Julius Caesar




Revolt of the Veneti

Revolt of the Veneti.--Fleet prepared in the Loire.--Sea-fight at Quiberon.--Reduction of Normandy and of Aquitaine.--Complete Conquest of Gaul.--Fresh Arrival of Germans over the Lower Rhine.--Caesar orders them to retire, and promises them Lands elsewhere.--They refuse to go--and are destroyed.--Bridge over the Rhine.--Caesar invades Germany.--Returns after a Short Inroad.--First Expedition into Britain.--Caesar lands at Deal, or Walmer.--Storm and Injury to the Fleet.--Approach of the Equinox.-- Further Prosecution of the Enterprise postponed till the following Year.-- Caesar goes to Italy for the Winter.--Large Naval Preparations.--Return of Spring.--Alarm on the Moselle.--Fleet collects at Boulogne.--Caesar sails for Britain a Second Time.--Lands at Deal.--Second and more Destructive Storm.--Ships repaired, and placed out of Danger.--Caesar marches through Kent.--Crosses the Thames, and reaches St. Albans.--Goes no further, and returns to Gaul.--Object of the Invasion of Britain.--Description of the Country and People.

Annourbis.com > Julius Caesar > Chapter 16

CHAPTER XVI.

[B.C. 56.] While Caesar was struggling with the Senate for leave to complete the conquest of Gaul, fresh work was preparing for him there. Young Publius Crassus, before he went to Italy, had wintered with the seventh legion in Brittany. The Breton tribes had nominally made their submission, and Crassus had desired them to supply his commissariat. They had given hostages for their good behavior, and most of them were ready to obey. The Veneti, the most important of the coast clans, refused. They induced the rest to join them. They seized the Roman officers whom Crassus had sent among them, and they then offered to exchange their prisoners for their countrymen whom the Romans held in pledge.

Revolt of the Veneti

The legions might be irresistible on land; but the Veneti believed that their position was impregnable to an attack on the land side. Their homes were on the Bay of Quiberon and on the creeks and estuaries between the mouth of the Loire and Brest. Their villages were built on promontories, cut off at high tide from the mainland, approachable only by water, and not by water except in shallow vessels of small draught which could be grounded safely on the mud. The population were sailors and fishermen. They were ingenious and industrious, and they carried on a considerable trade in the Bay of Biscay and in the British Channel. They had ships capable of facing the heavy seas which rolled in from the Atlantic, flat-bottomed, with high bow and stern, built solidly of oak, with timbers a foot thick, fastened with large iron nails. They had iron chains for cables. Their sails--either because sailcloth was scarce, or because they thought canvas too weak for the strain of the winter storms--were manufactured out of leather. Such vessels were unwieldy, but had been found available for voyages even to Britain. Their crews were accustomed to handle them, and knew all the rocks and shoals and currents of the intricate and difficult harbors. They looked on the Romans as mere landsmen, and naturally enough they supposed that they had as little to fear from an attack by water as from the shore. At the worst they could take to their ships and find a refuge in the islands.

Crassus, when he went to Rome, carried the report to Caesar of the revolt of the Veneti, and Caesar felt that unless they were promptly punished, all Gaul might be again in flame. They had broken faith. They had imprisoned Roman officers who had gone on a peaceful mission among them. It was necessary to teach a people so restless, so hardly conquered, and so impatient of foreign dominion, that there was no situation which the Roman arm was unable to reach.

While the Lucca conference was going on, a fleet of Roman galleys was built by his order in the Loire. Rowers, seamen, and pilots were brought across from Marseilles. When the season was sufficiently advanced for active operations, Caesar came himself and rejoined his army. Titus Labienus was sent with three legions to Trèves to check the Germans on the Rhine, and prevent disturbances among the Belgae. Titurius Sabinus, with three more, was stationed in Normandy. To Brittany Caesar went in person to reduce the rebellious Veneti. The weather was too unsettled for his fleet to be able as yet to join him. Without its help he found the problem as difficult as the Veneti expected. Each village required a siege; when it was reduced, the inhabitants took to their boats, and defied him again in a new position. Many weeks were thus fruitlessly wasted. The fine weather at length set in. The galleys from the Loire came out, accompanied by others from Rochelle and the mouth of the Garonne. The command at sea was given to Decimus Brutus, a cousin of the afterward famous Marcus, a clever, able, and so far loyal officer.

