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91. Bigger than an Elephant in London between 509 to 27BCE

MAY. 16, 2024


Pete and Ryan join forces to discover things Bigger than an Elephant in London during 509 to 27 BCE. Find out why a drunken elephant is best avoided. Learn to build your own hill-fort using bits of animals. And discover the bigger-than-an-elephant-sized boat that turned the tide of British history.

In this week’s episode we’re staying close to home in London to look for things that are bigger than an elephant during the time of the Roman Republic.

We’re dialling back Big Ben’s clock to a time before cockneys and monarchs, when iron-age chieftains ruled forest-lined banks of the river Thames.

London is the capital city of England and the United Kingdom and the home of HHE Podcast.

Located in the south-eastern part of England, you can find it sitting astride the River Thames, and wrapped lovingly within the 117 mile circle of the M25 motorway.

It is essentially a large collection of villages built on top of a flood plain and surrounded by gently rolling hills, London is split into two main areas: ‘London’ which refers to the larger metropolitan area, and the ‘City of London’ which is a tiny area of roughly 1 square mile (3 square kilometres) that forms the main financial district and has its own local authority, and where the monarch has to request permission to enter.

Together they make a city that is home to nearly 9 million people, all crammed into an area that covers roughly 1,572 square kilometres (about 607 square miles) – which is about 160 Londons to a France.

Considered one of the most multicultural cities in the world, virtually every nationality is represented here, with over 300 languages spoken reflecting various people from around the globe.

Think of London, and various images pop into mind, with landmarks like the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, the Tate Modern, the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, St Paul’s Cathedral, Hyde Park, Oxford Street, the BT Tower, Canary Wharf, the Shard, the Gherkin, the Walkie-Talkie, Camden Bridge, Platform 9 ¾ at Kings Cross Station and that famous monument, Monument.

London doesn’t have an official animal, like other British cities, like Manchester’s Bee, or Birmingham’s Bull, but if it were to have one, you might think of a Raven, which are considered to be the guardians of the Tower of London, and by extension, the city itself – in fact, there's a superstition that if the ravens are lost or fly away, the Crown will fall.

Alternatively, you might pick a fox, or a pigeon, cos they’re everywhere in London, and like many Londoners, they also like a kebab late at night.

London doesn’t have an official song either, but if we’re looking for a piece of music that captures the energy of the city, then we could probably do no better than "London Suite" (also known as "London Everyday") by Eric Coates.

Composed in 1933, it is said to be a musical painting of London, capturing the essence and vibrancy of the city through sound. The suite contains four movements, each depicting different aspects of London: Covent Garden, Westminster, Knightsbridge, and London Bridge.

It’s said that Coates method for composing involved visiting each place to absorb their atmosphere, which he then translated into music.

We can’t talk about Elephants in the context of London without talking about an area in the city given the unusual name, ‘Elephant and Castle’. It’s a name that originates from a coaching inn that stood there in 1765, possibly even older, called the ‘Elephant and Castle’.

It even had a sign with an elephant carrying a castle on its back.

Some think that the name comes from the local accent saying "Infanta de Castile" which is a title held by a Spanish princess.

But the truth seems to be that it relates to a medieval trade guild called the Worshipful Company of Cutlers, that made swords and knives with ivory handles.

The story goes that the elephant’s tusks symbolised the blades and the castle just showed the sheer size of the elephant.

The first recorded elephant in London was in 1255, when the King of France gifted King Henry III of England one. It’s said that he housed it in the Tower of London before moving it to a special Elephant House, but unfortunately, it didn’t survive long, supposedly because no-one knew what or how much to feed it.

In 1814, during a Frost Fair held on the River Thames, an elephant was led across the ice near Blackfriars Bridge. This wasn’t just for the entertainment of the crowds, but supposedly to test the thickness and stability of the ice.

Also in the 19th century, a celebrity Elephant got drunk and killed people. During this time, elephants were used in various shows in London theatres. For convenience, their stables were located behind the Theatre Royal in Haymarket. People who saw the shows would then go to see the elephants afterwards and give them a drink of beer.

