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From Readings in English History Drawn From The Original Sources by Edward P. Cheyney, Ginn and Company; Boston; 1908; pp. 12-14.

Elf. Editor comments in brackets


YEAR 54 B. C.

Julius Cæsar’s Description of His
Second Invasion of Britain1

The first invasion of Cæsar had begun very late in the summer, and he had intended it rather as an armed exploration than as an attempt at conquest. The expedition of the next year was undertaken much more deliberately and carried out much more seriously. Even at this time, however, the Roman army did not penetrate nearly so far as the center of the country, and withdrew after a three months’ campaign. Therefore, although the Britons and the Romans were thus brought into contact, and our continuous knowledge of the history of the island begins, the Roman period proper does not open till almost a century later.

After the completion of these things, Cæsar left Labienus on the continent with three legions and with two thousand 13 horsemen to protect the harbors, 8. Cæsar’s
second in-
sion, 54 B.C.
to provide for the grain supply, to observe what was taking place in Gaul, and to exercise his judgment in plans suited to occasion and circumstance. He himself set sail at sunset with five legions and a force of cavalry equal to that which he had left on the continent. After being carried on by a gentle southwest wind, about midnight the wind ceased and he was not able to hold to the course. Carried too far by the tide, at daybreak he found Britain lying behind him on his left. Again the tide changed and he hastened with oars to make that part of the island where he had learned the previous summer there was an excellent landing. In this the bravery of the soldiers must be praised, since with heavily laden transports they with ceaseless rowing equaled the speed of the war galleys. They approached Britain with all their ships about midday and not an enemy was seen in the place; though, as Cæsar afterwards learned from the captives, great bands of them had assembled there, but terrified by the vast number of ships (for with the ships of the previous year and with the private vessels which each had made for his own pleasure, more than eight hundred were seen at one time), they had left the shore and hidden themselves in the higher places.

Forest fight-
ing of the
When Cæsar had landed his army and chosen a place suitable for a camp, he learned from captives where the forces of the enemy had encamped. After placing Quintus Atrius in charge of ten cohorts and three hundred cavalrymen near the sea to guard the ships, about the third watch he hastened towards the enemy, fearing little for the safety of these ships because he had left them anchored on an open and gently sloping coast. By night he had marched about twelve miles and came in sight of the enemy’s forces. The latter, advancing from their higher position towards the river with their cavalry and chariots, sought to check the forward movement of our men, and to join battle. Repulsed by our cavalry they fled to the forests, to a place excellently fortified both by nature and art, and which, as was seen later, they had prepared before this time for the purpose of defense in their own tribal wars, for all the entrances were closed by barricades of trees cut for this purpose. The enemy in small detachments kept rushing from 14 their fortifications to fight, and prevented our men from entering their stronghold. But the soldiers of the seventh legion, forming a testudo, and throwing up a mound opposite the fortification, took the place, and after receiving a few wounds drove the enemy from the forest. Cæsar forbade his men to follow the enemy in flight too far both because he was ignorant of the locality and because he wished time to be left for fortifying the camp, and it was already late in the day. . . .

As soon as Cæsar learned their plans, he led his army towards the Thames River into the territory of Cassivellaunus; this river can be forded only in one place and there only with difficulty. When he arrived there he noticed that on the other side of the stream the enemy was drawn up in line of battle. Besides, the bank of the river was fortified by sharpened stakes which had been driven into the ground above the water level, and stakes of the same kind were fastened in the river bed below the water. When Cæsar learned of these things from captives and fugitives he sent the cavalry ahead and ordered the legions to follow immediately. But the soldiers went with such speed and force that although only their heads were above the water, the enemy could not withstand their attack, and, withdrawing from the bank, fled precipitately.


1.   From De Bello Gallico, Lib. v, cc. 8, 9, 18, [translated by Cheyney].


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