In AD 61, during the short-lived rebellion by Queen Boudica of the Iceni, the province of Britannia was caught in the grip of terror as barbarians besieged isolated Roman forces.
Roman Testudi Ferrei Overrun Iceni RebelsThe governor, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, had left for the campaigning season in Wales to settle more territory valuable to the Roman Empire with its many coal mines. Coal had become an invaluable resource to the Romans since the invention of practical steam engines late in the rule of Caesar Augustus. Much of Rome now rested under blackish-green clouds of progress as foundries and factories churned out ever-improving materials.
Progress did not come without cost, however, and the Roman Empire spent much of its time furthering conquest to ensure a supply of slaves and raw materials for the industrial behemoth. Much of the Scipio Academy's research into engineering sought to aid in conquest (as well as to receive handsome rewards from the emperors) by improving the Empire's war machine. Furthered metallurgical science aided in better armor and weapons while Archimedes' calculus helped the effectiveness of artillery.
Perhaps the greatest leap forward would be the application of a portable steam engine to carts, increasing the speed and comfort of travel by a half-breed Greek-Egyptian from Alexandria named Hero. He designed wonders for temples while schooling in Alexandria and soon left for Rome, where he would introduce his steam engine during the reign of Claudius. With an imperial grant, he worked on improving his engine and applying it to military service. He combined the steam-powered carts used for supply convoys and the testudo (tortoise) formation to create a shield-covered, self-powered armored car from which soldiers might attack without fear of reprisal. A pair of the devices were dispatched along with a cohort of the IX Legion commanded by Quintus Petillius Cerialis and were instrumental in wiping out the Iceni siege at Camulodunum. The belching smoke, grinding iron, and roaring furnace, along with the monstrous ornaments, sent barbarian soldiers fleeing in panic, many of them being run down by the front claws and heavy wooden wheels of the testudo ferreus.
In reality, the dispatch from the IX Legion attempting to relieve Camulodunum was nearly wiped out by the Iceni with only some of the cavalry managing to escape. The Briton revolt would eventually be put down after much bloodshed on both sides. Roman technological advancement with weapons such as the pila throwing spear would be instrumental in achieving an upper hand.