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Why Did Boudicca’s Revolt Fail?

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Published: Wed, 31 May 2017

I decided to research the question why did Boudiccas Revolt fail?; for my extended essay. I used primary and secondary sources. The books I used a range of sources from Roman era to the modern day historians. There was a period throughout history where they forgot about Boudicca this was the middle ages where roman history had waned at this point. My investigation scope was mainly limited to the military features but also considered political factors.

The conclusions I arrived at in the End is that Boudicca’s revolt failed, due to the military strength of the Romans full time army who trained everyday, the fact that Boudicca was against a undefeatable enemy, no matter how long she fought they would have always won even if meant sending reinforcements, and the final factor is that the Britons were given a false sense of security whilst dealing with the Romans as before the final battle the Romans had not considered her a threat worth dealing with so there was not much attention focused on her and her warriors.

Introduction

The Romans first invaded Britain under Julius Caesar in the year 55 BC; this however was unfortunate timing as the Roman battalions were called off to fight another war in Gaul at which point they didn’t invade Britain extensively until AD 43 under the rule of Emperor Claudius whose general Aulus Plautius served as the first governor of Britain. The Roman army at the time had sent 40,000 men to take part in the initial invasion [1] . The Emperor not only sent foot soldiers but also sent Cavalry as well, many British tribes sought to make peace, for example the Trinovantes , while many went to war against Rome such as the Druids in Anglesey in Wales. These battles went on for many years and the Romans were never fully able to conquer Britain. The second contributing factor was Britain itself; at the time of the Roman invasion in 55BC Britain had already established economic and cultural trading patterns with Continental Europe. Boudicca one of the most revered women in history, led Britons in AD 61 to fight the Romans for their freedom. The key question for many historians is, why did Boudicca’s revolt fail? In this essay I plan to give an answer of my own as to why the former mentioned happened. The Historical significance of this event is that a women who at the time were considered inferior, led the most significant rebellions against the biggest army the world has ever known. During the time of the rebellion the terrain of England would have been quite different than the one we have today it would have been practically all rural with only a few settlements every so often, until you reached Roman territory where the cities would have been built up. What makes Boudicca’s’ revolt even more spectacular is that she managed two attack to main Roman cities, which no other Rebellion ever managed to do.

Chapter 1 Boudicca’s background

Boudicca was born around 30AD, she lived in the Eastern side of Britain and was Queen of the Iceni, and her actual death is also shrouded in mystery. Tacitus states that she poisoned herself after her defeat at the army of Suetonius. [2] Dio Cassius relates that Boudicca fell ill and then died [3] . Wailing Street. Boudicca’s revolt can be pinned back to the point of her husband, King Prasutagus’ death. Prasutages was able to claim Roman citizenship [4] , which allowed him to believe that once he died his Kingdom and its inheritors would be safe. Prasutages will, as Tacitus explains, split the Iceni territory in half, one-half for the Emperor Nero and the other for his daughters. This could be a reason as to why the Romans marched into the Iceni territory as they did. They did not see women as leader material so they believed that they could take the other half of the Iceni territory for themselves as they believed that with no male ruler it would descend into chaos. The Nobles of the land were evicted from their ancestral homes, and the Royals were treated like slaves. Boudicca was flogged while her two daughters were raped. Since she herself was not raped, David Braund suggests that she was an older woman [5] , which gives her rebellion from the Romans even more credit as this would have shocked the Romans even further since they believed that women were unable to fight, so an older woman leading a rebellion would be an alien concept to the Romans. This news would have quickly spread throughout the neighboring territories and would have led to even more resentment towards the Romans.

