m. and waited for the rest of his fleet until 3 p.m. when he advanced eight miles, with the tide in his favour, "et ventum et aestum uno tempore nactus secundum." (Bell. Gall. iv. 23); so that, assuming him to have anchored off the cliffs between Dover and Sandgate, if he sailed with the flood-tide he would go eastward towards Deal, and if with the ebb tide he would go westward towards Hythe.

According to the tide-tables published by the Admiralty it is high tide at Dover on the fourth day before the full moon, about 8 a.m., and the eastward or flood tide continues to run about four hours after high water, and then turns westward, and runs so for the next six hours; so that on 27th August, B.C. 55 (being the fourth day before the full moon), it was high water at Dover about 8 a.m., and the flood-tide continued to run up channel for the next four hours, or until noon, and then turned westward, and ran in that direction until about 6 p.m.

It is evident that if these tables can be relied upon as applicable to the question, Cæsar, if he sailed with the tide at 3 p.m. on 27th August B.C. 55, must have gone westward, towards Hythe, and not eastward, towards Deal. But to this the late Dr. Cardwell, the Camden Professor of Ancient History at Oxford, took the following objection: that the tide-tables published by the Admiralty were founded on the survey of the channel by Sir William Beechey, and that all his observations were made at the distance of a mile and a half from the shore; but that Cæsar must have anchored at about half a mile from the shore; and that, according to local information, the inshore tide was very different from the offshore tide; that in short, though the tide at 3 p.m. on 27th August B.C. 55 might have been running down channel at the distance of a mile and a half from the shore, it might still have been running up channel at a point within the limits of the inshore tide.

In order to solve this problem, and at the same time to supply an omission in their tables, the Admiralty, at the request of the Society, consented to make a survey of the tides at Dover within the limits of the one and a half mile which had before been neglected. This duty was entrusted to Surveyor Calver, whose report is before the Society; and it appears that the survey extended four miles in length, viz. from the South Foreland to Shakespeare's Cliff, and a mile and a half in breadth. Observations were made in favourable weather in the three consecutive months of August, September, and October. In August the observations extended to three different stations within the limits mentioned, and were made on the fifth day before the full moon, and in September observations were also made at three different stations on the fifth day before the full moon; and this day was probably selected for some of the observations for the benefit of those (if any) who might be inclined to place the arrival of Cæsar on the fifth, instead of the fourth, day inclusive before the full. It is, however, very generally admitted that the day of Cæsar's arrival was the fourth day inclusive before the full, and attention is therefore to be chiefly directed to that day.

No observations on the fourth day before the full were made in the month of August; but observations were made on the fourth day before the full at two different stations in the month of September, and at three different stations in the month of October, and the results are these: On the fourth day before the full in the month of September it was high water at Dover at 8h. 17m. a.m. and the tide or current ran eastward until 1h. 15m. p.m. at the one station, and until 1h. 30m. p.m. at the other station, when it turned westward, and ran in that direction until 5h. 53m, p.m. In the month of October on the fourth day before the full it was high water at Dover at 8h. 13m. a.m., and the tide or current ran eastward until 12h. 50m. at one station, and until 1h. 0m. p.m. at another station, and until 1h. 7m. p.m. at the third station, when it turned westward.

The duration of the westward current or ebb-tide was made the subject of two observations only; and according to one of them it ran for 6h. 10m., and according to the other for 5h. 53m. The general result as stated by Surveyor Calver himself was this, viz. that on the fourth day before the full, assuming high water at Dover to have been even so early as 7h. 31m. a.m., the tide would turn westward at 12h. 19m. and would run so until 6h. 34m. The recent survey therefore by the Admiralty proves conclusively that there is no substantial distinction between the inshore tide and the offshore tide, and that with high water at Dover at 7h. 31m. a.m. (and it could not be placed earlier, but was probably much later, viz. at 8 a.m.), the tide or current ran eastward towards Deal until between 12 and 1 p.m. and then ran westward until between 6 and 7 p.m.

Although, however, the set of the tides as now ascertained by the Admiralty is the most important element, and may be considered by many as decisive of the question, yet other arguments are not to be lost sight of which equally favour the hypothesis that Cæsar landed at Hythe, and are opposed to the hypothesis that he landed at Deal. The learned D'Anville, for instance, placed the disembarcation at Hythe on the strength of the following argument, and it certainly appears conclusive: Cæsar on the second invasion started from the same port in Gaul for the same port in Britain, as in the previous year. He set sail with a south-west wind (the most favourable for a passage from Boulogne) at sunset, but at midnight the wind dropped, and he was drifted out of his course by the current, and at break of day saw Britain on his left hand. "Leni Africo provectus media circiter nocte, vento intermisso, cursum non tenuit, et longius delatus aestu, orta luce, sub sinistra Britanniam relictam conspexit". (Bell. Gall. v. 8.)

Was this drift up channel, or down channel ? Whether the vessel was under sail or merely drifting, the broadside would be to the current, and the head turned to the north. Supposing, therefore, that in mid-channel he was carried to the west, he would see Britain in the morning immediately before him; but if, when he was halfway across, the tide carried him some twelve or fifteen miles up channel to the east, the phenomenon observed by Cæsar would actually occur, that is, he would then be off the South Foreland, and, with the head of the vessel turned northward, he would on his left hand see the high cliffs between Dover and Sandgate, but on his right hand he would discern nothing but the ocean.

Again, on discovering at break of day how far he had been carried out of his course by the drift, what was the step taken? Had he been making for Deal he would in drifting up channel have been advancing in the right direction, but on finding himself off the South Foreland he waited, he says, until the change of the current, and then turned back again with it, and by dint of rowing reached the landing-place of the year before about noon. "Tum rursus aestus commutationem secutus remis contendit, ut eam partem insulae caperet, qua optimum esse egressum superiore aestate cognoverat". (Bell. Gall. v. 8.)

As the tide had carried him up channel, the turn of the tide, or the ebb, was of course down channel. If Deal had been his object, he would have steered across, if not even against, the current; but instead of doing so he went along with it, or down channel, and the port he was in search of must therefore have been westward, in the same direction as the tide, and not eastward towards Deal.

Another observation arising out of the same part of the narrative is this: Cæsar had with him on this second invasion a fleet (including tenders) of 800 vessels, and, when in the morning he found himself off the South Foreland, he was close to the Goodwin Sands, and, if it were low water, it is scarcely possible that so vast an armament could have escaped wreck upon the Goodwins.

Have we then the means of ascertaining whether at that time it was low water or not ? Cæsar states that he waited, before he moved, until the turn of the tide, that is, until the current which had carried him up channel turned down channel. This change occurs off Dover at four hours after high water; and as Cæsar, after weighing anchor, was many hours on the passage before he reached the port at noon, he must, on the supposition that he landed at Deal, have carried his whole fleet at low water over the Goodwins. If, on the other hand, he made for Hythe, he would, on turning back with the tide off the South Foreland, have altogether avoided the Goodwins; and as no allusion is made to any risks upon that dangerous bank, the inference is that he went westward in the direction for Hythe.

Again, how far does the nature of the shore where he landed correspond with the coast of Deal ? The shore at the landing-place is described as shelving so gradually that the vessels could not approach the beach, insomuch that the Britons rushed into the water, and assailed the Romans in their ships, and when eventually the legions leaped into the sea, they had to wade a considerable distance before they reached the shore. (Bell. Gall. iv. 24 et seq.)

