Boudicca's Revolt Battlefield Britain


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Boudicca's Revolt

Peter and Dan Snow on the battles that shaped our nation, starting almost 2,000 years ago with the revolt of the Iceni, led by Queen Boudicca, against Roman rule.


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Britain may be peaceful today,

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but we live in a country forged by centuries of warfare.

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Over the past 2,000 years, Britain has been invaded and occupied.

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It has defeated superpowers.

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It's been ripped apart by internal conflict.

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And united by common cause.

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In this new series, my son Dan and I are going to be examining battles

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that have shaped the country we live in today.

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We'll take you from the Highlands of Scotland

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to the south coast of England.

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From the rivers of Ireland... to the mountains of Wales.

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I'll be following the fortunes of ordinary people, caught up in the chaos and terror of conflict.

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I saw some things that day that I don't think I ever want to see again in my lifetime.

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You didn't think them as humans.

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I thought, by God's hand, this day was my last.

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And I'll give a view from the front line.

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What it was like for the men and women who rode, marched, sailed and flew into battle.

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And I'll be analysing how the strategies of the best and the worst commanders

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determined the fate of the British Isles.

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These 2,000 years of conflict began

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with one of the most vicious wars in Britain's history.

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It's a tale of destruction, slaughter and revenge.

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And it was triggered by the wrath of one woman who rose up against Rome's occupation of Britain -

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Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni.

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In 60AD, much of Britain was in the hands of the greatest superpower the world had ever seen.

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The country had been invaded by the armies of the Roman Empire only 17 years earlier.

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Their vast military might had quashed the disparate British tribes,

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and despite pockets of resistance, most were now under Roman control.

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To enforce their rule, the Romans stationed four of their best legions in Britain.

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In the spring of AD60, we think

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one was based in Lincoln, one in Exeter and two near the Welsh border.

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These legions were disciplined, efficient fighting machines, second to none,

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and they were under the command of a new and ruthless governor - Suetonius Paullinus.

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No-one knows exactly what Paullinus looked like.

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But he had a reputation for being a fearsome military commander.

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He was probably in his fifties, with the short hair of a Roman aristocrat

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and the face of a soldier who'd spent 20 years at war.

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His mission in Britain was to crush any last resistance to Roman rule.

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What the Romans saw as civilising the barbarians looked to the Britons like total oppression.

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The Romans had seized their land, taken over their towns and forced them to pay heavy taxes

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to support the roads, forts and settlements which had a stranglehold on their country.

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Our job was to beat civilisation into the Britons.

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They give us grain, we give them civilisation, like it or not.

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The people of Ancient Britain were second-class citizens in their own country.

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Paullinus and his oppressive regime controlled their land,

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their money, their weapons and their freedom.

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He's trying to change us - the way we live, the way we work, everything we do.

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They bled us dry, we'd nothing left. They took everything from us.

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But even this wasn't enough for the ambitious Paullinus.

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He was determined to wipe out any last remnants of dissent in every tribe in Britain.

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And to do this, he made a fateful decision -

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to strike at the very heart of British culture.

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Paullinus took two of his best legions

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to wage war on the Britons' religious leaders on the Isle of Anglesey.

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Known as the Isle of Mona, it was a sacred site,

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and last bastion of the country's most influential group.

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They were a group who gave some kind of spiritual unity to the British tribes

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and they were fiercely anti-Roman. They were the Druids.

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Even the kings had to bow their heads to the Druids.

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They could tell you everything, they knew everything.

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The Romans were scared of them. They knew they had to get rid of them.

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So that's what they did.

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In 60AD,

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Paullinus led his heavily armed troops across the water to Anglesey.

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The Roman infantry landed on this beach in a flotilla of flat-bottomed boats,

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whilst the cavalry rode or swam across the gap.

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Then, with thousands of troops, they were given the order to move forward and attack the Druids.

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The soldiers drove the Druids off the beach and stormed into their sacred groves

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where the Druids had tried to hide.

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We hunted them like the dogs they are.

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And we enjoyed it too.

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And we cut them down.

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We didn't leave a man alive.

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Every single Druid dead.

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The Druids were massacred

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and their sacred groves razed to the ground.

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The annihilation of their priesthood

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was an act of brutality that reverberated throughout the British tribes.

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Our whole essence centred around the Druids,

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and they killed them.

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We had nothing left. Our contact with the gods was gone.

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Rome hadn't just defeated the Ancient Britons, it had humiliated them and abused their gods.

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Paullinus must have thought he had them on their knees.

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He was wrong.

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One woman was about to challenge Roman supremacy in Britain.

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For centuries, she was known as Queen "Boadicea".

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Despite her iconic status, surprisingly little is known about her.

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She appears in the writings of just two Roman historians.

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Even the name "Boadicea" is wrong.

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The mistake dates back to when the manuscript was incorrectly copied by hand 500 years ago.

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In the original text, her name is Boudicca.

