Friday 6 September 2019

Boudica (Boadicea) Britain AD 60

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Few people don’t know the story of Boudica.
Thornycroft 'Boadicea and her daughters'
Her husband was Prasutagus the long reining King of the Iceni, a tribe of Britons, and he died in 60 AD ‘at a great age’. He left his kingdom jointly to his daughters and to the Roman Emperor (Nero). His will was ignored, a legion of Roman soldiers marched into the territory. The family’s land, property, and wealth were confiscated, buildings looted and members of the household taken as slaves. A major part of the proceeds was going directly into the pocket of the ‘procurator’ (local head tax collector), Catus Decianus. Catus also claimed grants and gifts from Emperor Claudius were (unsolicited) loans and had to be repaid at ruinous levels of interest. He had a Legion to back up his demands. The local Roman administration was plundering their allies to make themselves wealthy.
When Boadicea protested, she was flogged and her pubescent daughters were gang raped. What happened next will live forever in history books and inspire men and women thirsting for justice (or maybe vengeance) from all over the world.
Some Background
Did the Atlantic and the Channel isolate the British Isles?
In the modern world we are used to easy land transport. Britain had a few 'trackways' but oceans and waterways were the transport and communication highways. The first evidence of cross channel trade dates to Mesolithic times (see here) .  Nor was it a barrier to people movement. We don’t know whether the arrival of the Neolithic Revolution 4000 BC involved large scale people movement, but the arrival of the warlike Beaker People certainly did (see here) .  They were a maritime people (that later spread over land). They are thought to have originated from Portugal in the very late Neolithic period and by the time they reached Britain they brought copper and gold metallurgy then bronze working soon after. It was they that did most of the stone work at Stonehenge. They spread out over the European Atlantic as far as Denmark and Sweden and reached as far as Italy, Sardinia and Sicily in the Mediterranean If the British Islands and the nearby continent didn't have a thriving maritime culture before, it certainly did now.
The Maritime Culture of the Atlantic
Throughout the Bronze Age and onwards into Celtic times Southern England, Ireland, north-western France, and western Iberia were the major centres of a single culture  with regular contact in the Mediterranean and as far as Scandinavia (see here). Various small vessels carried goods upstream to river ports some of which would not be commercially accessible today (note the coastline and rivers have changed somewhat since this time as well). A good example of such small boats is the then popular coracle which could be built with shallower drafts for small shallow rivers and deeper drafts for bigger waterways.
Celtic Britons in their turn traded with Phoenician, Carthaginian and Etruscan traders (and/or colonies) especially on the Southern European coast. Before the Romans, it was the dozen or so Greek colonies centred on Marseilles (from 500 BC) that was dominant in trade and sophisticated culture in the region.
The urban Britons developed a thirst for Italian wines and Roman and Greek goods in exchange for Brittonic handicrafts, metal, hunting dogs etc.
The Celts initially used Greek designs and Greek script for their coins (500 BC onwards). The Britons and Celts in Gaul (and Iberia) had land holdings and alliances on both sides of the channel. Help from the Britons was one of the things Julius Caesar complained about in his Gallic Wars.
There were probably two economies in Celtic Britain and similar variations in culture. In the fertile lowlands, they built large fortified towns near trade and transport and they became populous, very wealthy and militarily powerful, especially nearer the coast. In the mountains regions agriculture was more pastoral.
Pre-Roman coin with Roman script
Towns near trading ports eagerly incorporated culture from the continent. Some spoke Greek and Latin, some nobles had a Roman education, and their Kings sent ambassadors to Rome.  Further away  from these centres there were more hill forts and druids (whose power was declining in part due to Roman distaste for them and persecution of them on the continent).
In the 98 years after Julius Caesar, Roman influence across the channel only worked through trade, diplomacy and friendships and yet it was considerable. The local coins began having Roman themes and Roman script. Most of the nobles were admirers of Roman culture (until the invasion). Strabo's Geography, written during this period, suggested that Britain paid more in customs and duties than could be raised by taxation if the island were ever conquered.
Rome and the Plunder Economy:
But the Roman Republic and the early Empire was in some ways a ‘plunder economy’.
 Of course, there is more than one way to plunder a conquered people than use soldiers to do it. The worst excesses of the Roman tax collectors (tax farming) had been curtailed, but it was still perfectly acceptable for treasury officials to put any surplus into their own pockets as long as Rome got her share.
Watling St, Boudica traveled part of this before meeting her defeat (Wiki)
It could cost a great deal (bribes, gifts etc) to be elected to responsible positions. Julius Caesar launched his Gallic Wars not only to boost his political standing but also to pay off his huge debts.
  Rome eventually launched their invasion in AD 43. It was aimed at the Catuvellaunians, a tribe that had become the largest in the south east through conquest. The invasion was allegedly in response to their conquest of some Roman allies. It was mainly the Catuvellaunians who initially opposed the Romans. Many of the cultured Britons had pro-Roman sentiments at the time and initial resistance of some Britons was about their local  issues.
To bolster security, the Empire soon settled large numbers of veterans in outposts called coloniae. They (like all Roman citizens as opposed to non Romans) were free of income and capitation tax and were given rich farmland and housing (taken from the locals).
The first and largest coloniae in early Britannia (called in Brittonic 'Pretanī’) was Camulodunum (Colchester) which had been the foremost city in Britain, connected to the coast by the river Colne.
It had been the capital of the Trinovantes but at the time of the Roman invasion, the city had been occupied by the Catuvellaunians so found itself under Caratacus, fighting the Romans. Its inhabitants ended up with a Roman occupation and were treated very poorly.
Tacitus says "It was against the veterans that their hatred was most intense. For these new settlers  … drove people out of their houses, ejected them from their farms, called them captives and slaves ...."
Client Kings and the first revolt of the Iceni
For administrative convenience, Romans often appointed a loyal local as king over a recently defeated tribe. At their death, the territory reverted to the Empire by which time the administrative structures were in place.
The first revolt of the Iceni was in AD 47 when the then Roman governor planned to disarm all the Britons after a number of local uprisings. The Romans were already treating the Iceni as if they were a conquered people.The treatment of the Iceni at Prasutagus’s death has caused speculation as to whether he was a client King installed after the 47 revolt. Tacitus which is the best source we have clearly describes him as 'long-reigning' which suggests he was not a client king, but an ally.
Who was Boudica?
*Boudīkā is a  feminine adjective meaning "victorious". (Boudiga was also a Gaulish name for the war Goddess but the Iceni used the name Andraste for their war Goddess). As we only have Roman accounts, there is some uncertainty about her background.
It is agreed that she was of royal blood and grew up in Camulodunum (Colchester), making her a princess of the Trinovantes or maybe the Catuvellaunians who had conquered them. She was considerably younger than her husband, possibly born 30 AD and marrying him in 48 AD, making her 30 at his death. There is no mention of her husband being married before so presumably their daughters , Isolda and Siora were very young.
She was cultured and educated like much of the Celtic female nobility of the time but that didn't mean she was soft.
Celtic Nobel women often served as both warriors and rulers. Cassio Dio, the Roman historian describes her.   “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 colours over which a thick mantle was fastened with a brooch ".
There was no mention of woad or tattoos but she was certainly not a lady to be messed with!


