The Battle of the Tamesis Ford

The Battle of the Tamesis Ford
Author: Gareth C. Worth
First published May 2017 in Volume 12, Issue 6 of ‘Roman Transactions’

The ‘Tamesis Ford Letter’ was discovered among the notes of the late Professor Arthur J. Cline of the College of Archaeology and Ancient History at the University of Leicester following his death at the age of 77 in 1998. Although undated, context places it between 1947 and 1953 when Professor Cline undertook several research trips to Orthodox monasteries in Turkey and Romania.

Professor Cline’s notebooks from this period contain numerous hand written copies of historical documents presumably located in monastery libraries. Few however are annotated with dates or locations, making determination of their origins virtually impossible. A number were referenced with full details in the Professor’s published work suggesting that he maintained some form of index, but searches of his papers have failed to uncover any such document.

The text, located in notebook seven of the Cline archive, exists in two forms, a classical Latin original and Professor Cline’s English translation. The Latin contains several lacunae speculatively filled in the English version. Both versions end suddenly suggesting that the original document was similarly truncated, or that Professor Cline was interrupted in his transcription.

The letter purports to be an eyewitness account of the battle between the forces of British Chief Cassivellaunus and Julius Caesar at a ford on the river Thames during the latter’s second invasion of Britain in 54 BCE. We have Caesar’s own, typically terse, account of this battle in book five of his Commentarii de Bello Gallico, but the letter – while consistent with the Commentarii – includes far more detail, even featuring the war elephant otherwise first mentioned in works from the 2nd century CE. The Latin is typical for an educated Roman of the period, suggesting that the author (one Titus Magius) may have been an officer. No mention of him in other documents has been found, however this is hardly unexpected given the fragmentary nature of surviving records from the period.

If genuine, the letter is a remarkable and important new source of information on Caesar’s campaigns, and it is curious that Professor Cline never shared it with other researchers. It seems likely that the more unusual features of the account – including the use of quicksilver and a mysterious spear bought from the Temple of Saturn – led him to doubt its authenticity. It also cannot be ruled out that the letter is a work of fiction composed by the Professor himself, although it would be inappropriate to speculate for what purpose such a work would be intended.

Research on the origin of the letter continues. Even if the truth of the matter remains unresolved it is an intriguing document that raises questions about the accuracy of Caesar’s accounts of his campaigns, and the social structures and methods of warfare employed by the Britons of the first century BCE.

The Tamesis Ford Letter as translated from the Latin by Professor Arthur J. Cline c.1950

Letter to Lucius Magius Petronax in Rome from his brother Titus Magius in Britiania, a.d. XI Kal. Oct. DCC A.U.C. (19th September 54 BC)

Good health to you my brother. Be assured that your news was received with great joy by myself and my comrades and much wine has been consumed [to your honour]. You ask for an account of our assault on the ford and I am pleased to supply one thus.

We came upon the river called Tamesis from the south, the ford lying where its course turns from the north towards the west, the width being beyond the shot of a sling. The forces of the Britons with many horses and chariots were assembled on the far bank and saluted our [arrival] with a great tumult of taunting calls and many blasts upon bronze trumpets the sound of which was most discordant. Our enemy had placed many sharpened stakes beneath the waters of the ford but forewarned by the prisoners captured during our advance we did not charge the waters.

Caesar commanded forward two Centuria of the [second?] Legion and cavalry to shield them and they entered the waters until only their heads stood free, the waters of the ford being deep. At this came forth from the Britons a tall warrior clad in robes and breeches of fine patterned cloth and bearing a heavy ring of gold around his neck in the manner of the Gauls. He bore a shield of polished bronze set with red glass and a tall spear, and his clothes and arms with much gold were adorned. The Britons paid him much obeisance and many fell to the ground [at his feet]. The warrior strode forth and raised his spear over the waters and the river leapt upwards, rising as in spate, and [some] men of the Legion were washed from their feet and drowned.

