The Owl of the Durotriges – Novel Background

Although Caesar’s first expedition to Britain was not until 55BC, finds of amphora and other imported goods suggest that Britain was conducting a thriving trade with Europe and the Mediterranean during the last century BC. The Greek scholar Strabo, (64 BC – AD 24) lists Britain’s exports as cattle, grain, gold, silver, iron, hides, hunting dogs and slaves, and coins found around the Thames Estuary, minted circa 130-80BC, suggest ongoing political and commercial links between Eastern Britain and Northern Gaul.

Map of Britain and Gaul 1st C BC

Hengistbury Head, with its sheltered harbour, is fed by two navigable rivers; the Avon and the Stour which provide access to the hinterland and beyond. Its prime location meant that during the last century BC it became a port-of-trade, capitalising on the new chanels of contact that opened up following the setting up of the Roman province in southern Gaul in 120 BC. Evidence for the export of bronze, silver, gold, salt, shale and corn has been found at Hengistbury Head. In exchange for raw materials, Britain imported unworked glass, pottery from Amorica (modern day Brittany) and most intriguingly, figs!

Most of the goods reaching Central Southern Britain would have arrived through a trading network utilising the major European rivers which fed into the Atlantic seaway. From Brittany, (Amorica) goods would have been transported on to Guernsey and thence to the Central Southern ports of Hengistbury and Poole. In The Owl of the Durotriges I have suggested that a Roman Merchantman ship regularly docked at Hengistbury Head; and I must confess to a degree of poetic licence to suggest that such a vessel did indeed grace our shores!

There is also increasing evidence to suggest that during this time, proto-towns sprung up throughout Europe and Central and Southern Britain. Caesar named them ‘Oppida’. Archaeogical investigations into the oppida is still on-going but it does appear that they were vast, sprawling affairs where industry of all sorts was carried out.

Druids – my apologies if my portrayal of the Druids isn’t exactly flattering. The truth of the matter is that we have very little evidence of what the Druids in the Iron Age were actually like!