Tuesday, 19 July 2011

The Battle of Watling Street

The  battlefield layout for the Battle of Watling Street between the Romans and the British.

The History
"A treacherous lioness butchered the governors who had been left to give fuller voice and strength to the endeavours of Roman rule."
Gildas the Monk
“Tho' the Roman eagle shadow thee, tho' the gathering enemy narrow thee,
Thou shalt wax and he shall dwindle, thou shalt be the mighty one yet!
Thine the liberty, thine the glory, thine the deeds to be celebrated,
Thine the myriad-rolling ocean, light and shadow illimitable,
Thine the lands of lasting summer, many-blossoming Paradises,
Thine the North and thine the South and thine the battle-thunder of God."
Alfred Lord Tennyson

The photo above shows the battlefield layout for the Battle of Watling Street between the Romans and the British.
Somewhere around AD60, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, governor of Roman Britain, was leading a campaign against the island of Mona (Anglesey) in north Wales, which was a stronghold of the druids.
In Norfolk, the Iceni and Trinovantes rose in revolt under the leadership of Queen Boudica. They attacked Camulodunum (Colchester), the former Trinovantian capital and at that time a Roman colonia. They burnt the city to the ground.
Quintus Petillius Cerialis, commanding the 9th Legion Hispana, was ambushed in the Stour Valley on the Icknield Way to the west of Colchester. His legion destroyed. The commander and a handful of cavalry fled.
Boudica and her warriors marched south, torching Verulaimium (St Albans) and London and killing the inhabitants with great brutality.
Seutonius concentrated units of the 14th Legion Gemina and 20th Valeria Victrix with all available auxiliaries where the Fosse Way meets Watling Street. The 2nd Legion Augusta was down at Exeter and Seutonius summoned them to march up the Fosse Way to the rendezvous, but they unaccountably failed to respond. The Roman army was just ten thousand men.
Sutonius chose a position where his flanks were anchored and the British would have to go head to head with the legionaries, the best heavy infantry of the Ancient World. Cuttle Mill in Northamptonshire appears to match Tacitus’ description best although no battle debris has been found.
The size of Boudica’s army is unknown but was probably about twenty five thousand. There were many camp follows and the Celtic wagons full of women and children were drawn up across the battle field to hem the Romans in.
The Celts charged and were stopped by a massed pila barrage, then the legionaries stepped forward to begin the slaughter. The Celtic warriors were hemmed in by their numbers and their wagons such that they could not swing their long slashing swords. They were exterminated.

The Roman Army:
A: Governor Seutonius
B: 20th Valeria Victrix. Three units classed as 'green'
C: 14th Legion Gemina. Four  units (one small) classed as 'veteran'
D:  Auxilliaries. Two units (one small)
E: Gallic auxilliary cavalry

The British Army:
1. Three generals (one is challenging Seutonius to single combat)
2. Four Warbands (wild fighters)
3. Large Warband (wild fighters)
4. Celtic cavalry unit (large)
5. British Chariot Squadron

Hail Caeser
Standard unit frontage 10-12 cm frontage, infantry10-12 models, cavalry six models

1. The Romans held their ground and allowed the British to make the running and close. 
2. The British  advance into the 'funnel' and the British line gets compressed, the left wing outrunning the rest. The crack 14th Legion and the auxilliary cavalry charge.

Astonishingly, the chariots (1.) and large British cavalry unit (2.) are broken  by the outnumbered Roman attackers and flee. A battle rages on the new British left flank (3.)

1. Cohorts of the 14th push back the engaged warband.
2. The auxilliary cavalry turn to engage the next warband down the line as it is charged by fresh cohorts of the 14th.
3. The remaining cohorts of the 14th march forward to plug and opening gap in the Roman line.

1. The large warband charges through the gap and hits the unengaged cohorts of the 14th which manages to take the shock without breaking.
2. Cohorts of the 20th prepare to support.
3. The warband on the Roman right is forced back.

1. Cohorts of  the 20th charge in to support the 14th leaving only the auxilliary infantry on the left as a reserve. The warband is huge and capable of absorbing losses.
2. Attacked to the flank by cohorts of the 14th and charged to their front by the Gallic auxilliary cavalry, the right flank warband breaks.

Seeing this the remaining warriors lose heart and flee, to be cut down in their thousands by Setonius' troops.
Roman Victory - as it occured in history.
Hail Caeser worked brilliantly allowing Shaun and I to play out a wonderful historical recreation with modest numbers of 28mm figures on a home table. Shaun laid out the battlefield and, I think you will agree, did a grat job.
As an aside, I live alongside Watling Street where it runs south of the Thames.

"Regions Caesar never knew
Thy posterity shall sway."

Prince Albert commissioned a large bronze statue of Boudica on her chariot (complete with anachronistic scythes) from ThomasThorneycroft. It stands by the Thames in Westminster by the Houses of Parliament. The Rebel Queen who fought imperialism became a symbol in the Capital  City of an Empire greater than Rome. Thus are we mocked by the gods.


  1. Sounds like an excellent game and fun on top of all that. I just recently viewed a program on one of the educational channels about Boudica and those times and events.

  2. Good game and an interesting write up.

  3. Shaun (anything but a one) Murphy20 July 2011 at 10:59

    Hi John
    Thanks for not mentioning my dice rolling (hence the large numbers of fleeing cavalry, chariots and large warbands....)

  4. Dear IG
    It's an interesting period,

  5. Dear Shaun
    I thought it best to draw a veil over that,

  6. "Romani eunt domum?"