Chapter 2 Roman Invasion of England

Roman Occupation began in 43AD under the rule of Emperor Claudius; the Romans managed to take all of Britannia but were never able to take Caledonia. The reason for Rome’s invasion was to help Emperor Claudius secure his position in Rome as he faced opposition from the Senate. The reason for this was because the Army was the main artery of Rome and the army paid for themselves, war was very profitable. Roman culture reflected this as each leader needed to prove himself as an adept army commander, and for Claudius Britain was to be his military victory. [6] This was very different to the initial invasion by Julius Caesar, who planned to invade Britain for he believed that they were helping Gaul by supplying them with equipment. In late August 55 BC, 12,000 Roman soldiers landed about 6 miles from Dover. Caesar had planned to land in Dover itself, but had to change his plan as many Briton soldiers had gathered on the cliffs ready to fight off the invaders. Even so, the Britons followed the Romans to their landing place and a fierce fight took place on the beach. The Romans were forced to fight in the water as the Britons stormed down the beach. Caesar was impressed with the fighting qualities of the Britons: “The Romans were faced with serious problems. These dangers frightened our soldiers who were not used to battles of this kind, with the results that they do not show the same speed and enthusiasm as they usually did in battles on dry land.” [7] 

However, the Romans fought off the Britons who withdrew. But it was clear to Caesar that the Britons were anything but a pushover and by the end of the year the Romans had withdrawn to Gaul. This invasion gave some breathing space for Gaul and they quickly revolted. This dragged and the Romans went into Gaul to crush the revolt. It is also clear that Britain was an afterthought due to three legions that had been destroyed in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest by rebellious German tribesmen in 9 AD, and the Emperor Augustus concluded that the empire was overextended and called a halt to new wars of conquest. This war was a war of Prestige which Rome did not want to lose.

Chapter 3, The development of the Rebellion

After the treatment of Boudicca and her daughters, resentment towards the Romans grew even greater as the people saw just how the Romans were willing to treat their apparent “friends” as before King Prasutagus’ death the Iceni tribe were friendly with the Romans. This would have allowed Boudicca to amass an army fairly easily, mainly due to the fact that many tribes already disliked Roman occupation and were looking for a reason to go to war with them. Boudicca went from tribe to tribe with her daughters explaining to tribal leaders that Rome had gone too far and they must take a stand to prevent them from going any further. As Tactitus also mentions “Boudicea, with her daughters before her in a chariot, went up to tribe after tribe, protesting that it was indeed usual for Britons to fight under the leadership of women. ‘But now,’ she said, ‘it is not as a woman descended from noble ancestry, but as one of the people that I am avenging lost freedom, my scourged body, the outraged chastity of my daughters. Roman lust has gone so far that not our very persons, nor even age or virginity, are left unpolluted. But heaven is on the side of a righteous vengeance; a legion which dared to fight has perished; the rest are hiding themselves in their camp, or are thinking anxiously of flight. They will not sustain even the din and the shout of so many thousands, much less our charge and our blows. If you weigh well the strength of the armies, and the causes of the war, you will see that in this battle you must conquer or die. This is a woman’s resolve; as for men, they may live and be slaves.” [8] This proved to the Britons that Boudicca was extremely serious about rebelling over Roman authority and she was confident that she would be able to successfully rebell against the Romans. She believed this to be possible if she could inspire the hearts and minds of all Britons. The reaction from the Romans during this inital uprising from Boudicca was minimal, it was unnoticed in Rome as they had the world’s largest empire to control. This could be another possible reason as to why the inital stages of the Rebellion from Boudicca was so successful, but once the Romans took notice the tables were quickly turned.

Chapter 4, The importance of Colchester and Londinium

During Bouddica’s revolt it was clear that Rome wasn’t giving much oppostion [9] this would have encouraged her and her warriors to start making bigger attacks on Roman territory and this clearly happened. Boudicca laid siege on the capitol of Roman Britain Camalodunum (Colchester). This town however was mainly run by old Roman Veterans who would have unlikely been able to fight. This lack of manpower and the fact that this city was a main artery for Roman Britain gave the Iceni and Boudicca the incentivite to destroy it. The 9th legion attempted to save the city but was ambushed by Boudicca and only a few survived [10] . The Army of Kelts set fire to the temple (which marked the conquest by Emperor Claudicus over Roman Britain) which burned everyone inside alive.

