PART 1 – BRITANNIA
Following the failed Roman invasion by Julius Caesar, the Catuvellauni, a tribe who had fought Caesar tooth and nail during his conquest, began to expand their horizons by taking land from the Trinovantes and the Atrebates. In doing so they caused the Atrebatian king, Verica, to flee to Rome, begging Emperor Claudius for assistance in retaking his lands. Claudius, likely enthralled by the notion of expanding the empire, reaping mineral-rich lands and outmatching Caesar in his mighty ambitions, decided this was enough of a reason to begin an invasion in 43CE. Claudius’ victories led the Britons to fall back to the River Thames where they put up a brave last stand, even against the rumoured war elephants brought over by Claudius himself.
11 Kings and Queens of the Britons knelt before Claudius and there was relative peace for a few years. In 47CE there was a rebellion by the Iceni, likely led by a man named Scavo whose coins are dispersed around this time while the former king, Anted, becomes lost to the pages of history. Unfortunately for Scavo there was little enough time to write many of his deeds, as he was likely killed with the end of the rebellion at Stonea Camp, “courtesy” of Roman Governor Publius Ostorius Scapula.
Following the failed rebellion, a man named Prasutagus was crowned king of the Iceni. Though this title came with a heavier burden than the crown on his head or the weight of kingship on his shoulders. Claudius needed to make sure the Iceni would not repeat this insurrection, so he proposed a plan to the new king. Prasutagus was to be given great wealth from the Roman coffers, enough to see the Iceni thrive and become a dominant tribe in Britain. In return, Prasutagus would promise to never start or join an uprising against Rome or her allies. He would also, upon his death, leave half of his lands to Rome and the other half to his children. Prasutagus agreed to this, likely to the scorn of some of his Icenian allies. It seems likely that to secure their trust in him he married the daughter of an Icenian noble who would, in 13 years’ time, lead the largest British army of the ancient world against the mightiest war machine of ancient Europe.
PART 2 – BOUDICCA
After the death of Prasutagus in 60CE, the Roman procurator, Catus Decianus, decided that these monetary gifts were in fact loans and decided to collect their repayment for the new emperor, Nero. When Boudicca refused she was flogged and her daughters raped. This lit a fire in the broken heart of Boudicca, cauterising her wound and beginning a healing process that would only be medicated with Roman blood.
Boudicca systematically and tactically burned Camulodunum, Londinium and Verulamium to the ground. Camulodunum was chosen to deconstruct the administration epicentre of Roman Britain and to appease their allies, the Trinovantes, who had to suffer watching a foreign temple be built on their lands. Londinium, while nowhere near as large as it is today, was chosen due to its trade links, cutting off the Romans from easy supply trains. Verulamium was chosen as it was the capital of coin minting, therefore likely rich in minerals. The settlements were burned so ferociously that there is a layer of ash known as “Boudicca’s layer” below each of the three provinces.
Boudicca had also managed to kill a group of Roman auxiliaries and nearly decimate the entire Legio IX Hispana in an ambush. Boudicca’s next test, however, would determine if the Romans would leave Britain for good or be an invading force that swayed the history of Britannia for all time.
PART 3 – BATTLE OF WATLING STREET
By this point, Boudicca had an army 100,000 strong at least, though many of these were disgruntled citizens, not battle-hardened warriors. Rome on the other hand, under the stoically sinister Roman Governor Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, had brought up 10,000 Legionnaires. It is likely that he had a few thousand cavalry and auxilia with him too.
Both leaders gave strong speeches and the battle commenced. Boudicca charged the majority of her army into the front line of the geographically enhanced Romans. Both Tacitus and Dio claim that it was simply a slog on the front line as the Britons lacked any ability to perform tactics. This, in my opinion, and research, smells like typical Roman propaganda towards barbarians, as the Britons had employed strong guerrilla warfare against Caesar, even forcing a retreat out of him. It is likely that Boudicca did try to implement a flanking manoeuvre along the raised ground or the rear, as these locations were the bread & butter of tribal conflict in Britannia. Though, for all their unsung credit, the personal skill and physical strength of the Britons could not compete with the Romans, who had superior tactics and equipment.
Eventually, the Britons fled and many of them were cut down trying to break past the barriers within their own encampment.
The casualties written by both writers vary but the claim of 400 dead Romans to 80,000 Britons sounds absurd when you consider that one of the Roman legions did not venture out of their camp for 6 years after the battle and the other did not take part in any large scale campaigns for over 20 years. It is no doubt that the Britons probably lost the numbers specified by the writers, however, Roman losses were likely 1,000% higher.
The result of this battle sowed the seeds for the continued invasion of Britannia and within around 100 years most of the island belonged to Rome.
PART 4 – THE AFTERMATH
And so, what became of these figures and people of the mid 1st century?
It is said that Boudicca was wounded in the Battle of Watling Street and, to avoid giving the Romans the victory of killing her, decided to take poison. While it is not specifically noted, it is probable that Boudicca’s daughters also took poison, to avoid capture and already accustomed torture. The Iceni were punished harshly by Governor Paulinus, who was replaced as Governor shortly after the battle.
The taste of rebellion, however, had not been washed from the mouths of the Britons. A King named Venutius overthrew his wife, the Queen of the Brigantes and Roman puppet, Cartimandua. The Brigantes rebellion against Rome would continue into the first half of the 2nd century CE.
After hearing of the sack of Camulodunum, Catus Decianus fled Londinium to Gaul and was never heard from again. The new emperor, Nero, was said to have been strongly worried about the rebellion under Boudicca and even considered leaving Britannia for good. Had Boudicca won this battle, it is likely that the following centuries of Britain would have been much more Celtic and far less Roman. Nero’s fears were, though strange for the later stages of his life, reasonable, as it would seem he recognised the strength and reputation of these so-called barbarians. This fear subsided in the minds of Rome for hundreds of years through their own pride, corruption and failing civilisation. It would result in the fall of the (later partitioned) Western Roman Empire in 476CE by the hands of the “barbarian” Germanic leader, Odoacer.
Boudicca’s fight became the fight of every nation afflicted by the greed, inhumanity and debauched slaughter of the Romans. And though their mighty nation once ruled from the borders of Scotland to Iran, it fell, under the scorned battle cries of Boudicca’s unbroken spirit.
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