Battle of Watling Street

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Battle of Watling Street
Date 61
Location Watling Street
Result Decisive Roman victory
Combatants
Roman Empire Iceni, Trinovantes, and other British tribes
Commanders
Gaius Suetonius Paulinus Boudica
Strength
Reported as 10,000 Reported as 230,000
Casualties
Reported as 400 Reported as almost 80,000
Roman conquest of Britain
MedwayCaer CaradocWatling StreetMons Graupius

The Battle of Watling Street took place in Roman-occupied Britain in 60 or 61 between an alliance of indigenous Brythonic tribes and the Romans. Though outnumbered by more than 20 to 1, the Romans held their ground against the British hordes and gained victory. The revolt had shaken Rome's hold on its new province, but victory secured Roman rule in Britain, a period that lasted until 410.<ref>Graham Webster, Boudica: the British Revolt Against Rome, AD 60 (Routledge 1978)</ref>

Contents

[edit] Background

In 43, Rome invaded south-eastern Britain.<ref>Dio Cassius, Roman History 19-22</ref> The conquest was gradual. While some kingdoms were defeated militarily and occupied, others were for the time being allowed to remain nominally independent as allies of the Roman empire.<ref>Tacitus, Agricola 14</ref> One such tribe was the Iceni in what is now Norfolk. Their king, Prasutagus, secured his independence by leaving his lands jointly to his daughters and to the Roman emperor in his will. But when he died, in 61 or shortly before, his will was ignored. The Romans seized his lands and violently humiliated his family: his widow, Boudica, was flogged, and their daughters raped.<ref>Tacitus Annals 14.31</ref> Roman financiers called in their loans, which must have placed an increased burden of taxation of the Iceni.<ref>Dio Cassius, Roman History 62.2</ref>

While the Roman Governor of Britain, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, was campaigning in Wales, the Iceni, lead by Boudica, revolted.<ref>Tacitus, Annals 14.29-39, Agricola 14-16; Dio Cassius, Roman History 62.1-12</ref> The Iceni allied with their neighbors the Trinovantes, whose former capital, Camulodunum (Colchester), was now a colony for Roman veterans. To add insult to injury, the Romans errected a temple to the former emperor Claudius in the city, built at expense to the Trinovantes. The Iceni descended on Camulodunum and destroyed it, killing all those who could not escape.<ref>Tacitus, Annals 14.31-32</ref> Boudica and her army headed for Londinium (London), as did Suetonius and a small portion of his cavalry, but, concluding he did not have the numbers to defend it, evacuated the city. It, too, was burnt to the ground and every inhabitant who could not get away was killed.<ref>Tacitus, Annals 14.33</ref>

While Boudica's army engaged in an orgy of destruction, going North to wreak destruction on Verulamium (St. Albans), Suetonius marched north along the main Roman road of Britain, Watling Street, and regrouped his forces. According to Tacitus, he 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.<ref name="TacAnn14.34">Tacitus, Annals 14.34</ref> A third legion, II Augusta, near Exeter, inexplicably failed to join him;<ref name="TacAnn14.37">Tacitus, Annals 14.37</ref> a fourth, IX Hispana, had been routed trying to relieve Camulodunum.<ref name="TacAnn14.32">Tacitus, Annals 14.32</ref> The size of Boudica's army is estimated at almost a quarter of a million.<ref>Dio Cassius, Roman History 62.8.2</ref>

[edit] Battle

Heavily outnumbered, Suetonius chose his battleground carefully. Traveling north along Watling Street with Boudica and her army close behind, Paulinus chose a narrow gorge with a forest behind him, opening out into a wide plain. The gorge and forest protected the Roman flanks and rear against attack, thus removing Boudica's advantage of numbers, and the open plain in front made ambushes impossible. He placed his legionaries in close order, with lightly-armed auxiliaries on the flanks and cavalry on the wings.<ref name="TacAnn14.32" />

As their armies arranged, the commanders sought to motivate their soldiers. The Roman historian Tacitus, who wrote of the battle no more than fifty years later, recorded Boudica's speech to her followers: "Nothing is safe from Roman pride and arrogance. They will deface the sacred and will deflower our virgins. Win the battle or perish, that is what I, a woman, will do."<ref>Tacitus, Annals 14.35</ref>

The Britons placed their wagon train in a crescent at the large end of the field, from which point their wives and children could watch what they expected to be an overwhelming victory.<ref name="TacAnn14.34" /> Two German leaders, Boiorix of the Cimbri and Ariovistus, of the Suebi, are reported to have done the same thing in their battles against Gaius Marius and Julius Caesar respectively.<ref>Florus, Epitome of Roman History 1.38; Julius Caesar, Commentarii de Bello Gallico 1.51</ref>

