Boudicca: Celtic Warrior Queen

Boudicca, warrior queen of the Celtic Iceni tribe, left her mark in British history and is regarded by many as patriotic heroine.

The Celts were a race of tribal warriors whose history and influence can be traced back to 1200 BC, to a period called the Bronze Age. They established themselves and their diverse culture all over Europe and into England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland. They had no real central government, each tribe bound only by its customs and religion, which included earthbound deities, demons and sun gods. It wasn't uncommon for tribes to go to war against each other. Each tribe was ruled by a King and his Queen and written Roman history states that women often rode into battle alongside the men. It was Herodotus, Greek writer and historian, who named the warrior race the "Keltoi", a name that was later shortened to the Celts.

The Celts and the Romans were at odds for centuries, ever since a great Celtic army sacked Rome in 390. This animosity followed the tribes even after they left the European continent and invaded and established themselves in Britain. When Julius Caesar conquered the island in 55 BC, Britain was turned into an official Roman province, all its subjects falling under Roman Law. For the next century relations between most Celtic tribes and their Roman conquerors remained peaceful.

Roman colonisation escalated in 43 AD and settlements and garrisons were established all over the countryside, including London, or "Londinium" as it was known then. At the time of this latest invasion a rich and powerful Celtic tribe called the Iceni lived in territories that are today the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk. King Prasutagus, ruler of the Iceni, agreed to become a Roman ally but only if he was allowed to retain his territories. Following Prasutagus's lead, several other Celtic tribes agreed to this same arrangement.

Prasutagus died suddenly, leaving behind his grieving queen, Boudicca, and their two daughters, Comorra and Tasca. He had also left a written will, stating that half his kingdom and wealth would go to Rome, the other half to his daughters as their rightful inheritance. Roman officials ignored the King's will, however, and demanded Queen Boudicca hand over all her wealth and territories. When she refused, proclaiming her treatment as unfitting of a Roman ally, soldiers were ordered to arrest and flog her and then brutalise and rape her daughters.

Once she was released and her daughters returned to her side, Boudicca was not content to sit back and allow the atrocities committed against her family to go unanswered. She rallied the support of a neighbouring tribe, the Trinovantes, and also a few other Celtic tribes from the north, who had thus far refused to bow to Roman rule. Within a short time Queen Boudicca had amassed an army of over 100,000. Her first target was Comulodunum, a garrison of retired Roman soldiers and their families. Boudicca and her forces spared no one and she ordered the city and its temples put to the torch. A Roman infantry of 5000 was sent to deal with the upstart Queen but they were also annihilated to the last man. Boudicca's bloody rebellion moved on, her next targets Londinium and Verulamium and surrounding Roman settlements, which were all systematically sacked and burned.

While Boudicca continued exacting her revenge against the Romans, the current Governor, Suetonius, galvanised an army of 10,000 legionaires and marched them to an area where he was fairly certain his highly trained soldiers would have a tactical advantage over the Queen's rebels. With a dense forest at their backs his forces would meet the enemy from only one direction.

Meanwhile, Boudicca and her warriors, certain they would once again prevail over such a small Roman force not only quickly but completely, brought their families along to witness this latest conquest. The battle raged all day, Boudicca sending wave after wave of her Britons against Suetonius's much more disciplined legionaires. The Romans successfully repelled the rebels, eventually surrounding the Queen's remaining forces amidst their own trapped and terrified families. The Romans began their own systematic slaughter of warriors, women, children and the elderly, carnage from which few escaped. Boudicca and her two daughters did manage to get away, but rather than be taken back to Rome and paraded before the Emperor as political prisoners, they chose to commit suicide. So ended the short-lived Boudiccan rebellion.

Today Boudicca, warrior Queen of the Iceni tribe, is regarded as a patriotic Briton and heroine, a woman and a leader who stood her ground against foreign invasion. A life-sized bronze statue of Boudicca and her daughters was erected at Westminster bridge, across from the British House of Parliament during the reign of Queen Victoria. Several literary works have also been written based on her life and her accomplishments. One of the most popular is the poem, "Boadicea", penned by Sir Alfred Lord Tennyson.

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