I admit with shame that at the sight of this my heart quailed, as did that of many of my comrades who stepped back, [crying out in] agitation. Caesar commanded us to stand firm and sent forward the elephant named Magnus with archers upon its back and as it entered [the river] they emptied great vessels of Hispanian quicksilver and ordure into the waters. At the sight of this the Britons let forth a great cry of woe and the warrior cried out in a rage and ran into the river, and as his feet entered the waters they rose up in confusion as if struck by a storm, and several score Britons followed in his train.

Caesar ordered [the Centuria] from the ford and sent his personal guard to meet the Britons, and among them was borne a great spear of cold-forged iron, fully tall as a man and bound to a greenwood haft. It was said by many that this spear was bought across the sea from Rome at Caesar’s instruction and said some that it had first come from Dacia to the Temple of Saturn in the time of Aulus Postumius and any that touched [its metal?] would fall [to the ground] as if struck dead. The guard stood ready at the ford and met the charge of the warrior who in his fury outstripped his fellows, seeming as in flight to run across the water.

In a great rage the warrior cut down four men, but erelong was surrounded and disarmed by the press of the guards who swiftly pierced him with the great spear and dragged him up the bank. At this sight the Britons cried out and fell into a great confusion with many entering the ford but twice their number taking to their chariots [and fleeing].

Caesar ordered us forwards to meet the Britons and his guards fell upon the warrior, fixing his flesh to the ground with hastae of [cold-forged] iron. The strength of the warrior was indeed great for despite these grievous wounds he swooned not, loosing cries of agony with each piercing. Caesar himself then approached the warrior, drawing his sword and shouting much encouragement [to the men at] the ford. Then he struck with a single blow the warrior’s head [from his neck] and taking it by the hair held it aloft crying out “Thus for my boats!”.

The Britons, their champion slain, let forth a great and despairing groan and made to flee [back across the ford]. Many score fell to our slings and we swept forward calling upon the Salian Mars to destroy [our foes?]

Seniorem sit Senex?

So I was thinking, why not share some wild speculation about the Old Man – Genius Loci of the River Thames – in Ben Aaronovitch’s PC Grant/Rivers of London series?

Tiberius Claudius Verica, put on some pants!

The Old Man – AKA Father Thames – was originally a Romano-British priest named Tiberius Claudius Verica who made a deal with the River Thames while standing on the original bridge of Roman London. And when we say original bridge we mean original. When Peter pays a second visit to the memory of Roman London in Lies Sleeping he notes that the bridge stands on pontoons, making it the temporary one the Romans put up after their invasion in AD 43. They replaced it with a pile bridge around AD 50, so there’s maybe a period of 10 years when Verica could have made his deal.

His ‘sons’ on the other hand – the Genii Locorum of the Thames’ tributaries – clearly predate the Romans. Familial relationships between river gods are unnecessarily complicated, but both the old Beverly Brook and Tyburn are at the very least Celtic Britons. Assuming they updated with the times (which we certainly know Sir William of Tyburn did) they could conceivably date back to the first peopling of Britain way back in the paleolithic.

Whenever exactly Tyburn and Beverly (or should that be Beaver-Lea?) were adopted by their water courses, it certainly preceded the adoption of Verica. Which seems pretty odd. How is it that (comparatively) minor rivers would have their own deities, while the Thames didn’t?

One answer is obvious. It used to have a god, but then it didn’t. The Old Man is not the original Genius Loci of the Thames!

If someone killed your family then published THIS I imagine you’d piss off upriver as well…

We have seen several examples of rivers losing their gods then acquiring new ones. The most prominent is of course is the abandonment of the lower Thames by the Old Man after the Great Stink and the deaths of his sons in 1858. The tideway remained godless for a century until the adoption of Mamma Thames circa 1958. But there’s also the example of the Mosel, whose Genius Loci was murdered by the Ahnenerbe during World War II. A new goddess spontaneously appeared around 2010, seventy or so years later.

