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Group: Celtic Nation
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Here is an article i found. It of course is a rehashing of what has been posted before. Nut also has some other interesting tidbits, and possible connections to other items of Celtic interest, ie Lindow Man
"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 twisted torc, and a tunic of many colours, 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
The rulers of the Iceni, who lived in Norfolk and Suffolk in eastern Britain around the time of the Roman occupation of Britain, were King Prasutagus and Queen Boudicca. A possible site for their royal residence is a place called Gallows Hill at Thetford in Norfolk. Building lines of circular structures of a native type within a Roman style enclosure are visible from the air. However, lack of domestic material from excavations there might also suggest a different use - possibly of a ceremonial or religious nature. Trade was flourishing across the English Channel with the Roman Empire; the Iceni controlled lucrative sea routes into the Wash and the estuaries on the Norfolk coast. The Iceni merchants and nobles became prosperous to the extent that between 65BC and AD61 they were able to issue their own coinage. There is also the possibility that part of the Iceni wealth was generated because they were at the terminus of the Gold route beginning in Ireland and crossing England.
Following the Roman invasion under Claudius in AD43, King Prasutagus became a client king under the Romans. Friendship with the Iceni would have been important because of their close proximity to Colchester. Colchester was symbolic of Claudius? victory, capital of the new province, and base for the twentieth legion. Colchester was where the temple of Claudius was sited, it became the centre for the Imperial cult. Curiously there are some indications that this cult blocked the building of adequate defences around Colchester, an ommision that was to prove fatal. Colchester rapidly became a focus for Celtic resentment because of the annexing of Celtic lands for Roman use and the excessive demands on the local tribes for money. The usual Roman practice in newly aquired territory was reconciliation, both sides benefiting in some way from the deal and unnecessary costly fighting avoided. Seutonius writes that the lands of allied princes (reges socii) were considered by Rome to be parts of the Empire. The client king continued to rule but under the government of the Romans, paying taxes and tribute to Rome. This arrangement allowed for continuity and honour on both sides. Rome could never have hoped to rule so vast an empire without co-operation from the rulers of the areas conquered. It also allowed the Romans to concentrate on territory where rebellion was likely, those under direct military rule, and other areas still to be conquered.
Around the time of the death of Prasutagus several events coincided. The Emperor Claudius died and the governor Suetonius went on a campaign in a remote part of Britain. It could be argued that the focus of attention, strong leadership and control was removed from those seemingly settled parts of Britain. Prasutagus had, as was the custom, willed enough of his wealth to Rome that his tribe and the succession should not have required interference. However, after the death of Prasutagus an attempt was made by the Romans to make the Iceni a subject population. This may further indicate that the wealth of the Iceni was so vast to be considered worth the risks involved in setting aside the queen and risking the wrath of the tribe to take its property and valuables in the name of Rome. The Oxford History of the Classical World comments that, according to Dio Cassius? allegations, two brothers Seneca and Mela obtained procuratorships and that they indulged in speculative finance. They were able to do this because there was as yet little money coming into the province from the empire. At the same time there was a lot of building going on in Britain generating a demand for credit to finance the required luxuries such as statues and mosaics. It is known that around this time Seneca called in some massive loans which had been made to the British with an eye to the high interest rates he might extract, further adding to the problems caused by too little money in circulation. In deed Dio Cassius notes this as one of the causes of the Boudiccan revolt
It could also be argued that the local Roman administrators may have underestimated the position in society of Celtic women as the equals of men in power, Roman women did not qualify for citizenship. There is some evidence, though not conclusive that Romans used infanticide as a method of controlling the population, a not uncommon practice used by many peoples around the world. The evidence from Roman burial sites indicates significant numbers of full term baby deaths, and of a significantly larger ratio of adult male burials to female; a continuing ratio into more settled and peaceful times that cannot be explained by the argument that many could have been soldiers. The indications here may be that Romans valued male children more highly than female children if circumstances demanded that a choice was to be made. This is consistent with practices elsewhere and throughout world history. Romans did accept that women in other parts of the empire were equal to men. Claudius demonstrated this in his dealings with Cartimandua Queen of the Brigantes. She had remained loyal to Rome during the rebellion of the Silures and Ordovices led by Cunobelinus?s son Caratacus. When the rebellion was crushed, Caratacus fled to the Brigantes but Cartimandua handed him over to the Romans. In the case of the Iceni however, the indications are that elements of local Roman government, temporarily freed from the attentions of governor and Emperor, felt able to take advantage of the situation. They reduced the power of the Iceni treating them as if they had been defeated; they humiliated Boudicca and her daughters and assumed control in the name of Rome of Iceni lands and wealth.
