Battle of Watling Street (61 AD)

By 60 AD Rome’s conquests had spread to modern day England with the subjection of many Celtic tribes including theBoudicca powerful Iceni.  After the death of their king Prasutagus, the Iceni endured cruel treatment by their Roman occupants such as the plundering and theft of their lands and valuables by Roman legionnaires as well as losing their homes and some even being forced into enslavement.  The final straw of this behavior came with the beating of Prasutagas’ widow Queen Boudicea (or Boudica) and the rape of her two daughters.  After this accosting, Boudicea and the Iceni convinced another nearby Celtic tribe, the Trinobantes, to take up arms against the Roman occupants.  Military conflict between the Iceni and Romans was inevitable.

Opposing Forces

The two armies met at a field near a Roman road called Watling Street.  The Roman army made up of the fourteenth and twentieth legions numbered about 10,000 men. Led by a man of the name Suetonius, the Romans had taken position on a steep cliff  with only one tight point of entry, while the menacing Britons were positioned below on the flat plain.  The poverty-stricken Britons found it difficult to arm themselves adequately while many went into battle without any armor or protection at all.  What the Britons lacked in equipment, however, they compensated with numbers estimates placing their numbers at around 100,000 fighting men.


The rebels were the first to make their move as they began moving towards the Roman position located on the hill. While the Britons began marching up the hill, the legionnaires hurled their pila at the incoming barbarian horde inflicting heavy casualties on the lightly armored Britons while also disrupting any semblance of a formation they had created.pilum  Once the Romans had exhausted their pila, the cohorts charged the Britons in a wedge formation, flanked by the auxilia Roman cavalry.  The resolve of the Britons was shattered and they began to flee from the battlefield, a task made more difficult as the families of the Briton rebels had parked wagons behind the battlefield in order to observe what was supposed to be an decisive barbarian victory.  With their retreat stifled, the Romans slaughtered any barbarian man, women and child that came within a sword arms reach.


  Tacitus states that the Romans suffered only 400 dead and 400 wounded while the casualties of the Britons, including women and children, numbered over eighty thousand.


Queen Boudicea escaped the battle and later committed suicide by poisoning, thus ending the Iceni rebellion and confirming Roman rule over the Celtic tribes of modern day England.  The Romans, with superior terrain to battle from, along with greater armaments and effective use of their pila were able to triumph over a much larger force of undisciplined barbarians with an astounding 200 dead Britons for every dead Roman legionnaire.  The Romans dedication and tenacity in the face of such daunting odds and such a savage enemy force prove the effectiveness of Roman training and discipline in overcoming fear.  As a result, the army of Rome carried the day.

[Tacitus 14.31-37]

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