On one occasion though, an elephant got so drunk that it broke free and trampled several people.

Finally, during World War II, elephants were made to work in London. When the city was bombed every night during the Blitz, Elephants from the circus were brought in to help cleanup the streets, moving heavy rubble and helping people trapped on high floors.

History of London
To get us started on a tricky note, in our time period, London was not a thing as such, certainly not a place with that name.
Having said that the remains of what may be the various ancient structures suggesting human habitation have been found at Vauxhall in South London, perhaps better known as the location of the head office of MI6 aka the office of one James Bond.
In one place by the shore, at low tide archaeologists found a line of timbers parallel to the shore – carbon dated to around 4500 BCE aka the late Mesolithic period, or late Middle Stone Age. I’m not sure anyone knows what it was, but I can tell you to the non-archaeologist eye, it is not impressive.
But also in Vauxhall, about 600m south of the poles, is what may be London’s oldest known bridge, or at least he remains of it.
This one is 3500 years ago or around 1500 BCE. The wooden remains of a 3 metre wide structure were noticed in 1993 when erosion revealed the remains of the supporting beams.
In 2002 the archaeology TV show Time Team, which I know you’re a fan of Ryan, concluded that the structure was most probably a bridge to a gravel island in the middle of the river, although it might also have been a jetty.
Now for anyone who knows the area, you’re probably thinking how wide and deep the river is, but at that time it would have been marshy, possibly with islands in as well, so an effective bridge here is at that time would have been a much more modest affair.
Sadly though, a bridge does not a city or a settlement make and archaeologist Leslie Wallace says, "Because no LPRIA [Late pre-Roman Iron Age] settlements or significant domestic refuse have been found in London, despite extensive archaeological excavation, arguments for a purely Roman foundation of London are now common and uncontroversial."
So when did London start then?
Cut to 43CE and the arrival of a large number of Italian tourists – with swords.
It was the Roman Invasion under Emperor Claudius.
Actually this wasn’t the first visit the Romans made to our shores. Julius Caesar started out by invading Britain twice: in 55 and 54 BCE. His first attempt saw him get to Kent and then go home, which if you’ve been to Kent does make a certain sense. The second invasion consisted of 800 ships, five legions and 2,000 cavalry. They got as far as crossing the Thames and setting up a client kingdom in the form of the tribe called the Trinovantes.
But neither time did the Romans actually stick around themselves until the Claudian arrival. They pushed North and defeated the resistance of Britons under Caratacus, King of the Catuvellauni
This newly conquered Roman Kingdom needed a capital, So they chose Camulodunum – modern day Colchester.
But this town had some new competition. A new settlement developed along the River Thames around where the City of London is today.
This was Londinium, formed somewhere around 47CE.
Although it had a less-than-strong start when it was destroyed 13 years later by Boudicca, queen of the Iceni, it was a resilient place - the Romans rebuilt it and this time it really stuck.
The Romans built a bridge near the site of present day London Bridge, and walls to protect the place, learning from their experience.
But in 410 AD with trouble back home, the Romans finally gave up on their British holiday home and left the island, and the city of London behind.
After this, perhaps because it was a new-build, it kind of fell into disrepair.
Whilst Anlgo-Saxons did move into the area, their settlement that was established by the early 7th century, called Lundenwic, was about a mile west of Londinium around Covent Garden.