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The other text describes her as a tall, terrifying redhead

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and says that she was unusually clever...for a woman.

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We know that Boudicca was married to Prasutagus, king of the Iceni tribe.

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Their kingdom was here, in Norfolk and Suffolk,

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bounded to the south by the tribal lands of the Trinovantes in today's Essex.

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Whereas the Trinovantes were completely subjugated by Rome,

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Prasutagus and Boudicca managed to hold onto their kingdom

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by agreeing a treaty with Rome.

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It means Boudicca didn't start off as the barbarian warrior-queen of popular mythology.

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She was in fact a Roman collaborator.

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Boudicca's capital, the centre of the Iceni kingdom,

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is thought to have been in the Norfolk town of Thetford.

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These fortifications are all that remains of her capital today.

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The people who lived here 2,000 years ago were warriors.

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Fighting prowess was prized above anything else.

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But with their king and queen in league with the Romans, the people endured an uneasy peace,

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until, in the spring of AD60, events gave them the chance to show their true feelings.

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That spring, Boudicca's husband, King Prasutagus, fell seriously ill.

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For years, he'd been Rome's ally,

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but he was worried that when he died, the Romans would seize his kingdom.

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In a bid to buy his way out of this, he made a will

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that left half his entire wealth to Rome and half to his family

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in the hope that Boudicca would be allowed to stay queen.

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Prasutagus was right to be worried.

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When he died, his will was brutally ignored.

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The Roman soldiers were ordered to move in and seize his throne.

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And then we heard the hooves.

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I didn't think too much about it. I thought they'd just come to get some more taxes.

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But this time, it was very different.

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They came in our village and they didn't behave like they did before.

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They started pushing people around.

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They took everything they could lay their hands on - grain, money, slaves, even fodder.

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But that wasn't all they were after. They were after the girls and women.

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They took Queen Boudicca to one side, took two girls with them too.

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They whipped her. Tied her to a post in the middle of the village

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and whipped her till the blood run down her back.

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And then...they got her daughters,

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one aged 10 and one aged 12...

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..and they raped them.

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It's bad enough seeing your queen dishonoured in that way, but to see those two girls hurt in that way...

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it's disgusting.

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For Romans, barbarian women and girls were mere chattels to be freely abused.

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For the Roman soldiers, this sickening act would have meant very little,

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but for the Britons and Boudicca, it was an obscene insult

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against both innocent children and against the British royal family.

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Boudicca's reaction was like any parent's would be.

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She wanted revenge.

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She wasn't the only one.

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After 17 years of taxes, land appropriations and enforced slavery,

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the people were desperate for revenge too. A council of war was held.

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The elders of the Iceni tribe and their neighbours, the Trinovantes, gathered to plan their attack.

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It was a good meeting.

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I've never seen us so close together.

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And Boudicca... well, she was transformed.

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Her blood was up.

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We knew she was going to lead us then.

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Boudicca was elected to lead both tribes.

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Overnight, she was transformed from Roman collaborator

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to Rome's bitterest enemy.

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Boudicca's plan for retaliation was ambitious.

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She would devastate Roman Britain

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and drive out the occupiers.

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With half the Roman army finishing off the Druids in Anglesey,

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it was the perfect time for Boudicca to launch her attack.

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And she went straight for the jugular.

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Just 50 miles south of here was the hated symbol of Roman rule,

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their capital Camulodunum, today's Colchester.

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Beneath modern Colchester lies the Roman capital of Britain.

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2,000 years ago, Camulodunum was the showpiece of Roman occupation.

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Built on land they had seized from the Trinovantes,

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it was now home to thousands of retired Roman soldiers and their families.

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At the heart of the city was the great Temple of Claudius,

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being built by British slaves for the worship of the Roman emperor who'd occupied their country.

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Today, a Norman keep stands in its place,

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built on the Roman foundations.

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To the Britons, the temple was the embodiment of oppression.

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To the Romans, it was a monument to their conquest,

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a conquest that felt so secure that their capital city had no defences of any kind.

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This overconfidence would prove to be fatal.

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By now, Boudicca and her entire force were bearing down on the city.

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Including the Trinovantes, there must have been about 100,000 men, women and children

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desperate to wreak revenge.

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We'd had 17 years of their rule.

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Now it was our turn, we were going to have THEM.

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Boudicca's army was not as well organised as the Romans',

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but they had one thing the Romans didn't -

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war chariots.

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The Romans used chariots only for sport,

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but Britons used them for lightning raids.

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Today, this ancient chariot tradition is continued in the form of carriage driving.

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To get a feel of how manoeuvrable and fast the chariot could be, we went to have a go.

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Our war horses weren't quite what we were expecting.

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But Psycho and Rambo were perfect to learn the basics of rein control.

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-Whoa, Psycho!

-Very good.

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-D'you feel confident? Can you handle this?

-I'm all right with Psycho.

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-You're OK with Psycho?

