The Legendary Queen Boudica and the Iceni Tribe
Whenever discussing 'British history', the first things that usually come to mind are the numerous Johns, Edwards, and Henrys that reigned Great Britain; the medieval knights in shining armor that rode war-horses; or the great Shakespearean plays that modeled today's literature. But what about the history behind 'British history?' In fact, not much is known about what went on in the Roman-Britain era(43 AD to 383 AD). Roman-Britain history is not common knowledge, not even common knowledge to the honors English Student. Therefore, it would be most informative to learn about something that had occurred in the "older" 'British history', and in this case, the Roman-Britain era. One significant, historical event that occurred during the Roman-Britain era would be the Boudican Revolt (61 AD), which was led by the notable Warrior Queen, Queen Boudica and the stalwart Celtic Tribe she controlled, the Iceni.
In the days of the Roman-Britain era, during the first century when Rome wanted to rule everything, their existed a very powerful and prosperous Celtic Tribe that lived in Eastern Britain known as the Iceni. Although the Romans were invading Britain, the Iceni Tribe remained friendly with the new invaders and became allies; this alliance lasted from 43 AD to 60 AD. To further show this alliance, at the very beginning of the Roman invasion, the Iceni even aided the Romans by informing them where they could find the Briton's chief commander's bastion; Caesar later defeated this chief commander and declared victory. The Romans figured that the best way to keep the peace with its new provinces was to bribe the elite; Britain inhabitants were offered power, wealth, office, and status just as long as they adopted the Roman ways of life. For example, the Iceni king Prasutagus became a client-king of Rome, meaning he controlled the Iceni Tribe with consent of the Romans. In return for being an autonomic tribe, the Iceni had to pay taxes to the Romans. This peace only lasted for so long.
The Iceni Tribe was the most advanced tribe that occupied Britain. They were very affluent due to the trade that had flourished between the Romans and Britons across the English Channel. "From the quality of their expensive gear and gold objects found in their territories, it may be considered that the Iceni were a wealthy people. . . a suggestion which may have some bearing on later events." (Webster 47)
Because of this, the Iceni issued their own coinage; they used this coinage to later finance the Boudican Rebellion. The Iceni tribe also had the knowledge of metal working with bronze and iron, which was used to create the fine iron swords and light chariots they possessed. This gave them the advantage of being superior in warfare then anything ever seen in Britain. The Iceni were also very flashy with what they wore to battle; although it was common for warriors of a Celtic tribe to fight naked, most were adorned with gold torques and amulets.
Like all Celtic Tribes, the Iceni were physically strong. They were also very fond of quarrelling and fighting. At times, members of Celtic tribes would fight over food, which would result in a battle to death; they indulged in sham fights and practice feints. They struck fear in any opponents they encountered in battle. This was due to the Iceni tribesmen who were in their prime of life and physique. The tribesmen were seen as terrifying barbarians to the Romans because of their tall stature and strange appearance. Some of them had large beards, large mustaches, and weird hairstyles; most fought in battle naked. Celts were indeed the tallest race in the world with their distinguishable white skin and fair hair color. They favored distracting their opponents above all; they became very formidable opponents on the battlefield with their great stature, wild cries, gesticulations, prances, clashing of arms, and blowing of trumpets. All this added and combined to one mass confusion the enemy had to face. Moreover, it was King Prasutagus and Queen Boudica that controlled these minions.
After the death of Prasutagus, his wife Queen Boudica became regent of the inherited half of the kingdom. The other half was given to Emperor Nero, as a sort of payoff to encourage the Romans not to annex any more land by force. Queen Boudica was a warrior queen highly regarded. As stated by Dio Cassius Cocceianus, "She was huge of frame, terrifying of aspect, and with a harsh voice. A great mass of bright red hair fell to her knees: she wore a twisted torque, and a tunic of many colors, over which was a thick mantle, fastened by a brooch. Now she grasped a spear, to strike fear into all who watched her." (Boudicca2 Internet) With her name, (bodacious is derived from Queen Boudica) itself meaning victory, it portrayed her later accomplishments she would achieve.
