Battle of Watling Street 60 AD
How far would you go to free yourself from oppression? What are you willing to risk to be free? Your home, your livelihood, perhaps even one’s own life and the life of others. That was the mindset of the Celts living under Roman rule during the first century AD.
When Rome invaded Britannia, the inhabitants did not like having foreign invaders on their home soil. Rome had ambitions of turning the small island into a Roman province and hub for trade. In the beginning, the Celts tolerated the Romans, but as time passed and having endured horrendous cruelties by the invaders, they decided enough was enough.
Around the first century, Britannia consisted of small tribes all over the region, each with its own rules and rulers. However, with more Romans coming into Britannia, many tribes lost their ancestral homes and their way of life. Now more than ever, the people needed a leader to free them from Roman oppression and tyranny.
That leader was Boudica, queen of the Iceni, a Celtic tribe in Britannia. She was a charismatic and passionate individual who urged other tribes to fight under one banner and drive the Romans out of Britannia. For a brief period, other tribes refused the call to arms, saying it was a foolish endeavor. But upon receiving a “vision” from the Gods, many tribes flocked to Boudica’s cause. One tribesman was a young Celtic girl named Cynbel. Cynbel had long, braided red hair and striking emerald eyes, which matched well with her pale skin. Average height, she had rosy cheeks and an innocent smile but was a warrior through and through. She had come from Northern Britannia, from Alba of the Caleclonians people or better known to the Romans as the Picts.
The Picts were a tribe of Celts that engaged the Romans on several occasions. They were known for their guerrilla tactics, thus making them difficult to subdue. When Cynbel heard the call for revolution, she urged others to follow her. Sadly, none stepped forward; therefore, Cynbel traveled South all by herself. Cynbel maybe only 18 winters, but she has been fighting Romans since her early childhood.
Among her tribe, she was known to have a fiery temper and an unorthodox approach to warfare. However, throughout the revolution, something changed in her. When she and the others assisted Boudica in the siege of Londinium, She saw the real horrors of war. In the city, they killed the soldiers, but they killed the innocent as well. Men, women, and children. None were spared.
This greatly affected her. She had joined in killing Roman soldiers, not innocent people. But the others, there were no innocent Romans. To the others, they were invaders.
After the conquest of Londinium, the capital city of Roman-controlled Britannia, Boudica’s army celebrated their glorious victory. 80,000 Romans dead, a city in ruins and fear were sweeping through all of Southern Roman Britain. While many celebrated with drinks and festivities, she chose to be alone.
While she was happy to deal with the Romans, a critical blow, killing Roman civilians and their families, weighed heavily. Their faces, the screams of mercy, the pleas of women holding babies still haunted her. She could feel the heat of the fire on her face. Suddenly, she hears footsteps approaching her from behind. Placing her hand on her sword, Cynbel turns around to face the stranger. To her surprise, it was Boudica, still wearing her war paint. Realizing it was the queen, the young Celt moves her hand off of her blade.
“Did I startle you, dear?” asked Boudica. The young Pict nodded and gestured to the queen to sit by her. Boudica accepted the offer and sat beside the young girl. In addition to being a queen, Boudica was also a mother, and her motherly instincts told her something was wrong.
“Something on your mind Cynbel?” Cynbel glanced back at the queen and then again at the ground. She twirled her thumbs before answering.
“Why did we do it? I mean, why did we kill them?”
“Because they are our enemies Cynbel. You should know that.”
“I’m not talking about the soldiers, I’m talking about the Roman families we burned alive, barricaded in their own homes. Killing soldiers is one thing, but innocent families, killing them bears no honor.”
Boudicca was surprised by Cynbel’s response. She had her suspicions that Cynbel lived by a moral code, but she did not realize how strong it possessed her.
“Rome is our enemy Cynbel. We must kill them all. Showing them mercy is for the weak.” Just then, Cynbel gets up and looks back at the queen. Boudica could see the anger in her eyes.
“Showing mercy is not weakness. It keeps you centered and focused, but most importantly, it keeps you from becoming a bloody savage” barked Cynbel. The young Celt was seething with fury.
“Do not think you are the only one who has seen Roman savagery. I grew up in Alba, your highness, and I saw how violent the Romans could be at a young age. After they killed my parents, I killed my first Roman when I was eight, and I became the warrior that the Romans fear at night when they think they are safe. However, during those years, I never attacked the Roman families living in peace with my people. Going down that path leads only to death and disgrace.”
Cynbel pauses before continuing. “I want them gone just as much as the next Celt, but when you cross the line of killing the innocent, you become the savage Rome declares us to be. After tonight, there’s no going back.”
The shouting attracted the attention of others in the camp, and some of Boudica’s guards ran to her. Cynbel regains her senses and looks back at the queen.
“I’m sorry for shouting at my queen, but I needed to speak my mind. It’s getting late, and I need my rest. I’ll be in the camp getting some wine.”
Cynbel bows and walks past the guards and back into camp. Boudica gets up and sees one of her guards reach for his sword. She places her hand on his before saying anything else.
“It’s alright. There’s no need to punish her. She’s not a threat; she’s just angry, and she is right. There is no going back from this tonight. Tomorrow will decide what happens next. Now leave me for a moment.” Her guards move back and allow the queen to be alone. The next morning, the army of Boudica marched to meet the Romans at a valley called Watling Street. Up until now, Boudica has been undefeated. However, it was the Romans who had the advantage today.
The Romans were at the top of a slanted hill, allowing them to see Boudicca’s army far away. They also brought legions of archers and ballistas, mechanized crossbows able to launch projectiles miles away.
When Boudica and her army saw the Romans at the top of the hill, they realized to face them; they must charge up a mile of open area with no cover. Cynbel and the other Celts were afraid for the first time.
In previous battles, they were outnumbered and still able to be victorious, but this time, there were only two options: surrender to Roman rule or face annihilation. It was clear what choice Boudica chose. With a loud war cry, the Celtic army races up towards the Romans. Moments after the charge, everything falls apart. The Romans launched a barrage of missiles and arrow fire down upon the celts. Seeking cover, Cynbel hides behind a turned over chariot. All around her, she sees her people being slaughtered like animals. Peeking her head out, she gets a glimpse of the queen charging up the hill on her war chariot. She was nearly close to the enemy lines, only to be killed by a lone arrow. With their leader dead, the celt army falls into disarray, and the Romans send the cavalry to finish off the survivors.
“Run for the trees!” shouts Cynbel. Running from her cover, she, along with many other survivors, races back down the hill to elude the Romans in the dense forest. Many are killed before they make it down. With the sound of horses getting louder and louder, she and the others run into the woods to hide from the Romans.
Despite their efforts, a few Roman cavalrymen follow them into the thick, dense woods. Cynbel could hear the sounds of horses galloping behind her. She thought to herself that this was it; this is how she dies. As she makes her peace with the gods, she sees for a brief moment an escape: a nearby cave.
Sprinting in the direction of the cave, she alludes to her pursuers. Entering the cave, she heads further in. Reaching the back of the cave, she discovers a hidden pool.
Perfect, I can escape through there. Behind her, she could hear the echoes of the Romans slowly making their way to her. Considering her options, Cynbel jumps into the pool. However, upon splashing in, she is quickly submerged by a strong current beneath her.
She holds her breath for as long as she can while the current throws her around, smacking her against the stone walls. Feeling herself slowly lose consciousness, the currents suddenly change direction and spits her upwards. She lands heavily on the wet cave floor. Coughing up water, she rolls on her back, body bruised and head bleeding, and falls unconscious.