-He's a cheeky little one.

-Shall we try the real thing?

-Yeah.

-Excellent.

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Back now. Trot, Rambo, trot.

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Want to tell him to trot again?

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These are hardly iron-age chariots,

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but the basic principles are the same.

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Today, there's a driver and a passenger, or back-stepper.

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2,000 years ago, the person on the back would have been a warrior.

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The chariot was like an armoured personnel carrier to take warriors into the thick of battle.

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-Peter the warrior.

-I'm keeping balance on the back.

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To get across country, charioteers had to be both quick and agile,

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adept at negotiating the most complex obstacle at speed.

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We weren't quite up to scratch.

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Whoa! Whoops!

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Oh, my God!

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-Push on.

-Never mind, keep going, Dan. Keep going.

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-Drive on.

-Straight up the first one.

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How did you feel? Did you get a buzz out of that?

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-Going around fast is exciting. If you were really galloping, it would be fantastic.

-Peter?

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The guy on the back trying to balance, with a spear in one hand and a sword in the other,

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trying to balance and hold on, must have been an acrobat.

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-It would be a tremendous exhibition exercise, wouldn't it?

-Oh, definitely, absolutely.

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Chariots made the Britons fast, flexible and mobile.

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And now thousands of them, and the rest of Boudicca's army, were advancing on the Roman capital.

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In Camulodunum, rumours of barbarian unrest were rife.

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There were reports of disturbing omens.

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The river was said to run red with blood, and disembodied voices echoed through the senate house.

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But the residents must have thought they could deal with whatever the barbarians threw at them,

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because no defensive measures were taken. No-one was evacuated, no walls were built, nothing.

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They didn't think they needed defences.

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I mean, it was the capital city. No-one imagined they'd attack the capital city.

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A few families, I believe, fled before it was too late.

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The majority stayed...

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..little knowing a massive army of Britons

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were coming over from the west.

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I'm standing just to the west of the old Roman city of Colchester,

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which puts me about here, with Colchester over there.

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We believe that 2,000 years ago, Boudicca and her army were massing over here,

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to the north-west of the city.

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This allowed them to join up with the Trinovantes, who were moving in from the south here.

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Leading the charge would have been the chariots and men on horseback.

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Boudicca and her army took the city by storm.

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Along the line of this very street,

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the Ancient Britons burst into Colchester, looting, ransacking and torching the city.

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It was time to get their own back.

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It was incredible!

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We just took 'em!

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My son said they didn't have to fight because the Romans ran like sheep.

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The Britons attacked everything that represented Rome

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and set fire to the city.

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They even desecrated the Roman cemetery

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and smashed this tombstone depicting a Roman soldier beating his British slave.

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In the orgy of destruction, thousands were killed.

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The surviving Romans fled to the one place they thought they'd be safe...

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the temple.

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These are the actual vaults of the Temple of Claudius.

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The temple above was 32 metres long and 23 metres wide.

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It had massive walls three metres thick.

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Within these walls, the Roman veterans and their families were forced to take refuge,

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literally barricading themselves in above our heads.

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With thousands of Britons outside, their only hope of rescue was the Roman army.

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But with half the army in Wales, the 2nd Legion in Exeter, the only chance for survival

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rested on the only other legion in the country, 150 miles away to the north.

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The legion, the 9th Hispana, headed south to try to save Colchester.

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The column of heavily armed and well-equipped professional soldiers

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would have stretched for over a mile.

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We had an entire legion. That's 5,000 disciplined soldiers, enough to do the job three times over.

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But the legion would never get there.

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They'd marched for days - cold, hungry, tired.

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I mean, they were the best,

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but they were caught completely unawares.

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They were on us in a second.

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From both sides of the road, the Britons' chariots and foot soldiers overran the Roman column.

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They came through on chariots, just picking us off.

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They couldn't get their shields up, their swords out, their armour on.

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They butchered them.

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Cut them down as they marched.

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The Britons annihilated the exposed Roman legion

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and then darted back to safety on their chariots.

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It was a tragedy for the Roman army

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and an even bigger tragedy for the people relying on them to come and save them.

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Of the 5,000 men of the 9th Legion

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only the commander and a few cavalry men survived.

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But nobody made it to Colchester.

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The citizens there were on their own.

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The Roman citizens under siege in the temple now had no hope of being rescued.

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Imagine it - no food, no water, the oil lamps going out,

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listening to that baying crowd outside, that bunch of dogs,

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baying for their blood. Men, women, children, young and old...

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waiting for us to come and save them.

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But we never came.

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The terrified Romans held out in the temple above for two days.

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It's likely that the Britons used battering rams to knock down the big wooden doors

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or clamber onto the roof and lever off the tiles.

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Imagine the Romans' terror as they heard the banging and scraping above them

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and then looked up to see the first shaft of light pour in.

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We'd had to pay for that temple with our own blood.

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Now it was their turn to pay for it.

