Boudicca & the Revolt

Published: 2021-08-11 23:50:05
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But despite the obvious Roman agenda that has been intertwined within the recounts of Tacitus and Dio, they remain to be the only credible primary sources of information and provide the most accurate reports of the revolt’s eruption, core and aftermath. Differences and contradictions exist in both accounts of the revolt, with Tacitus harbouring a more lenient attitude towards the British in his collections, ‘Agricola’ and the ‘Annals’. Tacitus suggests that the underlying cause of the revolt was the mistreatment of the Iceni tribe by the Romans following Prasutagus’ death.
Tacitus writes in Agricola, ‘the Britons dwelt much amongst themselves on the miseries of subjection…’ introducing the idea that the native’s rights had been suppressed and that the revolt was partly at the fault of the Roman government. Tacitus, in the Annals, proposes that frustration and resentment grew within the Iceni after the Romans ignored Prasutagus’ will to share the rulership of the tribe between the emperor and his two daughters. Instead, Roman officers and slaves alike attacked his kingdom, publicly flogging his wife, Boudicca, and raping his two daughters.
Outrage ensued within the humiliated tribe, subsequently leading to the rise of the revolt. Tacitus’ account of the events that led to the revolt display a soft tone of sympathy towards the natives, whilst also openly criticizing and condemning the treatment the Iceni received; thereby providing the most objective viewpoint of the revolt’s roots. On the other hand, Cassius Dio submits other reasons behind the eruption of Boudicca’s revolt in ‘Dio’s Roman History’. Dio introduces the idea that the Iceni were searching for an ‘excuse’ to strengthen the notion that the
Romans were tyrants in order to ignite the rebellion and overthrow the invasion, ‘an excuse for the war was found in the confiscation of sums of money that Claudius had given to the foremost Britons. ’ Dio proceeds to propose another possible cause, focusing on the money that Seneca, hoping to garner profit from interest, lent the natives and later demanded back through harsh strategies. However, Dio concludes that ‘the person who was chiefly instrumental in rousing the natives and persuading them to fight… was Boudicca. Dio’s approach to the revolt presents the British tribes as greedy; killing seventy thousand people for the sake of the money that was taken from them. Cassius Dio projects biasness towards Rome in his work, hence the title of his historical collection ‘Dio’s Roman History’. This is especially clear when Dio, in his collection, chooses to overlook the growing frustration amongst the native tribes that was caused by the aggression of the Romans, as suggested by Tacitus and other minority sources.
Manda Scott, British author of the ‘Boudicca’ series, agrees that the financial conflicts between the native tribes and Rome were essential to the breakout of the war; however, she insists that the conflicts were because of Roman greed for money, opposing Dio’s insistence on presenting the blame upon the British natives. Tacitus and Dio’s accounts of the revolt bring forth different perspectives in regards to the causes. Yet, both historians have recorded similar information in regards to the events and the aftermath.
In Tacitus’ ‘The Annals’, Boudicca’s army destroyed Camulodunum and burnt down the Temple of Claudius – referred to as ‘Citadel of Tyranny’ by Paul Sealey – a major symbolic victory for the Trinovantes, whose land was seized for the construction of the temple. The large army then advanced to Londinium, where Suetonius was awaiting them. However, upon contemplation, Suetonius decided to abandon Londinium to its fate on the basis of his army’s numerical inferiority, a decision that was morally criticized by Tacitus, ‘unmoved by lamentations and appeals, Suetonius gave the signal for departure. Tacitus portrays the rebels as barbaric during their campaign, recounting that they ‘could not wait to cut throats, hang, burn and crucify. ’ Similarly, Dio, in ‘Roman History VIII’ also depicts the Britons as savages by describing in detail their methods of torture, ‘They hung up naked the noblest women and then cut off their breasts…’ After the rebels ravaged Londinium and Verulamium, in an unknown location, Suetonius gathered his army of 10,000 men.
Suetonius positioned his men in a position that gave the British the impression that they were trapped, giving the Romans the advantage of deceiving their opponents before an ambush attack. As Boudicca’s army of, according to Dio, 230,000 men encountered the experienced Roman soldiers, Dio writes that Suetonius ‘could not extend his line the whole length of hers… so inferior they were in numbers. ’ For this reason, the army was divided into three bodies, to which Suetonius delivered three speeches of encouragement and comfort, saying, ‘Up, Romans! Show these accursed wretches how far we surpass them… Fear not. Meanwhile, Boudicca also delivered a speech to her army that further fueled their rage, ‘…old people are killed, virgins are raped…’ whilst also giving them confidence to fight, ‘they will never face the din and roar of all our thousands’, before ordering them to charge. As the large army charged towards the Romans, Tacitus writes that Suetonius signaled his men to throw their javelins at the approaching mass. John Nayler, historical consultant, explainss Suetonius’ strategy as to move as one shielded body, so as to act as a defense, whilst those at the front used their short swords to kill attackers.
Meanwhile, Tacitus’ account, ‘then, in wedge formation, they burst forward’, supports this theory. As the battle begun and their forces clashed, Dio’s account suggests that the battle was initially even between both sides as the ‘heavy-armed were opposed to the heavy-armed, cavalry crashed with cavalry…the barbarians would assail the Romans with a rush of their chariots. ’ However, as events unfolded, order was lost and chaos unfolded, ‘horsemen would overthrow foot-soldier and foot-soldier strike down horseman. Neither Tacitus nor Dio provide further detail other than that the battle continued ‘for a long time’ but ‘finally, late in the day, the Romans prevailed. ’ As many as eighty thousand Britons fell according to Tacitus, but as for the Roman casualties, both historians deliberately give the illusion that the Romans were not massacred in order to maintain the reputation of their victory. There exist contradictions between Tacitus and Dio in regards to Boudicca’s fate, with Tacitus claiming that she poisoned herself whilst Dio writes that he died of illness. Manda Scott supports Tacitus’ account, suggesting that this would be the most plausible explanation considering the grief that Boudicca would have experienced after the mass slaughter of her people as well as the loss of her two daughters. Along with the Britons’ defeat and the loss of their leader, they had also suffered from famine due to neglecting their crops that year. As for the aftermath of the revolt within Rome, Tacitus recounts that Suetonius prolonged the war through punitive operations, gaining criticism from Classicianus.
These criticisms, in turn, were received by Rome, who had interests to stop the war immediately so as to save resources and lives. Therefore, Nero sent his freedman, Polyclitus, to assess the situation in Britain, resulting in the replacement of Suetonius by Turpilianus in the hopes of improving relations with the natives. To conclude, Boudicca’s revolt, though ending in a military failure, was a spectacular failure that displayed to the Romans the strength and determination of a race that they had seen as inferior.
Due to this revolt, which comprised of inexperienced tribesmen and women, the dynamics of the Roman government in Britain had shifted as Nero realized the core importance of maintaining good relations with the tribes. Both Tacitus and Dio have played major roles in retelling the story of Boudicca and the legacy of her political revolution, providing essential information and details that have helped modern historians to study and observe Boudicca and all the events that surrounded her. s

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