Boudica: Woman and Legend
By Kathleen Jordan
The Romans were as merciless as a cancer, festering and spreading throughout the empire, destroying native cultures and replacing them with ruthless replicas of their own dominating society. The woman born as Boudica was brazen and independent, daring to look into the face of fate and spit out her contempt for the Roman scourge propagating rampantly throughout her native Britain and betraying her tribe, the Iceni. Through her courage and the unifying hatred of the dictating Romans, Boudica nearly succeeded in forcing the Romans out of Britain. In attempting to do so she would succeed in securing her place in heroic legend.
In the course of studying this queen of the Iceni Tribe, an amusing historical blunder was uncovered. The name Boudica is in fact one of history's greatest spelling mistakes. It was probably spelled B-o-u-d-i-c-c-a (pronounced as Boo-di-ka) at first and then changed to B-o-a-d-i-c-e-a. Historians believe that this error occurred during the Middle Ages when the works of the Roman Historian, Tacitus, were being translated. Today the spelling B-o-u-d-i-c-a, is commonly agreed upon by modern historians.
Boudica was born a member of a local royal family in East Anglia. High born children, such as Boudica, are believed to have been educated at home by members of the Druid religion, which would have been a great honor for themselves and their families. According to the film, Boudica would have also had a type of schooling pertaining to various subjects, such as chariot driving and spear throwing. Although these skills seem unfitting for a woman in later eras, it was possible for a Celtic woman to participate in such activities because Celtic tribes apparently believed that women were equal in courage and stature to men.
Prasutagus was the king of the Iceni territory and Boudica was his queen in the era shortly after the Claudian invasion of 43 A.D., in which many tribal rulers, including Prasutagus, agreed to become client kings for Rome. According to the film, Boudica: Queen of the Iceni , there were vast differences between the two leaders. Prasutagus is described as a "mild, older, and somewhat gullible monarch" whose main objectives were to continue the increase of his fortune and to maintain peace with the Romans. Prasutagus, along with ten other tribal leaders, had originally agreed to become client kings of Rome, "thinking it would let them keep their independence" and "allow them to take advantage of Roman trade and incentives." Boudica was the polar opposite of her husband. Boudica is described as being "huge of frame, large of voice, with flowing red hair."As with the Iceni nobility, she wore a large gold torque around her neck and dressed in long flowing robes which were dyed with bright colors common to Iceni culture. She is described as "fiery of temper, out spoken in her views, and war-like by nature." These differences did not hinder their marriage; indeed, they led a long prosperous life together until his death in 59 AD.
Before his death, Prasutagus drew up a will and bequeathed half of his wealth to the Roman Emperor and the other half to Boudica and their two young daughters. His will certainly represented an understanding of Roman greed. The Iceni King hoped this would placate the Roman authorities, now controlled by the Emperor Nero, but Nero betrayed his loyal client king. Prasutagus's wealth was considered Imperial property, therefore giving the greedy and cruel Procurator (treasurer), Clevatus; (according to Graham Webster), the right to:
...full inventory of lands, livestock, family plate and jewels and
all portable wealth. This would have been a fine opportunity for
an unscrupulous man to fiddle the amounts to secure a fat
percentage for himself.
Arguments arose over the amount left to the Emperor and Clevatus turned his cruelty toward Boudica and her daughters. Roman tradition sentenced Boudica to be publicly flogged as her people were forced to watch, and her two young daughters were ritually raped by the Roman legionaries. This was an outrage that offended the other neighboring tribes who were already agitated by Roman injustice toward all the native Britons.
The personal atrocity that befell Boudica and her daughters was not the main cause of the Iceni Rebellion, but it was rather the final straw that would ignite the most potentially damaging rebellion the Romans had ever encountered on British soil. One of the first events that angered the tribes after the Claudian invasion was the Roman policy of confiscating weapons from the homes of the native Britons. Weapons were important to the warrior mystique as well as to the spirituality of the tribes and held great cultural value. Weapons were passed down through generations, from warrior to son and grandson. Such legendary weapons were often used during religious ceremonies. A second slap to the pride of the tribes was that when a client king died, his kingdom often was brought completely under Roman law. This signified the loss of their tribal independence. Finally, new taxes imposed by the Romans were multiplying and it seemed to the Britons that almost all aspects of their lives were taxed: Tribal land, agricultural products and border tolls. The taxes for the privilege of supporting occupying Roman forces in their land for "protection" proved extremely frustrating. Moreover, Rome began to abuse conscription of native troops as auxiliary troops for the Empire and many would never see the island again. Thus, the stage was set to blaze in revolt by the time of Boudica's humiliation and the rape of her two daughters. Someone brave and daring had to lead native Britons, unified by hate, against the Romans and that leader would be Boudica, Queen of the Iceni.
Initially, Boudica was able to persuade five other tribes to join the rebellion: the Coritani, Trinovantes, Catuvellauni, Dodunni, and Durotriges. It is believed that the Rebellion's numbers ultimately reached one hundred thousand. Boudica is "a folk heroine and a champion of freedom." The Icenian Queen did have a fiery temper and was apparently a great motivational speaker. In a speech, before the first attack by the Iceni rebels on the Roman coloniae of Camulodunum (modern Colchester), Boudica proclaimed:
...so let us go against them [the Romans] and trust in good
fortune and let us show them that they are hares and foxes
trying to rule over dogs and wolfs!
Camulodunum, the earliest of Rome's cities, was chosen as the first target of the Rebellion's rage because it was relatively undefended and home to retired legionaries, some of whom had been members of the legion that participated in the raped of Boudica's daughters. The city and its inhabitants were an easy slaughter. No one was shown mercy. Everyone was cut down by the raging rebels, including native Britons who had become romanized. "They killed everyone - Roman, Briton, young, old, male or female - anyone who survived the slaughter became a ritual sacrifice to the Gods." Boudica and her army of rebels feasted on retribution, but had not quenched their thirst for revenge and the need to purge the foreign scourge.
The Rebellion scorched the lands as they fought and burned their way through Lundinium and Verulanmium, where an estimated eighty thousand people were killed by the rebels. The final battle ground has never been agreed upon by historians, but we do know that the Romans were outnumbered by the rebels: ten to one. Thus the odds were definitely in the Britons' favor, but as history so often proves, the fanatic rebels' numbers were no match for the disciplined and experienced Roman army. The Rebellion rushed forward with their immense numbers but they had no battle plan, no strategy, just the avenging need to spill Roman blood.
The Roman soldiers did not move as the wave of rebels rushed toward them, but waited until the Britons were nearly on top of them and then threw their javelins. The wave of Boudica's rebels scattered and panic built as their numbers were cut down by the Roman war machine. "The Rebels tried to turn and flee, their escape route was blocked by their own carts and wagons; they were butchered." Boudica could only watch the massacre of her warriors in despair. The Romans took no prisoners but desired only one, Boudica, Queen of the Iceni. She would not give the hated enemy that privilege. According to the film, "The warrior queen took her own life with poison and in doing so, cheated the Romans of their great war prize."
Boudica set out to do what no other Briton could do or would ever do during the Roman occupation of Britain. No other rebellion would prove so damaging to the Romans. Boudica had lived her life with passion and determination, never faltering in her role as leader of the greatest Tribal rebellion ever seen by Romans in Britain. Through her courage and the unifying hatred of the dictating Romans, Boudica nearly succeeded in forcing the Romans out of Britain and in attempting to do so she would secure her place in heroic legend.