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The Battle of Watling Street Essay

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“Assess the factors that lead to the defeat of Boudica and the Iceni in the Battle of Watling Street”

“Assess the factors that lead to the defeat of Boudica and the Iceni in the Battle of Watling Street”

Boudica and the Iceni were comprehensively defeated in the Battle of Watling Street for a variety of reasons. The overconfidence of the Celtic forces, in the wake of previous comprehensive victories, led them to severely underestimate the strength of the Roman forces and rely heavily on the power of numbers to achieve a victory. Roman General Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, although heavily outnumbered, made the correct tactical g decisions all but eliminated the Celtic numerical advantage.

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The highly disciplined and well trained Roman soldiers were able to withstand wave after wave of Celtic attacks due to a combination of their superior skills and equipment. The Battle of Watling Street marked the end of a successful rebellion by the Celtic tribes in Southern Britain. It was a victory of superior tactics versus overwhelming numbers. It was perhaps the success of the earlier stages of the rebellion that lead to the Celts being complacent.

The success of the earlier stages of the Celtic rebellion led to the development of a sentiment of arrogance amongst Boudica’s forces. The Iceni had enjoyed a number of successes, having sacked three major Roman cities in a short period of time. The relative ease with which Boudica destroyed both Veralanium and Londinium, killing an estimated seventy to eighty thousand Romans, served to send create overconfidence through their forces.1 This consequently hampered the Celts judgment and decision making. Another contributing factor was the success which the Celts had at the beginning of the rebellion. After sacking Camuldunum (Colchester) Boudica’s forces met the ninth Roman legion, led by Quintus Petillius Ceralis, who were attempting to relieve the siege of the city. The Celts destroyed what Tacitus estimated to be eighty percent of the legion and routing the remainder.2 Whilst such a victory may have been good for confidence and morale at the time, in the long term it may have led to an mindset of unhealthy disrespect of Roman potency.

At the battle itself it is thought that the Celts outnumbered the Romans twenty to one.3 Boudica would have most likely had some idea prior to the battle of the supreme numerical advantage that her forces possessed. It was possibly the case that the leaders of the Celtic army saw such a lead as insurmountable and thought it unnecessary to develop and strong Tautology. They must have presumed that sheer numbers alone would be all that was necessary to defeat the Roman army. At Camuldunum, Londinium and Veralanium Boudica had succeeded by using her overwhelming numerical advantage to crush and overpower what little resistance was offered On the day of the battle the Celts placed their wagon train in a crescent shape at the far end on the field on which the battle took place.

4 This was so that their families could watch what was presumed to be an overwhelming victory over the apparently far weaker Roman force. As the battle took its course it was clear that the Celts were to be easily defeated and the members of Boudica’s force began to flee and were trapped by their own wagons and subsequently destroyed. It is clear that by placing their wagons in such a position that the Boudica did not account for the prospect of defeat and therefore had the wrong approach in entering the battle. In a battle they should have won they started off on the wrong foot, but this was not the only factor to their detriment.

The strong position chosen by Suetonius was a major factor in determining the outcome. Its clear that Suetonius knew that he was heavily outnumbered. The Roman forces, according to Tacitus, consisted of about ten thousand soldiers comprising of Legionnaires, cavalry and local auxiliaries. About eighty percent of the force was infantry and the remainder was cavalry5, which played into Roman favour. It is unclear what size the Celtic force was. Cassius Dio estimated the force to be a staggering two hundred and fifty thousand;6 it is unclear whether this is factual or just propagandist inflation on the Roman behalf. Regardless of the accuracy of various accounts it is clear to say that Boudica possessed a large numerical advantage.

Suetonius knew that it was imperative, if the Romans were to be successful, that he had to employ some means to minimise all possible advantages Boudica had due to her overwhelming numbers. In a move that proved to be crucial to the achievement of Roman victory Suetonius chose a good geographical position in which to place his troops. In order to mitigate the Celts numerical superiority he chose to place his troops in a narrow gorge that widened to an open plain. Tacitus describe the position as follows7

“…He chose a position approached by a narrow defile and secured in the rear by a forest, first satisfying himself that there was no trace of an enemy except in his front, and that the plain there was devoid of cover and allowed no suspicion of an ambuscade.”