Later on Alfred the Great renewed the old city walls in the late 800s bringing the old Roman area back into use.
After him, the Danish King Cnut invaded and took over England from 1016. His stepson, Edward the Confessor became king in 1042 and he wanted somewhere to do his confessing, so he built Westminster Abbey as well as the first Palace of Westminster.
Shortly after that come Normans. Specifically William the Conqueror aka William the Bastard and the invasion of 1066. William builds the white tower, the oldest part of the Tower of London.
Normans become medieval, peasants revolt, the black death kills of half the city. And the city grows, becoming a twisting mass of streets and alleys, with close packed buildings made of timber and straw. Which I’m sure will be absolutely fine.
Onward, into the Tudors, Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries saw a lot of land in London changing hands and London’s importance as a port and trade centre really takes off.
And with wealth comes entertainment, including various theatres showing the works of a promising young playwright called William something or other.
Then we’re into Stuarts, starting with Jimmy Stuart - the young King James I of England taking the throne. Then Charles I who foolishly starts a Civil War in which the King fought with Parliament, with the city of London on the side of parliament with the result that the king loses his head, quite literally.
Another bout of plague hits the city in 1665 and in 1666 the whole city burned in the Great Fire of London which started in a bakery in Pudding Lane and destroyed about 60% of the city.
But on the plus side one Christopher Wren was commissioned to rebuild a little church known as St Paul’s Cathedral.
18th century saw more growth and the arrival of industrialisation. New neighbourhoods spring up, such as Mayfair. The printing press generates a whole new industry of news-papers, particularly in the area of Fleet Street. And 1750 sees the Bow Street Runners established – so finally you can call the police. That same year also sees the second bridge to be built in London – Westminster Bridge.
Up to the 19th century now and the British empire helps London become the world’s largest city. 1 million people in 1800 grows to to 6.7 million at the end of the century.
All of who’s waste is pouring straight into the Thames. Leading up to 1858 with what became known as The Great Stink. And for obvious reason, at this time engineer Joseph Bazalgette is commissioned to build some sewers for the place, resulting in 2100 km of tunnels and pipes under London still in use today.
Other features of the town included urchins picking a pocket or two and singing whilst they did it – as chronicled by one Charles Dickens.
This was also the century that saw the creation of Trafalgar Square and the tower of Big Ben.
And we’re strong into the 20th century. Continued growth of the population despite the depression and the first world war and then the Second World war bombing campaign during the Blitz reshaped large chunks of the city and killing 30,000 Londoners.
But we win, and as a reward we get to enjoy Swinging London in the 1960s, Carnaby Street, the Kings Road and all that.
Post war the docklands area declines as it can’t handle the larger modern container ships but by the 80s this area is revived with large offices being built in the area, including Canary Wharf which first opened in 1991.
Then it’s the millennium and the nation celebrates by disappointing millions of people with a baffling exhibition at the newly-build Millennium dome. But also sees the opening of probably the most iconic contribution to the London skyline in my lifetime, the London Eye.
In 2012 we hosted the Olympics and everyone felt good about themselves briefly and in 2023 London was the location for the coronation of King Charles. Huzzah!
And who knows what the future holds, maybe after 2024 in a not-so-glamorous corner of London known as Croydon, the next big podcast sensation will emerge.