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That temple symbolised everything... that we hated about the Romans.

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And now it was ours.

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It was the focus of Boudicca's fury, and now she took her revenge.

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She ordered her army to set fire to the temple and everyone in it.

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Everyone inside was burned alive.

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The Britons burnt Colchester to the ground,

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and today, whenever you dig, there's a thick layer of ash.

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With the capital of Roman Britain in flames,

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the Britons seemed unstoppable.

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Fired up by her conquest, Boudicca now set her sights on the commercial heart of the country,

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the new town of Londinium, today's London.

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Her road was clear, and her only real opponent, Suetonius Paullinus, the Roman governor,

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was 250 miles away

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in Anglesey.

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While his army waged their campaign of destruction against the Druids,

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Paullinus received news of Boudicca's uprising.

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The Roman governor learnt his capital was in flames

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and the Britons were now marching on London.

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He and his army were at least 12 days' march away in Anglesey.

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Paullinus couldn't have been in a worse position.

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To crush Boudicca and win back control of the country,

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he needed to mobilise every soldier at his disposal.

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With the legion from Lincoln destroyed,

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he had 10,000 men up here in Wales and 5,000 down here in Exeter.

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He ordered the legion from Wales to strike camp and head down Watling Street to London.

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And he sent word to the 2nd Legion in Exeter to join them

0:30:350:30:39

by marching up the Fosse Way or Akeman Street here.

0:30:390:30:43

He hoped that this combined force of 15,000 experienced and disciplined troops

0:30:430:30:48

would stop Boudicca's massive army of 100,000 disorganised rebels.

0:30:480:30:53

Whilst his Roman foot soldiers started the long slow march,

0:30:530:30:58

Paullinus himself raced off with an advance cavalry troop to prepare London for Boudicca's attack.

0:30:580:31:04

2,000 years ago, London was a Roman boomtown.

0:31:170:31:21

It was centred right here in the financial district of today's City of London.

0:31:210:31:27

It sprang from nothing to become Britain's busiest commercial centre.

0:31:270:31:31

It grew so quickly, no-one bothered building defences. The Roman wall of London was built years later.

0:31:310:31:37

London had no garrison,

0:31:370:31:40

no soldiers, no means to defend itself against the Britons.

0:31:400:31:45

The city's only hope was from Paullinus and his small troop of cavalry.

0:31:450:31:52

After three days of hard riding,

0:31:520:31:54

Paullinus came racing down Watling Street, today the Edgware Road, and headed into the city.

0:31:540:32:01

There, he made a quick assessment of the situation and decided it was hopeless.

0:32:010:32:07

Boudicca was just a few miles away,

0:32:070:32:09

the ranks of her army swelling with new volunteers all the time.

0:32:090:32:14

He had only a handful of men and the city had no defences.

0:32:140:32:18

London could not be saved.

0:32:180:32:20

With Boudicca's formidable army bearing down on London,

0:32:280:32:32

the Roman governor made an agonising decision.

0:32:320:32:36

He and his soldiers withdrew,

0:32:370:32:40

leaving London wide open to the Britons.

0:32:400:32:44

It was a great day, the gods were with us, and we thanked them for it.

0:32:480:32:53

In a frenzy, the Britons ransacked the city.

0:32:550:32:59

Their vengeance was brutal.

0:32:590:33:02

The bloodthirsty horde set fire to the buildings and butchered everyone they found.

0:33:030:33:10

I saw some things that day I don't think I ever want to see again in my lifetime.

0:33:120:33:18

But we had to do it, we had to do it.

0:33:180:33:22

The Roman men and women left behind were hideously massacred.

0:33:240:33:28

According to one Roman historian, the women had their breasts cut off and sewn into their mouths

0:33:280:33:34

and were then impaled on wooden stakes.

0:33:340:33:37

Though probably just propaganda,

0:33:370:33:39

we do know that the Britons would have cut off heads and kept them as religious offerings or trophies.

0:33:390:33:46

First Colchester, now London was burnt to the ground.

0:33:480:33:53

Boudicca's ruthless strategy had so far delivered her wholesale success.

0:33:580:34:03

But the real test of her leadership was to come.

0:34:030:34:08

London had been an easy victory.

0:34:100:34:12

She'd smashed Roman power in southern Britain and the Roman governor was on the run.

0:34:120:34:18

Determined to track him down,

0:34:180:34:21

Boudicca swung her army northward.

0:34:210:34:24

If she could destroy the remaining legions, Britain would once again be free.

0:34:240:34:29

With the Britons hot on his heels, Paullinus fled back north,

0:34:460:34:51

along what is today the A5, the old Roman Watling Street,

0:34:510:34:56

hoping to meet up with his army.

0:34:560:34:58

He had two legions marching down from Anglesey to join him,

0:34:580:35:03

but after two weeks on the road, they must have been exhausted.

0:35:030:35:08

Each man carried about 30 kilos on his back and wore flimsy sandals.

