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4 | Britain Between Julius Caesar And Claudius – No one Invades

Julius left Britain after invading twice and he didn’t come back. What happened in the place after that? It’s all a bit fuzzy, but one thing we can know is that no bugger did any exciting invading. Find out how exactly they didn’t invade here.

Transcript – Britannia after Julius Caesar


This episode spans from 54 BC all the way to 40 AD, a mere 86 years, but is very very short. You can’t ignore that this could be because we are lazy, our excuse is that there wasn’t very much written down about what was going on in Britain. As we have mentioned before the Celts were not big on writing and for the Romans, Britain was still an island at the edge of the world. They had more important stuff to be worried about. Julius Caesar had invaded Britain, twice. And claimed victory, twice. When he left the second time, he didn’t return. It’s not easy to figure out what Julius plan for Britain had been. Were his two visits just a couple of quick expeditions to slap down some local nuisances and impress the folk back in Rome? Or was it meant to be the first moves to create a new province?  If you caught our last companion episode, you will remember that Julius got a bit busy after 54 BC, with some Civil Wars and Dictatorships to be running. So maybe he did have grand plans for Britain, but he just didn’t get round to it?

Either way, the Celts of Britain, or at least Southern England were on the Romans radar, but you would be reaching to suggest that Britain was under Roman control.

It’s also fair to say that the Roman leaders who followed Julius also had some stuff to do. Again there was the odd civil war, and then the beginnings of an Empire. Saying that they did do a bit of conquering in Europe around the Germanic tribes, so they had some spare time for it. It also looks like the Romans weren’t 100% pleased with that arrangement between them and Britain. For a start, part of Julius negotiations with the Briton tribes involved the payment of tribute, which probably stopped being paid – tribute being the country version of mafia-style protection payment., Strabo, a Roman writer who claimed this was not a problem. As he pointed out, it would take an army to be permanently in the British Isles to get the tribute owed. He also claimed that they got more cash from them in trade than they could get in tribute anyway. So why bother? Maybe he was making excuses to spare some Roman blushes, but as you will find out if you keep listening to our series, he really wasn’t wrong about how much the army would have to be involved in running Britannia.

Still, even with the cash from trade it seems that there was some interest in adding a British province to the newly minted Roman Empire. There was a Roman historian, called Cassius Dio, writing much later in the second and third centuries AD, who claims that Julius successor, Augustus planned invasions of Britain three times: in 34, 27 and 26 BC.  It’s a all a bit vague as to why in particular Augustus fancied attacking Britain, or even as to why he didn’t bother. Maybe it was over the tribute owed to him, or maybe the Britons were getting involved in uprisings in Gaul like they had been doing before when Julius was running Gaul. Whatever the reason it looks like in 27 BC Augustus headed towards Britain. Only he stopped in Gaul because they were kicking off. Apparently, there is some suggestion that the Britons were willing to come to terms in whatever argument they were having with the Romans, so there was no need for Augustus to invade anyway. So why the 26 BC plan to invade? If anyone can remember our episodes about Julius invading Britain, you will be familiar with the Britons approach to deal-making. A deal is made, but if it looks like it will be too much hassle for the Romans to enforce your side of it, then you can just ignore it. It sounds like they realised Augustus was too busy in Gaul and ignore the terms of the new deal – whatever they were. Presumably, Augustus was annoyed by this, so why was the 26 invasion called off? Maybe the Britons gave Augustus what he wanted in 26 BC, or maybe the delay paid off and Augustus really was too busy elsewhere to bother with them. It was probably a case of so many unconquered people so little time.

At one point he was even asked to intervene in the inter-tribal squabbles of the Britons. One of the chiefs doing the asking for the intervention went by the name, Dubnovellaunus, of the Trinovantes. This suggests that the promise of the Catuvellauni to leave the Trinovantes alone didn’t get passed down the generations, and it might have been these troubles that kicked of an aborted invasion in 27 or 26 BC. Even if Dubnovellaunus didn’t persuade Augustus to get involved, just him coming to see Augustus suggests that some Britons at least recognised that the Romans were top dogs in their corner of Britain, technically at least.

