Prior to the arrival of the Roman army in the 1st century AD, Britain didn't have any sort of large standing military force as such with which to defend the country, but instead had a collection of individual tribal groups, who would periodically fight one another in regional disputes over territory, mineral deposits, water rights, or some other such valuable commodities. It was thought to be as a result of one of these inter-tribal disputes, between the Catuvellauni people and their neighbours, the Atrebates that eventually led to the military invasion of Britain by the legions of the Roman Empire in 43 AD. Dispossessed of his kingdom by the Catuvellauni princes, Caratacus and Togodumnus, who were seeking to extend their own territorial influence, the Atrebate ruler, Verica, was said to have travelled to Rome, where he pleaded with the new Roman Emperor, Claudius, for military support in regaining his traditional tribal homelands. Fortunately for the ousted British king, his pleas for military aid were thought to have come at a convenient time, given that Claudius was reportedly desperate to stamp his own authority on a Roman Empire, which had been severely damaged by the actions of his predecessor, the Emperor Caligula, whose madness was said to have brought the empire to the edge of destruction.
Britain at that time was reportedly composed of a large number of regional tribes, including the likes of the Catuvellauni, Atrebates, Iceni, Silures, Ordovices, et cetera, who were commonly ruled by a single high born individual, or members of a particular household, or clan, whose decisions were often informed by their closest and most experienced advisers. Each of these pre-Roman societies were thought to have been slightly distinct from one another, with some having tribal capitals, whilst others did not, others produced their own coinage, whereas others relied almost entirely on barter, some tribes grew crops, others bred and traded horses. However, even though each of these peoples were thought to have regarded themselves as being entirely distinct from the other surrounding British tribes, many of the smaller, more peaceful tribal groups were thought to have shared a common enemy in the form of the larger, more militaristic societies, such as the Catuvellauni, who used their martial strength to impose their demands or their territorial ambitions on their smaller, weaker neighbours.
Consequently, when the four Roman legions of Aulus Plautius landed at Richborough in Kent in 43 AD, many of the smaller tribes were thought to have generally welcomed their arrival, simply because the Roman’s military presence promised to curtail the expansionist policies of the stronger indigenous British tribes. It was precisely because of Britain’s fragmented and regionalised tribal system that the estimated forty thousand Roman legionaries, who arrived in the summer of 43 AD, were able to successfully land on the British mainland and establish their first bases there, without any serious local opposition. According to most contemporary sources, both Caratacus and Togodumnus, the rulers of the Catuvellauni were reported to have been in the vanguard of what British resistance there was to the European invaders and despite lacking the military strength to confront the Roman legions directly, were said to have conducted a highly effective guerrilla campaign against Rome’s military forces, using hit-and-run, as well as a scorched earth policy to slow down the legion’s inexorable advance into the centre of the country. Unfortunately, the Catuvellauni princes’ decision to rely on the Rivers Medway and Thames to hold back the advancing Roman legions ultimately proved to be a fatal mistake, as the highly experienced legionaries quickly overcame both of these natural barriers and were able to confront and defeat the British defenders, with Togodumnus reportedly being killed shortly after the battle on the Thames.
Unlike his brother, Caratacus was thought to have avoided being killed or seriously injured at the battle on the Thames, although with much of his army destroyed or captured by the Roman’s, he was said to have been left with little choice but to retire westward, in the hope of finding new military forces with which to resist the invaders. In the short term however, Aulus Plautius and his four legions were content to request Claudius to come from Rome, so that he could triumphantly enter the Trinovantes capital of Camulodunum (Colchester), at the head of his triumphant Roman army, where he was said to have received the submissions of eleven British tribal leaders, mostly from the south of the country, who were keen to show their allegiance to the new military administration. Having established their hold on the south east of the country, over the next four years the Roman legions were reported to have pushed further west, imposing "client" relationships with those willing to accept their rule and conquering those that were not. For those that were able to escape the Roman’s military expansion, almost inevitably they were said to have been forced back into the Welsh homelands of the Silures and Ordovices peoples, who controlled much of the territory there.
