General history: Roman Kent

The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 1. Originally published by W Bristow, Canterbury, 1797.

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Edward Hasted, 'General history: Roman Kent', The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 1, (Canterbury, 1797), pp. 13-44. British History Online [accessed 15 June 2024].

Edward Hasted. "General history: Roman Kent", in The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 1, (Canterbury, 1797) 13-44. British History Online, accessed June 15, 2024,

Hasted, Edward. "General history: Roman Kent", The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 1, (Canterbury, 1797). 13-44. British History Online. Web. 15 June 2024,

Roman Kent

BRITAIN was in the state above-mentioned when Cæsar turned his thoughts to the invasion of it, at which time the Romans were become masters of almost all Europe, the best part of Africa, and the richest countries of Asia. Whilst they were continually adding so many kingdoms to their empire, Britain still preserved its independency, for which it was indebted to its remote situation, more than to its strength. It was considered by the inhabitants of the continent as a separate world, of which (excepting in the maritime parts opposite to it,) they had very little knowledge, and what they had did not excite their desires to extend their dominion over it. Julius Cæsar, during his wars with the Gauls, had taken great umbrage at the supplies which the neighbouring parts of Britain had continually sent to them: at least this was the specious pretence for his leading his forces hither; a pretence frequently made use of by the Romans, to carry their conquests into the most remote countries; though his unbounded ambition was, most probably, the sole motive that urged him to it. It was in the 698th year after the building of Rome, and fifty-five years before the birth of Christ, Cn. Pompey and Marcus Lic. Crassus being then consuls of Rome, that Julius Cæsar resolved to undertake a voyage into Britain, and though the summer was then almost spent, he would by no means delay it; not that he expected the advanced season of the year would permit him to carry on the war, yet he thought it would be of no small use to him, if he only landed and discovered something of the nature of the inhabitants, the country, and its havens. To gain some intelligence, therefore, Cæsar summoned together all the merchants round about, but he could not learn from any of them, either what the size of Britain was, what or how many nations inhabited it, what progress they had made in the art of war, what customs they used, or what number of ships their ports were capable of receiving. (fn. 1) This uncertainty made him determine to send out C. Volu- senus with a galley, to make what discoveries he could without danger. In the mean time he himself marched with all his forces into the country of the Morini, now the province of Picardy, from whence the passage into Britain was said to be the shortest, and thither he ordered the shipping from all the neighbouring parts.

Whilst these preparations were going forward, the merchants gave notice to the Britons of Cæsar's design, who sent messengers to him, in hopes of diverting him from his purpose, promising to deliver hostages, and to submit themselves to the Roman empire.

Cæsar gave them a civil reception, made them liberal promises, and, encouraging them to persist in their resolution, sent them home again.

Along with them he sent Comius, whom he had made king of the Attrebates, in Gaul, a person, whose interest in those parts was accounted very great, and whose fidelity Cæsar had a great opinion of. He commanded Comius to visit as many states as he could, and persuade them to accept of an alliance with the Romans, and farther, to tell them, that he would very quickly be over with them in person. Volusenus, in the mean time, having made what discoveries he could of the country, for he durst not venture himself ashore, after five days cruizing, returned, and acquainted Cæsar with all he had seen; who having, in the mean time, got together eighty transports, which he thought sufficient to carry over the foot of his two legions, besides his gallies, and eighteen more transports for the horse, which lay wind-bound at another port, eight miles distant, set sail with the foot about one o'clock in the morning, and left orders for the horse to march to the other port, and to embark there, and follow him as soon as they could. (fn. 2) Cæsar himself, with the foremost of his ships, arrived on the coast of Britain about ten o'clock the same morning, where he saw all the cliffs covered by the enemy in arms, and he observed (what would render the execution of his design most difficult at this place) that, the sea being narrow, and pent in by the hills, the Britons could easily throw their darts from thence upon the shore beneath. Not thinking this place proper therefore for landing, he came to an anchor, and waited for the rest of his fleet till three in the afternoon; after which, having got both wind and tide for him, he weighed anchor, and sailed about eight miles farther, and then came to a plain and open shore, where he ordered the ships to bring to. The Britons being apprised of his design, sent their horse and chariots before, and following after with the rest of the army, endeavoured to prevent their landing. Here the Romans laboured under very great difficulties, for their ships, on account of their size, could not lie near the shore, and their soldiers with their hands encumbered and loaded with heavy armour, were obliged to contend, at the same time both with the waves and the enemy, in a place they were unacquainted with; whereas the Britons, either standing upon dry ground, or but a little way in the water, in places with which they were well acquainted, and being free and unincumbered, could boldly cast their darts, and spur their horses forward, which were used to this kind of combat, which disadvantage so discouraged the Romans, who were unused to this way of fighting, that they did not behave themselves with the same spirit that they used to do, in their engagements on dry land.

Cæsar perceiving this, gave orders for the gallies to advance gently before the rest of the fleet, and to row along with their broadsides towards the shore, and then by every kind of missive weapon to drive the enemy away. This piece of conduct was of considerable service to them, for the Britons being terri- fied, quickly after began to give ground; upon which the soldiers, though at first unwilling, encouraging one another, leaped down into the sea, from the several ships, and pressed forward towards the enemy. The conflict was sharply maintained on both sides; in which the Romans, not being able either to keep their ranks, obtain firm footing, or follow their particular standards, fell into great disorder; whilst the Britons, who were well acquainted with the shallows, spurring their horses forward, assaulted the enemy, incumbered and unprepared to receive them. Cæsar observing this, caused the boats and pinnaces to be filled with soldiers, and dispatched them to the relief of those who stood in need of it; these charged the Britons, and quickly put them to flight, but could not pursue, as their horse were not then arrived. The Britons, upon this, as soon as they had escaped beyond the reach of danger, sent messengers to desire peace, promising to deliver hostages for the performance of whatever Cæsar had commanded. He at first upbraided, and then pardoned, their imprudence, and demanded hostages of them; some of which they delivered immediately, and promised to return in a few days, with the rest: in the mean time they dispersed their men, and the chiefs assembled from all parts, and recommended themselves and their states to Cæsar's protection.

