jueves, 14 de diciembre de 2017

Roman Britain and the Rebellion of Boudica (part 1).

Queen Boudica, by John Ospie

On the present is not easy to imagine the British Isles with a mainly Latino cultural heritage. But it could have happened like this. There was a time when most of those lands known as Britain, were part of the Roman Empire... When Rome began to extend to the north, by the hand of Julius Caesar, they conquered and anexed Gaul (France), in 58 BC. The celts from the northern islands had good trade relations with the gallics, so they tried to help them. But it caused frictions with the romans, starting the military pressure over Britain.

Julius Caesar. Rimini, Italy.
Photo by: Georges Jansome, 2006.
Soon the romans were sailing across the strait (the English Channel) between them and the islands. After a failure, Caesar legions could enter in Britain (54 BC). Counting on a huge military force, he crushed all who tried to resist, from the south coast to the Thames river. It seems likely that he was only warning the britons, about the power of Rome. They returned to Gaul, without leaving a post or garrison, leaving those people as free as they ever had been.

The Roman Empire in 50 BC, after the conquer of Gaul.

All in all, the progress and civilization of Gaul, had brought important benefits to Britain. They began to feel a civilizing impulse; somehow they were "romanizing". Southeners lived like any roman, but they still were independent...

German warriors.

Those were hard times for Rome. Civil wars and the permanent threat of Germanic tribes, at the borders, kept the legions busy and far from British Lands for awhile.

Fort Londinium, by 41 AD. The future city of London.

In times of the Empire, Rome found the pretext and the right moment to annex Britain. After decades of alliances and puppet kings, the romans sent forty thousand men, to conquer the land (41 AD). But this time they crossed the Thames, and established a fortress, to get an effective control of the region. The name of that fort was Londinium. Over the years, the city of London would grow there.

Emperor Claudius

Claudius was the first roman emperor to visit Britain. He accepted the surrender from the leaders of the defeated tribes. In that ocassion, Rome did not show all its power and cruelty. It was about the "Pax Romana". The capital of the province was set in Camulodunum, the modern city of Colchester.

Rome kept on advancing triumphant over the lands of Britain. Everywhere they lifted a fortress, to ensure their control. The rebel tribes still persisted, but the pressure from the roman eagles made them move to northern lands. The legions would always have an advantage over the celtic armies: it was their discipline.

Celtics and romans...

But the new masters permited the presence of local rulers, provided they were allies of Rome... Soon this system began to show its cracks, mainly due to the abusive behavior of the foreigners. This gave rise to serious problems.

Boudica and her daughters, at Cardiff City Hall.

Around the year 60, died the king of the Iceni, one of the briton tribes allied of Rome. He left to the empire a part of his kingdom, and tried to save another part for his wife Boudica and his daughters. As there were no male descendents, the roman prosecutor ignored his will, taking everything for Rome, by right of conquest. The Iceni soon would start a riot, with the queen Boudica ahead. But the roman soldiers exceeded in the use of force, flogging the queen, and raping her daughters.

Queen Boudica, by Chris Rawlins. At http: http://chrisrawlins.deviantart.com
As a consequence, the rebellion heated up even more. The queen became the leader of several tribes. Without any doubt, the abuses of the romans awoke the yearning for freedom, always present within the celtics. So this way, Boudica, the warrior queen, would go down in History. But in her story, legends became an essential part.

Boudica, by Gordon Napier. At http://www.dashinvaine.co.uk
The roman historians left a physical description of Boudica. She was a tall woman, with long reddish hair, a hoarse voice, and a fierce gaze. She always wore multicolor tunics. She had an aristocratic origin, and was "smarter than most normal women". Although this sounds shocking, we should not blame the writer, is always better to understand the historical context... This sexist attitude for sure was normal in those times, and it seems that he was trying to praise Boudica, even though she was an enemy of Rome.

The Temple of  Claudius burning, at Camulodunum. By Peter Frost.

Boudica waited for the right time to attack the romans. When most of their legions were on campaing, far away at North Wales, the rebels struck on the capital. They found the city of Camulodunum almost defenceless. Many people died, and the city was set on fire: it was a razed land strategy...

Now, we want to remark on two aspects: 1) How the cruelty of romans unleashed hate of a peaceful people. 2) Maybe the roman historians have exaggerated about the violence of Boudica's army. It seems unlikely that they murdered almost all the inhabitants of such a big city. Seventy thousand people died, according to their writings.

Boudica Triumphant. The Embankment, at Westminster Bridge. London

Thereafter, the celtics defeated the romans with an ambush (the only way they could beat them). Quintus Petilius, the future governor, lost his infantry, escaping only with his cavalry. Then, many people resulted abandoned to their fate. As soon as the guilty roman prosecutor, understood the situation, ran away as far as possible, to Gaul. The legions of Suetonius returned from Wales, but could not prevent the falling of two cities: Londinum and Verulamiun (St. Albans). Somehow, Boudica could not knew how to avoid a formal, and decisive battle... It seems that the early wins and their high number encouraged them, so forgetting their greatest strength: the surprise factor.

Romans in wedge formation.

Boudica faced the roman legions at Watling Street, somewhere between Londinium and Viroconium. The celtic army overcame the number of their rivals by five to one! But, if we look closer, she only counted on a big crowd, most of them with primitive weapons. Even elders and children accompanied their queen that day.

Boudica and her army. by Joseph Martin Kronheim, 1868.

The presence of Rome at the British islands should have left a mark over their culture and their way of life. Instead, it remained so little from them, why could that happen? If Latin influence had remained, we can be sure that History could have been quite different. In fact, is almost imposible to imagine how much. How and why did the romans lose those territories?

Soon we will visit again those heroic times, when freedom was just a dream...

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