Member only
Episode
251

Boudicca: The Woman Who Fought The Romans

Apr 5, 2022
History
-
24
minutes

She was the fiery Celtic queen who rose up against the all-powerful Roman army and almost defeated it.

In this episode, we'll learn about the story of this amazing woman's rebellion against the Romans and the mark she left on British history and culture.

Continue learning

Get immediate access to a more interesting way of improving your English
Become a member
Already a member? Login
Subtitles will start when you press 'play'
You need to subscribe for the full subtitles
Already a member? Login
Download transcript & key vocabulary pdf
Download transcript & key vocabulary pdfDownload transcript & key vocabulary pdfDownload transcript only available after your trial

Transcript

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English. 

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about a woman called Boudicca.

[00:00:29] She was the queen of a Celtic tribe who stood up to the most powerful empire in the world, inspiring her people, slaughtering tens of thousands of Romans, and becoming a British folk hero in the process.

[00:00:45] It’s a fascinating story that involves ancient Rome, the Celtic people, emperor Nero, violence, colonialism, and even Queen Victoria.

[00:00:56] So, get ready, I hope you’ll enjoy it.

[00:01:00] OK then, Boudicca.

[00:01:04] When the Romans invaded Britain, in 43AD, they weren’t quite sure what they would find on this mysterious far northern island.

[00:01:15] Sure, Julius Caesar had invaded with a small army 100 years before, and there were established trade links between Britain and Gaul, modern day northern France, but the Romans had never sought to bring the entire British Isles under Roman control.

[00:01:35] There were plenty of questions.

[00:01:38] What would the people be like? 

[00:01:40] How would they be different to the civilised Romans? 

[00:01:44] How easy would it be to conquer them and bring them into the Roman empire?

[00:01:50] Well, invading Britain didn’t prove to be particularly difficult for the Romans in AD43. 

[00:01:59] Britain at the time was made up of a collection of tribes, with a long history of complicated allegiances and rivalries.

[00:02:10] The Roman army, on the other hand, was well-trained, well-equipped, it was the most powerful army in the world.

[00:02:18] So, it would surprise the Romans, and even surprise the Roman emperor Nero, to find that 17 years after invading Britain, after a period of relative peace, the Roman army was brought to its knees, tens of thousand of Romans were killed, the entire Roman army almost needed to retreat from Britain with its tail between its legs, and according to some historians the Roman empire might even have collapsed. 

[00:02:49] It would be even more surprising to Rome that it was almost beaten not just by one of the local uncultured savages, but by a woman.

[00:03:00] So, to understand how all this came about, let me paint you a bit of a picture of Roman Britain.

[00:03:09] Britain, during the time of the Roman invasion, as I said, was made up of a collection of tribes. When it was clear that they would be no match for the all-powerful Roman soldiers, many of these tribes became what’s called clients of the Romans.

[00:03:28] This meant that they would have pledged their loyalty to Rome, and they would be allowed to keep a certain level of freedom. 

[00:03:37] Essentially they were allowed to continue life almost as normal, and there wasn’t too much interference from the Romans in their day-to-day life.

[00:03:48] This was mostly in the south-east of England - the Romans didn’t head further north until after the story we’re talking about today.

[00:03:58] To state the obvious, the Romans thought of themselves as, and indeed were, very different from the Celtic people. 

[00:04:07] The Romans portrayed the Celts as wild, savages, fighting naked, painting their bodies with ancient symbols, blowing loud horns to frighten their enemies, and beheading anyone who got in their way. 

[00:04:24] The history of this time was written almost exclusively by the Romans, so we of course need to factor this into any consideration of what the Celtic people were really like.

[00:04:37] Although we don’t have real written records from the Celts at this time, we can see the products of their society, archaeologists continue to this day to dig up artefacts from this time.

[00:04:52] We can see that, yes, the Celts might not have had sophisticated aqueducts and underfloor heating like the Romans did, but it’s clear that these supposed “wild savages” created beautiful ceramics and wore gold necklaces displaying elaborate designs – the work of the finest artisans

[00:05:16] In fact, it’s believed by some historians that the paving of roads was also the brainchild of the Celts even though Romans tried hard to claim that innovation as their own. 

[00:05:30] Now, although there might have been relative peace between the Romans and the local tribes, it would only take one incident to spark a huge conflict that would rock the Roman Empire.

[00:05:44] And that spark all came down, ultimately, to differing views on the role of women in society.