Upon the fourth day after Cæsar's arrival in Britain, the transports with the horse, of which mention has been already made, set fail with a gentle gale; but when they were arrived so near as to be within view of the Roman camp, the whole fleet was dispersed by a sudden storm, and afterwards, though with much difficulty, made the best of its way back to the continent. The same night the moon was at full, and, consequently, it made a spring tide, an observation the Romans were strangers to; so that at the same time both the gallies, which had been drawn on shore, were filled with water, and the ships of burthen, which rode at anchor, were greatly distressed and damaged. Several of them were lost, and the rest were rendered wholly unfit for service, which caused a great consternation throughout their whole army; for they had no other ships to carry them back again, nor any materials to refit their own with; and they knew very well they must of necessity take up their winter quarters in Gaul, as there was no provision of corn against winter made for them here. As soon as the British chiefs, who had been assembled to perform their agreement with Cæsar, knew of this, and that the Romans were without horses, ships, and provisions, concluding from the smallness of their camp, (which was then narrower than usual, because the legions had left their heavy baggage in Gaul) that their soldiers were but few, they resolved upon a revolt, and to hinder the Romans from foraging, and delay them till winter; imagining that if they could but gain a victory over them, or prevent their return, none would ever dare to make such another attempt; and having entered into a new consederacy, they began by degrees to quit the Roman camp, and privately to enlist their disbanded troops again. (fn. 3)

Though Cæsar knew nothing of their design, yet suspecting, from the loss of his shipping, and their delay in the delivery of their hostages, what afterwards really happened, prepared for all events, causing provisions to be brought into his camp every day, and repairing the ships that were least damaged. By which means, with the loss of twelve, he made the rest fit for sea again. Whilst matters were in this situation, the seventh legion, whose turn it was, went out to forage, whilst some of the men were employed in the fields, and others in carrying the corn between them and the camp, the out-guards gave Cæsar notice, that they observed a greater dust than usual, in that part of the country to which the legion went. Upon which, suspecting that the Britons had revolted, he took with him the cohorts that were placed for an advanced guard, and commanded the rest to repair to their arms, and follow him as fast as possible. He had not marched far before he saw his foragers overcharged by the Britons, and drove into a small compass; for the Britons, knowing there was but one place where the harvest had not been carried in, suspected the Romans would come there, and having hid themselves the night before in the woods, suddenly set upon the soldiers, who had laid down their arms, and were dispersed and busy in reaping the corn, and having killed some of them, they put the rest in disorder, and then surrounded them with their horse and chariots. Their way of fighting with their chariots was this; first they drove up and down every where, and flung their darts about, the very terror and noise of their horses and chariots frequently putting the ranks of the enemy in disorder; and whenever they got in among the ranks of the horse, they alighted, and fought on foot. Their charioteers, in the mean time, drove a little way out of the battle, and placed themselves in such a manner, that if their masters should be overpowered by the numbers of the enemy, they might readily retreat to them. Thus they performed in their battles all the activity of the horse, and the steadiness of the foot, at the same time, and were so expert, by daily use and exercise, that even, when they were going full speed on the side of a steep hill, they could stop their horses and turn, run upon the pole, rest on the harness, and thence throw themselves, with great dexterity, into their chariots again. The Romans being disordered by this new kind of fight, Cæsar came very opportunely to their assistance; for on his arrival the Britons made a stand, and the Romans began to forget their fears. However, not thinking it advisable to venture an engagement at that time, after remaining on the same spot for a little while, he retreated with his legions to the camp. The badness of the weather, which followed after this for several days successively, kept the Romans in their camp, and the Britons from attempting any thing against them. In the mean time the latter sent messengers to all parts, to give information of the smallness of the Roman army, and to shew how considerable a booty they might obtain, and what a glorious opportunity then offered of making themselves free for ever, if they could but force the enemy's camp; by which means they quickly raised great numbers of horse and foot, and came down to it for that purpose. Although Cæsar foresaw, that the Britons, in case they were routed, would, as they had done before, escape the danger by flight, yet having got thirty horse, which Comius of Arras brought over with him, he drew his legions up in order of battle before the camp, and having engaged the Britons, who were not long able to sustain the attack, put them to flight, and the soldiers pursuing them as far as they could, killed many of them, and burnt all their houses for some distance round. The very same day, the Britons sent messengers to desire a peace, when Cæsar demanded double the number of hostages he had before to be sent into Gaul, for the autumnal equinox being near, he did not think it safe to sail with such weak ships in the winter season; seizing, therefore, the first favorable opportunity of the wind's being fair, he set sail soon after midnight, and arrived safe at the continent. (fn. 4) Probably he left this island about the 20th of September, about twenty-five days after his landing, and, as he says, a little before the equinox, which at that time must have been on the the 25th of that month.

This is Cæsar's account of this short expedition, which, however plausible he may have dressed it up in his Commentaries, yet his sudden departure in the night, immediately following the battle, carries with it a strong suspicion of his having been beaten by the Britons. Horace, Tibullus, and Lucan, seem to confirm it, as do Tacitus and Dion Cassius in their histories.

A more modern writer of our own nation, H. Huntingdon, who lived about an hundred years after the Norman conquest, says, that Cæsar was disappointed in his hopes; for on his landing he had a sharper conflict with the Britons than he could have believed, and perceiving that his forces were too few for such an enterprise, and that the enemy was much more powerful than he imagined, he was of necessity compelled to re-embark, and that then, being caught in a storm, he lost the greatest part of his fleet, a great number of his soldiers, and almost all his cavalry; at which, being dismayed, he returned to Gaul, sorely wounded at his disappointment. (fn. 5)

M. Westminster says much the same, as does Bede. (fn. 6) Polidore Virgil, an Italian, who is always severe on the English, in his history, tells us, the report was, that Cæsar, being routed by the Britons at the first encounter, fled into Gaul. (fn. 7)

Dr. Halley published a discourse (in Philos. Trans. No. 193) to prove at what time Cæsar landed in Britain, in which he makes it plain, that the cliffs mentioned by Cæsar were those of Dover, and that from the tide, and other circumstances, the Downs was the place where he landed. (fn. 8)