The Veneti had collected every ship that they or their allies possessed to defend themselves. They had 220 sail in all--a force, considering its character, extremely formidable. Their vessels were too strong to be run down. The galleys carried turrets; but the bows and sterns of the Veneti were still too lofty to be reached effectively by the Roman javelins. The Romans had the advantage in speed; but that was all. They too, however, had their ingenuities. They had studied the construction of the Breton ships. They had provided sickles with long handles, with which they proposed to catch the halyards which held the weight of the heavy leather sails. It was not difficult to do, if, as is probable, the halyards were made fast, not to the mast, but to the gunwale. Sweeping rapidly alongside they could easily cut them; the sails would fall, and the vessels would be unmanageable.

A sea battle of this singular kind was thus fought off the eastern promontory of the Bay of Quiberon, Caesar and his army looking on from the shore. The sickles answered well; ship after ship was disabled; the galleys closed with them, and they were taken by boarding. The Veneti then tried to retreat; but a calm came on, and they could not move. The fight lasted from ten in the morning till sunset, when the entire Breton fleet was taken or sunk.

After this defeat the Veneti gave up the struggle. Their ships were all gone. Their best men were on board, and had been killed. They had no power of resistance left. Caesar was constitutionally lenient, and admired rather than resented a valiant fight for freedom. But the Veneti had been treacherous. They had laid hands on the sacred persons of Roman ambassadors, and he considered it expedient on this one occasion to use severity. The council who had contrived the insurrection were put to death. The rest of the tribe were treated as the Aduatuci had been, and were sold into slavery.

Sabinus, meanwhile, had been in difficulties in Normandy. The people there had risen and killed their chiefs, who tried to keep them quiet; vagabonds from other parts had joined them, and Sabinus, who wanted enterprise, allowed the disturbances to become dangerous. He ended them at last, however, successfully, and Caesar would not allow his caution to be blamed. During the same months, Publius Crassus had made a brilliant campaign in Aquitaine. The Aquitani had not long before overthrown two Roman armies. Determined not to submit to Caesar, they had allied themselves with the Spaniards of the Pyrenees, and had officers among them who had been trained by Sertorius. Crassus stormed their camp with a skill and courage which called out Caesar's highest approbation, and completely subdued the whole country.

In all France there now remained only a few unimportant tribes on the coast between Calais and the Scheldt which had not formally submitted. The summer being nearly over, Caesar contented himself with a hasty survey of their frontier. The weather broke up earlier than usual, and the troops were redistributed in their quarters. Again there had been a year of unbroken success. The Romans were masters of Gaul, and the admirable care of their commander had preserved the numbers in his legions almost undiminished. The smallness of the loss with which all these wonders were accomplished is perhaps the most extraordinary feature of the story. Not till a year later is there any notice of fresh recruits being brought from Italy.

The winter which followed brought with it another of the dangerous waves of German immigration. The powerful Suevi, a nation of warriors who cultivated no lands, who wore no clothes but a deer or sheep skin, who lived by hunting and pasture, despised the restraints of stationary life, and roved at pleasure into their neighbors' territories, were pressing on the weaker tribes and forcing them down into the Low Countries. The Belgians, hoping for their help against the Romans, had invited these tribes over the Rhine; and, untaught by the fate of Ariovistus, they were crossing over and collecting in enormous numbers above the junction of the Rhine and the Meuse. Into a half-peopled country, large portions of which are lying waste, it might be barbarous to forbid an immigration of harmless and persecuted strangers; but if these Germans were persecuted, they were certainly not harmless; they had come at the instance of the party in Gaul which was determined to resist the Roman conquest, and unless the conquest was to be abandoned, necessity required that the immigration must be prohibited. When the advance of spring allowed the troops to move, Caesar called a council of Gallic chiefs. He said nothing of the information which had reached him respecting their correspondence with these new invaders, but with his usual swiftness of decision he made up his mind to act without waiting for disaffection to show itself. He advanced at once to the Ardennes, where he was met by envoys from the German camp. They said that they had been expelled from their country, and had come to Gaul in search of a home; they did not wish to quarrel with the Romans; if Caesar would protect them and give them lands, they promised to be useful to him; if he refused their alliance, they declared that they would defend themselves. They had fled before the Sueves, for the Sueves were the first nation in the world; the immortal gods were not a match for the Sueves; but they were afraid of no one else, and Caesar might choose whether he would have them for friends or foes.