Although both of these British tribes were reported to have resisted increasing Roman expansion within Britain, especially along their own regional borders, with what would later become known as England, it was only in 47 AD that the Roman authorities began to plan for the large scale invasion of the unconquered western regions of the country, when the new Roman Governor of Britain, Publius Ostorius Scapula, began a series of military campaigns against the peoples of Wales and northwest England. However, despite the experience and professionalism of his legionary forces, Scapula was reported to have found it extremely difficult to suppress the fighting men of the Silures and the Ordovices, both of whom were said to have been led at some point by the renegade Catuvellauni prince Caratacus, who was thought to have organised British resistance to Rome, right the way through to 51 AD, when his forces were finally defeated at the Battle of Caer Caradoc.
Although he managed to escape once again, following this particular battle, Caratacus’ wife and children were all reportedly captured by the Roman’s, who were said to have used them as hostages, in order to force the British prince’s surrender, but all to no avail. Unfortunately for the rebel prince, having fled Wales, he then made the mistake of fleeing north, to the kingdom of the Brigante’s and the court of their queen, Cartimandua, a client ruler of the Roman Empire. Duty bound to seize Caratacus, Cartimandua was reported to have ordered him chained and handed over to the Roman authorities, who subsequently arranged for the rebel prince and his entire family to be taken to Rome in chains, where Caratacus would be publicly displayed, before being executed. However, according to the Roman historian Tacitus, the British prince was permitted to make a speech before the Senate, which was said to have so impressed the Roman Emperor Claudius that Caratacus and his family were released from their imprisonment and allowed to settle in Rome, where they were said to have remained for the rest of his life.
The second great British insurrection against Roman rule was thought to have occurred around ten years after Caratacus had finally been captured by the Brigante’s client ruler, Cartimandua; and was brought about in part by Rome’s own inheritance laws and the overbearing attitude of some of the Roman officer’s stationed in Britain. The Iceni people, who occupied the area of Britain, now marked by the modern day county of Norfolk, were reported to have been a generally successful tribe of horse breeders and traders, whose ruler, King Prasutagus and his wife Boudica, had taken a fairly pragmatic view towards the Roman invasion of Britain and as a result had maintained a significant amount of independence within the new Roman province of Britannia. However, as part of their increasing political and commercial links with the Empire, Prasutagus not only incurred a considerable amount of debt through Roman money lenders, but was also obliged to accept the Empire’s strict inheritance laws, which would transfer all of his rights and properties to Rome upon his death and that strictly forbade any of his female relative from inheriting his estates when he finally died.
|Anglo Saxon Warrior|
Unfortunately, when Prasutagus finally did die in around 60 AD, his will ordered that all of his estates should be divided between the Roman Empire and his two daughters, in what was a clear breach of Roman Law, but perfectly legitimate under traditional British rules. However, the Roman authorities in Britain, no doubt encouraged by many of the money lenders who were keen to recover their loans, decided to ignore the Iceni king’s last will and testament; and simply annexed the entire kingdom, bringing it under their own direct military control. When the late king’s wife, Boudica, publicly protested their actions, according to some contemporary sources, she was publicly flogged and her daughters were raped, as punishment for daring to challenge the Roman authority’s decision. It was an outrage that the Roman’s would subsequently have cause to regret, as the Iceni queen soon began plotting with other neighbouring tribes to bring their military forces together and drive the Roman’s out of Britain forever.
To best illustrate the difference between the two societies, the fact that this particular British army chose to accept Queen Boudica as their war leader, was completely at odds with Rome’s social norms, where women were held in little regard, save for those few that achieved noble status. For the ancient Briton’s however, women were generally granted similar status to their men folk in terms of commerce, political power and leadership; and as in the case of Boudica herself, were sometimes attributed with having magical powers that were largely unknown to men.