It is likely that Boudicca occupied a dual position both as tribal leader and as the manifestation of a Druidic or Celtic Goddess. There is the mystery of Boudicca?s name; Boudicca means ?victory?. She has been identified with Brigantia the war goddess of the Brigantes (the Romans called Brigantia ?Victory?and even by 200AD altars were still being erected to her). She is also associated with Morrigan known as the Great Queen in Ireland. She is also associated with the triple war goddess whose three persons are Nemain (Frenzy), Badb Catha (Battle Raven) and Macha (Crow) whose sacred birds were fed allowed to feed on the stake impaled heads of those slaughtered in battle. There is also a possible link to the Celtic goddess Boudiga. The goddess invoked by Boudicca before the last battle is reputed to be Andrasta (also known as Victory). Boudicca, it is said, sacrificed those she defeated in battle to Andrasta, she took no captives. Therefore it could possibly be deduced that Boudicca was not her personal name, but perhaps an official or religious title which would mean that from the point of view of her followers that she was the personification of a goddess. This would help to explain the fanaticism of her followers who were drawn to her from a variety of tribes and also their unusual willingness to unite so completely, and to follow the leadership of a woman in battle. The Celts had been seen as easy to suppress by the Romans because of their lack of inter tribal unity or co-operation against invasion and oppression.
If this is the case then it opens the situation to another possible interpretation of a larger scheme to draw out druidic sympathisers and an attempt to destroy their power base. Was the situation the result of a local error of judgement or greed of local administrators, or more seriously, was Suetonius allowing a situation to develop as part of a calculated risk? Romans were not always noted for crushing local beliefs in the empire so long as they were not seen as a direct threat to Roman control. It has to be noted that they went to great and cruel lengths to destroy the Christian religion as it began to spread in Rome for that very reason. It could be that the Romans saw the Druidic power as just such a direct threat. Whatever the cause, the consequences exceeded anything that could have been expected; the vast following that sprang up to support Boudicca took the Romans by surprise and very nearly ended their occupation of Britain.
Our knowledge of druidic beliefs, practices and influences comes from the reports of the Romans; Tacitus certainly reports them as a formidable force. Therefore it could be speculated that the Druids posed a threat through their control of the Celtic beliefs. There does seem to be some evidence that forts were deliberately built on Celtic sacred sites and that some destruction of other sites took place. This may have been to control or suppress beliefs or more likely to associate local beliefs with Roman control, much as Christianity was to do several centuries later. Indeed it seems that Boudicca was lured to the place of the final battle by the desecration of the sacred sites in the area. If this was the case then was this the action of Suetonius a military response to a situation not of his originating or was it the final act in a complex plan of domination? Salway makes the point that "Romans had a dangerous propensity for making this sort of mistake, which caused them to fight unnecessary wars out of insensitivity for the emotions of other people." (Roman Britain 1993). This echoes the criticisms made by Tacitus that the Romans themselves by their actions contributed in large measure to this near disaster.
Consistent with Roman policy a colony of veterans was established in AD49 at Colchester. This seems to have two main functions; it released the legion there to move forward to the front line but left the veterans as rearguard. This was important as many legionaries would have been due for discharge and gave them a place to take up their citizenship and allotment of land in a Colonia. Generosity would buy the soldiers continued loyalty, the dangers of large numbers of highly trained military men abandoned to hardship could have only one result, disaffected mercenaries fighting for whoever paid the highest price. It also provided a base for government, part of Roman organisation of territory. Land taken or confiscated as result of rebellions or conflicts would be used for this purpose. The released legion then went forward to defeat that uprising of the Silures led by Caratacus.
Emperor Claudius died in AD54 in suspicious circumstances and was succeeded by his nephew Nero. Nero seems to have lacked his uncle?s insight into controlling territories. So instead of maintaining the advantage over a divided people it seems the Romans by their actions encouraged disaffection and the consequential formation of alliances. With the analytical mind of Claudius gone and Nero having little interest in the provinces there would be ample opportunity for deception and mismanagement.
Eventually Paullinus Suetonius, an officer experienced in mountain warfare, took over as governor. Tacitus describes him as "an officer of distinguished merit". He may have been appointed to use his experience to make an attack on the Island of Anglesey. He did mount a campaign against Anglesey. This may have been to wipe out the Druids or a rebel base, Tacitus points out that Anglesey was "heavily populated and a sanctuary for fugitives" and "a source of strength to rebels". Tacitus also hints at a further reason. Suetonius was ambitious and for an ambitious military man to rise he needed regular victories. Suetonius had a rival; Tacitus says "a rival general Corbulo, both in fact as a professional soldier and in popular belief (in which every prominent man has to have a rival), and therefore longing for a victory to set against Corbulo?s reconquest of Armenia". Tacitus comments that if Suetonius could subdue Britain he would have equalled Corbullo?s success in Armenia.
