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Boudica

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Boudica (pronounced /ˈbuːdɨkə/; also spelled Boudicca), formerly known as Boadicea /boʊdɨˈsiːə/ and known in Welsh as "Buddug" [ˈbɨ̞ðɨ̞ɡ][1] (d. AD 60 or 61) was queen of the Iceni tribe who led a rebellion against the all conquering Roman Empire.

Boudica's husband Prasutagus, who ruled as a nominally independent ally of Rome, left his kingdom jointly to his daughters and the Roman Emperor. However, when he died his will was ignored. The kingdom was annexed, Boudica was flogged, her daughters raped and Roman loans were all called in.

Boadicea Haranguing the Britons

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Boadicea Haranguing the Britons

In AD 60 or 61, while the Roman governor, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, was leading a campaign on the island of Anglesey in North Wales, Boudica led the Iceni people with the Trinovantes and others, in rebellion.

They destroyed Camulodunum (modern Colchester), formerly the capital of the Trinovantes, but then a colonia (for discharged Roman soldiers). They also routed a Roman legion, sent to relieve the settlement.

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On news of the rebellion, Suetonius hurried to Londinium (London), the rebels' next target. Unable to defend it, Suetonius evacuated and abandoned it. The rebels burnt Londinium to the ground, as well as Verulamium (St Albans). Up to 80,000 people were killed in the three cities (numbers are difficult to verify).

Suetonius, meanwhile, regrouped his army in the West Midlands, and despite being heavily outnumbered, defeated the Britons at the Battle of Watling Street.

The rebellion caused the emperor Nero to consider withdrawing from the island. Suetonius's eventual victory over Boudica meant that the Romans eventually regained control. Boudica then killed herself so as not to be be captured, fell ill or died; Tacitus and Dio accounts differ.

The history of these events, as recorded by Tacitus[3] and Cassius Dio,[4] was rediscovered during the Renaissance and led to a resurgence of Boudica's legendary fame during the Victorian era, when Queen Victoria was portrayed as her 'namesake'. Boudica has since remained an important cultural symbol in the United Kingdom. The absence of native British literature during the early part of the first millennium means that Britain owes its knowledge of Boudica's rebellion to the writings of the Romans.

History

Boudica's name

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Boudica has been known by several versions of her name. Raphael Holinshed calls her "Bonduca", a version of the name that was used in the popular Jacobean play Bonduca, in 1610.[5] William Cowper's poem, Boadicea, an ode (1782) popularised an alternate version of the name.[6] From the 19th century and much of the late 20th century, "Boadicea" was the most common version of the name, which is probably derived from a mistranscription when a manuscript of Tacitus was copied in the Middle Ages. Her name takes many forms in various manuscripts—Boadicea and Boudicea in Tacitus; Βουδουικα, Βουνδουικα, and Βοδουικα in Dio—but almost certainly, it was originally Boudicca or Boudica, and is the Proto-Celtic feminine adjective *boudīka, "victorious", derived from the Celtic word *bouda, "victory" (cf. Irish bua (Classical Irish buadh), Buaidheach, Welsh buddugoliaeth).

It is suggested that the most comparable English name would be "Victoria".[7] The name is attested in inscriptions as "Boudica" in Lusitania, "Boudiga" in Bordeaux, and "Bodicca" in Britain.[8] Based on later development of Welsh and Irish, Kenneth Jackson concludes that the correct spelling of the name in the British language is Boudica, pronounced [bɒʊˈdiːkaː][9] (the closest English equivalent to the vowel in the first syllable is the ow in "bow-and-arrow"). The modern English pronunciation is /ˈbuːdɪkə/.[10]

Background

Tacitus and Dio agree that Boudica was of royal descent. Dio says that she was "possessed of greater intelligence than often belongs to women", that she was tall, had long red hair down to her hips, a harsh voice and a piercing glare, and habitually wore a large golden necklace (perhaps a torc), a many-coloured tunic, and a thick cloak fastened by a brooch.

Her husband, Prasutagus, was the king of Iceni, people who inhabited roughly what is now Norfolk. They initially were not part of the territory under direct Roman control, having voluntarily allied themselves to Rome following Claudius' conquest of AD 43. They were jealous of their independence and had revolted in AD 47 when the then-governor Publius Ostorius Scapula threatened to disarm them.[11] Prasutagus lived a long life of conspicuous wealth, and, hoping to preserve his line, made the Roman emperor co-heir to his kingdom along with his wife and two daughters.