After this victory Boudicca moved on to Londinium (London), the Roman general Gaius Suetonius Paulinus sent a few troops in time before Boudicca’s very large army arrived, Tacitus then writes

“At first, he [Gaius Suetonius Paulinus] hesitated as to whether to stand and fight there [Londinium]. Eventually, his numerical inferiority – and the price only too clearly paid by the divisional commander’s rashness – decided him to sacrifice the single city of Londinium to save the province as a whole. Unmoved by lamentations and appeals, Suetonius gave the signal for departure. The inhabitants were allowed to accompany him. But those who stayed because they were women, or old, or attached to the place, were slaughtered by the enemy.”

This shows that the Romans were not too desperate to defend their city and were willing to let the Iceni burn it to the ground, and allow the families to be slaughtered if they were unable to leave with the Romans. Following Tacitus’ description he then states that in retaliation for the burning of the city, the Romans slaughtered 70,000 Britons.

Following this attack Bouddica’s forces moved on to the city of Verulamium (St Albans) and destroyed it, through the two attacks on Londinium and Verulamium an estimated 70,000-80,000 were killed by Boudicca and her forces [11] 

Chapter 5, The military differences

By the time the final battle occurred Boudicca had amassed an army of over 200,000 [12] , however this number differs between certain historians. Tacitus reported that there were 100,000 Britons and Cassius Dio estimated 250,000. There were British sympathizers and family members standing behind Boudicca’s warriors both historians do agree on this matter. The Britons brought their carts, and wagons were arrayed encircling the rear of the British position, forming a significant barrier to movement for the Britons when they needed to retreat” [13] .

The Romans on the other hand had a considerably smaller number of around 10,000 [14] . Full time employed soldiers whose job was to fight, these men had an incredible amount of training and expertise and this would have come from the previous battles and wars throughout the previous centuries which allowed the Romans to perfect their battle formations and tactics. Whereas the Britons were mainly farmers and had little time to dedicate to learning how to fight successfully as a unit and as individuals, the Romans had mastered sword combat at an early age and every morning had a gruelling training session to constantly hone their skills. The Romans also did not have to worry about tending to their farms or families as the Britons did. According to Tacitus, Seutonius had a total of 10,000 including his 14th legion a vexillation of the 20th Legion, and auxiliaries. Other estimates put the Roman force at 7000-8000 legionaries and 4000 auxiliaries (including cavalry). Part of the Roman army’s training was a twenty Roman miles (18.4 miles) march (to be completed in five hours) carrying a full pack of weapons, shield, food rations, a cooking pot and a short spade, along with their personal kit. [15] This was then followed by heavy weapon carrying Roman soldiers who attended weapons training every morning. Roman soldiers practised hand-to-hand combat with wooden swords, spears and shields that were deliberately much heavier than those they used in battle. They trained with dummy swords and javelins made of wood. [16] The soldiers then practised Roman formations allowing them to work and move as one unit. The most formidable formation they used was the testudo (tortoise) in which the soldiers would bind together and lift their shields, interlocking them together. The soldiers in the back lines placed their shields over their heads to form a protective “shell” over the top of the men. “The shields fitted so closely together that they formed one unbroken surface without any gaps between them. It has been said that it was so strong a formation that men could walk upon them, and even horses and chariots be driven over them. The Romans also used other formations such as “The Wedge” this was used to break enemy lines. This extreme training discipline compared to the lack of discipline in Boudicca’s warriors gives the clear view that the Romans were going to win in the final battle.