This explanation is very important as it details the measures that Suetonius put in placed to ensure there was no possibility of an ambush and avoid the fate of the 9th legion at Colchester.8 He effectively forced Boudicas army to attack only from one angle, which suited the Romans tremendously. The gorge prevented the battle from being fought on a wide front which would have given a significant advantage to Boudica’s force because of their superior numbers. The fighting zone was restricted to small parameters the Romans were able to effectively concentrate their numbers on a small area whilst minimising the number of Celts which they were fighting.

The Romans effectively created a wall of soldiers that could not be attacked from the rear nor could it be flanked.9 Suetonius had examined the earlier successes of Boudica’s army, determined their weaknesses and how to minimise their strengths. Through such clever placement Suetonius was able to take away the one clear advantage the Celts had. This was crucial to the outcome of the battle and was perhaps the major factor that led to the Celts defeat. Given that Boudica had what seemed to be an insurmountable advantage, when that was taken away the battle opened right up and allowed the Romans to use their advantage of tactical superiority, strength and weaponry.

The superior strength and discipline of the Romans, as compared to their Celtic counterparts, was what delivered the final blow and condemned Boudica’s forces to defeat in the Battle of Watling Street. It is known that all Roman armies of the time period were incredibly well trained and skilled in the art of war. From the beginning a Roman soldier was put through rigorous training exercises and physically demanding maneuvers as well as sword and spear training.

10 They were naturally very tough and had a brilliant mindset for battle due to the fact that Suetonius had minimised the effect of the Celtic numbers the Romans were now able to fight the battle on their own terms. They had a decisive edge when it came to hand to hand and close quarter fighting because of their superior training and weapons. The lack of Celtic discipline ultimately lead to a rout as defeat pressed in. This hefty advantage possessed by the Romans was enhanced greatly by the fact that they owned far greater weaponry and equipment. This was a distinct advantage and proved to be a lethal combination alongside their training and discipline. A Roman Legionnaire was equipped with a large shield, a sword and two spears called Pila.

They also wore armour as an extra protective measure for the body.11 At the Battle of Watling Street this gave the Romans an immense advantage as their Celtic opponents were severely under equipped. Boudica’s army were not issued with standard equipment and soldiers were largely unprotected.

While most had a shield the majority lacked any form of armour . There was also no uniform weaponry and many soldiers were left under equipped and consequently under prepared. The Celts were now severely disadvantaged as the Romans began to employ their advantage. General Suetonius used his superior military knowledge to gain an upper hand and ultimately claim victory in the Battle of Watling Street. Boudica’s army fought to their own detriment in a unruly and unorganised fashion.12 At the beginning of the battle they charged forward in a wild rush relying on the impetus of their charge to break Roman lines.

What little cohesion existed amongst Boudica’s forces was broken before contact by a shower of Roman javelin, or Pila.13 These were designed to bend on impact and become lodged in opposition shields rendering them useless. The shield was the only means of protection for the majority Celts so many continued forward unprotected. Each Roman soldier carried two Pila and the second shower put a halt to any everything. After severely weakening the Romans the Celts pushed forward in ordered ranks of the wedge formation.

They pressed forward stabbing with their swords from behind the protection of their large shields. Suetonius then proceeded to order the Roman cavalry to attack the Celts weakened flanks.14 Boudica’s soldiers could withstand no more and routed. As they fled they became entangled in the arch of their supply wagons at the far end of the battle field. The Romans massacred nearly every living Briton including women, children and even livestock.15 It is clear that a combination of superior Roman weapons and military tactics defeated Boudica’s army which was severely under equipped and untrained. It may have been because of this that Boudica squandered her seemingly unbeatable numerical advantage and was defeated comprehensively at the battle of Watling Street.

Boudica and her Iceni tribe were defeated at the Battle of Watling Street for numerous reasons and it is clear that they were no match for General Gaius Suetonius Paulinus and his Roman forces. The overconfidence and complacency of the Celts, from previous victories led them to approach the battle in an entirely wrong mindset.

The strong tactical placement, by Suetonius , of the Roman forces served to eliminate the huge numerical advantage possessed by the Boudica. The superior discipline, strength and weapons of the Romans in contrast to the Celts was what delivered the final blow and gave them victory in the Battle of Watling Street. At the end of the day Boudica’s weapons and training was no match for the Roman army.16 The Battle of Watling Street marked the end of a successful rebellion of the Celtic tribes in Southern Britain. It was a victory of superior tactics versus overwhelming numbers.

