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Friday, 29 April 2011

Giving You Boadicea (Boudicca - British Warrior Queen of Iceni)


Picture from a primary school project.
I think Queen Boadicea would have
looked more like this. We have great mythical
statues and wonderful evoking paintings of
her. But I think this school project picture is
very good.
Queen Boadicea is sometimes known as Boudicca or Budduca. She has a lot of different pronunciations and her name is spelt in many ways. For this blog, she is Boadicea because I like that spelling best. 


Queen Boadicea conjures up sorts of imaginations to British people. We are very proud of the myth that is Boadicea and are fascinated that she led a revolt against the might of the Roman Empire. She almost drove the Romans off of the island too, but for one final rallying stand of a Roman general in the Midlands of the country. The harsh reality of her rebellion was that many people would brutally die before her forces were put down and the retribution would also be colossal.

It is thought that Boadicea was born in the A.D. 20s decade - what exact year is not known, though some Roman historians think it was A.D. 25. This is most likely wrong but close. This would have made Queen Boadicea around late 30s or touching 40 at the time of A.D. 61 when she led the Icenian and other British tribes against Roman occupation of Britain.


This was at the time of Emperor Nero and south Britain had been under Roman occupation for around 20 years. There had been a pact between the Iceni lands (today's Norfolk and Suffolk in South East England) and the Roman occupying forces. The Icenian King Prasutagus had agreed on some sort of pact that he could rule over his Iceni people without Roman interference.

It is believed that Prasutagus would have paid some sort of levy to the Roman governors and would have been forced to allow direct Roman rule upon his death. This was usual Roman law when occupying new territory. Some historians even go as far as to suggest he would have used Iceni slaves as a form of payment to maintain control within his kingdom. Also, it is believed that he enjoyed borrowing money from the neighbouring Romans in the occupied Trinovantian kingdom (today's county of Essex in South East England.)

When he died, he left half of the kingdom to Rome and the other half to his wife Boadicea. He had two daughters by his wife and he was believed to have been some years her senior. The debt he left behind was due payment and the Romans decreed that the Iceni were liable.

The Romans decided to enforce their own law and annexed all of the Icenian lands, confiscating property from prominent chieftains. Boadicea tried to protest but the Romans had her publicly flogged and her two daughters raped before her. This was to show Icenians that Rome, well and truly ruled over them.

At the same time the Roman Governor of Britain named Gaius Suetonius Paulinus led an expedition of soldiers to the island of Mona (today's Anglesey in North Wales.) There was a sacred Druid gathering on the island. The Romans attacked the gathering and massacred many of the Druids in a wooded area of the island.

Back in the Iceni lands Boadicea and her subjects were furious at what had been done to them by the Romans. It is not known if the Massacre of Druids on Mona further fuelled the Rebellion about to take place, but Boadicea and the Iceni took advantage of Paulinus' absence. Boadicea seemed to take on powers almost akin to divinity among her Iceni and neighbouring British tribes.


One of the Roman historians (Tacticus) suggests that she pulled a hare from her clothing and performed a ritual in front of an audience of chieftains. This involved watching where the hare ran and from this they were said to have read favourable omens. Of course, this is almost certainly not true, but it would not hurt to assume she had presented herself in some divine form to her audience. Divine people are more easily followed and believed in.  

In the occupied Celtic kingdom of Trinovantian, the capital had been overtaking by Roman veteran soldiers who were treating the local Trinovi with contempt. They had built a temple dedicated to the late Emperor Claudius who had originally conquered them. The Trinovi had been forced to pay for the building of this temple in the settlement of Camuldunum (today's Colchester, Essex.)


Boadicea and her alliance of other tribes including the Trinovi struck with a vast army of Celts, easily breaching Camuldunum's defences. They ran throughout the streets of the settlement - allowing no quarter to any of the Roman veterans who lived there - many had families, but this was to no avail; women and children were horrifically put to the sword - no Roman or anyone loyal to them was spared. A few barricaded themselves in the huge temple dedicated to the late Claudius. They tried to hold out - the last remnant of Roman veterans, and the surviving women and children. Their fate was to be the same as those who had fallen before them in the burning bloodstained streets, where Roman settlers had been put on gibbets and nailed upon crosses. Roman women were impaled on spikes and had their breasts cut off. The ghastly affair was a frenzied orgy of violence by the Britons towards the Roman occupiers and the few Roman survivors in the temple would have a further two days to dwell upon the fact. Eventually, the Celts piled wood and other combustibles about the temple and set light to the building with the occupants still inside. It was a hideous and diabolical slaughter by any standard, but the flames of rebellion had been ignited by the humiliating whipping and raping of a Queen and her daughters. The Romans would pay dearly for this.

Word had got to a Roman garrison commanded by Quintus Petillius Cerialis. He marched his IX Legion towards Camulodunum with the notion of rescue, but his Legion was ambushed by Iceni and their allies. The Roman soldiers were overwhelmed as they marched through a forest. The Celtic tribesmen were able to rush them at close quarters and slaughtered most of the foot soldiers before they could organise into their tried and trusted formations. Only the commander and a small group of cavalry managed to escape. This battle is believed to have happened in an area of today's Great Wratting, Suffolk. There was no interest in prisoners just total annihilation of any living person that was Roman or allied to them. The slaughter was immense and unyielding.

