After a concerted effort by the legions and the cavalry the
Britons withdrew and Caesar was able to resume the march. They
reached the River Thames at present-day Brentford. This must have
been anticipated by Cassivellaunus who had sharpened stakes stuck
into the river bed beneath the water and on the banks. On the other
bank was the British army.
The Romans' blood was up. Without delay they dashed across the
river and scattered the enemy.
An apparent conquest
When all his troops were across,
Caesar set out for Cassivellaunus' stronghold at Wheathampstead near
present-day St Albans. All along the line of march he was under
attack from the British cavalry and chariots. Whenever he sent out
patrols or cavalry to plunder the countryside, they were cut off and
On this march envoys arrived from the Trinovantes whose
territory lay in Essex and southern East Anglia. Their king had been
assassinated by Cassivellaunus and his son had fled to Gaul to seek
help from Caesar. In return for hostages and a promise to submit to
his orders, Caesar sent the young man back to his people with the
As a result of this decision, Caesar received offers of help and
friendship from five more tribes in southern and western Britain.
This heartened the Roman force and when they reached Wheathampstead,
the oppidum was immediately attacked from two sides and, after, a
brief resistance, the Britons retreated. Caesar says that great
quantities of cattle were found there.
Meanwhile, Cassivellaunus had instructed four of the Kentish
leaders to make a surprise attack on the Roman HQ on the coast, In
the engagement one of the Kentish leaders was killed and the rest
Caesar tells us that he decided at this point to winter in Gaul
so he demanded hostages from the Britons, fixed an annual tribute to
be paid to Rome (acting as though he had conquered the country) and
forbade Cassivellaunus to interfere with the Trinovantes.
marched back to the coast and, after some problems due to a shortage
of transports, managed to load up his army and returned to Gaul. He
never came back to Britain.
Archaeological evidence for these expeditions is very sparse. The
site of Bigbury is known. It is situated on the Downs, on the North
Down trackway, overlooking the route which Caesar took on his way to
the Thames. The main earthwork consists of a rampart 2.4m high and
an outer ditch some 5m wide and encloses some 3.2 hectares.
are two entrances and an annexe on the north-west. The interior has
been vandalized by gravel digging during which a good many finds
have been made including a fire-dog, cauldron hooks, ploughshares,
horse-bits and a slave-chain with a barrel padlock.
Hillforts and chariots
From the Thames at Brentford has come one of the stout stakes
sunk into the river. At Wheathampstead, the Devil's Dyke and another
earthwork called the Slad together enclose about 36 hectares. The
Devil's Dyke is massive, some 457m long, 12.2m deep and nearly 40m
wide at the top. The Slad may be natural. So far efforts to find
traces of Caesar's camps have been unavailing. The site known as
Caesar's Camp in Surrey is an early Iron Age hill fort.
The Iron Age warriors had a fearsome reputation and we can see
that they were able to put up a good show even against Caesar's
highly trained professional army.
As mercenaries they were employed
as far afield as Greece and it was the warriors returning to Gaul
after the terminations of their contracts who brought with them
their pay in the form of Macedonian staters who provided the
prototypes for the Gallic staters minted by various Iron Age
chieftains. These coins were also copied in Britain.
It is clear from what Caesar says that the use of chariots in
warfare was old-fashioned at the time but this did not prevent them
being very effective against the Roman infantry, and they were only
overcome when Caesar was able to deploy sufficient cavalry on his
The problem with all ad- hoc forces which are
only brought together on specific occasions is their lack of
training. Cassivellaunus, however good a soldier he was in native
warfare, would have found that at such short notice it was was
virtually impossible to control his troops tightly enough to win
against a professional army.