This answers minutely to the coast at Hythe, where the shore shelves so very gradually that even colliers cannot come up to the beach; but at Deal, on the contrary, you go at once into deep water, so that vessels of considerable burthen can almost touch the beach, and those on board may leap at once upon the shore.

What also was the nature of the land where the disembarcation was effected ? It is described by Cæsar as open, "apertum" and flat, "planum" (Bell. Gall, iv. 23), and the marsh at Hythe is a perfect flat; and indeed the marshes on the south coast are commonly called Flats. But this description does not agree with the part about Deal, for the chalk cliffs reach all the way from the South Foreland to Walmer; and between Walmer and Deal, though there are no cliffs, the ground is uneven, and cannot be called a flat.

It is also remarkable that Cæsar, Dion Cassius, Plutarch, and Valerius Maximus, all with one voice refer to the marshes at the place of landing, and marshes would of course be found in the tract which was called, par excellence, "The Marsh". They would in particular be found about Hythe, where was the port which was then kept open by the streams at the back of Hythe, since diverted into the military canal. But who has heard of a marsh at Deal ? Even those who advocate Deal, as Halley, are obliged to admit that all there is "firm and dry ground", and are driven to the conjecture (not supported by any evidence) that the coast in that part might have totally altered its character since the time of Cæsar.

Again, the last-mentioned writer, Valerius Maximus, speaks of two small islands at the landing-place; for he relates (Valer. Max. lib. iii. c. 2) that one Scaeva with a few others were posted as vedettes on one of these islands, and that the Britons as the tide ebbed rushed across the estuary to attack them, when all fled but Scaeva, and that he gallantly defended himself for some time, and then threw himself into the sea, and swam to the camp. It was never yet suggested that islands did exist or could have existed at Deal; but at Hythe not only is it highly probable that islands might have been found in the marsh, but the identical islands referred to by the historian have been recently discovered. They were close together, either near to or in the ancient port of Hythe, and both of them several feet above high-water mark. They are depicted on old maps, but when the port was drained they continued as eminences, or knolls. Mr. Elliott, who has been the engineer of the marsh for the last quarter of a century, informed me that a few years since he carted away these eminences, once islands, for the purpose of filling up the adjacent hollows, little dreaming at the time that he was removing important landmarks for determining the true place of Cæsar's landing.

I may mention in conclusion a circumstance which is curious as a fact, whatever may be its weight as an argument. Mr. Elliott tells me that in the triangular flat between Hythe and Sandgate, but at the Hythe end, wherever you dig you come upon the bones of persons apparently slain in battle, i.e. the bones are those of adults, and the bodies must have been interred promiscuously, without the least order, and at very little depth below the surface. These may be the bones of Saxons or of Danes, but they may also be the bones of the combatants who fell in the conflict between the Romans and Britons at Cæsar's first invasion; at all events, it proves that this spot was at some time or other selected as the landing-place of an invading army.


The South Eastern Gazette, Tuesday 25 November 1873 at page 5

Ramsgate Scientific Association

The paper on Tuesday evening was read by Mr. Robert Hicks, who contended that the landing-place of Julius Cæsar was not as is here traditionally reported, on the coast between Deal and Pegwell, but somewhere near the ancient port of Lymne, and although it goes much against the grain to have any of our old historical traditions upset, we must yet own that Mr. Hicks made good his position, as the literal words of Cæsar, taken with certain astronomical data, prove that on leaving France by the nearest port to Britain, which could only have been Boulogne, when he arrived near the Island he must have been carried westward by the tide, and then his description of the coast tallies well with that of Romney Marsh, as do also the distances which he gives of his landing-place from where the first pitched battle was fought, which was, there is little doubt, in the neighbourhood of Chilham, where Julaber's Grane (the name being, a corruption of Quintus Liberius Durus, a tribune who was slain in the combat) is still pointed out.

Some discussion followed the reading of the paper, but no facts were advanced which could materially weaken the force of the argument, and it was pretty well agreed that we must give up the honour, if honour it be, of having had the Romans to land first on the shores in our immediate neighbourhood.


The South Eastern Gazette, Tuesday 2 December 1873 at page 6

The Landing-Place of Julius Cæsar

To the Editor of the South Eastern Gazette

Sir, I think that such a subject as the landing-place of Julius Cæsar in Britain cannot well be so easily disposed of as it was by the members of the Scientific Society of Ramsgate, at their meeting last week, and reported in your paper, as it has long been a vexed question with historians and others.

Astronomers have calculated the state of the tide, and nautical men have given their opinion on the currents of the channel on the 27th of August, 55 years B. C.; and if Julius Cæsar's commentaries have been translated correctly, I think there ought not now to be much difference of opinion on the matter, as it is not merely a matter of honour, but one of historical fact.

Cæsar states that he could not make a landing near where he anchored - undoubtedly opposite Dover, being the nearest point of Britain opposite Wissant or Cape Grinez - on account of the high cliffs which swarmed with opposing Britons, but that he sailed twelve miles farther towards Cantium, and landed "on a gently sloping shore, free from rocks and overhanging hills".

The first thing to decide is, Where is Cantium? This, I thought, had long been settled to be the cliffs east of Ramsgate on to North Foreland; and anyone sailing round from Dover may as easily realise the "jut out", or Cant, now as then; and this Cantium is placed on old maps, as well as in the latest published by the Ordnance Survey, at North Foreland.

Mr. Lloyd, a painstaking antiquary, who resided at Ramsgate for some years, and who studied this subject very carefully, read an able paper before the British Archæological Society, in London, on Cæsar's landing-place. He told me that he was some years before he could fully realise the face of the country, such as the divisions of land and water as they were in Cæsar's time, as then there was much more water about Shoulden, near Deal.

Where the marches now are there is the mouth of the river. The Goodwin Sands were an island, and Pegwell bay, the mouth of the Great Wantsume, or Stour; and he was very decidedly of opinion that the landing was effected near Shoulden, at present a mile and a half inland from Deal; and this, I think, bears the stamp of strong probability. For what were those earthwork entrenchments, mentioned by Hasted, near Northborne, Coldred, Shepherdswell, and, in fact, all the way from Shoulden to Barham Downs, but so many marks left of the invader's track ? What are those mounds on Rhuborough Downs - rhu, red, bloody - but evidence of sanguinary battles? These mounds were examined by Lord Albert Conyngham and some antiquarian friends some years since, and gave indisputable evidence of conflicts between Roman and Briton.

From more recent research able historians believe that Cæsar on his first landing in Britain did not succeed so easily as he had anticipated, and on his return the next year with larger forces there can be no doubt but that he exercised greater caution in his tactics against the brave, but rude, native warriors; and it is more than probable that, seeing the importance of a station at the mouth of the Wantsume or Stour - afterwards Rutupiæ or Richborough he landed his army in three detachments - one here, Rutupiæ; another at the same as his first, at Shoulden, and another at Lympne; when all three detachments formed their junction on Barham Downs, and afterwards took possession of Canterbury and marched westward.

As regards the first landing, the Rev. E. Cardwell, D. D., principal of St. Alban's Hall, Oxford, published a valuable, and, I think, convincing paper in the 3rd vol. of the "Kent Archaeological Journal", and who, in August, 1859, when the moon, current of the tides, and other circumstances, were very similar to what they were on the 27th of August, 55 B.C., as calculated by Dr. Halley, visited Dover, and diligently collected valuable information respecting the flow of the tides, &c.; and with this valuable testimony, and Cæsar's own narrative, which he quotes, he concludes his very able paper thus: "That the evidence preponderates in favour of the coast of Deal as the landing-place of Cæsar".