Next, the vast Celtic alliance under Queen Boadicea marched on Londinium (today's London.) This was a comparatively new settlement that had grown in the past twenty years of Roman occupation. It was full of merchants and other traders - a hive of activity.


The Roman Governor of Britain was marching his men back from North Wales and had tried to gather other armies to his cause. He managed to acquire a force of 10,000 soldiers but he knew this was not enough to combat or defend Londinium (London.) He sent word to evacuate the settlement. Those that were foolish enough to remain felt the anger of Boadicea's forces. Once again there was death and slaughter of all. Again none were spared and the unfortunate Romans and those who served them were put to death in another frenzied ritual of slaughter. Children and women again included in the orgy of killing. The entire settlement was burnt to the ground as the Celt's fury was brought to bare. Even to this day when archaeologists dig up London or Colchester, there is a layer of ash from the time of this terrible upheaval.


Boadicea then went to the next settlement of Verulamium (today's St Albans) Here she exacted further revenge on the people at this settlement - crucifixion, gibbet hangings, impaling and burning. There was no mercy shown at any time to any Roman that crossed the rebellious Briton's path. Traitors who had aided the Romans - servants and friends etc were also dispatched in the same brutal way. 

Those who did abandon London were hurriedly making for the south coast to flee into Gaul (today's France.) By this time Boadicea had a following of around 200,000 people. Not all of these were fighters - large numbers were women and children following the menfolk - a gigantic caravan of Celts, hell bent on the slaughter of anything Roman. Britons across the country were flocking to her cause. Word came of the Roman Governor Gaius Suetonius Paulinus and his 10,000 soldiers. Boadicea decided to confront the Roman Governor of Britain and this is where she and her chieftains made their colossal mistake.

In the Midlands of Britain at a destination not known exactly, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus was able to choose his ground. Some people believe it was near to today's city of Leicester, but no exact location can be sure. The Roman Governor General was able to choose a gully entrance to form his army. This offered his flanks natural geographical protection. He then arranged his troops in a line of triangular block formations - a line of arrowhead shapes.

When Boadicea and her followers arrived they formed a vast arc of waggons so that the many thousands of women and children who followed the Celtic army could watch the battle. The British had such superior numbers that they were confident of fighting the Romans in open formation. It was confidence that was very ill deserved.

As the Britons attacked, the Roman formations held firm and the multitude of British warriors were caught - locked by their numbers in the triangular formations of the Roman soldiers. The Romans used their shield walls to contain the squashed Britons who were being pushed by their own forces from behind. The Romans then began their tried and trusted methods of stabbing through and over their large shields - killing Britons with every stab and thrust of their short swords.

In a short time, the Britons broke rank and began to flee. Hordes had been killed during the crush. Once the Britons started to flee, the Roman horsemen were let loose to complete the route. It fell upon the encampment of women and children and the slaughter was brought upon all who were before the horsemen. This time, British women and children felt the same anger and vengeance as the Romans had done in Camulodunum, Londinium, and Verulamium.

Many of the chieftains fell and it is believed that Boadicea, fearing capture, decided to poison herself. The Britons would have known what Romans did to conquered and defeated Celts. Many would have known the fate of Gaul's Vercingetorix during the time of Julius Ceaser.

As the Britons had done to Roman settlers, so too, did Gaius Suetonius allow his Roman soldiers to exact equal revenge. The rebellion was ruthlessly put down. A few years later Rome relieved Suetonius, Governor General of Britain, from his post and put in a more lenient Governor of Roman Britain.


There is the romantic view of Boadicea which often over shadows the desperate and terrible circumstance that brought about the Iceni rebellion of 60-61 AD. It is more likely that the Iceni warrior queen looked as the picture at the beginning depicts, though many of us see her in more desirable and romantic image - perhaps as the fictitious picture below might depict.







Other Roman themes on Retro Brit:

Roman Ninth Legion Gets Mauled by Boadicea's Iceni
http://thelastdaysofthunderchild.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/boudicca-iceni-warrior-queen-massacres.html
http://thelastdaysofthunderchild.blogspot.com/2011/07/blog-post.html

Read of another British Celtic queen: Cartimandua of Brigantes.
 http://thelastdaysofthunderchild.blogspot.com/2011/05/cartimandua-treacherous-queen-of.html

The Roman who defeated Boadicea:
http://thelastdaysofthunderchild.blogspot.com/2011/07/boadiceas-nemesis-gaius-suetonius.html

Cleopatra
http://thelastdaysofthunderchild.blogspot.com/2011/09/cleopatra-last-of-pharaoh-of-egypt.html

Hypatia
http://thelastdaysofthunderchild.blogspot.com/2011/09/hypatia-of-alexandria.html


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