In 2013 During the events of Foxglove Summer Peter and Beverly were involved in the potential creation of a new Genius Loci for the River Lugg, the previous god having been killed by Welsh Methodists. While Methodism started spreading through Wales in the 1730s it doesn’t seem unreasonable to presume that attempts at river-murder would require some kind of organisational backing – the official Presbyterian Church of Wales being established in 1811 suggests the attack may have taken place after that date.

(Edit: A reread of Foxglove Summer has supplied the fact that the Lugg was done in during the Victorian era, which gives us a limit of 112 to 176 years before 2013)

So these examples give us rivers waiting for between 70 and 200 176 years to choose a new god.

If we apply this range to the date of Tiberius Claudius Verica’s elevation to Genius Loci we get a date for the death of the previous Father Thames somewhere between 130 and 20 BC. So the question is, what happened around the Thames in this period that could have killed a Genius Loci?

I’ll tell you what happened – three words – Gaius Julius Caesar!

Caesar’s first invasion of Britain in 55 BC was a bit of a fizzer. He turned up on the beach, made camp, lost a bunch of boats to unexpected high tides then turned around and went home. But the following year he came back and (despite further tidal problems) ended up chasing the Britons all the way to the Thames and parts beyond. He even sent a war elephant stomping into the river. We know that the Romans knew how to make gods (cf. Mr Punch), isn’t it possible they knew how to kill them too?

If we want to speculate further, perhaps it wasn’t tides that damaged Caesar’s boats? A ticked off Genius Loci in control of the Thames Estuary could do a lot of damage. And anyone – god or man – who struck at Julius Caesar usually came to regret it.

So in 45 BC Caesar’s legions killed the god of the Thames. Ninety-five years later the river chose a new god, a young Briton who’d seen which way the wind was blowing and hitched his chariot to the incoming Romans.

(Of course none of this explains why the Walbrook had no god 11 years later, but I can’t solve all these issues at once!)

Edit: I turned this into a story, because of course I did.

Down in the Tunnels, Tryin’a Make it Pay

Some years back (about 6 I think?) I spent a fair bit of time putting together a map of the post-apocalyptic Moscow Metro system of Dmitry Glukhovsky’s Metro 2033 series. While this was received pretty well by both the cartographic and Metro communities I was never 100% happy with it – in particular the way it echoed the inaccurate depiction of interchanges from the official map – and I always intended to go back and revise it.

So now I have.

After many hours of studying Moscow’s geography and trawling my way through the Russian Metro wikia (with the assistance of Google Translate) I have redrafted and updated my map to produce what is undoubtedly (by which I mean ‘doubtedly’) the best English map of the Metro ever produced!

A miracle of rare device! A sunny pleasure dome with caves… wait, that’s not even CLOSE to accurate…
Seize-Seize the means of production! Yes-Yes!

As is my wont I’ve included some information from the expanded “Universe of Metro 2033” books by other authors, despite some of them being a bit silly (I’m still not quite over there being Skaven on the Serpukhovsko–Timiryazevskaya line). I’ve also used some content from the Metro computer game series, which is based on the books but takes a number of serious liberties with them (any version of Metro 2033 where Artyom doesn’t spend a week being forced to shovel human waste out of toilet pits simply isn’t Metro 2033!).

My next insane project is a redraft of the regional Moscow map I found on the Russian wiki, which is highly deficient in various areas. I will take some time off first however – at least until I stop waking up in the morning with the names metro stations echoing in my head (ТеатральнаяТеатральнаяТеатральная…)

Servo Skulls for a Crown Additional

I’ve formatted up my 40k rules for Saint Sabbat, and included an option to give her a retinue of Servo Skulls, as she had on Herodor. All still completely untested and probably badly overpowered. Enjoy!

The Saint

I’ve been thinking about how to field Saint Sabbat in a game of Warhammer 40,000.

Saint Sabbat. I can’t seem to find the name of the artist, but official GW art and hence copyright to them.

The obvious place to start is with the only Living Saint that actually has rules – Saint Celestine. I figure Sabbat should have the same statline as Celestine, with the exception of her movement, because while the Beati is undoubtedly awesome, the God Emperor declined to give her wings.