If Mr. Hicks would kindly publish his paper the public, many of whom are deeply interested in such questions, would have an opportunity of judging for themselves, and could balance that gentleman's researches against the able and learned men who occupied valuable time in investigating the available facts connected with this great event in history. But my reading and humble research in the matter point directly to the neighbourhood of Deal - Shoulden - as the place agreeing in every particular where the Roman legions first placed their feet on British ground.

Yours truly, R. B., Minster, Thanet, November 21st, 1873.


"Deal and its Environs" Archæologia Cantiana (1900) volume 24, pages 108 & 109

By the late George Dowker F.G.S.

In Deal itself there is little of archæological interest save the Castles, which have been undertaken by an abler hand; and of the rest there is little to record except about hovellers and smugglers. All honour, however, is due to our brave Deal and Walmer boatmen. My archæological researches have been chiefly directed towards this part of Kent in relation to Roman and Saxon times, and on the present occasion I shall select my material chiefly from these sources. Most of us in our journey to Deal by the iron rail have traversed almost the identical course which our early Danish invaders took in their ships when they made their piratical raids on Sandwich, Thanet, and Canterbury, by the Wantsum estuary; we have halted at Watchester (if I mistake not the early name of the place afterwards called Minster), and rushing along under the walls of Rutupiæ, again stopped at the ancient port of Sandwich, and from thence to Deal through the swampy marshes of the Word Minnis and Lydden Valley.

From the low level of these marshes you may have been led to picture them covered by the sea in Roman times, and this would have been a very natural inference. But knowing that Roman pottery, coins, and traces of the Roman occupation have been found in the sand-hills - and indeed below the sand-hills considerably northward of Deal, beyond Sandown Castle - we must modify these views, and conclude that some natural barrier existed, or causes were then at work to exclude the sea from this area.

In 1895 I observed, in an excavation for a new gasometer on the north of Deal, that the subsoil consisted of four feet of peat, with bog oak, covered with ten feet of blown sand, shewing that probably the soil of the Word Minnis extended in this direction. Data are still wanting in relation to the soils covering the marsh, but I shall pass on to historical facts connected with the neighbourhood.

Most writers on Deal have considered it the landing-place of Julius Cæsar when he first visited our shores B.C. 55, but there are not wanting many eminent writers who dispute this. The matter has been argued on astronomical data; and taking the present tidal flow at full moon, and reckoning that Cæsar's ships were off Dover, it has been considered that when he weighed anchor and sailed with the tide he must have gone westward, and not eastward. In 1875 I read a Paper on the same subject before the Boyal Archæological Institute (Archæological Journal, vol. xxxiii), in which I disputed the validity of the tidal argument based on the present tide tables, as the great coast changes that have taken place since then must have affected the tides, and upon these considerations I placed the landing between Deal and Sandwich, at the mouth of the Wantsum estuary. Mr. Lewin, who advocated the westward direction of Cæsar's ships, objected to Deal or Walmer as not fulfilling the conditions of the narrative. "Where," he asked, "are the marshes which are put prominently forward by every writer of the account ? Cæsar speaks of vada or shoals, Dion Cassius of the Tevajos or lagoons, Plutarch of the marshy and swampy ground, Maximus of an island formed by the ebb and flow of the tide". I pointed out in my essay that all these were present near Deal, where I pictured the landing to have taken place.

"Deal and its Environs" means the Cornilo Hundred


The South Eastern Gazette, Tuesday 16 February 1904 at page 3

A Peep into the Past

Britain in the Days of Cæsar

A most interesting lecture was delivered in the Bentlif Art Gallery of the Maidstone Museum, under the auspices of the Maidstone and Mid Kent Natural History and Philosophical Society, on Monday night, by Bennett Goldney, F.S.A., of Canterbury, his subject "Cæsar's Invasion". There was a good attendance and the Rev. F. M. Millard occupied the chair.

In the course of his remarks, Mr. Goldney described the years 55 and 54 B.C. as an epoch when the march of destiny was about to pass the frontier line of centuries, and it could not be, he said, but that the minds of men should look before and after and seek to gather some augury of the future from the event and tendencies of the past. Well nigh two millennia had passed since the Italian Eternal City celebrated that seventh centenary of her foundation, yet the thoughts of men in England to-day were strangely like those that were uppermost in the minds of men in ancient Rome. Happily for those Romans, however, the hour revealed the man who knew how to mint and give currency to the hitherto uncoined gold of national sentiment and tradition by stamping it with the image of his own greatness.

It was during the last years of the seventh century of the Roman era that Caius Julius Cæsar undertook the two campaigns on "English Soil" that compelled the free states of England to become tributary vassals to the Roman Republic. Till those days the mysteries of Britain had been shrouded from those who had sought to penetrate them by a veil outstretched by no mortal hands. The mariners on the Gallic shore would tell with simple truth that the nearest island of the group was called Death - Thanatos, the Thanet of today - and weave wondrous tales of voices heard in the night bidding the fisher folk to make ready a bark to ferry the souls of the dead across the sea in darkness to the melancholy island havens.

But the tale that Cæsar told had a higher and deeper interest to Englishmen, for his expeditions marked the first point, of direct contact between English and Roman civilisations. Cæsar in his description of the island said that "of all the inhabitants, by far the most civilised were those of Kent which was entirely a maritime district". The "ancient Britons" whom Cæsar encountered on the south eastern coast were, according to the accepted doctrines, the progenitors of the Welsh people of today. The Welsh were the Kelts of the Kelts; Kelts of the second migration indeed, but Kelts pur sang, typical and unadulterated.

Dealing with the origin of the name of the county, Mr. Goldney thought the simplest and likeliest derivation was the one suggested by a not very advanced student of philology, the Venerable Bede. The word "cant", the earliest form in which they made acquaintance with the word "Kent", meant in more than one language "a corner" or "angle" and off the north coast of the county to this day was marked on the charts a point of the coast called the Cant. Again, Cæsar himself spoke of Kent as an "angulus" or corner of Britain. The original meaning of the whole word was in fact "The settlers of the angle" or "cant" a strictly accurate and natural definition of the Belgæ of Britain in Cæsar's time.

To those who had never realised how utterly untrustworthy was all the usually accepted history of the Saxon invasion of the fifth century, the derivation might at first seem improbable. In simple fact, however, the earliest legends of the invasion bore on their very face the element of falsehood. The actual nomenclature of England, indeed, was absolutely fatal to the theory that the English first set foot in our island in the fifth century. Yet if the current theory were true and if the first Saxons landed on our shores in the fifth or even fourth or third century, all the place names throughout the land must have been either Keltic or pre-Keltic and the entire population - with the exception of the invaders - must have spoken a Keltic or pre Keltic tongue. Yet at the sight of these fifth century magicians England became English and hardly a trace was to be found of any town, village, or district with a Keltic name mentioned by a single chronicler of their conquests.

This historian strove to account for the extraordinary disappearance of everything Keltic before the "mythic Saxon" by a theory that the Saxon exterminated the Kelt by some mysterious process unprecedented in human annals. A proposition that populations on the move followed the line of the least resistance, was, he believed, universally accepted, but an important corollary had been overlooked. It was that those races which crossed the Channel to Britain crossed where it was easiest to cross and that since Britain became an island, the south-east coast generally must have been the landing place of the successive races that settled on British soil. It was equally clear that such an emigration must have started on its voyage from the ports of Gaul from which Britain was most easily reached and consequently a considerable stretch of the coast in north west Gaul must have been occupied by people to which the immigrants into Britian belonged at the time the immigration took place. Therefore, in Cæsar's day, they found the Belgæ settled on both sides of the narrow seas and Belgic emigration from Gaul to Great Britain in full swing with a close inter-communication between the emigrants and their parent states. The very fact that the Welsh and Cornishmen were in truth the actual living representatives of the ancient Britons was sufficient in itself to warn us that the Men of Kent, and their kindred tribes whom Cæsar found on the soil of Britain were not themselves Britons but an intrusive people. The Belgic merchant was a dominant, factor in the civilisation of Britain in Cæsar's day, and it was commerce rather than the soil of Britain that the divine Julius was anxious to annex to his Empire.

