Metal detectorists could play a huge part in uncovering
the facts surrounding Julius Caesar's invasion of the
Britain, so little is known about the locations of battle
sites and camps that I believe detectorists are the only
people that have any chance of solving the many 'Caesar
I am hoping that other metal detectorists will join me in
this search, if you are interested in getting involved
Have you found scatters of early roman sling shot, early
roman coins, pottery or weapons? If so I would really like
to hear from you. You could provide clues that might lead to
the discovery of one of Caesars camps or even the site where
Julius Caesar fought iron age king Cassivellaunus.
Some of the many questions that need to be answered are;
where was Cassivellaunus's stronghold? Where did Caesar
camp? Where did the final decisive battle take place? With
patience and whole lot of work I believe we can answer these
In 55 BC, Julius Caesar landed on the coast, perhaps in
what was intended as a reconnaissance mission, although it
is also thought to be politically motivated invasion. He had
set off from Portus Itius, now Boulogne. During his
campaigns in Gaul, as recorded in Gallic Wars, he had
determined that the Gauls were receiving aid from Britain.
Towards the end of the summer, he decided that it would be
useful to get some reliable information about the people,
localities and harbours of the island, since little useful
information was available from the Gauls or the merchants
who visited it. First he sent out Caius Volusenus in a ship
of war to investigate the coast, while assembling a fleet of
ships and settling an uprising by the Morini tribe of Gaul.
Within days he received ambassadors from British tribes,
promising that they would give hostages and submit to the
Romans. He received them favourably and sent them back with
Commius of the Atrebates, whom he thought would be
influential in Britain. Volusenus reported back after five
days, but had not identified a harbour.
Caesar's fleet comprised about 80 transport ships for two
legions, the Legio VII and Legio X. He also had ships of war
and 18 ships of burden for his cavalry. Caesar sailed for
Britain with the legions, but was met by the massed forces
of the Britons gathered on the hills and cliffs overlooking
the shore. After waiting at anchor for several hours, he
sailed about seven miles, tracked all the way by the British
cavalry and chariots, and made an opposed landing on an open
beach. The size of the ships meant that the Romans had to
disembark in deep water, while the British attacked from the
shallows. The British were eventually driven back with
projectiles fired from the ships of war and the Romans
managed to land and drive them off. The cavalry had been
delayed by adverse winds, so no pursuit was possible.
The Romans established a camp and received ambassadors.
Caesar demanded hostages; Commius, who had been seized on
arrival, was handed over as part of the negotiations.
However when Caesar's exposed ships were damaged in a storm,
the Britons took the opportunity to renew hostilities,
ambushing one of the legions as it foraged near the Roman
camp, making use of a form of cavalry attack that was novel
to the Romans. The foraging party was relieved by the
remainder of the Roman force and the Britons were put to
flight once again.
After several days of storms, the British regrouped with
a larger force and attacked the Roman camp, but were once
again driven off. Commius had been able to provide some
horsemen from his people, so a large number of Britons were
killed in retreat, and the Romans laid waste to the
surrounding area. Once again the British sent ambassadors.
Caesar demanded double the number of hostages, but realising
his position was untenable ordered them to be delivered to
Gaul (only two tribes eventually made good this promise).
With as many of the ships as were salvageable repaired and
the equinox drawing near, the Romans returned to Gaul.
In 54 BC, Caesar returned with a larger force. According
to Caesar's own account the fleet comprised some 800 ships,
many of which were built to Caesar's specifications: broader
and lower for easier beaching. Men of all ranks across the
Roman Republic swarmed to join the expedition.
The Britons did not oppose the landing, apparently
intimidated by the size of the fleet. Caesar made an
immediate night march inland, driving the Britons back, but
when his ships were once again damaged in a storm he was
forced to retreat and regroup.
The Britons had appointed Cassivellaunus, who had
recently overthrown the king of the Trinovantes and forced
his son, Mandubracius, into exile, to lead their forces.