It was normal Roman practice to allow allied kingdoms their independence only for the lifetime of their client king, who would agree to leave his kingdom to Rome in his will: the provinces of Bithynia[12] and Galatia,[13] for example, were incorporated into the Empire in just this way. Roman law also allowed inheritance only through the male line. So when Prasutagus died, his attempts to preserve his line were ignored and his kingdom was annexed as if it had been conquered. Lands and property were confiscated and nobles treated like slaves.

According to Tacitus, Boudica was flogged and her daughters were raped. Dio Cassius says that Roman financiers, including Seneca the Younger, chose this time to call in their loans. Tacitus does not mention this, but does single out the procurator, Catus Decianus, for criticism for his "avarice". Prasutagus, it seems, had lived well on borrowed Roman money, and on his death his subjects had become liable for the debt.

Boudica's uprising

In AD 60 or 61, while the current governor, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, was leading a campaign against the island of Mona (modern Anglesey) in north Wales, which was a refuge for British rebels and a stronghold of the druids, the Iceni conspired with their neighbours the Trinovantes, amongst others, to revolt. Boudica was chosen as their leader. According to Tacitus, they drew inspiration from the example of Arminius, the prince of the Cherusci who had driven the Romans out of Germany in AD 9, and their own ancestors who had driven Julius Caesar from Britain.[14] Dio says that at the outset Boudica employed a form of divination, releasing a hare from the folds of her dress and interpreting the direction in which it ran, and invoked Andraste, a British goddess of victory. Perhaps it is significant that Boudica's own name means "victory" (see above).

The rebels' first target was Camulodunum (Colchester), the former Trinovantian capital and now a Roman colonia. The Roman veterans who had been settled there mistreated the locals, and a temple to the former emperor Claudius had been erected there at local expense, making the city a focus for resentment. The Roman inhabitants of the city sought reinforcements from the procurator, Catus Decianus, but he sent only two hundred auxiliary troops. Boudica's army fell on the poorly defended city and destroyed it, besieging the last defenders in the temple for two days before it fell. Archaeologists have shown that the city was methodically demolished.[15]

The future governor Quintus Petillius Cerialis, then commanding the Legio IX Hispana, attempted to relieve the city, but suffered an overwhelming defeat. His infantry was wiped out; only the commander and some of his cavalry escaped. The location of this famous battle is claimed by the village of Great Wratting, in Suffolk, which lies in the Stour Valley on the Icknield Way West of Colchester, and by a village in Essex.[16] After this defeat, Catus Decianus fled to Gaul.

When news of the rebellion reached him, Suetonius hurried along Watling Street through hostile territory to Londinium (London). Londinium was a relatively new town, founded after the conquest of 43 AD, but it had grown to be a thriving commercial centre with a population of travellers, traders, and probably, Roman officials. Suetonius considered giving battle there, but considering his lack of numbers and chastened by Petillius's defeat, decided to sacrifice the city to save the province. Londinium was abandoned to the rebels, who burnt it down, slaughtering anyone who had not evacuated with Suetonius. Archaeology shows a thick red layer of burnt debris covering coins and pottery dating before 60 AD within the bounds of the Roman city.[17] Verulamium (St Albans) was next to be destroyed.

In the three cities destroyed, between seventy and eighty thousand people are said to have been killed. Tacitus says 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.

Romans rally

Suetonius regrouped with the XIV Gemina, some vexillationes (detachments) of the XX Valeria Victrix, and any available auxiliaries. The prefect of Legio II Augusta, Poenius Postumus, ignored the call, but nonetheless the governor was able to call on almost ten thousand men. He took a stand at an unidentified location, probably in the West Midlands somewhere along the Roman road now known as Watling Street, in a defile with a wood behind him. But his men were heavily outnumbered. Dio says that, even if they were lined up one deep, they would not have extended the length of Boudica's line: by now the rebel forces numbered 230,000.

