Conquest by Caer Australis; origianl image by S Rhys Jones 2007

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Cover art by Steve Stone (Gold 2005)

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"It is not as a noble, but as one of the people
that I am avenging lost freedom! cried Boudicca" - Tacitus

The Iceni

The Iceni were located directly to the north of the Trinovantian region and at the taking of the former kingdom of Cunobelinos, the Iceni had come to terms with Rome. Under their ri, Prastagus, the Iceni maintained a status of allied kingdom to the Roman province, and "the Iceni [remained] a powerful tribe, which war had not weakened, as they had voluntarily joined our alliance" (Tacitus, Annals 12.31).

The Iceni had rebelled in AD48 at the consolidation of Roman power during the rebellions of Caractacus, but after their defeat remained at peace with the Roman province and prospered. In the aftermath of the consolidation by Ostorius, Camulodunum had been developed as the colonia with a statue of Victory, and after the death of the emporer, "a temple also erected to the Divine Claudius" in about AD55 (Tacitus, Annals, 14.31). Like the Temple to Augustus at Lugdunum in Gaul, this was the meeting place for the election of the sacredos chief priest of Britain: The Gallo-Roman institutions developed over the previous century were to be rapidly deployed in Britian, driven by forced loans by Roman speculators, and the historian Dio reported that Seneca, tutor to the young Nero, "lent the British forty millions, against their will, in the hope of high interest" (Morris, 2005, 66).

Londinium also developed as a Roman town. Originally defined by a bridge, it was the location of the Roman encampment esatblished by the invading forces, linking the route from Camulodunum southward to the Cantii and Regni, and a meeting place of Celtic routes leading to Verulamium which were described by Caesar a century earlier: "the Thames...fordable at one point only...the route [through] open country [and] woods [with] well-known lanes and pathways" (Caesar, Bellum Gallium, 5, 18-19). In its early years "Londinium...though undistinguished by the name of a colony, was much frequented by a number of merchants and trading vessels" (Tacitus, Annals, 14.33).

Outrage and revolt

In this environment, "Prasutagus, king of the Iceni, famed for his long prosperity, had made the emperor his heir along with his two daughters" but the new emporer Nero held the submission with contempt, "so much so that his kingdom was plundered by centurions...his wife Boudicea was scourged, and his daughters outraged. All the chief men of the Iceni, as if Rome had received the whole country as a gift, were stript of their ancestral possessions, and the king's relatives were made slaves" (Tacitus, Annals, 14.31).

The response of the Iceni was outrage, and they united behind their queen, Boudicca, in open revolt. They found allies in the Trinovantes, whose nobles had lost land and possessions in the founding of the colonia: "they flew to arms and stirred to revolt the Trinobantes and others who, not yet cowed by slavery, had agreed in secret conspiracy to reclaim their freedom" (Tacitus, Annals, 14.31). Camulodunum was attacked, and "plundered or fired in the onslaught; the temple where the soldiers had assembled, was stormed after a two days' siege. The victorious enemy met Petilius Cerialis, commander of the ninth legion, as he was coming to the rescue, routed his troops, and destroyed all his infantry" (Tacitus, Annals, 14.32)

The rebellion, estimated at about 70,000 by Tacitus, continued to Londinium. As a wholly new settlement the town was representative of Roman imperium. Suetonius, who had marched across Britain from his campaigns in the west, did not defend the town, but "resolved to save the province at the cost of a single town [despite] the people, as they implored his aid....Like ruin fell on the town of Verulamium" (Tacitus, Annals, 14.33). The destruction of the three centres was intense. 'Londinium was burned by a fire so hot that it melted the remains into a layer of red clay 25 centimetres (10 inches) thick in places. This is the same 'Boudican destruction layer' that has been found at Camulodunum' (In Boudica's footsteps, 2002).

Call to battle

Boudicca's forces met Suetonius at a place of his choosing "a position approached by a narrow defile, closed in at the rear by a forest". He had at hand about ten thousand armed men, "the fourteenth legion with the veterans of the twentieth, and auxiliaries from the neighbourhood", while "the army of the Britons, with its masses of infantry and cavalry, was confidently exulting, a vaster host than ever had assembled, and so fierce in spirit that they actually brought with them, to witness the victory, their wives riding in waggons, which they had placed on the extreme border of the plain" (Tacitus, Annals, 14.34).

The outcome against the experienced Roman military was defeat, and Boudicca poisoned herself in the face of the outcome, but it is her words of encouragement that echo through the ages, squaring responsibility for the battle for British freedom at Roman injustice. "But now, she said, it is not as a woman descended from noble ancestry, but as one of the people that I am avenging lost freedom, my scourged body, the outraged chastity of my daughters. Roman lust has gone so far that not our very persons, nor even age or virginity, are left unpolluted. But heaven is on the side of a righteous vengeance; a legion which dared to fight has perished; the rest are hiding themselves in their camp, or are thinking anxiously of flight. They will not sustain even the din and the shout of so many thousands, much less our charge and our blows. If you weigh well the strength of the armies, and the causes of the war, you will see that in this battle you must conquer or die" (Tacitus, Annals, 14.35).

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