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The Rebellion of Boudicca

In the year AD 60, Boudicca, a woman of the royal house of the Iceni led a fierce British revolt against the Roman occupation, during which Londinium was reduced to ashes.

The last few years have thrown new light on the great rebellion that so nearly cost Rome the province of Britain less than twenty years after the Claudian conquest. Most of it has been due to archaeology, but not all. Closer scrutiny of the narrative of Tacitus and Dio Cassius has shown that we must revise both the date of the rebellion and the name of its leader. 

Boudicca has been accepted, by scholars at least; the traditional Boadicea belongs to nothing more venerable than an error in the first printed edition of Tacitus. The traditional date, A.D. 61, derives from Tacitus himself; but Professor Syme has recently shown that there is confusion in the annalistic account, and that the real date is 60.

The roots of the rebellion go back to the settlement of affairs in Britain after the Claudian invasion. This had been directed at the regnum Britanniae, the powerful Belgic state built up in the south-east under Cunobelinus. Roman intervention in Britain was welcome to neighbouring tribes who had for two generations feared Belgic power. Among these were the Iceni of Norfolk and north-west Suffolk; and their ruler went to Camulodunum to submit to Claudius and receive the status of a client-king. 

This king may have been Boudicca’s husband Prasutagas or an earlier ruler. The latter is rather more likely; for there are no coins of Prasutagas, which suggests that he did not rule before 43. Whoever it was, he had accepted a status that was always precarious and liable to be revoked by Rome. But its disadvantages lay in the future. In the years immediately after 43, the Iceni must have seen cause to congratulate themselves, as their neighbours were brought firmly under Roman organization and the province extended to the Severn and the Trent.

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