In this expedition Cæsar made no advances into the country; the unexpected opposition he met with prevented whatever designs he might have had towards it. Upon the whole, the result of this attempt seems to have been no more than a discovery of the most convenient place of landing, and that, if he again attempted the conquest of this country, he stood in need of a much superior force, than what he had then with him. The Britons, it seems, were not much awed by the Romans; for of all the states into which this island was then divided, two only sent hostages. Provoked at this contempt, Cæsar determined to make a second invasion next year, with a far more powerful fleet and army. For which purpose, when he left his winter quarters in Gaul, as he usually did every year to go into Italy, he gave orders to his lieutenants, who were to command the legions in his absence, that they should build, during the winter, as many ships as they could, and repair the old ones. And at the same time he shewed them the manner and form in which he would have them made, directing them to be built something lower than they used to be in the Mediterranean, that the soldiers might both embark and get ashore again with greater ease; and likewise broader than ordinary, as more convenient for the number of horses he intended carrying in them, and to contrive them all for oars, for which the lowness of them would be very proper. On Cæsar's return to his army, he found that the soldiers, by their unparalleled diligence, had already built six hundred such ships as he had ordered, and twenty-nine gallies, which would be ready to be launched within a few days. Upon which he commanded them all to meet him at the Portus Itius, from whence he knew there was the most convenient passage into Britain, which here was about thirty miles from the continent. Where this port was has been variously conjectured; Mr. Camden, and Ortelius, suppose it to have been Witson. Cluverius, and after him Somner, Battely, and others, suppose Boulogne to have been the Portus Itius here mentioned by Cæsar.— Lambarde, Horsley, and others, join with Dr. Halley in placing it at or somewhere near Calais. The latter of these in his discourse mentioned above, (Phil. Trans. No. 193) founds his opinion on arguments drawn from the navigation of those times, and Cæsar's description of his voyage. He further observes, that Cæsar's distance of the passage from Portus Itius to Britain comes very near the truth, for by an accurate survey, the distance at Calais, from land to land, is twenty-six English miles, or twenty-eight and a half Roman.

From hence he set sail for Britain with five legions, and the same number of horse he had left with Labienus, about sun-set, with a gentle south-west wind. About midnight it fell calm, and the fleet being driven by the tide, Cæsar, at day-break, found he had left Britain on the left hand. But the tide turning, they fell to their oars, in order to reach that part of it where they had the year before found the best landing. Cæsar arrived on the coast of Britain about noon, with his whole fleet, but there was no enemy to be seen; though as he afterwards learned from the prisoners, the inhabitants had been there in vast multitudes, but being terrified at the number of the ships, (which, together with the transports, and other vessels which particular officers had prepared for their own accommodation, amounted to above eight hundred,) they had fled from the shore, and had hid themselves among the hills. Having landed his army without opposition, and chosen a proper place to encamp in, when he had learned from the prisoners, where the British forces were posted, about midnight Cæsar marched in quest of them, having left ten cohorts, and three hundred horse, under the command of Q. Atrius, to guard the ships, which he was the less uneasy for, as he left them at anchor, on a soft and open shore. (fn. 9)

When he had marched about twelve miles, he discovered the Britons, who, having advanced with their horse and chariots to the banks of a river, began, from a rising ground to oppose the passage of the Romans, and to give them battle; but being repulsed by the Roman cavalry, they retired to a place in the woods, which was fortified both by art and nature, in an extraordinary manner, and which seemed to have been so prepared some time before, on account of their own civil wars. All the passages to it were blocked up by heaps of trees, cut down for that purpose, and the Britons seldom venturing to skirmish out of the woods, prevented the Romans from entering their works; but the soldiers of the seventh legion, having cast themselves into a testudo, and raised a mount against their works, after having received a few wounds, took the place, and drove them out of the woods; Cæsar however would not permit them to follow the pursuit, because he was unacquainted with the country, and the day being already far spent, he was desirous of employing the rest of it in fortifying his camp.

Various have been the conjectures of our antiquaries concerning this place of the Britons fortified both by art and nature. Horsley thinks it likely, that this engagement was on the banks of the river Stour, a little to the north of Durovernum, or Canterbury, in the way towards Sturry, which is about fourteen English miles from the Downs; others well acquainted with this part of Kent, have conjectured it to have been on the banks of the rivulet below Barhamdowns, and that the fortification of the Britons was in the woods behind Kingston, towards Bursted; and the distance as well as the situation of this place, and the continued remains of Roman works about it, almost in a continued line to Deal, add some strength to this conjecture. Some have placed this encounter below Swerdling downs, three miles north-west from Bursted, and the intrenchment in the woods above the downs behind Heppington, where many remains of intrenchments, &c. are still visible. Perhaps the engagement was below Barham-down; the fortification near Bursted, as before-mentioned; and the remains above Swerdling, the place to which the Britons retreated, after they were put to slight by the Romans, and where Cæsar again found them, after he had fortified his camp, with their allies, under the command of Cassivelaun.

