Rough Diplomacy

The Celtic War Queen Who Challenged Rome

Boudica slaughtered a Roman army. She torched Londinium, leaving a charred layer almost half a meter thick that can still be traced under modern London. According to the Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus, her army killed as many as 70,000 civilians in Londinium, Verulamium and Camulodunum, rushing ‘to cut throats, hang, burn, and crucify.


Most of Boudica’s life is shrouded in mystery. As an adolescent, Boudicca would have been sent away to another aristocratic family to be trained in the history and customs of the tribe, as well as learning how to fight in battle.

Ancient Celtic women served as both warriors and rulers, and girls could be trained to fight with swords and other weapons, just as the boys were. Celtic women were distinct in the ancient world for the liberty and rights they enjoyed and the position they held in society.

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Her name meant victory.

Boudica’s people once welcomed the Romans. Nearly 100 years earlier, when Gaius Julius Caesar made the first Roman foray into Britannia in 55 and 54 BC, the Iceni were among six tribes that offered him their allegiance. But this greatest of all Roman generals was unable to cope with either the power of the coastal tides or the guerrilla tactics of the other Britons who fought him. After negotiating a pro forma surrender and payment of tribute, Caesar departed.

                     Roman Calvary

For the next 97 years, no Roman military force set foot on British soil. The Iceni watched as their southern neighbors, the Catuvellauni, grew rich from exporting grain, cattle and hides, iron and precious metals, slaves and hunting dogs to Rome. From Rome, they imported luxury goods such as wine and olive oil, fine Italian pottery, and silver and bronze drinking cups, and they minted huge numbers of gold coins at their capital, Camulodunum.

Because of the expanse of the Roman Empire styles of jewelry were often influenced by the different cultures that were-conquered.

A century of Roman emperors came and went. Then, in 41 Claudius (Tiberius Claudius Nero Germanicus) rose to the imperial purple. There were many practical reasons why he might have thought it useful to add Britannia to the empire, one being that the island was an important source of grain and other supplies needed in quantity by the Roman army. Stories abounded about the mineral wealth there. Outbreaks of unrest in Gaul were stirred up — so the Romans believed — by druid agitators from Britannia

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Tiberius Claudius Nero Germanicus

The most compelling reason for Claudius, however, was political. Born with a limp and a stutter, he had once been regarded as a fool and kept out of public view — although those handicaps were largely responsible for his survival amid the intrigue and murder that befell many members of his noble family. Now the emperor desperately needed a prestige boost of the sort that, in Rome, could be provided only by an important military victory. So when the chief of a minor British tribe turned up in Rome, complaining that he had been deposed and asking the emperor to restore his rule, Claudius must have thought it the perfect excuse to launch an invasion.

Boudica would have been about 18 years old in 43, the year Claudius invaded, old enough to be aware of the events that would transform her life. She may already have been married to Prasutagus,(a term adopted by the Celts, but as practiced by them, more of an elected chief) , but the king of the Iceni was still Antedios, probably an older relative of Prasutagus. Antedios seems to have taken a neutral position toward Rome.

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Other tribes openly supported the conquest, but most, including the Icenis’ neighbor to the south, did not. Caradoc, king of the Catuvellauni (called Caractacus by the Romans), and his brother Togodumnus led an alliance of tribes to repel the invaders.

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When the Roman troops landed at the far southeastern tip of Britannia, Caractacus and his allies harried them as they marched inland. Then the Britons retreated to gather into a single force on the other side of the River Medway. There, the Romans won a major battle in which Caractacus’ brother was either killed or mortally wounded. At that point, Emperor Claudius himself came to Britannia to seal the conquest with a victory at Camulodunum — now known as Colchester — where he accepted the formal submission of 11 British rulers, including Antedios of the Iceni.

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Boudica and the Iceni may well have expected the Romans to sail away as they had in the past. They soon learned otherwise. Claudius built a Legionary fortress at Camulodunum, stationed troops there and established other fortresses throughout eastern Britannia. He appointed the invasion forces’ commander, Aulus Plautius, as Britannia’s first Roman governor. Caractacus retreated westward, recruited fresh troops and continued to fight a guerrilla war against the Romans.

sources , Britanica , h2,,the Annals and the Histories by Tacitus

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