Before the days of Cæsar, a brisk slave trade was carried on between the island and the continent, and also a more honourable, though possibly less profitable traffic in live stock of other kinds. The dogs of Britain were celebrated throughout the ancient world and commonly made use of in war. Of horned cattle the islanders exported two breeds the bos primigenius and the bos longifrons. Living representatives of the former were still to be seen in the majestic herds preserved at Chillingham and other parks whilst those of the latter were recognised in the the small Welsh breed known as the Keltic Shorthorn. Strabo, the geographer also included in his list of British exports those of hides and corn, whilst Pliny told us that British farmers knew the best kinds of manure to use for cereal crops. Again, before the landing of Cæsar the Bronze Age had merged into the Iron Age and in the wild districts near Crowborough Beacon the remains of old ironworks still told of the pre-historic "Black Country" in the Wealds of Kent and Sussex.

Tin also was one of the many metals exported from Britain in Cæsar's days. Strabo also mentioned that gold and silver were produced in Britain in sufficient, quantities not, only to supply the demands of the mints established by the Belgic tribes and the various workers in precious metals, but also to allow of a considerable amount of bullion being sent abroad bv way of trade. It was doubtful whether Cæsar mentioned a gold currency in Britain or not, but there was the more convincing evidence of the coins themselves. At the time, and a hundred years before, the Belgic people had had a kind of indigenous coinage of their own, and although no silver coins were known to be earlier than Cæsar's invasion there were many almost contemporary with it, and the same might be said of a series of rude tin coins, not struck but moulded, a number of which had been found in Kentish soil.

Turning to the actual invasion, the lecturer described the naval conflict between Cæsar and the tribe of the Veneti who held the Channel and whom it was necessary for Cæsar to defeat and subdue before he could think of invading Britain. With Cæsar's own luck and skill he managed to inflict so severe a defeat upon the fleet of the Veneti that unconditional surrender was the only thing left for that unfortunate people to do. This accomplished, Cæsar made an example of the State by putting the Senate to death and selling the rest of the people into slavery. By so doing he apparently removed the last hindrance to his descent upon Britain, but before he did eventually cross in memorable B.C. 55, he had a fierce encounter and subdued several of the Belgic states on the continental side of the Channel. That obstruction removed, he summoned a conference of "merchants" who traded on our shores and catechised them as to the size of the island, its people, its resources, its harbours and armies. But he might as well have catechised the codfish of the Channel; they knew that Britain was Britain and absolutely nothing more.

Failing to elicit any information from these merchants. Cæsar despatched a reconnoitring party whilst he himself gathered all his forces at Morini, now, most probably, Boulogne. Meanwhile the commercial gentlemen whom Cæsar had found so reticent had contrived to convey the news to Britain of what was going forward, and in a few days envoys arrived from British states announcing the willingness of their chiefs to submit to Cæsar and Rome, and to give hostages for their good behaviour. These Cæsar received courteously and sent back to Britain with much good advice and distinguished escort. Included in the escort, was one Commius, whom Cæsar, after his victory over the Belgic states had created King over the survivors of the tribe. Thus Commius held territory on both aides of the Channel and possessed great influence with the Belgic states in Britain, therefore, Cæsar singled him out as his representative. Continuing, the lecturer said he did not propose to repeat the venerable story of Cæsar's first landing in Britain but after the first victory on British soil a number of envoys were hurriedly dispatched to Cæsar to discuss terms of peace. With them came Commius of Arras, who explained his conduct by saying that on his arrival in Britain he had been seized and thrown into chains from which he had only been released in order to come and plead the cause of Britain with Cæsar. Cæsar in his clemency, accepted both the submission of the tribes and the excuse of Commius.

Again, it was not necessary to deal with the first descent into Britain but to pass on to the real invasion which took place in the year B.C. 51, or the 700th year of Rome. Here, Mr. Goldney dealt fully with the construction and numerical strength of the fleet, the conclusion of his arguments being that on this great invasion the army of Cæsar must have totalled over 105,000 men of which not less than 56,000 men were allies. But after all, with many of these allies it was a matter of business as well as pleasure, for there was an appetising prospect in Britain of unlimited loot; and even should the plunder fall short, there were plenty of tribes to be sold into slavery to pay expenses. The bulk of these auxiliaries were undoubtedly Belgic, closely akin, and in some cases identical, with the people long settled on our south-east coast. If these by anticipation could be called "English" then roughly speaking two thirds of Cæsar's Army were "English" also.

Eventually, however, the mighty fleet got underway and made for the flat coast adjoining Deal. The sight of eight hundred vessels bearing down upon the island produced the natural effect and not a defender was to be seen, whilst the vast army disembarked undisturbed. However, the next day the islanders began to check the advance of the invaders engaging with them on the higher ground, and concealing themselves when driven back by the cavalry. It was not yet the age of "walled towns and rolling uplands". The oppidum of Britain, was, as explained by Cæsar himself, merely a thickly wooded position fortified by a raised bank, and an entrenchment within which the inhabitants were wont to gather in order to avoid an incursion of their enemies. Cities and towns there were in many positions which Nature herself had rendered impregnable, whilst many more were safe-guarded by the rude skill of pre-historic engineering. Besides these the needs of a largely pastoral and agricultural population necessarily involved the existence of larger and smaller organised committees in their midst; and topographical conditions made it equally necessary that many of these should be collected and housed in towns and villages open to hostile attack. In such cases, and Canterbury was one such case, the oppidum was an exceedingly useful, almost a necessity institution.

As Cæsar himself chronicles, the islanders advanced with their cavalry and war chariots to the river (probably the Great Stour). Here the lecturer said he was not going to describe a British war chariot, with or without the scythes which were supposed to have been attached to it but he merely wished to call attention to the fact that war chariots did not grow in fields like mushrooms. They involved the existence of skilful workers in wood, metal, and leather, of smithies, carpenters' shops, and harness manufactories, and also they involved the existence of practicable roads.

A map of early Kent presented perhaps the most remarkable network of prehistoric roads to be found within the same area of any part of Western Europe, and all of them were probably in use during the Roman occupation of Britain. In the majority of instances satisfactory evidence was forthcoming that these roads were laid out and used in pre-Roman days. The most important of these was the Watling street, running almost west past Faversham and Sittingbourne to Rochester and London. This, the immemorial high road to the capital, worn by the traffic of more than two thousand years, naturally retained few of the features which could definitely be assigned to prehistoric antiquity except its straightness and the presence of early cemeteries along its line. The oppidum of Bigbury lay on the left at some little distance after leaving Canterbury, and here the disuse of entrenchments consequent upon the better inclosure of the city itself had left evidence of antiquity more distinctly recoverable.

Implements and pottery had been found in the oppidum and along the Pilgrim's Way which passed through it. This ancient road was still partially traceable from where it left the city to where it joined the highway some two miles further on.

