Friday, December 9, 2022

The Fall of Boudica

When the Romans in the 1st century CE reneged on their deal with King Prasutagus of the Iceni tribe, seizing property, beating his widow, and raping his daughters, the widow, Boudica, decided to take revenge.

The Iceni and the Trinovantes united to drive out the Roman occupiers, Boudica apparently at their head. They first attacked Camulodunum (Colchester), killing Romand and Roman sympathizers. The Ninth Legion was stationed in Londinium (London); hearing of the slaughter, they marched toward Camulodunum, but Boudica planned an ambush that destroyed 1500 Roman legionnaires. With Londinium undefended now, she led her British army there.

The Roman governor of Londinium had only 200 auxiliaries with him, and so fled the city with his men, leaving it open to the rebels, who killed the inhabitants and burned the town. According to Cassius Dio, the attackers:

hung up naked the noblest and most distinguished women and then cut off their breasts and sewed them to their mouths, in order to make the victims appear to be eating them; afterwards they impaled the women on sharp skewers run lengthwise through the entire body. All this they did to the accompaniment of sacrifices, banquets, and wanton behavior.

The 14th and 20th Legions were northwest, in Wales, and heading toward Londinium. Boudica headed to meet them, attacking the settlement at Verulamium (St. Albans). The Roman forces gathered to meet them numbered 10,000. Although the British outnumbered them, the Romans had tactical experience. The British were first "softened up" by a hail of javelins, and the superior Roman cavalry broke up the resistance. The attempt to drive out the Romans failed. We are told by Cassius Dio that Boudica fell sick and died. Tacitus says she took poison to avoid capture. Both could be true.

Bede and Nennius both refer to the uprising of 60/61, but don't mention Boudica. Gildas mentions a female ruler whom he calls a "treacherous lioness." The attitude of these writers mirrored that of the Roman writers at the time: they were amazed that the "barbarians" were willing to abandon the better quality of life provided by Roman culture for their previous less-civilized lifestyle.

And speaking of historians, this is the first mention of Nennius in almost 1100 blog posts, a shocking sign of neglect for a 9th century historian who made significant contributions to, among other things, the legend of King Arthur. Let's meet Nennius tomorrow.

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