Archaeologists from the University of Leicester have discovered the first evidence for Julius Caesar’s invasion of Britain in 54BC.

Based on new evidence, the team suggests that in 54BC Julius Caesar’s fleet first landed in Britain at Pegwell Bay on the Isle of Thanet, the north—east point of Kent. The presence of Roman weapons and other artefacts at the site overlooking Pegwell Bay suggests it was a Roman base dating to 1st century BC. The site may be up to 20 hectares in size and it is believed that the main purpose of the fort was to protect Caesar’s fleet.

3 Lidar model of topography of Thanet showing Ebbsfleet.jpg

The University of Leicester project, which is funded by the Leverhulme Trust, was prompted by the discovery of a large defensive ditch in archaeological excavations before a new road was built. The shape of the ditch at Ebbsfleet, a hamlet in Thanet, is very similar to some of the Roman defences at Alésia in France, where the decisive battle in the Gallic War took place in 52BC.

The project has involved surveys of hillforts that may have been attacked by Caesar, studies in museums of objects that may have been made or buried at the time of the invasions, such as coin hoards, and excavations in Kent.

This location of the fort matches Caesar’s own account of his landing in 54 BC, with three clues about the topography of the landing site being consistent with him having landed in Pegwell Bay: its visibility from the sea, the existence of a large open bay, and the presence of higher ground nearby.

The site, overlooking Pegwell Bay, is now 900m inland but at the time of Caesar’s invasions it was closer to the coast. The ditch is 4-5 metres wide and 2 metres deep and is dated by pottery and radiocarbon dates to the 1st century BC. Additionally, the size, and shape, of the defences at Ebbsfleet and the presence of iron weapons including a Roman pilum (javelin) all suggest that the site at Ebbsfleet was once a Roman base of 1st century BC date.

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Image Credit: All images © University of Leicester, the aerial view is by courtesy of Dean Barkley