When Roma decided to permanently invade the Britannia, the legions that arrived on the coasts of present-day England found before their eyes a situation of continuous rivalry between local clans and tribes. There was no united army nor a true confederation of tribes, but a group of villages and “warlords” fighting each other who also favorably saw the arrival of the Romans to definitively take over the enemy peoples with whom they shared. the British territory.
However, the choice of the British peoples did not prove to be very far-sighted. The Romans were certainly not willing to let the locals live in peace by truly controlling the territory. And so, if some, like the Iceni, began to pay tribute to Rome for a form of independence, others began to rebel forcing Rome into continuous military campaigns that wore out the legions in a continuing revolt in different parts of the region. One of the most famous revolts, which ended only after a few years, was the one commanded by Carataco, head of the Catuvellauni, of which legends are still told in Wales today. A myth for most of the Welsh, as well as a founding myth became, for all the British, the queen Boudicca.
The Roman writer Tacitus speaks of this legendary figure in British history. The historian narrates that when the husband, Presutago, leader of the Iceni, died, appointed his two daughters as heirs. A gesture that defied Roman laws, given that the Empire required that the client peoples, if there were no male heirs, would pass under the direct control of Rome. The Roman repression was horrible and merciless. Tacitus recounts that the veterans of the legions, not recognizing the law of the Iceni, sacked the villages, setting fire to the capital, Camulodunum, and here they whipped Boudicca while they raped his two beautiful daughters in front of his eyes.
The horror of that scene never left Boudicca’s mind. And for this reason, his life was dedicated to one thing only: defeating the Roman army and doing it with unprecedented violence. The queen of the Iceni managed to put on an army of about 12 thousand men and exploiting the absence of the Legion XIV Gemina, Boudicca entered Camludunum sacking it and razing it to the ground. Cassio Dione tells of the unprecedented violence of the barbarian forces against local citizens, with horrendous torture imparted to all the local women. Terrifying scenes which, according to the Romans, were born from Boudicca’s anger for the torture inflicted on her and her daughters and which still appear unspeakable today.
Boudicca did not stop at Camulodunum today Colchester. His troops, galvanized by the first victory, began to become more and more numerous thanks to the help of other local tribes eager to drive Rome from Britain. And so in present-day England, thousands of men began to move ready to destroy camps, cities and kill the soldiers of the Empire. The legions, however, appeared weak, few in number and unable to set up sufficient defenses. Boudicca’s horde frightened everyone, terrified with the tales of violence that preceded it, and so were many cities in what we know today as England that fell to the blows of the British. Those who remained in the cities were killed: the few who could escape knew they would find nothing when they returned. Tacitus narrates that i looting British claimed the lives of around 70,000 people, regardless of men, women, old people and children. And Boudicca did not even distinguish between Romans and locals: even the natives were exterminated only to live in the Roman colonies.
Rome began to run for cover. Suetonius Pauline he summoned veterans, auxiliary troops, and new recruits, but the strength at his disposal was nowhere near comparable to that of Boudicca’s horde. In all, the Roman governor could count on 13 thousand men, and they certainly did not represent the best of the forces available. And it was in these conditions that the decisive battle took place: the Battle of Watling Street.
The thirteen thousand Roman soldiers, of which about a thousand cavalry, found themselves in front of their eyes athere made up of 40 to 50 thousand men. An enormous number to which was added the violence shown in battle by the Iceni and the people who had joined Boudicca throughout England. Suetonius placed the legionaries in the center of the line and the knights on the sides, divided with 500 units each. Locked in a valley, the Romans seemed to have no way out and the Britons seemed sure of victory.
Boudicca scanned the troops asking vendetta. And finally the battle began. The Queen of the Britons had no tactical experience and proved this by throwing her warriors into a devastating charge. A choice that turned out to be wrong: his war chariots were unable to move freely in the valley chosen by Suetonius for his legionaries, while those who approached on foot were targeted by Roman javelins. Between battery of the legionaries and the scorpions – very useful war machines on that occasion – Suetonius began to target the Britons with a shower of darts, decimating Boudicca’s troops. And at that point it was the legionaries who charged, surprising the disordered barbarian forces. The valley, which was to be the tomb of the Romans, became a trap for the Britons, who, in disorder and with no escape route, could not fight the legionaries, both for the weapons used and for the tactical discipline.
At that point, Suetonius gave orders to the auxiliary knights on either side to go into action. The knights struck the flanks of the Britons, causing panic to the Britons, who launched into a desperate flight. Boudicca watched his defeat in horror, and saw his horde crumble in front of Rome’s war machine. Veterans and auxiliaries slaughtered everyone on the battlefield. For Tacit, the queen committed suicide along with her daughters. For Cassius Dioinstead, he fled.
The Romans lost about two thousand men. Among the Britons there is talk of about 40 thousand fallen. The defeat was so heavy that the riots were no longer a real problem. Rome sent a few thousand more men. But despite some outbreaks of revolt, Rome did not leave Britain for another three centuries, forever marking the fate ofEngland.