0:35:110:35:16

Every night, they'd build a camp, then break it up again before setting off in the morning.

0:35:160:35:22

They'd been tired, hungry, and with news of the revolt coming in, morale would have been very low.

0:35:220:35:28

The Roman army was in a desperate situation.

0:35:280:35:33

But things were to get even worse for Paullinus.

0:35:330:35:37

To his horror, one third of his army, the legion from Exeter,

0:35:390:35:44

simply failed to show up.

0:35:440:35:47

This left him with only 10,000 exhausted men

0:35:480:35:52

against Boudicca's massive horde,

0:35:520:35:56

growing in confidence and numbers by the day.

0:35:560:36:00

If Paullinus was to hold onto his province, he had to turn and fight.

0:36:000:36:06

He decided his only chance was to find a battle site

0:36:060:36:10

that gave HIM the advantage.

0:36:100:36:12

He would need an open plain to fight on, but with protection to the rear to avoid being encircled.

0:36:130:36:20

The Roman historian Tacitus gives us a precise description of the spot Paullinus chose.

0:36:200:36:26

It was a narrow valley with woods behind it and the open plain in front.

0:36:260:36:32

But the one thing Tacitus omitted to tell us was where the valley was.

0:36:320:36:36

And that's still a matter of debate today.

0:36:360:36:41

We know Boudicca ransacked St Albans on her way northwards,

0:36:410:36:45

so the battle site must be further north than that.

0:36:450:36:48

Now, we also know that Paullinus was met by his legions from Anglesey,

0:36:480:36:53

so they must have marched down Watling Street here.

0:36:530:36:57

If his legion from Exeter also joined him, as it was supposed to,

0:36:570:37:01

then it would have reached Watling Street by the Fosse Way here or by Akeman Street here.

0:37:010:37:08

So it's likely the valley Paullinus chose was somewhere on Watling Street

0:37:080:37:13

between the Fosse Way and St Albans.

0:37:130:37:15

No-one knows exactly where the battlefield is, but we're going to look at the most recent suggestion.

0:37:170:37:24

I'll check it out from the air...

0:37:240:37:26

..while I drive up Watling Street, the A5.

0:37:260:37:29

The A5 runs over there, following exactly the route we think Boudicca would have gone on.

0:37:360:37:41

We're following Watling Street dead straight from London, north-west.

0:37:410:37:45

It's amazing how it's foxed the experts for ages exactly where this battle was fought.

0:37:450:37:51

This is very flat countryside. It's hard to see anything that matches Tacitus's description

0:37:560:38:02

of a narrow throat, a narrow defile, with wooded sides.

0:38:020:38:06

There have been many suggestions, like Mansetter near Birmingham,

0:38:060:38:11

although some historians think that's too far north.

0:38:110:38:15

This new site is much further south, near the village of Paulerspury,

0:38:150:38:21

only a few miles from St Albans, which is the last place we know Boudicca attacked.

0:38:210:38:27

So let's take a closer look at it.

0:38:310:38:33

Dan, Dan are you there?

0:38:370:38:39

Hello, Dan, come in.

0:38:390:38:41

We're up here, Dad, I can see you.

0:38:410:38:43

What do you think of this place, Dan? This is Paulerspury. What's it look like to you?

0:38:430:38:49

It's a perfectly possible spot because, if you look at the road,

0:38:490:38:54

it goes steeply up and down, quite a valley,

0:38:540:38:57

and trees on either side would have exaggerated the effect of the valley

0:38:570:39:02

and made quite a nice bottleneck for Paullinus to stand his men in

0:39:020:39:07

and deal with Boudicca's overwhelming force.

0:39:070:39:10

Can you see a plain beyond the mouth of the valley? What does it look like down there?

0:39:100:39:16

There's plenty of space for Boudicca's army here.

0:39:160:39:19

Plenty of forage and water for the troops, and then they get funnelled up into this valley,

0:39:190:39:25

which would've had more woods on it. There's not that many woods now.

0:39:250:39:29

I think this is is a pretty good bet, Dad, a pretty good bet.

0:39:290:39:33

OK, well done. Thanks.

0:39:330:39:36

As Paullinus positioned his men in the valley,

0:39:390:39:43

Boudicca was on the road, heading his way.

0:39:430:39:47

If Boudicca was heading north-west from St Albans,

0:39:470:39:51

Watling Street would have offered a convenient highway for her chariots and wagons.

0:39:510:39:57

But just here, the road entered the great Whittlewood Forest.

0:39:570:40:02

Boudicca would have been aware of the risk of being ambushed in the woods ahead.

0:40:030:40:08

To the right was a river plain, ideal for her chariots,

0:40:080:40:13

and with plenty of food and water for her troops.

0:40:130:40:17

It's likely that she decided to avoid the forest

0:40:210:40:25

and wheel her army off along the river.