The next morning, having divided his army into three bodies, Cæsar sent both his horse and foot in pursuit of the Britons; soon after which, before the rear of them had got out of sight, some horsemen arrived from Q. Atrius, to acquaint him, that the night before there had happened a dreadful storm, which had shattered almost all his ships, and cast them on the shore, for neither anchors nor cables could hold them, nor could all the skill of the mariners and pilots resist the force of the tempest, so that the fleet, from the great number of shipping lying together, received considerable damage. Upon this intelligence the Roman general, countermanding his forces, returned himself in person to the fleet, and there found that about forty of his ships were entirely lost, and that the rest of them were so much damaged, as not to be refitted without great trouble and labour. Wherefore, having chosen some workmen for this purpose from among his soldiers, and sent for others from the continent, he wrote to Labienus, to build him as many ships as he could with those legions that were left with him; and he himself determined, though it would be an affair that would be attended with great toil and labour, to have his fleet hauled on shore, and to inclose it with his camp, within the same fortification. In the execution of which, the soldiers laboured ten days and nights without intermission, and at this day, upon the shore about Deal, Sandown, and Walmer, there is a long range of heaps of earth, where Camden supposes this ship camp to have been, and which in his time, he says, was called by the people, as he was told, Rome's work. (fn. 10) Though some have conjectured, and perhaps with some probability, that the place of Cæsar's naval camp was where the town of Deal now stands. When the shipping being drawn on shore, and the camp exceedingly well fortified, Cæsar left the same guard over the fleet as he had before, and returned to the place where he had desisted from pursuing the Britons. On his arrival, he found they had assembled their forces there in greater numbers from all parts than when he left the place before. By general consent the chief command and management of the war was intrusted to Cassivelaun, whose territories were divided from the maritime states by the river Thames, about eighty miles distant from the sea. There had been before that time continual wars between Cassivelaun and the rest of the states in the island; but the Britons, being terrified on the arrival of the Romans, had conferred the chief direction of affairs on him at so important a conjuncture. Whilst the Romans were on their march they were briskly attacked by the British horse and chariots, whom they repulsed, with great slaughter, and drove them into the woods; but being too eager in the pursuit, lost some of their own men. Not long after this the Britons made a sudden sally out of the woods, and sharply attacked the advanced guard of the Romans, who little expected them, and were employed in fortifying their camp; upon which Cæsar immediately dispatched the two first cohorts of his legions to their assistance; but the Britons, whilst the soldiers stood amazed at their new way of fighting, boldly broke through the midst of them, and returned again without the loss of a man. (fn. 11) Quintus Laberius Durus was slain in this ac- tion, but some fresh cohorts coming up, the Britons were at last repulsed. This is Cæsar's account; but our historian, Henry of Huntingdon, says, (fn. 12) that in this engagement, Labienus, the tribune, and his battalion, being incompassed by the Britons, were all slain, and Cæsar perceiving the day was lost, and that the Britons were to be encountered more by art than strength, determined, before his loss was too great, to save himself by slight; upon which the Britons, pursuing the Romans, killed many of them, and were at last restrained, only by the contiguity of the woods; and Bede goes farther, and tells us, the Britons gained the victory. (fn. 13)

This engagement happening in the view of the whole Roman army, they all perceived that the legionary soldiers were not equal to cope with such an enemy, as the weight of their armour would not permit them to pursue, nor durst they go too far from their colours. Neither could their cavalry encounter them without great danger, as the Britons often counterseited a retreat, and having drawn them from the legions, would leap from their chariots and fight on foot, to a great advantage. For the engagements of the cavalry, whether they retreated or pursued, were attended with one and the same danger. To which may be added, that the Britons never fought in close battalions, but in small parties, at a great distance from one another, each of them having their particular post allotted, whence they received supplies, and the weary were relieved by those who were fresh and untired. The next day the Britons posted themselves on the hills, at some distance from the Roman camp, appearing but seldom, and with less eagerness to harrass the enemy's horse than the day before. But about noon, when Cæsar had sent out three legions and all the cavalry, under the command of C. Trebonius, to forage, they suddenly rushed on the foragers from all parts, insomuch as to fall in with the legions and their standards. But the Romans returning the attack briskly, drove them back, nor did the cavalry, (who depended on the legions, which followed close after, to sustain them in case of necessity) desist from pursuing the Britons, till they had entirely routed them. Great numbers of whom were slain; for the Romans pursued them so close, that they had no opportunity either of rallying, making a stand, or forsaking their chariots. Upon this rout the British auxiliaries, which had come from all parts, left them; nor did the Britons ever after this engage the Romans with their united forces.— From hence Cæsar marched his army to the river Thames, towards the territories of Cassivelaun, which river was fordable only in one place, and that with great difficulty, and on his arrival there, he saw the British forces drawn up in a considerable body on the opposite bank, which was fortified with sharp stakes; they had likewise driven many stakes of the same sort so deep into the bottom of the river, that the tops of them were covered with the water. Notwithstanding Cæsar had intelligence of this from the prisoners and deserters, yet he ordered his army to pass the river, which they did with such resolution and entrepidity, (though the water took them up to the neck) that the Britons, not being able to sustain their assault, abandoned the bank, and sled. Cassivelaun, now despairing of success by a battle, disbanded the greatest part of his forces, and contented himself with watching the motions of the Romans, from time to time, and betaking himself to the woods, and other places, inaccessible to the Romans. In the mean time several states had submitted themselves to Cæsar; and Cassivelaun, to divert him from pursuing his conquests, sent his messengers into Kent, which was then governed by four petty princes; Cingetorix, Carnilius, Taximagulus, and Segonax, whom Cæsar stiles Kings, and commanded them to raise what forces they could, and suddenly attack the camp where his ships were laid up; which they did, but were repulsed, with great slaughter, in a sally made by the Romans, who took Cingetorix prisoner, and returned, without any loss, to their trenches.

Upon the news of this defeat Cassivelaun, reflecting on the many losses he had sustained, that his country was laid waste, and that several of the neighbouring states had submitted, sent messengers to Cæsar to treat of a surrender. As the summer was already far spent, Cæsar, who was determined to winter in Gaul, to prevent sudden incursions there, readily hearkened to their proposals, demanded hostages, and imposed an annual tribute on the country. Having received the hostages he marched his army back to the sea shore; where, finding his ships refitted, he caused them to be launched, and as he had a great number of captives, and some of his ships had been lost in the storm, he resolved to transport his army at two voyages. But as most of the ships which were sent back from Gaul, after they had landed the soldiers that were first carried over, and of those which Labienus had built for him, were driven back by contrary winds, Cæsar, after having long expected them in vain, lest the winter should prevent his voyage, the equinox being near at hand, crouded his soldiers closer than he designed, and taking the opportunity of an extraordinary calm, set sail about ten o'clock at night, and arrived safe with his whole fleet at the continent by break of day. It is conjectured, that this second expedition of Cæsar's was in May, and that he returned to Gaul about the middle of September; for, in a letter to Cicero, from Britain, dated September the 1st, he says, he was come to the sea side in order to embark.