Suetonius was an experienced tactician and as such would concentrate his forces where a victory would produce the best results militarily and politically. He chose the place the Romans called Mona, the island of Anglesey. That this difficult to access place was the target of a campaign indicates that Anglesey must have been far more than the sacred island of the Druids. To throw the weight of so many crack troops to destroy a few religious representative regardless of how much influence they could wield would have been suicidal for his reputation. That argues Anglesey must in fact have been a centre for rebellion, a potential focus for the unity and uprising of the tribes and a refuge for dangerous rebels and militarily defended. The greater and more fiercely determined the enemy, the greater the ultimate Roman victory. Victory came from winning against the odds, honour and glory, not butchering a feeble opposition. It was to be a difficult attack, through the wilds of Wales and then across open water, some in flat bottomed boats, horses swimming and others fording as best they could.
Tacitus describes Anglesey as being heavily defended, occupied as it was by "fierce warriors, wild women, and praying Druids". Tacitus writes of women seen "running through the ranks in wild disorder, their apparel funereal; their hair loose to the wind, in their hands flaming torches, and their whole appearance resembling the frantic rage of the Furies." Sights alien and counter to anything the Romans were used to, indeed Tacitus notes that the sights temporarily halted the Romans but that true to their training they eventually obeyed and attacked and the island fell. The opposition was killed and the sacred sites, which Tacitus describes as containing much evidence of human sacrifice, were destroyed.
Could it be that this need for victory temporarily blinded Suetonius to the dangers that were building behind him? If Anglesey were a centre for rebellion and intrigue then the tribes would have been alert to the danger, after all a Roman army did not march in secret. The campaign may also have spread fear to Ireland that an attack so close may have been an indication that a potential victory here would signal Britain conquered and Ireland as the next target. If Suetonius thought that the destruction of Anglesey would result in the opposition from the Britons crumbling he was taking a gamble. Tacitus certainly indicates that it was duplicitous double-dealing that was at the root of what followed. He observes that "The Britons themselves submit to the levy, the tribute and the other charges of Empire with cheerful readiness provided there is no abuse. That they bitterly resent; for they are broken in to obedience, not to slavery." "Seutonius Suetonius enjoyed two years of success, conquering tribes and establishing strong forts. Emboldened thereby to attack the island of Anglesey, which was feeding the native resistance, he exposed himself to a stab in the back."
The result was rebellion and other local tribes joined Boudicca and silver coins were minted in large numbers to finance the rebellion. Rebellion is a time when prior grievances can be aired and revenged. The Trinovantes who joined the Iceni had developed a hatred of the veterans settled at Colchester. The veterans had treated them badly, taking land, enslaving and now expanding, exploiting them generally. The omens at Camulodenum were bad for the Romans, Tacitus reports that the statue of victory fell from its plinth for no reason, and lay with its face averted. That the theatre was filled with the sound of wild howling, an image of a colony in ruins was seen in the water of the Thames and the sea became blood coloured.
Despite ample warning, Colchester had not been sent sufficient extra soldiers and civilians had not been evacuated. Tacitus comments on the lack of defence; "Secret enemies mixed in all their deliberations. No fosse was made; no palisade thrown up; nor were the women, and such as were disabled by age or infirmity, sent out of the garrison". The colony was easily defeated, the temple held out but after a two day siege it too fell. As Boudicca?s army moved they met and defeated the ninth legion. Suetonius made for London but with the news of the defeat of the ninth legion and the destruction of Colchester with the loss of 70,000 lives, changed his mind.
Suetonius seems to have made the decision that he must sacrifice London and Verulamium and regroup elsewhere. F London was a colony, it had grown up to house traders and merchants, and it was a place of commerce. Verulamium was a municipal town. The Celts did not take prisoners they massacred everyone there and destroyed the cities. Suetonius was further denied the support of the Second legion when Commandant Poenius Postumus refused to move. Suetonius regrouped somewhere in the midlands, possibly near Mancetter or Towcester on Watling Street. Suetonius was joined by the fourteenth legion, veterans of the twentieth legion and auxiliaries stationed locally, a little less than ten thousand soldiers.
Suetonius was outnumbered. To have any chance of victory he needed to control when and where the battle would take place. Theplace he chose was high ground, circled with forest, he made his stand with a thick forest behind him so he did not need to worry about ambush. The site for the battle dictated that the Celts would have to make a frontal attack. He was an experienced commander and he took care with his battle plans. The legions he placed in close formation in the centre, with more lightly armed troops close by, the cavalry he placed on the wings. He needed to draw Boudicca to his chosen position and to this end he may well have used the desecration of sacred groves as the bait.
