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 torc, 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." Dio Cassius
Iceni were a Celtic tribe living in Norfolk and Suffolk in eastern Britain. Due
to flourishing trade across the English Channel with the Roman Empire, their
merchants and rulers prospered, issuing their own coinage between about 65 BC
and AD 61. Near the end of this period, following the Roman invasion of Britain
under Claudius in AD 43, king Prasutagus (AD 50-60) became a rich and powerful
client of the Romans. After his death, however, the Roman administrators in
Britain tried to make the Iceni a subject population.
widow of Prasutagus, now became queen of the Iceni. It is likely that Boudicca
occupied a dual position both as tribal leader and as the manifestation of a
Druidic or Celtic Goddess. There is the mystery of Boudicca’s name; Boudicca
means ‘victory’. She has been identified with Brigantia the war goddess of
the Brigantes (the Romans called Brigantia ‘Victory’ and even in 200AD
altars were still being erected to her). She is also associated with Morrigan
known as the Great Queen in Ireland. She is also associated with the triple war
goddess whose three persons are Nemain (Frenzy), Badb Catha (Battle Raven) and
Macha (Crow) whose sacred birds were allowed to feed on the stake impaled heads
of those slaughtered in battle. There is also a possible link to the Celtic
goddess Boudiga. The goddess invoked by Boudicca before the last battle is
reputed to be Andrasta (also known as Victory). Boudicca, it is said, sacrificed
those she defeated in battle to Andrasta, she took no captives. Therefore it
could possibly be deduced that Boudicca was not her personal name, but perhaps
an official or religious title, which would mean that from the point of view of
her followers that she was the personification of a goddess. This would help to
explain the fanaticism of her followers who were drawn to her from a variety of
tribes and also their unusual willingness to unite so completely. The Celts had
been seen as easy to suppress by the Romans because of their lack of inter
tribal unity or co-operation against invasion and oppression.
the Romans, the Iceni viewed woman as equals.
The Romans didn't understand that a woman could ably lead her people, and
tried to take advantage of the Iceni. They
subjected Boudicca and her two daughters grave humiliations, flogging Boudicca
and raping her daughters in front of their mother.
To the further humiliation of the Iceni, the Romans seized their
hereditary estates and subjected the people to slavery.
An enraged Boudicca led a revolt of the Iceni and several other tribes in
an attempt to regain their freedom. This
revolt lasted for several months in 60-61.
The Boudiccan forces burned and destroyed the three major towns of
Londinium (London), Verulamium (St. Albans), and Camulodunum (Colchester),
killing many thousands of citizens along with the Roman soldiers.
In these early battles, Boudicca's forces were disciplined and careful. Boudicca did not take any prisoners.
rally her troupes before the final battle, Boudicca drove around them in her
chariot, accompanied by her daughters. "We
British are used to women commanders in war," she cried, "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. The gods
will grant us the vengeance we deserve! 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!"
the leader of the Roman forces, realized he was outnumbered. To have any chance
of victory he needed to control when and where the final battle would take
place. The place he chose was high ground, circled with forest, he made his
stand with a thick forest behind him so he did not need to worry about ambush.
The site for the battle dictated that Boudicca and her Celts would have to make
a frontal attack. It has also been theorized that the place Suetonius chose was
sacred to the Iceni and their fellow Celts, and that was how he drew her forces
to that place. The Celts were angry
that Suetonius had desecrated sacred ground, and this perhaps affected their
ability to maintain discipline in this crucial battle.
tactics of the Celts involved attempting to terrify and confuse the opposition;
hair dressed high with lime, faces and bodies painted. They used wild cries and
gesticulations, leaping around, clashing their weapons and blowing trumpets to
create noise and give demonstrations of enthusiasm and bravado. Battling a
disciplined fighting machine like the Roman Legions was alien to them. Celtic
battles often-involved champions inviting the champions of the opposition to
single combat, with the resulting battles and heroes would be praised in song.
The Celts grouped in battalions of various sizes made of different tribes and
chieftains with their followers. Confident of victory the warriors had their
wives and families in wagons at the edge of the plain to watch the defeat of the
Romans. Boudicca rallied her disjointed armies to free themselves from Roman
control and to seek revenge for Roman violations. Symbolically she released a
hare onto the battlefield between the two armies.
the disciplined Romans held their line and their javelins were especially
effective against the Celts. The
disorganized British army was forced back onto it’s own wagons and rapidly the
battle became a massacre. Tacitus claims 80,000 British dead and 400 Roman dead.
Boudicca, it is claimed, escaped from the battlefield, and, according to Tacitus
was a woman who would not accept the fate mapped out for her by the men who took
over her country; she dared to stand up to oppression and injustice.
Unlike some figures in Britain’s distant past, she actually existed,
and her spirit is still celebrated today.