Such is the account given by Cæsar of his two expeditions into Britain, who, in penning his Commentaries, seems to have framed the whole much to his own advantage. Indeed, no one can read the particulars of these expeditions in them without being sensible, that some circumstances must have been omitted, (for, in some parts, he is scarce consistent with himself,) and that whatever was not to his honour, he has passed over in silence. As a proof of which, let us consider Cæsar's design in passing over hither, and attacking the Britons, and the events of it. He tells us, that he made a descent, with two legions only, in an enemy's country, in the sight of an army, formidable for number, bravery, and peculiar method of fighting, and afterwards in a battle put their united forces to flight. That on his landing, with a much larger force, the second time, he drove the Britons from their advantageous post on the banks of a river, and afterwards from their strong fortification in the woods; that he then routed the British army and their auxiliaries, which had been assembled from all parts of the island; and, what is more wonderful, he passed the Thames at a ford, which was guarded by a numerous army, stuck full of sharp stakes, and so deep as to take the soldiers up to their chins. Such continued scenes of good fortune, it would be imagined, would have secured him success in the design and resolution with which he set sail from Gaul, of conquering Britain, and reducing it to a Roman province, as Dion Cassius positively asserts. Yet, notwithstanding his gaining such victories over the Britons every where; his passing the Thames in spight of every obstacle, his vanquishing and routing Cassivelaun, and obliging him to disband most of his forces, in despair of being able to cope with him; his becoming master of the capital of that prince; and the Britons submitting and suing for peace: notwithstanding all these advantages, he was content with ordering Mandubratius to be restored, in the room of Cassivelaun, to the kingdom of the Trinobantes; which command was never executed; for on Cassivelaun's making his submission to Cæsar, he restored him again to his favour, only imposing an easy tribute on him, and then quickly, without fortifying any one place, or leaving any troops in the island, he set sail again for the continent.

So trivial a satisfaction, instead of the conquest of Britain, evidently shews, that the success acquired by Cæsar, in these expeditions, came far short of the idea he endeavours to give us of it. It serves to confirm the testimony of Lucan, who taxes him with turning his back to the Britons; of Dion Cassius, who says, the Roman infantry were entirely routed in a battle by them, and that Cæsar retired from hence without effecting any thing; and of Tacitus, who writes, that Cæsar rather shewed the Romans the way to Britain, than put them in possession of it; and who in another place makes one of the Britons say, that their ancestors had driven out Julius Cæsar from this island. (fn. 14)

WHATEVER promises the Britons had made to Cæsar, in order to get rid of him, they troubled themselves little about the performance of them; and the civil wars which ensued among the Romans were, in great measure, the cause of their neglect of Britain, which continued a long while after peace was restored, as Tacitus elegantly expresses in these words:— "Next follow the civil wars, and the arms of the princes turned against the common-wealth; and hence Britain was long forgot, even in peace." (fn. 15) This neglect of Britain continued till the reign of Claudius, near the space of a whole century, as all the Roman historians acknowledge; (fn. 16) during which time the inhabitants of it lived at their own disposal; and, as Dion says, were governed by their own kings. Augustus, indeed, twice made a shew of compelling the Britons to fulfil their promises made to his predecessor; and Horace has paid Augustus a compliment on this occasion in more than one of his odes; (fn. 17) but the British princes, by courting his friendship by presents and artful addresses, found means to persuade him to give over his design; and Cunobeline, who is said to have succeeded Tenuantius, the successor of Cassivelaun, even caused coins to be stamped after the manner of the Romans; some of which are still to be seen in the cabinets of the curious, having the word Tascia on their reverse, signifying, according to our antiquaries, tribute; for the payment of which it is concluded this money was designed; for though brass and iron rings of a certain weight served, as Cæsar informs us, for their current coin, yet the Romans exacted their tribute in gold and silver, of which latter metal are these coins. Caligula, the successor of Tiberius, formed a design against Britain, but never put it in execution, which Tacitus ascribes to his instability, and the ill success of his vast enterprises in Germany; and Suetonius tells us, that he did no more than receive Adminius, (called also by our writers Guiderius) the son of Cunobeline, who surrendered himself to that emperor with the few men he had with him, having been expelled his own country by his father. Indeed he made a kind of mock expedition with his army as far as the sea shore opposite to Britain; but being informed the Britons were prepared to receive him, instead of pursuing his design, he ordered his soldiers to fill their helmets with shells, which he called the spoils of the conquered ocean; and then sending his vainglorious letters to the senate, implying the conquest of Britain, he soon followed them to Rome himself. (fn. 18)