Caesar replied that they must not stay in Gaul. There were no unoccupied lands in Gaul which could receive so vast a multitude. The Ubii 1 on their own side of the Rhine were allies of the Romans; the Ubii, he was willing to undertake, would provide for them; meanwhile they must go back; he would listen to no other conditions. The envoys departed with their answer, begging Caesar to advance no farther till he had again heard from them. This could not be granted. The interval would be employed in communicating with the Gauls. Caesar pushed on, crossed the Meuse at Maestricht, and descended the river to Venloo, where he was but twelve miles distant from the German head-quarters. Again messengers came, asking for time--time, at least, till they could learn whether the Ubii would receive them. If the Ubii were favorable, they said that they were ready to go; but they could not decide without a knowledge of what was to become of them. They asked for a respite, if only for three days.

Three days meant only leisure to collect their scattered detachments, that they might make a better fight. Caesar gave them twenty-four hours.

The two armies were so near that their front lines were in sight of each other. Caesar had given orders to his officers not to meddle with the Germans. But the Germans, being undisciplined and hot-blooded, were less easy to be restrained. A large body of them flung themselves on the Roman advanced guard, and drove it in with considerable loss; seventy-four Roman knights fell, and two Aquitanian noblemen, brothers, serving under Caesar, were killed in defending each other.

Caesar was not sorry for an excuse to refuse further parley. The Germans were now scattered. In a day or two they would be united again. He knew the effect which would be produced on the restless minds of the Gauls by the news of a reverse however slight; and if he delayed longer, he feared that the country might be on fire in his rear. On the morning which followed the first action, the principal German chiefs appeared to apologize and to ask for a truce. They had come in of their own accord. They had not applied for a safe conduct, and war had been begun by their own people. They were detained as prisoners; and, marching rapidly over the short space which divided the camps, Caesar flung himself on the unfortunate people when they were entirely unprepared for the attack. Their chiefs were gone. They were lying about in confusion beside their wagons, women and children dispersed among the men; hundreds of thousands of human creatures, ignorant where to turn for orders, and uncertain whether to fight or fly. In this condition the legions burst in on them, furious at what they called the treachery of the previous day, and merciless in their vengeance. The poor Germans stood bravely defending themselves as they could; but the sight of their women flying in shrieking crowds, pursued by the Roman horse, was too much for them, and the whole host were soon rushing in despairing wreck down the narrowing isthmus between the Meuse and the Rhine. They came to the junction at last, and then they could go no further. Multitudes were slaughtered; multitudes threw themselves into the water and were drowned. Caesar, who was not given to exaggeration, says that their original number was 430,000. The only survivors, of whom any clear record remains, were the detachments who were absent from the battle, and the few chiefs who had come into Caesar's camp and continued with him at their own request from fear of being murdered by the Gauls.

This affair was much spoken of at the time, as well it might be. Questions were raised upon it in the Senate. Cato insisted that Caesar had massacred a defenceless people in a time of truce, that he had broken the law of nations, and that he ought to be given up to the Germans. The sweeping off the earth in such a manner of a quarter of a million human creatures, even in those unscrupulous times, could not be heard of without a shudder. The irritation in the Senate can hardly be taken as disinterested. Men who had intrigued with Ariovistus for Caesar's destruction, needed not to be credited with feelings of pure humanity when they made the most of the opportunity. But an opportunity had undoubtedly been offered them. The rights of war have their limits. No living man in ordinary circumstances recognized those limits more than Caesar did. No commander was more habitually merciful in victory. In this case the limits had been ruthlessly exceeded. The Germans were not indeed defending their own country; they were the invaders of another; but they were a fine brave race, overtaken by fate when doing no more than their forefathers had done for unknown generations. The excuse for their extermination was simply this: that Caesar had undertaken the conquest of Gaul for the defence of Italy. A powerful party among the Gauls themselves were content to be annexed to the Roman Empire. The patriots looked to the Germans to help them in driving out the Romans. The Germanizing of Gaul would lead with certainty to fresh invasions of Italy; and it seemed permissible, and even necessary, to put a stop to these immigrations once for all, and to show Gauls and Germans equally that they were not to be.

