Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Boudicca (60/61 C.E.)

Difficulty: 0

During the reign of the Emperor Nero, the Roman conquest of Britain was less than a

generation old.

With conquest came Romanization, which meant that Roman immigrants were now flooding onto

the island.

The King of the Iceni, one of the independent tribes here, could see the writing on the

wall, so when he died, his will designated 3 heirs: as his two daughters, and the Roman


This was supposed to be a subtle way to peacefully transition the Iceni people into the Roman

Empire, while upholding the King's daughters at the head of the tribe.

It didn't work.

The Romans used this as justification to move against the Iceni.

Soldiers went into their homes, confiscating anything of value.

Many of the Iceni men were simply taken and sold into slavery, while the women were raped

with impunity.

Even the King's two daughters were raped, and when their mother, the Kings widow, a

woman named Boudicca, tried to intervene, she was stripped naked and whipped.

After this incident, Boudicca called for a secret meeting with the Iceni leadership,

and invited many neighbouring tribes that had been subjected to similar treatment by

the Romans.

At this meeting they agreed to all unite under one banner and launch an open revolt against

the Roman occupation.

A vote was held, and Boudicca was elected War-Queen of the united tribes.

That spring, we're told that the tribes didn't even bother to plant crops.

For months, all they did was make weapons, gather supplies, and secretly prepare for


When summer rolled around, Paulinus, the governor of Britain, took a legion and marched off

on campaign.

Now, if you'll indulge me, I want to follow Paulinus's campaign.

We'll come back to Boudicca, don't worry.

Paulinus planned to invade the island of Anglesey in Wales, which the Romans called Mona Insula.

This island was one of the most important religious sites in Britain, and conquering

it would be an huge symbolic victory for the Romans.

When they arrived offshore, the soldiers climbed down off of their boats and started wading

towards the beach.

When they got closer, they could see that the beach was packed with Druids.

They were dressed in black, with their arms raised to the sky, chanting in their native


Accompanying them was an mob of women, also dressed in black, armed with nothing but flaming


The women started screaming like wild animals, and charged into the water while the Druids

continued chanting on the shore.

The Roman soldiers were so petrified by what they saw that everybody stopped moving, and

lowered their weapons, and just stared.

They couldn't even process what they were seeing.

After a long moment, Paulinus started shouting insults at his men and ordered everyone to


That snapped them out of it.

It was really no contest.

The Romans cut their way through the women all the way to the beach, and when they reached

the chanting Druids they cut them down as well.

But they slowly realized that the Druids weren't just standing on the beach, they were standing

on a giant funeral pyre.

One of the surviving women, still carrying her flaming stick, lit the pyre, and the entire

beach went up in flames, consuming the bodies of the Druids.

It wasn't until this moment that the Romans realized that this wasn't a battle, this was

a massive human sacrifice.

And they had just unwittingly participated in it.

To a certain extent Romans believed in magic.

Omens, witchcraft, oracles, sorcery, superstitions, all that stuff was fair game.

They also believed that foreign gods were just as real as their own.

To them, what they had just done was going to have real world consequences.

What kind of consequences?

They didn't know.

Just after this incident on Mona Insula, there were reports of strange happenings back east.

People said that the English Channel turned blood-red.

People said they saw the ruins of a destroyed civilization under the Thames river.

People said that there were corpses washing up on beaches.

People said that a statue to the Roman goddess of victory strangely collapsed for no reason.

Were some of these omens invented by later historians?


We don't know.

But if any these rumours were swirling around at the time, the Romans would have been predisposed

to believing them.

This was the mood in the air when Boudicca finally launched her revolt.

Boudicca's first target the city of Camulodunum, which was one of the largest Roman settlements

in Britain.

Messengers from Camulodunum were sent to the cities of Londinium and Longthorpe, saying

that a massive army was marching on the city, requesting aid.

When Londinium got word of this, they sent 200 unarmed slaves to help restore order.

Basically a slap in the face.

When the messenger arrived at Longthorpe, they actually took the threat seriously.

They sent their entire detachment of 2,500 men to help.

But neither force arrived in time.

A small group of soldiers in Camulodunum made a heroic last stand protecting thousands of

civilians hiding in a large temple, but after a siege lasting several days, the temple fell,

and all the inhabitants were slaughtered.

The residents of Camulodunum were subjected to every horrific indignity you could possibly


Some were hanged.

Some were crucified.

Some were tortured to death.

Some were boiled alive.

Some were forced to watch as they were disemboweled.

According to the Roman historian Dio, "They hung up naked the noblest and most distinguished

women and then cut off their breasts and sewed them to their mouths, in order to make the

victims appear to be eating them; afterwards they impaled the women on sharp skewers run

lengthwise through the entire body."

The entire population of the city was subjected to stuff like this.

Boudicca's people were trying to send a message.

No Roman was safe.

By this time, Paulinus was starting to get reports that there had been a revolt.

He got his men together and set off back east as fast as he could.

Longthorpe's 2,500 man relief force was expecting to just march right in there and put down

some local uprising.

It never even occurred to them that they were dealing with a complete mobilization of the

entire Iceni people, plus their allies.

They were met by Boudicca's forces outside the city.

2,000 were killed and the remaining 500 fled.

