LONDON – An archaeological team from the University of Leicester said on Wednesday it believed it had discovered the location where Julius Caesar’s fleet first landed during the Roman conquest of Britain around 54 BC.
The latest discoveries suggest that the renowned Roman general landed his hundreds-strong invasion fleet at Pegwell Bay in Kent, before setting up a fort in nearby Ebbsfleet, said Andrew Fitzpatrick, Research Associate from the University of Leicester’s School of Archeology and Ancient History.
“The bay is big enough for the whole Roman army to have landed in the single day that Caesar describes,” Fitzpatrick said. “The 800 ships, even if they landed in waves, would still have needed a landing front 1-2 kilometers (0.6-1.2 miles) wide,” the researcher added referring to Caesar’s own account of the invasion.
A large 5-meter wide defensive ditch was discovered during an archaeological dig prior to the construction of a new road in the Isle of Thanet, southeastern England.
The shape of the ditch at Ebbsfleet resembles some of the Roman defenses at Alesia in France, where Julius Caesar’s decisive battle of the Gallic War took place in 52 BC.
The archaeologists said they were convinced the site is a 1st-century Roman enclave, as Caesar’s own account of his landing in 54 BC is consistent with the site identified by the team.
Caesar described how the Britons assembled to oppose the landing but seeing the size of the fleet, concealed themselves on higher ground, consistent with the environs of the Isle of Thanet around Ramsgate.
The Ebbsfleet site is now 900 meters (2,952 feet) inland but at the time of Caesar’s invasion, it was closer to the coast.
The ditch is 4-5 meters wide and 2 meters deep, while the pottery unearthed and radiocarbon dated give a 1st century BC estimate.
The archaeological team suggested the ditch discovered belonged to a defensive fort that may have been 20 hectares in size, with its main purpose being to protect the ships of Caesar’s fleet that had tied up on to the nearby beach.
Historians insist that the first two Roman invasions in the years 55 and 54 BC were repelled by the local Celtic population.
It has long been believed that Caesar returned to France because the invasions failed and Rome didn’t at that time leave an occupation force behind.
The team challenges this notion by suggesting that in Rome the invasions were seen as a great triumph, Caesar crossed the sea and had gone beyond the known world which truly caused a sensation. At that time victory was achieved by defeating the enemy in battle, not by occupying their lands.
They also suggest that Caesar’s impact in Briton had long-standing effects visible a century later during Claudius’s invasion of Britain.
Professor Colin Haselgrove, the principal investigator for the project from the University of Leicester, explained: “It seems likely that the treaties set up by Caesar formed the basis for alliances between Rome and British royal families. This eventually resulted in the leading rulers of south-east England becoming client kings of Rome.” Almost 100 years after Caesar, in AD 43, emperor Claudius invaded Britain.
The conquest of south-east England was probably swift if the kings in this region were already allied to Rome.
This was the beginning of the permanent Roman occupation of Britain, including Wales, part of Scotland, for almost 400 years, suggesting that Claudius later exploited Caesar’s legacy.”