Although the Britons outnumbered the Romans greatly, the Britons were given a false sense of security . This was clear as Tacitus states that in the final battle all the Britons’ families had turned up to watch the Roman bloodbath. Up until the final battle, the Britons were constantly massacring the Romans, which included the 9th legion. This was due to the possibility that the Romans were not putting much effort into containing Boudicca because they did not see her as a threat; whereas the Druids in Anglesey and Gaul were bigger threats to the Roman power or their religion. Once Boudicca started attacking Roman towns and cities, the Generals of the region started to take notice and this was the turning point for Boudicca as the Romans started to put pressure and effort into removing Boudicca’s threat from their land. However they lacked the superior discipline and tactics that won the Romans a decisive victory. However the chariots were exceptional. This description is how Julius Caesar described the Briton’s chariot ability while during battle: “Chariots are used like this. First of all, the charioteers drive all over the field hurling javelins. Generally, the horses and the noise of the wheels are enough to terrify the enemy and throw them into confusion, as soon as they have got through the cavalry, the warriors jump down from their chariots and fight on foot. Meanwhile, the charioteers then move away and place their chariots in such a way that the warriors can easily get back on them if they are hard pressed by the size of the enemy. So they combine the easy movement of cavalry with the staying power of foot soldiers. Regular practice makes them so skillful that they can control their horses at a full gallop, even on a steep slope. And they can stop and turn them in a moment. The warriors can then run along the chariot pole, stand on the yoke and get back into the chariot as quick as lightening.” [17] while in truth by AD61 the chariot drivers were the rich class and barely trained compared to the Roman charioteers. The main base of Boudicca’s army was foot soldiers who were mainly poor peasants and were unable to spend most of their time training with swords and had to struggle to just make enough food to feed their families. In truth the army of Boudicca’s while great in numbers was unable to fight as proved in their final battle agaisnt the Romans who were outnumbered 20 to 1.

Chapter 6, Strategy and tactics

Up until the final battle, which no one knows the place of, Boudicca and her warriors were easily defeating the Roman attempts to stop them. For example the ninth legion in the burning of Colchester. This was partly because Boudicca’s battles happened when Suetonius Paulinus, the Governor of Rome, was away fighting the Druids in Anglesey, North Wales. This meant that the Romans who were left behind did not have a leader to tell them what to do. However, this was soon to change as General Suetonius Paulinus once hearing of the Iceni revolt came back to England and this was the turning point for Boudicca as the Romans quickly turned the tables. The battleground as previously stated is unknown but Tacitus wrote “a position with a wood behind him (General Suetonius)”. This would have placed the Romans at the top of some sort of hill, which would have been in keeping with the standard Roman tactics. With the wood behind them, the Romans would have channelled the Britons so the Romans would only have to face Britons on one side. Behind the Britons was their family, as they had expected a Roman massacre, behind them was the bounty they had amassed from their previous raids. The Celts were very high on enthusiasm, people were shouting and music was playing everyone was enjoying the atmosphere. The Roman’s expectation towards this battle would have been very different. The Romans rallied around their commander, who delivered his speech convincing them that the battle could be won. Boudicca gave a final speech, and then the Celts charged towards the Romans. [18] 

The outcome was that out of 10,000 Romans only 400 were killed and all of Boudicca’s warriors were killed, including their families and most of the Iceni tribe. Those who managed to survive and escape moved to Norfolk where the Romans kept a close eye on them. Boudicca was said to have poisoned herself after the battle had been lost to avoid Roman capture, however there is no mention of what happened to her daughters as they seem to have vanished from the history books.

Tacitus says nothing of her burial. There is a story that she was buried at Stonehenge and its legendary circle of stones were set up by the Druids to mark her tomb. However there is no solid historical evidence over this period and it is most probably a myth.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the reason Boudicca lost against the Romans in her final revolt was due to a simple reason. Boudicca was up against the most formidable army the world has ever seen, and the Romans were never going to allow Boudicca to disgrace them and allow her to get away with it. Even if Boudicca had managed to defeat the Romans in her final battle it is most probable that the Romans would have sent reinforcements into Britain to wipe her off the face of the map. This was the key reason as to why Boudicca’s revolt failed: Boudicca had set herself an unachievable goal and she was never going to come out on top, no matter what the outcome of her final battle was going to be.


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