THE BATTLE AT THE RIVER MEDWAY (A.D.43)

Cassio Dio in his book, Historia Romana, summarily covers the initial phases of the Claudian Invasion of Britain in brief ambiguous sentences. Historians and scholars have studied the unsubstantiated discrepancies, and leave us to accept their educated interpretations, or formulate scenarios of our own.

An apparent discrepancy is Dio telling us that Plautius conquered Caratacus and Togodumnus before he reached the River Medway. Conquer is a pretty strong word and I find that highly unlikely as he later tells us that the barbarians fought a two day battle on the far side of the river. It is entirely plausible that the Brits engaged the Romans in skirmishes and delaying actions as the legions advanced through the forested terrain but I don’t think “conquered” would be the correct term. Perhaps I’m being too critical and it’s merely a matter of mistranslation from Greek to English.

Nevertheless, in his usual brevity, he doesn’t bother to name the river or even describe it. Most scholars have determined that it is the River Medway. Medway is the “modern” name, but surely, long before Dio wrote his history, the Romans would have christened it with a Latin name that he could have used if he had wanted to include a little detail.

Many historians through the ages have speculated on what exactly Dio meant by his brief description of the Roman advancement from Richbourgh, site of their coastal landing, to the River Medway, “On reaching a certain river, which the barbarians thought the Romans would not be able to cross without a bridge,– a conviction which led them to encamp in rather careless fashion on the opposite bank, — “. In that sentence, “river” was the Medway at Rochester, “barbarians” were the Brits, “without a bridge” was the bridge the Brits had destroyed to impede the Romans, “opposite bank” was the Strood area.

In my novel, I split the Roman advance to the Medway into three separate columns: one more or less following present day A2, one more or less following present day M2 and one taking the North Downs Way. This is all conjecture of course, as there’s no written evidence describing how the Romans advanced to the river.

The North Downs Way was the only route in existence at the time of the invasion. Although it was the longest route to the river, I chose it as the route for the Invasion Force’s entire complement of heavy artillery for two reasons: first, it was already a well-used road and could carry a heavy load, and second, it wouldn’t slow down the main body of troops advancing to the Rochester/Great Lines area. I am not aware of any historical precedent for the Romans splitting off the artillery engines from their individual fighting units, but it seemed like something a prudent leader might do if he felt it would speed up the advance of the main army. Likely or prudent or not, it’s all complete fiction, as again, we have no idea of the actual path, duration, or difficulties encountered.

I chose Wouldham for the location of the artillery park because a large bend in the river occurs there and provides a possible spot for a shallow ford across to the present-day Halling area. Plautius wisely kept the artillery on the east side of the Medway in a compact circular park so it could be well protected until the legions cleared the area on the opposite side of the river and chased the enemy north to the Thames.

The attempt by Togodumnus to attack and destroy the Roman artillery was a calculated risk on his part that failed and cost him his life. The historical Togodumnus did lose his life about this time but we don’t actually know how or when. Dio, in his account of the battle, simply says, “Shortly after, Togodumnus perished”. The “after” being after the Romans followed the Brits to the Thames. I contend that he could have been killed at the Battle at the River Medway. There’s very little chance that we’ll ever know what actually happened to him.

I drew a crude map of the fictional artillery battle at the Medway when writing the novel. Someday I’ll clean it up to a state that won’t embarrass me, and publish it as a supplement to this post.

 

 

Leave a Reply

 

 

 

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

*