The Romans

The Romans

Julius (Caesar) stopped by, with his cohorts, in 55 BC. He didn’t stop long but must have enjoyed his stay as he returned in 54 BC. Maybe it was the beaches in Richborough, Kent that attracted him so but rumour has it that he was having a bit of trouble with the Gauls’, in what we now call France. It seems that our lads, (the Celts) were in the habit of popping over to Gaul and giving De Gauls a hand with fighting the foreign invaders. We were doing the same only 2000 yeas later!

So it seems possible that Julius was seeking to remonstrate with our countrymen. Julius did not make much of an impression with his visits BUT he did pick up a few brownie points for his trip when he returned to Rome. The made him Emperor!

So, the Romans! Where did they come from and where did they go?

OK, I know, Rome. About halfway down Italy and on the right.

Rome was a city state with big, very big ideas.

Let’s go back a bit, say to about 509 BC (How did they know He was going to be born in 509 years time?) which is when the Roman Monarchy was overthrown. The Monarchy was replaced with a government lead by two Consuls which were elected by the people and were advised by a Senate.

Sounds good on paper but the initial Constitution of the Roman Republic heavily favoured the ‘former’ aristocracy (The Patricians) over the common people (The Plebians – plebs! – where have I heard that word recently??) as with everything where money is to be made the land owners (Patricians) wanted more than their share and lawyers and politicians soon got involved. And involved they have been, ever since!

Over time the laws that gave the Patricians exclusive rights to high office were repealed or weakened and a new aristocracy developed together with a strong tradition of morality. Politics and morality in the same sentence? That must be wrong!

Maybe our politicians could take a look at something similar? Hey! It’s just a dream.

Over the next couple of centuries Rome expanded its influence, OK its power, to cover the whole of the Italian peninsular. By the following century Rome ‘acquired’ North Africa, Spain/Portugal (Iberia) southern France and much of the middle east.

As we all know power corrupts and more power = more corruption. Sound familiar?

By the 1st century BC the original ideals of the evolved Constitution of the Roman Republic had pretty much got thrown out with the bathwater and Roman politics was dominated by a small number of Roman leaders in an uneasy alliance.

Oh dear! That does sound horribly familiar.

These uneasy alliances were resolved by a series of civil wars. The end result being that Octavian finally emerged as Top Dog and set about reforming the republic with basically the same lower structures but with himself as final arbiter. A kind of ‘Don’t do as I do, do as I say!’ kind of democracy. Nothing ever changes!

So having been through what was really quite a good idea Rome sort of eased its way into dictatorship. Of course Rome didn’t have a Dictator it had an Emperor, derived from the Latin, what else, imperium meaning ‘holding of power’. Like I said – the Top Dog!

Back to Julius – Julius was not entirely grass roots within Roman society. His dad was the Governor of ‘Asia’ which on modern maps would be identified as an area in the western part of modern Turkey. His mum was from an influential family.

Julius’s dad died in 85 BC leaving Julius as head of the household at the tender age of 16. He obviously wanted to get on as the next year he was nominated to be the new high priest of Jupiter. He dumped his girlfriend (a ‘plebian’) and married Cornelia Cinnilla the daughter of one of the leading political parties, very definitely a ‘patrician’.

At the time it was a good move but there were clouds on the horizon. General Lucius Cornelius Sulla was pretty much Top Dog but he was also Rome’s best General. Whilst he was away fighting Rome’s enemies the politicians played a different game to that which Sulla wanted. One of those politicians was Cornelia’s dad!

Sulla had to fight his way back into Rome leaving him master of Rome. In late 82 BC early 81 BC the Senate appointed Sulla ‘Dictator’ legibus faciendis et reipublicae constituendae causa (“dictator for the making of laws and for the settling of the constitution”). There was no time limit set on holding the position. Top Dog!

Sulla set about executing the ‘enemies of the state’ which included Cornelia’s dad and his pals putting Julius in a very tricky position.

Julius left Rome and joined the army, where he did well. He returned to Rome only after Sulla died in 78 BC, where he was elected military tribune. This gave him a foothold on the political ladder. The boy’s on the move! 69 BC saw him elected quaestor for the year and went off to serve it in Spain. He was elected as Consul for 59 BC. Julius, despite his political position, was heavily in debt so he went off to the Gallic wars where money was to be made and power gained.

