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On This Day… He Came, He Saw… He Fled!

Written by: Peter Fishlock : 26 Aug 2019

It was on this day, 26th August, back in 55 BC when Julius Caesar and the Romans invaded Britain for the first time, crossing the English Channel with eighty ships carrying two legions, the Seventh and the Tenth which were made up of around twelve thousand men. Crossing the English Channel in those days was a journey into a land of mystery. It is true that cross-channel trading had been going on for centuries, but it was only merchants who went to Britannia.

So why did Caesar land on Britannia’s shores? In truth it’s unlikely that he was intending to conquer Britannia, it’s more likely that he was carrying out a reconnaissance mission to evaluate Britannia’s strength. Crossing the channel would have certainly increased his prestige back in Rome and would have postponed a recall. We can only speculate about his true intentions, but we do know that he underestimated two things, Britannia’s Celtic tribes and the weather.

As Caesar and his legions approached the shores of Britannia they observed cliffs that were bristling with menacing British warriors, horsemen and war chariots. Eventually when they attempted to land on the shoreline they faced difficulty as they were not used to shingle beaches and many Roman soldiers who were weighed down in heavy armour struggled through the waves to the beach. Meanwhile the Britons threw javelins at them. After several days of battle, repairing damaged ships and incessant rain Julius Caesar had had enough and he climbed back onto his ships with his men and returned to Gaul. The following year he returned to Britannia, and was more successful, but it was almost another hundred years before the Romans actually conquered Britain in AD 43.

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