Boudica was queen of the Iceni tribe from the Norfolk area. When her husband Prasutagus died there was a dispute about how what property was left to Nero in his will, as a result, Boudica was flogged, her daughters raped and the Iceni went on the rampage destroying the then Roman capital of Colchester.
The Roman Governor of Britain, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, was campaigning on the island of Mona (Anglesey). Boudica and her army headed for London. Suetonius and a small part of his army, arriving ahead of the rebels, concluded he did not have the numbers to defend the city evacuated and ordered it evacuated. Tacitus claims that every inhabitant who could not get away was killed. St. Albans was also attacked. Tacitus says Paulinus amassed a force including his own Legio XIV Gemina, parts of the XX Valeria Victrix, and any available auxiliaries, a total of 10,000 men. A third legion, II Augusta, near Exeter, failed to join him; a fourth, IX Hispana, had been routed trying to relieve Camulodunum.
Paulinus and Boudica came to battle and though heavily outnumbered the Romans won and Tacitus claims a rumour that 80,000 Britons fell against only 400 Romans. The fate of Boudica is not known and she is never heard on again in recorded history.
The information on the site of the battle is sparse and difficult to follow. As a result there has been much speculation about the site and even general location of the battle. Below is a summary of the key evidence:
The relevant Texts describing the site:
John1 URL: https://www.romanarmytalk.com/rat/thread-16575.html
Cassius Dio Book LXII“Paulinus could not extend his line the whole length of hers, for, even if the men had been drawn up only one deep, they would not have reached far enough, so inferior were they in numbers; nor, on the other hand, did he dare join battle in a single compact force, for fear of being surrounded and cut to pieces. He therefore separated his army into three divisions, in order to fight at several points at one and the same time, and he made each of the divisions so strong that it could not easily be broken through.
Late in the day, the Romans prevailed; and they slew many in battle beside the wagons and the forest, and captured many alike.”
The Annals of Tacitus (AD 110-120), Book XIV“Ch 34. The fourteenth legion, with the veterans of the twentieth, and the auxiliaries from the adjacent stations, having joined Suetonius, his army amounted to little less than ten thousand men. Thus reinforced, he resolved, without loss of time, to bring on a decisive action. For this purpose he chose a spot encircled with woods, narrow at the entrance, and sheltered in the rear by a thick forest. In that situation he had no fear of an ambush. The enemy, he knew, had no approach but in front. An open plain lay before him. He drew up his men in the following order: the legions in close array formed the centre; the light armed troops were stationed at hand to serve as occasion might require: the cavalry took post in the wings.
Ch 35. A Roman legion dared to face the warlike Britons: with their lives they paid for their rashness; those who survived the carnage of that day, lie poorly hid behind their entrenchments, meditating nothing but how to save themselves by an ignominious flight.
Ch37. The engagement began. The Roman legion presented a close embodied line. The narrow defile gave them the shelter of a rampart………The Britons betook themselves to flight, but their wagons in the rear obstructed their passage.”
1) Dio, three divisions, one for the centre and one on each ridge, i.e. north and south
2) The open plain would have been the Nene Valley which is now canalised but would have probably been rather more marshy east of Watling Street.
3) Ch 35 the Boudica speech suggests the Romans may have been behind “entrenchments”
4) A forest would not have protected the flanks and rear from infantry attack to the extent that the “narrow defile giving the shelter of a rampart” would, so topography is surely a more likely defence that a forest although the two may have been combined in this case
5) What would the extent of the battle front have been? If one speculates the auxiliaries and Twentieth took the high ground, flanks and fortifications, the Fourteenth was left to form the main battle front. That would be 5000 men, occupying 1metre of front each, that’s 5000m. The base of the Church Stowe valley ranges in width from about 500m to 1000m. Would a Legions front be 8 men deep? So a battle front of 600m ? The valley seems the right sort of scale for this.
6) The valley is pretty much in the centre of Britain. Is it possible that, because of it’s excellent defensive topography, the site was known already to the Roman military? possibly used as a base/safe haven during the original advance through Britain and the building of Watling Street? It would certainly be in the living memory if it were.
Outline of the complexity of locating the battle site
Nathan, Original URL: https://www.romanarmytalk.com/rat/thread-18369.html
The military aspects of Boudica's British revolt in AD61 and the Roman responses to it have received much comment and speculation (not least here on RAT!), a lot of them involving the location of the final battle. But at the risk of further reheating old chestnuts, I'd like to raise a few more questions on the subject.
As we know from Tacitus (Annals / Agricola) and Cassius Dio (Epitome book LXII), Suetonius Paulinus was away campaigning against the Druids on Anglesey when the revolt broke out. Boudica's forces attacked and burned Colchester, then defeated Petilius Cerialis and a vexillation of the Ninth Legion. Paulinus then arrived at London, decided it was indefensible and ordered it evacuated, withdrawing to some undisclosed location, where the Britons, after sacking London and St Albans, were signally defeated. The Second Legion, which had been ordered to support Paulinus, did not move from their base, and their commanding prefect committed suicide when he learned what had happened.
