Bristol Beaufort by Tony Buttler

By Tony Buttler

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Caesar drew up both legions in battle formation and after a brief fight the Britons fled. The legionaries, lacking cavalry, conducted their pursuit on foot as far as they were able, killed a number of their opponents, and set fire to every building over a wide area. Later in the day, the British leaders hurriedly asked for peace (they’d tried this earlier in the campaign, too, later going back on their word). Caesar demanded twice the number of hostages offered, to secure lasting peace. What he did not tell the Britons was that, worried by the prospect of further gales, he had already decided to re-embark his troops that very night.

For the rest of the day the Britons contented themselves with containing the bridgehead. That night, the 2nd Legion under the command of Flavius Vespasian (a future Emperor) crossed the river upstream, using boats and locally built rafts. When the bridgehead was secure, the legionary engineers constructed a bridge. By dawn, two legions and some auxiliary units were in the bridgehead and had formed a line of battle facing downstream, while a third was crossing the bridge, and the fourth was marching towards it.

During the night, Plautius sent his Batavian swimmers (see sidebar ‘The Roman army’, earlier in this chapter) across the river, downstream of the enemy. At dawn, the startled Britons streamed out of their camp to attack, led by their chariots. A hail of javelins 21 22 Part I: Ancient and Medieval Warfare and arrows met them, aimed not at the men but at their horses. The attack broke down in such confusion that the campaign’s Roman historian commented, ‘not even the charioteers could save themselves’.

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