Rallying her combined military forces, Boudica’s first target was said to have been the Roman settlement of Calumodunum, now Colchester, which had once been the tribal capital of the Trinovantes people, but had since been colonised by Roman migrants, merchants and former soldiers. Some of these ex-legionaries were reported to have treated the local Briton’s with great disrespect and had not only stolen their lands and possessions, but had also forced the local population to bear the cost of building a brand new temple dedicated to the former Roman emperor Claudius, which quickly became the target for the Briton’s latent anger. Perhaps believing that the presence of these former legionaries would protect the settlement from any sort of attack, according to some sources, Calumodunum lacked any great defensive features and as a result was quickly overrun by Boudica’s army, who were reported to have butchered everybody in the city, regardless of their nationality, or their reason for being there.
The great temple that had been built to celebrate the Emperor Claudius was said to have become the final refuge for many of the town’s terrified residents, who huddled inside its protective walls for a number of days, before finally succumbing to the vengeance of the native British army. Modern day archaeological excavations in the city, suggest that having overcome the local defences Boudica’s forces then systematically demolished the settlement, taking away only those items that were easily transported, whilst destroying and burning those that were not. Having spent several days razing the entire settlement, Boudica and her army were then thought to have prepared to move on to their next target, the relatively new Roman settlement of Londinium, which was said to have become an extremely important administrative and commercial centre for the Roman authorities.
However, having been delayed at Calumodunum, a handful of survivors were said to have escaped the town and alerted the nearest legionary commanders about the raid, who quickly despatched members of the 9th Hispanic Legion into the area, in an effort to confront the Boudican army, before it managed to attack and destroy another Roman settlement. Unfortunately for the 9th Legion’s commander, Quintus Petillius Cerialis, the forces that he managed to assemble at such fairly short notice, were reported to have been completely inadequate for the task presented to them and were subsequently annihilated by Boudica’s army, which then simply continued with its relentless march on Londinium.
|Edward the Confessor|
At the same time, the Roman Governor of Britain, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, who had been busy campaigning against the Druids on the island of Anglesey was informed about the razing of Calumodunum and the later defeat of the 9th Hispanic Legion, forcing him to bring his own legions south, in an effort to try and save the settlement of Londinium. Unfortunately, given the distances involved and his lack of seasoned troops, Paulinus was said to have essentially sacrificed the new Roman settlement, for the sake of confronting the Iceni queen and her army at a place of his own choosing; and where the conditions would favour his smaller, but much more professional force. As a result, Boudica and her army quickly overran the defences of Londinium, putting everyone to the sword and forcing many hundreds of Roman administrators, traders and visitors to flee the city in terror. Even today, evidence of the widespread destruction wrought by the Boudican army remains beneath the modern day streets of the English capital, with a thick red layer of burnt debris testifying to the wholesale devastation that took place there nearly two thousand years ago.
Once again, this British tribal army was reported to have spent several days pursuing those residents who had failed to leave the city beforehand, slaughtering many thousands in the most barbaric way, whilst tearing down and burning anything that the Roman’s had built, leaving the whole settlement as a bloody burning memory of the British horde’s passing visitation. With both Camulodunum and Londinium destroyed, Boudica then led her army to the Roman settlement of Verulamium, now St Alban’s, where once again the local population were slaughtered and their town destroyed, with particular attention being paid to any high bred woman who happened to fall into the rebel army’s hands. According to some later reports, such women had one of their breasts cut off, which was then sewn into their mouths, before the unfortunate victim was impaled on a wooden stake, although such reports may just as easily have been horror stories invented by Roman historians in order to justify the equally brutal actions that the Roman legions would subsequently employ in the aftermath of the bloody Boudican revolt.
