Wednesday, October 5, 2011


Thomas Thornycroft Statue of Queen Boadicea in Westminster, London
Hello My Friend and Welcome.

Movies often portray the Romans as an invincible power with absolute control that subjected the peoples of their empire with an iron hand. This, of course, is far from the truth. Revolts and uprisings where constantly breaking out from East to West. One of the greatest, and most successful, was lead by a woman named Boadicea.

That was the name given to her by the Roman historian Tacitus, although to Dio Cassius she was Buduica. Whether Boudicca, Boadicea, or Buduica; it would have been the Latinized version of her Brythonic Celtic name, and would probably have been something similar to the name under which she is known in present day Welsh Byddyg, Victory, or a variant of Boudigga, the Celtic Goddess of Victory.

Written histories of Boadicea, and of early Britain in general, are found in two classical manuscripts, which were most likely derived from the same original source. The historian Tacitus wrote his history only fifty years after the events of A.D. 60, and it was said that his father-in-law Agricola was able to give an eyewitness account of the rebellion. Dio Cassius also gave his account of the events. Although both are biased accounts, they provide the basic chronological framework of early Roman Britain. Attempts to turn to archaeological discoveries to help pinpoint the exact events has been unsuccessful, since much of the data was destroyed during pillaging and a significant amount of the land has never been excavated.

The Iceni were a Celtic tribe located in an area of southern Britain known as East Anglia. Geographically they were isolated; to the north and east the boundary was the sea and the remainder was covered in dense forest, making invasion from foreigners nearly impossible. The people were of mixed origins. There had been an influx of people from the Hallstat culture, bringing with them a knowledge of iron and pottery, which merged with the skills of those already present from the late Bronze Age.

Sometime between A.D. 43 and A.D. 45, Boadicea was married to Prasutagus, King of the Iceni. It has been said that Boadicea was not of Iceni origin since outside marriages were quite common among the ruling class. It was not unusual for women held positions of prestige and power, in the upper levels of Celtic society. Many took prominent roles in political, religious, and artistic life. Women also owned land, could choose their spouses and initiate divorce.

The Iceni had remained passive and watched while the Roman Emperor Claudius and his army conquered large parts of Britain in A.D. 43. Since Claudius was founding strong military colonies all over the island, the Iceni must have realized that they couldn't remain independent of Roman domination forever. In an attempt to avoid conflict, King Prasutagus went to the city of Camulodunum and agreed to become a client-king of Rome. This required him to submit to the Roman ruling class, but it also enabled his tribe and their culture to remain relatively unfettered.

This system worked well for Prasutagus and his subjects until his death. In his last testament, Prasutagus left his kingdom to be shared equally by his two daughters and the new Roman emperor, Nero. He apparently believed that this would buy off the Roman Emperor and thereby ensure tranquility for his family and kingdom. The Romans, however, did not grant right of succession to all client kings. What, if any, promises made to the leader of the Iceni are lost to history. The situation was further complicated by the fact that Roman law did not allow royal inheritance to be passed to daughters, and co-ownership of a kingdom with a woman was unacceptable according to Roman standards.
A Wintery View of the Thornycroft Statue
Kinsmen of the royal house were enslaved. Boadicea was whipped and forced to witness the public rape and torture of her two daughters, who were believed to have been roughly 12 years old at the time. The Romans clearly sought to break the proud Iceni spirit; however, rather than breaking their spirits, their excesses rallied the people behind their Queen.

Meanwhile, the Romans were experiencing difficulty in the northeast attempting to take the headquarters of Druidism on the Isle of Mona. They feared the Druids because they were apparently the force behind previous rebellions against Caesar. This territory had become the geographical center for anti-Roman and pro-Briton activities.

Though by Roman law Boadicea had no real claim to succession after her husband's death, her people regarded her as their natural leader, and neighboring tribes willingly supported any anti-Roman uprising. The indigenous people had suffered under Roman taxation for years and many were also driven off their own land and enslaved. Sometime before 60 AD, the Temple of Claudius was erected in Colchester to commemorate the life of the Roman emperor who had destroyed the Celtic culture. It immediately became an object of strong hatred by the British tribes and a rallying point. Neighboring tribes quickly joined Boadicea's rebellion. She's said to have gathered between 100,000 and 200,000 people against the Romans. They captured and destroyed the Roman cities of Camulodunum and Colchester then marched on the growing trade center of Londinium, which they also sacked and burned.
A Stained Glass Rendering of Boudicea at the
Colchester Town Hall
The written accounts portray Boadicea and her followers in battle in savage terms, a typical ploy of Roman military writing which portrays the enemy as uncivilized animals as opposed to Roman law, order, and civilization. Regardless, the three principle cities of the province had been captured and their inhabitants brutally massacred. However, Boadicea had an increasingly difficult time keeping order among her troops after these victories with their accompanying looting and burning.

No one is sure exactly when and where the final confrontation took place. This is how Tacitus describes the final battle: The Britons were used to the leadership of women, but she came  before them not as a queen of a distinguished line, but as an ordinary woman, her body cut by the lash avenging the loss of her liberty, and the outrages imposed on her daughters.

He quotes Boadicea as rallying the troops by saying, “The gods were on our side in our quest for vengeance, one legion had already perished, the others are cowering in their forts to escape. They could never face the roar of our thousands, least of all our charge and hand to hand fighting. When the Romans realize their small force and the justice of our cause, they will know it is victory or death. This is my resolve, as a woman: follow me or submit to the Roman yoke.”

The rebel army was immense, but the Romans were at an advantage for the first time with more armor and shorter swords. The Celts had longer slashing swords and little or no armor. Not intimidated by the barbaric chaos, the Roman army advanced rapidly into the Celtic mass. The Roman swords proved to be deadly at close quarters, while the Celts were crushed so close together their longer weapons were rendered useless. Under the command of Seutonius, the Romans massacred the Celts. A few months later fire and the Roman sword ravaged the previously untouched Iceni territory.

It was reported that Boadicea survived the battle. Tacitus wrote that she took poison and thus died by her own hand, Cassius Dio tells us she fell sick and died. Sickness caused by poison? No matter, it stands to reason that she did not want to fall into the hands of the Romans again. Did her daughters die with her? They were never mentioned again. Their names, as well as their fate, are another one of the mysteries of history.

Boadicea's story appears to have ended with her death and burial in an unknown grave. Her name faded from memory, her heroic deeds were forgotten until the 14th Century, when Tacitus' manuscripts were discovered in a monastery library. Since then, Boadicea's rebellion has had an established and monumental place in British history. Over time she has come to be seen not so much as a queen, but a mother, wife, and warrior defending her country.

Alex Kingston as Boadicea in the movie Warrior Queen
Boadicea has been the subject of two feature films, the 1928 film Boadicea, where she was portrayed by Phyllis Neilson-Terry, and 2003's Boudica — released as Warrior Queen in the US, a UK TV film starring Alex Kingston as Boudica. She has also been the subject of a 1978 British TV series, Warrior Queen, starring Siân Phillips as Boudica.

Until next time, we wish you Peace and Blessings.

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