04:03. The Road of Fire.

What follows is very much a ‘work in progress’. I began writing what I thought might become a narrative history of Roman Britain in the late 1980s, and quickly realised that such a thing is not possible. The very best that could be done would be to build up a speculative history; which is to say a narrative that, to the best of my knowledge, could be the way things did actually occur. This, then, is neither fiction nor non-fiction, but intermediate between the two, in the same way that the sources are neither history nor prehistory but what can be termed proto-history. I left things to gather dust from about 2000 to 2011, but I have since taken matters up again and I have been pottering on. I have made additions and alterations, and I have straightened out the footnotes and bibliographies. If you are really interested, leave a message in the comment box below and I will email you an updated version of the text that you require.


Stephen Symons.

Britannia Capta Part 4. 

Chapter 04.03.

The Road of Fire.

04:03:01. A Fatal Error.

If a Druidic hand had been guiding the course of the war, its grip was very quickly loosened as events took on a life of their own. The Iceni had enjoyed enormous and swift success, thanks largely to the element of surprise and to the grave error on Rome’s part of believing that the natives had been cowed. A Roman town with a high political profile and deep spiritual and moral significance had been destroyed, its hated citizens massacred in a satisfyingly gruesome manner. A whole legion (it was not, of course, a whole legion, but jubilant retelling of the tale of the rout of Cerealis would soon inflate it to that) had been wiped out. The people were euphoric, and there followed an enormous celebration party that involved feasting on all the captured food and drink, looting anything of value,  destroying everything else, and the pleasant pastime of hunting down and dismembering fugitive Romans. Any order that there might have been was rapidly breaking down. Drunk with success, the horde demanded more. What Boudica’s feelings were as she watched the flames devour Camulodunum and listened to the triumphant roistering of her people is impossible to conjecture. Satisfaction certainly, and grim jubilation, but what else? Just how far ahead had she thought? What is certain is that she could not have stopped there and then even if she had wanted to. All she could do was to ride the whirlwind and try to retain some measure of control.

 The Icenian pause for celebration in the ashes of Camulodunon gave Paullinus the few brief but vital hours needed to make his plans and order first his defence and then his counter-offensive. With desperate speed he hurried towards Londinium with his cavalry, riding ahead of the marching legionaries in an attempt to fortify the town and hold it against the steadily advancing Iceni. The fact that news of the revolt had reached him in Mona, and that he had then been able to reach Londinium ahead of Boudica is a resounding tribute to Roman military communications. Assuming a route of Segontium (Caernarfon) to Deva, Deva to Venonis (High Cross, at the junction of Watling Street and the Fosse Way), Venonis to Verulamium, Verulamium to Londinium [Carroll 1979 note 5], the round trip Londinium – Mona – Londinium is about 770 kilometres, most of which would have been covered on horseback. The message probably travelled from Deva to Mona by galley, and Paullinus himself certainly covered that leg of the journey by sea [Dio: Epitome of lxii:8], which would have cut down the time, but it was nonetheless a remarkable feat, an accolade to Roman endurance, organisation and professionalism, and an indictment on British indiscipline.

 Even allowing that a Roman courier could travel at least eighty kilometres a day or more, and that Paullinus was riding ahead of his infantry with all haste, the round trip could not have taken much less than nine days, eight at the outside. Camulodunum was reduced in two days [Tacitus: Annals xiv:32]. The distance between Londinium and Camulodunum is a about 95 kilometres, a good two day slog for a man on foot, and at least double that for a horde of tens of thousands. Any other Roman settlements or installations on the way would also have attracted the bloodthirsty attention of the tribesmen, further slowing them down. The journey from Camulodunum to the approaches of London, therefore may have taken as much as six or even seven days of casual advance. A one or two day pause in the wreckage of Camulodunum meant as many as two or even three priceless days lost to feasting and debauchery. While the British  spent vital hours celebrating their victory, Paullinus was able to reach Londinium, take stock of the situation, devise a strategy, and get out again all before the Iceni were even in sight of their helpless victim.

 The war was already over. It was now only a matter of time.

 Paullinus was hopelessly outnumbered, and knew it as soon as coherent reports on the sack of Camulodunum began to come in. All he had was a few cavalry units and a mass of unarmed and probably largely untrained citizens: unlike Camulodunum, Londinium was a purely mercantile centre rather than a retirement settlement for veteran soldiers, and there was no large, experienced reserve for to call upon. His chagrin must have been great, for Londinium, although not a colonia or a legionary fortress or even a municipium, was nevertheless an important supply depot and its position at the crossroads of several primary land routes and a sea lane made it strategically invaluable. It is also significant that Catus was in Londinium rather than at Camulodunum at the outbreak of hostilities. The general consensus is that the town was already the administrative centre of the Province. It had even then some impressive  official buildings and streets laid out in the standard chequerboard pattern, but probably did not, at that point, have fortifications. Any defences that may have existed would have been of the ditch and dyke variety and would almost certainly have become derelict during the seventeen years between the invasion and the revolt. Londinium was a long way from the turmoils of the military zone and probably felt quite secure. However, the fact that Paullinus was advancing on Londinium would indicate that he considered the town to be defensible, at least in theory, and he retreated through lack of men to hold the ramparts rather than lack of ramparts to defend.

 The Governor had good cause to worry. Tacitus notes that he rode to Londinium “through hostile territory” [Annals xiv:33] which could mean simply, as he was riding at least from Deva, that he had to pass the flanks of the hostile Ordovices and through the possibly still unreliable Cornovii. It could also mean that news of the fall of Camulodunum and the defeat of Cerealis had brought hope to others of the downtrodden, and that the flames of revolt were spreading to other communities. Boudica’s successes would have inspired the other tribes, and now Paullinus was facing not just a relatively localised onslaught but a general uprising. The queen was doing very well indeed and other tribes were joining her. Indeed, there are indications that the savagely oppressed Durotriges were rising in the West Country. Dio [Epitome of lxii:8] records that ultimately her army was swollen to a quarter of a million, an incredible mass of humanity that would have  scoured the land clean of food like a plague of locusts. Even allowing for the ancient tendency to grossly exaggerate population figures, the horde of the Iceni and their allies must have been of awesome size and to have numbered in the tens of thousands.

 Paullinus decided to retreat, for he was, as Tacitus described him, cunctator natura, innately cautious, “the sort of a man who prefers a cautious, well-considered plan to the luck of the gambler” [Histories ii:25]. Relative numbers were such that he dared not risk open battle on any but terrain of his own choosing, and without the strongest possible force under his command. He would have been acutely aware that he might have one chance and one only. Reinforcements for a losing army were unlikely in such a place, and in the event of a serious defeat on his part the best he could hope for would be to escape with his life and to withdraw back across the Channel with as many of his men in as good an order  as possible. Londinium was not the place to plant his standard. There were a few large stone buildings that could have been used as strong points, but there were too few troops to man them effectively. Any attempt would simply mean a repeat of Camulodunum. A more costly repeat for the British, perhaps, but there could be little doubt of the outcome. Defensive fighting, moreover, was not the Roman strategy of choice. The preference of Paullinus and all other Roman generals was always for open battle, where the superior weapons, masterly tactics and superb discipline of the legions regularly made enemy numerical superiority irrelevant.