[00:05:53] See, while the Celts might have been considered wild savages, many Celtic tribes had what we would now call progressive, or simply, normal views about gender equality.

[00:06:09] The Romans, on the other hand, believed men to be superior to women. You’ll know that there were no female Roman emperors, and women always played second fiddle, they came after men in Roman society.

[00:06:26] So, how does this relate to our story?

[00:06:29] Well, Boudicca, our protagonist, was married to an Iceni king, a man named Prasutagus. They had two daughters together. 

[00:06:39] Iceni by the way, was the name of the Celtic tribe from a part of the country called East Anglia, to the north east of London. Remember, London was an early Roman settlement.

[00:06:52] And Prasutagus and the Iceni had a good relationship with the Romans. 

[00:06:58] Prasutagus was a client-king of the Romans - he was allowed to rule over the tribe in the knowledge that it was really the Romans who pulled the strings, who all had the power. 

[00:07:11] But things all started to go downhill, they started to go wrong, when Prasutagus died.

[00:07:20] Under Iceni customs, if a King died the rule passed to his children, no matter whether those were male or female children, sons or daughters. 

[00:07:32] Women had an important role in Iceni culture - they were considered able to rule, we know that many would have been druids, a powerful sort of scientific and religious position, and they were rightly considered to be just as capable as men.

[00:07:50] But under Roman law, women weren’t allowed to rule, and there was great fear about what women would do if they took power. 

[00:08:00] Cleopatra, the queen of Egypt, was to Romans an example of the dangers of what would happen if a woman was in charge.

[00:08:10] As a result, Roman women weren’t even allowed to vote, own property, or have anything resembling independence.

[00:08:19] So, when Prasutagus died, there was a problem. 

[00:08:23] In his will, Prasutagus had written that his property and his kingdom would be divided between his daughters and the Roman emperor, Nero, a man who would later become famous for all sorts of terrible and unspeakable things, including killing his mother.

[00:08:41] But Roman law stated that the entirety of Prasutagus property would pass to the emperor. Women got nothing under Roman law.

[00:08:52] Indeed, the Romans turned up, demanding that all of the property should pass to them, to the Romans.

[00:09:00] When Bouddica objected, she was flogged, that is whipped with thick leather cords with lead balls or animals bones that created deep cuts, and her daughters were brutally raped, they were sexually assaulted. All the chief men of the Iceni were stripped of their ancestral possessions and the king's relatives were made slaves.

[00:09:28] Bruised and humiliated, Boudicca decided to get her revenge. 

[00:09:34] Her people were no longer independent, her daughters had been assaulted, and her body bore the scars of the flogging she had received. 

[00:09:44] So, she did what no one had yet been able to do for the Celts – she united them under one cause – fighting the Romans! 

[00:09:54] Before launching her assault, Boudicca did a kind of divination, that is fortune telling, asking the gods how things would go.

[00:10:04] Acting just as a druid would, which suggested she had had some druid training, she released a hare from her tunic and watched the way it ran. It ran a particular way that she believed to be a sign that the Iceni goddess of victory, Andraste, was on her side. 

[00:10:26] Boudicca summoned the client kings and leaders of the other tribes. All of them had faced one injustice or another at the hands of Romans. 

[00:10:36] They agreed to follow Boudicca as their queen in a rebellion against the Romans. 

[00:10:43] Many of the tribes had actually been stockpiling weapons in secret and they now planned an attack.

[00:10:52] The Romans were completely unprepared for this, both mentally and strategically.

[00:10:58] On a mental level, as we heard, they simply thought a woman would be incapable of leading men. 

[00:11:06] So, they didn’t prepare to fight, and instead the Roman Governor of Britain, a man named Paulinus, was away with his soldiers in Wales on a military campaign, leaving the Roman towns and settlements unguarded

[00:11:24] Taking advantage of the situation, Boudicca marched forward with her troops of around 120,000 men to the city of Colchester, in southeast England. The city was practically undefended. 

[00:11:40] She killed all the Roman men and women she encountered, chopping off the heads of her enemies and offering them to the Icenic goddess of victory, Andraste.

[00:11:51] Some of these heads were embalmed and mounted on their chariots, while others were thrown into rivers.

[00:12:00] The remaining Roman citizens sought refuge, they sought safety, in the large Temple of Claudius. And for a couple of days, it held out, Boudicca and her forces couldn’t get in.