The Celts far outnumbered the Romans, and were full of their victories. Tacitus tells us that "they formed no regular line of battle". Battle tactics of the Celts involved attempting to terrify and confuse the opposition; hair dressed high with lime, faces and bodies painted. They used wild cries and gesticulations, leaping around, clashing their weapons and blowing trumpets to create noise and give demonstrations of enthusiasm and bravado. To fight a disciplined fighting machine was alien to them. Celtic battles often-involved champions inviting the champions of the opposition to single combat, the resulting battles and heroes would be praised in song. The Celts grouped in battalions of various sizes made of different tribes and chieftains with their followers. Confident of victory the warriors had their wives and families in wagons at the edge of the plain to watch the defeat of the Romans. Boudicca rallied her disjointed armies to free themselves from Roman control and to seek revenge for Roman violations. Symbolically she released a hare onto the battlefield between the two armies. Suetonius also rallied his troops expecting them to keep their ranks, and to think of nothing but conquest and victory.
With a forest at his back Suetonius forced the Britons to attack up a slope where the Roman javelins could wreak havoc. The Roman line held and the forests provided them some shelter from British weapons. The Roman attack took the form of a wedge, supported by the auxiliaries and the cavalry. The disorganised British army was forced back onto its own wagons and rapidly the battle became a massacre. Tacitus claims 80,000 British dead and 400 Roman dead. Boudicca, it is claimed, escaped from the battlefield, and, according to Tacitus took poison, or, according to Dio, died of a sickness. It is more likely that she would take her own life because as a battle commander and Celtic hero, victory or death would be her only options. Poenius Postumus, humiliated by his lack of action, killed himself when he heard of the victory. Suetonius, over-harsh in victory, set about laying waste to all the territories of the tribes who had rebelled or stayed neutral.
The consequence of defeat was famine; those who joined the rebel army had not planted their crops, gambling on capturing Roman grain stores. There would be little to harvest, and where there was possibility of harvest, Suetonius laid waste to the countryside; lack of food would result in starvation for very many. Suetonius? harsh measures would have also cost the local Roman administration greatly in lost taxes and revenues resulting from the continued devastation of land. Tacitus seems to suggest that the severity with which the Britons were punished could be because Suetonius "...punished with undue severity wrongs that he insisted on making personal." Those were the actions of a man furious and betrayed, who had come too close to humiliating defeat with their associated loss of face in Rome. This situation may ultimately have affected the future of Suetonius, his victory was celebrated but he handed over control of Britain fairly soon afterwards to Petronius Turpilianus
Anne Ross and Don Robins in their book The Life and Death of a Druid Prince link the death of Lindow Man in part to the fall ofBoudicca. They point out the three connected major disasters that had befallen the Celts. The Druids had been defeated and the sacred groves on Anglesey destroyed. The rebellion that had seemed unstoppable with the inevitable defeat of the Romans had resulted in the defeat of the Celts and the death of Boudicca. The war, the vast numbers of dead, the lack of planting, and the revenge of Suetonius killing any surviving rebel Celts and the punishment by laying waste to the lands or the rebels and their supporters, resulted in famine. To superstitious or religious Celts it may have seemed that the Gods no longer looked on them favourably. The Romans despite their lack of numbers seemed to be unbeatable. The vengeful Gods would needed to be placated and an important sacrifice was needed. That sacrifice was the man they identified as Lovernois; high ranking and willing, his selection made the sacrifice all the more powerful.
They further argue that Boudicca was queen and priestess, possibly a druidess. They suggest that this was how she was able to raise and control so huge an army. They note Tacitus?s observation that Boudicca released a hare between the two armies before the battle, they note that this is indication of a priestess seeking augury. They also note the mutilation of the dead, indicating that many were not just killed but sacrificed to the Celtic Goddess Andrasta, they maintain that Boudicca was her priestess.
They comment that the Romans grudgingly admired the initial strategy and marshalling of Celtic forces. That "Boudicca?s campaign was marked by the skill of a cool and competent strategist". So why in the final battle did the Celts seem to be a disorganised army? The widely held theory is that Boudicca?s control was slipping. Yet having destroyed three major towns and with the defeat of the Romans resting on one final battle the Celts should have been more united behind Boudicca than ever.
