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Professor Cline’s notebooks from this period contain numerous hand written copies of historical documents presumably located in monastery libraries.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…)

The Truth Behind the Lie

Here’s another idea for an RPG campaign that I’ll never get around to running, partially because organising even a single gaming session – let alone a campaign – when you get to my age requires a major effort, and partially because it touches on some tricky issues that I’m nowhere near good enough to handle in a suitably respectable fashion. Oh, and also because I’m explaining it here and my players are a bunch of dirty cheats who’d read this post in its entirety and spoil the whole thing.

So, it starts out as your standard fantasy RPG game, although the players would notice a few non-standard features of the setting. The PCs are all resistance fighters on the run, living rough in the wilderness while fighting back against the evil empire that has conquered the once prosperous realm. Sort of Robin Hood meets John Connor’s guys from The Terminator.

They need to sneak around, gathering resources to survive, making alliances with groups and individuals who may or may not be trustworthy and launching risky strikes against the foe whenever they can manage it. It’s a highly uneven battle – the enemy holds all the cards while the PCs have little but their determination and belief to keep them going.

While the warriors of the enemy are tough, the greatest threat to the PCs are the mind-bending magics of their sorcerers, capable of rewriting memories and personalities and turning trusted friends and allies to the side of evil. Being captured and subjected to mind-magic is the thing of nightmares and to be avoided by the PCs at all costs.

As the campaign progresses it should gradually become clear to the players that things aren’t all that they seem. As evidence mounts up it should slowly dawn on them that the PCs are not fantasy heroes valiantly fighting evil…

…they’re mentally ill homeless people living rough on the streets of a modern day city. The evil forces ranked against them are cops trying to maintain order and the terrifying mind-wiping sorcerers are social workers trying to get them into treatment.

As I said I could never pull this off in a way that firstly works, and secondly doesn’t make a mockery of the very serious issues of homelessness and mental health. But someone else might be able to manage, so have at it!

(Inspirations for this concept include the Tube Station scene in Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere and Dirt Merchant Games’ extremely messed up – and extremely funny – “LARP” Freebase, which is well worth looking up.)

Sweetness and Light

In these times of plague and disaster, who better to turn to for help than an ancient snake god whose cult pretty much consisted of Alexander of Abonoteichus perfecting his ventriloquist routine?

Glycon, protect us from the plague clouds! And David Strassman!

Simply print out copies of this stylish icon of Glycon (aka ‘Sweetie’) and post them about your local area. Not only will your neighbours be extremely confused, but the ancient sock puppet himself will be guaranteed* to protect both you and them from any menacing plague clouds hovering in the vicinity!

If Glycon’s good enough for Alan Moore, he’s good enough for you!

(*not guaranteed)

Power Armour Through the Ages

Let me tell you, discovering that your site isn’t running is just a GREAT way to start the day. Turns out MySQL fell over for some reason. I’ll need to keep an eye on that…

Anyway here’s yet another blank 40k template, this time for all 8 Marks of classic Astartes Power Armour.

With Apologies to Leon Payne…

Can you fry me up some slab, Mamma?
‘Cause I’m as hungry as can be
Life in this hive is just so drab, Mamma
You know that everyone hates me

Like the Gangers with their hair, Mamma
Down by the manufactory arch
There was some lightning from the air, Mamma
And now they’re turning them to starch

Think I’m a Psyker, don’t you Mamma?
The warp into my mind it drips
Think I’m a Psyker, don’t you Mamma?
They’re gonna take me to the ships

You won’t believe the things I’ve seen, Mamma
When I lay me down to rest
I’ve been having crazy dreams, Mamma
About this lady named ‘Slaanesh’

She has all these wild plans, Mamma
And they all seem really great
But I just don’t understand, Mama
Why she keeps calling me ‘The Gate’?

Think I’m a Psyker, don’t you Mamma?
You think I’m gonna lose control
Think I’m a Psyker, don’t you Mamma?
They’ll put those bindings on my soul

You know the Temple by the shore, Mamma?
Well I was feeling kind of lost
So I walked in through the door, Mamma
But everything got rimed with frost

An Ecclesiarchy Clerk, Mamma
Offered me the Emperor’s Grace
Well I kind of went berserk, Mamma
And somehow melted off his face

Think I’m a Psyker, don’t you Mamma?
Please Mamma hide me here at home
Think I’m a Psyker, don’t you Mamma?
Don’t let them feed me to the Throne

Think I’m a Psyker, don’t you Mamma?
The Inquisition’s drawing near
Think I’m a Psyker, don’t you Mamma?
But Mamma…
Didn’t you die last year?

(And some versions of the original, in case you’re not familiar…)

The Sons of Pavlach

This post is part of the Skereig Subsector project

NAME: Sons of Pavlach
CHAPTER MASTER: Matteus Vyev
HOMEWORLD: Freo Prime, Insignus Cluster, Skerieg Subsector, Chiros Sector, Segmentum Tempestus
FORTRESS MONASTERY: The Anchor
RECRUITING WORLDS: Freo Prime, Saversnake III
PROGENITOR CHAPTER: Unknown. Raven Guard Presumed.
FOUNDING: Unknown. Earliest Known Reference 300.M36
GENESEED DEFECTS: Defective Melanchromic Organ and Betcher’s Gland. Missing Mucranoid.
CODEX COMPLIANCE: High Compliance
BATTLE CRY: Spectant Tenebris – “Look to the Darkness”
TACTICAL SPECIALTIES: Stealth, Infiltration
STRENGTH: Estimated at 847 Battle Brothers as of 985.M41

The Sons of Pavlach Astartes Chapter is based on the ocean world of Freo Prime in the Skerieg Subsector of the Chiros Sector of the Segmentum Tempestus. Established since at least 300.M36 the Chapter’s Fortress Monastery is constructed within the planet’s highest mountain – the Anchor – which is located near the centre of the world’s only continent.

Aspirants are recruited from the fishing people of the planet’s main archipelago, and expeditions are made approximately every 20 years to the feral world of Saversnake III to supervise the ‘Games of Ayefel’ – a tournament held to select the strongest and most athletic youths for induction into the Chapter.

Similarly to their presumed progenitors in the Raven Guard, the defective Melanchromic Organs of the Sons of Pavlach result in pale white skin and coal black hair and eyes. Unlike the Raven Guard however they possess semi-functional Betcher’s glands capable of generating a dilute form of the acidic venom produced by other marines. They completely lack the Mucranoid system.

Non-Astartes personal interacting with the Sons of Pavlach have reported unusually high levels of unease – occasionally approaching outright panic – in their presence, beyond that typically categorised as “transhuman dread”. It is theorised that this is the result of a low-level or subconscious psyker ability inherent in the Chapter’s geneseed. The Subsector authorities prefer to communicate with the Chapter via vox and viewscreen over which this effect does not manifest – a preference that does not appear to concern the Chapter in the slightest.

The current Chapter Master is Matteus Vyev, a native of Freo Prime who was promoted from Captain of the Second Company in 878.M41 after the death of Chapter Master Kristoss Mann and First Company Captain Lang during the Purge of Adderstone.


In case you were wondering, the Sons of Pavlach – originally the Freo Marines – began as a joke based around creating Space Marine chapters out of AFL teams. But then I decided to incorporate them into my Skerieg Subsector project and had to clean them up some. They are now slightly less ridiculous, although it is sadly unavoidable that any AFL fan would recognise their origin immediately.