[00:12:14] Eventually they did, they set fire to it, they burned the structure to the ground, and then marched further south to the town of Londinium, modern day London.

[00:12:26] You might have thought that the sacking of Colchester would have been enough to worry the Romans, but, when the Roman leadership learnt of the situation, they decided a woman surely can't pose much difficulty and they sent a measly 200 men to take care of the ‘problem.’ 

[00:12:47] When it was clear that 200 men wouldn’t be sufficient, wouldn't be enough, another 2,500 were sent.

[00:12:56] In the meantime, Boudicca had arrived in London and burned it to the ground. The settlement was tiny compared to modern London, but it was still the capital of Roman Britain, so to be destroyed not just by a local tribe but by a local tribe led by a woman was, well, it was embarrassing and humiliating to Rome. 

[00:13:22] As the Roman historian Cassius Dio later wrote, “all this ruin was brought upon the Romans by a woman, a fact which in itself caused them the greatest shame.” 

[00:13:36] Paulinus convinced Nero, who was on the verge of surrendering according to some accounts, to fight back against Boudicca. 

[00:13:45] So, Paulinus amassed around 10,000 soldiers and they marched along the famous Roman road, Watling Street, to face Boudicca and her Celtic army. 

[00:13:58] Watling Street was the long Roman road that went from the southeast of England through almost to Wales, a road almost 500km long.

[00:14:09] In the meantime, Boudicca had expanded her army to 230,000 men, gaining oppressed Celts as soldiers from the towns along the route of her victory. 

[00:14:22] Boudicca had the advantage in terms of numbers. However, her army lacked modern weaponry, proper military training, food and other supplies. 

[00:14:34] Some of her soldiers would likely have had shields, chainmail, and swords, but the majority were probably unprotected by armour and only really had makeshift weapons, weapons they had made out of whatever was available. 

[00:14:52] On the other hand, Paulinus’ men were properly trained and shielded in body armour, not to mention equipped with the finest of Roman weapons. 

[00:15:04] The scene was set for a final, decisive battle.

[00:15:09] On the one hand, an army of over 200,000 Celts defending their homeland. 

[00:15:16] On the other side, around 10,000 Roman soldiers. 

[00:15:21] You might have thought it would be no contest, with more than 20 fierce Celtic warriors for every 1 Roman soldier.

[00:15:30] And indeed the Celts were confident of victory. 

[00:15:34] So confident, in fact, that they had invited their families and friends to come watch as they crushed the Roman forces.

[00:15:44] There’s a saying in English - and I'm sure there are also similar sayings in your language, that “pride comes before a fall” - and it certainly applies in this case.

[00:15:57] What the Romans lacked in numbers, they made up for in training, equipment, organisation and strategy.

[00:16:05] The Roman governor, a man named Suetonius, had also chosen a favourable position for the battle.

[00:16:13] The Roman forces had a forest behind them and cliffs to the side, meaning that the Celts would have to run straight at them, they couldn't go round the side. They had also chosen a high position, which allowed them to throw their javelins, their spears, down onto the Celts as they approached.

[00:16:37] With low quality armour, the Celts were helpless against the cold steel of the Roman soldiers.

[00:16:45] Tens of thousands were cut down, and as the Roman soldiers pushed further towards the Celts, they did so in a formation that forced the Celtic soldiers closer together.

[00:16:58] The Celts had big, long swords that worked well in open space. But when packed closer together, there was no room to swing them.

[00:17:10] The Roman soldiers, on the other hand, had short swords that were ideal for close combat.

[00:17:17] The Roman troops started closing in, killing men and women left, right, and centre, including those who had just come to spectate, who had just come to look at the battle. They massacred 80,000 men, women, and children on the field, while only losing around 400 of their own soldiers.

[00:17:40] This battle, which would later be remembered as The Battle of Watling Street, concluded Boudicca’s rebellion, and was the first and last major rebellion the Romans faced in Britain. 

[00:17:54] As for Boudicca, our warrior queen, little is known about her fate, and it’s thought that she either committed suicide by drinking poison or was killed in the battle. 

[00:18:08] And interestingly enough, the little we know about Boudicca, in fact all we know about Boudicca, comes from Roman sources.

[00:18:17] We have two historians’ accounts to rely on; both of whom were Roman so hardly neutral observers.

[00:18:26] The first was Tacitus, and the second Cassius Dio, and neither of them were actually even in Britain at the time. 