It was not enough to have driven the Germans out of Gaul. Caesar respected their character. He admired their abstinence from wine, their courage, their frugal habits, and their pure morality. But their virtues made them only more dangerous; and he desired to show them that the Roman arm was long and could reach them even in their own homes. Parties of the late invaders had returned over the Rhine, and were protected by the Sigambri in Westphalia. Caesar had demanded their surrender, and the Sigambri had answered that Roman authority did not reach across the river; if Caesar forbade Germans to cross into Gaul, the Germans would not allow the Romans to dictate to them in their own country. The Ubii were growing anxious. They were threatened by the Sueves for deserting the national cause. They begged Caesar to show himself among them, though his stay might be but short, as a proof that he had power and will to protect them; and they offered him boats and barges to carry his army over. Caesar decided to go, but to go with more ostentation. The object was to impress the German imagination; and boats and barges which might not always be obtainable would, if they seemed essential, diminish the effect. The legions were skilled workmen, able to turn their hand to anything. He determined to make a bridge, and he chose Bonn for the site of it. The river was broad, deep, and rapid. The materials were still standing in the forest; yet in ten days from the first stroke that was delivered by an axe, a bridge had been made standing firmly on rows of piles with a road over it forty feet wide. A strong guard was left at each end. Caesar marched across with the legions, and from all sides deputations from the astonished people poured in to beg for peace. The Sigambri had fled to their woods. The Suevi fell back into the Thuringian forests. He burnt the villages of the Sigambri, to leave the print of his presence. He paid the Ubii a long visit; and after remaining eighteen days beyond the river, he considered that his purpose had been gained, and he returned to Gaul, destroying the bridge behind him.

It was now about the beginning of August. A few weeks only of possible fine weather remained. Gaul was quiet, not a tribe was stirring. The people were stunned by Caesar's extraordinary performances. West of the channel which washed the shores of the Belgae lay an island where the enemies of Rome had found shelter, and from which help had been sent to the rebellious Bretons. Caesar, the most skilful and prudent of generals, was yet adventurous as a knight-errant. There was still time for a short expedition into Britain. As yet nothing was known of that country, save the white cliffs which could be seen from Calais; Roman merchants occasionally touched there, but they had never ventured into the interior; they could give no information as to the size of the island, the qualities of the harbors, the character or habits of the inhabitants. Complete ignorance of such near neighbors was undesirable and inconvenient; and Caesar wished to look at them with his own eyes. The fleet which had been used in the war with the Veneti was sent round into the channel. He directed Caius Volusenus, an officer whom he could trust, to take a galley and make a survey of the opposite coast, and he himself followed to Boulogne, where his vessels were waiting for him. The gathering of the flotilla and its object had been reported to Britain, and envoys from various tribes were waiting there with offers of hostages and humble protestations. Caesar received them graciously, and sent back with them a Gaul, named Commius, whom he had made chief of the Atrebates, to tell the people that he was coming over as a friend, and that they had nothing to fear.

