Friday, March 15, 2013

Women's History Month


"She was huge of frame, terrifying of aspect, and with a harsh voice. A great mass of bright red hair fell to her knees: She wore a great twisted golden necklace, and a tunic of many colors, over which was a thick mantle, fastened by a brooch. Now she grasped a spear, to strike fear into all who watched her...…"-Dio Cassius (Dudley and Webster, 54)

The story of Boudicca, celebrated Celtic queen, wife, and mother is destined to remain in the gray shadows of history. Written histories of Boudicca, and of early Britain in general, are found in two classical manuscripts, which were most likely derived from the same original source. The historian Tacitus wrote his history only fifty years after the events of 60 CE, and it has been said that his father-in-law Agricola was able to give an eyewitness account of the rebellion. Dio Cassius also gives his account of the events. Although both are biased accounts, they lay down the basic chronological framework of early Roman Britain. Attempts to turn to archaeological discoveries to help pinpoint the exact events has been frustrated, since much of the data was destroyed during pillaging and a significant amount of the land has never been excavated due to a lack of funds, therefore information is limited. The only thing possible at this point is an outline of the catastrophic uprising of Boudicca and the indigenous people of Britain. 
The Iceni were a Celtic tribe located in an area of southern Britain known as East Anglia. Geographically they were isolated; to the north and east the boundary was the sea and the remainder was covered in dense forest, making invasion from foreigners nearly impossible. The people of this farming economy were of mixed origins. There had been an influx of people from the Hallstat culture, bringing with them a knowledge of iron and pottery, which merged with the skills of those already present from the late Bronze Age.  
Some time between 43 and 45 CE, Boudicca was married to Prasutagus, King of the Iceni. It has been said that Boudicca was not of Iceni origin since outside marriages were quite common among the ruling class. In the upper eschelons of Celtic society, women held positions of prestige and power. Many took prominent roles in political, religious, and artistic life. Women also owned land and could choose their spouses and initiate divorce.  
Although they were relatively protected by geographic advantages, the Roman threat to the Iceni's peaceful existence was very real. The Iceni had remained passive and watched while the Roman Emperor Claudius and his army conquered large parts of Britain in 43 CE. Since Claudius was founding strong military colonies all over the island, the Iceni knew they couldn't remain independent forever from Roman domination. In an attempt to avoid conflict, and in an act of compliance, King Prasutagus went to the city of Camulodunum to become a client/king. This forced him to have to answer to the Roman ruling class, but enabled his tribe and their culture to remain relatively unfettered.  
Upon his death Prasutagus left his kingdom to be shared by his two daughters and the new Roman emperor, Nero, believing that this would ensure tranquility for his family and kingdom. Roman law, however, did not allow royal inheritance to be passed to daughters, and co-ownership of a kingdom with a woman was unacceptable according to Roman standards. Kinsmen of the royal house were enslaved. Boudicca was flogged and then forced to witness the public rape and torture of her two daughters, who were believed to have been roughly 12 years old at the time of the rebellion.  
The roman campaign stretched over the entire area. The Romans were experiencing difficulty in the north-east attempting to take the headquarters of Druidism, the Isle of Mona. The Romans feared the Druids as they had been behind rebellions against Caesar in the past. This territory had become the geographical center for anti-Roman and pro-Briton activities. The troubles in the north occupied Seutonius and caused him to overlook Boudicca and the growing threat in the south. 
While by Roman law Boudicca had no real claim to succession after her husband's death, her people regarded her as their natural leader, and their neighboring tribes were willing to support any anti-Roman uprising. The indigenous people had suffered under Roman taxation for years. They were also driven off their own land and subjected to lives as prisoners and slaves. Sometime between 56 and 60 CE the Temple of Claudius was erected in Colchester to commemorate the life of the Roman emperor who had destroyed the majority of the Celtic culture; this immediately became an object of strong derision for the British. They were also angered by the attack on the headquarters of the Druidic religion. These realities urged neighboring tribes, among them were the Trinovantes, to join Boudicca in her rebellion, which has been said to have been 100,000 people strong, against Roman forces. They began by storming the Roman cities of Camulodunum and Colchester, then proceeding to the growing trade center of Londinium (London), and ending in a final catastrophic battle. One underlying question about the rebellion asks how the Iceni were able to remain unnoticed for so long. There are a few reasons why they were able to succeed as long as they did. The overconfidence of the Romans may have caused their negligence. They had preconceived notions of the "barbarians", and were ill-equipped to deal with small bands of warriors slipping quietly through the thick forests. The Celts excelled in small-scale guerilla warfare while the slow-moving Roman units were at an obvious disadvantage in the forest. The British Celts also used chariots, which had become obsolete on the continent. They were remarkably small and light, and the driver and warrior were protected by wicker screens on all sides.

You can read the rest of this article here.

Image is from Wiki; Wiki entry is here.

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