(It would have been highly thematic to give her 9 Wounds, but that’s just short of a Chimera APC, which seems a bit over the top)

MWSBSSTWALdSv
6″2+2+336692+

With stats sorted out the next step is wargear. Celestine wields the Ardent Blade – the handy-dandy, flame-throwing, power sword from hell, man! While very cool, this is a one of a kind weapon, and there is sadly a complete dearth of accounts of Saint Sabbat incinerating people with a sword thrust. So I decided to give her a knockoff Ardent Blade clone without the ranged attack.

Now a Saint cannot live by swords alone, so what else could Sabbat wield? Her description in Sabbat Martyr notes that her left hand is adorned with a gilded glove with eagle claws. This could simply be some Saintly bling, but I decided to do something with it. I have declared that the Eagle’s Talon gives anyone the Saint whacks with it a nice debuff, making it easier for everyone else to get stuck in.

Finally, what’s a Saint without ranged firepower? In Anarch she’s seen to be carrying a fancy golden autopistol, so let’s throw one of those in as an alternative for the Eagle’s Talon.

WEAPONRANGETYPESAPD
Power SwordMeleeMelee+4-32
Eagle’s TalonMeleeMelee+1-2*
* Target is at -1 Toughness until the end of the Battle Round
Master Crafted Autopistol12″Pistol 2301

Now we get to the fun bit, special rules!

I’m thinking that as Saint Celestine is a Saint for the Adepta Sororitas, Saint Sabbat should be a Saint for the Astra Militarum. So we’ll start by giving her the ability to inspire/boss around nearby infantry with Voice of Command. We’ll then nick Aura of Discipline from the great Commissar Yarrick, although we’ll call it Aura of Inspiration instead.

Checking back in with Celestine we’ll borrow The Armour of Saint Katherine, file off the serial numbers and call it Aquilan Aura, to represent that cool, glowing green eagle thing that shows up whenever Sabbat gets pissed off (see pic above).

Celestine also has that nice Shield of Faith ability. The 6+ Invulnerability Save is a bit much, but slapping down enemy Psykers is totally in character, so we’ll chop the save off it and call it No Miracles, Only Men (you know, since that’s a direct quote).

Finally we need something unique, an ability that only Saint Sabbat has access to. I can think of nothing better than giving her an Honour Guard. At the start of the battle a player fielding Saint Sabbat can designate a friendly unit with the INFANTRY and ASTRA MILITARUM keywords. As long as Saint Sabbat remains on the field that unit has +1 Toughness.

With that sorted the only thing left to do is set keywords and costs. Saint Sabbat’s Faction Keywords are IMPERIUM, ASTRA MILITARUM and <REGIMENT>, and her general Keywords are CHARACTER, INFANTRY, OFFICER and SAINT SABBAT. Her POWER level is 8 and points cost 150 – both estimates based on Saint Celestine

So, there we go. Completely untested and probably overpowered, but what the hey!

Saint Sabbat 40k Rules

Return to Brichester

I have finally got around to finalising the updated version of my Campbell Country map that’s been sitting on my desktop for months.

The changes are pretty minor – basically just tweaks to fix a few discrepancies uncovered by a re-read of the source material. Brichester for instance only has one train station, located in Lower Brichester, Temphill is surrounded by woods, and there’s actually a road running out to the Devil’s Steps. There are also some carvings in the woods near Castle Morley – I think that’s it.

Anyway, here ’tis!

For info on my cartographic process see Brichester and Parts Beyond.

EDIT: And of course – the universe being perhaps not quite as bleak and hostile as Lovecraft thought but still a thorough pain the posterior – no sooner do I publish this updated map than I discover more geographic detail. “Brichester Lake”, the favoured abode of Gla’aki, should actually be named “Deepfall Waters”.

I discovered this fact courtesy of Justin Alexander over at The Alexandrian, who has come up with a fantastic solution to the limited geography of the Vale of Berkely that simply never occurred to me despite the puzzle pieces lying in plain sight.

