The Roman occupation of Britain lasted over 350 years. Seventeen years after the Romans arrived in force in AD43, Queen Boudica led an uprising which resulted in the destruction of Colchester, London and St Albans. The rebellion was short lived. Boudica is said to have taken poison to avoid capture and the victorious Roman governor then oversaw a harsh crackdown.
|Created by the Victorians. The Boadicea statue opposite the Houses of Parliament|
Yet, in later years during Roman rule there were several uprisings and incursions by the ‘natives’. Two hundred years after Boudica’s death part of the occupying Roman Army mutinied. One hundred years later the Roman Commander, Marcus Aurelius Carausius, proclaimed himself Emperor of an independent Britain only to murdered by his finance minister on the orders of the Roman Emperor Julius Constantius. However, the insurrections were supressed, the mutiny put down, the usurper overthrown and Roman rule returned to more or less normal.
Despite the many upheavals in the British Isles during Rome’s long tenure, we find it is only Boudica who is especially remembered. Boudica was the widow of Prasatugus the King of the East Anglian Iceni tribe. Prasatugus died suddenly in AD59. The couple had two daughters. Yet, where Boudica was born, how old she was at the time of the uprising and the names of her two daughters are all unknown.
As part of the Roman settlement process, following the death of a tribal king the ‘assets and wealth’ of the kingdom were to be shared equally between the Romans and the local tribe – in Boudica’s case the Iceni. This agreement, however, was overturned when the Colchester based Romans had other ideas. They decided to seize everything. This led to a confrontation. When Queen Boudica resisted she was savagely beaten and her two daughters raped. Humiliated and fired up with rage Boudica raised an army and marched on Colchester.
It was an opportune moment for the Queen as the Roman Governor Suetonious Paulinus was absent in Wales with most of the Roman garrison campaigning to supress a Druid inspired insurrection.
For Boudica, Colchester was an easy target. It had minimal defences. The city was quickly overrun and put to the torch. All its inhabitants, men, women and children were brutally massacred. Boudica’s avenging army now swelled in numbers to some 200,000 next successfully ambushed the Roman IX legion hurrying from Lincoln to Colchester. With IX Legion destroyed Boudica swept across Essex to mete out the same fate on London and St Albans.
However, after the sacking of Colchester the mystery of Boudica begins to take shape. Which route did Boudica use to cross Essex to assault London and how were all logistics organised for such a large army in such a short space of time? Unlike the Vikings who came 800 years later Boudica’s army had no ships. Essex was mainly forested, had few roads and there were many rivers to cross.
It is perhaps surprising to learn virtually all our knowledge (even the existence of Boudica herself) is based on the writing of just two Roman authors. There are no contemporary British or English sources of the rebellion whatsoever. Yet, even the Roman writings have had a chequered history. The originals books disappeared after the fall of the Roman Empire only for copies to turn up in monasteries in Germany hundreds of years later. Adding to the puzzle, over the intervening years the original books had been rewritten by unknown monks. These in turn were translated and reinterpreted many times by successive Italian, French, German and English scholars.
Today much of much of the popular myth that surrounds Boudica or Boadicea as she was commonly known until about 50 years ago was created by the Victorians. Before the Victorian era, insecure English rulers were not inclined to celebrate rebels. The Riddle of Boudica explores the ‘facts’ of the rebellion as far as they are known and examines the resultant heritage, legacy and mythology grown up around it. For example why did the use of Boadicea drop out to be replaced by Boudica?
The book looks at the possible sites of Boudica’s final battle in some detail. To date where it took place is unknown. Two Essex locations have been suggested, Messing, near Tiptree and Ambresbury banks in Epping Forest.
The book also poses an intriguing What if? Question, – as to what would have happened if Boudica’s rebellion had taken place nearly a decade later during the tumultuous 12 months of Rome’s year of the four emperors.
The Riddle of Boudica comes fully illustrated with over 30 illustrations and maps and is available from bookshops or online. A linked illustrated short talk by the author Andrew Summers is also available.
The Riddle of Boudica
from Essex Hundred Publications
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Also check out our short video, BOUDICA’S LAMENT,
And there is specialist talk too!
The Riddle of Boudica
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