It was the bloodiest battle in British history yet its location in the West Midlands remains a source of heated debate.
And even the landmark conflict has become a mere footnote.
Because the Battle of Watling Street in AD60 or 61 – when the Romans crushed a much larger force led by warrior queen Boudicca – did more than any other to shape this island.
Experts on Roman Britain are divided over where the blood was spilled, although Mancetter, north Warwickshire, remains the most popular.
Other battlefield locations include Weedon, Northamptonshire, Towcester, on the outskirts of Shrewsbury, and even Birmingham.
In fact, there are those who believe the flame-haired queen of the Iceni tribe, who took poison after the defeat, is buried under a McDonald’s in Kings Norton, Birmingham
The only thing known about this nugget of deep history is that the battle to end all battles took place and it ended hopes of booting the Romans out of Britain.
Documents described Boudicca – also known as Boadicea and Buddug – as “frightening” in appearance.
“She was huge of frame, terrifying of aspect and with a harsh voice,” wrote Roman Cassius Dio. “A great mass of bright red hair fell to her knees.
“She wore a great twisted golden necklace and a tunic of many colours over which was a thick mantle fastened by a brooch.”
She certainly had a murderous temper, and every right to be very annoyed with the Romans.
The invaders reneged on a financial agreement, beat up Boudicca and raped her daughters.
Those are the kind of things a woman doesn’t forget. They were certainly the catalyst for the most significant revolts in this island’s history.
The revolution, by a cartel of Celtic tribes, was about money. The beatings didn’t help, but cash was the root cause.
Boudicca was married to Prasutagus, king of the Iceni tribe, based in what is now East Anglia.
The Romans, almost 20 years into the occupation, had enjoyed a cosy relationship with the Iceni, with the Emperor Claudius handing a sizeable grant to King Prasutagus. As part of the terms of that cash agreement, Prasutagus left half his kingdom to the emperor’s successor, Nero.
But in the summer of 61 – that’s AD 61 – the friendship became more than a little frosty.
With Prasutagus dead, hated procurator Catus Decianus moved centurions into Iceni territories, ripped up the agreement, took the whole kingdom and brutalised Boudicca and her family. Some relatives were sold into slavery.
The deposed Queen burned for revenge and held a secret meeting with other tribes, including the Trinovantes from Camulodunum (Colchester), the Cornovii and the Durotiges from Dorset. According to Cassius Dio, 120,000 were present at the war summit.
The massive army first razed Camulodunum. There’s little doubt they would have presented a terrifying spectacle, painted blue and accompanied by Druids who screamed terrifying curses at the Romans.
Londinium (London) – then Britain’s biggest city with a 25,000 population – was hit before an evacuation could take place. It was an appalling slaughter, with the Druid priests offering up the heads of Romans to the goddess of victory.
Verulamium (St Albans) fell two days later and the attack brought the death toll to 70,000. Boudicca’s army was vast, but ill-disciplined: the Roman Briton equivalent of football hooligans running riot.
The scene was set for the Battle of Watling Street and the end of Boudicca’s winning run.
The Romans, led by Gaius Suetonius, were massively out-numbered, with some historians giving figures of 10,000 against 230,000. But those 10,000 Romans were all well-drilled soldiers, while Boudicca’s rag-tag mob included women and even children. Many of the warriors didn’t even have weapons, others clutched only sticks.
Suetonius selected his spot carefully, his men taking position in a narrow gorge with a forest at their backs, preventing an attack from the rear.
Fifty years after the battle, Roman historian Tacitus wrote down Boudica’s rousing speech to her followers:
“But now it is not as a woman descended from noble ancestry, but as one of the people that I am avenging lost freedom, my scourged body, the outraged chastity of my daughters.
“Roman lust has gone so far that our very persons, nor even age or virginity, are left unpolluted. But heaven is on the side of a righteous vengeance.”
She concluded: “If you weigh well the strength of the armies and the cause of the war, you will see in this battle you must conquer or die. This is a woman’s resolve. As for men, they may live and be slaves.”
She expected a walk-over and the large crowd of spectators had no doubt of a Celtic victory. But Suetonius urged his men that it wasn’t just a numbers game. According to Tacitus, he told his legionaries: “Ignore the racket made by these savages. There are more women than men in their ranks.
“They are not soldiers, they are not even properly equipped. Stick together. Throw the javelins, then push forward. Knock them down with your shields and finish them off with your swords. Forget about plunder – just win and you’ll have everything.”
Suetonius’ men followed his instructions to the letter. At close quarters, their armour and superior weapons proved too much – and they didn’t forget the atrocities of Camulodunum and Londinium. They killed women, children and even the animals.
Tacitus relates 80,000 Britons were butchered, compared to just 400 Romans.
Boudicca’s fate is unclear. Tacitus wrote that she poisoned herself; Cassius Dio claims she died of disease.
Archaeologists have long hunted for her burial site – and some believe the Iceni queen’s bones may even lie in Kings Norton, on the south western edge of Birmingham.
The are upon which a McDonald’s now sits, in Parsons Hill, fits many of the facts known about the Battle of Watling Street.
It was hilly with mature woodland, an ideal tactical mixture for a badly outnumbered Roman general.
It was also on the route to Metchley, the Roman fort which now lies beneath the old QE hospital and University of Birmingham in Edgbaston.
But Dr Mike Heyworth, director of the Council for British Archaeology, stressed that, when it comes to Boudicca’s final resting place, there’s no shortage of contenders.
There are more than 2,000 archaeological voluntary groups in the UK, with around 215,000 members.
Dr Heyworth said that practically anyone could stumble upon her remains if they were dedicated enough.
“It’s one of the few fields where anyone can make a significant contribution with almost no background,” he confided.