| Our Island Story|
|by H. E. Marshall|
|A child's history of England from earliest legendary times delightfully retold. Beginning with the stories of Albion and Brutus, it relates all the interesting legends and hero tales in which the history of England abounds through the end of the reign of Queen Victoria. Ages 9-12 |
THE COMING OF THE ROMANS
 HUNDREDS of years passed after Brutus conquered Albion and
changed its name to Britain, during which time many kings
and queens reigned over the island. Our great poet
Shakespeare has written about one of these kings who was
called King Lear. Some day you must read his story.
There were many good and wise rulers among these ancient
British kings. But it would take too long to tell of them,
so we must pass on to the time when another great warrior
heard of the little lonely island and came to conquer it.
The name of this great warrior was Julius Cæsar. He was a
Roman. At that time the Romans were a very powerful people.
They called themselves the masters of the world.
It is true they were very clever. They had taught themselves
how to fight, how to make swords and armour, and how to build
fortresses, better than any of the peoples who lived then.
So it happened that the Romans generally won the victory
over all who fought against them.
But they were a very greedy people and, as soon as they
heard of a new country, they wanted to conquer it and call
it part of the Roman Empire.
Julius Cæsar had been fighting in Gaul, or France as
 we now
call it. While there, he heard of the little island with
white cliffs over the sea. He was told that the people were
very big and brave and fierce. He also heard that it was a
rich land full of tin, lead, and other useful metals, and
that the shores were strewn with precious pearls. So he
resolved to conquer this land and add it to the Roman
Cæsar gathered together about eighty ships, twelve thousand
men, and a great many horses. These he thought would be
enough with which to conquer the wild men of Britain. One
fine day he set sail from France and soon came in sight of
the island. The Britons in some way or other had heard of
his coming and had gathered to meet him. As he drew near,
Cæsar saw with surprise that the whole shore was covered
with men ready for battle. He also saw that the place which
he had chosen for landing was not good, for there were high,
steep cliffs upon which the Britons could stand and shower
darts upon his soldiers. So he turned his ships and sailed
along the coast until he came to a place where the shore was
THE SHORE WAS COVERED WITH MEN READY FOR BATTLE
The Roman ships were called galleys. They had sails, but
were also moved by oars. The rowers sat in long lines down
each side of the galley. Sometimes there were two or three
tiers of them sitting one above the other. These rowers were
generally slaves and worked in chains. They were often
soldiers who had been taken prisoner in war, or wicked men
who were punished for their misdeeds by being made to row in
It was a dreadful life. The work was very hard, and in a
storm if the vessel was wrecked, as often happened, the poor
galley slaves were almost sure to be drowned, because their
heavy chains prevented them from swimming.
 As the Roman galleys sailed along the coast, the British
warriors with their horses and war chariots followed on
The war chariots of the British were very terrible. They
were like light carts and held several men; one to drive the
horses and the others to fight. On either side, from the
centre of the wheels, swords stuck out. As the wheels went
round these swords cut down, killed, or wounded every one
who came within reach. The Britons trained their horses so
well, that they would rush madly into battle or stand stock
still in a moment. It was a fearful sight to see these war
chariots charge an enemy.
After sailing along the coast a little way, Cæsar found a
good place at which to land, and turned his vessels inshore.
But the great galleys required so much water in which to
sail that they could not come quite close to land.
Seeing this, Cæsar told his soldiers to jump into the water.
But the soldiers hesitated, for the Britons had rushed into
the water to meet them and the Romans did not like the idea
of fighting in the sea.
Although the Romans were very good soldiers, they were not
such good sailors as might have been expected. They did not
love the water as the Britons did.
These fierce "barbarians," as the Romans called the Britons,
urging their horses into the waves, greeted the enemy with
loud shouts. Every inch of the shore was known to them. They
knew exactly where it was shallow and where it was deep, so
they galloped through the water without fear.
Suddenly a brave Roman, when he saw how the soldiers
hesitated, seized a standard and leaped overboard crying,
"Leap forth now, soldiers, if you will
 not betray your
ensign to the enemy, for I surely will bear myself as is my
The Romans did not have flags such as we have in our army.
Their standard was an eagle which was carried upon a pole.
The eagle was of gold, or gilded to look like gold. Wherever
the eagle led, there the soldiers followed, for it was the
emblem of their honour, and they fought for and guarded it as
their most precious possession.
So now, when the Roman soldiers saw their standard in the
midst of the enemy, they followed with all haste. Their fear
was great lest it should be taken. It was counted as a
terrible disgrace to the Romans if they returned from battle
without their standard. Death was better than disgrace, so
they leaped into the water to meet the fierce Britons.
A fearful fight followed. The Romans could not keep their
proper order, neither could they find firm footing. Weighed
down with their heavy armour, they sank in the sand or
slipped upon the rocks. All the while the Britons showered
darts upon them and struck at them fiercely with their
battle-axes and swords.
The Britons were very brave, but they had not learned the
best ways of fighting as the Romans had. So after a terrible
struggle the Romans reached the land. On shore they formed
in close ranks and charged the Britons.
The Britons in their turn charged the Romans with their war
chariots. The horses tore wildly along, neighing and
champing their bits, and trampling underfoot those who were
not cut down with the swords on the wheels. As they
galloped, the fighting men in the cars threw darts and
arrows everywhere among the enemy. When they were in the
thickest of the fray the horses would
 suddenly stand still.
Then the soldiers, springing out of the chariot, would fight
fiercely for a few minutes with their battle-axes, killing
every one within reach. Again they would leap into the cart,
the horses would start forward and once more gallop wildly
through the ranks of the enemy, leaving a track of dead
behind them wherever they passed. But in spite of all their
wild bravery the Britons were beaten at last and fled before
Thus Cæsar first landed upon the shores of Britain. But so
many of his soldiers were killed and wounded that he was
glad to make peace with these brave islanders.
He sailed away again in such of his ships as had not been
destroyed. For fierce storms had arisen a few days after his
landing and wrecked many of his vessels.
Cæsar did not gain much glory from this fight. Indeed, when
he went away, it seemed rather as if he were fleeing from a
foe than leaving a conquered land.
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