Wednesday, 5 February 2014

The Caesar/Cassivellaunos deal

Gaius Julius Caesar
(Berlin, Altes Museum).

"...Cassivellaunus, alarmed by so many reverses, by the devastation of his country, and above all by the defection of his allies, sent envoys to Caesar to obtain terms of surrender, employing Commius as an intermediary. Caesar had decided to return to the continent for the winter, for fear any sudden rising should break out in Gaul. The summer, too, was nearly over, and he knew that the Britons could easily hold out for the short time that remained. Accordingly he granted Cassivellaunus' request for terms, demanding hostages, fixing an annual tribute to be paid by the Britons to the Roman government, and strictly forbidding Cassivellaunus to molest Mandubracius or the Trinovantes."
Caesar, V, 22.

You really have to wonder how many of Cassivelluanos' reverses were staged to give Caesar the impression that the British commander-in chief was ready to negotiate terms of surrender. Just as Caesar knew that the Britons could hold out and thus force the Romans to winter in Britain, Cassivellaunos was also, obviously, aware of the same situation. While the benefits to the Romans, apart from being allowed to return to Gaul, seem to have largely evaporated in the following years, Cassivellaunos was able to see to it that he and his allies greatly benefitted from Roman trade. The real losers in Britain were a tribe that Caesar never met in battle.

The Durotriges, who lived in what is now Dorset and parts of Hampshire had their port at Hengistbury in a well defended position. The sea was too rough for any beach landing below the promontory, the port was in the shallow, calm, water of Christchurch harbour. A bank defended the site from the land side. Although too shallow for Roman galleys, Gaulish ships of the Coriosolites and perhaps also the Unelli brought Dressel 1a amphorae and much scrap metal for recycling at the Durotriges cuppleation hearths at Hengistbury. Earlier, argentiferous copper from the west country was refined there and we might also wonder what part the Durotriges and the Dobunni took in the British tin trade.

 The surrender term benefits to Cassivellaunos appear to have been far less vaporous than they did to Caesar. The Roman trade took a sudden shift from the south to benefit Cassivellaunos in the north.  From that point onward, no British bronze objects have the characteristic high cobalt to nickel ratio seen prior to about 50 BC and the metal is of the continental alloys. The Catuvellauni began to start a shift toward being one of the dominant British tribes along with the Atrebates, Commios' tribe south of the Thames. The Cantii of Kent who were in the most favorable position for continental trade soon became a bargaining chip between the two more powerful tribes. The Durotriges, cut off from metal imports, embarked on a slow decline that saw the end of their silver currency in the first decade or so of the 1st century AD, and the continental Coriosolite port was destroyed by the Romans at about the same time. The large recycling hoards at Jersey, which had formerly been shipped to Hengistbury remained where they lie in the ground.

So who won in Britain -- Caesar or Cassivellaunos? I think it was really a draw -- but one of Cassivellaunos' doing.

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