Now Britannia has entered the Roman sphere of consciousness (i.e. it’s not just some rock off Gaul) we know a bit more about the people on that rock. For example, we are pretty sure that the Catuvellauni attacked the Trinovantes and nicked their capital at Colchester. We also know that the Catuvellauni was ruled by two chiefs in a row called, Tasciovanus and Cunobelinus. The latter of which is turned into the character, Cymbeline, in the same entitled Shakespeare play. For any Shakespeare fans out there, it is worth pointing out that Cymbeline is called King of the Britons in the play, but there is no chance he was any more than the King of his corner of England. It’s unlikely the Britons around Scotland were much bothered by him.

Back to the slightly less fictional historical Celtic Britain, there has been plenty of archaeological evidence of trade with Rome from the Southern tribes such as the Catuvellauni, the Trinovantes and Atrebates. For example, there are loads of Amphorae (like bottles for wine and fancy olive oils) and the like from around this period that have been dug up. These are backed up by, as we have mentioned, Strabo claimed that the Romans were earning from British trade, and the Celts were paying their dues and customs to the Romans. This suggests that all of this was a proper system of trade, With Romans, or at least people from Roman provinces turning up with their goods and Briton goods going the other way. We are just guessing, but it seems possible that a few Romans may have moved over to Britain to help set it up. What we are saying is that Britain was now a part of the Roman world. It wasn’t just trading, the Atrebates even started minting coins with Latin in them referring to their chiefs as Rex, which is Latin for King. This could be them becoming more Roman to acknowledge that they are client kings under Roman rule. Alternatively, it could be a few Atrebates thinking the Romans are cool and wanted to adopt their affectations to seem cooler in front of the bigger tribes. Like nob heads who say ciao, despite being English. It wasn’t just one tribal leader trying to be a bit hipster, Cunobelinus, the Catuvellauni leader had Latin inscriptions on his coins saying that he was Tasciovanus’ son. Hipster or not, it shows that Roman influence didn’t leave the island with Julius and his ships.

It was nearly 100 years after Julius Caesar that a proper conquering of Britain was attempted. But before we get to that, let’s include Caligula. If you haven’t heard of Caligula, he is the poster boy for out of control Roman emperors. As had happened for Augustus, a leader of a Briton tribe turned up, in around 39/40 AD, asking for Caligula’s help. The Briton was Adinimus. He was the son of Cunobelinus, of the Catuvellauni, but it looks like he was King of a tribe from Kent called the Cantii. That suggests that the Catuvellauni had conquered the Cantii and installed his son as a client king. Roman historian Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, writing a bit later in 121 AD, claimed that Adinimus had been exiled by his dad, so if he had made him a king, they fell out later on. It’s possible that Adinimus problems were the cause of another aborted invasion of Britain.

What happened next depends on who you believe. Historians can’t quite agree on what happened, but a reasonable view of events is that Caligula headed North to Gaul, potentially with the aim of invading Britain. However, there was, as ever when Romans wanted to invade the island, a problem from elsewhere. Germanic tribes were attacking across the Rhine, so his soldiers were needed elsewhere. He was in Gaul long enough to build, what was by all accounts, a very nice lighthouse in Boulogne, but he made no attempt at Britain.

Now the sensible historical educated guess of events is out of the way, we can have a look at the far more interesting, very probably didn’t happen, events. Caligula wasn’t a popular Emperor, so Romans writing after his death weren’t overly complimentary about him. They claimed that Caligula reached the shore of the English Channel. He then sailed out into the sea a bit – not his whole army, just him – before returning to the beach. Then he arrayed his army on the beach, as if for battle, and sounded for an attack.


An attack on Britain.


While standing on the French coast.


Obviously not fancying a swim, the soldiers didn’t move. The order then came from Caligula, while sitting on a throne, to collect as many seashells as they could. This he called the spoils of war and claimed they had conquered the sea. Then Caligula went home.

As far as historians even consider this view of events, they tend to suggest that maybe the soldiers had refused to follow Caligula crossing the English Channel. As we have mentioned in previous episodes they weren’t fond of sailing and they particularly didn’t enjoy the English Channel. If that’s the case, then the seashell thing might have been a punishment for them, mocking their cowardice in the face of the sea. Whatever happened, Caligula didn’t make it to Britain.

And that’s all we have for you on what happened after Julius buggered off. In our next episode, we have a look at a proper invasion. We are weeks into it and we are finally about to see Roman Britain. In the meantime, there will be a companion Episode on what was going on in Rome after Julius got stabbed and the Romans actually invaded.


Nice one, cheers.