Cassivellaunus knew he could not defeat Caesar in an open
engagement and used guerrilla tactics, relying on the
mobility of his chariotry and superior knowledge of the
terrain, but he was unable to prevent the Roman advance.
Ambassadors from the Trinovantes told Caesar the location of
Cassivellaunus's stronghold, which he proceeded to besiege.
Cassivellaunus sent word to his allies in Kent to attack the
Roman naval camp, but when this attack failed he
surrendered, mediated by Commius. Tribute and hostages were
agreed, Mandubracius was installed as king of the
Trinovantes and Cassivellaunus undertook not to make war
against him. All this accomplished, Caesar returned to Gaul.
The invasion could only last a season as Caesar was
preparing for the emerging conflict amongst the First
Triumvirate and growing unrest in his actual area of
command, the conquest and submission of Gaul. No territory
was conquered, but Caesar had brought Britain further into
Rome's sphere of influence, and over the next century
diplomatic and trading links grew.
Aulus Plautius: AD 43 - Landing to Thames battle
By the 40s AD the Catuvellauni had displaced the
Trinovantes as the most powerful kingdom in south-eastern
Britain, taking over the former Trinovantian capital of
Camulodunum (Colchester), and were pressing their neighbours
the Atrebates, ruled by the descendants of Julius Caesar's
former ally Commius. Verica, the king of the Atrebates and
an ally of Rome, was ousted and appealed to the emperor
Claudius for aid. In response Claudius mounted an invasion
of the island in 43. Aulus Plautius, a distinguished
senator, was given charge of four legions, totalling about
20,000 men, plus about the same number of auxiliaries. The
- Legio II Augusta
- IX Hispana
- XIV Gemina
- XX Valeria Victrix
The II Augusta is known to have been commanded by
the future emperor Vespasian. Three other men of appropriate
rank to command legions are known from the sources to have
been involved in the invasion. Gnaeus Hosidius Geta probably
led the IX Hispana. Gnaeus Sentius Saturninus and
Vespasian's brother Titus Flavius Sabinus probably commanded
the other two legions. Cassius Dio says that Sabinus was
Vespasian's lieutenant, but as Sabinus was the older brother
and preceded Vespasian into public life, he could hardly
have been a military tribune.
The main landing is thought to have been at Rutupiae, in
modern Kent in Southeast England. Some archaeologists have
questioned the evidence for this, and believe that at least
part of the force may have come via another route, eg. the
British resistance was led by Togodumnus and Caratacus,
sons of the late king of the Catuvellauni, Cunobelinus
(Cymbeline in Shakespeare's play). A substantial British
force met the Romans at a river crossing thought to be near
Rochester on the River Medway. The battle raged for two
days. Hosidius Geta was almost captured, but recovered and
turned the battle so decisively that he was awarded the
The British were pushed back to the Thames. The Romans
pursued them across the river causing them to lose men in
the marshes of Essex. Whether the Romans made use of an
existing bridge for this purpose or built a temporary one is
uncertain. At least one division of auxiliary Batavian
troops swam across the river as a separate force.
Togodumnus died shortly after the battle on the Thames.
Plautius halted and sent word for Claudius to join him for
the final push. Cassius Dio presents this as Plautius
needing the emperor's assistance to defeat the resurgent
British, who were determined to avenge Togodumnus. However
Suetonius says that Claudius received the surrender of
the Britons without battle or bloodshed. Claudius was no
military man, and it is likely that the Catuvellauni were
already as good as beaten, allowing the emperor to appear as
conqueror on the final march on Camulodunum. Cassius Dio
relates that he brought war elephants and heavy armaments
which would have overawed any remaining native resistance.
Eleven tribes of South East Britain surrendered to Claudius
and the Romans prepared to move further west and north. The
Romans established their new capital at Camulodunum and
Claudius returned to Rome to revel in his victory. Caratacus
escaped and would continue the resistance further west.