The topic for this episode seems fairly straight forward – find things which are ‘bigger than an elephant’

But that’s not very specific, is it?

So, before we get into our stories, I thought it best to try and define what measurement we’re referring to when saying that something is 'bigger than an elephant'.

So, using my renowned knowledge of science and mathematics I thought I’d work it out with precision.

So, let’s start with what type of elephant we’re going to use as our standard, because depending on where you are located in the world, your view of what an elephant looks like might change.

For example, when asked to picture an elephant, people in the west might think of Loxodonta africana - the African Savannah elephant – largest of the elephant subspecies, and typically found in sub-Saharan Africa.
But if you live in Asia, picturing an elephant might make you think of Elephas maximus - the Asian Elephant – which is the smallest of the elephant species.

So how do we pick from these two elephants?

Well, I thought we could look to see which has the highest population.

And as of this year, population wise, there are approximately 415,000 Savannah elephants across Africa, and only 50,000 Asian elephants in the wild. So, way more African elephants in the world.

But is that enough of a measure to determine which elephant to pick? After all, we’re trying to determine which of the subspecies is most commonly associated with the term "elephant".

That means not just looking at population numbers, but also those which are most commonly visible to humans, which means factoring in things like proximity to humans, availability in zoos, and presence in the media.

African Savannah elephants, for example, tend to roam around areas that are only visited by locals in small villages or tourists on safari, whereas the Asian elephant is often found near or within areas that are densely populated by humans, leading to frequent human-elephant interactions.

So, despite lower population numbers, the Asian elephant probably could win in a ‘most recognised elephant by humans’ contest.

That being said, zoos are a concentrated area for interactions between humans and elephants - and around the world, African Savannah elephants represent the most captive species, with around 600 on display in zoos around the world today, compared to just 300 Asian elephants.

So a win for the African elephant in the ‘availability for public viewing’ round.

But then we need to look at ‘representation in the media’, which frankly is a bit of tie, because while African elephants dominate mainstream Western media, featuring in movies, documentaries, and commercials - Asian elephants do pretty much the same in media across Asia.

That being said, if we do a quick google search for ‘the world’s most famous elephant’, all the top results reveal that ‘Jumbo the Great African elephant’ was the most famous elephant to ever live.

And that brings me to another factor.. cultural significance…

While African elephants are considered culturally significant in their native countries, internationally they are mostly viewed through the lens of conservation and wildlife protection.

Whereas, in many parts of Asia, especially India, the Asian elephant holds a significant cultural and religious role, often appearing in various religious iconography, annual festivals and processions, in fact in some places they form part of the workforce, helping to deforest wooded areas for development.

So, I think a win for the Asian elephant in terms of cultural awareness.

Which means that in sum, the subspecies that conjures the word ‘elephant’ in the minds of the general public is…
Well.. I think it’s a draw.

So, we’re going to combine both subspecies into our size equations, which means that if the average height of an adult African elephant stands at around 3m at the shoulder, and an average adult Asian elephant stands at around 2.5m, then the combined average height of a hypothetical ‘general elephant’ would be 2.75m (9 feet) tall.

So, we have our first measurement – 2.75m high.

Which means that in terms of scale, anything ‘bigger than elephant’ needs to be divided by 2.75m – for example, the famous clock tower Big Ben, which is 100m tall, would be 36 times ‘bigger than an elephant’.

But height isn’t the only factor, next up is weight, so, using the same logic, if an average adult African elephant weighs around 6 tons (5500kg), and an Asian elephant weighs around 4 tons (3600kg) then something bigger than an elephant in terms of weight would be heavier than 5000kg or 5 tons.

So, for the purposes of our episode, to recap.. ‘bigger than an elephant’ means taller than 2.75m (9ft) and heavier than 5 tons (5000kg).


Iron age tools and where to find them
If you travel to North East London, just beyond Walthamstow, before you hit the M25 you will come to a place called Loughton. right by Epping Forest.
This is, as you may have guessed, a forest. Specifically 2,400-hectares (5,900-acre) of ancient woodland. Ancient woodland is defined as having existed continuously since 1600.
It is actually owned by the City of London Corporation, which is the municipal body in charge of the City of London. Which for those of you don’t know is one small area in the centre of London, where the financial centre was for many years, and sometimes known as the Square Mile. But apparently they also own and look after various green areas around London, including Hampstead Heath and, as I mentioned, Epping Forest.
And in Epping forest, if you walk around for long enough, you might come across Loughton Camp. Honestly, you could be forgiven for missing it, as it’s essentially a bank and a ditch but this bank represents the protective earthworks of an Iron Age camp, situated at the highest point of the area.
The earthworks encompass an area of land about 4 hectares (ten acres) or six football pitches with an outer ditch was dug out to about 3 meters high.
Estimated to have been in use around 500BCE, at that time it’s likely the area would have been clear of trees rather than hidden in the forest.
But what was it?
It’s hard to say, because as with many of these places, there isn’t a lot left, but despite the name fort, it’s not really believed to have been primarily a military installation.
It may have been a lookout post, or just a place to take refuge when under attack.

