From the close connection between them and the Celts of the continent, especially the maritime cantons, it may readily be conceived that they had at least sympathized with the national resistance, and that if they did not grant armed assistance to the patriots, they gave at any rate an honourable asylum in their sea-protected isle to every one who was no longer safe in his native land. This certainly involved a danger, if not for the present, at any rate for the future; it seemed judicious--if not to undertake the conquest of the island itself--at any rate to conduct there also defensive operations by offensive means, and to show the islanders by a landing on the coast that the arm of the Romans reached even across the Channel. The first Roman officer who entered Brittany, Publius Crassus had already (697) crossed thence to the "tin-islands" at the south-west point of England (Stilly islands); in the summer of 699 Caesar himself with only two legions crossed the Channel at its narrowest part.(42) He found the coast covered with masses of the enemy's troops and sailed onward with his vessels; but the British war- chariots moved on quite as fast by land as the Roman galleys by sea, and it was only with the utmost difficulty that the Roman soldiers succeeded in gaining the shore in the face of the enemy, partly by wading, partly in boats, under the protection of the ships of war, which swept the beach with missiles thrown from machines and by the hand. In the first alarm the nearest villages submitted; but the islanders soon perceived how weak the enemy was, and how he did not venture to move far from the shore. The natives disappeared into the interior and returned only to threaten the camp; and the fleet, which had been left in the open roads, suffered very considerable damage from the first tempest that burst upon it. The Romans had to reckon themselves fortunate in repelling the attacks of the barbarians till they had bestowed the necessary repairs on the ships, and in regaining with these the Gallic coast before the bad season of the year came on.

Caesar himself was so dissatisfied with the results of this expedition undertaken inconsiderately and with inadequate means, that he immediately (in the winter of 699-700) ordered a transport fleet of 800 sail to be fitted out, and in the spring of 700 sailed a second time for the Kentish coast, on this occasion with five legions and 2000 cavalry. The forces of the Britons, assembled this time also on the shore, retired before the mighty armada without risking a battle; Caesar immediately set out on his march into the interior, and after some successful conflicts crossed the river Stour; but he was obliged to halt very much against his will, because the fleet in the open roads had been again half destroyed by the storms of the Channel. Before they got the ships drawn up upon the beach and the extensive arrangements made for their repair, precious time was lost, which the Celts wisely turned to account.


The brave and cautious prince Cassivellaunus, who ruled in what is now Middlesex and the surrounding district--formerly the terror of the Celts to the south of the Thames, but now the protector and champion of the whole nation--had headed the defence of the land. He soon saw that nothing at all could be done with the Celtic infantry against the Roman, and that the mass of the general levy-- which it was difficult to feed and difficult to control--was only a hindrance to the defence; he therefore dismissed it and retained only the war-chariots, of which he collected 4000, and in which the warriors, accustomed to leap down from their chariots and fight on foot, could be employed in a twofold manner like the burgess- cavalry of the earliest Rome. When Caesar was once more able to continue his march, he met with no interruption to it; but the British war-chariots moved always in front and alongside of the Roman army, induced the evacuation of the country (which from the absence of towns proved no great difficulty), prevented the sending out of detachments, and threatened the communications. The Thames was crossed--apparently between Kingston and Brentford above London--by the Romans; they moved forward, but made no real progress; the general achieved no victory, the soldiers made no booty, and the only actual result, the submission of the Trinobante in the modern Essex, was less the effect of a dread of the Romans than of the deep hostility between this canton and Cassivellaunus. The danger increased with every onward step, and the attack, which the princes of Kent by the orders of Cassivellaunus made on the Roman naval camp, although it was repulsed, was an urgent warning to turn back. The taking by storm of a great British tree-barricade, in which a multitude of cattle fell into the hands of the Romans, furnished a passable conclusion to the aimless advance and a tolerable pretext for returning. Cassivellaunus was sagacious enough not to drive the dangerous enemy to extremities, and promised, as Caesar desired him, to abstain from disturbing the Trinobantes, to pay tribute and to furnish hostages; nothing was said of delivering up arms or leaving behind a Roman garrison, and even those promises were, it may be presumed, so far as they concerned the future, neither given nor received in earnest. After receiving the hostages Caesar returned to the naval camp and thence to Gaul. If he, as it would certainly seem, had hoped on this occasion to conquer Britain, the scheme was totally thwarted partly by the wise defensive system of Cassivellaunus, partly and chiefly by the unserviceableness of the Italian oared fleet in the waters of the North Sea; for it is certain that the stipulated tribute was never paid. But the immediate object--of rousing the islanders out of their haughty security and inducing them in their own interest no longer to allow their island to be a rendezvous for continental emigrants-- seems certainly to have been attained; at least no complaints are afterwards heard as to the bestowal of such protection.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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