“A terrible disaster occurred in Britain. Two cities were sacked, eighty thousand of the Romans and their allies perished, and the island was” almost “lost to Rome.”
Cassius Dio’s Roman History Book LXII
This blog will be focused around the revolt of Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni Tribe in 60/61AD. The revolt took place early on in the Roman occupation of Britain, around seventeen years after the Emperor Claudius’ troops first landed on the south-east coast. I hope to give you the details of the revolt, state why I think this is such an important event and to end a look over how Boudicca has been remembered in the Modern era.
The revolt has its roots, it can be said, when the Romans arrived in Britain in 43AD. By the early 50s AD the southern half of the country was under the control of the Romans with many client kingdoms protecting these lands. One such kingdom was that of the Iceni tribe in Modern East Anglia and the King of the tribe, Prasutagus had submitted to the invaders. This system of creating client kingdoms had served Rome well in the past and was used extensively across the Empire. It also tended to benefit both parties; Rome would gain further allies and influence in an area, whilst the client kingdom would be recognised and protected by the Romans. However when the client king Prasutagus died in 60 AD, the Iceni lands were taken by the Romans and according to some sources, Boudicca was flogged and her daughters were raped. This angered the Iceni, and they quickly rose in revolt against the Romans.
Boudicca joined her tribe, the Iceni, with other tribes in south-east Britain such as the Trinovantes. They first attacked and destroyed the town of Camulodunum (Colchester), one of the main colony cities where the local British population were forced out their homes by the retiring Roman soldiers. The next city to be attacked was Londinium (London). Suetonius Paulinus, the Roman governor at the time, had hastened to London from the island of Mona to find the city un-defendable and moved his army away from the city. Tacitus’ Annals tells us that Londinium had to be abandoned even though “the tears and the weeping of the people, as they implored his aid, deter him from giving the signal of departure”. Boudicca and her followers burnt London to the ground and killed any who stood in their way: Roman or British alike. As “Boudicca was not interested in taking prisoners or ransoming them, or any of the commerce of war. The enemy was bend on slaughter, with scaffold, fire and crucifixions, like men taking what vengeance they could before retribution came down on them”
With London destroyed Boudicca’s army moved towards the city of Verulamium (modern St Alban’s) with Paulinus closely following. By this point it is to be believed that Boudicca’s army had killed over 70,000 Romans including Britons that had joined the Romans. With the city of Verulamium destroyed and with the Roman army nowhere to be found, it would seem that Boudicca revolt was successful. This was until Paulinus choose to fight the strong army of 230,000 Britons; with only 10,000 Roman soldiers (However the British figures have been exaggerated).
The final battle occurred somewhere in the midlands where the area had trapped both sides in fighting and neither could retreat. Although the Romans were heavily outnumbered, Paulinus used tactics that would win him the war; firstly he had the high ground and was able to use this to push the Britons back in what has been described as a wedge-like formation. The Britons had also been supported by their families who placed their wagons at the edge of the battlefield thus trapping the Britons in the path of the advancing Romans. The Britons were defeated and accounts say that around 80,000 Britons died in the battle. Boudicca escaped the battle though we are unsure on how she died; sources tell us that she and her daughters took poison, though no burial site has ever been found.
Although the revolt was ultimately crushed, in my eyes it was very successful. Boudicca managed to almost win back Britain from the Romans and triumphed in showing that the Romans were not unbeatable. Boudicca had become a hero of Britain and had achieved so much towards the freedom of the Britons under the Romans. Whilst Boudicca’s rebellion shows a heroic stance against tyranny, we must not forget the human costs. If we believe the sources some 150,000 people died as a result of the revolt. We must wonder was it necessary for this amount of death and both sides must take responsibility for this outcome.
Whilst the Roman historians Tacitus and Cassius Dio recorded the revolt, it wasn’t until the Victorians that Boudicca became again known to people. The Victorians, discovering the Roman writings, began painting images of Queen Boudicca and used her as an image of British identity. A bronze statue of Boudicca was finished in 1905 and is located on Westminster Bridge in London. Commissioned by Queen Victoria’s husband, the statue depicts Boudicca with her daughters at her side whilst riding a chariot. I see this as a fitting reminder of Boudicca’s rebellion, in a place where everyone can see it and wonder who this amazing queen was. Thanks.
- Terry Jones and Alan Ereira ‘Barbarians’ (2006)