Over the next few weeks, I am going to be blogging about the military disasters featured in my new book – Britain’s 20 Worst Military Disasters (The History Press).
According to some estimates, 40,000 Roman legionaries and auxiliaries were confronted by 80,000 Ancient Britons as they tried to cross the Medway in AD43. If those figures are right, this would be the second biggest battle ever fought in Britain.
The Britons were taken by surprise when a detachment of auxiliaries managed to swim across the river and start attacking their horses. Taking advantage of the chaos this caused, a force of legionaries under the future emperor Vespasian crossed on the opposite flank.
Even so, the British resisted doggedly and the battle went into a second day, something highly unusual for those times, and perhaps testimony to the large number of men involved. On day two, the Romans used boats and a pontoon bridge to reinforce their bridgehead, but in a determined counter-attack the British captured a number of officers and for a time looked as though they might win.
Eventually, though, the Romans’ superior organisation won the day, and soon after the Roman emperor Claudius came over to take the surrender of 11 British kings, laying the foundations for nearly 400 years of Roman rule.