0:40:250:40:29

Just what Paullinus wanted.

0:40:290:40:32

He'd have been in the valley up ahead,

0:40:320:40:35

his legions across its mouth and his flanks protected by the wooded hills on either side,

0:40:350:40:41

just as Tacitus described it.

0:40:410:40:44

His position WAS advantageous,

0:40:440:40:47

but, by now, Boudicca's army was said to have swollen to 230,000.

0:40:470:40:52

Heavily outnumbered, the Romans would have to rely on their superior weaponry.

0:40:520:40:58

These infantry had the best available weapons.

0:41:050:41:09

Each Roman legionary had two javelins to hurl at the enemy.

0:41:090:41:13

These javelins had barbed tips, so once stuck in a man or shield, they can't be removed very easily.

0:41:190:41:26

So they'd take out the man or make the shield so unwieldy that they'd throw it away.

0:41:260:41:31

But the Romans also brought mechanical firepower.

0:41:310:41:35

This is a scorpio - field artillery. It can throw one of these bolts 200-300 metres into enemy ranks.

0:41:350:41:41

What you do is... you drag back this bowstring here,

0:41:410:41:46

put the ratchet on, put the rope under as much tension as possible

0:41:460:41:52

and fire that bolt as far as you could.

0:41:520:41:55

Pull it back as far as it will come.

0:41:550:42:00

OK.

0:42:030:42:04

Bolt on.

0:42:060:42:07

And...aiming up...

0:42:120:42:15

OK, ready?

0:42:150:42:17

And...

0:42:170:42:19

fire!

0:42:190:42:21

Aha! Romans could fire three or four of these a minute, they reckon.

0:42:230:42:28

Fire!

0:42:280:42:31

But no matter how well armed the Romans were, they were still at a huge disadvantage.

0:42:340:42:40

The Britons chasing them outnumbered them by up to 20 to 1.

0:42:400:42:45

We were a sea,

0:42:480:42:50

a great host of people.

0:42:500:42:53

We thought we couldn't lose. It was our chance to beat the Roman army.

0:42:540:43:00

But Paullinus had one other thing he could draw upon -

0:43:020:43:06

the cohesion and discipline of his legionaries.

0:43:060:43:11

Their training gave them the unique ability to work together in close-knit formation

0:43:110:43:17

and the most effective of these was the wedge formation.

0:43:170:43:21

The first few rows of each cohort would march forward

0:43:210:43:25

to create a wedge-shaped shield wall.

0:43:250:43:28

This tightly-packed arrowhead of men would then march forward,

0:43:280:43:34

so that the tip of each wedge broke up the other side's front line,

0:43:340:43:38

smashing through a massed enemy with devastating effect.

0:43:380:43:43

It's a tactic so effective that it was used by rugby players

0:43:450:43:51

to smash through opposition.

0:43:510:43:54

It's called the flying wedge.

0:43:540:43:56

-OK, show us.

-OK. We've got Dan with the ball here.

-I'm tip of the wedge.

0:43:560:44:00

'At the tip of the wedge, I'd have to punch through

0:44:020:44:05

'some of the country's best rugby players from Wasps Rugby Club.'

0:44:050:44:09

Right, now we're going to go for it towards the opposition try line.

0:44:090:44:14

OK, here we go. Flying wedge coming up.

0:44:140:44:17

The flying wedge shows how easily an arrowhead formation can smash through opposition.

0:44:190:44:25

Although it didn't feel that easy on the day.

0:44:250:44:28

Get it down! Yeah!

0:44:280:44:31

As I found out, the flying wedge is so dangerous, the move is now illegal.

0:44:310:44:37

Ooh!

0:44:370:44:39

Made it - try. Whether he's still alive after that, I've no idea.

0:44:480:44:52

Oh, great!

0:44:520:44:54

Ah!

0:44:540:44:56

That's the flying wedge. Lethal, I'd say.

0:44:560:44:59

Point proved?

0:44:590:45:02

The wedge was a classic Roman tactic,

0:45:020:45:06

which the legions used time and again to overcome barbarian hordes throughout the empire.

0:45:060:45:12

But could it work against such an enormous and confident opponent?

0:45:120:45:17

As the Roman soldiers made camp the night before the battle,

0:45:200:45:24

they knew their general would plan the next day down to the finest detail.

0:45:240:45:30

In Boudicca's camp, it was a very different story.

0:45:300:45:34

Before battle, the Britons would work themselves into a frenzy.

0:45:340:45:38

They'd drink heavily and psyche each other up.

0:45:380:45:42

They loved fighting and didn't fear death, as they believed in reincarnation.

0:45:420:45:46

If you lived and died as a hero, you'd come back much better in your next life.

0:45:460:45:52

The following morning, both sides awoke,

0:46:020:46:05

knowing that the final battle for control of the country was upon them.

0:46:050:46:10

As dawn broke, the disciplined Roman soldiers took up their positions

0:46:180:46:22

in the formations they'd spent years training in, then they waited for the Britons to attack.

