Posted by: Alastair Rosie | January 11, 2014

BOUDICA

Boudica was my first hero. One of my earliest childhood memories dates from 1969 when as a six year old I would re-enact the Battle of Watling Street every Sunday afternoon after church. It was infinitely more satisfying than reading the bible, which was THE required reading material every Sunday. Thus every Sunday come rain, hail or shine, Suetonius Paulinus used to get pissed on from a great height as I moved my building blocks across the carpet to make sure he was defeated. In the interests of fairness, I allowed him some freedom but the end result was always the same. In later years I found other heroines and heroes but the women especially would be compared to Boudica and if they measured up then they made it into my hall of fame.
You’ve probably worked out by now that I’m not a big one for the helpless female who hangs from a building screaming for help or dangles from her man’s arm like some overpriced accessory. Boudica would never have done that! Likewise I rejected my mother’s teaching that Eve was the mother of all evil as being false, preferring my father’s more feminist leanings. When I started writing again in the mid ‘90s I found myself creating strong female characters who stand alongside Boudica quite comfortably.
Rhianna, the heroic queen in The Deepening Dark was directly inspired by the story of Boudica. I took the old tale about the crimes committed against her and transposed them onto my fictional tale and I was aided by Manda Scott’s portrayal of Boudica/Breaca in the Dreaming Series, her warrior queen helped me make the connection when I was bringing Rhianna to life.
So who was Boudica?
For a start she bears no resemblance to the statue outside Westminster Station in London. The chariot is totally wrong and I suspect the ages of her daughters are also incorrect, there are some historians who have actually suggested they were dead before the Battle of Watling Street. The Romans didn’t believe in executing virgin women and so to get around this obstacle, they raped them first and then executed them to avoid angering their gods. In reading the Roman accounts of Boudica one must be aware that history is written by the victors and as such is prone to exaggeration and prejudice. Tacitus and Cassius Dio’s accounts do give us the bare bones of the events but little else.
She was reputed to be of royal birth and married to Prasatagus, the king of the Iceni, which equates to modern day East Anglia. The title ‘king’ was used by the Romans as a way of disparaging the Icenians. Rome had her Republic, the barbarians had kings. A more correct title would be chieftain but Icenia was a client kingdom of Rome. Basically this meant that Icenia could retain some autonomy until the death of the king, after which the kingdom would lose its independence and be absorbed into the Roman empire. It was a tactic they had employed throughout the empire and Icenia was no exception.
Britain at the time of Boudica’s revolt was ripe for rebellion. The historians have long portrayed Rome as being a civilising influence trying to bring the light of civilisation to the barbarians but nothing could be further from the truth. Rome was an imperial power with an unswerving belief in its own superiority. Its only talent lay in its ability to organise society and even that was borrowed from the Greeks and adapted for Roman ethics. It was an empire built on power and absolute terror. If you submitted you were allowed to live but if you resisted you were killed, it was that simple but rules could and were bent frequently as in the case of the former British rebel leader, Caradog who managed to impress the Romans with his speech and avoid execution. In the Roman world all wealth flowed from the captured provinces and client kingdoms back to Rome.
Prasatagus died about the year 60 C.E and in his will he specified that half his kingdom be left to the Emperor Nero and the other half be left to his two daughters whose names are lost to us. He may have been an able ruler but he was a poor judge of the political situation for Roman policy decreed that no woman could inherit property. Romans believed a woman’s place was in the home, producing children and running the household. Therefore Prasatagus allowing his daughters to inherit anything went against nature and so Catus Decianus, the governor of Britannia, seized the wealth of Icenia and to put the Icenians in their place, the Romans raped Boudica’s two daughters and had Boudica publicly whipped. As mentioned above there is an argument to suggest her daughters were also executed after being raped but neither Tacitus nor Cassius mention it. In their eyes a woman’s fate had little meaning, what was remarkable was the fact that Boudica didn’t crawl away into the dust of ignominy. She raised an army that came close to throwing the Romans out of Britain.
At the time Decianus was ravaging Icenia, the military commander Suetonius Paulinus was putting the isle of Mona (Anglesey) to the sword. Mona was the ancestral spiritual home of the British Celts. The druids were bitter opponents of Rome and as such were singled out for special treatment by the Romans. Mona was their domain and Suetonius was determined to rid Britain of its spirituality forever. Mona was obliterated by the legions but at the apex of his triumph Suetonius received word that the eastern tribes had risen against him.
Boudica took a page from Caradog’s book and united the tribes of the east against Rome and she probably didn’t have to work too hard to convince them. Roman rule was particularly harsh and these people would have suffered terribly under the rule of an autocratic governor, who saw them as nothing more than beasts of burden. Once she had her army she struck at the very heart of Roman pride.
Boudica’s first target was Camulodunum (Colchester). Once the capital of the Trinovantes it had been seized by the Romans and turned over to retired soldiers. At the time of her revolt it was the capital of Roman Britain. Londinium (London) was a mere trading port. The Romans had raised their own temple at Camulodunum and erected a statue to the emperor Claudius. It must have been quite a prosperous town but it had no walls and only two hundred soldiers left to guard it. The Celtic army descended upon Camulodunum like a whirlwind and in a savage retort to Suetonius’ destruction of Mona they burned it to the ground. Even today if one digs down into the earth at Colchester you can find a layer of scorched earth. The temple was besieged for two days before finally being burned.
