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The Battle of Watling Street


"The Place of the War Chariots"

Exract from Roman Britian - Manduessedum

In the winter of AD60/61 came the most serious threat to the newly-formed Roman province of Britannia, the revolt of the Iceni and their neighbouring tribe the Trinovantes from East-Anglia and Essex. Under the leadership of the charismatic queen Boudicca, some tens of thousands of disaffected Britons rebelled against the predations of the Roman procurator Decianus Catus, and sacked the Roman colonia at Colchester, the central governmental offices of the governor at London and the municipium at Saint Alban's. At the time, the governor of Britain, Suetonius Paulinus, was on the Isle of Anglesey having just beaten the Druids into submission...

"Now it chanced that Paulinus had already brought Mona to terms, and so on learning of the disaster in Britain he at once set sail thither from Mona. However, he was not willing to risk a conflict with the barbarians immediately, as he feared their numbers and their desperation, but was inclined to postpone battle to a more convenient season. ... " (Dio History of Rome LXII.viii)

Paulinus was forced to retreat rapidly from Mona and march his army down Watling Street - the road by which the rebel horde was itself approaching from the south-east. The Britons had easily overwhelmed a vexillation of the Ninth Hispanic Legion early in the revolt, a skirmish in which all of the roman foot-soldiers perished and the legate narrowly managed to escape with a detachment of horse. Having lost over two-thousand legionaries in the south-east Paulinus was unable to save St. Albans from being torched, and prepared his forces for an engagement in the Midlands.

"Suetonius had already the fourteenth legion, with a detachment of the the twentieth and auxiliaries from the nearest stations, altogether some ten thousand armed men, when he prepared to abandon delay and contest a pitched battle. ..." (Tacitus Annals XIV.xxxiv)

There is evidence for the build-up of auxiliary forces at Greensforge in South Staffordshire to the west-south-west, and along Watling Street to the west-north-west at LETOCETVM (Wall, Staffordshire), and further west at PENNOCRVCIVM (Water Eaton, Staffordshire). It is possible that Paulinus' forces numbered a little in excess of 10,000 legionaries and auxiliary troops.

"... He chose a position approached by a narrow defile and secured in the rear by a forest, first satisfying himself that there was no trace of an enemy except in his front, and that the plain there was devoid of cover and allowed no suspicion of an ambuscade. ..." (Tacitus Annals XIV.xxxiv)

The place so described by Tacitus has been convincingly identified with Mancetter in Graham Websters book Boudica

The 'narrow defile' may have been one of several tributary valleys of the Anker, particularly the one near White Hall Farm north of Hartshill (NGR: SP322952), the forest protecting Paulinus' rear has now been reduced to a few patchy woods on the high ground to the south-west of the river, including Monks Park Wood, Bentley Park Wood and Hartshill Hayes Country Park.
The plain on which the British host were to assemble may have been the farmland between Atterton, Witherley and Fenny Drayton, covering an area of around five square kilometers.

"... The legionaries were posted in serried ranks, the light-armed troops on either side, and the cavalry massed on the extreme wings. The British forces, on the other hand, disposed in bands of foot and horse were moving jubilantly in every direction. They were in unprecedented numbers,ยน and confidence ran so high that they brought even their wives to witness the victory and installed them in waggons, which they had stationed just over the extreme fringe of the plain." (Tacitus Annals XIV.xxxiv)

The British method of fighting was essentially based on individual heroism, akin to the bronze-age battles and Homeric heroes immortalised in the Iliad and Odyssey, but the Roman modus operandi was to drill the 5,500 men in a legion to think and operate as one huge killing organism, with 5,500 steel 'claws' to thrust and stab, and 11,000 hobnailed boots to stamp and crush.

Against such an opponent, individual sword-play was obsolete. The battle was decisive and according to Tacitus, who gives the more conservative estimates of manpower and losses, over 80,000 Britons were killed whereas only 400 Roman soldiers lost their lives.

As of yet, no supporting evidence has been found which links Mancetter to the battle site.

For an overall view of the events that led up to the Roman invasion and conquest, read Vanessa Collingridge's book Boudica
Chance Posted by Chance
10th September 2014ce

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