Post by Joanna on Jul 10, 2015 3:54:24 GMT -5
Boudicca: Warrior Queen of the Celts
Boudicca (also spelled Boudica and Boudicea) was the queen of the Iceni, a Celtic tribe based in modern day Norfolk, in eastern England. In AD 60, she led a revolt against the Romans that resulted in the destruction of two (possibly three) Roman settlements and almost drove the empire off the island. Much of what we know about her comes from two Roman writers, Publius Cornelius Tacitus (AD 56-117) and Cassius Dio (AD 150-235).
The revolt began after the death of her husband, Prasutagus, around AD 60. Tacitus writes that the Romans seized Iceni property, flogged Boudicca and raped her two daughters. Incensed, she raised an army and led a rebellion against the Romans which, after initial success, was crushed at the Battle of Watling Street.
For a society as patriarchal as imperial Rome, the fact a woman had succeeded in killing so many Romans was disconcerting to say the least. “Two cities were sacked, eighty thousand of the Romans and their allies perished, and the island was lost to Rome. Moreover, all this ruin was brought upon the Romans by a woman, a fact which in itself caused them the greatest shame,” wrote Dio.
The only physical description of Boudicca that survives comes from Dio and even though it may not be entirely accurate, it leaves readers with the impression that Boudicca was a determined war leader. “In stature she was very tall, in appearance most terrifying, in the glance of her eye most fierce, and her voice was harsh; a great mass of the tawniest hair fell to her hips; around her neck was a large golden necklace; and she wore a tunic of divers colors over which a thick mantle was fastened with a brooch. This was her invariable attire ...” Dio recorded, also noting that she clutched a spear when she spoke to her people. Dio (unlike Tacitus) doesn’t mention the flogging of Boudicca, or the rape of her daughters, and claims the uprising was over a Roman loan.
The Romans and the Iceni. The Roman Empire, under Emperor Claudius, launched a successful invasion of Britain in AD 43 with an army consisting of approximately 40,000 men. Military campaigns had been launched by earlier Roman leaders against the Brits – one of which was led by notably led by Julius Caesar – but this time. the Romans were here to stay. Claudius’ force didn’t attempt to defeat every British tribe. Several leaders offered to make their kingdoms “client-states” of Rome, which basically meant that as long as their leaders lived, and did Rome’s bidding when requested, they could maintain some level of sovereignty within the Empire. The Iceni were one of the tribes that agreed to this arrangement and remained a client state of Rome until the death of Prasutagus.
The Iceni, at the time of the Roman invasion, were a wealthy people – as evidenced by hoards of precious metals that have been found – whose leaders had been minting coins for almost a century. Some of the earliest Iceni coins depict an image of what Miranda Aldhouse-Green, a Cardiff University professor, calls a “snapping wolf” (above), a design that may offer some insight into the psyche of these people. The “wolf is both a wild creature, a potential enemy of humans and lives and hunts in packs; it therefore may have acted as a symbol of independent solidarity,” she writes in her book, Boudica Britannia: Rebel, War-Leader and Queen. She also notes that the Iceni people continued making ceramics by hand, even though they had access to the potter’s wheel.
But even before Boudicca, the Iceni’s client-state relationship with Rome was problematic. In AD 47, a short-lived unsuccessful revolt was launched by the Iceni against Rome. This rebellion may have led to the elevation of Prasutagus to leader of the tribe and perhaps the Romans considered him a leader who could keep his people in line. Aldhouse-Green notes that the design of the coins minted by Prasutagus appear to strike a balance between the tribe’s allegiance to Rome and a degree of independence, as if Prasutagus were attempting to walk a fine line to keep both sides satisfied. The coins “are imitations of early Neronian issues and their obverse depicts a high-relief portrait that closely resembles Nero himself,” she writes, adding that “the reverse redresses the cultural balance and bear a very un-Roman design of a fantastic horse, a motif common to a range of tribal rulers’ coinage.” In his will, Prasutagus tried to strike a balance between the Iceni and Romans, leaving his kingdom to his two daughters and Nero, the Roman Emperor. The exclusion of Boudicca has led historians to speculate that, even when her husband was alive, the Iceni queen held strong anti-Roman views. However, this client-state arrangement came crashing down upon the death of Prasutagus, with the Romans subjecting the Iceni, Boudicca and her daughters to the harshest treatment. According to Tactius, Prasutagus’ “kingdom was plundered by centurions, his house by slaves, as if they were the spoils of war. First, his wife Boudicea was scourged, and his daughters outraged. All the chief men of the Iceni, as if Rome had received the whole country as a gift, were stripped of their ancestral possessions, and the king's relatives were made slaves....”