The Britons may be said to have continued hitherto free from the Roman yoke; but in the reign of Claudius, the successor of Caligula, great part of the island was brought under subjection to Rome, and the rest by degrees under the succeeding emperors. In the time of the emperor Claudius, Cunobeline being dead, his two sons, Togodumnus and Caractacus, reigned in Britain in his stead. In their reign, one Bericus, (who he was is not known) being driven out of the island for attempting to raise a sedition, fled, with those of his party, to Rome, and being highly provoked against his countrymen, persuaded the emperor to invade Britain. On the other hand, the Britons, resenting the emperor's receiving the fugitives, and his refusing to deliver them up, denied the tribute he then demanded of them, and prohibited all commerce with the Romans. As Claudius wanted only a pretence for the war, he was not sorry they afforded him one so plausible; he was then in his third consulate, and was ambitious of atchieving something that might entitle him to a triumph; therefore he made choice of Britain for his province, and gave orders to Plautius, then Prætor in Gaul, to transport those legions he had with him into Britain, and begin the expedition, whilst he was preparing to follow him, if there should be occasion. (fn. 19) But the Roman soldiers, perhaps, remembering the rough reception the Britons had formerly given to Julius Cæsar, and being, as they said, unwilling to make war beyond the end of the world, at first refused to follow him or obey his commands. However, they were at last prevailed on to embark; and putting to sea in three different parties, lest their landing should be hindered, they made towards Britain, and landed without opposition; for the Britons having been informed of a mutiny in the Roman army, did not expect so sudden an alteration, and had, therefore, made no preparations to oppose them. It is generally supposed that the emperor sent Plautius into Britain in his third consulate, which fixes it in the year 43; as soon as he had landed he seems to have been very desirous of coming to a battle as soon as possible; but the Britons did all they could to avoid it, and kept themselves in small parties behind their morasses and among their hills, in hopes of tiring out the enemy with skirmishes and delays till winter, when they imagined Plautius would go and winter in Gaul, as Julius Cæsar had before. This resolution much disconcerted the Roman general, who, notwithstanding these difficulties, found means first to attack Caractacus, and afterwards Togodumnus, and defeated them both. He then reduced part of the Dobuni, whence he marched on in quest of the Britons, whom he found carelessly encamped on the farther bank of a river, (thought by some to have been the Severn, (fn. 20) ) imagining the Romans could not pass it without a bridge; but Plautius sending over the Germans, who were used to pass the most rapid streams, in their armour, they fell upon the astonished Britons, who were forced, after a most obstinate resistance, to betake themselves to slight. From hence the Britons betook themselves to the Thames, towards the mouth of it, and being acquainted with the nature of the places which were firm and fordable, passed easily; whereas the enemy, in pursuing them, ran great hazards. But the Germans, having swam over the river, and others getting over by a bridge higher up, the Britons were surrounded on all sides, and great numbers of them slain. And the Romans, pursuing too eagerly, fell among the bogs and morasses, and lost great numbers of their own men. Upon this indifferent success, and because the Britons were so far from being daunted at the death of Togodumnus, (who had been slain in one of these battles) that they made preparations with greater fury to revenge it, Plautius fearing the worst, drew back his forces, and taking care to secure the conquests he had already made, sent to Rome to the emperor Claudius to come to his assistance, as he was ordered to do, if his affairs should be in a dangerous situation. It is plain, from Dion Cassius's account of this expedition, that Plautius waited for the emperor on the south, or Kentish side of the Thames. From his fear of the preparations and fury of the Britons, it is most likely he chose himself an advantageous situation for this purpose, capable of containing his forces, and which he, no doubt strongly entrenched and fortified. It has been thought by many, that the place of his encampment was where those large remains of a Roman camp and entrenchment are still to be seen on Kestondown, near Bromley. Indeed, its nearness to the Thames, as well as its size, strength, and many other circumstances, induce one to think it could hardly be made for any other purpose.

The emperor Claudius no sooner received this news than he set out from Rome with a mighty equipage; and, to strike the more terror, he brought with him several elephants; having pursued his journey, partly by land and partly by sea, till he came to the ocean, he sailed over, and landed in Britain, and immediately marched to join Plautius, who still waited for him near the Thames. Having taken upon himself the chief command, the whole army passed that river, and in a set battle gave the Britons a signal overthrow. After this he took Camulodunum; supposed by some to have been Maldon; by others Colchester; and by Dr. Gale, Walden, the royal seat of Cunobeline, and a great number of prisoners in it; many by force, and others by surrender. (fn. 21) From the mention Suetonius makes of Claudius's expedition hither, it is insinuated, his conquest in Britain cost no blood. Bede, we may suppose, was of the same opinion, as in his account of it he even copies Suetonius's words: but Dion Cassius, from whom we have the most particular description of this war, gives the above very different account of it. (fn. 22) Whichever the fact was, part of Britain being thus subdued, Claudius disarmed the inhabitants, and appointed Plautius to govern them, and ordered him to subdue those who remained as yet unconquered. To such as had submitted, he generously forgave the confiscation of their estates, which obliged them to such a degree, that they erected a temple to him, and paid him divine honors. The emperor, having staid in Britain about sixteen days, set out from hence on his return to Rome, having sent before him the news of his victories. And though he had conquered but a very small part of this island, yet, on his arrival at Rome, he was rewarded with a triumph, and many other honors, the same as had been decreed to other conquerors, after they had reduced whole kingdoms. (fn. 23) After this, the several governors of Britain, sent over by the Romans, had various success against the Britons; one while the Romans through fear of them taking care not to provoke them by any act of hostility, giving to their cowardly inaction the specious name of peace, and at another time maintaining their conquests, and reducing several warlike states to their empire. In this situation Britain remained till the celebrated Cneius Julius Agricola was sent to command in it, in the reign of the emperor Vespasian, in the year 78; (fn. 24) who not only, by his bravery, extended the Roman empire through Wales and the farthest part of Scotland; but by his prudent management, reconciled the inhabitants to the Roman government; by which means the Britons began to live more contented, and in a state of peace under the Romans; a state which, through the neglect and connivance of former governors, had been, till then, no less dreadful than that of war. For the purpose, he employed his winters here in measures extremely advantageous to the empire; so that the people, wild and dispersed over the country, might, by a taste of pleasures, be reconciled to inactivity and repose, he encouraged them privately, and publicly assisted them to build temples, houses, and places of public resort. He took care to have the sons of their chiefs educated in the liberal sciences, preferring their genius to that of their neighbours, the Gauls; and such was his success, that those who had lately scorned to learn the Roman language, seemed now fond of its elegancies. From that time many of the Britons began to assume the Roman apparel, and the use of the gown grew frequent among them. Thus, by degrees, they proceeded to the charms and allurements of vice and effeminacy, in their galleries, baths, entertainments, and other kinds of luxury; all which were, as Tacitus judiciously observes, by the inexperienced, stiled politeness, though in reality they were only baits of slavery.

Agricola having spent eight years in Britain, ordered the admiral of his fleet to sail round it; which he happily accomplished, and returned, with great reputatation, to the port whence he had departed, and thence proved Britain to be, as it was long thought before, an island. (fn. 25) Though Britain was thus, after so many struggles and contests, entirely reduced, yet the Romans did not long continue masters of it, at least, in Caledonia; for what Agricola won, was, on his being recalled soon after, lost by Domitian, in whose reign the farther, or northern, parts of Britain were left to the natives of them, the Romans contenting themselves with the hither, or southern, part which was reduced to a complete province, not governed by consular or proconsular deputies, but accounted præsidal, and appropriated to the emperors, as being annexed to the empire, after the division of provinces by Augustus, and having proprætors of its own.