However, this number should be treated with scepticism: Dio's account is known only from a late epitome, and ancient sources commonly exaggerate enemy numbers. While Boudica's army continued their assault in Verulamium (St. Albans), Suetonius regrouped his forces. According to Tacitus, he amassed a force including his own Legio XIV Gemina, parts of the XX Valeria Victrix, and any available auxiliaries, a total of 10,000 men.[18] A third legion, II Augusta, near Exeter, failed to join him;[19] a fourth, IX Hispana, had been routed trying to relieve Camulodunum.[20]

Boudica exhorted her troops from her chariot, her daughters beside her. Tacitus gives her a short speech in which she presents herself not as an aristocrat avenging her lost wealth, but as an ordinary person, avenging her lost freedom, her battered body, and the abused chastity of her daughters. Their cause was just, and the deities were on their side; the one legion that had dared to face them had been destroyed. She, a woman, was resolved to win or die; if the men wanted to live in slavery, that was their choice.

However, the lack of manoeuvrability of the British forces, combined with lack of open-field tactics to command these numbers, put them at a disadvantage to the Romans, who were skilled at open combat due to their superior equipment and discipline, and the narrowness of the field meant that Boudica could put forth only as many troops as the Romans could at a given time.

First, the Romans stood their ground and used volleys of pila (heavy javelins) to kill thousands of Britons who were rushing toward the Roman lines. The Roman soldiers, who had now used up their pila, were then able to engage Boudica's second wave in the open. As the Romans advanced in a wedge formation, the Britons attempted to flee, but were impeded by the presence of their own families, whom they had stationed in a ring of wagons at the edge of the battlefield, and were slaughtered. This is not the first instance of this tactic.

The women of the Cimbri, in the Battle of Vercellae against Gaius Marius, were stationed in a line of wagons and acted as a last line of defence;[21] Ariovistus of the Suebi is reported to have done the same thing in his battle against Julius Caesar.[22] Tacitus reports that "according to one report almost eighty thousand Britons fell" compared with only four hundred Romans. According to Tacitus, Boudica poisoned herself; Dio says she fell sick and died, and was given a lavish burial.

Postumus, on hearing of the Roman victory, fell on his sword. Catus Decianus, who had fled to Gaul, was replaced by Gaius Julius Alpinus Classicianus. Suetonius conducted punitive operations, but criticism by Classicianus led to an investigation headed by Nero's freedman Polyclitus. Fearing Suetonius' actions would provoke further rebellion, Nero replaced the governor with the more conciliatory Publius Petronius Turpilianus.[23] The historian Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus tells us the crisis had almost persuaded Nero to abandon Britain.[24]

Location of her defeat

The location of Boudica's defeat is unknown. Most historians favour a site in the West Midlands, somewhere along the Roman road now known as Watling Street. Kevin K. Carroll suggests a site close to High Cross in Leicestershire, on the junction of Watling Street and the Fosse Way, which would have allowed the Legio II Augusta, based at Exeter, to rendezvous with the rest of Suetonius's forces, had they not failed to do so.[25] Manduessedum (Mancetter), near the modern town of Atherstone in Warwickshire, has also been suggested,[26] as has 'The Rampart' near Messing in Essex, according to legend.[27] More recently, a discovery of Roman artifacts in Kings Norton close to Metchley Camp has suggested another possibility.[28]

Historical sources

Tacitus, the most important Roman historian of this period, took a particular interest in Britain as Gnaeus Julius Agricola, his father-in-law and the subject of his first book, served there three times. Agricola was a military tribune under Suetonius Paulinus, which almost certainly gave Tacitus an eyewitness source for Boudica's revolt. Cassius Dio's account is only known from an epitome, and his sources are uncertain. He is generally agreed to have based his account on that of Tacitus, but he simplifies the sequence of events and adds details, such as the calling in of loans, that Tacitus does not mention.

Gildas, in his 6th century De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae, may have been alluding to Boudica when he wrote "A treacherous lioness butchered the governors who had been left to give fuller voice and strength to the endeavours of Roman rule."[29]

Cultural depictions

History and literature

By the Middle Ages Boudica was forgotten. She makes no appearance in Bede's work, the Historia Brittonum, the Mabinogion or Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain. But the rediscovery of the works of Tacitus during the Renaissance allowed Polydore Virgil to reintroduce her into British history as "Voadicea" in 1534.[30] Raphael Holinshed also included her story in his Chronicles (1577), based on Tacitus and Dio,[31] and inspired Shakespeare's younger contemporaries Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher to write a play, Bonduca, in 1610.[5] William Cowper wrote a popular poem, Boadicea, an ode, in 1782.[6]

It was in the Victorian era that Boudica's fame took on legendary proportions as Queen Victoria was seen to be Boudica's "namesake". Victoria's Poet Laureate, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, wrote a poem, Boadicea,[32] and several ships were named after her. A great bronze statue of Boudica with her daughters in her war chariot (furnished with scythes after the Persian fashion) was commissioned by Prince Albert and executed by Thomas Thornycroft. It was completed in 1905 and stands next to Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament, with the following lines from Cowper's poem, referring to the British Empire:

Regions Caesar never knew
Thy posterity shall sway.