The quadrilateral formed by the four prehistoric roads from Canterbury to Lympne, from Lympne to Dover, from Dover to Ashford, and from Ashford to Canterbury intersected diagonally by the Watling street from Dover to London, was one of the most noteworthy features of the early topography of Britain. Within this singular framework, moreover, were a number of subsidiary roads, but among which it was still possible to trace the remains of the old Pilgrim's Way along which, in all probability, Cæsar led his armies from Deal and Walmer to Canterbury.

The first part of this old road had been hopelessly obliterated, but from Great Mongeham on to Goodnestone Park the line was clearly indicated. Just beyond Goodnestone it again disappeared and it seemed doubtful whether it passed the Little Stour at Patrixbourne or Bekesbourne, but a little further on the line was again clearly marked and continued so until it reached the southern outskirts of Canterbury. Canterbury thus formed the principle angle of a "military quadrilateral" obviously designed for the protection of the coast from foreign invaders.

High roads suitable alike for war chariots and commercial traffic radiated from Canterbury to every single port and harbour of any importance round the shore from Whitstable to Lympne. The oval circuit of Canterbury to this day retained the shape of pre-Roman earthen walls and the prehistoric remains of antiquity found within and immediately without its ancient limits were innumerable. Yet in the teeth of this overwhelming evidence they were still gravely requested to believe that in the days of Cæsar Canterbury had no existence.

Returning, however, after this digression to where the invading Cæsar had been left, the lecturer continued, stating that, the morning after the taking of the oppidum of Canterbury, a sudden gale scattered destruction on part of his fleet which he had left moored in the Downs. Cæsar at once returned and spent ten days carrying out repairs to the damaged ships and enclosing his whole Armada within a fortification on the beach. Returning he found one Cassivelaunus had been chosen head of all the British forces and after many encounters, in several of which Cæsar seems to have been considerably worsted, he succeeded in inflicting a decisive defeat upon Cassivelaunus who was immediately deserted by his allies. Cæsar then marched into this chief's territory on the other side of the Thames. As to his line of march, he gave no indication whatever, but there seemed to be no reason to doubt that he did not use Watling street, which went straight to London then as now. In those days London, as it was at the present time, though in a, far more exclusive sense, was a great commercial centre and it was absolutely indispensable to the success of Cæsar's enterprise, from his own point of view, that the state in which London was situated should be compelled to accept the alliance of Rome.

Cassivelaunus, however, seemed to have followed, the good old rule "that those should take who had the power and those should keep who can", and he had London and he meant to keep it. But Cæsar had a decisive battle with this chief in which he defeated him. The exact locality of the, engagement was not clear. Cassivelaunus seemed to have lost heart after his defeat and disbanded most of his forces or they diabanded themselves, and eventually the state became tribute to Cæsar. As soon as this state, which was called Trinobantes, accepted the protection of Rome several other states followed and from them he learnt the neighbourhood of the principal oppidum of Cassivelaunus himself. He determined to attack it.

Before he finally defeated this chief, however, from the word of Cassivelaunus himself, four Kings in Kent - Cingetorix, Carvilius, Taximagulus and Segonax - endeavoured to storm Cæsar's naval camp at Deal. They were repulsed, however, with great slaughter. After this disaster, Cassivelaunus had no choice but to submit. The conquest was complete, and Cæsar, having assessed the amount of tribute to be sent yearly to Rome, crossed over to Gaul, taking many prisoners with him, but leaving a large number of his allied troops behind in Britain.

Between the days of Julius and the days of Claudius, nearly an exact century, no Roman set foot in Britain. It followed, therefore, that the historic event known as Cæsar's Invasion of Britain was in reality an invasion of that part of our island which might be regarded as already "English" by an army of men who, with the exception of the Roman legions, might also be regarded as of mainly "English" blood; and that the principal immediate result was to leave behind a number of these fighting men upon our shores to find subsistence and a home.

In conclusion, the lecturer said that the views he had endeavoured to lay before them that evening upon the real antiquity of the English race upon English soil was far indeed from being generally accepted. But after all he was only defending the great cause of the continuity of English history against the more favoured champions of "incredible exterminations" and "impossible transformations" [applause].

The Chairman proposed a hearty vote of thanks to the lecturer and the meeting concluded.


"The Coming of Rome - Britain before the conquest" (1979) John Stewart Walcher at pages 2 to 8 and 51 to 53

Cæsar and Britain Chapter One

At pages 2 to 5:

… It is clear from his own narrative that a reconnaissance in force was intended, as a prelude to a full-scale assault the following year, for the advancing season would allow no more. First came the need to acquire accurate information about the opposite coast, which, surprisingly, he was unable to obtain from native Gauls; so a single warship was despatched to survey the coast-line and to identify suitable landing places. Although the task was entrusted to a favourite tribune, it seems to have been carried out in haste and with less than normal efficiency, for it not only failed to locate the southern arm of the river Wantsum, but also, apparently, misreported on the harbour at Dover. Consequently, when later Cæsar arrived off Dover early in the morning with a fleet of eighty transports, carrying two legions, he deemed it unsuitable for an opposed landing and ignored the river estuary, which later became one of the foremost harbours of Roman Britain. Instead, he sailed northwards up the Kentish coast and probably beached his ships in the neighbourhood of what is today the town of Walmer, which also marks the northward termination of the high chalk cliffs.


Editor's note: these chalk cliffs extend as far north as Boundary Road, Kingsdown, at the southern end of Hawkshill Down, being 1.5 miles (2.4 km) south of the memorial plaque on The Strand, Walmer the location of which indicates the approximate spot where Julius Cæsar and his troops first landed on 26th August 55 BC.


The modern coast-line there is chiefly distinguished by its exposed, rapidly-shelving, shingle beaches, offering little protection to stranded shipping, and Cæsar is sometimes criticised in retrospect for having chosen such an inhospitable place for his landing. But we must remember that much has changed since his day, and we cannot be certain of the physical conditions of the shoreline at the time of his landing. Sea-level was that much lower, relative to the land, than now, and it may be that the Goodwin Sands, some 6 km off-shore and known to have been there in Roman times, perhaps stood higher out of the sea, and so provided a more sheltered anchorage than do the Downs today in certain weather conditions. The beach itself was probably quite different, for nearby Sandwich Bay has seen the change from pure, level sand to shelves of shingle in the last forty years. But while no sensible modern commander, given Cæsar's equipment, might care to land on Walmer beach today, conditions then are unlikely to have been so hostile, as the landing, after a slight hesitation, was entirely successful. Unfortunately the cavalry, carried in a separate, smaller fleet, had been prevented by the weather from uniting with the main force. Consequently, Cæsar was at once deprived of a decisive victory, as the fleeing Britons could not be pursued.

The cavalry were twice unfortunate. On their second attempt to reach Britain they were prevented from doing so by the combination of a violent storm and a spring tide, which, additionally, damaged many of the beached warships and transports of the main fleet. It is curious that Cæsar was not informed of the phenomenon of spring and neap tides, having maintained a fleet in the Channel for some time, and his omission to take this factor into account nearly caused the complete failure of his first expedition to Britain. The anchorage of the Downs provides protection from winds from most quarters except those from the north or south, so we may conclude that the gale came from one of these directions, thus forcing some of the cavalry transports to return to the continent.

Cæsar was thus placed in a difficult position, which encouraged the native Britons to resume hostilities, even though they had already sued for peace. They surrounded and attacked a legion sent out to gather supplies of grain, but were beaten back by reinforcements arriving just in time. There followed a pitched battle outside the Roman camp, in which Cæsar was victorious, although once more unable to pursue his enemy through lack of cavalry. But by then repairs had been effected to most of his damaged ships, and he decided at this juncture to withdraw from Britain before the onset of the equinoctial gales.


