The commander of the 9th Legion, Petilius Cerealis, was ordered by the governor to put down the revolt. The 9th Legion was divided into separately stationed units. Cerealis only had 2000 legionaries and 500 cavalry when he set out for Colchester. The Britons ambushed the legionaries during the march meaning the Romans could not draw up into battle formation. The foot soldiers were cut down and the cavalry escaped.
The British tribes celebrated and spent time looting. They were no longer a cohesive fighting force and this gave time for the governor to reach London with a small force of cavalry but they were no defence for London. With the army campaigning elsewhere, Catus Decianus, the emperor’s financial representative (procurator), had fled the country, and the richer traders and citizens also left.
During the summer of AD60, the governor evacuated all those left in London and troops and townspeople headed towards St Albans along Watling Street. Populated by merchants and immigrants living in an overtly Mediterranean style, the town was symbolic of Roman imperialism.
The British tribes spent several days in London burning the buildings and killing anyone who remained, mainly the elderly and infirm. The entire town was burned to the ground. On nearly every site of this period in London, archaeologists discover layers of charred and vitrified debris up to one metre thick – even across the river in Southwark, where shops and houses had flanked the road leading to the crossing. Only the British-style roundhouses in the western suburb seem to have escaped destruction (see Gresham Street in Londinium LIte).
The tribesmen moved on to attack St Albans and Tacitus records that some 70,000 people were killed in all three towns, an amount regarded as propaganda for the Roman market.
This, however, gave the governor sufficient time to meet the troops returning from Wales and to find a suitable place for the battle.
This would seem to have been somewhere in the Midlands. From the description given by Tacitus, one possible site is near Mancetter (Warwickshire), where a ridge of rock converges on Watling Street. The governor now had the 14th Legion, a detachment from the 20th Legion and auxiliaries, totalling some 10,000 men.
The battle was confined to a plain between a wood and a narrowing of the pass, making it impossible for the British to attack en mass. In the pitched battle, the Britons were not a match for the well-disciplined Roman troops. They were unable to escape having brought their wagons and carts up behind them and not having room to spread out in front. Not only were the British warriors slain but also their attendant families.
Reports differ as to Boudica’s fate. Tacitus records that Boudica poisoned herself, whereas Dio Cassius says that she fell ill and died. It is not known what happened exactly. The queen was probably in her mid to late thirties when she died but her final resting place is unknown.
According to Tacitus 80,000 British were slain compared with just 400 Romans. This again could be a propaganda estimate on Tacitus’ part. The Romans went on to conduct a scorched earth policy on those tribes involved in the rebellion and it was only the appointment of a new procurator, Classicianus, that finally put the province back on a peaceful footing.