Boudica and the Celtic Revolt

Boudica was the wife of Prasutagus, king of the Iceni tribe in Norfolk (Southern England).  In his will Prasutagus had left half of his kingdom to Nero and the other half to his family. But upon his death the Romans in a moment of madness and arrogance annexed all Iceni land for themselves.  When Boudica protested she was flogged and her daughters raped by Roman officials. (60AD).

The Roman Governor Paulinus and his legions (XIV and XX) were on campaign against the Druids in North Wales when Boudicca in alliance with other tribes revolted against the rule of Rome. The Roman settlements were poorly defended and it was against these that Boudica unleashed her fury.

The first to fall was Camulodunum (Colchester) which was totally destroyed, some legionnaire veterans held out in the temple of Claudius for two days but to no avail as they too were slaughtered.

Roman Britain at the time of Boudica
Roman Britain at the time of Boudica

Next to fall was Londinium (London) which was also totally destroyed with no prisoners taken and no mercy shown. The victorious rebels now turned on Verulamium (St Albans) a city heavily populated by Britons as well as Romans. But this made no difference as everyone the rebels came across were butchered.  In all, three cities were destroyed and 90,000 people said to have been killed.

Statue of Boudica and her daughters at Westminster London.
Statue of Boudica and her daughters at Westminster London.

Battle of Watling Street

As Boudica's now over confident army continued their assault, Paulinus regrouped his forces and clashed with the Celtic Army somewhere on Watling Street in the West Midlands. At the start of the battle the Romans (who numbered 10,000) killed thousands of Celts with volleys of Pila (heavy javelins) and then advanced in wedge formation. The Britons attempted to flee but became trapped by their own wagons at the edge of the battlefield and were duly slaughtered. By the end of the day 80,000 Iceni lay dead compared with Roman losses of around 400.  It is thought that Boudica and her daughters committed suicide to avoid capture by the victorious Romans.  As a result of the rebellion the Romans increased their military presence in Britain by adding a third legion to the two already stationed there. The Romans would finally abandoned Britain to protect Rome from barbarian hordes in the year 410 AD.

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