Why Caratacus lives in Boudicca’s shadow
The British warrior-queen is a major cultural figure. But is she really deserving of our acclaim?
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