0:46:220:46:29

The scene was set for the battle that would decide the fate of Britain.

0:46:360:46:42

Boudicca had her enormous army spread out across the plain here.

0:46:530:46:59

Tens of thousands of men and women ready for battle,

0:46:590:47:03

armed with swords, spears, knives, rocks, on horseback

0:47:030:47:07

and on chariots and on foot.

0:47:070:47:09

Behind them, their families had pulled up their supply wagons

0:47:090:47:13

in a semi-circle to watch the fight.

0:47:130:47:16

Ahead of them was Paullinus's army.

0:47:160:47:19

He had less than two legions of foot soldiers,

0:47:190:47:22

perhaps 15 cohorts of 500 men each.

0:47:220:47:26

They would have neatly spanned the mouth of the valley,

0:47:260:47:29

the cavalry securing the flanks and the infantry in the middle.

0:47:290:47:34

At last, the disciplined Roman legionaries were face to face with Boudicca's overwhelming force.

0:47:390:47:46

There was a writhing mass of barbarians in front of us.

0:47:530:47:56

I was scared, I'm not frightened to admit that.

0:47:560:47:59

The sheer number of them.

0:48:010:48:03

But that's where you rely upon your discipline and your training,

0:48:030:48:08

all moving as one, relying on each other.

0:48:080:48:12

So if this IS where the battle was fought 2,000 years ago,

0:48:210:48:26

the front line of Roman legionaries would have stretched for half a mile

0:48:260:48:30

from this side of the valley, across the flat ground in the centre to the other side.

0:48:300:48:36

Down there, where the valley opens out into a big plain, would have been Boudicca's massive force,

0:48:360:48:42

fired by its lust for revenge and buoyed up by its obvious superiority in numbers.

0:48:420:48:49

We were a sea of people.

0:48:490:48:51

And they were just stuck there in the mouth of this valley.

0:48:510:48:55

We thought it was going to be easy.

0:48:550:48:59

The first move came from Boudicca.

0:48:590:49:01

With a long blast on the traditional British horns, the attack began.

0:49:010:49:06

Imagine the ground shake as hundreds of chariots charged over this field,

0:49:240:49:29

each charioteer racing his neighbour to get to the Romans and spill the first blood.

0:49:290:49:35

On the back, the British warriors roaring, hurling spears and challenging Romans to single combat.

0:49:350:49:41

The noise would have been deafening.

0:49:410:49:43

The wind was rushing through my hair, the blood flowing through my veins.

0:49:430:49:47

I could see Romans in the distance. I thought, "I'm coming for you!"

0:49:470:49:52

Everybody charged, chariots went up and down in front of the Romans

0:49:520:49:56

who just stood there behind their shields.

0:49:560:49:59

I mean, can you imagine... 200,000 people...

0:50:100:50:14

..hurtling down towards you? That gets your blood pumping, I can assure you.

0:50:140:50:20

Then Paullinus made his move.

0:50:220:50:25

First came the scorpios, firing deadly bolts hundreds of metres into the British.

0:50:250:50:30

Next came the javelins in two volleys.

0:50:330:50:36

The first travelling some 25 to 30 metres.

0:50:360:50:40

The second, the heavier javelins, just 15 metres.

0:50:400:50:44

We took down the front line, but they kept swarming and coming at us.

0:50:450:50:50

Many of those who survived would now have javelins impaled in their shields,

0:50:510:50:56

making them so unwieldy they'd have to drop them and rush on unprotected into the Roman front line.

0:50:560:51:03

Paullinus now played his last card.

0:51:060:51:10

Then they started to come forward...

0:51:130:51:16

..in a wedge shape, a series of wedges, like the side of a sword.

0:51:180:51:23

And as they came forward, our boys were piling into them.

0:51:260:51:30

They just stabbed from behind the shields.

0:51:390:51:42

In the wedge formation, you just keep going forward, you never stop.

0:51:440:51:49

Between the gaps of the shields, you stab whatever's in front of you.

0:51:490:51:54

You stay close together, any enemy underfoot you trample on them,

0:51:540:51:58

you crush their skulls, but keep going forward.

0:51:580:52:01

It was a tactic that would change the course of the battle,

0:52:010:52:06

as the Britons' advantage in numbers was turned against them.

0:52:060:52:10

The sheer weight of numbers was their downfall - crushed from the back by their own men,

0:52:110:52:17

from the front by our boys, any bit of flesh that could be seen by our men was hacked to pieces.

0:52:170:52:23

They never stood a chance. They couldn't raise their hands, wield their swords, wield their daggers,

0:52:230:52:30

they were completely hemmed in.

0:52:300:52:32

As the Romans ploughed into Boudicca's warriors,

0:52:320:52:36

the Britons were funnelled into the wedges and trapped.

0:52:360:52:41

There, the legionaries could stab at them from both sides.