With the cold and calculating logic of the military strategist, he realised that the loss of a town or two was a better deal than the loss of an entire province, which would have been the case if he and his formations were to be destroyed by the advancing Iceni. Paullinus evacuated as many of the townsfolk as were able to accompany him at speed and left the rest – women, children, the aged and sick, those who loved the town – to the mercy of Boudica. The people pleaded with him but he remained adamant. He had no choice. Londinium had to be sacrificed to the grim exigencies of the overall strategy.


The people scattered as well as they could, and every available boat was drafted to remove the refugees to safety, but most would have fled south towards Noviomagus and here, for a second time, Claudius Tiberius Cogidubnus proved his enormous value to Rome. The king was in firm control of his people and remained staunchly loyal to Rome throughout the crisis. His people were on good terms with the overlords and, moreover, had not had to suffer the indignities and extortions of the Emperor’s tax collectors by virtue of the cordial relationship between Rome and Cogidubnus and the constitutional status that he enjoyed under the Roman aegis. Moreover, Bosham Harbour held many ships which, if need be, could begin the evacuation while Londinium burned. The realm of Cogidubnus also included the large town of Calleva Atrebatum, the old Kaleoua of Commios, whither many more refugees could have fled, streaming along the broad road that connected it as straight as a ruler with Londinium. There were strong defences at Calleva, an inner ring encompassing 33 hectares of the city proper, and an outer ring enclosing some 96 hectares. It has been suggested [Webster 1978 p94] that these outer walls were thrown up at that time in a desperate attempt to withstand the menace of the Iceni.


The numbers of the people that we are talking about were not high by modern standards. Londinium in 60 CE was a bustling entrepot of merchants, traders, civil servants, craftsmen and their families and slaves, together with the usual rag-tag collection of prostitutes, fortune hunters, wide boys and riff-raff that gravitate to any burgeoning frontier town. But it is unlikely that total numbers exceeded four or five thousands. Non-combatant casualties may have numbered in the scores or even hundreds, but not the thousands or tens of thousands that contemporary report would suggest. Most escaped to the safety of the south and south west, carrying bags, baggage and furniture. But some of the inhabitants would have remained, for reasons only they could have explained, and their voices are forever silent. Even the earliest Londoners, it would seem, had a very broad streak of stubbornness across their characters.


Boudica’s horde rolled on towards the doomed town like a tidal wave, unstoppable, all-devouring, destroying all in its path. Londinium was sacked, looted and burned to the ground. Flames roared on both sides of the river, from Southwark to Aldgate, while in the centre of town, around the great market square, the heat was so intense that it may have generated a firestorm. Samian ware pottery turned black and fused in temperatures above one thousand degrees Celsius [Marsden 1980 p33]. Nothing could live within that furnace. Burning debris crashed onto the streets and ash covered the market place. All those who remained because they may or must were butchered, for the Iceni “did not take or sell prisoners, nor was there any other traffic of war: instead they rushed to slaughter, hang, burn and crucify” [Tacitus: Annals xiv:33].




04:03:02. The Next Victim.

Londinium was a smoking ruin as the Iceni took the north west road to Verulamium, the next victim on the list. Calleva and Noviomagus breathed a sigh of relief. What moved Boudica to choose Verulamium over the other centres can only be conjecture, but it may be that there was a division of interest as the Iceni prepared to move away from the Thames. For Boudica and her Druidic advisors, the most urgent need, indeed the only need and the whole point of the exercise, was the earliest possible destruction of Paullinus and the main strength of the Roman Army. This could only be achieved by pursuing Paullinus north west along Watling Street to Venonis or beyond, where, they were doubtless aware, the Governor was mustering his strength. To the south west the Durotriges were pressing II Legio hard, and IX Legio was licking its wounds to the north east. The south was only lightly defended, if at all, as the vast proportion of the garrison had been redeployed for Paullinus’ push to the west. Virtually the entire army group was stretched out along the roughly 400 kilometres of the Fosse Way. Should Paullinus and the main concentration of strength be destroyed, the others could be disposed of at leisure. This was the counsel of wisdom.


But the recent successes and the pent-up anger of the British people now spilling over as they saw victory and vengeance within reach meant that another factor had to be taken into consideration. Boudica’s force was no longer an army, if indeed that term could have been applied to it even at the beginning. It was no longer a more or less disciplined fighting force but simply a rabble under arms. They had tasted blood and easy loot, and it is almost certain that they were bent solely upon destruction and revenge without thought of the strategic considerations. Quite probably Boudica had long lost full control of her people and their progress was no longer a military campaign to oust an alien regime and restore freedom, but a wild and unco-ordinated pogrom against the Romans and all those who had become their creatures. The south was a very tempting target and it was nearby. Many would have wanted to head in that direction for the sake of the loot to be had, and the fact that it was the most Romanised part of the province. By dint of what diplomacy, threats and pleading she managed to steer her vast mob north rather than into the rich, populous and defenceless regnum of Cogidubnus will never be known. But steer them she did.


Verulamium was close at hand. It may be that the Queen played upon the old enmities of the strong Trinovantian contingent in her ranks, who in turn would have swayed the host towards revenge upon the traitors in the new town by the fords of the River Ver.


Verulamium had been built with Roman assistance, but it was not, strictly speaking, a primarily Roman town like, for example, Londinium. It was primarily a British settlement, constructed upon that part of Tasciovanos’ old oppidum that flowed down from the main centre in Prae Wood to the eastern bank of the Ver. The survivors of the Gaulish tribes of the Helvetii and Eburones, those who had escaped the depredations of Julius Caesar in Gallia Belgica over a century before, had established themselves in the upper Thames and in the Welwyn – Verulamium – Braughing area from about 54 BCE. They had founded communities in these hitherto sparsely populated areas and had prospered, but soon fallen under the sway of Tasciovanos and his successors. Their tribal identities had been eroded over the years and they had lived as subjects, passing the grudge down from generation to generation, but unable to break the bonds of serfdom until the coming of Aulus Plautius. Verulamion, the Prae Wood oppidum, had been occupied by Tasciovanos and later Cunobelinos, but with the latter’s conquest of the Trinovantes and the subsequent removal of the royal seat to Camulodunon, Verulamion had become a secondary “western capital” of Cattuvellaunia dominated by a member of the king’s clan. Immediately prior to the king’s death, there had been a falling out amongst members of the clan, and the pro-Roman Adminios, a son of Cunobelinos, was forced to flee for his life and beg for sanctuary in Rome.


The western Cattuvellauni, the people of the valleys of the Ver and the Lea, had surrendered to Plautius in 43. When the Claudian expeditionary force was encamped on the south bank of the Thames, these people had approached Plautius and offered submission. Their help would have been instrumental, perhaps pivotal, to the separation of the two centres of resistance in the east and the west, and they certainly gave material support to the army in the form of supplies, and, possibly, men. Claudius was duly grateful and they received a now thoroughly Romanised Adminios back as their king, and Verulamion – now Latinised to Verulamium – became their tribal centre and the Capitol of a Cattuvellaunian civitas. As further reward the Cattuvellauni and the smaller tribes who had never been directly subject to Rome were accorded privileges and a consideration that the Trinovantes, as dediticii, never received. There was a strong sense of injustice amongst the rebels: here were the Cattuvellauni, their former oppressors and overlords, receiving special treatment from the new oppressors, while they, the Trinovantes, were treated as slaves because they had been loyal to the former oppressor! Feelings ran very high.


