Julius Caesar and his army invaded Britain in 54 BC, taking what archaeologists now believe were their first tentative footsteps in Kent. A multitude of Roman ships had initially made their way towards Pegwell Bay on the Isle of Thanet and researchers had never spotted this precise location before, perhaps because of its distance from mainland Britain. However, this particular spot matches fairly precisely with the accounts that Julius Caesar gave.
Some of the hints that Caesar gave at the time were his descriptions of the chosen land being visible from the ocean, the presence of a wide bay, and a mention of there being higher ground that was within reach. Upon landing, Julius Caesar and his army began preparations for building a fort here, according to the Independent.
The University of Leicester’s Dr. Alan Fitzpatrick explained why archaeologists and historians had never before considered the Isle of Thanet as being the spot where Julius Caesar first alighted in Britain.
“The site at Ebbsfleet lies on a peninsular that projects from the south eastern tip of the Isle of Thanet. Thanet has never been considered as a possible landing site before because it was separated from the mainland until the Middle Ages. However, it is not known how big the Channel that separated it from the mainland, the Wantsum Channel, was.”
It is Dr. Fitzpatrick’s belief that the Wantsum Channel would have been no real barrier to Julius Caesar’s army invading Britain, especially with their military prowess.
“The Wantsum Channel was clearly not a significant barrier to people of Thanet during the Iron Age and it certainly would not have been a major challenge to the engineering capabilities of the Roman army.”
The location where Caesar would have originally landed in Britain is now half a mile away from the coast, yet at the time of the Roman invasion it would have been much closer to the coast of the ocean. Where the Roman fort would have once stood is now a ditch which is approximately six feet deep and 16 feet in width.
When archaeologists conducted radiocarbon dating of remains in the area such as pottery, a javelin, and various iron weapons, they found that the age of these relics was wholly consistent with the time period of Julius Caesar.
— The Telegraph (@Telegraph) November 29, 2017
Besides Julius Caesar’s vivid accounts of his first invasion of Britain over 2,000 years ago, further writings of this momentous event have been left behind by such notables as Cicero and Tacitus. While it is estimated that there were probably around 800 Roman ships involved when Caesar first stepped onto British soil, up until now there has been no archaeological evidence which shows any kind of invasion.
When Dr. Alan Fitzpatrick described the landscape of the Isle of Thanet, he said that it would have had just the right terrain for Caesar’s landing with its higher ground and its perfect capability to hide the Roman army from nearby residents.
“The bay is big enough for the whole Roman army to have landed in the single day that Caesar describes. The 800 ships, even if they landed in waves, would still have needed a landing front 1-2 km wide. Caesar also describes how the Britons had assembled to oppose the landing but, taken aback by the size of the fleet, they concealed themselves on the higher ground. This is consistent with the higher ground of the Isle of Thanet around Ramsgate.”
It is fortunate that there was a project struck up to build a road at this location in Kent, or this particular spot may never have been discovered by archaeologists, as The Telegraph reports.
With the news of Julius Caesar’s first landing site in Britain, this area of Kent will continue to be investigated and BBC Four’s Digging For Britain will delve further into the exciting ramifications of this new discovery.