The Romans had continued conflicts after this with the northern inhabitants of Britain, the Scots and the Picts. The first mention made of the former infesting this island, is in the year 360. (fn. 26) They landed first from Ireland, as the Picts had done before from Scandinavia. These conflicts were attended with various success. At length, in order to restrain these people, and to prevent their making incursions into their provinces, they caused several walls at different times to be built across from sea to sea, which separated at the same time that it defended the provincial part of Britain, in the possession of the Romans, from the northern part, in the hands of the barbarians. During the whole of this period, the county of Kent, notwithstanding the bloody wars and insurrections which continually overspread the rest of Britain, seems to have continued in peace, and in a quiet subjection to the Roman government; for though at first the inhabitants of it contended with much bravery in defence of their liberty against the Romans, and did not submit to the yoke without much bloodshed, yet, in the end, they became pleased with their situation, and, as it were, one nation, with their conquerors, and were, at last, no less unwilling to part with them than they had been at first to receive them. At length, soon after the year 395, the famous Stilico, who governed the western empire during the minority of the emperor Honorius, sent over a legion into Britain, (fn. 27) by which means the Saxons, who are said to have first infested Britain in the time of the emperor Valentinian, anno 364, (fn. 28) being overcome, the sea was become quiet; and the Picts having lost their strength, Britain was delivered from her fears. About this time a proper officer was appointed, to guard the coasts against the attempts of the Saxons, with the title of Comes Littoris Saxonica. Not long after, the Roman empire being overrun by several barbarous nations, most of the Roman troops quartered in Britain were recalled, and the island was again lest open to its former enemies; whereupon the natives, expecting no assistance from Honorius, set up an emperor of their own, two of whom, Mark and Gratian, being after a very short reign successively murdered, (fn. 29) were succeeded by Constantine, a common soldier, who was inspired with such an opinion of his own merit and fortune, that he formed a design of making himself master of the whole empire. With this view he passed over into Gaul, taking with him the few Roman forces that had been left here, and such of the Britons as were able to bear arms. The unhappy Britons, thus left to themselves, were more harrassed than ever by the Scots, Picts, and other northern nations, who, putting all to fire and sword, soon reduced them to a miserable condition. In this situation, after having often implored in vain the emperor's assistance, they withdrew their obedience to Rome, and no longer obeyed the laws of the empire. The emperor Honorius seemed to approve their conduct; for, by his letters, he permitted, and even advised them to provide for their own safety, which was an implicit resignation of the sovereignty of Britain. This happened, according to Bede, a little after the taking of Rome by Alaric, king of the Goths, in the year of Christ 410. (fn. 30) The Britons, now again a free people, seemed at first to have fought with some success against their irreconcileable enemies; but being in the end overpowered, they had recourse again to the emperor, imploring his protection, and promising an entire obedience to Rome, provided they were delivered from the tyranny and oppression of their merciless enemies. Honorious, touched with compassion, sent a legion to their relief, which landing unexpectedly in Britain, cut in pieces great numbers of the Scots and Picts, and obliged them to retire beyond the friths of Edinburgh and Dumbarton; and then, after advising the Britons to build a wall on the isthmus, from sea to sea, they returned to the continent, where their assistance was wanted, to repulse the barbarians, breaking from all quarters into the empire. But though this advice was immediately followed by the Britons, yet it was of no service to them; for the wall being built only with turf, their enemies soon broke it down in several places, and pouring in upon their territories, like a torrent, committed more dreadful ravages than ever, destroying every thing with fire and sword. (fn. 31) After so many miseries and calamities, the unhappy Britons sent deputies once more to the emperor, who appearing before him with their garments rent, and dust on their heads, prevailed on him to send new forces to their relief. These hastening into Britain, fell upon the enemy, not in the least apprised of their arrival, and made a dreadful havoc among them, whilst they were roving up and down in quest of booty. The Scots and Picts being thus driven beyond the friths, the Romans, who had no ambitious views in assisting the distressed Britons, but were come over merely out of compassion, told them plainly, they were to expect no farther assistance from the emperor; that the troops he had now sent were ordered back to the continent, and that they were therefore obliged to take their last farewel of Britain, and entirely abandon the island. After this declaration, Gallio of Ravenna, commander of the Roman troops, exhorted the Britons to defend themselves for the future by fighting manfully for their country, their wives their children, and, what ought to be dearer than life itself, their liberty, against an enemy no stronger than themselves, provided they would exert their ancient courage and resolution. And that they might the better withstand the attacks of the enemy, he advised them to repair the wall built by Severus, not with turf, but with stone, offering them the assistance of his soldiers, and his own direction in the work. Upon this the Britons, jointly with the Romans, carried on their work with such diligence, that though the wall was eight feet in breadth, and twelve in heighth, it was soon finished. They likewise built towers at convenient distances on the east coast, against the Saxons and others; who, coming from Germany, made frequent descents on that side.

The Roman commander then leaving them patterns of the weapons he had taught them to make, after many encouraging exhortations, took his last farewel of Britain, telling the inhabitants not to expect their return again; and from this departure may be dated the total desertion of Britain by them, and the final period of the Roman empire in this island. (fn. 32) But there is a great difference among writers about the year in which the Romans may be said to have abandoned Britain; some dating it from Gallio's departure, others from their application to Ætius, the conful, for his assistance, and accordingly they place this event in the years 426, 435, and 437. Usher says, Gallio arrived in Britain, with his forces, in 425, and that he left it in 427, which seems the most probable account of any.