A small fort was built on the banks of the Ver [Wacher 1974: p203], and from the very first the new town was defended by a dyke and a ditch 2.7m deep and 6.1m wide [Wacher 1974: p205] enclosing some 48 hectares, which would not have been any real obstacle to a numerous and determined force but was nevertheless perfectly adequate against the small marauding bands that still threatened the peace behind Roman lines. The new town was built by 50 CE with such speed and of such a pattern that it is almost certain that it was laid out by a team of Roman-trained engineers, which would imply that the basic elements such as roads, drains, paths, defences and some structures were built at Rome’s expense, a reward for services rendered. The engineers were unlikely to have been serving soldiers as Plautius had been building forts and roads at a frenetic rate, and for a decade after that military engineers were required by the military for military projects. But clearly the builders of the first Verulamium had had experience of Roman military engineering and may have seen service in the legions. The fort probably housed a team of engineers and craft specialists who supervised gangs of native workers. A row of half timbered shops on Watling Street close to the forum is a good example of probable legionary building.


This block was constructed as a unit and its pattern shows a clear resemblance to a legionary barracks block, even to the extent of having larger rooms, analogous to the centurion’s quarters, at each end [Frere 1972: p10]. These spacious corner rooms were 7.3 metres and 6.1 metres wide by 12.2 metres deep, the remainder being 4.4 metres wide by 5.8 metres deep, with back rooms of up to 6 metres deep and there were, in all likelihood, lofts above [Ibid p15]. The shop fronts and display windows were probably closed with shutters [Ibid p13], one room may have had a real wooden floor [Ibid p18], and the front of the building was faced with a verandah covering a footpath 3.5 metres wide and supported by a balustraded colonnade of wooden posts at least 2.1 metres high [Ibid p15]. Utilitarian though it was, this was a huge advance on contemporary British architecture. And who owned it? Several possibilities exist, but it has been conjectured [Ibid p12] that the most likely proprietor was a Cattuvellaunian nobleman who rented his property to free tenants. On the Continent, such premises would usually be owned by a landlord and rented out to freedman tenants, but it is unlikely that Roman social customs had taken root quite so early in the occupation period. Quite probably, however, the craftsmen and small traders who worked there enjoyed the British equivalent of the Roman client-patron relationship with their landlord.


Verulamium may well have been granted the status of municipium by Claudius, meaning that it was a chartered town with considerable local autonomy and whose leading citizens enjoyed Latin, if not full Roman, citizenship. It contained a large open area which may have been a forum of the Gallic type [Webster 1978 p123]. Wealthy locals, possibly followers of Adminios who had returned with him from Rome, had established estates close to the town and had begun to build villas on classical models on the outskirts [Ibid p124], the earliest known in Britain. A lifestyle so fully reflecting the customs and institutions of Rome was no doubt the homage due from subjects to masters, but the swiftness and completeness of their adoption would betoken something more than mere duty. The advancing Iceni quite possibly thought of these material benefits in much the same light a later generations would think of a certain twenty pieces of silver.


To the victorious Iceni, advancing steadily up Watling Street, the inhabitants of Verulamium were even worse than Romans. They were traitors to their own kin, turncoats who had sold their heritage of freedom for a life of servitude sweetened by a few consumer goods. The warriors stormed up Watling Street with sword and torch. The burning brands flew into the shop fronts and a brisk south westerly wind [Frere 1972 p14] fanned the blaze merrily. Despite its ditch and dyke, Verulamium suffered the same fate as Londinium, but, as in the latter, casualties were relatively light. Most of the population had fled to Cogidubnus in the south, to Paullinus in the north, or had simply vanished into the dense forests.




04:03:03. The Fire Dies.

Leaving the ruins of Verulamium behind her, Boudica headed north west along Watling Street, heading for Venonis, Viriconium and Paullinus. The two of them would have to meet in a decisive encounter sooner or later, and both of them knew it. Boudica wanted it sooner and she probably advanced as quickly as she could, knowing that she could never be stronger and could only become weaker from now on as her control dwindled and commissariat problems increased. It was still spring, after all, a time when the winter stocks of food had all but gone and little new produce was yet available. Paullinus, on the other hand, would have wanted it a little later. He was getting stronger by the hour as his forces mustered and redeployed. He wanted as much delay as could be made for the time being while he marshalled his men and supplies and waited for the internal cohesion of Boudica’s “army” to crumble under its own sheer weight. He too would have been suffering from lack of supplies, having raced ahead of his forces to discover at first hand the situation in Londinium. Perforce the main body of his infantry, together with the slow moving supply columns, had also been left behind. But they were catching up quickly, for Roman legions could move at very great speed when the need was upon them, and every day was a tactical point in his favour.


Meanwhile, the British horde advanced, burning and destroying as they progressed, taking no prisoners. In the words of Tacitus, “It was as if they were avenging themselves in advance for their coming defeat” [Annals xiv:33].


Paullinus was somewhere ahead, in Warwickshire. He would have had to have arranged a rendezvous for the mustering of his scattered army, and the region of Venonis, at the junction of Watling Street and the Fosse Way, the main military arteries, would have been the logical point of convergence. The army began to assemble at or near Letocetum (Wall), the former headquarters of XIV Legio, with that legion and part of XX Legio together with as many auxiliary cohorts as could be mustered forming the host, a force of perhaps ten thousand men. Paullinus was engaged in a deadly juggling act. He needed as many men as possible to face the huge force now rolling against him, but he dared not strip all his own forces from the military zone. IX Legio was sorely depleted as a result of Cerealis’ earlier defeat and that formation would have been guarding the north – south roads to prevent the uprisings from spreading further, and may well have been forced to tackle insurgent tribesmen who were no part of Boudica’s main force. The Romans were on the back foot and other tribes were joining in now that success seemed in sight. II Legio could perhaps have spared men, and Paullinus was awaiting reinforcements from Isca on the Channel coast, but for some reason his summons was disobeyed. Poenius Postumus, the praefectus castrorum and the man in acting command, never lead the main strength of the legion to the battle with Boudica. Why? Was it because II Legio was under heavy pressure from rebellious Durotriges who would also have been eager to take their share of the loot and the revenge.


Paullinus conferred with his staff, which presumably included the commander of II Legio and his tribunus laticlavis, his second in command. Their presence with Paullinus is the most plausible explanation for the request for men to be sent to Postumus, the third man in the command structure. The tribunus may well have been a young man by the name of Gnaeus Julius Agricola who, many years later, would become the most famous of the Roman Governors of Britain. Agricola is known to have been in Britain at the time [Tacitus: Agricola 5], and he certainly held the rank of tribunus, but to what formation he was attached is not known.


The general staff discussed the matter. The British were approaching rapidly and there was no sign of II Legio. They decided to pull back a little way, giving the men as much chance to rest as possible and to gather in as many supplies as could be collected in haste. Paullinus probably hoped that reinforcements would arrive in time to bolster his position as he most certainly was in what a later empire would define as a bit of a tight spot. But the Governor was forced into action without the troops from Isca. The British were almost upon them, howling for battle. It was now or never. He


“selected a site with a narrow approach and backed by a wood, having made sure that he would only have the enemy in front and that the plain of battle was open and posed no threat of ambush” [Tacitus: Annals xiv:34].