Because this fort was located at the boundary between two warring tribes, the Trinovantes in defence against the Catuvellauni, both of whom we met in the history section – the Trinovantes becoming the client kingdom of the Romans whilst the Catuvellauni led the failed resistance
The ditch would have provided some protection, and on top of the bank on the other side of the ditch, a wooden fence of palisade would have been constructed.
One thing that was found was a quern stone, which was a kind of milling tool in use at the time. This consists of two stones, a lower stationary stone called a saddle quern, with a stone on top is called a muller, rubber, or handstone. This is either moved back and forth over the saddle stone, or rotated using a handle stuck into a hole made in the stone.
Local legend has it that Boudica was connected to the camp and that another iron age fort in this area called Ambresbury Banks was the site of her final defeat, but I should add that there is no evidence at all to support this.
But the question remains, how did our iron age forbears dig such a substantial earthworks, given the mechanical digger was some way off.
According to some archaeologists, based on finds at various iron age sites, the answer is antlers and bones.
Specifically, the dynamic duo of antler pick and scapula shovel.
The antler pick is, as you may have guessed, a pick, or potentially more of a lever, used to break up the ground you want to dig.
This is handy for a couple of reasons. First, the antler is kind of pick-shaped already, it has a sort of stem, and sharp pointy bits sticking off this stem. Secondly, you can find antlers literally lying around the place. The red deer, which was commonplace at this time, literally sheds its antler around March every single year. So all you have to do is pick it up and bingo, you’ve got a tool.
But once you’ve broken up the soil, you’re going to want to get rid of it. Probably you have a basket of some kind, but how to transfer the soil into the basket. Enter the scapula shovel.
These are made from the scapula or shoulder blade of a large mammal, like an ox or a cow or a horse or similar.
Sadly oxen don’t shed their bones in quite the same way, but it is fairly easy to pick the bones out of a dead animal.
But how do we know these things work?
Enter experimental archaeology. It’s all very well speculating how people did things back in the day but how do we know an antler pick can work – well, you make one yourself and try it out.
This was just one of the things conducted in a remarkable experiment called the Overton Down experimental earthworks.
In this, they dug out an earthworks similar to what we see at Loughton Camp and see how it develops over time.
A key part of this experiment was to bury various cloths and materials in order to see how they decay and break down. This is the word of the week - Taphonomy - the study of how organisms decay and become fossilized or preserved.
Now you’re probably thinking ‘this might take a while’ and you’d be right.
In an impressive commitment to the long term, The Overton Down earthwork was constructed in 1960 with a plan to review the development of the place at intervals of 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64 and, possibly even, 128 years.
So as a 1992 paper attempted to “assesses the results from the first 32 years of the Experimental Earthworks Project.” And thy concluded, “It is still a little too soon to judge whether the Experimental Earthworks Project is worthwhile.”
But that wasn’t all they did.
They also took the opportunity to do a time and motion type study and rather than using modern methods, they dug out the earthworks using tools they believed may have been used at the time – a basket, antler picks and scapula shovels.
Now mostly the antler pick got all the glory, the scapula shovels didn’t seem to work so well, ending up being move of a scraping tool than a shoveller.
But between the two tools, they concluded that the worker with modern hand tools averaged 3.58 cubic feet of earth per man hour, the worker with primitive tools 3 cubic feet of earth per man hour. That meant a small burial mound or barrow could have been made by 10 people in a week.
Now I mentioned the scapula shovel was less satisfactory than the antler pick, well you’ll be delighted to learn that study is ongoing with archaeologists such as Charli Mansfield conducting much more recent experiments including attaching handles of varying lengths to help us understand better the potential use and effectiveness of the scapula shovel.
So, Ryan, get out there, grab yourself an antler and a spare shoulder blade and we too could have our own iron-age style hill fort that’s bigger than an elephant, in just a few dozen backbreaking days of labour

Okay, so our time period 500 – 27 BCE, covers the period of British history prior to the Roman occupation, but there was a Roman influence on Britain long before any legionary stepped foot on the island.

