Julius Caesar's 'Visits' to Britain

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The world that Julius Caesar found when he arrived in Britain in 55 B.C. was an evolving landscape full of continental influences.

The farms were circular huts in groups with small oblong fields and stock enclosures, and they stayed that way until the Romans arrived.

The weapons were iron daggers and swords, the latter more popular than the former.

The defining migration seems to have been one from Belgic Gaul. Indeed, the Belgae are some of the first people Caesar writes about in his account.

Caesar was quick to make alliances with various people, including Cassivellaunus and Commius, rulers of the Catuvellauni and Atrebates tribes, respectively. As these rulers would come to realize, this was not an alliance of equals; rather, Caesar extended Roman protection to these people as long as they "fit in" with the Roman way of life.

Why Julius Caesar "invaded" Britain seems to be fairly obvious: because it was there. Caesar had finished his conquest of Gaul and was looking for more destinations for his troops.

He came to Britain twice actually. The first time, a storm kept his troops on the coast. They landed on Aug. 25, 55 B.C. and didn't stay all that long. The second time, the Romans had better luck. They landed on July 5, 54 B.C. and stayed a bit longer. Both Roman expeditions left from Boulogne and landed at Deal, just a few short miles northeast of Dover.

The storm that hampered the first expedition forced ships carrying cavalry to return to Gaul, ensuring that the Romans would not be able to forage too deeply into the countryside. The next year, Caesar returned with greater forces: 2000 cavalry and five legions. Organizing the resistance was Cassivellaunus.

When the Romans first landed, they were unopposed, the Britons having withdrawn into the hills. But as the Roman scouting parties moved ever inward, they met the Britons in skirmish after skirmish. Caesar reports that the Britons used the war chariot in battle, with the driver sharing the platform with a javelin thrower. Despite determined resistance, Caesar was successful in subduing the British resistance. However, pressing matters in Gaul persuaded him to return there. He took his troops with him, leaving Britain to "run itself" for another 97 years.

The net effect of Caesar's landings in Britain didn't seem to be much at the time, but the legacy left behind was tremendous indeed. When Claudius put the Roman sword to the Britons a hundred years later, the result was a Roman influence that was to be felt for hundreds of years.

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