And where was this place of armageddon? A narrow valley leading from the hills onto a plain and flanked by woodland, a place, presumably, fairly close to the road. There have been many suggestions for the site, but perhaps the strongest candidate at the moment is Manduessedum (Mancetter) [Webster 1978 p97], where the escarpment joins the plain of the little river Anker. The Romans had been able to choose the field of battle this time, and they selected ground that gave every advantage to their immeasurably superior battle tactics and armaments. Paullinus positioned the heavy infantry in the centre, the auxiliary infantry on the flanks and the cavalry on the wings. The numerical odds against them were heavy, and would have daunted lesser folk maybe, but these were professional fighting men with long experience of British conditions. Coolly, silently, they stood their ground, waiting for the order to attack.


The British pressed forward, a great, seething, formless mass in enormous numbers. They were dangerously overconfident, to the extent that the warriors had brought their wives and families to watch the massacre of the Romans, installing the women and children in wagons on the edge of the battlefield, giving them a grandstand view, as it were, of the impending destruction of the hated oppressor.


Before battle was joined, Boudica and her daughters drove around the British forces in a chariot, exhorting them to valour, whipping up a fighting fervour. Tacitus puts these words in her mouth:


“We British are used to women commanders in war. I am the descendent of mighty men! But now I am fighting for my kingdom and my wealth, I am fighting as an ordinary person for my lost freedom, my bruised body and my outraged daughters. Nowadays Roman rapacity does not even spare our bodies. Old people are killed, virgins are raped. But the Gods will grant us the vengeance that we deserve! The legion that dared to fight us has been wiped out! The others cower in their camps and watch for a chance to escape. They will not even face the din and tumult of our hosts, let alone the shock of our onslaught. Consider how many of you are fighting and why! Then you will win this battle or perish. That is what I, a woman, intend to do! Let the men live in slavery if they will! (viverent viri et servirent) [1].”


Paullinus also, as was customary, exhorted his men to valiant efforts. The three speeches that Dio invented for him are the usual series of elegant, rhetorical pomposities with little, if any, claim to reality. On the other hand the terse, almost vernacular speech quoted by Tacitus is quite different: it has the eerie, chilling ring of reality:


“Take no notice of the shouting and idle boasts of the natives! There are more women than fighting men amongst them. They have no training in war, no proper arms, and when they see the arms and courage of the conquerors who have routed them so often, they’ll turn tail and run. Hold your ranks! Throw your javelins and carry on! Knock them down with your shield bosses, kill them with your swords! Don’t stop to plunder: when you’ve done, you’ll have everything!” [Tacitus: Annals xiv:36].


Gnaeus Julius Agricola, the father-in-law of Tacitus, was quite probably on that battlefield and close enough to Paullinus to hear the General’s words clearly. Did he quote his former commander verbatim during one of those sessions of reminiscences that the great writer used as grist for his histories? Almost certainly. It may not be too romantic to suggest that these are the first recorded actual words spoken in Britain.


The British advanced. Paullinus gave the signal for battle. The heavy infantry stood their ground until “they could see the white of their eyes” and then hurled their javelins in two volleys. Then, in wedge formation, they charged in close order. The British were jammed into the narrow defile by the weight of sheer numbers pressing from behind. Unable to swing their heroic longswords properly, they were slaughtered in droves as the implacable steel wedges drove deeper and deeper into their ranks. The battle spewed forth onto the plain where the auxiliaries and cavalry swept forward, charges by the lancers breaking up rallying points of resistance. The battle continued throughout the day, both sides fighting with dogged desperation, nor was it as one sided as Roman reporters would have posterity believe. The British had fought Romans before and knew well their tactics. It may even be that, belatedly, they were beginning to learn something of that art themselves, but the end was never really in doubt. Late in the day the British finally broke and fled, but their retreat was hampered by the women’s wagons that ringed the battlefield. The Romans swept on, massacring as they went. The women and children were butchered, and even the draught animals were slaughtered on the spot.


Despite their valour and despite that the battle was hard fought, Boudica’s forces were defeated resoundingly in what could only have been a huge boost for Roman morale. Tacitus cites one unnamed report that 80,000 British and 400 Romans died on the field. Such vast and vastly disproportionate numbers are surely exaggeration, but without doubt there was appalling butchery that day and the British dead were strewn about the plain of the River Anker like windblown autumn leaves.


Paullinus’ victory was considered to be of such magnitude that it seems likely [2] that the honorific cognomina of Martia Victrix was bestowed upon XIV Legio and of Valeria Victrix upon XX Legio [McPake 1981 p293ff], although this cannot be proven. Certainly Nero was pleased. The dire news of the loss of three major towns, numerous smaller settlements and an enormous number of citizens, together with a large part of a legion, had led him to believe that he had lost the entire province. As Armenia had also apparently been lost at this time as well, when he was informed that he had indeed regained them both he was overjoyed, not simply because the Empire was firmly under control once more but because it also seemed to be the fulfilment of a prophecy that appeared to promise him a long and happy career. He was quite probably inclined to be generous in his relief.


But there were casualties.


Poenius Postumus, Camp Prefect of II Legio, committed suicide on hearing of the victory. Why he disobeyed the summons of his Commander-in-Chief at such dire need is a matter for conjecture. Maybe he felt that the Province was lost anyway, and to try to join Paullinus would be suicidal for both himself and his unit. Isca, after all was virtually on the coast and evacuation would have been eminently practicable. But simple cowardice would seem to be a most unlikely motive for an experienced and very senior staff officer. It may have been something as simple as the commissariat problems that naturally arose in early summer. Perhaps he had problems of internal discipline: mutiny and the threat of mutiny were never far from a Roman commander’s mind. Most probably he was under too much pressure himself from Durotrigan rebels. His legion was strung out across many miles of land and communications were difficult. There certainly was a kindred uprising in the south west, and the remains of a fire at Venta Belgarum (Winchester) may date from this period and therefore may indicate insurgent action deep within the regnum of the south. Postumus’ reasons may remain forever unknown, but whatever they were he seems to have been culpable of something. His suicide is most suspicious and the fascinating question remains: what was he really up to? Did he really fall on his sword, taking the one honourable course open to a man who, by breaking orders and not joining battle, had cheated his legion of the honours that were awarded to the victorious XIVth and XXth? [Tacitus: Annals xiv:37].


Boudica, too, took defeat hard. Events had moved with dizzying speed and within a mere six weeks [Carroll 1979 p201] she had fallen from avenging Fury and victorious Queen of a mighty people to desperate fugitive. In the middle of June, 61, Boudica and her daughters reportedly took poison [3] rather than suffer the indignities and torment that would surely have been inflicted upon them had they been taken alive. Perhaps they thought on the fate of the mighty Vercingetorix, who had been allowed to rot in chains in a Roman dungeon for six years before finally being murdered in the arena for Caesar’s victory games. That could not be endured. Whatever their real fate, the three women did not, thankfully, fall into the hands of Paullinus. And just as well. The victorious Governor showed no mercy to the beaten British and subjected them to savage reprisals. It is recorded [Dio lxii:12] that the British mourned their fallen Queen deeply, and that with her death such organised forces as remained disbanded in the belief that they were now truly beaten. Obviously some of her people, probably her own bodyguard, managed to withdraw from the field at Manduessedum in some order, as Dio adds that her people gave her a lavish funeral.