In 55 BC he had a set to with a couple of Germanic tribes, pushing them back across the Rhine. He built a bridge, crossed the Rhine with part of his army and strutted his stuff. Then went back across the Rhine, dismantled the bridge and headed, in late summer for Britain declaring that the Britons had helped the Veneti against the Roman army.

Which is where we came in. Neat eh? 500 years of history in less than two pages! Sorry historians I have only skated very thinly over the top.

OK hands up those who thought that the Venetians came from Venice? Well in a different time they did but our Veneti (Venetians) came from what is now Vannes in southern Brittany. One of the ancient Celtic tribes they lived on the Atlantic coast. They were seafarers and built very substantial seagoing vessels of oak with large transoms. The Venetians were traders and traded for tin with the Celts in Cornwall way back when tin was needed to make copper into bronze, as it still is of course. So it is not impossible that the Celts of Britain did help the Gauls/Celts of France. Maybe they used the very first Brittany Ferries to travel to and from? Just a thought.

OK, so Julius is a bit fed up with the British Celts and lands in Kent in the summer 55 BC to sort them out but his intelligence (military) is not top notch and he just seems to have whiled away his time on the beach. Maybe building sandcastles? He leaves for Gaul in the autumn of the same year. Maybe just a seaside holiday after his battles with the Germanic tribes?

Julius returned in the summer of 54 BC with a much larger force and a proper logistics set-up in support. This trip was more successful and he took a few hostages and negotiated with Cassivellaunus for an annual ‘tribute’ to be paid to Rome. Cassivellaunus is the first historic Britain to be named. He was the leader of the biggest, most important tribe in Celtic Britain in 54 BC and led an alliance of tribes against the Julius’s Roman invasion.

At this point it is probably best to point out that ‘Britain’ was not organised, not that it is now. Britain was an island peopled by ‘tribes’, each with a Chief or King. The chief was the guy the other tribe members ‘respected’ which meant that he beat the living daylights out of anybody that opposed him either from within the tribe or in neighbouring tribes. Needless to say ‘respect’ was also gained by conquering the neighbouring tribes. So, when the Romans arrived they did not have to meet the massed power of the ‘British’ ‘army’ but pockets of resistance here and there. Though these pockets could muster a good number of men they were no real match for the might of highly trained, very experienced Roman Legions.

Julius sent his report back to Cicero, dated 26th September 54 BC and then went back to Gaul with every single Roman!

So Julius came, he saw and he went home again!

And Britain didn’t hear another word from the Romans for nearly 100 years, except for diplomacy, trade, probably a bit of surreptitious, if not outright, spying and four abortive invasion attempts, of course.

In AD 43 Claudius became Emperor of Rome but it was a rather tenuous position and he was in need of a public relations coup to secure the position, nothing ever changes, so he decided to expand the empire, always a good PR move, and resurrect the old Roman dream of conquering Britain.

As luck would have it King Verica of the Atrebates tribe, having been severely whupped by King Caractacus of the Catavellauni tribe, fled to Rome to ask for assistance.

The Atrebates tribe was the second most powerful tribe in southern Britain and occupied modern Berkshire and Hampshire, areas of West Sussex, western Surrey, and north-east Wiltshire. It’s centre, originally, was Selsey near Chichester and later Noviomagus Reginorum (Chichester) but by 43 AD had moved to Calleva Atrebatum (the ‘place in the woods of the Atrebates’), near Silchester in Hampshire, which had now been captured by King Caractacus.

Claudius, always with an eye for the main chance said ‘Yep! I’ll have a bit of that!’ and off he went with about 40,000 troops.

What has Sussex got to do with Roman invasions?

Historians would appear to have a bit of a problem as to where the Roman invasion of AD 43 landed on these shores. Some support the theory that they, again, landed at Richborough in Kent others are of the view that they landed in Chichester, which is in Sussex. For once it seems that the scribes let Rome down and would appear to have totally failed to record exactly where the invasion took place, where it sailed from or how the whole trip was organised. All that seems to be known is that the invasion fleet sailed ‘west’.

We shall explore the options at a later stage.