Having devastated Verulamium, Boudica’s native army was then reported to have moved north, along the route of the main Roman highway, Watling Street, which would have taken them to the area of Britain now commonly referred to as The Midlands. Whether or not the Iceni queen intended to take her forces to attack yet another major Roman settlement is unclear, but it is known that as they moved north, the Roman Governor, Suetonius Paulinus, was beginning to assemble his own military forces to try and intercept the British army. Supported by an estimated ten thousand legionaries, Paulinus was said to have carefully chosen the site where he would finally confront Boudica and her native army, selecting a site that would favour his own men and disadvantage the war chariots of the Iceni warriors that he knew would be used against him. Although the exact site of the resulting battle has been lost over time, according to some contemporary reports Paulinus was careful to choose a location that not only prevented the encirclement of his forces by the much larger British army, but also ensured that Boudica’s battle line was only equal to his own, by choosing a site that essentially limited the amount of space available to the soldiers from both side. Despite being several times larger than Paulinus’ military force of ten thousand men, the Boudican army was reported to have been so large that it was virtually uncontrollable, which ultimately resulted in a lack of coordinated actions being taken by the Iceni queen and her military commanders, who were unable to oversee or control the actions of their massed troops, with the result that any attacks on the Roman lines were thought to have been chaotic at best.
|Motte & Bailey Castle|
For the highly experienced and professional Roman legionaries however, the months and years of drilling, training and fighting had formed them into a highly cohesive military force that could fight and die on any terrain, or in any conditions, simply by following the lead of their closest comrades, or the instructions given by their immediate superior, which they followed without question. Whilst the native British troops rushed headlong to meet their adversaries, the Roman legionaries were said to have calmly stood their ground and launched volley after volley of javelins into their enemy’s rapidly advancing ranks, killing and wounding thousands before the two sides even got within arms length of one another. Even when the two armies did come together in hand-to-hand combat, the interlinked shields of the Roman phalanx and the skilfully employed legionary swords and spears were thought to have caused significant levels of death and destruction amongst the generally ill disciplined British ranks. As more and more British warriors rushed to attack the Roman lines, so those at the front were forced onto the legionnaire’s swords and spears, causing even greater numbers of casualties amongst the native fighters, with no escape available even if they had wished to withdraw from the battle.
Almost inevitably perhaps, as more and more of their fighters fell to the Roman weapons, so the British attack began to weaken and fail, until eventually increasing numbers of Boudica’s army began to fall back, relieving the pressure on the Roman lines and allowing them to move forward, in pursuit of the retreating British fighters. However, in what subsequently proved to be a major tactical error, the Boudican army’s line of retreat was reported to have been blocked by their own caravan of carts and chariots that contained their families and the many looted treasures that had been stolen from the Roman settlements of Camulodunum, Londinium and Verulamium. With no clear escape route and with their families now at risk from the rapidly advancing Roman forces, many of the British fighters, along with their wives and children, were reported to have been slaughtered by the vengeful Roman legionaries, whose commander, Suetonius Paulinus was determined to teach the native Briton’s the human cost of rebelling against Roman military rule.
Although some later historians have reported that as many as eighty thousand Briton’s lost their lives in this final bloody engagement, it seems highly likely that this figure had been exaggerated, by both Roman and British recorders, often for their own particular political ends. As for the Iceni leader Boudica and her daughters, according to some later reports, she was reported to have committed suicide, rather than face the humiliation and pain of being take prisoner by the Roman army, although as with all such historic events, such reports are almost always speculative at best. However, it is generally accepted that Boudica’s rebellion was the last great British revolt against Rome during their four centuries of military occupation of the British Isles.
