New archaeological evidence reveals Julius Caesar's most likely landing spot during the 54 BCE invasion of Britain – Pegwell Bay on the Isle of Thanet in northeast Kent.
Archaeologists from the University of Leicester, UK, unearthed a 5-meter-wide (16 feet) ditch containing pottery and weapon fragments, which have been carbon-dated to the first century BCE. This, the team notes, is the first evidence for the Roman general's invasion of Britain.
The ditch closely resembles Roman defenses found at Alésia in France and archaeologists believe it's just one section of a much larger fort. The size of the site could be up to 20 hectares (49 acres) in size, they say.
This fort would have protected Ceasar's armada of 800 ships, grounded on a nearby beach. Pegwell Bay is the only open bay on Kent's east coast large enough to hold a fleet of this size.
The location also matches Ceasar's descriptions of the army's landing site.
"The presence of cliffs, the existence of a large open bay, and the presence of higher ground nearby, are consistent with the 54 BC landing having been in Pegwell Bay," explained Dr Andrew Fitzpatrick from the University of Leicester’s School of Archaeology and Ancient History.
Previously, the site had been overlooked because of its location 900 meters (2,950 feet) inland. But 2,000 years ago it would have been much closer to the coast.
“Thanet has never been considered as a possible landing site before because it was separated from the mainland [by the Wantsum Channel] until the Middle Ages," said Fitzpatrick.
“The Wantsum Channel was clearly not a significant barrier to people of Thanet during the Iron Age and it certainly would not have been a major challenge to the engineering capabilities of the Roman army.”
The Roman invasion of Britain occurred shortly after Caesar's army had captured Gaul – what we now call France – and ended in retreat. A tough fight from the Britons, harsh weather, and a Gallic rebellion forced the Romans to withdraw twice, first in 55 BC and again in 54 BC.
While Britain was not fully integrated into the Roman Empire until the reign of Claudius in 43 CE, Caesar wasn't entirely unsuccessful. He initiated treaties, which likely formed the basis for alliances between the Romans and British nobles.
"This eventually resulted in the leading rulers of south-east England becoming client kings of Rome," said Professor Colin Haselgrove, the project's principal investigator.
“This was the beginning of the permanent Roman occupation of Britain, which included Wales and some of Scotland, and lasted for almost 400 years, suggesting that Claudius later exploited Caesar's legacy.”
Want to find out more? If you're in the UK, tune into Digging For Britain on BBC4 at 9pm.