Volusenus returned after five days' absence, having been unable to gather anything of importance. The ships which had come in were able only to take across two legions, probably at less than their full complement--or at most ten thousand men; but for Caesar's present purpose these were sufficient. Leaving Sabinus and Cotta in charge of the rest of the army, he sailed on a calm evening, and was off Dover in the morning. The cliffs were lined with painted warriors, and hung so close over the water that if he attempted to land there stones and lances could reach the boats from the edge of the precipice. He called his officers about him while his fleet collected, and said a few encouraging words to them; he then moved up the coast with the tide, apparently as far as Walmer or Deal. Here the beach was open and the water deep near the land. The Britons had followed by the brow of the cliff, scrambling along with their cars and horses. The shore was covered with them, and they evidently meant to fight. The transports anchored where the water was still up to the men's shoulders. They were encumbered with their arms, and did not like the look of what was before them. Seeing them hesitate, Caesar sent his armed galleys filled with archers and crossbow-men to clear the approach; and as the legionaries still hesitated, an officer who carried the eagle of the 10th leapt into the sea and bade his comrades follow if they wished to save their standard. They sprang overboard with a general cheer. The Britons rode their horses into the waves to meet them; and for a few minutes the Romans could make no progress. Boats came to their help, which kept back the most active of their opponents, and once on land they were in their own element. The Britons galloped off, and Caesar had no cavalry.

A camp was then formed. Some of the ships were left at anchor, others were brought on shore, and were hauled up to the usual high-water mark. Commius came in with deputations, and peace was satisfactorily arranged. All went well till the fourth day, when the full moon brought the spring tide, of which the Romans had no experience and had not provided for it. Heavy weather came up along with it. The galleys on the beach were floated off; the transports at anchor parted their cables; some were driven on shore, some out into the channel. Caesar was in real anxiety. He had no means of procuring a second fleet. He had made no preparations for wintering in Britain. The legions had come light, without tents or baggage, as he meant to stay no longer than he had done in Germany, two or three weeks at most. Skill and energy repaired the damage. The vessels which had gone astray were recovered. Those which were least injured were repaired with the materials of the rest. Twelve only were lost, the others were made seaworthy.

The Britons, as Caesar expected, had taken heart at the disaster. They broke their agreement, and fell upon his outposts. Seeing the small number of Romans, they collected in force, in the hope that if they could destroy the first comers no more such unwelcome visitors would ever arrive to trouble them. A sharp action taught them their mistake; and after many of the poor creatures had been killed, they brought in hostages, and again begged for peace. The equinox was now coming on. The weather was again threatening. Postponing, therefore, further inquiries into the nature of the British and their country, Caesar used the first favorable opportunity, and returned, without further adventure, to Boulogne. The legions were distributed among the Belgae; and Caesar himself, who could have no rest, hastened over the Alps, to deal with other disturbances which had broken out in Illyria.

[B.C. 54.] The bridge over the Rhine and the invasion of a country so remote that it was scarcely believed to exist, roused the enthusiasm at Rome beyond the point which it had hitherto reached. The Roman populace was accustomed to victories, but these were portents like the achievements of the old demigods. The humbled Senate voted twenty days of thanksgiving; and faction, controlled by Pompey, was obliged to be silent.

The Illyrian troubles were composed without fighting, and the interval of winter was spent in preparations for a renewal of the expedition into Britain on a larger scale. Orders had been left with the officers in command to prepare as many transports as the time would allow, broader and lower in the side for greater convenience in loading and unloading. In April, Caesar returned. He visited the different stations, and he found that his expert legionaries, working incessantly, had built six hundred transports and twenty-eight armed galleys. All these were finished and ready to be launched. He directed that they should collect at Boulogne as before; and in the interval he paid a visit to the north of Gaul, where there were rumors of fresh correspondence with the Germans. Danger, if danger there was, was threatened by the Treveri, a powerful tribe still unbroken on the Moselle. Caesar, however, had contrived to attach the leading chiefs to the Roman interest. He found nothing to alarm him, and once more went down to the sea. In his first venture he had been embarrassed by want of cavalry. He was by this time personally acquainted with the most influential of the Gallic nobles. He had requested them to attend him into Britain with their mounted retinues, both for service in the field, and that he might keep these restless chiefs under his eye. Among the rest he had not overlooked the Aeduan prince, Dumnorix, whose intrigues had brought the Helvetii out of Switzerland, and whose treachery had created difficulty and nearly disaster in the first campaign. Dumnorix had not forgotten his ambition. He had affected penitence, and he had been treated with kindness. He had availed himself of the favor which had been shown to him to pretend to his countrymen that Caesar had promised him the chieftainship. He had petitioned earnestly to be excused from accompanying the expedition, and, Caesar having for this reason probably the more insisted upon it, he had persuaded the other chiefs that Caesar meant to destroy them, and that if they went to Britain they would never return. These whisperings were reported to Caesar. Dumnorix had come to Boulogne with the rest, and he ordered him to be watched. A long westerly wind had prevented Caesar from embarking as soon as he had wished. The weather changed at last, and the troops were ordered on board. Dumnorix slipped away in the confusion with a party of Aeduan horse, and it was now certain that he had sinister intentions. The embarkation was suspended. A detachment of cavalry was sent in pursuit, with directions to bring Dumnorix back dead or alive. Dumnorix resisted, and was killed.

