First Evidence of Julius Caesar's Invasion of Britain Could Rewrite History of the Roman Empire

Despite the fact that historians have widely accepted the fact that Julius Caesar led a Roman invasion of Britain in the year 55 B.C., any physical evidence of that invasion has been completely lacking—until now. Archaeologists from the University of Leicester and Kent County Council discovered what they believe to be a defensive ditch at Ebbsfleet, in Kent, with a surprising relic inside.

In addition to being a similar shape as one used in France’s Gallic War in 52 B.C., the location is one of the few possible options on the shores of Pegwell Bay, where the invasion purportedly occurred, that could have actually harbored Caesar’s army. His fleet was said to comprise 800 ships.

7-Pilum-tip-from-Ebbsfleet_trans_NvBQzQNjv4Bq4xT5l-MFJnBz_x35pw1I-fDlivAbbKtpUSEebSUMMuY The point of the Roman pilum found in the defensive ditch at Ebbsfleet. The Telegraph/UNIVERSITY OF LEICESTER

The Telegraph reported that the ditch itself is about 15 feet across and 6 feet deep. Radiocarbon dating, along with pottery recovered from the scene, place it in the 1st century B.C. The archaeologists also found animal bones and iron weapons, including a pilum—a Roman javelin.

“It’s probably the single most important object that we found,” Andrew Fitzpatrick, a Research Associate from the University of Leicester’s School of Archaeology and Ancient History, told Newsweek. “It’s not a British weapon…this particular style of weapon goes to the southern Alpine region, to northern Italy. The significance is that that’s where Caesar raised his legion; he recruited from that area.”

Taken all together, the evidence suggests that Pegwell Bay was the site of a Roman base during the first century B.C. The discovery will be broadcast November 29 on the BBC Four’s Digging For Britain.

The same layer of the ditch in which the archaeologists found the javelin also revealed human bones, some with cut marks apparently from weapons. Fitzpatrick said that while they haven’t completed the analyses, he believes they likely belonged to British soldiers. Romans would have been protected by their base’s rampart, and any soldiers who fell would have fallen inside it; British soldiers would have been more likely to be outside and left behind after they were killed.

In the past, archaeologists didn’t think Pegwell Bay could have been the army’s landing site because up until the Middle Ages it was separated from the mainland by the Wantsum Channel. But now that they’ve realized the site was already a Roman base, that separation is no longer considered an obstacle; Roman engineers would have been able to work around it.

“What we must do next is stop, analyze, and publish,” says Fitzpatrick. “This is only one bit it a much bigger project, looking at Julius Caesar’s invasion of Britain as a whole. This site is just one of several.”

4-Ebbsfleet-excavation-with-Pegwell-Bay-Ramsgate_trans_NvBQzQNjv4BqjZ74xHwVbP0tA0CUaGf3uwhDOFTbUsMHkVDDn2MqFbM View of the University of Leicester excavations at Ebbsfleet in 2016 showing Pegwell Bay and the cliffs at Ramsgate. The Telegraph/UNIVERSITY OF LEICESTER

In addition to confirming parts of history, the discovery may end up rewriting others. Caesar’s invasion has been widely considered a failure because he subsequently returned to France without leaving a conquering army behind in Britain. But professor Colin Haselgrove, the principal investigator for the project from the University of Leicester, told The Telegraph that Caesar had still set the stage for the invasion of emperor Claudius nearly a century later.