Agricola and Roman Britain

By Andrew Robert Burn | Go to book overview

Chapter Three
First Steps in Britain

LEAVING the white cliffs on its left, the transport galley with Agricola and his servants and horses ran on northward, probably for another two or three hours, to reach the sound that then parted the mainland from the Isle of Thanet. Here lay the harbour of Richborough. (Both Roman names--Rutupiæ, Thanatus--are still recognisable.) A long line of entrenchments, from sea to sea, protected a vast hutted camp, the main base of the invasion army of eighteen years before; but most of its lines were empty now and growing dilapidated. The chief occupants by now would be the crews of the transport squadron keeping up communications with the continent, and perhaps one or two police and revenue cutters. The Romans still used the Channel ports for the sake of the short sea passage, but heavy goods, whether army stores or merchandise, went on without breaking bulk to the Port of London.

Agricola, one fancies, like a good Roman, preferred to get ashore at once. The transport of horses by ancient ships was something more than inconvenient. He could, of course, as an officer on active service, have used the imperial post facilities, changing horses at the road-houses provided at regular intervals along the main roads. But he would then have had to buy one or more chargers and some pack-horses for his servants and kit on arrival in his province; and it seems more likely that he would bring his own horses from home, rather than run the risk of whatever hard-mouthed and cynical animals he might find at the front.

From Richborough to London by the new Watling Street was about seventy miles. Most travellers broke the journey at Rochester on the Medway, where there was a

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