As Paulinus was en route, he heard of this defeat.

All Paulinus had with him was 1 legion, only 5,000 men.

He sent out messengers to every little town along the way, calling up every retired soldier

still able to hold a sword and shield.

He was able to bring his numbers up to 10,000 this way.

There was another legion - another 5,000 men - stationed in a stronghold to the southwest.

Paulinus sent a message to them ordering them to come to his aid, but the the guy in charge

of the legion at this time, their Primus Pilus, just flat-out refused his orders.

So Paulinus was stuck with only 10,000 men, and arrived at the city of Londinium just

as Boudicca was closing in.

He told the locals that he didn't have enough men to effectively mount a defense, and advised

them to evacuate the city.

He offered the legion's protection to anybody who wanted to come with them, and with that

he marched north, followed by thousands of refugees.

When Boudicca reached Londinium, she subjected the remaining population to the same treatment

that Camulodunum had got.

They tortured, mutilated, and killed everyone they could find, and then they burned the

city to the ground.

Boudicca then took off north in pursuit of Paulinus's legion.

Paulinus was headed towards the last surviving large city in Roman Britain, Verulamium.

When Paulinus arrived at Verulamium, he advised the inhabitants to evacuate the city, and

said that he would protect anybody who came with his legion, just like before.

Then he continued north, followed by even more refugees.

When Boudicca's forces descended on Verulamium, she had it destroyed in exactly the same manner

as the other two cities.

At this point, the three largest Roman cities in Britain were simply gone.

80,000 Romans had been massacred, which was a huge percentage of the total Roman population

of the province.

The entire colonization effort was now in jeopardy.

Paulinus continued marching north, but now he was nearing the edge of Roman territory.

There wasn't really anywhere left for him to go.

He had thousands of refugees with him, very little food, and no hope of receiving reinforcements

any time soon.

Paulinus decided to turn and fight.

He sent the refugees ahead, and told them to keep walking west until they hit a new

settlement near Wales.

But he must have known that before long Boudicca would come for them too.

According to Dio, Paulinus speaks to his men: "it would be better for us to fall fighting

bravely than to be captured and impaled, to look upon our own entrails cut from our bodies,

to be spitted on red-hot skewers, to perish by being melted in boiling water.

[...] Britain will be a noble monument for us."

Dio liked to invent grandiose speeches, but you get the point.

Paulinus didn't think he'd live to see tomorrow.

Paulinus found an area with a forest on both sides that would work as a choke point.

That's where he chose to fight.

Boudicca's army showed up, and it had grown in size.

Our best source from this period claims that this was the largest army Rome had ever faced,

and there's some evidence supporting this.

In Boudicca's army the women may have outnumbered the men.

Most of them were now outfitted with captured Roman weapons.

The Iceni liked to use chariots, but Boudicca didn't have very many, presumably because

most of their horses had been taken by the Romans.

Boudicca's massive horde of infantry loosely formed up, and she had her supply wagons brought

in and put in a semicircle behind her line.

Some people argue that this was for non combatants to watch the battle, but that's kind of a

troupe in Roman history without a lot of evidence attached to it.

I think it was to prevent the Romans from escaping.

Boudicca's forces closed in, and when they were in range, the Romans let loose with their


When they were out of javelins, the Romans infantry formed up into 3 wedge-like formations,

and then, without warning, they charged at full speed into Boudicca's line.

Paulinus anticipated that they would immediately be surrounded, which is exactly what happened,

but the wedges allowed them to fight in several directions at once.

Even though they were surrounded, they relentlessly moving forward, hacking through multitudes

of Iceni.

Boudicca's surrounding forces bombarded the Romans with arrows, javelins, and stones from

all directions, but the Iceni were not used to fighting heavy infantry, and most of the

missiles were light enough to bounce off Roman shields and armour.

Boudicca ordered the few chariots at her disposal to charge into the Roman line several times,

but the Romans would just tighten up, hold their ground, and then continue pushing forward.

After continuing like this all day, there was a break.

The Iceni were frustrated and exhausted by the Roman's unstoppable, machine-like forward

momentum, and they tried to pull back.

They started to run into their own wagons, which caused a bit of a traffic jam.

Before long, a serious situation had developed where there was a huge crush of Iceni pushed

up against the wagons, and they couldn't move.

The Romans charged into this mass of humanity, and a battle that could have been a stalemate

instantaneously turned into a slaughter.

The Romans didn't differentiate between man, woman, child, horse, pack animal, they killed

everything that moved.

Boudicca and some others would escape the slaughter, but she would take her own life

by drinking poison a few days later.

We are told that including children and non combatants, a little less than 80,000 of the

Iceni were killed.

The Romans claim that only 400 killed and another 400 wounded, but that seems really

low considering the nature and duration of the fighting.

In the immediate aftermath, the Romans would do an emergency transfer 6,000 additional

soldiers to Britain, so make of that what you will.

And with that Roman colonization of Britain was pulled back from the brink.

The Emperor Nero briefly thought about abandoning the entire island, but that idea died when

he did.

The Romans would occupy the Britain for the next 300 years, but this was the largest conflict

to ever occur on British soil.

The Description of Boudicca (60/61 C.E.)