My last post about spending the night before the last battle between Boadicas forces and the Romans has attracted a lot of positive attention and I have considered another moment in history I would have liked to witness.
In 60AD Paulinus was the Governor of Britain and it was going really well for him. The Celts were subjugated, their chiefs falling under Romes spell and influence and he was on the verge of eliminating the Druids. The Druids were a very important pillar of Celtic resistance, they kept the culture alive, held influence and engaged the Celtic soul, they needed to go if Roman authority was to thrive.
Paulinus took his forces to Anglesy leaving only a token force to protect the rest of Britain he went to secure Britain from the metaphysical threat posed by Druids. He was successful, we don’t have Druids anymore. Genecide, frowned upon in the modern world, was in the ancient world the kind of thing you give medals for. He was probably feeling quite good about his prospects as he wandered through the burning, body filled groves until the messenger found him.
The messenger had, bad news. The Celts had risen up in revolt and were very very angry. This was not just a little local upset this was potentially the end of Roman Britain and with that the loss the grain supply that enabled the Romans to hold the Rhine, the raw materials to build the weapons and armour for the Dacian war and the slaves that would enable the Romans to live a life of ease. He quickly returned to the Colchester to put down the revolt only to discover that the vetrans colony was not there anymore, the temple was burnt down with the citizens inside and the population was mascaraed.
Masacrared populations were not unwelcome to the Romans, but when it was their population that was a different matter. Paulinus was furious. Burning the Temple was an insult to the Imperial Cult, killing of veterans was an insult to the army and his inability to protect both civilians and veterans was a clear invitation for other peoples to revolt. He moved on to London and had a shock.
It was at London that the scope of the problem became clear. The enemy numbered in excess of 120, 000 and were moving to eliminate the Roman state. They killed tax collectors, administrators and, on the negative side, citizens, veterans and British collaborators. His position was not good. He had about fifteen thousand soldiers with him. So he called for reinforcements. One legion was ambushed and totally destroyed, to the last man. Taticus describes this as a period where the Romans were were fighting not for victory but for their lives. Force marched into the fens and just vanished into the mist and the legion at Exceter did not move out of the city. For the Governor this was not a good day at the office. Not only was his province falling apart he would have to explain himself to the Emperor and Nero was not the most forgiving of managers.
Evacuation was the only option. He told the citizens that he was leaving and urged them to follow. About half of them did and the other half stayed and died when the Celts descended on the city. After a few days he was joined by more Roman forces swelling his force by about ten thousand and about this time Jupiter smile on him.
He found a battlefield, now lost in the mist of time, that he could work with and waited for the Celts who were hot on his trail fresh from destroying St Albans. Night fell and the battle was set for the morning. The Romans prepared and listened as the Celts drank, sang and laughed long into the night.
Did Paulinus sleep that night? Could he have? Imagine the stake, the province of Britain could be lost if his twenty five thousand could not stand against the Celtic one hundred and twenty thousand. Was he right to try? to risk his hand or should he evacuate the Romans and commit himself to suicide? The next day his pitiful force faced the Celts.
Now, with the benefit of hindsight it seems obvious that with all their advantages the Romans would win. Heavy infantry against light infantry usually ends one way. But on that day it seemed that the Romans would be swept into the sea but as the sun set Paulinus was still standing. Eighty thousand Celts lay dead, among them Boadicea at a cost of four hundred Roman fatalities and the Governors world had turned from disaster to gold. Paulinus had, through discipline, self belief and skill snatched victory from the belly of defeat.