Some of her loyal subjects managed to bear away her body and those of her daughters, even to Icenia perhaps, where they were buried with full honour, but no mound would have been raised over them. They could not take the risk of having Paullinus’ men digging it up for some gruesome post-mortem atrocity. The location of the final resting place of the last of the free Monarchs of the British of the South is a secret that died with her mourners.




04:03:04. Strategic Considerations.

The central government was in something of a state of shock. The lessons to be drawn from the war in Britain would be examined and in some measure at least taken to heart. Seldom had a province risen with such ferocity and devastation. Clearly, policy and administrative procedures would have to be closely scrutinised and perhaps revised. There had been widespread damage to the value of many millions of sestertii, and appalling loss of life, estimated at 70,000 citizens and individuals [Tacitus: Annals xiv:33]. Despite this the province was once again firmly under Roman control after a resounding victory over huge odds. Britain would have to remain part of the Empire after these events, if only as a matter of prestige. Whatever doubts the early emperors may have had about the value of retaining the province, these now vanished and there would never again be second thoughts about the merits of Provincia Britannia. But a new line of approach would have to be taken if it was to become properly Romanised and profitable. The British were subdued but still not broken, and rebellion could flare up anew especially as the west was still defiant and the north increasingly volatile. A policy of reconciliation was now in order. Britain had felt the stick. It was now time for her to taste the carrot.


But the Roman stick was still being administered, brutally, by Suetonius Paullinus and his troops. Although the battle of Manduessedum had broken all organised opposition, resistance probably still continued in isolated spots as independent insurgents and bands from the free West and the North continued to harry the conquerors. The Governor, determined to destroy such resistance root and branch, mounted a campaign not simply of pacification but also of reprisal, a campaign that lasted through the summer and autumn and into winter. Contrary to normal practice the legions were not sent into hiberna, their semi-permanent winter quarters that winter. Paullinus kept them in the field sub pellibus (= under leather, as Roman armies in the field camped in leather tents. We would say “under canvas”) on high alert and pursued the survivors of Manduessedum remorselessly. It may be that his efforts were pursued with even greater vindictiveness because Boudica herself had eluded his grasp in the most effective and irrevocable way possible. The Iceni had, moreover, highlighted a severe tactical error on the General’s part: he had largely stripped the south east of troops the better to pursue his campaign into Wales. Had be done his homework a little better he would have been more aware of the possibilities of revolt and thus would have left the Province more strongly garrisoned, in which case the whole debâcle may never have reached the proportions that it did. Without doubt Paullinus’ fama had suffered, and that was unforgivable.


Two thousand regular infantry, eight cohorts of auxiliaries and two alae of cavalry were transferred from Germany to bring IX Legion up to strength [Tacitus: Annals xiv:38], which could be taken as a fairly good indication of the losses suffered by Cerealis during the first days of the war. The campaign in the west was temporarily put on hold while soldiers marched back to the midlands and the east, leaving only such garrisons as were necessary to maintain the limes. It has been suggested [Webster 1978 p109] that, due to its strategically central position on the midland plain, the fort at what is now known as the Lunt at Baginton near Coventry was built at this time. It could well have served as the command headquarters and main supply depot for the mopping up campaign that kept Paullinus and his men busy throughout the winter. Forts were built at such places as Great Chesterford [Rodwell 1972 p293], Chelmsford [Wacher 1974 p199], Ixworth [Frere 1985 p294-5] and perhaps Saham Toney [Frere 1987: p73], all well within the civil zone and all fronting Icenia. Interestingly, however, there appears to be little evidence for forts within Icenia, which would suggest that the need to conserve manpower constrained Paullinus to encircle and imprison the Iceni rather than actually garrison their territory to any great extent.


The Governor was engaged in a campaign of punitive terror, striking at all those who had supported Boudica and even at those who had remained aloof. Native villages were burned, the inhabitants butchered, the survivors brutalised and enslaved. Food stores were looted and standing crops destroyed to the extent that famine loomed large. Paullinus’ violent, uncompromising temperament was given free rein, but to some extent it is possible to understand the man’s point of view, even if his actions were unconscionable. He had visited the smoking ruins of three once-flourishing Roman towns. He would had counted his own bitter losses and seen the heaps of Roman civilian dead. He had heard in graphic detail the ghastly tales of the atrocities committed on Roman captives in the sacred groves. Such experiences would only have spurred him into committing even worse and more widespread atrocities in retaliation as he gave the province over to Mars Ultor, the God of War in his most dreadful manifestation of Avenger.


The legions swept across central and eastern Britain, killing and enslaving. Anything that could be carried, hauled or barged away was legitimate spoil of war, and the gyrus at the Lunt fort is perhaps a clue to the nature of some of the booty [Webster 1978: p110]. The Iceni were great horsemen and possessed many herds, the legacy of ancient days. Large numbers of these valuable animals, many, perhaps, half wild, would have been taken as prizes of war. The gyrus, a large circular wooden corral 100 Roman feet in diameter, has all the hallmarks of an animal training ring where horses could be brought to be broken to harness. This plunder would have been especially grievous to the Iceni, and a source of jubilation to the legions for whom horses were in constant demand both as cavalry mounts and as beasts of burden. That no such similar construction has ever been noticed in any other British fort could mean that the Lunt was purposely built – or rebuilt – as a specialist horse-training establishment to cope with the huge number of animals being captured [Ibid p110].


The procurator Catus Decianus, whose excesses had largely sparked off the war, was recalled to Rome, hopefully in disgrace, but his fate is unknown as he vanished from history completely thereafter. His replacement was Gaius Julius Alpinus Classicianus, a Gaul from what is now the Rhineland, a man whose ancestors had adopted Rome and who had risen high in the civil service. His name would imply that he was a member of the native Gallic aristocracy. His wife, Julia Pacata [RIB #12 (restored)], came with him. She was the daughter of Julius Indus, he who had assisted Rome nearly forty years before and whose cavalry regiment, the ala Indiana, later served in Britain during the conquest and the following occupation. It may be that Pacata was so named in memory of the comparatively bloodless dispersal of the Treveri rebels of Julius Florus in 21 CE, for the purpose of which the ala Indiana was raised in the first place. In that case, Pacata would have been 39 or 40 at the time of Boudica’s war.


The new procurator found a province racked with punitive warfare, and he strongly disapproved, realising that the greater part of the economy of a significant possession was being wrecked to satisfy the vindictiveness of one man. Classicianus had brought new policy directives from Rome and would have expected these to be heeded, but the general would have none of it. It is easy to imagine very strong words passing between legatus and procurator. Certainly he did not get on with Paullinus, nor Paullinus with him. As Nero’s financial agent, the charge laid upon Classicianus was to generate as much revenue for the fiscus as possible and to salvage as much as possible of Prasutagos’ legacy to the Emperor, but the actions of the Governor were reducing a large area of a potentially rich province to penury. The procurator quite naturally wanted a return to order and prosperity as soon as possible while the Governor seemed bent upon revenge. Classicianus was forced to play politics overtly by appealing to higher authority, and, perhaps, covertly by communication with the British.