Editor's note: the autumn equinox in 55 BC fell on 25 September at 23:25.


The first formal Roman contact with Britain could hardly be rated an outstanding success. Indeed, so certain were the British tribes that Cæsar would not return, that only two sent the correct, stipulated quota of hostages to Gaul, while the remainder altogether ignored the demand. The expedition was probably only rescued from complete disaster by the quality of Cæsar's generalship; a lesser man might have been closer to total failure. Yet it had one important result. It focused Roman interest on Britain and, though Cæsar had been acting strictly beyond his authority as a provincial governor in mounting the invasion, it brought him official thanks from the Senate, and gained approval for further action.

Almost immediately on return to Gaul, preparations were started for the next year's campaign. Special transports, of dimensions more suitable for amphibious warfare, were ordered, and some 600 had been constructed by the following spring, in addition to an increased number of warships. But, as before, renewed hostilities in northern Gaul caused delays, and it was not until early July that the invasion fleet could sail. The combined force included five legions and some 2,000 cavalry, and it took with it many baggage animals, and large quantities of supplies. It was, altogether, a better-equipped and organised expedition, and more attention was paid to logistics.

It seems that, after an uneventful crossing, an unopposed landing was made on the same part of the Kentish coast as had previously served as a beach-head. By making use of speed and surprise tactics, Cæsar was able to march inland, cross a river, supposedly the river Stour, and capture the first major fortified place that he came to, usually identified as the hill-fort of Bigbury. Once more, though, his rapid progress inland was interrupted by a storm which drove ashore many of the ships anchored in the Channel. Despite his customary vigour, ten days were lost in setting matters right, during which time the whole fleet was beached above the reach of the tides and within a fortified area. In view of his previous experience, it is surprising that this had not been done at once.

At pages 6 to 8:

… Finally Cæsar returned to Gaul by about mid-September, thus ending his second, more successful expedition to Britain. Whether he ever intended to return is arguable; but, if he had intentions so to do, they were upset by a series of revolts in Gaul, in late 54 BC and again in 53 BC. Thereafter he needed to direct his attentions eastwards across the Rhine. Indeed, settlement of the Gaulish problem did not come about until 51 BC, after which matters of greater weight in Rome itself were to engage his attention to the exclusion of all else.

Such is the basic outline of the Cæsarian narrative and its orthodox interpretation; on the whole, archaeology can contribute little more to it. Geographical positions are but sketchily described and often to identify with accuracy, and the short span of time during which Cæsar was in Britain must mean that only the most ephemeral traces of the Roman army's presence will have been left behind. Yet, it is perhaps surprising that no evidence for the campaign camps or other fortifications have come to light, until it is remembered that little more is known of the early stages of the later Roman invasion in AD 43. But, in places, there must exist, perhaps somewhere in the region of Walmer, again near Canterbury, and again at a point along the banks of the Thames, as well as in Hertfordshire or Essex and elsewhere, traces of the fortifications described by Cæsar as having been erected by his army. The army suffered casualties, so cemeteries must equally exist, with the likely possibility that they contained military equipment. It is not entirely due to want of looking that they have not been found, and it is unfortunate that many of the areas in question are, today, built over. It is strange, nevertheless, that no object or structure has yet been discovered that can, with confidence, be attributed to the campaigns of Cæsar. Such a lack might suggest that it is time for a reappraisal of accepted theories.

To begin with, it is not easy to place the position of his original landing-place far from Walmer, owing to the way in which he describes the coastal topography of the neighbourhood. Admittedly there are other places along the Kentish coast where similar configurations occur, but to adopt one or more of them would place excessive and unacceptable strains on the remaining evidence, such as the duration of his crossing and the direction of the currents. Neither is it easy to postulate any place other than Bigbury, near Canterbury, for the fortified site some twelve miles inland which he attacked, after a night march on his second expedition. Indeed, in a direct line, the distance from Walmer to the hills overlooking the valley of the river Stour at Canterbury is almost exactly thirteen English miles, and it may have been from these hills that he obtained his first view of the enemy's army. Cæsar himself records that Bigbury was taken by the well-tried Roman army method of making ramps to the top of the fortifications. Traces of such operations should be detectable by excavation, even if, following the Roman army's departure, they were removed. Unfortunately Bigbury has never been fully explored but, lying today in freshly-cleared woodland, and not far from the proposed line of the Canterbury by-pass the opportunity still exists and is now being undertaken.

There is, however, one alternative to Bigbury, which is worth considering. Twelve Roman miles (approximately 11¼ English miles) is the precise, straight-line distance from Walmer to the river Little Stour at Littlebourne. The topography of the ground beyond Littlebourne is similar to that across the Stour at Canterbury, and is, today, still heavily wooded. A fortified settlement of late Iron Age date has also been observed during gravel-quarrying in the area. Unfortunately little is known about it, and it would be unwise to speculate further, but it should be remembered when such theories are discussed.

Roman successes - and failures Chapter four

At pages 51 to 53

The year 43 AD brought both failure and success for Roman policy towards Britain. The failure came first. In the changed circumstances, it was no longer possible to keep up the diplomatic contacts with the British tribes which had been begun by Augustus and maintained by Tiberius. Even before the principate of Claudius, the abortive attempt at invasion by the emperor Gaius Caligula indicated that established Roman policy towards Britain lay in ruins. With the uncompromising anti-Roman attitude displayed by Caratacus and Togodumnus, following the expulsion of Verica from his southern kingdom, the time had come for military force to replace diplomacy. Some, in Rome, saw this at last as the completion of a job long delayed since Cæsar's day.

It is likely that the expulsion of Verica proved to be the event which tipped the scales in favour of Roman military intervention. Before, when Tincommius had been expelled, it had been possible for Augustus to continue his alliance with the new Atrebatic ruler, for no break had occurred in the dynastic succession. Now, however, Claudius was faced with a professedly anti-Roman usurper in their territory, who controlled much of the British south coast, and who would not, apparently, negotiate. In modern terms, diplomatic relations were broken off, an action made more necessary after the request had been made for Verica's extradition.

But other factors also influenced the Roman decision to invade Britain. There was Claudius' personal desire for military success; legendary stories of Britain's mineral wealth had been circulating for some time in Rome. Britain remained the last refuge of the Druids, whose extermination was deemed desirable for political as well as religious reasons; there was Cæsar's 'unfinished' business in Britain. But, above all, there was the wrong to a Roman ally, a client king, to be avenged, which, in so doing, would also accomplish the permanent defeat of a long-standing enemy, the Catuvellauni. At that time, Rome relied heavily on alliances with native princes near or beyond the frontiers to maintain peace, so ensuring a considerable economy of Roman manpower. To have allowed Verica's expulsion to pass without vigorous action to reinstate him would have called in question, therefore, a whole sphere of imperial policy, and would have made other client rulers reassess the value of their alliances.

In addition, there was a question of military strategy to be considered. It had for some time been realised in Rome that too large a provincial garrison, commanded by an unscrupulous governor, could be a threat to the emperor's position. Consequently since Augustus' principate it had been the practice to distribute the legions evenly throughout all the frontier provinces, so that theoretically no one governor had excess strength.

