Sunday, March 14, 2010

AtF: The Three-Edged Sword

So, um, would anyone be surprised if I started this puppy off with a sentence like, “Bill Cooper’s account of Caesar’s invasion of Britain gets really weird?”

Because, really, the account of Caesar’s invasion gets really weird.  These things happen, I guess.  Especially when one is trying to prove that Account A is more accurate than Account B because Account A talks about different things than Account B.  Specifically, the discussion is one of battle tactics.

Later in his account, Caesar describes in detail how his cavalry came to grief when they encountered the unusual fighting tactics of the Britons. He describes these tactics in detail, remarking on their effectiveness. And yet no such description appears in the British account.

This is not unexpected, given that Tysilio is really, really light on tactical details.  And, really, any realistic details.  But I’ll leave that aside for the moment and pretend that I think Tysilio is a totally believable source.

I picked up Laurence Bergreen’s Over the Edge of the World: Magellan’s Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe before I left Chicago and finally started reading it today.  This is the third book I’ve read lately that focuses largely on the time of the Age of Discovery, the other two being Toby Lester’s The Fourth Part of the World and Roger Crowley’s Empires of the Sea.

Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor for the important bits of the 16th Century, plays a role in the events in all three books.  Yet Bergreen’s book introduces him in a totally different way than Crowley’s does.  And Lester doesn’t mention him at all.  Does this mean that there’s any doubt that Charles V existed?  Does it mean that Bergreen and Crowley need to have some sort of fist fight to prove that their respective views of history are correct?  No.  It simply means that Charles V’s influence on the events of Bergreen’s book are different than his influence on the events of Crowley’s.  And Charles V had absolutely nothing to do with the Waldseemuller Map, so there’s no reason for him to even get mentioned in Lester’s book.

Similarly, Tysilio is ostensibly a history of all of Britain for many, many centuries.  And the writer of Tysilio was no military man.  He was probably a monk who may or may not have had access to an accurate accounting of Caesar’s writings.

This is actually the bit that seems completely lost on Cooper.  To be fair, it’s a common mistake.  But, to be not-fair, he fancies himself a historian, so he should really know about history before running off to claim that every historian on the planet who disagrees with him is wrong.

Either way, whoever wrote the Tysilio account may or may not have known about Caesar’s account and may or may not have had access to a copy of it.  As such, it’s impossible to make the following leap:

One could reasonably expect that a later forger or compiler would triumphantly have mentioned how his forebears terrified and almost defeated the Romans with superior and ingenious fighting tactics, but not a contemporary Briton who was recording the same events as Caesar but from a different vantage point.

Wrong.  Completely and totally wrong.  This is, in fact, the absolute opposite of reality.

A contemporary Briton who was recording the events would have been extremely likely to record the defeat of Caesar’s invasion due to superior fighting tactics.  It would have been a bit of propaganda, a way to say, “Hey, look, we sent those guys running.”  Because a contemporary wouldn’t have needed to see Caesar’s notes to know that Caesar almost surrendered the field.

There are, then, three logical conclusions we can draw from the discrepancies:

1.  Caesar inflated the capabilities of his enemies in order to make his victories in Britain seem all the more impressive.  Therefore, the writer of Tysilio wouldn’t have even seen them.

2.  Tysilio was written by a contemporary who got all of his information second-hand from people who didn’t see fit to mention that one time they almost did win.

3.  Tysilio was written later by someone who didn’t know or care about Caesar’s accounts.

Now, given that on page 34 of the Tysilio .pdf the author claims “And so the best of Caesar’s army were put to rout [by the Britons], whilst he himself was compelled to flee in disgrace back to Gaul[,]” I don’t think we can really go with points 1 or 2.

Furthermore, in Caesar’s account he manages to overcome the chariot-based tactics used by the Britons and they send ambassadors to sue for peace.  Caesar then says he went home and ordered the Britons send their tribute to the continent because it was the end of the campaign season and he didn’t want to delay a return to the continent due to the state of his ships.[1]  And spending a winter on hostile shores was probably not very high on his list of things to do, either.

Tysilio makes this claim:

And the men of Gaul rebelled against him and gave him battle, and looked to overthrow his tyranny over them, for they supposed that his invasion of the Britons had come to nought because he had fled from them. And they heard also that Casswallon’s ships were upon the sea to give him chase.

Caesar does not mention any pursuit from Britain.  Probably because there was none.  He does, however, mention two ships being separated from the fleet and what happened when the troops aboard tried to re-join the army.

When our soldiers, about 300 in number, had been drawn out of these two ships, and were marching to the camp, the Morini, whom Caesar, when setting forth for Britain, had left in a state of peace, excited by the hope of spoil, at first surrounded them with a small number of men, and ordered them to lay down their arms, if they did not wish to be slain; afterwards however, when they, forming a circle, stood on their defence, a shout was raised and about 6000 of the enemy soon assembled; which being reported, Caesar sent all the cavalry in the camp as a relief to his men. In the meantime our soldiers sustained the attack of the enemy, and fought most valiantly for more than four hours, and, receiving but few wounds themselves, slew several of them. But after our cavalry came in sight, the enemy, throwing away their arms, turned their backs, and a great number of them were killed.

Caesar then sent a lieutenant with the legions he’d brought back from Britain to destroy the Morini.  The lieutenant in question was Labienus.  You know, the guy who was already dead according to the Tysilio account.

Tysilio’s account is slightly different, however.  It says “[b]ut he, Caesar, pacified the people with a great sum of money to the princes of Gaul and liberty to all his captives.”  This is followed by a footnote (written, as you’ll recall, by our own esteemed Bill Cooper) that claims “[t]his is wholly borne out by Caesar’s account.”

Which bit of Caesar’s account?  Perhaps the part where Caesar says:

The day following Caesar sent Labienus, his lieutenant, with those legions which he had brought back from Britain, against the Morini, who had revolted; who, as they had no place to which they might retreat, on account of the drying up of their marshes (which they had availed themselves of as a place of refuge the preceding year), almost all fell into the power of Labienus.

Or maybe this one:

In the meantime Caesar's lieutenants, Q. Titurius and L. Cotta, who had led the legions into the territories of the Menapii, having laid waste all their lands, cut down their corn and burnt their houses, returned to Caesar because the Menapii had all concealed themselves in their thickest woods. Caesar fixed the winter quarters of all the legions amongst the Belgae.

Man, if this is how Caesar acted when he bought his enemies off and set the captives free, I’d hate to be around when he was mad…

So how could anyone have gotten the notion that the British hostages were freed?  Probably the bit in Caesar’s account where he says, “[t]hither only two British states sent hostages; the rest omitted to do so.”

You know what happens when you piss Caesar off?  Yeah, he gets all up in your grill again.  But the second time around he brings five legions and two thousand cavalry.  And leaves the still very much not-dead Labienus to guard the harbors in Gaul with three legions and another two thousand cavalry.  Just in case you were wondering.

But I think I’ll get to Caesar’s second invasion of Britain next time around.  The differences in the accounts are manifold and much, much greater than I feel like getting in to now.


[1]This is what is known as a “smart move.”

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