Battle of Camulodunum
|Battle of Camulodunum|
The general area where the battle is thought to have taken place, near Camulodunum.
|Roman Empire||Iceni, Trinovantes, and other British tribes|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Quintus Petillius Cerialis||Boudica|
|2,500||Unknown, possibly 10,000 +|
|Casualties and losses|
The Battle of Camulodunum (60 or 61) was the major military victory of the Iceni and their allies over an organised Roman army during the revolt of Boudica against the Roman occupation of Britain. A large vexillation of the Legio IX Hispana were destroyed by the rebels. Attempting to relieve the besieged colonia of Camulodunum (Colchester, Essex), legionaries of the Legio IX Hispana led by Quintus Petillius Cerialis, were attacked by a horde of British tribes, led by the Iceni. Possibly 80% of the Roman foot-soldiers were killed in the battle. The event is recorded by the historian Tacitus in his Annals.
In AD 60 or 61, the southeastern area of the island rose in revolt under Boudica, while the governor, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, was campaigning in Wales. The Iceni were joined by the Trinovantes, and their first target was Camulodunum, formerly the Trinovantian capital, now a colonia or settlement of discharged Roman soldiers. Tacitus reports it was poorly defended, and archaeology confirms its former military fortifications had been levelled by this time. The colonists appealed for aid to the procurator, Catus Decianus, who sent only two hundred auxiliaries. Camulodunum was burned, and the temple, where the last of the defenders took refuge, fell after a two-day siege. The defenders were massacred.
The Ninth Legion, commanded by Quintus Petillius Cerialis, attempted to relieve the siege. It is unlikely that the entire legionary strength of some 5,000 men was involved in the battle. Detachments of the legion were spread out across a network of small forts; on short notice, Cerialis was likely able to call on only the first cohort, possibly two others, auxiliary infantry, and a unit of some 500 cavalry - a total of perhaps 2,500 men. Cerialis set out from his base in Lindum Colonia (Lincoln). From Lindum, it was a distance of at least 110 miles. They may have taken the Roman road to Camulodunum from Durovigtum (Godmanchester, Cambridgeshire), a march of some 75 miles which would have taken three days.
However, they arrived too late to relieve the colonia. The British tribes had gathered a considerable force by the time Cerialis and the Ninth approached Camulodunum. They overwhelmed the detachment in the field and defeated it, routing the Romans. Tacitus says their entire infantry strength was wiped out, with only Cerialis and his cavalry able to retreat to their fortified camp. According to George Patrick Welch, "In the initial contact and later rear-guard actions he lost about 2,000 men, or one-third of his infantry strength."
Despite the significance of the event, the battle is not recorded in any large detail. The location of the battle is claimed by both the village of Great Wratting, in Suffolk and Sturmer in Essex some 3 miles away.
The survivors of the battle remained in the fort near Camulodunum under Cerialis until they met up with Suetonius Paulinus after the latter's final victory at the Battle of Watling Street. Cerialis was recalled to Rome. The legion was later reinforced with legionaries from the Germania provinces. Cerialis returned as governor of Britain in 71 and took command of the Ninth once more in campaigns against the Brigantes. Around AD 71 they constructed a new fortress at York (Eboracum), as shown by finds of tile-stamps from the site. The Ninth legion disappears from Roman records after 108, a fact that has led to much speculation.
- Tacitus, Annals 14:29, 31-32
- Graham Webster, Boudica: the British Revolt against Rome AD 60, 1978, pp. 89-90
- George Patrick Welch, Britannia, the Roman Conquest and Occupation of Britain, Wesleyan University Press, Middletown, 1963, p.95.
- Webster 1978, pp. 90-91
- "Haverhill From the Iron Age to 1899". St. Edmundsbury Borough Council.
- Wright, R. P. (1978). "Tile-Stamps of the Ninth Legion found in Britain". Britannia 9: 379–382. JSTOR 525953.