Caesar’s invasion route of Britain is revealed by remains of ‘marching camps’ that show he landed at Dover and swept through Essex
- The Roman Army invaded Britain twice – in 55BC and 54BC – as a show of force
- Many historians believe Caesar landed at Walmer, and a year later at Deal – halfway between Ramsgate and Dover; and then crossed Thames at Brentford
- New evidence suggests he crossed river at East Tilbury after landing at Dover
- Route follows discovery of four Roman military ‘marching’ camps which form a straight line to his point of combat with Celtic chieftain Cassivellaunus
- The camps were sited at Denge Wood, Kemsley, East Tilbury and Loughton
The Roman conquest of Britain 2,000 years ago is one of the most important events recorded in history – but exactly where Julius Caesar landed, and the precise route he then took, has remained a mystery.
All that could change after the discovery of four military camps in Kent and Essex – which form a straight line from his landing zone to the point of combat with a Celtic chieftain.
Many historians believe the Roman army first set foot on British soil in 55BC at Walmer; and that the second invasion, in 54BC, began at nearby Deal – both on the south-east coast, halfway between Ramsgate and Dover. From there, it was assumed Caesar crossed the Thames at Brentford.
But new evidence suggests that, for his first invasion, Caesar crossed the river at East Tilbury after landing at Dover – in a manoeuvre that followed a line through temporary ‘marching camps’ at Denge Wood, Kemsley, East Tilbury and Loughton.
These camps would accommodate personnel, along with their equipment, animals, and a headquarters. They could be used defensively – as a secure base to which an army could retreat; and offensively – as a staging area for assaults.
Julius Caesar spearheaded the Roman invasion of Britain in 54 and 55BC but mystery has surrounded where he landed – and the exact route his army then took. Now, the discovery of four military camps in Kent and Essex could change that
New evidence suggests that, for his first invasion, Caesar crossed the river at East Tilbury after landing at Dover – in a manoeuvre that followed a straight line through four temporary, and equidistant, ‘marching camps’: at Denge Wood, Kemsley, East Tilbury and Loughton
Evidence for the four camps has been unearthed by amateur historian Roger Nolan, which he presents in a new book, Julius Caesar’s Invasion Of Britain: Solving A 2,000-Year-Old Mystery.
Each site was a day’s march apart, forming a line from the coast to Wheathampstead (in present-day Hertfordshire).
It was here, at Devil’s Dyke, that Caesar defeated Celtic chieftain Cassivellaunus, in 54BC – part of his ongoing mission to submit the tribal leaders to Roman rule.
The Denge Wood site (south of Canterbury) ties in with a battle between the Romans and Britons at Chartham Downs – a ridge of high land overlooking the Stour valley on one side and Denge Wood on the other.
What were Roman ‘marching’ camps?
‘Marching’ camps were built deep in the heart of enemy territory by Romans
The Roman ‘marching’ camps were typically square or rectangular and could be built at the end of a day’s march – which averaged 20miles for a legionary army.
The camps could accommodate military personnel, along with their equipment, animals, and a headquarters.
They could be used defensively – as a secure base to which an army could retreat; and offensively – as a staging area for assaults.
The camps were intended for operations deep in the heart of enemy territory.
With each step of the army’s advance, their construction would strike fear in their adversaries, as the camps were a sign of their huge military might.
Once the Romans had conquered a territory, the camps could be transformed into more permanent fortifications.
The Roman ‘marching’ camps could accommodate personnel, along with their equipment, animals, and a headquarters. The Denge Wood site (south of Canterbury) ties in with a battle between the Romans and Britons at Chartham Downs – a ridge of high land overlooking the Stour valley on one side and Denge Wood on the other. (Above, file image of Denge Wood)
The Denge Wood site (south of Canterbury) ties in with a battle between the Romans and Britons at Chartham Downs – a ridge of high land overlooking the Stour valley on one side and Denge Wood on the other
Denge Wood appears on old ordnance survey maps as a cattle pen, but Nolan told the Sunday Telegraph: ‘There are ramparts and ditches redolent of Roman marching camps elsewhere.
‘It’s extraordinary that no one’s ever discovered it.
‘What I have discovered all fits together like an archaeological jigsaw puzzle.’
Cassivellaunus ruled the territory north of the River Thames and favoured guerrilla warfare – whereby his men typically hid in forests to ambush the Roman troops.
