Originally Posted by NoPref
I was using New England forests with old stone walls as an example to show that present day forests are not an indication of woodland cover as recently as 150 years ago, never mind 2000 years ago. Any woodland area in SE England could have been cleared, abandoned, and reforested several times since 50 BC, or may have always been forested. There are cycles here. When the population grows the woodlands shrink and vice versa.
I don't know if you are familiar with the countryside of southeast England (I certainly know little of New England, whichever state and or which part you are thinking of). SE England is a fertile, densely populated portion of the kingdom, which nonetheless contains extensive areas of woodland which certainly have not expanded in any real sense during the last 2000 years. There certainly would have been more extensive woodland cover circa the BC/AD boundary than today. What may have differed is the nature of the cover.
In considering open spaces where armies might confront each other, on looking further into Caesar's commentaries, it is interesting to read how often the woods are mentioned in relation to fighting between the Britons and the Roman forces. Specifically, the woods feature in terms of cover from which the Britons sally to to take the Romans by surprise and attack them at close quarters. Chariots are frequently mentioned as part of the attacking forces.
After the beach landings there is rarely a general confrontation 'in the open field'- such as that later described by Tacitus (-ironically, on a Scottish hillside of all places). Despite Caesar's well known description, the chariots, rather than being the vanguard of a massed army fighting in battle lines, seem to be used mainly to execute hit and run raids, as described below, allowing fighters to emerge rapidly from cover to attack Roman contingents caught by surprise.
The woods from which the chariots are described emerging or retreating at speed, those "intricate and woody places", must surely have had a network of tracks and interlinked clearings through which the chariots and horses could make their approach or their retreat, and into which detachments of Romans pursued at their peril.
This is becoming a little clearer. I am beginning to think more in terms of Bren gun carriers in Epping Forest instead of jeeps on the Ridgeway, although that is still useful.
"For as all the corn was reaped in every part with the exception of one, the enemy, suspecting that our men would repair to that, had concealed themselves in the woodsduring the night. Then attacking them suddenly
, scattered as they were, and when they had laid aside their arms, and were engaged in reaping, they killed a small number, threw the rest into confusion, and surrounded them with their cavalry and chariots
." (Gallic Wars 4.32)
He himself, having advanced by night about twelve miles, espied the forces of the enemy. They, advancing to the river with their cavalry and chariots
from the higher ground, began to annoy our men and give battle. Being repulsed by our cavalry, they concealed themselves in woods
, as they had secured a place admirably fortified by nature and by art, which, as it seemed, they had before prepared on account of a civil war; for all entrances to it were shut up by a great number of felled trees. They themselves rushed out of the woods to fight here and there
, and prevented our men from entering their fortifications. (Gallic Wars 5.9)
The horse and charioteers of the enemy contended vigorously in a skirmish
with our cavalry on the march; yet so that our men were conquerors in all parts, and drove them to their woods and hills
; but, having slain a great many, they pursued too eagerly, and lost some of their men. But the enemy, after some time had elapsed, when our men were off their guard, and occupied in the fortification of the camp, rushed out of the woods,
and making an attack upon those who were placed on duty before the camp, (5.15)
[Our men] were little suited to this kind of enemy; that the horse also fought with great danger, because they [the Britons] generally retreated even designedly
, and, when they had drawn off our men a short distance from the legions, leaped from their chariots and fought on foot
in unequal [and to them advantageous] battle. But the system of cavalry engagement is wont to produce equal danger, and indeed the same, both to those who retreat and to those who pursue. To this was added, that they never fought in close order, but in small parties and at great distances,
and had detachments placed [in different parts], and then the one relieved the other, and the vigorous and fresh succeeded the wearied. (5.16)
[5.17] The following day the enemy halted on the hills
, a distance from our camp, and presented themselves in small parties, and began to challenge our horse to battle
with less spirit than the day before. But at noon, when Caesar had sent three legions, and all the cavalry, with C. Trebonius, the lieutenant, for the purpose of foraging, they flew upon the foragers suddenly from all quarters
, so that they did not keep off [even] from the standards and the legions. Our men making an attack on them vigorously, repulsed them; nor did they cease to pursue them until the horse, relying on relief, as they saw the legions behind them, drove the enemy precipitately before them, and slaying a great number of them, did not give them the opportunity either of rallying, or halting, or leaping from their chariots
Cassivellaunus, as we have stated above, all hope [rising out] of battle being laid aside, the greater part of his forces being dismissed, and about 4,000 charioteers only being left
, used to observe our marches and retire a little from the road
, and conceal himself in intricate and woody places
[ EDIT- OMITTED IN ERROR] and in those neighborhoods in which he had discovered we were about to march, he used to drive the cattle and the inhabitants from the fields into the woods
; and, when our cavalry, for the sake of plundering and ravaging the more freely, scattered themselves among the fields
, he used to send out charioteers from the woods by all the well-known roads and paths
, and to the great danger of our horse, engage with them; and this source of fear hindered them from straggling very extensively.. (5.19)