Ironically, the great anti-imperialist rebel was now identified with the head of the British Empire, and her statue[33] stood guard over the city she razed to the ground.[34]

In more recent times, Boudica has been the subject of numerous documentaries, including some by Discovery Channel, History International Channel, and the BBC.

Fiction

Boudica has been the subject of two feature films, the 1928 film Boadicea, where she was portrayed by Phyllis Neilson-Terry,[35] and 2003's Boudica (Warrior Queen in the USA), a UK TV film written by Andrew Davies and starring Alex Kingston as Boudica.[36] A new film is planned for release in 2010 entitled Boudicca, written by Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal, directed by Gavin O'Connor, and produced by Mel Gibson.[37] She has also been the subject of a 1978 British TV series, Warrior Queen, starring Siân Phillips as Boudica. Jennifer Ward-Lealand portrayed Boudica in an episode of Xena - Warrior Princess entitled "The Deliverer" in 1997.

The Viking Queen is a 1967 Hammer Films adventure film set in ancient Britain, in which the role of Queen Salina is based up on the historical figure of Boudica.

Boudica's story is the subject of several novels, including books by Rosemary Sutcliff, Pauline Gedge, Manda Scott, Alan Gold, Diana L. Paxson, David Wishart, George Shipway, Simon Scarrow and J. F. Broxholme (a pseudonym of Duncan Kyle). She plays a central role in the first part of G. A. Henty's novel Beric the Briton. One of the viewpoint characters of Ian Watson's novel Oracle is an eyewitness to her defeat. She has also appeared in several comic book series, including the Sláine, which featured two runs, entitled "Demon Killer" and "Queen of Witches" giving a free interpretation of Boudica's story. Other comic appearances include Witchblade and From Hell. Boudicca is a character in the animated series Gargoyles.[38] Additionally, in the alternate history novel Ruled Britannia" by Harry Turtledove, Boudicca is the subject of a play written by William Shakespeare to incite the people of Britain to revolt against Spanish conquerors.

Henry Purcell's last major work, composed in 1695, was music for play entitled Bonduca, or the British Heroine (Z. 574). Selections include "To Arms", "Britons, Strike Home" and "O lead me to some peaceful gloom". Boudica has also been the primary subject of songs by Irish singer/songwriter Enya, Dutch soprano Petra Berger, Scottish singer/songwriter Steve McDonald, English metal band Bal-Sagoth, Faith and the Muse and Dreams in the Witching House. She has also been mentioned in The Libertines' song The Good Old Days.

Other cultural references

There have been scattered reports that the restless spirit of Boudica has been seen in the county of Lincolnshire. These reports, dating back to the mid-19th century, claim Boudica rides her chariot, heading for some unknown destination, and many a traveller and motorist have claimed to have seen her.[39]

There is also a long-lived urban myth that she is buried under Platform 10 of King's Cross railway station in London.[40] This originates from the village of Battle Bridge (previously on the station's site), which was said to be the site of her last battle, suicide and burial. This is now accepted as a fiction and a hoax, whose origins can be traced back to Lewis Spence's book Boadicea — Warrior Queen of the Britons (1937) (where it is given but unevidenced)[41] or earlier.[42] It is now thought that Battle Bridge was a corruption of 'Broad Ford Bridge'. Other such legends place her burial on Parliament Hill, Hampstead or in Suffolk.

In 2003, an LTR retrotransposon from the genome of the human blood fluke Schistosoma mansoni was named Boudicca.[43] The Boudicca retrotransposon, a high-copy retroviral-like element, was the first mobile genetic element of this type to be discovered in S. mansoni.

In July 2008, the UK Television series Bonekickers, dedicated an hour to Boudicca in the episode named "The Eternal Fire"[citation needed]

On her 1987 debut album, the Irish singer Enya performed the song "Boadicea".

Various female politicians, including former Prime Minister of New Zealand, Helen Clark have been called Boudica.[44]

Róisín Murphy is featured in a song titled "Boadicea" from Mason (DJ)'s 2010 debut album.

Further reading

References and Notes

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