Commentaries on the Gallic War


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The First Invasion of Britain


Cæsar took advantage of favorable weather and set sail about the third watch, having first directed the cavalry to march to the further harbor, embark there, and follow him. They were rather slow in getting through their work; but Cæsar, with the leading ships, reached Britain about the fourth hour; and there, standing in full view on all the heights, he saw an armed force of the enemy. The formation of the ground was peculiar, the sea being so closely walled in by abrupt heights that it was possible to throw a missile from the ground above onto the shore. Cæsar thought the place most unsuitable for landing, and accordingly remained till the ninth hour, waiting at anchor for the other ships to join him.

Cæsar, meanwhile, assembled the generals and tribunes . . . and explained his own plans, charging them to bear in mind the requirements of war and particularly of seamanship, involving as it did rapid and irregular movements, and to see that all orders were carried out smartly and at the right moment. The officers then dispersed. When wind and tide were together in his favor, Cæsar gave the signal, weighed anchor, and, sailing on about seven miles further, ran the ships aground on an open and evenly-shelving shore.1

The natives knew what the Romans intended. Sending on ahead their cavalry and charioteers — a kind of warriors whom they habitually employ in action — they followed with the rest of their force and attempted to prevent our men from disembarking. It was very difficult to land, for these reasons. The size of the ships made it impossible for them to approach except in deep water; the soldiers did not know the ground, and with their hands loaded, and weighted by their heavy, cumbrous armor, they had to jump down from the ships, keep their foothold in the surf, and fight the enemy all at once. The enemy, on the contrary, had all their limbs free, they knew the ground perfectly, and standing on dry land or moving forward a little into the water, they threw their missiles boldly and drove their horses into the sea, which they were trained to enter. Our men were unnerved by the situation. Having no experience of this kind of warfare, they did not show the same dash and energy that they generally did in battles on land.

Cæsar, noticing this, ordered the galleys, with the look of which the natives were not familiar, and which were easier to handle, to sheer off a little from the transports, row hard, and range alongside of the enemy’s flank. Slingers, archers, and artillery were to shoot from their decks and drive the enemy out of the way. This manoeuvre was of great service to our men. The natives, alarmed by the build of the ships, the motion of the oars, and the strangeness of the artillery, stood still, and then drew back a little. And now, as our soldiers were hesitating, chiefly because of the depth of the water, the standardbearer of the 10th legion, praying that his attempt might redound to the success of the legion, cried, "Leap down, men, unless you want to abandon the eagle to the enemy. I, at all events, shall have done my duty to my country and my general." Uttering these words in a loud voice, he threw himself overboard and advanced, bearing the eagle, against the foe. Then, calling upon each other not to suffer such a disgrace, the men leaped all together from the ship. Seeing this, their comrades in the nearest ships followed them, and moved close up to the enemy.

There was fierce fighting on both sides. Our men, however, were in great confusion, because they could not keep their ranks unbroken or get firm foothold or follow their respective standards. . . . The enemy, on the other hand, knew all the shallows. When, from their standpoint on shore they saw a few men disembarking one by one, they urged on their horses and . . . attacked them before the Romans were ready. Others again got on the exposed flank of an entire company and plied them with missiles. Cæsar, noticing this, ordered the men-of-war’s boats and also the scouts to be manned, and, whenever he saw any of his soldiers in difficulties, sent them to the rescue. Our men, as soon as they got upon dry land, followed by all their comrades, charged the enemy and put them to flight, but could not pursue them far, because the cavalry had not been able to keep their course and make the island. This was the only drawback to Cæsar’s usual good fortune.

1 Cæsar, , iv, 23–26.

1 The landing was between Deal and Walmer near the white cliffs of Dover; the date, August 26, 55 B. C.


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Chicago: "The First Invasion of Britain," Commentaries on the Gallic War in Readings in Early European History, ed. Webster, Hutton (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1926), 207–208. Original Sources, accessed September 22, 2023,

MLA: . "The First Invasion of Britain." Commentaries on the Gallic War, Vol. iv, in Readings in Early European History, edited by Webster, Hutton, Boston, Ginn and Company, 1926, pp. 207–208. Original Sources. 22 Sep. 2023.

Harvard: , 'The First Invasion of Britain' in Commentaries on the Gallic War. cited in 1926, Readings in Early European History, ed. , Ginn and Company, Boston, pp.207–208. Original Sources, retrieved 22 September 2023, from