Why Carat­a­cus lives in Boudicca’s shadow

The Bri­tish war­rior-queen is a ma­jor cul­tural fig­ure. But is she re­ally de­serv­ing of our ac­claim?

BBC History Magazine - - Uprising In Roman Britain -

How did Boudicca’s re­bel­lion com­pare with Carat­a­cus’s re­sis­tance?

Carat­a­cus led a small but ef­fec­tive band of war­riors; an armed re­sis­tance move­ment whose goal was to con­tin­u­ally harry the Ro­man le­gions and wear down their re­solve.

In con­trast, Boudicca’s in­sur­rec­tion – which broke out in AD 60 or 61 fol­low­ing a dispute be­tween the queen and the Ro­mans over the es­tate of her re­cently de­ceased hus­band – was an out­pour­ing of hate in which the Iceni tribe rose up to at­tack a largely civil­ian pop­u­la­tion. It was a wild, undis­ci­plined slaugh­ter which proved im­pos­si­ble to con­trol or di­rect. It was fi­nally put down at the bat­tle of Watling Street, af­ter which Boudicca took her own life.

What were the re­volt’s tar­gets?

Colch­ester, the new Ro­man town of Colo­nia Clau­dia Vic­tri­cen­sis (the ‘City of Claudius’s Vic­tory’), was Boudicca’s pri­mary tar­get, fol­lowed by Lon­dinium (London) and Veru­lamium (St Al­bans). Here, all Ro­man cit­i­zens, to­gether with those who had sided with them (or who were thought to have done so), were butchered.

Tac­i­tus said that the rebels killed 70,000 men, women and chil­dren. Boudicca’s followers, tak­ing “nei­ther cap­tive nor slave”, com­mit­ted atroc­i­ties, so we are told, in­clud­ing “the gib­bet, ar­son and the cross”. Veru­lamium, built for the pro-Ro­man Catu­vel­launi tribe, was at­tacked in a de­lib­er­ate act of eth­nic cleans­ing. Carat­a­cus, flawed though he may have been as a strate­gist, never sank to tar­get­ing civil­ians in his war of lib­er­a­tion.

Why is Boudicca more fa­mous than Carat­a­cus?

Boudicca’s story was re­vived dur­ing the reign of El­iz­a­beth I, when the state was look­ing for par­al­lels to sup­port the con­cept of a pow­er­ful fe­male monarch. Eng­land was threat­ened by in­va­sion from Catholic Europe so the fight for lib­erty against an im­pla­ca­ble foe chimed with the times. Dur­ing the reign of Vic­to­ria, Boudicca was cel­e­brated as a pow­er­ful queen, although the fact that she led na­tive re­sis­tance to an em­pire was played down.

The tale of the Boudic­can war is per­haps more sweep­ingly dra­matic than that of Carat­a­cus, though it is also more bloody, trau­matic and filled with what we would to­day (quite rightly) de­scribe as war-crimes.

A mod­ern illustration shows Lon­dinium’s res­i­dents be­ing mas­sa­cred dur­ing Boudicca’s re­volt of AD 60 or 61. Un­like Carat­a­cus, the Iceni tar­geted civil­ians, says Miles Rus­sell

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