In fact, for a long time, tribal chiefs of Britain were trading with the Empire, exchanging metals and grains and animal hides and slaves in exchange for Roman luxuries like wine and figs and exotic glass ornaments.

But in the middle of the 1st century before the common era, Gaius Julius Caesar arrived in Gaul (modern day France) and started rampaging around, claiming lands for the Empire.

Caesar was in something of a political popularity contest with a couple of rivals in Rome, called Crassus and Pompey, and he realised that he needed to do something bold and extraordinary to make him stand out above them to beat them in the race for political power.

So, Caesar decided to do what no no Roman had done before and cross the English Channel into Britain - a mysterious and dangerous land that was considered to be at the very edge of the world.
So, giving himself permission to attack Britain by claiming that they needed to be punished for supporting his enemies in Gaul, Caesar prepared his troops, and at midnight on August 23rd, in the year 55 BCE, he led 2 roman legions, with 500 cavalry, out into the channel towards Britain.

…where they immediately entered a storm which resulted in 18 of Caesar’s ships having to return back to the mainland.

Undeterred, by 9 o’clock the next morning, his fleet arrived at Dover where they spotted a line of British warriors staring down at them from the tops of the huge chalk cliffs.

Unable to land in Dover, Caesar ordered his fleet to follow the coast to the East.

Eventually finding a suitable landing bay, the Romans found themselves again staring at a British force waiting them, having followed the ships along the coastline from Dover.

The Romans readied themselves for a fight, but quickly realised that their transport ships were unable to sail close to the shoreline, meaning that the only way their legionaries could get to shore was by jumping directly into the water while wearing their heavy armour and swimming or wading to the beach.

According to Caesar’s own account, no one wanted to do that, that is until a standard-bearer from the Xth legion shouted: "Leap, fellow soldiers, unless you wish to betray your eagle to the enemy. I, for my part, will perform my duty to the republic and to my general!” before leaping into the sea.

Apparently, this inspired his fellow soldiers, and one by one the rest of the Romans did the same.

Which wasn’t a great idea, because now struggling to get to shore, the Britons started firing a hail of rocks, arrows and javelins at them.

Despite this attack, eventually the Roman soldiers reached shallower water, and formed a battle line - which the British were happy to attack.

Watching the skirmish from his ship, Caesar deployed more men into the battle, and provided support by pelting everyone on the beach with rocks fired from catapults mounted on the deck of his ships.

Remarkably, this all seemed to work in his favour, and soon the Britons became overwhelmed and scattered into the surrounding forests – leaving a bunch of soaking wet Romans to relish their first victory on British soil.

The next morning, ambassadors from local tribes arrived at the Roman camp and claiming to have no knowledge of the warriors from the day before, offered their support to Caesar. So, not a bad start for Caesar, just two days into a British invasion.

But things went downhill fast after that, when another storm destroyed the ships anchored off the beach, and worse, stopped Roman reinforcements crossing the channel from Gaul.

Having already bent the knee to their new Roman overlords, the Britons seized on this opportunity to do a takesies-backsies, by forming a large coalition to attack Caesar’s men.

Despite the odds, the Romans were able to push the British horde away, but recognising the odds were not in his favour, Caesar ordered some urgent makeshift repairs on their ships, and then led a hasty retreat back to Gaul - where he immediately started planning a second invasion.

And it didn’t take long, because one year later, in 54 BCE, an invasion force double the size of the original, with an armada of 600 ships carrying 25,000 soldiers and a force of local warriors led by chieftains from Northern Gaul cast off on the night of July the 6th and arrived in Britain the following morning.

This time, the beaches were empty, and Caesar took the opportunity to immediately march his forces inland - where they a large British force was waiting.

A battle ensued, which the Romans won, but the very next morning Caesar received word that another storm had damaged the ships anchored offshore.

Reluctantly, he returned to the beach and ordered that all the boats be repaired.

Unfortunately, this distraction allowed some of the larger tribes of Britain to put aside their differences and unite against their common enemy. And leading their coalition was their mightiest Chieftain - a man named Cassilvellaunus, a barbarian brute whose strategic mind was said to rival that of Caesar’s own.

