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Calling all armchair generals! Boudica's Last Stand.
Just to widen the debate a little (perhaps!) I thought I might have a look for a site close to Silchester.

The town possibly shows signs of destruction connected to the revolt. It would have made a good fallback option for Paulinus after he left London, convenient for reinforcements, and while not as good as St Albans he would at least have been putting some extra distance between his force and the rebels. So - if he went there, where might he have chosen to fight the battle?

I would guess that any rebel advance westwards from London would have followed the cultivated and settled Thames valley from the vicinity of Staines, swinging north through modern Windsor towards Reading, rather than taking the Roman road straight across the rather desolate upland heaths around Bagshot. So the Britons would have been approaching Silchester from the north or north-east.

The Portway heads west/southwest from Silchester towards Salisbury and (eventually) Exeter - after ten or twelve miles it climbs some steep gradients onto the edge of the North Wessex Downs. It seems possible, though, that the original British road or track from Calleva would have kept to the more level ground, rather than climbing straight up the slopes, perhaps running due west from Wolverton and across the grounds now occupied by the Kingsclere Estate.

Just to the south of the hamlet of Old Burghclere, there is a pass in the escarpment, guarded on both sides by hillforts. It appears that an old route passed through here, as the valley leading further south towards Litchfield and the Portway is lined with Iron Age barrows, earthworks and the remains of field systems. This would have been a route that the local Britons probably knew well, and the pass or defile with the forts on either flank would have been an ideal place for Paulinus to confront the rebels.

Here's the large-scale map, showing some possible routes from Silchester:

   

And here's a more detailed plan of the site:

   

As you can see, the topography below Beacon Hill appears to match the description in Tacitus very well - it's about the most pronounced 'throat' of any we've looked at, I think.

There are, of course, a couple of obvious problems with the site. If the Britons had continued along the Portway rather than going west along the valley through Sydmonton, they would have come out behind the Roman position! There are, as I mentioned above, some steep gradiants on this route, particularly the one just north of Hannington, which might have been difficult for wagons; but even a light or mounted force going along here could have made things very difficult for the Romans. 

I might suggest, though, that Paulinus would have been aware of this possibility and had scouts watching the road in this direction, and the other gaps in the escarpment too - if the Britons sent a force in this direction he would soon know about it, and redeploy accordingly (which would make sense of the note in Tacitus about ensuring there were only enemies in front of him).

The second problem is the lack of water on the chalk downs. Paulinus might have needed to camp his force up there for several days while they waited for the rebels to arrive. How much of a problem this is I don't know - the Romans could, I suppose, have remained in the vicinity of Wolverton until the day came to move up to the battle site, although a camp position behind their defensive line would have been far better.

Anyway, I'd be interested in anyone's thoughts on this. It's a very nice looking site, I think, even considering the problems. I still think it far more likely that Paulinus pulled back to St Albans, and fought his battle at Newground, but looking at alternative options is never a bad idea.
Nathan Ross
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Messages In This Thread
Re: Calling all armchair generals! - by Ensifer - 03-11-2010, 03:13 PM
Re: Calling all armchair generals! Boudica\'s Last Stand. - by Steve Kaye - 02-18-2012, 06:26 PM
Re: Calling all armchair generals! Boudica\'s Last Stand. - by Steve Kaye - 02-19-2012, 12:02 AM
Re: Calling all armchair generals! Boudica\'s Last Stand. - by Steve Kaye - 02-19-2012, 02:50 PM
Re: Calling all armchair generals! Boudica\'s Last Stand. - by Steve Kaye - 02-19-2012, 05:40 PM
Re: Calling all armchair generals! Boudica\'s Last Stand. - by Steve Kaye - 02-19-2012, 11:26 PM
Re: Calling all armchair generals! Boudica\'s Last Stand. - by Steve Kaye - 04-24-2012, 05:11 PM
Re: Calling all armchair generals! Boudica\'s Last Stand. - by Steve Kaye - 04-24-2012, 09:42 PM
Re: Calling all armchair generals! Boudica\'s Last Stand. - by Steve Kaye - 04-24-2012, 10:10 PM
Re: Calling all armchair generals! Boudica\'s Last Stand. - by Steve Kaye - 04-25-2012, 03:11 PM
Re: Calling all armchair generals! Boudica\'s Last Stand. - by Steve Kaye - 04-25-2012, 03:25 PM
Re: Calling all armchair generals! Boudica\'s Last Stand. - by Steve Kaye - 04-25-2012, 08:36 PM
Re: Calling all armchair generals! Boudica\'s Last Stand. - by Steve Kaye - 04-26-2012, 02:57 PM
Re: Calling all armchair generals! Boudica\'s Last Stand. - by Steve Kaye - 04-27-2012, 01:50 PM
Re: Calling all armchair generals! Boudica\'s Last Stand. - by Steve Kaye - 08-05-2012, 02:24 PM
Calling all armchair generals! Boudica\'s Last Stand. - by antiochus - 11-07-2014, 02:18 PM
Calling all armchair generals! Boudica\'s Last Stand. - by antiochus - 11-08-2014, 01:50 AM
Calling all armchair generals! Boudica\'s Last Stand. - by antiochus - 11-11-2014, 02:03 AM
Calling all armchair generals! Boudica\'s Last Stand. - by antiochus - 11-18-2014, 07:54 AM
Calling all armchair generals! Boudica\'s Last Stand. - by antiochus - 11-20-2014, 02:37 AM
Calling all armchair generals! Boudica\'s Last Stand. - by antiochus - 11-25-2014, 08:29 AM
RE: Calling all armchair generals! Boudica's Last Stand. - by Nathan Ross - 01-15-2018, 03:01 PM

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