The situation now required a military force to be deployed against Britain, either to protect the coast of north Gaul, or to occupy the country. But already the army on the Rhine was one legion over strength and to have added yet more troops on the Channel coast would have been in direct contradiction to established policy. Moreover, an additional garrison in Gaul would have caused far-reaching logistical problems. The solution lay in the occupation of Britain, which would place the garrison in safety across the sea, while newly-conquered territory would provide the food and other materials needed to maintain it.

The invasion was accomplished by four legions, commanded by Aulus Plautius, and detached from the Rhine and Danube frontiers:

together with auxiliary cavalry and infantry.

Some uncertainty still exists in the minds of archaeologists as to the places at which this army landed in Britain, although we know that it sailed from Boulogne. The only place to provide indisputable evidence for its arrival is Richborough in east Kent, where a fortified beach-head was first constructed, to be rapidly replaced by a stores depot of considerable size. Attempts have been made to argue that landings also took place on the south coast, in particular in the neighbourhood of Chichester, in order to reinstate Verica and expel the Catuvellaunian usurpers. Although there is no specific evidence for such a landing, it would have made sound strategic sense, even if, tactically, it might have been questioned. The invasion was an overwhelming success, despite some hard fighting and some difficult moments, and within a matter of months, Claudius himself led his victorious army into the British capital at Camulodunum, from where battle groups fanned outwards and rapidly took control of most of lowland Britain, so achieving the primary objectives of defeating, and occupying the territory of, the Catuvellauni and reinstating Verica in his kingdom.


"Richborough Environs Project, Kent" Aerial Survey Report Series AER/12/2002 at page 9

Fiona Small, English Heritage

There is evidence of late Iron Age occupation on Richborough Island with occupation layers, ditches and pottery from circa 75 BC discovered beneath the site of the earlier Roman fort during the Bushe-Fox excavations (1922-38). The report for Richborough from Kent SMR suggests from pottery and coin evidence that Richborough was in use as a port/harbour in the 1st century BC. This is not surprising considering the fact that Richborough Island was a prominent island amongst marshes and tidal channels at this time and a suitable location for settlement.


"Julius Cæsar's First Landing in Britain"

History Today, Volume 55 Issue 8 August 2005

Julius Cæsar first landed in Britain on August 26th, 55 BC, but it was almost another hundred years before the Romans actually conquered Britain in AD 43.

Having subdued Gaul, or so it seemed at the time, Julius Cæsar launched an expedition to Britain. It was late in the campaigning season and it is doubtful if he was bent on conquest, more likely a reconnaissance in strength. He would certainly have hoped to increase his prestige at home and he might have wanted to postpone a recall to Rome, where his enemies could get at him. He was probably encouraged by some British chiefs, hoping to use the Romans as allies against rival tribes. Whatever Cæsar's intentions, he was defeated by the British weather.

A Gaulish chieftain named Commius was sent across the Channel to enlist support for the Romans among the British tribes, while a trusted officer took a fast galley to reconnoitre the coast. Cæsar assembled eighty ships at Boulogne to carry two legions, the Seventh and the Tenth, plus irregulars, altogether some 12,000 men. The cavalry and their horses were to sail separately from Ambleteuse, a few miles north. After waiting for a wind the Roman ships left Boulogne in the early hours of August 26th and came in sight of the white cliffs of Dover around 9am. The cliffs were bristling with menacing British warriors, horsemen and war chariots. It was obviously no place to land, but Cæsar waited for hours offshore for the cavalry, which had got penned in Ambleteuse by tide and wind. In the afternoon the Roman fleet sailed north-east without them to pass the South Foreland and come in sight of the long stretch of flat shore to the north. The Britons moved along on land to keep pace.

The Roman ships drew in and anchored offshore, probably about where Deal is now, and the legionaries were faced with wading to land, burdened with weapons and gear, while the Britons threw javelins at them and galloped menacingly to and fro on the beach. It was not an agreeable prospect and the soldiers hung back until the eagle-bearer of the Tenth jumped into the sea and shouted to his comrades to follow him and defend the standard. This they did and more and more of the Romans struggled through the waves to the beach. After savage fighting, the legionaries managed to form up, charge the Britons and drive them in flight. With no cavalry this could not be followed up and the Romans made camp.

The Britons sent emissaries to Cæsar to sue for peace, along with Commius with his tail between his legs. Cæsar took hostages from them and after four days, on the 30th, the cavalry transports at last appeared, but were blown away by a sudden fierce storm and forced back to Gaul. The gale coincided with an exceptionally high tide and many of Cæsar's ships dragged their anchors and were wrecked on the beach. The Britons took note and started to muster their forces again. The Romans began repairing the ships, but now they were short of food. Parties ventured into the countryside to reap corn and gather supplies, but legionaries of the Seventh were ambushed by British chariots and horsemen. Fortunately for the Romans, the attack raised such a cloud of dust that Cæsar saw it from the camp and hurried up with reinforcements. After several days of incessant rain Cæsar managed to bring the British to a pitched battle, which was what Roman commanders always wanted against a barbarian and comparatively undisciplined enemy. The British were defeated with heavy casualties, but again could not be effectively pursued. Cæsar had had enough. He embarked his men on the ships and sailed back to Gaul.

Cæsar tried again the following year, launching a stronger and better prepared force of five legions on a second expedition, which carried him across the Thames at Brentford, but again the weather was abominable and gales played havoc with his ships and supplies. After concluding a face-saving treaty with the local British king he returned to Gaul once more. It was almost another hundred years before the Romans actually conquered Britain, in AD 43.


"Tide and time: re-dating Cæsar's invasion of Britain"

Tuesday, 23 June 2008 Texas State University and Sky & Telescope Thursday, 25 June 2008

See Tidal Streams: The Downs

It's not every day that a famous historical event, scrutinized by generations of classical scholars, can be re-dated by two astronomers and their college honors class. But that's exactly what Donald W. Olson and Russell Doescher of Texas State University did, with the help of students Kellie Beicker and Amanda Gregory. They report their findings in the August 2008 Sky & Telescope, which has just hit the newsstands.

Tipped off by Don in advance, I was fortunate to be able to join the team's research trip to the southern coast of England last summer. The white cliffs of Dover are also the setting for a much earlier clash of civilizations. Along this very shore, Julius Cæsar first landed with two legions of Roman soldiers in 55 BC.

Cæsar, in his first-hand account of the invasion, carefully noted the phase of the Moon, the approach of the equinox, and above all the unexpected ocean tides his fleet encountered. So it's a simple matter for any astronomer to determine the precise date of the invasion, right?

Wrong! No lesser astronomers than Edmond Halley and George B. Airy carefully studied the astronomical aspects of 55 BC in hopes of letting historians know the exact date and location where Cæsar and his legions came ashore. But Airy and Halley disagreed with each other. And what's more, they both got it partly wrong, as Olson's Texas State team found out on their research trip.

Some years back, Don realized that the summer of 2007 offered a unique chance to settle this tricky problem once and for all. In 55 BC the full Moon came about three days before lunar perigee and about 3.5 weeks before the equinox, just as in 2007, so the key tidal factors would be virtually identical. On less than a dozen dates in the last 2,061 years has this match been so good. August 2007 offered the perfect chance to find out just where and when Cæsar came ashore in 55 BC.

There were two top uncertainties to answer about the ocean currents when the Roman fleet arrived off the white cliffs of Dover:

  1. which way was the current flowing on the traditionally accepted invasion date on the afternoon of August 26 or 27, 55 BC?
  2. which way was the current flowing on an invasion date four days earlier, one that the Texas State researchers had already started to focus on?