Meanwhile on Vogsphere

Ah! Rugose, flaccid nose-hole of the ruffled temple zone,
Your googly funnel-bunny gnaws a constipating bone,
The flow of curdled fennel burbles freely ‘twixt my toes,
Like humming lemon lemmings plinking furgled fertile rows,
Give over to me all your wingèd tokens priss-pristine,
Lest I dislocate your gruntle sack you disgusting pervert,

Brichester and Parts Beyond

Update! A newer version of my Campbell Country map can be accessed here…

In early 1960’s Liverpool – a city still suffering the scars of the determined Luftwaffe bombardment of twenty years earlier – a teenage boy purchased a short story collection titled Cry Horror! from a sweet shop that also did a line in second hand books. The book was a re-titled print of H. P. Lovecraft’s The Lurking Fear and Other Stories, and the boy was a young Ramsey Campbell who would go on to become one of Britain’s greatest horror authors.

Totally infatuated with Lovecraft’s work, the young Campbell whipped off a series of pastiches set in H. P.’s fictional New England towns of Arkham, Kingsport and Dunwich. Then – in a remarkable act of self confidence – he sent them off to August Derleth, Lovecraft’s literary executor and publisher.

One would expect Derleth to have thrown these efforts straight into the bin, but apparently he saw something in them. He wrote back to Campbell telling him “in no uncertain terms” how to improve his writing, including advice to stop trying to imitate Lovecraft’s style, and to stop trying to set his tales in America. Campbell took this advice on board and shortly afterwards Derleth published one of his rewritten tales – with a revised title and some other editorial amendments – in a short story collection, and a few years later published an entire book of his stories – The Inhabitant of the Lake and Less Welcome Tenants.

Over the next few years Campbell continued writing Lovecraft inspired works, gradually developing his own voice and style. In the process he created his own version of Lovecraft’s New England, a fictionalised version of Gloucestershire’s Severn Valley sometimes referred to as ‘Campbell Country’.

The locales of Campbell Country and Lovecraft Country can be roughly matched. The university town of Brichester maps to Arkham. Temphill is Kingsport – despite the former’s inland location. Goatswood is an English version of Dunwich. Of course as Campbell continued his writing his versions moved further away from the originals.

So, why am I writing about all this? It comes down – as it usually does with me – to cartography.

The Inhabitant of the Lake contained a map of Campbell Country, as did the 1995 tribute anthology Made in Goatswood. But both of them were sketch maps at best. The problem of developing a more detailed map of the Severn Valley has vexed me ever since I discovered Campbell’s oeuvre in the 1990s, and a few years back I decided to finally do something about it.

Map from "The Inhabitant of the Lake and Other Less Welcome Tenants" 1964
Map from “The Inhabitant of the Lake and Other Less Welcome Tenants” 1964

Map From "Made in Goatswood" 1995
Map From “Made in Goatswood” 1995

The primary problem with Campbell country is that there’s actually no room for it! It lies between the lower Severn River and the Cotswold hills – an area about 15 kilometres across. Brichester – a city easily the size of Swindon – would take up most of that space, leaving nowhere for the various desolate plains and creepy, isolated villages of Campbell’s stories. The map from Made in Goatswood even tries to fit the whole region in between the river and the M5 motorway, an area 6 kilometres across at the very widest!

On top of this, the Vale of Berkeley (as the region is properly known, the term ‘Severn Valley’ usually applying to areas north of Gloucester) is full of villages and urban developments, leaving ever less room for ominous woods and alien monuments.

So, I made two decisions. Firstly I would ignore matters of scale, and secondly I would free up space by replace existing locations with Campbellian ones.

So I got to work. But then (as so often happens) I got distracted. But then a few months back I found the files and decided to get back onto it.