That part of Britain which lies south of the two Friths (for the northern parts still maintained their independency) having been reduced into a complete province by Agricola, in the reign of the emperor Domitian, had been put under the government of an officer, who bore the title of Proprætor, being the emperor's lieutenant, and the inhabitants, who were become subjects of the empire, endured all the hardships that usually fall to the lot of the vanquished; exhorbitant taxes were laid on them on various pretences; their estates were frequently taken from them, and given to the veterans that were continually coming to settle in the island, and their youth were made soldiers and dispersed into the other provices of the empire. Under this form of government the province of Britain continued to the time of the emperor Constantine, who, when he new modelled the empire, and made a general regulation for the better government of his dominions, divided them into four large Prœfectures, viz. Italy, Gaul, the East, and Illyria, in which were contained fourteen great provinces. Britain, one of these, was made subject to the Prœfectus Prœtorio, or Præfect of Gaul, (fn. 33) and was governed by a vicar, or deputy, who was stiled Spectabilis. Before this time, Britain was divided into two provinces only, but Constantine divided it into three; the first was called Britannia Prima, containing those parts south of the Thames; the second Britannia Secunda, containing all the country west of the Severn, to the Irish sea, now called Wales; the third province was distinguished by the name of Maxima Cæfarienfis, and contained all the rest of the country lying northward of the Thames, and eastward of the Severn.— Pancirollus, who wrote his Notitia somewhat later than the time of the Emperors Arcadius and Honorius, viz. before the middle of the fifth century, in his description of the government of Britain, tells us, that the lieutenant, or vicegerent, of the Præfect of Gaul, had then under him certain confular deputies, and præsides, or presidents, who, with several inferior officers, managed all civil and criminal matters. Besides which, there were subordinate to him at that time in Britain three different courts, or departments, under the direction of three principal officers, namely, the Commes Britanniarum, or Count of Britain; the Dux Britanniarum, or Duke of Britain; and the Comes Littoris Saxonici, or Count of the Saxon Shore.

The first of these feems to have been merely a civil officer, whose jurisdiction was over the inland parts of the island, and the western coasts; the second seems to have been military, whose station was in the North, where he had a large body of troops garrifoned under his command, to defend those parts from the inroads of the Scots and Picts, and the third had the guard of the eastern and southern coasts, from the depredations of the Saxon pirates; for which purpose he had likewife a sufficient number of troops under his command, stationed in this part of Britain. The government of the honourable the Count of the Saxon Shore in Britain, extended over the counties of Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Suffex, Hampshire, and Kent, on the coasts of which, or at least near them, the forces under his command were stationed. Those in the county of Kent were:

The commander of the Tungrian soldiers stationed at Dover.

The commander of the detachment of soldiers of Tournay, at Limne.

The commander of the first cohort of Vetascians, at Reculver.

The commander of the second legion, called Augufta, at Richborough.

The commander of the detachment of the Abulci, at Anderida. (fn. 34)

The military force kept by the Romans in Britain was very considerable; from the time of Claudius to that of the emperor Vespasian, there were four legions constantly in this island, and afterwards three, till the Romans were forced to recal them, by degrees, to make head against their intestine enemies, and the Goths, and other barbarous nations, who extended their ravages to all parts of the empire.

There remains little more to be said of the Romans whilst in Britain, that concerns their transactions in this county, further than to take notice, that in order to facilitate their marches, and prepare an easy quick communication throughout the island, they made several highways from one end of it to the other; particularly in this county they made three public or consular ways, besides others of an inferior sort, and fixed their usual stations and mansions upon them. That in process of time, they built several watch-towers, forts, and castles, on the coast, as well to awe the Britons, and preserve a safe intercourse with the continent, as to guard against the insults of the Saxon pirates, all which will, in other parts of this work, be more particularly mentioned.


  • 1. Cæsar Com. de Bell. Gall. lib. iv. cap. 20. et seq. Hors. Brit. Rom. p. 3. Suet in vit. Cæs.
  • 2. Cæsar Ib. cap. 23. See H. Huntingdon, lib. i. p. 301.
  • 3. Cæsar de Bell. Gall. lib. iv. cap. 25 et feq.
  • 4. Cæsar de Bell. Gall. lib. iv. cap. 31, et seq.
  • 5. H. Huntingdon, lib. i. p. 301.
  • 6. Lib. i. cap. 2.
  • 7. P. 27.
  • 8. See Hors. Brit. Rom. p. ix. Cæsar de Bell. Gall. cap. 24.
  • 9. Cæsar de Bell. Gall. lib. v.
  • 10. Camd. Brit. p. 248.
  • 11. Cæsar Ibid. cap. 15.
  • 12. Lib. i. p. 301.
  • 13. Lib. i. cap. 2.
  • 14. Lucan, lib. ii. ver. 572. Dion Cassius, lib. xxxix. and xl. Tacitus in vit. Agric. cap. 13. and Annal. lib. xii. cap. 34.
  • 15. Tacitus in vit. Agric. cap. 13.
  • 16. Sueton. in vit. Claud. c. 17. Eutrop. lib. vii. c. 13.
  • 17. Lib. iii. ode 5; lib. iv. ode 15; and lib. i. ode 35.
  • 18. Tacitus in Vita Agric. Strabo. Suet. in Calig. Dion. lib. lix. See Camden's Introd. p. cxix.
  • 19. Suet. in Claud. Dion, lib. lx.
  • 20. Horsley, p. 30.
  • 21. See Horsley, p. 37.
  • 22. Dion, lib. lx. Suet. in Claud. cap. ii.
  • 23. See Phil. Trans. No. 356.
  • 24. Tacit. in vit. Agric.
  • 25. Tacitus, Ib.
  • 26. Alford's Annals.
  • 27. Spartian in Hadrian, p. 6; Jul. Cap. in Anton. c. 5; Spartian in Sever. Bede, cap. 5; Burt. on Anton. p. 99; Usher Ec, Brit. Antiq. p. 595; Claud. de Bell. Get. ver. 415.
  • 28. Alford's Annals.
  • 29. Claud. de Laud. Stil. lib. ii. lb. in Eutropium, lib. ii. lb. Epithal. &c. Zos. lib. ix. cap. ii. See Bede Eccles. Hist. lib. i. cap 11.
  • 30. Zos. lib. vi. Asserii Annales, p. 142; Usher, p. 216; Alford ad an. 410, an urb. Cond. 1161; Bede, lib. i. cap. 11.
  • 31. Gild. Excid. Brit. cap. 12, 13; Bede, Ib. cap. 12.
  • 32. Bede, Ibid.
  • 33. Zofimus Eccles. Hist. lib. ii.
  • 34. Notitia Pancirolli. See Seldon's Tit. of Hon. p. 327.