Initial success. With her kingdom’s independence lost, her daughters raped and herself having been personally flogged, Boudicca had rebelled. She raised an army and gained the support of the Trinovantes, another aggrieved tribe. She focused her wrath on the Roman settlements of Camulodunum (modern-day Colchester) and Londinium (London), burning both of to the ground. (Archaeologists have found evidence of the fires her forces lit.) “At Camulodunum and Londinium, the results of the Boudican revolt may be compared, on a smaller scale, with those of the volcanic eruptions that smothered Pompeii and Herculaneum,” write researchers Richard Hingley and Christina Unwin in Boudica: Iron Age Warrior Queen. The towns were destroyed and Tacitus claims Boudicca also destroyed the town of Verulamium, although the archaeological evidence for this is less clear. Boudicca’s revolt benefit from the fact that at the time of her rebellion, much of the Roman army in Britain was on the Isle of Anglesey destroying a Druid site at Mona. This meant that, for a while, the rebels would encounter only small numbers of Roman soldiers. Following her successes, Dio records that Boudicca’s army had swelled to 230,000 – likely an exaggeration.
Battle of Watling Street. Professor David Mattingly of the University of Leicester writes that the Roman commander on the island, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, amassed what forces he could, numbering perhaps 10,000 men and engaged Boudicca and her warriors somewhere near Watling Street, an ancient road on the island. Although heavily outnumbered, Paulinus had several advantages. His legionnaires were well-trained, equipped and probably battle hardened, while Boudicca’s forces were anything but. In “a fast-moving rebellion there was neither time to fabricate large numbers of arms, nor, evidently, was there the opportunity for rebel forces to pillage major stockpiles of Roman weaponry,” Mattingly writes in An Imperial Possession: Britain in the Roman Empire. While a “core” of Boudica’s army was properly armed “many of the rebels will have had no body armor and will have been provided with makeshift weapons, such as agricultural tools,” he continued.
Additionally, while scholars aren’t certain of the precise location where Rome and the rebels engaged in battle, we know from Tacitus that it was in a “narrow defile” with a forest at the rear. This, of course, meant that Boudicca could not bring her superior numbers to bear on the Roman forces. Tacitus also notes that Boudicca made a tactical mistake in placing her supply wagons close to the front lines, blocking her followers when they were forced to retreat. The Roman legions started the battle by launching spears at the British. These spears would have killed some Brits and hit the shields of others, possibly becoming embedded and rendering the shields useless. Then the Romans “rushed out in a wedge-like column. Similar was the onset of the auxiliaries, while the cavalry with extended lances broke through all who offered a strong resistance.” The rebels attempted to flee but “flight proved difficult, because the surrounding wagons had blocked retreat,” Tacitus wrote. The Romans massacred everyone possible, even going so far as to kill the animals the rebels used to move their supplies.
When the battle was over, Tacitus claimed Boudicca took poison to avoid capture, while Dio said she died of illness (possibly from a wound). According to Mattingly, Paulinus then “set about re-subjugating the implicated areas by ‘fire and sword’ and this extended not only to the most hostile peoples, but also even to those who had simply wavered in their loyalty.” Britain would remain part of the Roman Empire until the 5th century AD when the western half of the empire collapsed.
Boudicca today. While Boudicca’s rebellion failed to drive the Romans out of Britain, the Iceni queen has become something of a modern-day heroine. “Boudicca has become an icon of British national history and is now a symbol not only of British freedom but also of women’s power,” writes University of Newcastle researcher Marguerite Johnson in Boudicca. “She has been painted and sculpted; she has ‘starred’ in films and has been the protagonist of numerous books, both of an academic and fictional nature.”
In 1902, not long after the death of Queen Victoria, who was the longest reigning monarch in British history, a statue of Boudicca was unveiled next to London’s Westminster Bridge. Standing in her war chariot, clutching a spear, the sculpture depicts the Iceni queen ready to take on the might of Rome.
Source: Owen Jarus, LiveScience, and University of Chicago.