The final battle between the Roman legions and Queen Boudica’s rebel army in AD 60/ 61 (exact date unsure) determined the future of Britain for 350 years. It was one of the most decisive battles in British history as the likelihood is that had Boudicca been victorious, the Romans would have been driven out of Britain for good.
Some details of the battle are certain, others little more than guesswork. In particular, we cannot be sure where the final battle took place. It is thought somewhere in the Midlands is the most likely location, but various theories abound.
On the day of battle, Roman victory did not look likely. Boudicca had raised the banner of revolt in Norfolk and tens of thousands had joined her. In contrast the Roman army was reeling after a defeat of the ninth Legion and Roman military governor, Suetonius Paullinus was left weak when second legion refused to march to meet the rebel forces.
Consequenty, Paullinus took up a strong defensive position for his army as the rebel host approached. According to the historian Tacitus the Roman position was “a narrow defile blocked off at the rear by a wood”. The reasoning behind this battle position was to deny the rebels the opportunity to use their vastly superior numbers to surround the Roman forces. What followed was fast, violent and decisive. Within a few minutes the Britons advanced and were showered with Roman javelins and then the whole of the Roman line charged. Legionaries attacked in wedge formation and the British line broke under impact. Their escape route was blocked and massacre ensued.
The outcome was based on a frontal collision between the disciplined, heavily trained infantry of the Roman legions against Boudicca’s rebellious horde of tribesman. Boudicca and her men may have been able to win if they had been able to use their superior numbers for cunning, surprise and ambush, but would never have stood a chance in frontal collision.
See issue 1 of Military Times for the full story of this crucial battle.