The theory offered by Ross and Robins is that Suetonius chose his battle site carefully that it was one of the great sacred sites possibly Vernemeton somewhere around the place where Watling Street and the Fosse Way cross. They suggest that he may have desecrated and burned this site to lure the Celts. Further they argue that the area surrounding contained many other sacred sites all now in danger. This was an area to the Roman advantage; did the actions of Suetonius so enrage Boudicca and her followers that they charged in so wild and disorganised a way that led to their destruction? They suggest that Watling Street followed a Celtic route lined by Sacred sites, a corridor of Druidic influence, an older trade route that of gold from Ireland.
Their theory revolves around the idea that Lindow man was an Irish prince. That seeing the destruction of the Druids, the defeat of Boudicca and the laying waste of much Celtic land, that nothing now stood between Ireland and Roman invasion. They find evidence that not only was he a sacrifice but a willing sacrifice and how much more powerfully would that placate the Gods a prince a supreme sacrifice. That it was his sacrifice that made Lindow an obscure corner of Britain sacred. It has to be noted that despite their victory and the strength of their navy, the Romans did not go to Ireland with serious intentions of conquest.
After the defeat in AD61 the Iceni were resettled in a Civitas capital at Caister-by-Norwich also known as Caister St. Edmunds on the river Tas. An interesting point to note is that the other tribes did not choose to join in with the revolt, this could be seen a surprising in light of the early success enjoyed by the rebellion. Several possibilities suggest themselves, that the other tribes were convinced that the rebellion would eventually be squashed, perhaps fearing that the Romans would bring in more troops from the continent and take heavy retribution, as indeed was the consequence of rebellions elsewhere. That communications between territories was limited and the scale of what was happening was not generally known. That the tribes were heavily in debt to or heavily bribed by the Romans.
Recent archaeological evidence from the digging of the Jubilee Line (1998 ? 1999) provides evidence that Boudicca and her armies crossed the River Thames. It was previously thought that the campaign against London ended north of the river. Evidence of burned buildings corresponding to similar evidence from other places destroyed by the Boudiccan campaign indicates that whatever stood south of the river was important enough to also have been attacked. It also indicates that the attacking armies of Celts had ample time to make the crossing and gives some further indications of the low level of opposition they encountered. This evidence also shows us that when Seutonius made his decision to sacrifice London to the Celts, he in fact sacrificed a far larger area of settlement than has been previously thought.
Recent evidence as reported in the Sunday Times December 29th 1999 indicates that Prasutagus may not be the name of Boudicca?s husband and that we may not know his name. There is a single mention in Tacitus of the name Prasutagus. Indications that this may have been the name of Boudicca?s husband comes from silver iron age coins found in East Anglia indicating an important person of that name. The coins show a classical Romanised head in the style of Nero, (a diplomatic and flattering act of a client king) with the inscription SVP RI [CON] PRASCO originally translated by the numismatist Henry Mossop to read ?under King Prasutagus?. However Dr. Jonathan Williams of the British Museum has uncovered evidence from a recent find in Norfolk of a flaw in the coin die revealing an ?E? and that the letters RI should read ESV. Therefore the person who issued the coins was named Esuprastus and the moneyer on the reverse was Esico. Further evidence that the man on the coins may not have been her husband is contained in a coin hoard discovered in Silsden Yorkshire. These are mid first century coins of Cunobelin, amongst them are 6 gold staters of the Corieltauvi tribe with the inscription ISVPRASV Dr. Williams believes that these can be identified with Esuprastus. This is well outside the recognised boundaries of the Iceni. Possibilities are that maybe our notions of tribal boundaries are inaccurate, or indications of inter tribal trading or of gifts. Variations in names and spellings are indications of the state of the emerging literacy of the Celts. It must be concluded that we can no longer say with accuracy that Prasutagus was the name of a king of the Iceni and Boudicca?s husband.
The Royal Residence of Thetford was excavated in 1981 and is close to the site where the Thetford Treasure (now in the British Museum) was discovered.
© Cecilia Parsons 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001. All rights reserved.
Roman Britain by Peter Salway; (Oxford University Press 1993).
The Oxford History of the Classical World by John Bordman, Jasper Griffin and Oswyn Murray; (Oxford University Press 1993).
Tacitus on Britain and Germany translated by H. Mattingly; (Penguin Classics 1960).
The Life and Death of a Druid Prince by Annie Ross and Don Robins; (Century Hutchinson Ltd. 1989).
The Times December 29th 1999 Article by Norman Hammond (Archaeology Correspondent).
Roman Britain (second Edition) by Malcolm Todd, (Fontana Press 1997).
The Celts by Nora Chadwick, (Penguin Books 1997).
Town and Country in Roman Britain by A. L. F. Rivet, (Hutchinson 1978).
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