Paullinus was due to finish his tour of duty soon. Classicianus quietly passed the word around amongst the British that the best course of action would be to wait for a new Governor who would look more kindly on those who surrendered. The result of this advice is unclear. Tacitus reports that, hearing Classicianus’ words, “the fierce tribes were all the more reluctant to settle back into peace” [Tacitus: Annals xiv:38] because of them, which could suggest that resistance was prolonged and Classicianus was therefore able to report back to Rome that “they could expect no end to hostilities unless a replacement was found for Suetonius” [Ibid: Annals xiv:38]. The report of Tacitus is so worded as to suggest that Classicianus was actively fomenting violence and prolonging the war in an effort to discredit Suetonius Paullinus, which would seem rather unlikely. What is more probable is that the procurator was desperately trying to make the best of a bad situation. It may construed that Paullinus continued to exacerbate that situation, but it must be remembered that the Governor was doing no more than any other Roman General would have done and was simply following standard practice. As for the British who were being slaughtered, it must be further pointed out in defence of Paullinus that the Iceni and their rebel allies had given no quarter to their victims and would have expected none in return. But Tacitus admired Suetonius Paullinus, perhaps because he was a friend and colleague of his Father-in-law, and sought to blacken the names of those who, however justifiably, opposed him.


Classicianus may well have had humanitarian grounds for his objections, besides the obvious economic and financial ones. Being a Gaul himself, he may have had some sympathy for his none-too-distant cousins. If nothing else, he would have been able to see their point of view with an understanding that Paullinus could never have shared. He notified Nero of the dangerous state of affairs, describing the damage being dome and asking clemency for the British. He implied that Paullinus’ failures were due to perversity and his successes to luck [Tacitus: Annals xiv:38], which may or may not have been true. It should be remembered that the ineptitude and corruption of his own predecessor in office had been the direct cause of the whole nasty business. Perhaps he wanted to divert attention elsewhere? Whatever other motives Classicianus may or may not have had, there was certainly a fair dollop of self-interest involved as well. In taking this course, he was not going behind Paullinus’ back. As procurator of an Imperial province, Classicianus was not answerable to the Governor but to Nero himself. He was doing no more than his job, albeit his reasons may have been more complex than mere financial concern.


Nero despatched one of his secretaries, a Greek freedman by the name of Polyclitus, to check on the report. This worthy, with an enormous entourage, crossed over to Britain for a tour of inspection, and such was his prestige and power and the sheer opulence of his retinue that even the Roman army seemed to be cowed. This caused some amusement amongst the British, it seems. To this free-willed people, the sight of an ex-slave lording it over the mighty and all-conquering Gaius Suetonius Paullinus was ludicrous, according to Tacitus [Tacitus: Annals xiv:39]. Again, the historian’s comment should be viewed with caution, as Tacitus, like most of his aristocratic contemporaries, was utterly contemptuous of the “creatures”, the freedmen who occupied high and lucrative offices which, by right it was felt, should have been held by honest, freeborn Roman citizens of equestrian rank. But whatever Polyclitus’ social status, his power was immense and, although the contents of his report to Nero are unknown, he seems to have vindicated Classicianus.


Paullinus saw out his full term of Governor, but evidently the reports of Polyclitus and Classicianus carried much authority. Both Cogidubnus and Cartimandua might also have added their considerable weight to the case for Paullinus’ removal. Both client monarchs had been steadfast and loyal to Rome throughout the turmoil, although for Cartimandua the temptations and pressures to throw her forces into the fray against Rome must have been strong. Despite that she remained bought and her contribution to the war effort, albeit passive, had been considerable. Cogidubnus, on the other hand, would have been of enormous service in both restraining his own people and in providing sanctuary for the thousands of refugees who had streamed into his realm. He may even have become directly involved in battle as Durotrigan rebels seem to have been making inroads on his western  borders. It may be no coincidence that the palace at Fishbourne, his presumed residence, underwent extensive and lavish rebuilding shortly after Boudica’s War.




04:03:05. Requital.

            [“At the End of the World” – Webster, Britannia XXX particularly p15ff.]

Paullinus’ term of office expired and his imperium was not renewed. Some ships were lost at sea and this was used as an excuse to bring him back to Rome on the pretext that the war had not been satisfactorily and speedily concluded. He was by no means disgraced, however, as a reading of Tacitus would imply, and there is no suggestion that he was recalled as he had already concluded at least the average term as Governor. A donative was apparently paid and the Emperor accepted an imperial salutation [Frere 1987 p74], a mark of honourable recognition. His son received the consulship five years later, and he himself remained a respected and senior military figure for many years, next appearing in history as a general officer in Otho’s armies during the civil strife of 69. But he had served his purpose in Britain. It was time for a diplomat to take over, to heal wounds, smooth ruffled feathers and start the process of reconciliation and rebuilding.


Paullinus was followed in office by the milder mannered Publius Petronius Turpilianus, an elderly man but one of exceptional diplomatic and administrative skill. Turpilianus was the son of Publius Petronius, the consul of 19 CE and good friend of Claudius, and husband of Plautia the sister of Aulus Plautius, and therefore the brother-in-law of the conqueror of Britain. Besides being a respected statesman and a member of the powerful gens Petronii. Turpilianus was also a loyal subject of Nero [Plutarch: Galba 15]. His devotion to Nero made him the ideal man to bring a fractious province of doubtful loyalty back into the fold. His kinship with Aulus Plautius would have made him acceptable to key British Romanophiles such as Cogidubnus, and his reputedly mild manner would ensure that he, if anyone, could pour oil on troubled waters. Overall, his qualifications for the Governorship were impressive and compelling.


He came to Britain directly from the consulship, his term of office as consul ordinarius probably finishing in mid-year when he was replaced by a suffect consul as was the custom at the time [Carroll 1979 p198], taking up office in Britain by September. His exact tenure of office is uncertain and he could have had as many as two campaign seasons, in 62 and 63, but it is plain that his military activity was minimal [Birley 1981 p58] and Tacitus notes that he “dealt with the existing troubles, but risked no further move before handing over his post” [Tacitus: Agricola 16] to his successor. This could suggest that he had been sent out by Nero to perform certain very specific tasks and then return to Rome, and his tenure was therefore comparatively brief. Roman Governors of Britain seem to have been appointed for periods of three, or multiples of three, years although there is no real evidence to prove this and, as the term seems to have varied so widely, there is no evidence that a specific “term of office” as such existed [Carroll 1979 p199]. The Emperor, after all, was free to appoint or recall his Governors as he wished.


Petronius, therefore, seems to have spent his time in Britain on diplomatic and administrative affairs before handing over to his successor, Trebellius Maximus, and there is no need to suppose that he was in office for much more than a year [Carroll 1979: p199]. In that time the reprisals were discontinued, the tribes calmed down and Britain was able to sit back for a while and lick her wounds.


Claudius Tiberius Cogidubnus did very well out of the war. His loyalty to Rome was now beyond question and Nero was generous indeed. A fine new palace was built at Fishbourne for the king, and Cogidubnus remained on his throne for perhaps another twenty years until at last he died, probably in the mid 80’s, covered with honours and extremely wealthy.