He led a number of British tribes against Caesar, to whom he eventually surrendered.
The book, Julius Caesar’s Invasion of Britain: Solving a 2,000-Year-Old Mystery, is published on May 10.
Caesar returned to Italy from his European conquests a hero and famously crossed the Rubicon river in 49BC without disbanding his army. In the ensuing civil war Caesar took control of Rome as dictator. (Above, Ciaran Hinds as Caesar in the BBC drama Rome)
… or did Caesar land on the Isle of Thanet?
According to research in 2017, Julius Caesar’s fleet landed in Britain in 54BC at Pegwell Bay on the Isle of Thanet, Kent.
The evidence followed surveys of hillforts that may have been attacked by Caesar, along with studies in museums of objects that may have been made or buried at the time of the invasions, such as coin hoards, and excavations in Kent.
Pegwell Bay had never been suspected as the first point of his invasion because it was separated from the mainland 2,000 years ago.
Pegwell Bay on the Isle of Thanet is believed to be where Caesar first attempted to land in 55BC, and more successfully in 54BC. The spot was never previously suspected because it was separated from the mainland
Julius Caesar invaded Britain during the Empire’s Gallic wars, in which Rome’s legions attempted to stamp out aggressive Gallic forces across Europe.
The Gallic wars featured a number of bloody conflicts and lasted eight years between 58 and 50BC.
Caesar believed that anti-Roman Gallic tribes in Gaul were receiving material assistance and aid from southern tribes in Britain.
Experts claim this alliance was likely as the groups spoke closely related languages and had been trading partners for centuries.
Caesar didn’t set out to conquer Britain on either of his expeditions, with the 54 and 55 BC invasions intended as military demonstrations of force.
The general wanted to warn British tribes of the repercussions for crossing Rome and to establish alliances with local leaders.
But three clues about the spot’s landscape were consistent with Caesar’s own accounts of the invasion.
Experts from the University of Leicester claimed that the Isle’s visibility from the sea, as well as its higher ground and large open bay, fitted Caesar’s accounts.
Iron weaponry, including a Roman javelin, and other artefacts dug up at the neighbouring hamlet of Ebbsfleet suggest it was a 1st century BC Roman base.
It was up to 20 hectares in size and the main purpose would have been be to protect Caesar’s fleet, which had been drawn up on to the beach.
Roadworkers who found signs of a large defensive ditch led to the realisation two years ago that this was the likely spot where Caesar first set foot on British soil.
The shape of the ditch was very similar to some of the Roman defences at Alesia in France, where the decisive battle in the Gallic War took place in 52BC.
Dr Andrew Fitzpatrick, of the University of Leicester’s School of Archaeology and Ancient History, said in 2017: ‘The site at Ebbsfleet lies on a peninsula that projects from the south-eastern tip of the Isle of Thanet.
Pictured, Pegwell Bay. Experts from the University of Leicester claimed that the Isle’s visibility from the sea, as well as its higher ground and large open bay, fitted Caesar’s accounts
‘Thanet has never been considered as a possible landing site before because it was separated from the mainland until the Middle Ages.
‘However, it is not known how big the Channel that separated it from the mainland, the Wantsum Channel, was.
‘The Wantsum Channel was clearly not a significant barrier to people of Thanet during the Iron Age and it certainly would not have been a major challenge to the engineering capabilities of the Roman army.’
Who was Julius Caesar?
Julius Caesar was a politician and general of the late Roman republic who lived from 100 – 44BC
Julius Caesar was a politician and general of the late Roman republic who lived from 100-44BC.
As a general from 60-68 BC, Caesar added the whole of modern France and Belgium to the Roman empire, and crushed rebel Gallic forces across Europe in the Gallic wars.
It was at a battle he fought in Asia Minor in 47BC that he uttered the famous words: ‘Veni, vidi, vici’ – ‘I came, I saw, I conquered’.
In total, he made two expeditions to Britain, in 55BC and 54BC, although he never established a force of occupation.
Caesar returned to Italy a hero and famously crossed the Rubicon river in 49BC without disbanding his army, insulting the authority of the Roman senate.
In the ensuing civil war, he defeated the republican forces, and took control of the Empire as dictator.
He used his power to carry out much-needed reform, relieving debt, enlarging the senate, building the Forum Iulium and revising the calendar.
Caesar’s ambition and success eventually led to his downfall when a group of republican senators assassinated him in 44BC.
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