Quickly gathering an army Cassilvellaunus headed south to meet Caesar.

Caesar, having now fixed his ships, assembled his men and marched towards the river Thames, a journey which was interrupted by Cassivellaunus’ 4000 chariots which attacked the Roman column using hit and run tactics, swerving in close and hurling javelins at the Romans before quickly disappearing off into the surrounding forest where Roman cavalry were lured into ambushes and slaughtered.

Things were not looking great for Caesar.

But, in this moment of weakness, he suddenly receives an unexpected bit of good news in the form of a messenger from a local tribe called the Trinovantes (which, by the way, means the "very vigorous people").

The messenger tells Caesar that not every tribe in Britain stands with Cassivellaunus. In fact, the Trinovantes were especially unhappy with Cassivellaunus because in the past few years he led a particularly bloody and brutal campaign against them.

The Trinovantes were an important tribe because they owned the territory to the east of England, a fertile land that ran from Suffolk, through Essex, all the way south to Trinovantum – an area north of the River Thames that would later become known as Caer Lud, then Llundain, Londinium – and finally London, as we know it today.

Anyway, the point being, that their territory was full of land and had access to the river Thames, which was a vital artery for trade throughout Britain and abroad.

This made the Trinovantes one of the most powerful tribes in Britain, and Cassivellaunus wanted control of all that land for himself.
So, with his army, he attacked the Trinovantes, raided their lands, laid siege on their hilltop fort, killed their king, Imanuentius, and caused the King’s son, Prince Mandubracius, to flee for his life.

His escape came with the help of some loyalists, who under the shroud of night, helped him slip out from the besieged settlement, and head south, over a 100 miles to the river Thames, where they stuck to the edge of the riverbank in an effort to avoid the pathways that were patrolled by Cassivellaunus’s men.

The river was their escape route, as it offered a winding path through the landscape to the south coast, where they could sail across the channel to Gaul.

But to successfully make that journey, they needed a boat – and it needed to be a boat sturdy enough to handle not just the waters of the Thames, but also the 30 mile journey across the channel.

It needed to be a small vessel to avoid being seen, but also large enough to carry the prince, his companions, and all of their provisions - things like dried meats, grains, herbs, fruits and water, as well as gold, silver, jewellery and weapons.

So, they set to work, cutting down huge 20m tall oak trees, and using the wood to build a boat that was about 12 feet in length, with a mast that stood just as high, and which, when fully laden, would have weighed a total of around 5 tons.

You could say that their boat was bigger than an elephant.

Anyway, despite the dangers, their escape in the boat was a success, because once Mandubracius and his men reached Gaul, they met with local Gallic tribes who took them to Roman officials as political refugees.

Considered a valuable asset, with knowledge of the lands to the North, Mandubracius had found himself in the company of Roman leaders, including one Gaius Julius Cesar, who, impressed with the young prince, took him under his wing and unofficially adopted him as something of a surrogate son.

Which is why, later, as Caesar is in Britain struggling against Cassivellaunus, he was extremely pleased to be approached by this representative of the Trinovantes, who by sheer coincidence was asking for his help in returning their Prince Mandubracius to them in exchange for their loyalty.

Considering this a fortunate and simple request to fulfil, Caesar handed over Mandubracius, and standing by their word, the Trinovantes, and five other tribes with grievances against Cassivellaunus, joined Caesar’s side.

Together they attacked his hilltop fort, and caused Cassivellaunus to surrender, agreeing to pay tribute to Rome, and promising not to seek revenge against the Trinovantes - which were now under Roman protection, thanks to Mandubracius and Caesar’s affection for each other.

All done and dusted, Caesar ordered his Romans to pack up their belongings and head back to Gaul.

Ultimately, his invasion didn’t establish a permanent Roman presence, but it had set the precedent of chieftains in Britain now living under a Roman influence.

And all because of a prince that escaped London in a boat that was bigger than an elephant!

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