Queen Boudica represents the very touchstone of Warrior Queens. Her whole heroic story is found gallant and savage as well. "The stark tale of Boadicea's stand against the Romans 'flashes afresh to hold and horrify' with each generation." (Fraser 3) Even her caricature is strongly seen depicted everywhere—A powerful feminine figure dressed in golden armor with fiery red hair on a chariot with scythes affixed to the wheels with just an intimidating countenance seen upon her face. She led her tribe into what she believed was a woman's resolve. It would also be conclusive to say that perhaps the Romans underestimated the power of a woman in battle, since women did not qualify for citizenship. (Boudicca2 Internet) One thing that makes Boudica a notable historical figure is that she was a female. Many Celtic women held military ranks, and Boudica is one of the famous heroines that noticeably succeeded (Warrior Queens). She tolerated the many wrong doings of the Romans unto the Iceni Tribe, but the final outrage came when her husband died. The Romans took advantage of his death.
The Romans decided to take matters into their own hands, and this is how the rebellion began. With half of the Iceni kingdom regent to Boudica, and the other half to Emperor Nero (60 AD), the Romans ruled that the entire kingdom should belong to the Romans. This half-a-share of the Iceni kingdom was viewed to Emperor Nero as a personal insult, and he chose to seize the entire lot. Already fed up with the ill treatments of the Iceni tribe through heavy taxes from the Romans, Queen Boudica refused to give up the other half of the kingdom. Because of this act of resistance, Queen Boudica herself was flogged and her two daughters were raped (added insult to injury). This was added to the Romans bad treatment, land seizing, and enslavement. These altogether enraged the queen, and this passionate madness set her vengeance to finish the Romans.
Her overt vengeance, unfulfilled wrath, and hostile spirit are clearly marked during her speech to her army:
"This," she said, "is not the first time that the Britons have been led to battle by a woman. But now she did not come to boast the pride of a long line of ancestry, nor even to recover her kingdom and the plundered wealth of her family. She took the field, like the meanest among them, to assert the cause of public liberty, and to seek revenge for her body seamed with ignominious stripes, and her two daughters infamously ravished... From the din of preparation, and the shouts of the British army, the Romans, even now, shrink back with terror. What will be their case when the assault begins? Look round, and view your numbers. Behold the proud display of warlike spirits, and consider the motives for which we draw the avenging sword. On this spot we must either conquer, or die with glory. There is no alternative. Though a woman, my resolution is fixed: the men, if they please, may survive with infamy, and live in bondage." (Tacitus Chapter 35)
Queen Boudica and her Iceni tribesmen along with other Celtic tribes against Rome summoned forces together, rallied weapons, and defeated the Romans battle after battle (60 AD to 61 AD). The rebellion was financed by the silver coins that were minted. Queen Boudica sacked, conquered, and destroyed Colchester (capital), the first Roman colony in Britain. She left no one alive "...did not take prisoners they massacred everyone..." (boudicca2 Internet). Then she burned the whole colony. After conquering Colchester, she advanced towards Londinium (London) and Veralamium (St. Albans). On her way moving, she encountered the ninth legion, a Roman force stationed in Britain, and defeated them. Boudica had managed to destroy the three most important towns of Roman-Britain, almost forcing the Romans out of Britain. After conquering these three important sites, increased forces from other Celtic tribes joined her cause. In her final battle against the governor of Britain, Suetonius Paulinus, 80,000 Britons perished with only 400 losses on the Roman side. Before the battle, Boudica released a hare between the two armies in search of an omen, but the loss was great. Boudica avoided being captured, committed suicide and was buried in a secret location by her people. It was noted that "Boudicca's campaign was marked by the skill of a cool and competent strategist." (boudicca2 Internet)
Clearly, Boudica, Queen Warrior of the Celts, was a great heroine of the Roman-Britain era. If she had not led a force against the Romans, perhaps Britain may have stayed under Roman control. In addition to these food for thoughts, Boudica's revolt was an important historical event because it nearly ended the Romans occupation of Britain and could have stopped the Romans' future reign of Britain for the next 200 years (43 AD to 383 AD), which would have greatly affected the whole world. Moreover, Queen Boudica should be more presented in any history as an important figure because it remains surprising that not that much is known of such a character of high finesse, historical reputation, and symbolical feminine power.