Petilius Cerealis also did well for himself. His record as a legionary commander was certainly blotted by his defeat at the hands of Boudica’s men, so much so that Tacitus described it as a clades [Histories iii:69], a disaster, a mistake that would have counted heavily against him. But despite the clades Cerealiana, the young man had friends in high places. It is surmised that when the replacements for IX Legio arrived from Germany after the war, they were led by, or at least included, the young Titus Flavius Vespasianus, the son of the future Emperor who would in turn be Emperor himself and was at that time a military tribune. The two young men got to know each other, and from this acquaintanceship grew a family friendship that would result in the marriage of Cerealis and Domitilla, the sister of Titus and the only daughter of Vespasian [Birley 1981: p66]. The lady died untimely, but the link was maintained through their daughter, also Domitilla. Under the patronage of the new Emperor Vespasian, Cerealis returned to Britain in 71 – 73 as Governor. He attained the fasces on his return to Rome for the year 74, and was probably elected for a second term as consul ordinarius in 83 [Ibid p69].


Despite the slurs of Tacitus, and whatever his real motives, the undoubted hero of the piece was Classicianus. Roman Britain owed much to the procurator, who had the courage to oppose the angry Paullinus in his hour of revenge, and the political skill to persuade an unbalanced and tyrannical Emperor to follow in this instance the path of statesmanship [Merrifield 1965 p41]. Classicianus died in Britain, probably while still in office, and was buried in Londinium. His wife, Julia Pacata, survived him and later returned to her family near Trier, where she died. Their children, if any, are unknown, but a Treveran officer of equestrian rank, a certain Alpinus Montanus who served in the army of the usurper Vitellius in 69, may have been a son [Birley 1981 p289].


Slowly the devastated towns rose anew from the ashes. The buildings had disappeared, but the administrative functions, strategic values and, despite the appalling casualties, many of the people, remained. Work resumed on the huge and ornate temple of Claudius at Camulodunum, and it would in time become what it had been intended to be from the very first, the focal point of the Imperial Cult in Britain. At Londinium, the emergent seat of provincial government, basic amenities were swiftly repaired and gradually the town was renewed. At Verulamium little remained in place, and what there was, was rummaged through by survivors searching for valuables and such useful items as may have escaped the holocaust, and for the dead [Frere 1972 p9]. Much material was carted away for re-use. But Verulamium, also, was restored and would again flourish, although this would take a long time. The first Verulamium may well have been built largely at Roman expense as a recognition of the assistance of the Cattuvellauni of Adminios during the invasion and as a means of legitimating and entrenching the power of Adminios as a client king. There was to be no such capital injection this time and as a result rebuilding was slow.


Morale was low, for there would have been many deaths and widespread destruction. Many people were ruined, their goods looted and the means of producing more wealth, such as workshops forges and hearths, destroyed. Whole families had been wiped out, leaving no heirs, which would have caused endless legal disputes over land ownership [Wacher 1974 p206]. Civic amenities we built by private subscription rather than with public funds and there was simply not enough money around for elegant capital works. Nero certainly did not inject any money into the province. The situation had now stabilised and all he was interested in was extracting money out of the province, not the other way around. But confidence was gradually restored with the more positive approach of the Flavian Emperors, and amenities began to reappear. The forum was finally dedicated in 79, during the imperium of Agricola, which means that this central building complex, the heart of any truly Roman town, would hardly have begun much before about 75, a date corroborated by coin evidence [Frere 1972 p40]. Humbler buildings went up much sooner, rebuilt to the old designs and to the same plans, half-timbered buildings with wattle and daub infills, the daub being puddled on the spot from the remains of the old buildings [Ibid p10]. Villas sprang up where once native farms had been, small and simple at first and little different from their Iron Age precursors, the best that the impoverished Cattuvellaunian gentry could afford, but they would be expanded over the years and in generations to come the Verulamium area would boast one of the most dense concentrations of elegant villas in Britain.


The effects of the war on the Trinovantes are unknown, but without doubt they would have learned the bitter truth of the adage that no matter how bad things are they can always get worse. Without doubt there were harsh reprisals, and the numbers killed and enslaved must have been huge. That they suffered punitive strictures is certain, as it was a long time before work on Caesaromagus resumed. The settlement was gradually revived, largely as a result of the vicus that grew out of the fort that was re-established there after the Boudican War [Wacher 1974 p199] and it certainly lost any status it may have had as a civitas capitol. Although it survived as a settlement, and still exists today, it became a ‘failed’ town [Ibid p198], a stopover on iter V of the Antonine Itinerary [5], conveniently halfway between the  thriving cities of Londinium and Camulodunum. No real street grid was laid down and, apart from a handsomely appointed mansio for the use of travellers and a small Romano-British temple on the site of an ancient shrine, no buildings of importance were constructed.


The implication is that the tribe completely lost any semblance of local autonomy and was ruled from Camulodunum. The lands surrounding the latter town were probably looked upon not as a territorium but as agri captivi and as such subject to further expropriation at any time. But they had already lost their land, and their wealth had been plundered long before. The nobles of the tribe, forced to act as Augustales, had expended their wealth on the religious demands of the cult of the Emperor, and their own lands had been taken to compensate for debts that they were now unable to repay. There was probably little difference, after the initial dust had settled, between before and after. Despite the loss of privileges that such strictures would imply, and despite that there does not appear to be any further extent reference to the Trinovantes per se, there is nothing to indicate that the tribe was broken up and it is probable that Trinovantian notables eventually took office on the ordo at Camulodunum, thus regaining some measure of self determination. The land, however, never recovered its wealth. For the remainder of the occupation, Trinovantia remained largely an economic backwater. Its economy was almost wholly agricultural with strong fishing and salt production industries but essentially rural with little manufacturing above cottage industry level.


There was a little consolation in that they appear to have regained access to their sacred place on the site of Trinovantian Camulodunon, and Gosbeck’s Farm became a focus for tribal life once more. The huge, square ditch was filled in, the enclosure enlarged and a double colonnaded Romano-British temple built. A theatre and two large enclosures were built nearby and it is surmised [Wacher 1978 p130], on the evidence of a bronze statue of Mercury, the Roman god of trade, that was found nearby, that the place continued long in use as a combined religious and commercial site, the home of a regular country fair. A return, in fact, to its traditional use. The theatre was built of wood with earth banks, but had a proper orchestra and stage, and was big enough to accommodate up to 5000 people. As Roman theatres were generally built to enable the entire urban population to attend festivals and shows, this would give some indication of the size of the Trinovantian settlement and its environs. The construction of this building, and the scale of it, with all the implications that it has of a strong continuance of native traditions, seems to represent a major concession on the part of the Romans, and an admission that compromise was necessary.


The effects upon the Iceni were harsh and long-lasting, and the people were used severely. Their lands were confiscated. Such property as was not already the legal domain of the Emperor by virtue of the will of Prasutagos was seized as war reparations, and much of Icenia became the personal property of the Emperor. From the Fenland to the territorium of Camulodunum, much of Icenia became Imperial estate, perhaps (in the case of much of the Fenland) leased out to non-tied tenants [Potter 1981 p129]. The large Villa Faustini at Scole on the border of Norfolk and Suffolk and the only British Villa mentioned in the Antonine Itinerary, has been suggested [Wacher 1978 p130] as being the centre of this very large estate.