The Legio IX Hispana, based at Lindum (Lincoln) tried to relieve the town but were decisively defeated by the enraged Celts. It’s unlikely the entire legion was present at the battle but what is admitted by Tacitus is that only their commander, Cerialis and some cavalry escaped. The infantry were massacred and with that Decianus did as all cowards do and ran for his life. The defeat of a Roman legion was not unknown, but to suffer defeat at the hands of a woman was catastrophic to the Roman psyche. Something had to be done to put this woman in her place and so Suetonius rode east to Londinium, reaching it before Boudica. He only had a small escort and in spite of the pleadings of the leading citizens abandoned Londinium to its fate and returned to his legion, which was still marching east.
Londinium suffered the same fate as Camulodunum, the harbour town was burned to the ground and the victorious Celts turned west to put an end to Roman rule forever. Somewhere around this time Suetonius did appeal to the commander of the Legio II Augusta, Postumus for help. He was based at Exeter but Postumus refused the call to arms and stayed where he was. In the aftermath of the revolt he fell on his sword rather than face the wrath of Suetonius. He was now in a desperate situation and for the first time Nero actually considered quitting Britain altogether, although that was probably not disclosed until afterwards.
Verulamium (St Albans) suffered the same fate as Camulodunum and Londinium but Boudica was still searching for Suetonius, for he remained the gravest threat. He was an able and competent commander, as demonstrated by his refusal to defend Londinium and somewhere along the Watling Road he faced an army that had swelled dramatically. There are reports of a quarter of a million Celts but that number has been called into question by many. It would be normal to inflate the numbers of the enemy to make their defeat seem that much more dramatic. The fact he chose his battleground between two hills tells us he knew he was facing superior numbers. The exact site of the battlefield is still unknown today and has been argued over for years.
We do know she lost the battle that day and Tacitus and Cassius have her addressing her troops from a chariot. This artifice may not be actually true. What we have to realise is that their accounts were for the purposes of entertainment as well as education. Tacitus had been soured by his time in the army and made much of the outrages suffered by Boudica. Cassius took his account and modified it to make her seem terrifying and sinister. Thousands did die in battle that day but we will never know the exact figures. Even the most competent historians can only make educated guesses. Likewise Tacitus and Cassius disagree about the nature of her end. Tacitus has her taking poison, which was the acceptable fate for any woman who disgraced herself by thinking she was equal to a man, but Cassius says she took ill. To have died in battle would be unthinkable to Roman ears because that would have meant she might just be the equal of a man.
It was the end of Icenia. Suetonius campaigned vigorously throughout southern Britain until at last even his own people appealed to Nero to remove him lest he incite the tribes to rise up against Rome yet again. During an inquiry by Nero’s freedman Polycitus he was found guilty of losing ships at sea and recalled.
She disappears from history for hundreds of years and it was only with the discovery of some of Tacitus’ works that we know of her now. Her story has been retold many many times with varying degrees of accuracy. She has become the champion of the feminist movement, the symbol of the chauvinist backlash, and a freedom fighter. There have been some abysmally poor portrayals of Boudica and some very good ones. One of the best I’ve read is Manda Scott’s Dreaming Series, Dreaming the Eagle, Dreaming the Bull, Dreaming the Hound, and Dreaming the Serpent Spear. I know it’s historical fiction and they are big books but I’d heartily recommend them to anyone who wants to know more of Boudica. Another site to visit is Manda Scott’s Dreaming page, shamanic dreaming features heavily in the series.
With that we must leave Boudica. At one point in my writing career I actually considered writing the story of Boudica, but Scott did such a beautiful job I knew there was nothing I could add or take away from her books. Just recently however I reneged on that and have allowed Boudica a leading role in my Grey Raven series. It’s a remarkably different view of a Boudica who has survived the battle and lives amongst us with others from that period of history. Angel of Mercy will be the first novel in The Grey Raven series, the first draft is up on Wattpad and I will be doing the second rewrite next month. This is your chance to read and comment on the piece. If I incorporate your suggestions into the next draft you will get a mention in the acknowledgements as well as a free copy of the ebook when it’s published. The vampires in the Grey Raven series are very different to traditional vampire mythologies, so I’m really enjoying this new series. You can forget Twilight, True Blood, Vampire Diaries and Interview With A Vampire, I did enjoy some of those titles but when creating my vampires I wanted something completely different.
However The Outlaw Queen series remains the focus of this article. You can find The Deepening Dark on Smashwords and Amazon for the low price of $1.99.

Written by Alastair Rosie

An exiled queen, a band of elves and the warrior cult known as the she bears are all that stands between General Bolksta and his conquest of Haydutia. Rhianna will need the luck of the gods if she is to hold back the tide of evil as an imperial army invades her country intent on turning Haydutia into just another province. 

For a good historical account of Boudica you can’t go past Vanessa Collingridge’s book, Boudica
For a shorter history go to the Wikipedia article

 

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  1. […] a recent blog post we looked at Boudica who for a short period of time came close to throwing the Romans out of Britain, an action that […]


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