In my revised geography Purton becomes Severnford with Old Severnford on the opposite side of the river. Claypits become the decaying hamlet of Clotton – it’s in the right place and I couldn’t resist the alliteration. The real world town of Cam is shrunk down to provide room for Camside. Ulley is converted to the sinister Goatswood and its valley filled with forest. Nympsfield becomes Temphill. The area around Haresfield (appropriate!) is depopulated and Warrendown plumped in the middle. Brichester Lake (and its inhabitant), the Devil’s Steps and Castle Morley are placed appropriately, and finally the city of Brichester is placed on the intersection of the railway and the A38 (which looks like this in reality). A few roads are moved, a few rivers redirected, and we’re done!

So here is my map of Campbell Country. I’ve no doubt made some mistakes and some incorrect assumptions, but overall I’m pretty happy with it.

Iä Gla’aki! Iä Iä Y’golonac!

Brichester and the Severn Valley
Brichester and the Severn Valley

The Strange Case of Randolph Peterson

Recently my local pizzeria – a place I buy far too many dinners from – underwent a major renovation. As part of this they got rid of the plastic outdoor furniture that was doing service as a place to wait for one’s order and installed a couple of luxurious dining booths, upholstered in funky vinyl decorated with a pattern of reproduced newspaper articles and Cuban postage stamps (yes, you read that right – Cuban postage stamps).

One of these articles has been catching my eye each time I’ve visited, and I here reproduce what parts of it are visible beneath other articles and stamps commemorating Columbus’s voyage to the new world…

MYSTERIOUS DISPARITION [sic]

Randolph Peterson, citizen of Boston that was living at the 138 Lane Street, is said disapeared [sic] since November 18. Randolph Peterson lived in Boston during his young times. At the age of 12 he contracted a strange and very severe illness that grag [sic] him in the coma for one full year. At the age of 13 he waked [sic] up from his coma, the illness was miraculously gone but he suffered of amnesia and had difficulty to readapt [sic] himself to a normal life. This ilness [sic] also left […] Some years ago he went to Africa to pursue some studies on pagan cults and living habits in some Afri- […]of still […] he […]u  ive[…] an inspect […] up soon to atr[…] him by the local authorities. If you have any information about where Randol-

What initially attracted my notice to this rather fragmentary account was the combination of extremely Lovecraftian elements, to wit a strange disappearance, New England, the name ‘Randolph’, a mysterious illness, amnesia and pagan cults. It almost read like a retread of The Shadow Out of Time! So I hurried home (once I had my pizza and garlic bread) and started Googling, confident that I would soon uncover whatever piece of sub-Derleth fan fiction the article derived from…

But… nothing….

I have been entirely unable to find any instance of Randolph Peterson and his mysterious vanishing anywhere online.

So, where did it come from?

Assuming that it wasn’t thrown together by some graphic designer on a Cthulhu binge I rather suspect that it may be a genuine article collected from an African newspaper. The rest of the articles used on the pattern appear genuine, and although I’m no linguist the slightly eccentric English has – to me – a distinctly African feeling to it, constructions such as “readapt himself” and “suffered of amnesia” . Randolph Peterson does not appear to exist anywhere on the internet, so I imagine it’s a fairly old article, even though some of the others appear quite recent (one concerns online music teaching).

So there the mystery must rest. Was Randolph Peterson ever real, and if so, what happened to him?

We may never know.

On Oil Guzzling Spiders

Sometimes while wandering the lanes and byways of the internet one comes across information too fascinating to be ignored – even if it is of dubious immediate utility.

For instance, consider this extract from Volume 88 of the Edinburgh Magazine and Literary Miscellany (1821)

The sexton of the church of St Eustace, at Paris, amazed to find frequently a particular lamp extinct early, and yet the oil consumed only, sat up several nights to perceive the cause. At length he detected that a spider of surprising size came down the cord to drink the oil. A still more extraordinary instance of the same kind occurred during the year 1751, in the Cathedral of Milan. A vast spider was observed there, which fed on the oil of the lamps. M. Morland, of the Academy of Sciences, has described this spider, and furnished a drawing of it. It weighed four pounds, and was sent to the Emperor of Austria, and is now in the Imperial Museum at Vienna.

What, I ask, is to be done about that?