No disturbance followed on his death. The remaining chiefs were loyal, or wished to appear loyal, and further delay was unnecessary. Labienus, whom Caesar thoroughly trusted, remained behind with three legions and two thousand horse to watch over Gaul; and on a fine summer evening, with a light air from the south, Caesar sailed at sunset on the 20th of July. He had five legions with him. He had as many cavalry as he had left with Labienus. His flotilla, swollen by volunteers, amounted to eight hundred vessels, small and great. At sunrise they were in midchannel, lying in a dead calm, with the cliffs of Britain plainly visible on their left hand. The tide was flowing. Oars were out; the legionaries worked with such enthusiasm that the transports kept abreast of the war-galleys. At noon they had reached the beach at Deal, where this time they found no enemy to oppose their landing; the Britons had been terrified at the multitude of ships and boats in which the power of Rome was descending on them, and had fled into the interior. The water was smooth, the disembarkation easy. A camp was drawn out and intrenched, and six thousand men, with a few hundred horse, were told off to guard it. The fleet was left riding quietly at anchor, the pilots ignorant of the meaning of the treacherous southern air which had been so welcome to them; and Caesar advanced inland as far as the Stour. The Britons, after an unsuccessful stand to prevent the Romans from crossing the river, retired into the woods, where they had made themselves a fortress with felled trees. The weak defence was easily stormed; the Britons were flying; the Romans were preparing to follow; when an express came from Deal to tell Caesar that a gale had risen again and the fleet was lying wrecked upon the shore. A second accident of the same kind might have seemed an omen of evil, but Caesar did not believe in omens. The even temperament of his mind was never discomposed, and at each moment he was able always to decide, and to do, what the moment required. The army was halted. He rode back himself to the camp, to find that forty of his vessels only were entirely ruined. The rest were injured, but not irreparably. They were hauled up within the lines of the camp. He selected the best mechanics out of the legions; he sent across to Labienus for more, and directed him to build fresh transports in the yards at Boulogne. The men worked night and day, and in little more than a week Caesar was able to rejoin his troops and renew his march.

The object of the invasion had been rather to secure the quiet of Gaul than the annexation of new subjects and further territory. But it could not be obtained till the Romans had measured themselves against the Britons, and had asserted their military superiority. The Britons had already shown themselves a fearless race, who could not be despised. They fought bravely from their cars and horses, retreated rapidly when overmatched, and were found dangerous when pursued. Encouraged by the report of the disaster to the fleet, Cassibelaunus, chief of the Cassi, whose head-quarters were at St. Albans, had collected a considerable army from both sides of the Thames, and was found in strength in Caesar's front when he again began to move. They attacked his foraging parties. They set on his flanking detachments. They left their cars, and fought on foot when they could catch an advantage; and remounted and were swiftly out of the reach of the heavily armed Roman infantry. The Gaulish horse pursued, but did not know the country, and suffered more harm than they inflicted. Thus the British gave Caesar considerable trouble, which he recorded to their credit. Not a word can be found in his Commentaries to the disparagement of brave and open adversaries. At length he forced them into a battle, where their best warriors were killed. The confederacy of tribes dissolved and never rallied again, and he pursued his march thenceforward with little molestation. He crossed the Medway, and reached the Thames seemingly at Sunbury. There was a ford there, but the river was still deep, the ground was staked, and Cassibelaunus with his own people was on the other side. The legions, however, paid small attention to Cassibelaunus; they plunged through with the water at their necks. The Britons dispersed, driving off their cattle, and watching his march from a distance. The tribes from the eastern counties made their submission, and at Caesar's orders supplied him with corn. Caesar marched on to St. Albans itself, then lying in the midst of forests and marshes, where the cattle, the Cassi's only wealth, had been collected for security. St. Albans and the cattle were taken; Cassibelaunus sued for peace; the days were drawing in; and Caesar, having no intention of wintering in Britain, considered he had done enough and need go no farther. He returned as he had come. The Kentish men had attacked the camp in his absence, but had been beaten off with heavy loss. The Romans had sallied out upon them, killed as many as they could catch, and taken one of their chiefs. Thenceforward they had been left in quiet. A nominal tribute, which was never paid, was assigned to the tribes who had submitted. The fleet was in order, and all was ready for departure. The only, but unhappily too valuable, booty which they had carried off consisted of some thousands of prisoners. These, when landed in Gaul, were disposed of to contractors, to be carried to Italy and sold as slaves. Two trips were required to transport the increased numbers; but the passage was accomplished without accident, and the whole army was again at Boulogne.

