Boudica was a member of the Iceni tribe, which was a Celtic tribe in Roman Britain in the first century A.D. Boudica was married to Prasutagus, the king of the Iceni, who were allied with the Romans. Prasutagus died in 60 A.D. leaving no male heirs, but leaving his wife Boudica with the regency on behalf of his two daughters. He left part of his lands and personal possessions to the Emperor, and part to his wife in trust for his daughters. The local Roman government ignored the will of Prasutagus and seized all of his estate and the total of his treasure. Not only that, but Boudica, the new Queen of the Iceni, was flogged, and her daughters were raped.
The Iceni rose in revolt, joined by other tribes who would no longer tolerate Roman rule. Boudica adressed her tribe as they prepared for war. The following speech is attributed to her by Tacitus, a Roman historian. "But now, it is not as a woman descended from noble ancestry, but as one of the people that I am avenging lost freedom, my scourged body, the outraged chastity of my daughters. Roman lust has gone so far that not our very persons, nor even age or virginity, are left unpolluted. But heaven is on the side of righteous vengeance; a legion which has dared to fight has perished; the rest are hiding themselves in their camp, or are thinking anxiously of flight. They will not sustain even the din and the shout of so many thousands, much less our charge and our blows. If you weigh well the strength of the armies, and the causes of the war, you will see that in this battle you must conquer or die. This is a woman's resolve; as for the men, they may live and be slaves." Then she released a hare from the folds of her dress as a divination. The hare was judged to have run in an auspicious direction. Boudica prayed to a goddess called Andraste, then began her revolt.
The Iceni swept down upon Camulodunum with a host of 120,000 in a sudden and horrifying attack. The town was inhabited by Roman veterans who had received grants of land, and was poorly defended. The town had no walls, and was easily overrrun, then looted and burned. Though reinforcements were sent for by the Romans, only two hundred men were sent, and the surviving men, women and children perished when the temple into which they had retreated was battered down and fired. Boudica then turned her warriors towards London.
The Roman commander Petilius Cerialis set out to Camulodunum with a force of about three thousand men in order to stop the revolting force. These men were ambushed by a seperate rebel striking force lying in wait, and were cut to pieces. The Roman Governor, Suetonius, who had been fighting in the west of Britain, finally reached Londinium. The town was not fortified, and, with the judgment that it could not be defended, Suetonius decided to abandon it to the enemy. The rebellious Britons sacked the city with the same ferocity as they had destroyed Camuludonum, and set fire to it as well. This fire was so fierce that archaeologists have discovered a layer of scorched red earth beneath the foundations of modern London.
The third city to be sacked by the Britons was the town of Verulamium, also undefended. The warriors swooped down on it with the same results as their previous attacks. The town was looted and burned, its inhabitants slaughtered. Many of the citizens, however, had already fled to safety. Meanwhile Suetonius has retreated to the West Midlands of Britain, and regrouped his scattered forces. Suetonius final army was estimated to be one of fifteen thousand men, to be pitched against Boudica's 230,000 in final battle. Suetonius' men however, were trained and disciplined, while the Briton forces were more comfortable with the wildness and ferocity of Celtic battle. Many of them were farmers and they wore no armor of any sort. Suetonius chose his position, and waited for the Britons to arrive.
The Britons arrived on the scene, bringing wagons full of their women and children, who were lined up at the back of the battlefield. The Britons attacked and were met by the disciplined and better equipped Romans. They found themselves pinned between the Roman soldiers and the wagons. In this death-trap, they were slaughtered.
Boudica died, not on the battlefield where she had fought from her chariot, but after the battle, and by her own hand. She poisoned herself and her daughters, ensuring that they would not again fall into the hands of the Romans.
The humiliating destruction of three Roman cities was avenged quickly. These losses were all the more painful to the Romans because the leader of the revolt was a woman. Boudica, the Queen of the Iceni had successfully raised a Briton rebellion and had seriously afflicted the occupying Romans before finally falling to the superior Roman training and strategy.
This page last updated 3/8/00
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