0:52:410:52:45

There was nothing we could do to stop them.

0:52:500:52:53

They didn't come fast... but they came steady.

0:52:530:52:58

The Britons were no match for this heavily armed steamroller,

0:53:000:53:05

and they started to pull back.

0:53:050:53:08

As the Britons turned tail,

0:53:090:53:12

the Roman cavalry came in from the flank,

0:53:120:53:15

cutting down stragglers at the edge of the field.

0:53:150:53:19

They were hacking and killing and cutting and...

0:53:190:53:24

Oh!

0:53:250:53:27

There was blood everywhere.

0:53:270:53:30

The Britons' retreat turned into a chaotic rout.

0:53:310:53:35

Pushed back, trampled by the infantry juggernaut,

0:53:350:53:39

and in terror of attack from the Roman cavalry,

0:53:390:53:44

the Britons ran for their lives.

0:53:440:53:46

We was all running and saw the Romans coming on horseback from the sides.

0:53:490:53:53

I realised we'd get trapped by our own carts.

0:53:530:53:57

The Roman wedge formation and their cavalry drove the Britons towards their own wagons.

0:54:010:54:07

The great circle of wagons, where families had gathered to watch the battle, had now become a ring fence.

0:54:090:54:16

The British warriors and their followers were trapped.

0:54:160:54:19

The Roman front line and cavalry finished off the last fighters,

0:54:190:54:23

then turned on the women and children. The slaughter that followed was unimaginable.

0:54:230:54:29

It was a vision from hell that day.

0:54:290:54:32

Them pigs didn't just kill the soldiers,

0:54:340:54:37

they killed the women and the children...

0:54:370:54:41

and the babies.

0:54:410:54:43

It was terrible.

0:54:430:54:45

People were being butchered around me, everyone was panicking,

0:54:450:54:50

it was carnage, absolute carnage.

0:54:500:54:54

I should have died that day too.

0:54:550:54:58

Boudicca's battle for Britain was lost.

0:55:160:55:20

Tacitus tells us that only 400 Romans were killed

0:55:200:55:25

against 80,000 British dead.

0:55:250:55:28

The Romans would have left their bodies to rot here as a deterrent against future uprisings.

0:55:280:55:35

It may have been a spectacular Roman victory,

0:55:350:55:39

but it is still one of the greatest human tragedies in British history.

0:55:390:55:44

There were thousands of bodies...

0:55:440:55:47

laid out like rotten dogs.

0:55:470:55:50

Men, women, children,

0:55:510:55:54

hacked up like meat.

0:55:540:55:57

I looked for my husband...

0:55:580:56:01

but I never found him.

0:56:010:56:04

No-one knows what happened to Boudicca.

0:56:070:56:11

Legend has it that she took poison that same day.

0:56:110:56:15

She'd made one fatal mistake -

0:56:150:56:17

engaging the Romans in pitched battle at a place of THEIR choosing.

0:56:170:56:22

After the battle, life became even worse for the Britons.

0:56:220:56:26

The Roman army carried out vicious reprisals to make sure such an uprising could never happen again.

0:56:260:56:33

Boudicca's kingdom was destroyed

0:56:330:56:35

and what remained of her tribe were forcibly resettled in a Romanised town.

0:56:350:56:40

We were a proud people once.

0:56:460:56:49

Not any more.

0:56:530:56:55

All those dead...

0:56:570:57:00

..what was it for?

0:57:010:57:04

They got everything they deserved.

0:57:040:57:06

They won't try that again, will they?

0:57:060:57:10

Roman rule here was never challenged again,

0:57:100:57:13

and the Ancient Britons were pushed back to the extremities of the British Isles,

0:57:130:57:18

where remnants of their language, like Welsh, can still be heard.

0:57:180:57:22

But over most of Britain, it was the Romans who ruled for the next 400 years

0:57:220:57:28

and their language, their roads and their culture

0:57:280:57:32

are still an inescapable part of our heritage today.

0:57:320:57:37

Nearly 1,000 years after Boudicca's revolt against the Romans,

0:57:420:57:46

a new wave of invaders hit British shores.

0:57:460:57:49

Next time, we find out how 15,000 soldiers fought to the death

0:57:490:57:54

for the greatest prize in Europe - the throne of England.

0:57:540:57:59

The year was 1066 and it was the Battle of Hastings.

0:57:590:58:03

Series in which Peter Snow and his historian son Dan use groundbreaking graphics to bring alive the epic stories of battles that shaped the nation, journeying through 2,000 years of invasion, civil war and rebellion. It opens with the uprising led by Queen Boudicca against Roman rule in Britain. Peter gives a blow-by-blow account of the battle of wits fought between Boudicca and her adversary, the Roman governor Suetonius Paulinus. Dan tells the soldiers' stories and joins the London Wasps rugby team to experience what it would have been like for the warriors as they clashed with the disciplined ranks of the Roman army.