Monday, 26 May 2008

800 ships, five legions amd 2,000 horses

Much of the vision of early Britain as a nation of cave dwelling, loin cloth, blue dyed savages stems from Ceasar’s own chronicles. Where he had the advantage of being a first hand reporter, he was also biased as a soldier and conqueror. The Celtic vision of pre Roman Britain being wealthy in trade, sophisticated in its crafts of pottery and metalwork; trading its cloth as far as Rome and as a largely settled agrarian string of communities would have been a more rational reason for Caesar to invade.

And Caesar’s invasion was a serious business. His first essays in 55BC involved 98 transport ships and 10,000 men. This was repulsed. He retreated to France but the next year returned with no less than 800 ships, five legions and 2,000 cavalry. Obviously the resource to find 800 ships was an indicator that shipbuilding itself and the timber to support it was readily available which is hardly a primitive achievement and presumably much of it would have been requisitioned from the Gauls.

Much of our historical inferiority complex stems from Ceasar’s opinions. Carbon dating shows us that megalithic Britain was a more sophisticated society from much earlier although some of this evidence is quite new. The archeologist Dr Francis Pryor records first his disbelief and then wonder at discovering an ancient pot at Flag Fen in East Anglia which added an extra 1500 years to British history in the area :

“In his hand was something I had not wished to see. It was a large piece of hand made pottery, hard and well finished, with a fine almost lustrous outer surface. I snapped a bit off the corner and looked closely at the broken face. The potter had crushed up sea shells, or fossil shells, and added them to the clay…The hardness, the finish and the thorough mixing together of the clay and shell temper led me to believe this sherd was more likely to be Middle Iron Age…

“The digger took another shallow scoop and Eb held the bucket in front of me, at eye level. My heart fell. There about three inches from my nose, were two freshly broken pieces of pottery, with their white shell temper shining like so many smiling teeth. One piece of Iron Age pottery could be discounted, but three…

“And then the truth hit me. The top of the rim had been decorated with a series of shallow diagonal grooves. This decoration and the heavily thickened rim could only belong to one pre-historic style, known as Mildenhall Ware. Mildenhall pottery belongs to the middle Neolihtic.”