This website uses cookies to provide a rich user experience. Please consult our Cookie Policy to learn about what cookies this website uses, or to control the cookies you receive. You need do nothing if you are happy to receive cookies.
Look and Learn History Picture Library License images from £2.99

Boadicea – the Warrior Queen who challenged the might of Rome

Posted in Ancient History, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History on Friday, 9 December 2011

Click on any image for details about licensing for commercial or personal use.

This edited article about British history originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 873 published on 7 October 1978.

Boadicea, picture, image, illustration

Boadicea,Warrior Queen of the Iceni, in her chariot, by Andrew Howat

Boadicea stared defiantly at the Roman soldier wielding a lash. Around her stood soldiers and officials, leering at the spectacle of a queen being whipped like a criminal. But if they hoped to hear her cry out, they were to be disappointed. She bore her pain in silence.

The incident, however, was to cost the Romans dearly: within a week, painted warriors of the Iceni swept through the nearest Roman settlements, putting the bewildered and terrified inhabitants to the sword.

Through the carnage and the slaughter rode the grim-faced Queen of the Iceni.

The story started in AD 60 with the death of Boadicea’s husband, Prasutagus, king of the Iceni, a large East Anglican tribe. Prasutagus had been a client king of the Roman Emperor: this meant that he enjoyed certain privileges, such as exemption from Imperial taxes and freedom from confiscation of his property. The trouble was that when a client king’s family died out, his possessions reverted to the Empire.

Prasutagus, anticipating trouble after he died, named the Emperor Nero co-heir with his two young daughters in his will. This would, he hoped, save at least half his possessions for his family.

The Governor of Britain at this time was Paulinus, a stern soldier with little time for tact and diplomacy. Decianus Cato, a corrupt official, was Procurator, responsible for the financial administration of Britain. It fell to Decianus to make an inventory of Boadicea’s belongings.

Whether or not he intended to confiscate all the possessions of the Iceni, is not clear. What is known, however, is that a small army of officials and soldiers descended, unannounced on the Royal Palace of the Iceni.

The Romans, who regarded the Britons as barbarians, treated Boadicea with scant respect and brushed aside her objections scornfully. When she tried to cow the invaders into a more respectful approach, she was dragged from her throne and flogged.

This incident started the rebellion, but there was a growing discontent among the Iceni and other tribes, even before this outrage. The Roman administration was harsh and uncompromising. Even friendly tribes like the Iceni were being treated as hostile and their lands and goods progressively acquired for Roman settlers.

The rebellion tore through the Roman settlements, taking their inhabitants completely by surprise. The Britons quickly overran Colchester and London, and stormed Verulanium (St. Albans). The Roman historian, Tacitus, estimated that 70,000 died in the massacres.

Paulinus, in Wales at the time, could not gather an army quickly enough to prevent any of the slaughter. One of his lieutenants, Petillio Cerealis gathered what he could of the Ninth Legion, and marched against the Britons, but his force was ambushed and cut to pieces.

Paulinus finally managed to gather an army from among the other legions in Britain, and he met the Britons at an unknown location in the Midlands. Despite being heavily outnumbered, the Romans’ superior discipline told.

The wild rush of the Britons spent itself very quickly on the shields of the Roman infantry, the finest in the world. With her army broken and scattered, Boadicea took poison amid the general retreat to prevent herself being captured alive by the Romans. The Rebellion was over.

The initial reaction of the Romans was to exact a terrible revenge. Tribesmen were slaughtered or enslaved. Lands and possessions among the offending tribes were confiscated. Even tribes who had remained neutral were not saved from the scourge.

The rebellion had not been in vain, however, for soon a new attitude prevailed in Rome. A new look was taken at the way the province was ruled, and a great deal more diplomacy was to be employed when dealing with the British tribes.

Boadicea’s revolt had almost brought Roman rule in Britain to an end. Even though it failed, it did bring about a new, enlightened treatment of the Britons.

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.