Defeat of Boudicca


Defeat of Boudicca

Towcester, Northamptonshire The 1st of June 061 AD

Boudicca, or Boadicea, has become a much loved symbol of British courage, but her story is more complex and savage than simple resistance to the Roman invader.

The Iceni, the East Anglian tribe of which Boudicca’s husband Prasutagus was king, were allies of the Romans until the death of their king in AD60. Prasutagus had two daughters as heirs, and left his kingdom to them and to the Emperor jointly. The Romans only recognized male heirs, so conflict was inevitable. Sources relate that the Romans flogged Boudicca and raped her daughters, and that to rub salt in the wounds loans to the Iceni were called in, and new taxes levied.

Boudicca chose her moment to rebel carefully, with governor Suetonius Paullinus away in West Wales suppressing the Druids . Linking with neighbouring tribe the Trinovantes who were angered by the forced financing of a temple in Colchester the Iceni set out on a trail of revenge and slaughter, sacking Colchester and Chelmsford , then moving to the new commercial centre of Londinium and finally up to Verulanium ( St Albans ).

Paullinus abandoned Londinium and Verulanium for lack of forces and time to organise, and it is thought the rebels (or freedom fighters) killed 80,000 in those unfortunate cities, some of their victims suffering particularly grisly deaths impaled on spikes, mutilated, or crucified. He may have been shaken too by the defeat of the Roman force under Quintus Petillius Cerialis, ambushed as it sped to defend Colchester, only some cavalry and Quintus Petillius escaping the sword.

The exact site of the battle where the Romans defeated the uprising is not known, but it is thought by many to have been near Paulerspury in the Midlands, where the Romans arrived in strength along Watling Street.

Boudicca and her allies numbered 100,000 according to Tacitus, whose father-in-law fought at the battle. Others say up to 250,000, though this may include the women and children spectators, whose carts formed in an arc behind their men were to be important in the battle. The Romans were between 10,000 and 12,000, but they were well armed, disciplined and led by Paullinus.

Attacking in a wedge the Romans broke the enemy line with a spear volley, then hit the already poorly organised tribesmen with a crushing charge. The Britons turned to flee, but were hampered in their escape by the wall of carts behind them. The Legionaries killed some 80,000, not hesitating to slaughter women and children in revenge for their own losses in London and elsewhere. Roman losses were 400.

Boudicca escaped, but took poison to avoid the ignominy and agony awaiting her if captured. The rebellion that at one point had the Emperor considering withdrawing his forces from Briton ended with meaningful resistance crushed for centuries.

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