THE INVASION OF BRITAIN BY
As written by Sir Winston Churchill in his 4 volume book set "A History of the English-speaking Peoples."
The Late Bronze Age in the southern parts of Britain, according to most authorities, began about 1000 B.C. and lasted until about 400 B.C.
At this point the march of invention brought a new factor upon the scene. Iron was dug and forged. Men armed with iron entered Britain from the Continent and killed the men of bronze. At this point we can plainly recognise across the vanished millenniums a fellow-being. A biped capable of slaying another with iron is evidently to modern eyes a man and a brother. It cannot be doubted that for smashing skulls, whether long-headed or round, iron is best.
The Iron Age overlapped the Bronze. It brought with it a keener and higher form of society, but it impinged only very gradually upon the existing population, and their customs, formed by immemorial routine, were changed only slowly and piecemeal. Certainly bronze implements remained in use, particularly in Northern Britain, until the last century before Christ.
The impact of iron upon bronze was at work in our Island before Julius Caesar cast his eyes upon it. After about 500 B.C. successive invasions from the mainland gradually modified the whole of the southern parts of the Island. "In general," says Professor Collingwood, "settlements yielding the pottery characteristic of this culture occur all over the south-east, frorn Kent to the Cotswolds and the Wash. Many of these settlements indicate a mode of life not perceptibly differing from that of their late Bronze Age background; they are farms or
villages, often undefended, lying among their little fields on river-gravels or light upland soils, mostly cremating their dead, storing their grain in underground pits and grinding it with primitive querns, not yet made with the upper stone revolving upon the lower; keeping oxen, sheep, goats, and pigs; still using bronze and even flint implements and possessing very little iron, but indicating their date by a change in the style of their pottery, which, however, is still made without the wheel." 1
The Iron Age immigrations brought with them a revival of the hill-top camps, which had ceased to be constructed since the Neolithic Age. During the third and fourth centuries before Christ a large number of these were built in the inhabited parts of our Island. They consisted of a single rampart, sometimes of stone, but usually an earthwork revetted with timber and protected by a single ditch. '
The size of the ramparts was generally not very great. The entrances were simply designed, though archaeological excavation has in some instances revealed the remains of wooden guardrooms. These camps were not mere places of refuge. Often they were settlements containing private dwellings, and permanently inhabited. They do not seem to have served the purpose of strongholds for invaders in enemy land. On the contrary, they appear to have come into existence gradually as the iron age newcomers multiplied and developed a tribal system from which tribal wars eventually arose.
The last of the successive waves of Celtic inroad and super-session which marked the Iron Age came in the early part of the first century B.C. "The Belgic tribes arrived in Kent and spread over Essex, Hertfordshire, and part of Oxfordshire, while other groups of the same stock . . . later . . . spread over Hampshire, Wiltshire, and Dorset and part of Sussex." There is no doubt that the Belga? were by far the most enlightened invaders who had hitherto penetrated the recesses of the Island. They were a people of chariots and horsemen. They "were less addicted to the hill-forts in which the existing inhabitants put their trust. They built new towns in the valleys, sometimes even below the hilltop on which the old fort had stood. They introduced for the first time a coinage of silver and copper. They established themselves as a tribal aristocracy in Britain, subjugating the older stock. In the east they built Wheathampstead, Verulam (St Albans), and Camulodunum (Colchester); in the south Calleva (Silchester) and Venta Belgarum (Winchester). They were closely akin to the inhabitants of Gaul from whom they had sprung. This active, alert, conquering, and ruling race established themselves wherever they went with ease and celerity, and might have looked forward to a long dominion. But the tramp of the legions had followed hard behind them, and they must soon defend the prize they had won against still better men and higher systems of government and war.
Meanwhile in Rome, at the centre and summit, only vague ideas prevailed about the western islands. "The earliest geographers believed that the Ocean Stream encircled the whole earth, and knew of no islands in it"1 Herodotus about 445 B.C. had heard of the tin of mysterious islands in the far West, which he called the Cassiterides, but he cautiously treated them as being in the realms of fable. However, in the middle of the fourth century B.C. Pytheas of Marseilles—surely one of the greatest explorers in history—made two voyages in which he actually circumnavigated the British Isles. He proclaimed the existence of the "Pretanic Islands Albion and Ierne," as Aristotle had called them. Pytheas was treated as a-story-teller, and his discoveries were admired only after the world he lived in had long passed away. But even in the third century B.C. the Romans had a definite conception of three large islands, Albion, Ierne, and Thule (Iceland). Here all was strange and monstrous. These were the ultimate fringes of the world. Still, there was the tin trade, in which important interests were concerned, and Polybius, writing in 140 B.C., shows that this aspect at least had been fully discussed by commercial writers.
We are much better informed upon these matters than was Caesar when he set out from Boulogne. Here are some of the impressions he had collected:
"The interior of Britain is inhabited by people who claim, on the strength of oral tradition, to be aboriginal; the coast, by Belgic immigrants who came to plunder and make war— nearly all of them retaining the names of the tribes from which they originated—and later settled down to till the soil. The population is exceedingly large, the ground thickly studded with homesteads, closely resembling those of the Gauls, and the cattle very numerous. For money they use either bronze, or gold coins, or iron ingots of fixed weights. Tin is found inland, and small quantities of iron near the coast; the copper that they use is imported. There is timber of every kind, as in Gaul, except beech and fir. Hares, fowl, and geese they think it unlawful to eat, but rear them for pleasure and amusement. The climate is more temperate than in Gaul, the cold being less severe. By far the most civilised inhabitants are those living in Kent (a purely maritime district), whose way of life differs little from that of the Gauls. Most of the tribes in the interior do not grow corn but live on milk and meat, and wear skins. All the Britons dye their bodies with woad, which produces a blue colour, and this gives them a more terrifying appearance in battle. They wear their hair long, and shave the whole of their bodies except the head and the upper lip. Wives are shared between groups of ten or twelve men, especially between brothers and between fathers and sons; but the offspring of these unions are counted as the children of the man with whom a particular woman cohabited first."