[00:18:35] Tacitus, although he is one of the most respected Roman historians, would only have been 3 or 4 years old during Boudicca’s rebellion. His information all comes from his father-in-law, who had served in Britain and fought at the Battle of Watling Street. 

[00:18:54] The other historian, Cassius Dio, was born 95 years after the rebellion, and his reports were primarily based on Tacitus’s accounts.

[00:19:06] Nevertheless, we have some fantastic, dramatic accounts of Boudicca as a person, and of her actions. 

[00:19:14] I'll read you a few of them now but please do take them with a pinch of salt

[00:19:20] So, Cassius Dio wrote, of Boudicca, “In stature, she was very tall, in appearance most terrifying, in the glance of her eye most fierce, and her voice was harsh; a great mass of the tawniest hair fell to her hips; around her neck was a large golden necklace; and she wore a tunic of diverse colours over which a thick mantle was fastened with a brooch.”

[00:19:51] So, you can see there that she is being portrayed as an “other”, as a “savage”. 

[00:19:57] And Cassius Dio gives her a slightly backhanded compliment too, saying “she possessed greater intelligence than often belongs to women.”

[00:20:09] Tacitus even goes as far as to describe, word for word, Boudicca's rousing speech to her troops before they went into battle. He wrote:

[00:20:21] “We British are used to women commanders in war; But I am not fighting for my kingdom and wealth now. I am fighting as an ordinary person for my lost freedom, my bruised body, and my outraged daughters... Consider how many of you are fighting – and why! Then you will win this battle, or perish. That is what I, a woman, plan to do! Let the men live in slavery if they will.”

[00:20:54] What is clear is that, even though she was the enemy of Rome, and she caused huge problems for the Romans, there is a certain degree of respect given to her by these Roman historians.

[00:21:09] And in Britain she is remembered as a warrior queen, an example of the power of Britain, and of the power of women.

[00:21:20] As a result, she becomes channelled, used by people in Britain, as a cultural icon.

[00:21:27] This is especially the case by British queens, first Elizabeth I and then Queen Victoria. The idea is, of course, that Boudicca was the original British warrior queen, one who almost toppled the most powerful empire in the world. 

[00:21:48] And, faced with hostility against women, sexism ultimately, these two British queens increasingly brought Boudicca back into the public eye, showing that, yes, women were just as strong as men, and women can be both mothers and leaders.

[00:22:07] Boudicca has risen to the status of an epic British heroine, an icon of national resistance, who not only symbolises freedom and strength but also embodies women's empowerment

[00:22:22] She has received accolades in the form of paintings, sculptures, documentaries, movies, and books. 

[00:22:30] If you want to witness her in her element as British historians have later portrayed her, you can see her in a statue on Westminster Bridge in Central London. 

[00:22:41] She stands there in bronze, guiding her warrior chariot, her troops, and the Celtic people to reclaim what was taken from them – their freedom and their dignity – and serving as an eternal reminder of the power of British women.

[00:23:01] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Boudicca, the woman who fought the Romans.

[00:23:08] I hope it's been an interesting one, and that you've learnt something new. 

[00:23:12] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:23:16] Had you heard about the story of Boudicca before?

[00:23:20] What do you think we can learn from her story?

[00:23:22] And how reliable do you think this story even is, given that it was written from second and even third-degree sources?

[00:23:31] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started. You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:23:45] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:23:50] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]

Continue learning

Get immediate access to a more interesting way of improving your English
Become a member
Already a member? Login

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English. 

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about a woman called Boudicca.

[00:00:29] She was the queen of a Celtic tribe who stood up to the most powerful empire in the world, inspiring her people, slaughtering tens of thousands of Romans, and becoming a British folk hero in the process.

[00:00:45] It’s a fascinating story that involves ancient Rome, the Celtic people, emperor Nero, violence, colonialism, and even Queen Victoria.

[00:00:56] So, get ready, I hope you’ll enjoy it.

[00:01:00] OK then, Boudicca.

[00:01:04] When the Romans invaded Britain, in 43AD, they weren’t quite sure what they would find on this mysterious far northern island.

[00:01:15] Sure, Julius Caesar had invaded with a small army 100 years before, and there were established trade links between Britain and Gaul, modern day northern France, but the Romans had never sought to bring the entire British Isles under Roman control.

[00:01:35] There were plenty of questions.

[00:01:38] What would the people be like? 

[00:01:40] How would they be different to the civilised Romans? 

