Commander-in-chief, Aulus Plautius, yesterday paid an unexpected visit to this remote spot, where a vast new supply base is under construction. It was his last official engagement before setting sail for Rome. The British name, apparently meaning ‘place where the river floods’, will be retained in a Latinised form – Londinium.
Cassius, Londinium Lite’s newly-recruited correspondent, reports from the banks of the river Tamesis in Britannia.
An inauspicious site
At least there is no need to evict the natives. No-one lives here and you can understand why. On one bank are a couple of low hills, separated by a near-stagnant stream. On the other, islands that mostly flood at high tide.
Yet this place does have a strategic significance. Coming up the new road from the Kent coast, you need to cross the Tamesis to be able to reach the new provincial capital at Camulodunum. Engineers are confident they can build a bridge here if the ferry cannot cope and sea-faring boats can reach this point on the tide.
The base is fast taking shape. The main street has been surveyed, and workmen have started laying the timber road-side drains. I saw terrified slaves, captured in battle, being herded onto ships. Free native labourers have their own camp. They have built circular wooden houses, quite unlike anything to be seen elsewhere – even in Gaul.
Plautius leaves in triumph
Four years ago Aulus Plautius had the daunting task of conquering an island that had once seen off the immortal Julius Caesar. He faced near mutiny from his army before crossing the Channel.
Now he is leaving to receive an official Ovation in Rome. Some say he is being honoured to allow Claudius to celebrate the conquest of Britannia all over again, others that his family is closely connected to the imperial family. It is common knowledge that his brother-in-law, Publius Petronius, is one of Claudius’s closest friends.
Having studied Plautius at close quarters, I can say the honour is richly deserved. His strategy was to drive his troops forward from the landing beaches in order to seize the Medway crossing against the odds – matching Caesar’s legendary speed and decisiveness. His tactics, to split the army and campaign on three fronts, won territory radiating 150 miles from Londinium in every direction.
To pick out this godforsaken place and turn it into an important stepping-off point, is typical of his strategic vision.