But there is a problem with all this: Anglesey is 250 miles by road from London. Colchester is only 50 miles away. Even considering the relative speeds of Boudica's tribal warband and Paulinus' legions, how did the legate reach London before the Britons, in time to survey the situation, evacuate the town and retreat?
One common suggestion (originally, I think, from Webster in 1978), is that Paulinus took ship from Anglesey to Deva, then sped south on Watling Street with only a cavalry bodyguard, leaving the legions to follow as best they could. He then retreated from London, meeting the legions somewhere on the road and turned to give battle.
Dio mentions Paulinus 'sailing' from Mona (LXII.8), but this could reflect Dio's uncertainty of the distance from Anglesey to the mainland! There is no other reference to cavalry, or a mad gallop down Watling Street. Tacitus says that Paulinus marched 'with wonderful resolution... amidst a hostile population' (Annals 14.33) - which seems to imply a steady measured advance, fortifying camps along the line of the road. When he reaches London, Paulinus is 'uncertain whether he should choose it as a seat of war', which implies that he had the numbers to do so - even if they were 'a scanty force of soldiers', they were not a mere cavalry bodyguard. Besides, would Paulinus really dash into the heart of a tribal rebellion with only a small cavalry force?
A mounted courier, riding at 50 miles a day, would have taken 3-4 days to reach Paulinus from London. Even with his cavalry alone, Paulinus would have taken the same time to get back there again. What were Boudica and her warriors doing for 8 days after the fall of Colchester? London was undefended, presumably wealthy, and the home of hated procurator Decianus. Why delay attacking it?
If we assume, instead, that Paulinus moved with his legions he would have taken even longer - up to 14 days from the straits of Anglesey at a normal marching pace of 18-20 miles per day, or 8 days if a faster pace was adopted (this is following Benario, 'Legionary Speed of March before the battle with Boudicca', Britannia 17, 1986. My calculation of distances uses the very handy distance measuring tool on Wikimapia - it's the little orange ruler in the top left of the frame!). So, if we don't go with Paulinus' cavalry gallop, we're looking at a delay of up to 18 days between the fall of Colchester and Boudica's attack on London!
The current favoured theory for the battle site - at Mancetter - would involve Boudica's force, together with families and baggage, hauling themselves 100 miles up Watling Street, through the territories of two other tribes, just to meet Paulinus in battle. Hard to imagine such dedication in a group that had taken 8-18 days just to decide to attack London!
Could there be a misapprehension here, based on the way Tacitus presents the story? He implies, and most people seem to have accepted, that the attack on Colchester was the start of the revolt, and the first news that Paulinus would have received of it. This is certainly dramatic, but is it likely? We know that the citizens of Colchester had already asked for help from Decianus, and he sent 200 men in response (probably all he had available at the time). Would he not have also informed Paulinus? We don't know how soon before the attack this happened, but the assembly of a tribal warband amongst the Iceni and Trinovantes must have taken some time. It's possible that Decianus, unless he was truly incompetent, could have know of this days, or even weeks, before the revolt broke out into open warfare, and passed the information on to the Governor.
Dio claims that Paulinus had 'already brought Mona to terms' when he learned of the revolt (LXII.8), so there was nothing to detain him from moving against the rebels at once. Would he have waited for the first outbreak, or would he have recognised that a massive tribal assembly close to Colchester, threatening to cut his lines of communication, needed to be confronted at once?
It is possible, therefore, that Paulinus was already on the march down Watling Street with his full force by the time the attack on Colchester actually happened. So what about Cerialis and the Ninth Legion? Could it be that his advance, rather than an independent attempt to relieve Colchester, was part of a combined strategy with Paulinus? The legions moving down Watling Street would form the central division of a three-pronged advance, with Cerialis and Ninth to the east and the Second to the west, all closing in on the rebels around Colchester. In Dio's description of the final battle there is the odd note that Paulinus 'separated his army into three divisions, in order to fight at several points at one and the same time' - this contradicts Tacitus, but could it be that this is Dio's (or the epitomator's) confused reference to Paulinus' initial plan of advance?
If this is the case, the plan went wrong - Cerialis perhaps moved forward too quickly, and his force was isolated and destroyed (Tacitus mentions his 'rashness'). The Second, of course, never left camp. Arriving somewhere close to London, therefore, Paulinus would have learned that Colchester had already fallen (but possibly only a day or two previously), his left wing had been beaten and his right had failed to move. Not surprising, if so, that he considered the troops he had with him (his own central division) to be 'scanty', and withdrew to a position where a small number could more adequately oppose a multitude - he wouldn't need to go far, though, as his troops were already with him. In this light, the suicide of Pœnius Postumus of the Second Legion is entirely justified - his failure had left Paulinus in a dangerously exposed position.
All of this, of course, would argue for a much more southerly location for that final battle, probably somewhere very close to London or St Albans. There would be no need, however, for Boudica's warband to go racing off for vast distances into the Midlands after the Romans!