A substantial proportion of Icenian territory was covered by the fens and little used by the natives for anything much at all except the extraction of salt, as most of it was underwater-more or less – and was infested with midges, flies and leeches. The Romans, knowing the productivity of drained swamps, began a series of canals, the largest being the Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire Car Dykes, to drain the fens and serve partially as a transport system. Such was the sophistication and efficiency of the canals that it eventually became possible to travel by inland waterways, natural or contrived, from the Fens to York. The system was begun in the last years of Nero’s reign as a land reclamation scheme, when the northern frontier was based on the fortress at Lindum. The complex of canals lies adjacent to the lands of the Iceni, and the beginning of its construction can be dated to shortly after the crushing of Boudica. It needs little detective work to guess who built the canals and for what reasons they were forced into such labour.


Interestingly, the canals and main road system are unmistakably Roman, but the farms, fields and lanes are characteristically British. The natives were left to work the land in their ancestral manner without any attempt to convert them to more efficient Roman methods of agriculture. Only the canal-side granaries indicate the stage at which the Roman tax-collector entered into possession of the giant’s share of the produce and where it was barged away to Roman depots [Richmond 1955 p130].


The severity of the repression lingered for generations and Venta Icenorum did not develop into a true town until well into the second century. Punitive strictures strangled economic development and tribal resources were cut to a minimum. Even Venta Siluram (Caerwent), the civitas of the truculent Silures, fared better, but then the Silures had only resisted Rome and then accepted defeat. The Iceni had accepted Rome, had become friends and allies, and then turned on her. With defeated enemies Rome was simply harsh. With traitors she was sadistically brutal. In time the strictures were gradually eased and prosperity slowly returned to the ravaged province. Eventually a civitas was set out for the Iceni with its capitol at Venta Icenorum and that people regained a little of the right to govern their own affairs. But, deprived of a large part of their best land, they never seem to have regained anything like their former affluence and Icenia, like neighbouring Trinovantia, remained for ever more an economic backwater.


The War of the Iceni had far-reaching effects for the rest of Britain. Certainly any Roman thoughts of further forward military policies were shelved for nearly twenty years, forcing Nero and his successors to appoint a series of Governors and procurators who were more aware of the native peoples and who were prepared to make something of an effort to secure the long term loyalty of those who were loyal. The war had taught Rome that the British were very definitely not subdued, and created a crisis of confidence in the trustworthiness of the native rulers of client kingdoms. It was probably at this point of the original three layered concept of civil zone – client kingdoms – military zone was discarded in favour of direct rule and a network of civitates on the tried and true Gaulish model [Haselgrove 1984 III:iii]. There was doubtless a considerable period, perhaps a decade or more, of martial law over most of the area north of the Thames, and Cogidubnus would continue to prosper, receiving more honours, for another quarter of a century. But the regnum Cogidubni was doomed along with even notional British independence. Imperial patience with the client kings had run out. They had served a very useful purpose, and those of the south and west would still serve a useful purpose for a little while, but when Cogidubnus died, probably in the 80’s, his kingdom was broken up into by Flavian Governors into the southern and south western civitates of the Cantii, Belgae and Durotriges. The implications of the dreadful events of 68 – 70 in Gaul and Italy during which Rome almost destroyed herself yet the Gaulish civitates remained loyal to the Empire (albeit loyalties to the various contestants were mixed), cannot have been lost on the administration [Ibid III:iii]. This observation may well have been the last nail in the coffin of a free Britain.


The repercussions of this decision extended well beyond the Province. The lack of confidence in the native authorities radically altered military deployments. No commander was prepared to remove garrisons even from apparently pacified areas for fear of another flare-up. No troops, therefore, could be spared to mount an effective campaign against Wales. It was the old problem of manpower, both military and civil. The whole provincial administration relied completely, in the ranks below the Governor, the procurator and their staffs, upon trustworthy native aristocrats to keep the system running. It cannot be emphasised enough that the number of native Roman bureaucrats in Britain was comparatively minuscule. The whole system relied implicitly upon native administrators to maintain a law-abiding and obedient population. The province could not possibly have existed without the widespread and active co-operation of the British themselves. No troops were available to augment the army of occupation and no further units were sent over to reinforce the garrison to enable subsequent Governors to undertake expeditions in force into the western highlands. Despite that the subjugation of Wales would become increasingly imperative over the next decade no vigorous forward policy was pursued and the Welsh border, therefore, remained a disputed and fluid zone for the duration of Nero’s reign. Thus Boudica gained a respite of nearly a generation for the peoples of the north and west, and a much more thoughtful administration for those of the south. Clearly, the first Roman priority prior to the Boudican War was to exact as much wealth from Britain as possible, but under Trebellius Maximus and his immediate successors the policy direction became one of reconciliation with the natives, and the proper ordering of a civil province (Black 1987 p8).


The war was a turning point for the tribes of the south and east. Up until then there might have been some real hope that Rome could be evicted and full freedom regained. After 61, that hope died along with those who might have been able to lead a successful war of independence. Never again was there an uprising amongst the British peoples south of the Trent-Severn line. There was nothing left for the older generation to do but suffer in bitter silence and eventually die, leaving the way for a new generation for whom there was only one possible way of life: Rome’s.




04:03:06. Bibliography.

Birley, Anthony R.

            1981    “The Fasti of Roman Britain.” Oxford.

Black, E W.

            1987    “The Roman Villas of South-East England”. BAR (British Series) #171. Oxford.

Carroll, K K.

            1979. “The Date of Boudicca’s Revolt”. Britannia Vol. X.

Cary, Earnest.

            1914    “Dio’s Roman History”. (9 Vol.umes). Loeb Classical Library.

Cornelius Tacitus, Publius.

            “The Agricola”: refer H Mattingly & S A Handford 1970. R M Ogilvie & I Richmond 1967.

            “The Annals”: refer Michael Grant 1973.

            “The Histories”: refer Kenneth Wellesley 1964.

Dio, Cassius

            “Roman History”: refer Earnest Carey 1914.

Frere, Sheppard.

            1972    “Verulamium Excavations” Volume 1. Society of Antiquaries.

            1985.   Roman Britain in 1984. Britannia Vol. XVI.

            1987    “Britannia” (3d edition). Pimlico.

Grant, Michael.

            1973    “Tacitus: The Annals of Imperial Rome”. Penguin.

Haselgrove, Colin.

            1984    ” Romanization before the Conquest: Gaulish precedents and British consequences”, in Blagg and King 1984.

McPake, Robert.

            1981    “A Note on the Cognomina of Legio XX”. Britannia Vol. XII.

Mattingly, H & S A Handford.

            1970    “Tacitus: The Agricola and the Germania”. Penguin.

Marsden, Peter.

            1980. “Roman London”. Thames & Hudson.

Merrifield, Ralph

            1965    “The Roman City  of London”. Earnest Benn.


            “Lives”. Refer Warner 1982.

Potter, T W.

            1981    “The Roman Occupation of the Central Fenland”. Britannia Vol. XII.

Richmond, Ian.

            1955    “Roman Britain”. Penguin.

Rodwell, Warwick.

            1972    “The Roman Fort at Great Chesterford, Essex”. Britannia Vol.. III

Wacher, John.

            1978    “Roman Britain”. J M Dent & Sons.

Warner, Rex.

            1982. “Fall of the Roman Republic: Six lives by Plutarch”. Penguin.

Webster, Graham.

            1978    “Boudica”. Book Club Associates.

Wellesley, Kenneth.

            1964    “Tacitus: The Histories”. Penguin.

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