Saturday, December 6, 2008

Boudicca, the Warrior Queen's Jewelry

Boudicca (also Boudica and formerly Boadicea) was an Iron Age Briton who lived about 2000 years ago. She was Celtic Queen of the Iceni tribe who lived in East Anglia, the area north-east of London. Boudica goes down in history as the leader of a rebellion against the ancient superpower, the Romans who conquered much of Britain in 43 AD.



Virtually all we know of Boudicca comes from just two historical sources, Tacitus and Cassius Dio. Neither were eye witnesses although Tacinus's father-in-law fought with Roman army in Britain. Cassius Dio supplies us with the only description of Boudicca :

"In build she was very tall, in her demeanor most terrifying, in the glint of her eye most fierce, and her voice was harsh; a great mound of the tawniest hair fell to her hips; around her neck was a large golden torc; and she wore a tunic of may colors upon which a thick cloak was fastened with a brooch. This was her general attire."

Some of what Cassius Dio said is suspect for he voiced the commonly held view of his day that any woman who led an army had to be totally unfeminine. To vanquish an entire legion of the best army of the ancient world was bad enough but defeat by a mere woman was surely an embarrasment that needed justification. So she had to be painted as one scary manly Amazon. Also as far as the Romans were concerned only barbarians had long red hair. If Boudicca was really a redhead then they learnt the hard way never to mess with one!

But the part about jewelry was right on. High born Celts like Boudicca wore torcs - stiff metal armbands or neckbands as jewelry. As they were so rigid and not easy to put on and take off, they were likely worn only for special occasions or worn all the time. It's no coincidence that the origin of the word "torc" comes from Latin torquere for "twist". Torcs were often made from many fine wires twisted together. The Great Torc at the British Museum (left)was made by first twisting 8 wires together. Then 8 of these groups of twisted wire were then twisted again to make the finished piece. It weighs about 1 kg or 2 lbs. Imagine wearing the equivalent weight of a bag of sugar around your neck!

Some torcs were just a few thick bars of metal twisted together and some were simple plain metal collars or even hollow ones. Pictured below is an incredible recent archaeological find, an Iron age gold and silver torc thought by experts to be made by the Iceni tribe. An estimated 50 metres or more than 150 feet of wire was used.The torc netted the metal detectorist and the landowner £350,000 or US$514,000!


Boudicca's husband, King Prasutagus, had been forced to pay high taxes to the Romans in exchange for his tribe's relative independence. When he died in 60 AD, he left a will which gave half of his wealth and property to Rome and the other half to his heirs, his two daughters. But as far as the Romans were concerned, client kings like King Prasutagus forfeited their kingdoms after their deaths. The Roman rulers in Britain not only snatched it all away but chose to do it brutally - they flogged Boudicca, raped the two young princesses and enslaved the king's relatives.

The outrage was the ignition point for Boudicca's rebellion. The Britons transferred their anger and long simmering resentment into action - a chance for revenge and to get rid of the invaders. Boudicca led the swelling numbers on her war chariot and defeated an entire legion of Roman soldiers. Their first target was the capital of Roman Britain, Camulodunum (modern Colchester). They massacred the inhabitants and burnt the colonial town to the ground. Today, archaelogists call that thick layer of soot under Colchester the Boudicca layer. Next on their attack and burn list was the financial city of Londinium (London) and then Verulamium (St Albans).

The Roman governor and experienced military man, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, who was busy annihilating the Druids in Wales, finally marched his two legions (10,000 men) to counter the rebellion.

The Romans were seriously outnumbered perhaps by as many as 20 to 1 but they won this decisive battle in 61 AD due to superior strategy and well trained and battle hardened soldiers. Boudicca's mistake was to allow the Roman leader to choose a battle site which protected the flanks and back of his army whilst his troops moved relentlessly forwards in wedge formations. The soldiers worked as a unit and their shields protected them. The less disciplined Britons became trapped between the Romans and their baggage wagons placed behind them. They were thoroughly defeated. Boudica's fate and that of her unnamed daughters is not known but many believe they took poison rather than let the Romans lay a hand on them again.

Many coin and jewelry treasure hoards found 2000 years later were buried probably for safekeeping during that terrible time. That their owners never reclaimed them is testament to the harsh reprisals on survivors led by the ruthless Paulinus. A more conciliatory governor was later appointed and relations improved. The Romans went on to rule Britain for the next 400 years until the mighty Roman Empire collapsed. When Roman troops withdrew, Britain plunged into total anarchy. The remaining Roman-Celt population then had to deal with a new wave of invaders, the Anglo-Saxons.

If you have time to spare, watch the first episode The Rebellion of Boudicca (in 6 x 10 minute segments below) of an excellent 2004 documentary BBC series called Battlefield Britain. The narrators are Peter Snow and his hunk, er, historian son, Dan. This is as accurate as historians and archaeologists can be certain. Actors playing the part of Romans and Britons give riveting "eye-witness" accounts of what both sides must have gone through. I dread to think what Mel Gibson's movie Warrior based on Boudicca and planned for a 2010 release would be like especially after he badly mangled history with his Braveheart.

The Rebellion of Boudicca Part 1

The Rebellion of Boudicca Part 2

The Rebellion of Boudicca Part 3

The Rebellion of Boudicca Part 4

The Rebellion of Boudicca Part 5

The Rebellion of Boudicca Part 6

References
Vanessa Collingridge (2005). Boudica: The Life of Britain's Legendary Warrior Queen.
Wikipedia : Boudica

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Original Post by THE BEADING GEM
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