John Opie 1761-1807
“We British are used to women commanders in war; I am descended from mighty men! But I am not fighting for my kingdom and wealth now. I am fighting as an ordinary person for my lost freedom, my bruised body, and my outraged daughters.... Consider how many of you are fighting — and why! Then you will win this battle, or perish. That is what I, a woman, plan to do!— let the men live in slavery if they will.” Boudicca. 

Boudicca took command of the Iceni and the Trinovantes AD 60 marching on Camulodunum (Colchester), now a Roman colonia and site of a temple to the former Emperor Claudius. It is a little unclear what the garrison was but the XX legion had moved out in AD 55. Some of the early fortifications had been removed as the fortress was converted into a town and the town expanded over the earlier fortifications. The defenders held out for two days in the Roman temple.
The city was methodically demolished leaving a thick red layer of burnt debris, destroyed buildings and smashed pottery and glasswork. The rubble had to be landscaped to allow rebuilding. Quintus Petillius Cerialis commanding the IX Legion attempted to relieve the city, but was ambushed, and suffered an overwhelming defeat. The infantry with him were all killed – only the commander and some of his cavalry escaped.
Other tribes rushed to join them and the new town of  Londinium was next and then Verulamim ( St Albans) the previous town of the Catuvellaunians.
 The Roman accounts suggest wholesale slaughter, torture and an orgy of ritual sacrifice especially aimed at noble women with an estimated 70,000 to 80,000 people killed. This is open to question on all sorts of levels, logistical, archeological and simple common sense. There was time to evacuate, even Camulodunum, Boudicca couldn't move quickly. It is more likely that most fled or joined the rebellion. In fact, town's folk rebelling was an additional reason given for the Romans being unable to defend Camulodunum. The archeological record, for what it is worth, doesn't support these sort of numbers. The two Roman accounts give differing versions of the torture.This is not to say that Celts did not collect the heads of enemies killed in battle nor that druids didn't engage in ritual executions, most often as punishment (see here) . The extent of atrocities that the Romans claimed was likely to be exaggerated (as was the size of her army). Would the Britons (led by a woman) really engage in mass torture of noble women in what had been her home town?
Anyway, the news of the slaughter (with a likely degree of exaggeration) spread quickly across the Roman empire. Nero was said to be considering abandoning Britannia.
Suetonius, meanwhile, regrouped his forces on Watling St, possibly in the West Midlands. Overwhelmingly outnumbered, he had chosen his battleground carefully. He selected a narrow gorge with a forest behind him, opening out into a wide plain. The gorge protected the Roman flanks from attack and funneled the enemy, while the forest would impede approach from the rear.  
He decisively defeated the Britons, killing their women, children, and even pack animals.

Catus Decianus fled to Gaul. After an inquiry, the Governor Gaius Suetonius Paulinus was relieved of command.
Boudica poisoned herself to avoid capture.
Hostile tribes, as well as those who had been neutral, were harried and suffered punitive reprisals. The pre-Roman centre of the Iceni is unknown but was presumably destroyed. A new town Venta Icenorum ('market place of the Iceni') had to be built. There was a famine, as the Britons had neglected to sow their crops for the season.
The rebellion was over but to this day her steadfastness is a symbol of British resolve in the face of tyranny.
Wiki article Click Here

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larger map Watling st