[00:01:44] How easy would it be to conquer them and bring them into the Roman empire?

[00:01:50] Well, invading Britain didn’t prove to be particularly difficult for the Romans in AD43. 

[00:01:59] Britain at the time was made up of a collection of tribes, with a long history of complicated allegiances and rivalries.

[00:02:10] The Roman army, on the other hand, was well-trained, well-equipped, it was the most powerful army in the world.

[00:02:18] So, it would surprise the Romans, and even surprise the Roman emperor Nero, to find that 17 years after invading Britain, after a period of relative peace, the Roman army was brought to its knees, tens of thousand of Romans were killed, the entire Roman army almost needed to retreat from Britain with its tail between its legs, and according to some historians the Roman empire might even have collapsed. 

[00:02:49] It would be even more surprising to Rome that it was almost beaten not just by one of the local uncultured savages, but by a woman.

[00:03:00] So, to understand how all this came about, let me paint you a bit of a picture of Roman Britain.

[00:03:09] Britain, during the time of the Roman invasion, as I said, was made up of a collection of tribes. When it was clear that they would be no match for the all-powerful Roman soldiers, many of these tribes became what’s called clients of the Romans.

[00:03:28] This meant that they would have pledged their loyalty to Rome, and they would be allowed to keep a certain level of freedom. 

[00:03:37] Essentially they were allowed to continue life almost as normal, and there wasn’t too much interference from the Romans in their day-to-day life.

[00:03:48] This was mostly in the south-east of England - the Romans didn’t head further north until after the story we’re talking about today.

[00:03:58] To state the obvious, the Romans thought of themselves as, and indeed were, very different from the Celtic people. 

[00:04:07] The Romans portrayed the Celts as wild, savages, fighting naked, painting their bodies with ancient symbols, blowing loud horns to frighten their enemies, and beheading anyone who got in their way. 

[00:04:24] The history of this time was written almost exclusively by the Romans, so we of course need to factor this into any consideration of what the Celtic people were really like.

[00:04:37] Although we don’t have real written records from the Celts at this time, we can see the products of their society, archaeologists continue to this day to dig up artefacts from this time.

[00:04:52] We can see that, yes, the Celts might not have had sophisticated aqueducts and underfloor heating like the Romans did, but it’s clear that these supposed “wild savages” created beautiful ceramics and wore gold necklaces displaying elaborate designs – the work of the finest artisans

[00:05:16] In fact, it’s believed by some historians that the paving of roads was also the brainchild of the Celts even though Romans tried hard to claim that innovation as their own. 

[00:05:30] Now, although there might have been relative peace between the Romans and the local tribes, it would only take one incident to spark a huge conflict that would rock the Roman Empire.

[00:05:44] And that spark all came down, ultimately, to differing views on the role of women in society.

[00:05:53] See, while the Celts might have been considered wild savages, many Celtic tribes had what we would now call progressive, or simply, normal views about gender equality.

[00:06:09] The Romans, on the other hand, believed men to be superior to women. You’ll know that there were no female Roman emperors, and women always played second fiddle, they came after men in Roman society.

[00:06:26] So, how does this relate to our story?

[00:06:29] Well, Boudicca, our protagonist, was married to an Iceni king, a man named Prasutagus. They had two daughters together. 

[00:06:39] Iceni by the way, was the name of the Celtic tribe from a part of the country called East Anglia, to the north east of London. Remember, London was an early Roman settlement.

[00:06:52] And Prasutagus and the Iceni had a good relationship with the Romans. 

[00:06:58] Prasutagus was a client-king of the Romans - he was allowed to rule over the tribe in the knowledge that it was really the Romans who pulled the strings, who all had the power. 

[00:07:11] But things all started to go downhill, they started to go wrong, when Prasutagus died.

[00:07:20] Under Iceni customs, if a King died the rule passed to his children, no matter whether those were male or female children, sons or daughters. 

[00:07:32] Women had an important role in Iceni culture - they were considered able to rule, we know that many would have been druids, a powerful sort of scientific and religious position, and they were rightly considered to be just as capable as men.

[00:07:50] But under Roman law, women weren’t allowed to rule, and there was great fear about what women would do if they took power. 

[00:08:00] Cleopatra, the queen of Egypt, was to Romans an example of the dangers of what would happen if a woman was in charge.

[00:08:10] As a result, Roman women weren’t even allowed to vote, own property, or have anything resembling independence.