Thus ended the expedition into Britain. It had been undertaken rather for effect than for material advantage; and everything which had been aimed at had been gained. The Gauls looked no more across the Channel for support of insurrections; the Romans talked with admiration for a century of the far land to which Caesar had borne the eagles; and no exploit gave him more fame with his contemporaries. Nor was it without use to have solved a geographical problem, and to have discovered with certainty what the country was, the white cliffs of which were visible from the shores which were now Roman territory. Caesar during his stay in Britain had acquired a fairly accurate notion of it. He knew that it was an island, and he knew its dimensions and shape. He knew that Ireland lay to the west of it, and Ireland, he had been told, was about half its size. He had heard of the Isle of Man, and how it was situated. To the extreme north above Britain he had ascertained that there were other islands, where in winter the sun scarcely rose above the horizon; and he had observed through accurate measurement by water-clocks that the midsummer nights in Britain were shorter than in the south of France and Italy. He had inquired into the natural products of the country. There were tin mines, he found, in parts of the island, and iron in small quantities; but copper was imported from the Continent. The vegetation resembled that of France, save that he saw no beech and no spruce pine. Of more consequence were the people and the distribution of them. The Britons of the interior he conceived to be indigenous. The coast was chiefly occupied by immigrants from Belgium, as could be traced in the nomenclature of places. The country seemed thickly inhabited. The flocks and herds were large; and farm buildings were frequent, resembling those in Gaul. In Kent especially, civilization was as far advanced as on the opposite continent. The Britons proper from the interior showed fewer signs of progress. They did not break the ground for corn; they had no manufactures; they lived on meat and milk, and were dressed in leather. They dyed their skins blue that they might look more terrible. They wore their hair long, and had long mustaches. In their habits they had not risen out of the lowest order of savagery. They had wives in common, and brothers and sisters, parents and children, lived together with promiscuous unrestraint. From such a country not much was to be gained in the way of spoil; nor had much been expected. Since Cicero's conversion, his brother Quintus had joined Caesar, and was now attending him as one of his lieutenant-generals. The brothers were in intimate correspondence. Cicero, though he watched the British expedition with interest, anticipated that Quintus would bring nothing of value back with him but slaves; and he warned his friend Atticus, who dealt extensively in such commodities, that the slaves from Britain would not be found of superior quality. 2

[1] Nassau and Darmstadt.

[2] "Britannici belli exitus exspectatur. Constat enim, aditus insulae esse munitos mirificis molibus. Etiam illud jam cognitum est, neque argenti scrupulum esse ullum in illâ insulâ, neque ullam spem praedae, nisi ex mancipiis: ex quibus nullos puto te litteris aut musicis eruditos exspectare."--Ad Atticum, iv. 16. It does not appear what Cicero meant by the "mirificae moles" which guarded the approaches to Britain, whether Dover Cliff or the masses of sand under water at the Goodwins.


Back - Next








caesar
Advertisements: