miércoles, 3 de enero de 2018

Roman Britain and the Rebellion of Boudica (part 2)

An old map from Britain
Watling Street marked in red

Flying with our imagination, we can see quite a scene. A decisive battle was going to happen: at the dawn, in the proximity of an old country road, the romans were waiting for Boudica. On a slightly sloped field, with a ravine by the side and a dense forest behind. Gaius Suetonius, the roman governor, chose those positions, to protect his flank and rearguard. Thus he arranged his ten thousand men with all the skill of a great strategist.

To the Battle. By H. Lemon

On the opposite field, there was a motley crowd: fifty thousand raging celtics (according to some, were two hundred thousand). But Boudica´s army had people of any age, from children to elders, with bad weapons. Entire families were at the last rows, beholding the battle. In front of all them probably she was, rallying and encouraging everyone.

Roman soldiers in a wedge formation.

The first Roman line consisted of spearmen. They disrupted the frontal attack, and made the Celtics bewildered. When they could reorganize, found the legionnaires in a wedge formation, as the teeth of a saw. The same as a deadly hedgehog, that wall of shields, spears and swords, unstoppable moved forward, ravaging their enemies. Then, the Roman cavalry finished off the remains of Boudica´s army, chasing and killing every briton they found. At the end of the day, it was a huge massacre: we all know the cruelty of romans in those cases.

Boudica´s sculptural group. Thomas Thornycroft, 1903.
Westminster Pier, London, UK

According to the most accepted version, Boudica could escape from the battlefield. But then she and her daughters commited suicide, to avoid the humiliation of being captured by the romans. Others have told that Boudica tried to rise up once again, but she died, wounded and sick. It is possible too, that she have died in that battle. One thing is certain: the place of her tomb remained unknown.

Cornelius Tacitus. Grolier Society.

Many doubts are cast over the life and times of this warrior queen. Even her own existence is an uncertain matter. But there are archaelogical evidences of the described destruction of London and Colchester. Besides, it does not seem likely that the Roman writers had invented a Celtic heroine. One of them was Cornelius Tacitus, a rigorous historian, who lived and wrote few years later of these events.

The name of Boudica fell into oblivion for many centuries. By the time of Renaissance, when the scholars turned their look towards the Greek and Roman antiquity, found her in the works of some historians. At that moment, Boudica, or Boadicea, "resurrected for History". From the year 1534, she appeared in historic chronicles, in poetry and even in theatre plays.

Boudica and the Big Ben.

But her final exaltation came during Queen Victoria´s reign. Poets wrote odes to honor her, and a ship of the British Navy received her name. She was glorified in 1902 with an impressive sculptural group, near the Parliament (Westminster Pier), in London. It has this inscription: "Regions that Caesar never knew... thy posterity shall sway".

Boudica on a stained glass window. London Tower. 

To the present, Boudica´s story has been permanently reviewed, and there is an extensive bibliography about her. But it is unavoidable that her life fuses with legend. There is something that attracts attention about the time when her figure became a synonym of freedom. It is that the people from the same lands she fought for, had become the masters of a modern and harsh empire, bigger than the Roman´s. There is no doubt about how capricious is the wheel of history turning: the world we have today is the result of our imperfection. But the search still continues...


About the control of the roman eagles over Britain, began a great tightening with the local tribes. The uprising began to intensify, so the efforts of Boudica had not been in vain. Then, fortune seemed to smile to the celts: Rome entered a time of great disorders and civil wars. Nero´s government ended in the midst of complete anarchy, in 68 AD. At least for a few years, this saved those lands from important roman military movements.

Again we will return to visit these beautiful lands, on those unstable and changing times. Still we have to see what happened with the Roman presence in Britain. When did they go away? And why their influence was almost erased from History, at least culturally speaking...

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