Julius Caesar is more popularly associated with the Roman invasion of Britain than the Emperor Claudius.However, whilst the former carried out a useful reconnaissance in 45BC, penetrated a much larger area with a considerably stronger force in 44BC, and ultimately won decisive victories in both years, he left no occupying force behind.This did not arrive until 43AD when Claudius\' general Aulus Plautius established a bridgehead at Rutupiae, modern Richborough, in an excellent natural harbour on the Kent coast.It is not known exactly where Julius Caesar made either of his landings.They certainly weren\'t at Rutupiae, either because he didn\'t know about the place (a failure of intelligence) or because, nearly a century earlier, it was not as suitable or accessible for a large fleet.The more open shores he used exposed his ships to rough weather in the Channel; his first expedition was seriously endangered at one point by storm damage to the fleet, and the second also suffered from it.

The shoreline is now two miles away from the remains of the substantial fort at Richborough, but excavations earlier this year have pinpointed the beach which the Roman ships would have been pulled up on under the protection of the earthworks.The quite widespread media coverage of the Richborough dig and its revelations, which though certainly interesting and important, are quite technical and detailed, is evidence of Britons\' deep fascination with this chapter in our history.It led me to an earlier article reporting “astonishing new archaeological finds” that proved "the history of Britain will have to be rewritten. The AD43 Roman invasion never happened - and was simply a piece of sophisticated political spin by a weak Emperor Claudius”.

The finds in question, fragments of Roman weaponry, were more glamorous than a section of historic seashore, and their dating to a few decades before Claudius\' invasion is certainly intriguing.However, they do not seem to amount to proof that this part of Britain (Sussex) had somehow come under Roman occupation by that time, and there is certainly no written evidence to support this.On the other hand, the diplomatic relationships at tribal level and trading links that then connected Roman Gaul with Britain suggest a whole range of less radical explanations.

Claudius\' invasion, which is well supported by evidence, did happen. Aulus Plautius landed his 40,000-strong force of four legions and an equally large body of auxiliaries without opposition.The detail of the next stage is unclear but two battles were then fought and won inland, possibly in Hampshire and Kent.The next British line of defence was on the river Medway.The Britons were taken by surprise, first by a unit of Celtic auxiliaries “who were used to swimming fully-armed across the most turbulent streams” (Special Forces stuff!) and then by legionaries led by Emperor-to-be Vespasian “who got across somehow”. The Britons regrouped and counterattacked on the following day, and were finally defeated after a close fight.They fell back again across the Thames estuary using local knowledge of the shallows.This held the Romans up until they had bridged the river further upstream and coordinated their crossing with a second swim by the Celts.They successfully attacked the Britons from a number of directions but suffered losses as they pursued them into the surrounding marshes.By now Aulus Plautius may have been overextended and the death of one of their most important tribal leaders appears to have had a unifying effect on the loosely-allied Britons and hardened their resistance. Acting under orders to call on the Emperor for support if he encountered this, “he sent for Claudius... and, in fact, extensive resources had already been got together for the campaign, including elephants”. Claudius arrived about two months later and joined his legions in their holding position south of the Thames, taking direct command.

In a swift operation, he then captured the tribal capital, Camulodunum (Colchester, Essex) and “won over numerous tribes, some by treaty, some by force, and was hailed Imperator several times”.He was also honoured by the Senate on his return to Rome, but the battlefield acclamation of his troops was more solid indication that he saw real action in Britain as commander-in-chief.

Political spin?

Suetonius, writing only half a century after these events and about half a century before Cassius Dio (the only source of any detail, and quoted above), certainly thought so.He has Claudius identifying Britain as the best prospect for the military glory he was eager to win and “receiving the submission of part of the island without a battle or any bloodshed at all”. It is true that Claudius “needed a war” to lend credibility to his accidental succession as Emperor and, more critically, to forge a strong relationship with the military.But, though the sources are vague on this, conflict between major British tribes had recently upset the balance between pro- and anti-Roman groupings and the island was once again a threat to Roman interests in Gaul, which had been one of Julius Caesar\'s reasons for invading.For a much fuller discussion of the Claudian invasion see the excellent article published in the Osprey Military Journal back in 2000.