Tacitus also wrote of Suetonius addressing his legionaries: "Ignore the racket made by these savages. There are more women than men in their ranks. They are not soldiers - they're not even properly equipped. We've beaten them before and when they see our weapons and feel our spirit, they'll crack. Stick together. Throw the javelins, then push forward: knock them down with your shields and finish them off with your swords. Forget about booty. Just win and you'll have the lot."<ref>Tacitus, Annals 14.36</ref> Although Tacitus, like many historians of his day, was given to invent stirring speeches for such occasions, Suetonius's speech here is unusually blunt and practical. Tacitus's father-in-law, the future governor Gnaeus Julius Agricola, was on Suetonius's staff at the time and may have reported it fairly accurately.<ref>Dio Cassius (Roman History 9-11) gives Suetonius a quite different speech.</ref>

Boudica led her army forward across the plain and into the narrowing field in a massive frontal attack. As they advanced, they were channeled into a tightly packed mass. At approximately forty yards, their advance was staggered by a volley of Roman pila, the Roman javelin. The pilum was designed to bend when it hit a shield, making it impossible to pull out; the enemy would either be encumbered with a heavy iron spear weighing down his shield, or have to discard it and fight unprotected;<ref>Plutarch, Marius 25</ref> very few if any of the Britons would have had any armour. A second volley followed, as each Roman legionary carried two pila.<ref>Polybius, The Histories 6.23.8</ref> This tactic destroyed any organised advance by the Britons.

With the Britons in disarray, Paulinus ordered his legionaries and auxiliaries to push forward in the standard Roman wedge formation, creating a front line that took the appearance of the teeth of a handsaw. With their superior discipline, the Romans where able to continue fighting as fiercely as ever. With a clear advantage in armour, weapons and discipline, this gave them a decisive edge in the close quarters fighting against the tightly packed British. The cavalry, lances extended, then entered the fray. As British losses quickly mounted, the Britons tried to retreat, but their flight was blocked by the ring of wagons; they were massacred. The cavalry attacked from the flanks as the infantry advanced. The Romans killed not only the warriors but also the women, children and even pack animals. Tacitus says that according to one estimate, 80,000 Britons fell compared to only 400 Romans.<ref name="TacAnn14.37" />

Boudica is said by Tacitus to have poisoned herself;<ref name="TacAnn14.37" /> Dio Cassius says she fell ill and died and was given a lavish burial.<ref>Dio Cassius, Roman History 62.12.6</ref> Poenius Postumus, prefect of the 2nd legion, which had failed to join the battle, having robbed his men of a share of the glory, committed suicide by falling on his sword.<ref name="TacAnn14.37" />

The site of the battle is not given by either historian, although Tacitus gives a brief description.<ref name="TacAnn14.37" /> Legend places it at Battle Bridge Road in King's Cross, London, although from reading Tacitus it is unlikely Suetonius returned to the city. Most historians favour a site in the West Midlands, probably along the Roman road of Watling Street between Londinium and Viroconium (Wroxeter in Shropshire), now the A5. Plausible suggestions include Manduessedum (Mancetter), near Atherstone in Warwickshire,<ref>Sheppard Frere, Britannia: A History of Roman Britain, 1987, p. 73</ref> a site close to High Cross in Leicestershire,<ref>Kevin K. Carroll, "The Date of Boudicca's Revolt", Britannia 10, 1979</ref> a small dip at Cuttle Mill, two miles south-east of Lactodorum (Towcester) in Northamptonshire,<ref>"The original Iron Lady rides again", Daily Telegraph, 11 October 2003, retrieved 23 September 2006; "Boudica's Last Battle", Osprey Publishing, retrieved 23 September 2006</ref> or a site at Kings Norton close to Metchley Camp in Birmingham.<ref>"Is Boudicca buried in Birmingham?", BBC, 25 May 2006, retrieved 9 September 2006</ref>

[edit] Aftermath

The emperor Nero, it is said, was so shaken by these events that he considered withdrawing from Britain altogether,<ref>Suetonius, Nero 18, 39-40</ref> but with the revolt brought to a decisive end, the conquest of Britain continued. Suetonius was relieved of the governorship and replaced by the more conciliatory Publius Petronius Turpilianus.<ref>Tacitus, Annals 38-39</ref> This was not the end of resistance to Roman rule: Venutius of the Brigantes would lead another, less well documented but possibly more successful, revolt in 69.<ref>Tacitus, Histories, 3.45</ref>

[edit] References

<references/>

de:Boudicca-Aufstand

it:Battaglia della strada Watling

Battle of Watling Street

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