(What Churchill do not know was that for a period time the American Indians lived in Britain....hence the coloring of the skin - Keith Hunt)
Late in August 55 B.C. Caesar sailed with eighty transports and two legions at midnight, and with the morning light saw the white cliffs of Dover crowned with armed men. He judged the place "quite unsuitable for landing," since it was possible to throw missiles from the cliffs on to the shore. He therefore anchored till the turn of the tide, sailed seven miles farther, and descended upon Albion on the low, shelving beach between Deal and Walmer. But the Britons, observing these movements, kept pace along the coast and were found ready to meet him. There followed a scene upon which the eye of history has rested. The Islanders, with their chariots and horsemen, advanced into the surf to meet the invader. Caesar's transports and warships grounded in deeper water. The legionaries, uncertain of the depth, hesitated in face of the shower of javelins and stones, but the eagle-bearer of the Tenth Legion plunged into the waves with the sacred emblem, and Caesar brought his warships with their catapults and arrow-fire upon the British flank. The Romans, thus encouraged and sustained, leaped from their ships, and, forming as best they could, waded towards the enemy. There was a short, ferocious fight amid the waves, but the Romans reached the shore, and, once arrayed, forced the Britons to flight.
Caesar's landing however was only the first of his troubles. His cavalry, in eighteen transports, which had started three days later, arrived in sight of the camp, but, caught by a sudden gale, drifted far down the Channel, and were thankful to regain the Continent. The high tide of the full moon which Caesar had not understood wrought grievous damage to his fleet at anchor. "A number of ships," he says, "were shattered, and the rest, having lost their cables, anchors, and the remainder of their tackle, were unusable, which naturally threw the whole_ army into great consternation. For they had no other vessels in which they could return, nor any materials for repairing the fleet; and, since it had been generally understood that they were to return to Gaul for the winter, they had not provided themselves with a stock of grain for wintering in Britain."
The Britons had sued for peace after the battle on the beach, but now that they saw the plight of their assailants their hopes revived and they broke off the negotiations. In great numbers they attacked the Roman foragers. But the legion concerned had not neglected precautions, and discipline and armour once again told their tale. It shows how much food there was in the Island that two legions could live for a fortnight off the cornfields close to their camp. The British submitted. Their conqueror imposed only nominal terms. Breaking up many of his ships to repair the rest, he was glad to return with some hostages and captives to the mainland. He never even pretended that his expedition had been a success. To supersede the record of it he came again the next year, this time with five legions and some cavalry conveyed in eight hundred ships. The Islanders were overawed by the size of the armada. The landing was unimpeded, but again the sea assailed him. Qesar had marched twelve miles into the interior when he was recalled by the news that a great storm had shattered or damaged a large portion of his fleet. He was forced to spend ten days in hauling all his ships on to the shore, and in fortifying the camp of which they then formed part. This done he renewed his invasion, and, after easily destroying the forest stockades in which the British sheltered, crossed the Thames near Brentford. But the British had found a leader in the chief Cassivellaunus, who was a master of war under the prevailing conditions. Dismissing to their homes the mass of untrained foot-soldiers and peasantry, he kept pace with the invaders march by march with his chariots and horsemen. Caesar gives a detailed description of the chariot-fighting:
In chariot fighting the Britons begin by driving all over the field hurling javelins, and generally the terror inspired by the horses and the noise of the wheels are sufficient to throw their opponents' ranks into disorder. Then, after making their way between the squadrons of their own cavalry, they jump down from the chariots and engage on foot. In the meantime their charioteers retire a short distance from the battle and place the chariots in such a position that their masters, if hard pressed by numbers, have an easy means of retreat to their own lines. Thus they combine the mobility of cavalry with the staying-power of infantry; and by daily training and practice they attain such proficiency that even on a steep incline they are able to control the horses at full gallop, and to check and turn them in a moment They can run along the chariot pole, stand on the yoke, and get back into the chariot as quick as lightning.
Cassivellaunus, using these mobile forces and avoiding a pitched battle with the Roman legions, escorted them on their inroad and cut off their foraging parties. None the less Caesar captured his first stronghold; the tribes began to make terms for themselves; a well-conceived plan for destroying Caesar's base on the Kentish shore was defeated. At this juncture Cassivellaunus, by a prudence of policy equal to that of his tactics, negotiated a further surrender of hostages and a promise of tribute and submission, in return for which Caesar was again content to quit the Island. In a dead calm, "he set sail late in the evening and brought all the fleet safely to land at dawn." This time he proclaimed a conquest. Caesar had his triumph, and British captives trod their dreary path at his tail through the streets of Rome; but for nearly a hundred years no invading srmy landed upon the Island coasts.
Little is known of Cassivellaunus, and we can only hope that later defenders of the Island will be equally successful and that their measure will be as well suited to the needs of the time. The impression remains of a prudent and skilful chief, whose qualities and achievements, but for the fact that they were displayed in an outlandish theatre, might well have ranked with those of Fabius Maximus Cubctator.