Queen Boudica is one of the most important figures in the Barbarian revolt against the Roman Empire.
She is considered one of the strongest and most feared female leaders the world has ever known.
First… A Little Back Story
The Roman Empire had been fighting off the Barbarians for generations. The conquests of Hannibal and Spartacus had both been put down. The Romans devised a great strategy for expansion. They would invade, plunder, steal slaves and then bribe the leaders of the conquered territories into alliances. This is how the Romans continued to build their armies, with slaves and men from conquered territories. Although this method was effective, it left Rome in a vulnerable position because without conquering new lands, the empire would begin to implode upon itself.
In 43 AD, Rome decided to move into Britannia, or the modern day UK. The Romans failed to defeat Armenias and invade Germania. Due to this, the eastern border was officially made at the Rhine River. For the first time, Rome met an adversary that it could not defeat and Armenius had solidified the Germanic territories with guerrilla warfare tactics and unification of his Germanic people. Emperor Claudius gave up on expanding east, and instead decided to expand north.
To the Romans, Britannia was a land of mysticism. The damp forests, the terrain and the pagan people left an air of mystery. The Brits were commonly referred to as “The Celts” and unfortunately, as is the case with much of British history, the Celtic tribes could not stop fighting against each other.
There was always a delicate balance between The Celts and The Romans. In many ways, the tribes benefited from the trade routes made possible by the Roman expansion, but it came at a price of taxation and “romanization.” There were constant skirmishes and small battles between tribes, but for the most part, Britannia remained an independent culture that worked alongside with the Romans.
What Changed That Led to All Out War?
At the time, emperor Claudius used a very common tactic to lay a foot hold on the southeast corner of Britania. He defeated the Celts and then offered a bribe. The Romans offered a peace treaty and gold in exchange for an alliance. It was a very successful tactic used over and over again.
One of the Celtic tribes were called the Iceni, led by King Prasutagus. The king accepts the emperors bribe, and accepts the peace offering for he and his people.
Ten years later, emperor Claudius dies and the infamous Nero comes to power. Nero was not a diplomatic man like Claudius and he demanded the complete surrender of the Iceni tribe.
King Prasutagus dies and leaves half of his estate to his wife and his two daughters. His wife was named Boudica. To Nero, this was blasphemous. He was personally insulted that the Iceni king left half of his estate to two women.
Nero was not happy, and he sent troops to the Iceni tribe. They tie up Queen Boudica, whip her and publicly rape her daughters. Queen Boudica is horrified, humiliated and her people are looking to her for answers. The Roman Empire grossly underestimated her ferocity.
Boudica starts to build an army.
The First Blood is Drawn
Nero enlists the help of General Paulinus, who had a reputation of putting down uprisings. He had already done so in North Africa and Gaul.
General Paulinus sent an army to the small island of Mona. Mona is where The Druids lived.
The Druids were of utmost importance to the Celtic society. They were political leaders and the spiritual connection between the people and the Gods. The Druids played a huge role in every day life of Britannia, and Paulinus was leading an army to slaughter them. It would be the modern equivalent of an army marching into the Vatican and slaughtering all the nuns, the priests, cardinals and the pope.
Boudica made the best of the situation. As General Paulinus brought his troops north, he left the capital city of Camulodunum open to attack. This was the Roman capital of Britania. It was a city populated largely with fat and happy retired soldiers who were not well armed or battle ready.
The soldiers protecting the city would spend most of their time drinking and partying. Camulodunum is everything that Britains hate about the empire. Retired soldiers spent their days relaxing and living off the tax dollars of the people whom they have insulted and conquered. Boudica needed to send a message.
It was a bloodbath. Boudica leads her army into the unsuspecting city and kills everyone. I mean everyone.
Many of the women and children hid in the Temple of Claudious, but Boudica burned the temple with its citizens trapped inside. The Temple and the city were burned to the ground. The fire burned so hot that the archaeological evidence can be found today in a think layer of ash called the Boudican Destruction Layer.
Rome quickly sent a legion of soldiers from Londinium. This was a completely new challenge for Boudica. There is a big difference between destroying a city and going head to head with a trained Roman legion. But, the Celts used guerrilla tactics and fought off the first deployment of soldiers.
Reality checks in. Camulodunum was an easy target. There were no walls and the city was populated by retired soldiers. It was a great symbolic victory, but now they can expect the full force of the Roman army. Boudia knows that she has to destroy the Roman supply line if she has a chance of defeating General Paulinus in battle.
The empire in Britania was connected by three major cities. Camulodunum, Londinium and Varulamium. While General Paulinus was returning from slaughtering the Druids, Boudica slashed and burned all three cities.
It’s important to understand the brutality behind these attacks. These were not battles, there was no opposing army. The tactic was to destroy the supply lines between these cities (especially Londimium, which was a major port city) and General Paulinus and his armies.
Boudica’s army cut off heads, cut off the breasts of the most beautiful women and then impaled them. The idea was to completely remove the Roman infrastructure which kept the local economy and supply line in tact.
Within 6 months all three cities burned and The Celts had killed 70,000 Romans. But in order to win this war, the Celtic army will eventually have to fight Paulinus and his army in an open battle field.
The Real Battle Begins
In the Battle of Watling Street, the Celts finally met the roman army in an open battle field and Boudica’s army outnumbered numbered General Paulinus 3 to 1.
The exact location of the battle is unknown. We do know that Paulinus positioned his troops in a gully with a narrow entry point. Speed was of paramount importance for Boudica and her troops. She needed to get through the entry way so she could flank the sides of Paulinus’s army. But Paulinus created a bottle neck out of the landscape, and Boudica’s army never was able to penetrate the defensive line.
General Paulinus was a master tactician and the final battle was an absolute the catastrophe. Boudica lost 80,000 troops in that single battle.
Boudica’s rebellion ends in defeat, but her rebellion essentially ends the age of expansion for the Roman Empire. It took Rome another 60 years to completely conquer Britannia.
Impact on Society
In the short term, it showed the Brits and the rest of the Barbarians that direct combat with Rome was not the way to defeat them. Instead, guerrilla warfare and taxing the infrastructure made it impossible for Rome to continue expanding. Although Rome did conquer the British Isles and rule them for 300 years, the cultural impact Boudica had on Britain was paramount.
Boudica showed the British tribes that if they were able to unite, they were a powerful force that could fight against the Roman war machine. The effects of her rebellion were culturally significant and in many ways, the global influence of Britain can be traced back to her and her rebellion. A statue of her and her daughters stands at the Westminster Bridge in London. But most of modern day British society doesn’t know much about Boudica.
Sadly, no one knows what happened to Boudica. Her bloodline is lost lost in history. Her daughters are integrated into the Roman bloodline and into Roman society. Till this day, no one knows how she died or what happened to her after the Battle of Watling Street. Some accounts say that she poisoned herself, and others claim that she fell ill after the battle.
There is no doubt that Boudica’s rebellion helped created the anti Roman mindset in ancient Britain. Without this, the British empire may have never existed.
It’s amazing to think that one woman and one small tribe could have such lasting impacts on the world. Queen Boudica will always be one my of my favorite historical figures.