With Britain under Roman military occupation and protection for the best part of four hundred years and with a number of the country’s former military tribal powers having been forcibly disarmed by the legions of Rome, by the time the Roman’s decided to withdraw from Britain at the beginning of the 5th century, the nation had few native military forces with which to defend its own territorial borders. Although several contingents of both Roman legionaries and auxiliaries were thought to have remained in Britain following the withdrawal of Rome’s legions by around 410 AD, they were said to have been few and far between, given the growing level of threat that the country was facing from beyond its national borders. Quite apart from the Scottish tribes, such as the Caledonii, Cornovii, Gaels and Picts who lived in the far north, well beyond Roman control, other native tribes, including the Errain, Laigin, Deisi and the Dal Riata tribes from Ireland were said to have made their way across the Irish Sea and conquered parts of Western Britain. To the east, northern European tribes such as the Saxons and Vikings were said to have regularly raided around the British coast, stealing away people and possessions, as well as bringing death and destruction to numerous coastal settlements of Britain.
The Votadini people, from the region of southern Scotland, were reported to have acted as a local auxiliary force to the regular Roman army during its occupation of Britain, although following the Roman abandonment of the country in the 5th century, a significant number of Votadini tribesmen were also said to have travelled south to the region of North Wales, where they established themselves as a defence against Irish raiders. However, such occurrences were rare and with Britain increasingly at risk from numerous foreign raiders, Romano-British leaders, including Ambrosius Aurelianus, were thought to have enlisted military aid from the European continent, in the form of Anglo-Saxon mercenaries, including the Angles, Saxons, Frisians and Jutes, who were promised both land and pay, in return for their military services.
Unfortunately, before long, the new Romano-British leadership were reported to have failed to pay the agreed monies, causing the mercenaries to launch their own full scale invasion of the country in an act of revenge. In response, the British leadership appealed to the still surviving Western Roman Empire, whose leading military commander, Flavius Aetius, refused to send any of his remaining legions to Britain, informing the British leaders that they should look to their own resources to defend the country. For much of the period from 410 AD to 500 AD, large parts of Britain were reported to be in almost constant turmoil as the various competing factions, Britons, Angles, Jutes, Picts and Vikings all fought for control of particular regions of the country, a situation that was only temporarily halted in 500 AD, when the native Britons managed to defeat a combined Anglo-Saxon army, at the Battle of Mount Badon.
Unfortunately, despite this generally rare outright victory for the native British forces, many parts of the country continued to remain under foreign control, with the counties of Sussex, Kent, East Anglia and areas of Yorkshire all coming under Anglo Saxon control over a period of time, establishing the basis for the seven kingdoms that would come to dominate England right the way through to the 9th century. This Heptarchy of Anglo Saxon realms would eventually comprise Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia, Essex, Sussex, Kent and Wessex, although all of these separate kingdoms would eventually be absorbed into a single English nation, a geographical, political and cultural union first envisaged by King Alfred the Great in the 10th century.
Parts of northern England, those controlled by the Viking’s Danelaw, were reported to have remained outside of a unified England until 1013, when the whole of the country fell under Danish control, even though Anglo Saxon rule was subsequently restored in 1042, when Edward the Confessor ascended the English throne. Although in part the Anglo Saxon invasion of post-Roman Britain represented a military takeover of the country, it was thought to have taken so long and happened so gradually that the two societies, British and Anglo-Saxon, essentially merged together to form a new, better and stronger Britain, one that embraced the best of its various characteristics from the Ancient Britons, Romans, Vikings and the Anglo Saxons, creating a new culture, traditions, national identity and even a new language. Those early Briton’s who refused to adapt and embrace these new changes were thought to have been forced further west, creating the unique cultural identities of Cornwall, Wales and Cumbria that still exist to this present day, albeit in smaller numbers and in a much altered form. However, for the new Anglo Saxon England, one of the most significant advances, was thought to have been the development of centralised government and administration, which allowed the country to be ruled as a single political, financial and military union, allowing national policies, institutions and defence forces to be organised, both for the benefit of individual regions, as well as the country as a whole. No longer tribal or regional, England eventually began to emerge onto the European stage as a national entity in its own right, governed by a single monarch and administered by a collection of nationally appointed officials who brought the king’s laws, justice and security to every corner of the country.