Roman conquest of Britain: The Iceni rebellion
The Iceni were allies of the occupying Romans, but when Prasutagus the Iceni king and husband of the famous queen Boudica died he left his kingdom jointly to his daughters and the Roman emperor. The Romans, who only believed in paternal inheritance, ignored this and annexed the kingdom. Betrayed, the queen Boudica was flogged, her daughters raped.
In AD 60 or 61, the Roman governor of Britain Gaius Suetonius Paulinus was busy leading a devastating campaign on the Welsh island of Mona (Anglesey), a suspected hide-out for the British rebels. It was during this time, and apparently because of her disrespectful treatment at the hands of the Romans, Boudica led a united army of British tribes to revolt against the Romans.
A passage in Dio Cassius suggests Boudica used divination, and summoned the power of Andraste, an ancient mystical British goddess:
“Let us, therefore, go against [the Romans], trusting boldly to good fortune. Let us show them that they are hares and foxes trying to rule over dogs and wolves.” When she [Boudica] had finished speaking, she employed a species of divination, letting a hare escape from the fold of her dress; and since it ran on what they considered the auspicious side, the whole multitude shouted with pleasure, and Boudica, raising her hand toward heaven, said: “I thank you, Andraste, and call upon you as woman speaking to woman … I beg you for victory and preservation of liberty.”
The army’s first port of call was the Roman-occupied Camulodunum (Colchester), former capital of the Trinovantes tribe. Boudica’s army overran the Romans, besieging the poorly defended survivors in their temple for two days before the city fell. Archaeology shows it was methodically demolished. The now legendary Legio IX Hispana (the Ninth Legion) were destroyed here, only the commander and some of his cavalry escaped. Still not satiated, Boudica and her army headed towards Londinium, a small Roman settlement barely twenty years old.
The Romans evacuated and abandoned Londinium. Archaeology shows that within the bounds of Roman Londinium a thick red layer of burnt debris covering coins and pottery dating before AD 60, whilst Roman-era skulls found in the Walbrook in 2013 were potentially linked to victims of the rebels. Verulamium (St Albans) was next to be destroyed.
In the three settlements destroyed, between seventy and eighty thousand people are said to have been killed. Tacitus says that the Britons had no interest in taking or selling prisoners, only in slaughter by gibbet, fire, or cross. Dio’s account gives more detail; that the noblest women were impaled on spikes and had their breasts cut off and sewn to their mouths, “to the accompaniment of sacrifices, banquets, and wanton behaviour” in sacred places, particularly the groves of Andraste. A lot of the more salacious information should be taken with a pinch of salt, as the Romans had no real way of knowing what happened to the cities after they had abandoned them.
The governor Suetonius regrouped his forces in the West Midlands, and despite being heavily outnumbered, defeated the Britons in the Battle of Watling Street.
The historian Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus tells us the crisis had almost persuaded Nero to abandon Britain when the victorious Suetonius decided to further punish the rebels, but an investigation headed by Nero led to Suetonius being replaced as governor by the more conciliatory Publius Petronius Turpilianus.
Could the traditional view of the Iceni rebellion beginning with a woman betrayed be another Roman invention which has passed over into common acceptance?
The fact is Boudica’s husband Prasutagus died in 50AD, and her ‘rebellion’ was not until eleven years later, eighteen years after the inital Roman ‘invasion’. Prasutagus hadnt even faced the Roman’s as enemies on the battle field either, preferring to swear loyalty to the Romans in 43AD. Boudica displayed a knowledge of the old religion, summoning the goddess Andrad on the battle field, a goddess of whom virtually nothing is known. And finally, one other decisive event in British history was also happening at exactly the same time as the Iceni rebellion – The destruction of the Druid stronghold of Anglesey in Wales.
Anglesey was the site of the Druidic sacred groves, and was possibly the centre of all Druidic knowledge and training. This was why it was so important for the Romans to completely destroy these ‘barbarian priests’ of the British isles, which was the European centre of the extremely ancient, influential and troublesome religion. As stated by Dio, Boudica also sacrificed prisoners of her rebellion in groves dedicated to the godddess Andraste.