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Age of Antiquity
Roman Occupation of Britain - Iceni Insurrection
Boudica, the Warrior Queen
In the first half of the first century, the Roman Empire expanded to the north, eventually absorbing Britain via pure military dominance.
At this time, Britain was made up of several tribal factions. These tribes lived on the plains, in makeshift shelters; each tribe had a local ruler or governor. When Rome invaded the region, some tribes fought to no avail, others made agreements with the Romans. These agreements allowed selected tribes to be somewhat independent - as long as they abided Roman Law, and paid their taxes, they were fairly autonomous. By 50 A.D. Britain was occupied by over 40,000 Romans.
The Romans proceeded to build roads and settlements in the region. The largest settlement, Camulodunum, was constructed with the purpose of advancing the local tribes by immersing them in the Roman way of life. Cities began to take shape, most notable were Londinium (present day London) and Verulamium (St Albans).
In 54 A.D. Nero Claudius Caesar became Emperor of Rome. Brutal, arrogant, and irresponsible, Nero developed ambitions for the full conquest of all tribes in Britain. He appointed General Paulinus Suetonius governor of the region, and tasked him with the elimination of the tribal factions in Britain.
Several Roman legions proceeded to north Britain, to the island of Mona. The island was inhabited by Druids, who had a reputation for being savages. The Romans attacked during the night, slaying and pillaging, burning many of the inhabitants in the own pyres. A sacred grove of trees, central to the Druids religious heritage, was destroyed by fire.
In Southeastern Britain, the Iceni tribe had been fortunate to be on good terms with the Romans, and thus thrived during this time. The king of the Iceni tribe, Prasutagus, had done well, and his wife Boudica had born him two daughters. His death in 59 A.D. was the catalyst of a series of events which would forever change the region.
In early 60 A.D., Decianus Catus, the imperial tax collector, sacked the Iceni villages, taking anything of value. Resistance was met by harsh punishment - Boudica, the kings wife, was whipped severely, and her daughters raped by the Roman centurions. Boudica, trained in the ways of the warrior by her late husband, swore revenge on the Romans. She organized a revolt over the next few months; eventually the army grew to over a hundred thousand Iceni and Trinovantes tribe members. Armed with daggers, spears, and swords, the militia had no armor, and most had no formal military training. Their power was in sheer numbers.
In the spring of 60 A.D. Boudica led the army to the Camulodunum settlement, which had no walls, and had no force to defend it. The army easily conquered the settlement, killing all in sight, and burning every house, every structure. The Temple of Claudius was set aflame with dozens of women and children locked inside. Roman messengers eventually made their way north, to Suetonius.
The message Suetonius received did not relate the size of the force which Boudica had amassed; as a result he and only a few hundred soldiers proceeded south, at a brisk pace. Suetonius predicted that Boudica's army would strike Londinium next, as it was just south of Camulodunum. He was right - but was shocked to learn the size of the army which he faced. He also learned that Decianus Catus had fled to Gaul (present day France). Suetonius made a difficult decision: he had to evacuate Londinium, as there was simply not enough time for the Roman legions in the north to travel the distance required. The general then headed northwest, hoping to meet the legions in time to assemble in time to resist the opposing army.
Boudica's forces again pillaged and burned, there is little evidence that Londinium ever existed. They continued north, destroying the Verulamium settlement, which was the third largest in Britain.
During this time Suetonius met the 14th and 20th Roman legions. He selected a plain in the Midlands, surrounded by trees and hills - the enemy would have to meet his legions head on, thus reducing the power of their sheer numbers, which had swollen to over 150,000. Roman soldiers wore steel armor and helmets - the tribal army had little or no armor.
Boudica's army met the Romans head on - they were confident their sheer numbers would guarantee them yet another victory. The Romans began the defense of their ranks with several volleys of spears, wounding or killing several thousand of the insurgents. Suetonius used a wedge formation with a traditional front line rotation tactic to ensure the front of the army was impenetrable. This plan worked: for every Roman casualty, there were 200 tribal casualties. The battle ended with only 400 Roman deaths, and over 80,000 of opposing Icenians dead. The battle field was a sea of red.
Little is known about Boudica's fate - it is generally thought that she survived the battle, and committed suicide by poison shortly afterwards. Most of the surviving resistance was hunted down and killed.
From this time forward, Britain was controlled by the Romans - until 410 A.D., when the German barbarian invasions began.
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History Fact of the Month
Did you know ...
The Origin of Valentine's Day?
Valentines day dates back to Roman times, when a holiday called The Feast of Lubercus was celebrated to protect shepherds and their flocks from wolves. During this time of year, goddess Juno Februata was honored by pairing boys and girls and denoting them 'partners' for a year.
Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine's Day around 497 AD, in an effort to replace pagan holidays with Christian tradition. Although the pairing ritual was banished, romance remains the distinctive attribute of this holiday.
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