Roman Military Campaigns – Caratacus ap Cunobelin Catuvellaunum

The Area of Conflict

The most probable zone for the location of the ‘last stand’ of Caratacus is that of the watersheds of the Teme, the Clun and the Onny in the extreme south-west corner of Shropshire, which is characterised by tall hills. After the fertile valley of the River Severn in the east there are the isolated peaks of Brown Clee (539m) and Titterstone Clee (533m) followed by the limestone? ridge of Wenlock Edge. The area includes the modern towns of Lydham and Bishop’s Castle in the Valley of the Onny in the north; Clun and Newcastle, both on the Clun in Clun Forest where runs the border between England and Wales; to Knighton on the Teme in Powys to the south. The acknowledged area of conflict stretches from the River Wye in the south to the River Severn in the north.

It is obvious that the Roman military complexes at Leintwardine and Stretford Bridge, on tributaries of the Severn, would each have played a major part, perhaps also the fort at Forden Gaer NW of Lydham near the confluences of the Camlad and Rhiw with the Severn, and possibly also the fort at Caersws at the confluence of the Afon Carno with the Severn. The Roman military complex at Hindwell Farm between the Summersgill Brook and the Hindwell Brook, both tributaries of the River Lugg, also lies within the southern edge of the battle area, as does the cluster of sites around St. Harmon in the Wye Valley.

The Purslow Battlefield Scenario

The battle scenario proposed by Colonel A.H. Burne in the early 1950’s has Caratacus and his family housed in the Caer Caradoc hillfort about 2½ miles NE of Knighton in Powys, with a forward observation post established at another hillfort named Caer Caradoc, this one lying about 1½ miles NE of Church Stretton in Shropshire. Burne proposes that upon receiving the signal from the forward post that the Fourteenth and Twentieth legions were setting out from their base at Viroconium/Wroxeter, Caratacus and his main force headed along an ancient ridgeway linking the two forts in order to reinforce his scouts and to prepare for the Roman arrival. Caratacus was forced to turn back before he had reached the area of Little Stretton, when his forward observation post was overrun by Roman auxiliary forces. Caratacus and his force fell back, crossing the Onny near Horderly, the Kemp at Kempton and finally the Clun at Purslow, whereupon he arranged his forces along the ridge formed by Purslow Wood and Clunbury Hill and prepared to meet his enemies across the River Clun, his command post situated on the top of Black Hill (441m). It is possible that Caratacus hoped to entice the Roman force through the easy defile leading to Twitchen/Three Ashes in order to trap the legions between his personal command on the Purslow Wood ridge and a secondary force commanded by one of his most trusted generals – possibly one of his brothers[-in-law] – situated on Clunbury Hill. The plan failed when the Roman army was instead directed upon the small defile leading through Purslow Wood to Cwm (grid ref. SO347802). This contest was ultimately won by the Romans who forced Caratacus to retreat westwards along the Clun Valley, leaving behind his wife and daughters in the Caer Caradoc (Knighton) hillfort and unable to support his general on Clunbury Hill, both of which parties were shortly captured.

Roman Military Encampments in the Area

Leintwardine/Bravonium Group
Stretford Bridge/Craven Arms Group
Forden Gaer/Pentrehayling Group
Hindwell Farm/Walton Group
St Harmon/Nantmel Group
Caersws/Llwyn-y-Brain Group

Native British Sites in the Area

  • Bury Ditches, nr. King’s Grove – elaborate earthworks now completely quarried-out, together with fertile pastures at Guilden Down to the NE and at Lower Down to the SW. This cluster of sites ‘could have been a chief’s residence and administrative centre’.
  • Burrow Camp, Coxall Knoll and The Roveries. These three strategically sited and well-defended camps are each suitable to be used as strongpoints.
  • Wart Hill and Caer Caradoc, Church Stretton are possible forward observation points.
  • Caer Caradoc, Chapel Lawn, nr. Knighton. This inconspicuous site, with hidden valleys and western escape route may have served as a base camp.
  • Other hillforts such as Brandon Camp, Norton Camp and Billings Rings, served as bolt-holes for the local lowland farming communities.
  • Gaer Din and Gaer Din Rings are typical family-type farming groups.

References for Roman Military Campaigns – Caratacus ap Cunobelin Catuvellaunum

  • The Roman Invasion of Britain by Graham Webster (Batsford, London, 1980);
  • Rome Against Caratacus by Graham Webster (Batsford, London, 1981);
  • The Battlefields of England by A.H. Burne (Penguin consolidated edition, 2002);
  • Also: The Last Stand of King Caractacus leaflet by the Clun Town Trust Museum.