ISSN 1357-4442Editor: Simon Denison

Issue no 39, November 1998


Roman conquest

From Mr Stan Wolfson

Sir: Martin Henig produced a wonderful piece of imaginative writing in his account of the arrival of the Romans in Britain (`Togidubnus and the Roman liberation', September). Whom is he trying to convince?

To assume that the battle of Mons Graupius did not take place because there is no archaeological evidence is a strange assumption. There is no archaeological evidence for Paullinus' battle with Boudicca. Are we to assume that this battle did not occur either? The battle of Mons Graupius did occur. Although the text of Tacitus is corrupt in the relevant sections, it can be reconstructed to suggest that the likeliest site is Mt Bennachie in Aberdeenshire.

The assertion that `even in Tacitus it is said that no legionaries were killed' is pointless; Agricola, according to Tacitus, kept his legionaries in reserve to avoid shedding Roman blood. It was, in fact, regular policy to use auxiliaries where the topography required it.

Yours faithfully,
Colfe's School, London SE12
14 September

From Mr Brian Philp

Sir: Martin Henig claims there is no early Roman fort in the south-east counties. What nonsense! You cannot ignore the Roman military bases at Richborough, Reculver and Springhead (all Kent) and probably Hardham (in Sussex). Indeed, 60 years ago much of southern England contained no early forts, but these have since appeared from Devon to Essex and there are surely more to come.

He goes on to say that the main invasion force landed in Sussex and not in Kent. More nonsense! There is massive evidence at Richborough, including double defensive ditches of AD43, which have been traced for 600m across the headland adjacent to a great natural harbour. Allowing for a certain erosion, the fortified invasion base probably covered at least 100 acres and was clearly intended for the main Claudian force. A central causeway was defended by a wooden gatehouse, an internal rampart offered protection, and the whole base was soon vastly extended (AD43-5) into the paramount supply base, containing roads, shops and storehouses. When in Flavian times the Conquest of Britain was commemorated by the construction of a massive monumental arch, it was Richborough that was rightly chosen as the founding site, not distant Sussex.

Nor were the domestic problems of a minor prince, Verica, the real reason for the full invasion of these islands, though he could have provided an all too familiar excuse. In fact the invasion was debated years before he was born and continued decades after his death. How can the military campaigns in Wales, the North, and Scotland be regarded as an exercise to help a man who probably lived near Worthing?

Clearly the invasion's main target was the native capital at Camulodunum on the east coast. What general with such an objective would place his entire army behind a vast Wealden forest by landing it on the Sussex coast? The recorded division of the force into three landings is only viable if the main force landed at Richborough (as the evidence demands), then Dover, and possibly Sussex where a smaller division might be poised to attack the West. The latter could be supplied along the coast, and the evidence from Maiden Castle and Hod Hill (both Dorset) supports this view.

Whatever happened west, the Richborough/Dover forces met and soon won a decisive battle on the River Medway, as an inscription recently found carved on a rock near the site must surely prove. The crossing of the Thames followed, with Claudius arriving proudly to proclaim a new province for the Empire.

And why should, incidentally, Togidubnus suddenly become the only candidate for the youthful marble head from Fishbourne, when ten or 20 others, both known and unknown, are equal possibilities? Why should dreary Dio Cassius, a distant Greek using fourth-hand information two centuries after the event, suddenly become the exclusive commentator? Why dismiss the tactful Tacitus, himself a close relative of Governor Agricola and one who must have met many of the men who took part in these events? Indeed, why now promote Togidubnus as the hero of the scene, when in reality he was the British traitor-king, whose treachery greatly helped the Roman cause?

Yours sincerely,
Kent Archaeological Rescue Unit, Dover
13 September

From Mr James Stewart

Sir: Several of Dr Henig's statements seem to lack any sort of evidence, while he appears to want the best of everything. He suggests that Cogidubnus was probably in Rome with Herod Agrippa, which would have been very early in the 1st century. Yet it was also Cogidubnus who told Domitian the `truth' about Mons Graupius.

The find of a marble head at Fishbourne does not indicate anything about Cogidubnus's age, since Augustus is known not to have aged much beyond a youthful leader in his portraits during his entire reign. If he was consciously copying Roman form, as Henig suggests, whom better to copy than Augustus, a man greatly admired by Claudius?

The crux of the issue is Henig's slander of Tacitus. There can be little doubt that Tacitus inflated the importance of events to present his father-in-law in a good light, but that does not nullify the whole story.

Yours sincerely,
University of Queensland, Australia
23 September

see Book Review

Lost ditches

From Dr David Bird

Sir: In his article `The lost defensive ditches of wartime' (September), William Foot indicates that archaeology may now be our only way of finding Second World War anti-tank ditches, and he may therefore be interested to know that one stretch in Surrey, not far north of Dorking, was recorded as early as 1957.

It was originally interpreted by I D Margary as part of the line of the Roman road Stane Street (London to Chichester), but Margary soon realised his mistake. His plan shows the sharp angles mentioned in the article. The ditch was presumably part of the defences intended to deny access to the Mole Gap, one of the natural routes through the North Downs. Foot's article is a reminder that the rest of this system should be located and recorded.

Yours sincerely,
Surrey County Council
Kingston upon Thames
16 September

From Mr Bernard Lowry

Sir: The River Avon, a natural anti-tank ditch, at Malmesbury, Wiltshire, still retains the remains of wooden planking and metal strapping emplaced to give a vertical face to the riverbank facing the attackers' likely route.

Yours sincerely,
Market Drayton
12 September

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