To address the first question, our group went to the coastal town of Deal, the area historians have long believed to be the Roman fleet's eventual landing spot because it's roughly seven miles north of the stretch of white cliffs Cæsar says he first encountered. That beach is indeed "open and flat", just as Cæsar described. I noticed it wasn't sandy at all, being thickly paved with golf-ball-size pebbles its entire length, and wouldn't have been an easy place for Roman warriors to scramble ashore as they dodged a hail of spears and arrows from Britain's hostile Celtic tribes.

On the date in 2007 that corresponded closely to August 26 or 27, 55 BC, we walked out to the end of the Deal pier, which sticks out hundreds of feet into the English Channel. There Don tossed an apple into the ocean at roughly the same time of afternoon Cæsar described the movement of the fleet. Sure enough, the apple drifted southwest toward Dover. No way could an invasion fleet, arriving in oar-powered triremes and other ancient warships, have come up from Dover on that particular afternoon.

To address the second question (the current's direction on the revised invasion date, August 22 or 23), we chartered a sightseeing boat that normally takes tourists around the Dover inner harbour. The skipper agreed to take us well beyond the breakwater, into the open Channel and northward along the white cliffs.

Once we were out in the open sea, the skipper turned off the boat's engine. Kellie and Mandy began noting GPS readings and times, crucial data for determining the current's rate and direction by the drift of our boat. And yes - we were drifting northeast toward Deal. So on that afternoon, with lunar conditions so nearly matching those of 55 BC, the Roman fleet would have had no trouble making its way along the coast toward Deal.

I don't know about the others in our group, but I was starting to feel a little queasy as our small boat bobbed around in the choppy seas. I was glad when we got back ashore at Dover. The Roman fleet, its mission only just begun, had no such option.

Time was when all high-school students translated Cæsar's Commentary on the Gallic War in second-year Latin class. You know, the famous narrative that begins, "Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres …" The other night I dug out my old textbook. Flipping those old pages to Cæsar's Book IV, I saw that I'd underlined the words "Eadem nocte accidit, ut esset luna plena …" meaning "That night, it happened that there was a full Moon …" Cæsar was from the Mediterranean, where there is very little tide, and he didn't know that true ocean tides have nearly their maximum range whenever the Moon is full. As a result, his invasion fleet faced unexpected challenges as they looked for a suitable landing beach on the British shore.

The Roman army's historic landing on the coast of Britain in 55 BC involved perhaps 100 ships and 10,000 men. But this was a rather limited incursion, by Cæsar's own standards. Buoyed by the sensation his exploits caused back home, Cæsar returned to Britain the following spring (54 BC) with an invasion fleet perhaps 10 times larger. It was like a D-day in reverse.


"Doubt over date for Brit invasion"

Tuesday, 1 July 2008 BBC

See Tidal Streams: The Downs

Julius Cæsar's invasion of Britain in 55 BC could not have occurred on the dates stated in most history books, a team of astronomers has claimed. The traditional view is that Cæsar landed in Britain on 26-27 August, but researchers from Texas State University say this cannot be right. Dr Donald Olson, an expert on tides, says that the English Channel was flowing the wrong way on these dates. An invasion of the south coast at Deal on August 22-23 is favoured instead. The claims appear in the latest issue of Sky & Telescope magazine.

Cæsar came to Britain with 100 warships and two legions comprising 10,000 men. But as he approached Dover's white cliffs, spear-wielding Celtic warriors lined up along the ridge, prompting the Roman leader to look for a better landing spot. He ordered his fleet to move along the coast, and after travelling about seven miles they came to "an open and flat shore". What has been a matter of some debate is the direction Cæsar turned to sail along the coast and when exactly his armada landed.

Astronomical solution

Cæsar mentioned strong tides, a full Moon and an ocean current. The astronomers Edmund Halley and George Airy previously used this information to try to solve the problem. But they disagreed with each other's conclusions. Dr Olson identified August 2007 as a rare opportunity to investigate the question of when Cæsar landed. During this month, complex tidal factors involving the Moon and Sun would unfold in a near-perfect replay of those in August of 55 BC. So the researchers conducted an expedition to the south coast of England in order to investigate their idea.

On the day which corresponded closely to the traditional date for the invasion, Dr Olson carried out a basic experiment - dropping an apple into the sea off Deal pier at roughly the time of afternoon when Cæsar described the fleet moving. The apple floated south-west towards Dover, suggesting that the Roman fleet could not have travelled up to Deal from Dover on that day. "The English Channel was flowing the wrong way" said Dr Olson.

Cæsar's account led the researchers to focus on a possible invasion date a few days earlier. On the day corresponding to the revised date of 22-23 August, the team chartered a sightseeing boat and took GPS readings to determine how the boat was drifting. They found the boat was floating north-east towards Deal. The Texas team's revised date gives Cæsar the ocean current he needed to manoeuvre right, proceed seven miles, and land with a falling tide near present-day Deal. This is the beach preferred by most historians but rejected by tide experts in the past. A modified reading of Cæsar's reference to the "night of a full Moon" also leads to the August 22-23 date, Dr Olson claimed. "The scientists were right about the tidal streams and so were the historians about the landing site" he explained.


"Hidden Roman coastline unearthed by archaeologists in Kent"

The Telegraph, 2 October 2008

The dig at Richborough Roman Fort near Sandwich, Kent, suggests that Emperor Claudius' men landed at a point two miles inland from the present coastline. It is thought the fort overlooked a lagoon which disappeared as the area gradually silted up. Tony Wilmott, a senior archaeologist with English Heritage who led the excavation, said:

"It is widely known that Richborough Roman Fort was the gateway to Roman Britain 2,000 years ago, but what is really exciting is that we have actually found the Roman foreshore while digging in a deep trench alongside the remains of a Roman wall. The bottom of the trench continually fills with water and by trowelling you can feel the hard surface, which was the Roman beach. We have long been curious about this fallen Roman fort wall and now we know there was a Roman harbour sitting out there."

The fort consists of three surviving walls and a sunken wall, which lies beneath woodland adjacent to a railway line and river. A team of eight professional archaeologists, assisted by amateurs, spent five weeks examining a 100-yard stretch of the sunken wall. The Roman beach was found six feet down. Although the discovery has still to be fully analysed and authenticated, it is likely to solve a long-standing academic debate.

"The exact location of the Roman shoreline has always been a mystery," said Mr Wilmott. "One hypothesis was that the fort and Roman settlement extended a lot further over the railway line, river and beyond. Another theory was that the shore was close to the fort. We have found the latter. This is important because it is the context for the Roman invasion of Britain in AD 43. We knew Richborough was the site of that first landing (but) the relationship of land and sea for the invasion fleet has been a really important research question. It's very exciting to finally nail it."

Having established their bridgehead at Richborough the Romans commemorated the fact with a great triumphal arch in AD 80, believed to be made from Italian marble. By the mid-3rd century Roman Britain was under attack from Saxons and other raiders and the port, known as Rutupiae, was hastily fortified. It is believed to have been occupied by the Romans until they departed in the early 5th century. During the excavation fragments of pottery and building materials, including marble fragments from the arch, have been found and are expected to be carbon dated to around the 4th century. Archaeologists also discovered a mediaeval wall from what they believe was a 14th century dock, used by trading boats. It may also have been associated with the nearby St Augustine's chapel. The masonry technique is the same as that used in the town wall at Sandwich, which dates from the same period.


Location map showing Richbrough and the Wantsum Channel

Research News, Number 12, Summer 2009, Tony Wilmott and Jessica Tibber, English Heritage at pages 20 to 22


Location map showing the Thanet coastline circa AD 43

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