Bibliography

Literary Sources:

Davies, Roy W (1989), Service in the Roman Army, Columbia University Press, New York, USA

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Dio, Cassius (1970), Roman History, Heinemann, Portsmouth, United Kingdom

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Ellis, Peter Berresford (1990), The Celtic Empire, Guild Publishing, Suffolk, United Kingdom

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Tacitus, Publis Cornelius (1989), The Annals of Imperial Rome, Penguin, Aylesbury, Bucks, England

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Electronic Sources:

Heaton, Chris (2009), Organisation of the Roman Imperial Legion (online), UNRV. Available from http://www.unrv.com/military/legion.php (Accessed: 25 July 2009)

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Roman Army Online (2009), A history, archaeological and reenactment community, Roman Army Online, Gelderland, Netherlands. Available from http://www.romanarmy.com/cms/ (Accessed 22 July 2009)

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Evaluation of Most Valuable Sources

Source 1: Tacitus, The Annals of Imperial Rome

The Annals of Imperial Rome, by Publis Cornelius Tacitus, was an extremely useful source for assessing the factors that lead to the defeat of Boudica and the Iceni in the Battle of Watling Street. It is of such great use because it contains in depth and detailed descriptions of the events before, during and after the Battle of Watling Street. Tacitus is seemingly unbais and states evidence from various points of view. Tacitus is a renowned and trusted historian and his work is respected throughout the modern world, his writing therefore is likely to be trustworthy and reliable. As with any source it is hard to tell whether it is one hundred percent accurate. Various sections of The Annals contain very useful and valuable information and it was therefore a helpful and constructive source.

Source 2: Cassius Dio, Roman History

Cassius Dio’s Roman History provided useful information and facts about various facets of the Battle of Watling Street. It was quite useful in assessing the factors that lead to the defeat of Boudica and the Iceni in the Battle of Watling Street. Cassius Dio was a renowned and respected Roman historian and his works are still of great importance for understanding Roman history. However no source is perfect and it is possible that an element of Roman pride may have influenced his work to a small degree. He also wrote in a fairly late time period long after the battle. As a whole it was quite valuable and a useful and constructive source for the Battle of Watling Street.

Source 3: Roy Davies, Service in the Roman Army

Service in the Roman Army, by Roy Davies, was not a very useful source for analyzing the Battle of Watling Street as a whole but rather for understanding and piecing together various aspects in order to form a picture of the battle. The book explains various facts about the Roman army including weaponry, training and military tactics. As shown in the essay it is necessary to understand such things in order to determine the factors that lead to the defeat of Boudica and the Iceni in the Battle of Watling Street. The source was not useful when examining the battle as a whole, but rather for taking it apart and examining things up close.

1 Tacitus, Publis Cornelius (1989), The Annals of Imperial Rome, Penguin, Aylesbury, Bucks, England

2 Tacitus, Publis Cornelius, The Annals of Imperial Rome

3 Dio, Cassius (1970), Roman History, Heinemann, Portsmouth, United Kingdom

4 Tacitus, Publis Cornelius, The Annals of Imperial Rome

5 Tacitus, Publis Cornelius, The Annals of Imperial Rome

6 Dio, Cassius, Roman History

7 Tacitus, Publis Cornelius, The Annals of Imperial Rome

8 Frere, Sheppard (1987), A History of Roman Britain, Britannia, London, United Kingdom

9 Dio, Cassius, Roman History

10 Davies, Roy W (1989), Service in the Roman Army, Columbia University Press, New York, USA

11 Heaton, Chris (2009), Organisation of the Roman Imperial Legion (online), UNRV. Available from < http://www.unrv.com/military/legion.php> (Accessed: 25 July 2009)

12 Tacitus, Publis Cornelius, The Annals of Imperial Rome

13 Heaton, Chris (2009), Legionary Weapons and Equipment (online), UNRV. Available from <http://www.unrv.com/military/legionary-weapons-equipment.php> (Accessed: 25 July 2009)

14 Dio, Cassius, Roman History

15 Tacitus, Publis Cornelius, The Annals of Imperial Rome

16 Frere, Sheppard , A History of Roman Britain

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