Boudica's last stand
PUBLISHED: 15:55 10 February 2012 | UPDATED: 21:02 20 February 2013
Somewhere along the route from St Albans to Anglesey, one of the greatest battles ever fought on British soil took place - and many are convinced it happened in Warwickshire. James Quinn reports.
Boudicas last stand
Somewhere along the route from St Albans to Anglesey, one of the greatest battles ever fought on British soil took place and many are convinced it happened in Warwickshire. James Quinn reports.
The event was a turning point in British history - a massive battle between rebellious Celtic tribes and the Roman Empire, which had just established a tentative foothold in these islands. And yet, no-one can be quite certain where this momentous fight took place. Now historians in north Warwickshire are setting out to prove that the actual battlefield site sits in our county.
Atherstone Civic Society is currently seeking funding through an EU/DEFRA sponsored scheme, to allow further examinations of the Mancetter area. The Civic Societys Boudica Project aims in the short term to create a Battle Trail, utilising existing footpaths, with information boards and leaflets.
On many old maps the village of Mancetter is referred to as Manduessedum, which translates from the Latin as The Place of The Chariots. Was this the place where Boudicas rebel army was finally slaughtered in their tens of thousands by a well-disciplined force of Romans?
After the death of her husband King Prasutagus, around 60 AD, all lands, property and possessions of Boudicas tribe, the Iceni, in present day Norfolk, were seized by Roman officials who regarded the tribes as little more than barbarians. On protesting, the Queen was summarily flogged and her two daughters raped. Similar seizures of lands and brutal treatment of an adjacent tribe, the Trinovantes, provoked increasing resentment of Roman rule to rise to dangerous levels.
Realising that the Druid priesthood was a major unifying force of the tribes by their religious status, the Roman Governor, Suetonius Paulinus, decided to destroy them and their sacred places on Anglesey off the coast of North Wales. However by assembling available troops for such action, Suetonius Paulinus, left the Roman-occupied territories in the south dangerously short of protection.
Unifying the Iceni and Trinovantes tribes, Boudica took advantage of this absence and destroyed the Roman towns of Camulodunum (Colchester), Londinium (London), and Verulamium (St Albans), slaughtering their occupants, including part of the Ninth
Legion sent to relieve Camulodunum.
Boudicas aim was to drive out the Roman forces. Her warriors, emboldened by their successes, would have been eager to seek out Paulinus force and destroy it. Paulinus would therefore have to return from Anglesey and seek battle on a ground of his choosing, knowing he faced overwhelming numbers of fierce Celts.
A much detailed study from 1978 (Webster,G: Boudica: The Roman Conquest of Britain), employing the Roman historian Tacitus records, identified the village of Mancetter on the outskirts of Atherstone, as a strong possibility for the battle site. Webster calculated the armies would have made contact at Mancetter, with both armies using the Roman Watling Street, now the A5; a route for Boudicas forces followed north to find Paulinus forces, and defeat them. Tacitus account describes a spot encircled with woods, narrow at the entrance, and sheltered in the rear by a thick forestThe enemy, he knew, had no approach but in front.
An open plain lay before himThe narrow defile gave them the shelter of a rampart. Such topography can be compared to the open ground beyond Mancetter, with the A5 bordering the flat flood plain of the River Anker, and adjacent Hartshill-Oldbury-Atherstone ridge beyond, with a narrow valley defile; whilst allowing that quarrying and deforestation have altered the ridge areas, and the Anker has been altered to suit the needs of successive centuries, from its original shallow profile.
The actions of the highly disciplined, tightly formed Roman forces, eventually overcame the unco-ordinated horde of tribesmen who, being highly agitated, were beyond the control of their chieftains. Boudica herself escaped after the battle, and legend records that she took poison and died. Tacitus recorded a Roman force of around 10,000 had killed some 80,000 Britons, whilst sustaining just 400 Roman dead.
Excavations in the Mancetter area over several decades in the last century, have revealed the existence of a Roman fortress and settlement, and pottery finds identifying Mancetter as a major manufacturing area of Roman pottery. The nearby recreated Lunt Roman Fort at Baginton, near Coventry, is thought to have been constructed as a result of the Revolt.
It is fair to say that archeaologists and historians are divided on the subject of the actual battle site. While Mancetter has perhaps the oldest claim, recent studies have suggested that the location might be High Cross in Leicestershire, Cuttle Mill in Northamptonshire or Arbury Banks in Hertfordshire. One history even suggests it took place at Kings Cross in London.
The Lunt Roman Fort, in Coventry Road, Baginton, is well worth a visit, to get a flavour of Roman Britain. It is open from April to October. Tel: 024 7678 6142. email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.luntromanfort.org