Boudicca: A Woman Warlord’s Rebellion

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The Iceni rebellion, with Boudicca at the helm, had its roots in the Roman struggles in Gaul. Beginning with Julius Caesar, the Romans battled their way through Gaul to the Atlantic Ocean. The struggles were fierce, but the Romans finally subdued the troublesome Gauls. (Imagine! People wanting to rule themselves in their homeland!)

One of the peoples displaced by the Romans was the Keltoi, or Celtae. Such a person was Boudicca.

Five years after the Claudius-led invasion of Britannia, Boudicca married Prasutagus, King of the Iceni. He had submitted to Roman authority in 43 and kept his crown as a client-king. When he died in 60, Boudicca became Regent.

In his will, Prasutagus had left much of his wealth to the Roman emperor but a goodly sum also to his wife and family. When he died, Rome tried to take it all, also charging Boudicca, the Regent, with paying back outrageous debts. When she refused, she was publicly tortured and her daughters raped. She struck back with full force.

Historians tells us that Boudicca’s rebellious troops numbered 100,000. Since both sides agree on this figure, it seems in little doubt. Although not the only rebellion occurring at the time, Boudicca’s was the most famous. It hit Camulodonum hard, slaughtering the Romans and burning the city to the ground.

To this Rome responded with a legion–a full 5,000 men–all of whom were slaughtered. Boudicca moved on to London, also burning it to the ground. Rome responded slowly again, this time with about 10,000 men. Seeing Boudicca turn from London to St. Albans, the Romans determined to meet her on the field of battle.

Where this final battle was fought historians do not know. What they do know is that it was confusing and full of confusion. Puzzling is the fact that with the British army traveled their families and their pack animals and their livestock and their farmers–basically a large city on the move. Why were these grandfathers and toddlers here? Some historians think the British thought their families better protected while near the army than at home, defenseless against marauding Romans. Whatever the case, there the families were–in the middle of the battlefield.

By the time of this final battle, Boudicca herself and many of her followers were in bad shape. They were tired and injured. They had been on the move for many days. They were not as adept in battle as were the Romans. The only thing the Britons had going for them was their sheer numbers. And this time, this backfired. Through a devastating combination of javelin fire, cavalry manuevering and sheer will, the outnumbered Romans cut down the advancing British, forced them to retreat into the midst of their families, and cut the whole lot of them to pieces.

The rebellion was over. Boudicca herself survived, some say only to return to her homeland and take poison. The Iceni remained a client-kingdom of Rome. But retribution was swift and terrible. The Romans took everything from the Iceni but had paid a terrible price as well. It was a costly lesson for both sides.