[00:08:19] So, when Prasutagus died, there was a problem. 

[00:08:23] In his will, Prasutagus had written that his property and his kingdom would be divided between his daughters and the Roman emperor, Nero, a man who would later become famous for all sorts of terrible and unspeakable things, including killing his mother.

[00:08:41] But Roman law stated that the entirety of Prasutagus property would pass to the emperor. Women got nothing under Roman law.

[00:08:52] Indeed, the Romans turned up, demanding that all of the property should pass to them, to the Romans.

[00:09:00] When Bouddica objected, she was flogged, that is whipped with thick leather cords with lead balls or animals bones that created deep cuts, and her daughters were brutally raped, they were sexually assaulted. All the chief men of the Iceni were stripped of their ancestral possessions and the king's relatives were made slaves.

[00:09:28] Bruised and humiliated, Boudicca decided to get her revenge. 

[00:09:34] Her people were no longer independent, her daughters had been assaulted, and her body bore the scars of the flogging she had received. 

[00:09:44] So, she did what no one had yet been able to do for the Celts – she united them under one cause – fighting the Romans! 

[00:09:54] Before launching her assault, Boudicca did a kind of divination, that is fortune telling, asking the gods how things would go.

[00:10:04] Acting just as a druid would, which suggested she had had some druid training, she released a hare from her tunic and watched the way it ran. It ran a particular way that she believed to be a sign that the Iceni goddess of victory, Andraste, was on her side. 

[00:10:26] Boudicca summoned the client kings and leaders of the other tribes. All of them had faced one injustice or another at the hands of Romans. 

[00:10:36] They agreed to follow Boudicca as their queen in a rebellion against the Romans. 

[00:10:43] Many of the tribes had actually been stockpiling weapons in secret and they now planned an attack.

[00:10:52] The Romans were completely unprepared for this, both mentally and strategically.

[00:10:58] On a mental level, as we heard, they simply thought a woman would be incapable of leading men. 

[00:11:06] So, they didn’t prepare to fight, and instead the Roman Governor of Britain, a man named Paulinus, was away with his soldiers in Wales on a military campaign, leaving the Roman towns and settlements unguarded

[00:11:24] Taking advantage of the situation, Boudicca marched forward with her troops of around 120,000 men to the city of Colchester, in southeast England. The city was practically undefended. 

[00:11:40] She killed all the Roman men and women she encountered, chopping off the heads of her enemies and offering them to the Icenic goddess of victory, Andraste.

[00:11:51] Some of these heads were embalmed and mounted on their chariots, while others were thrown into rivers.

[00:12:00] The remaining Roman citizens sought refuge, they sought safety, in the large Temple of Claudius. And for a couple of days, it held out, Boudicca and her forces couldn’t get in.

[00:12:14] Eventually they did, they set fire to it, they burned the structure to the ground, and then marched further south to the town of Londinium, modern day London.

[00:12:26] You might have thought that the sacking of Colchester would have been enough to worry the Romans, but, when the Roman leadership learnt of the situation, they decided a woman surely can't pose much difficulty and they sent a measly 200 men to take care of the ‘problem.’ 

[00:12:47] When it was clear that 200 men wouldn’t be sufficient, wouldn't be enough, another 2,500 were sent.

[00:12:56] In the meantime, Boudicca had arrived in London and burned it to the ground. The settlement was tiny compared to modern London, but it was still the capital of Roman Britain, so to be destroyed not just by a local tribe but by a local tribe led by a woman was, well, it was embarrassing and humiliating to Rome. 

[00:13:22] As the Roman historian Cassius Dio later wrote, “all this ruin was brought upon the Romans by a woman, a fact which in itself caused them the greatest shame.” 

[00:13:36] Paulinus convinced Nero, who was on the verge of surrendering according to some accounts, to fight back against Boudicca. 

[00:13:45] So, Paulinus amassed around 10,000 soldiers and they marched along the famous Roman road, Watling Street, to face Boudicca and her Celtic army. 

[00:13:58] Watling Street was the long Roman road that went from the southeast of England through almost to Wales, a road almost 500km long.

[00:14:09] In the meantime, Boudicca had expanded her army to 230,000 men, gaining oppressed Celts as soldiers from the towns along the route of her victory. 

[00:14:22] Boudicca had the advantage in terms of numbers. However, her army lacked modern weaponry, proper military training, food and other supplies. 

[00:14:34] Some of her soldiers would likely have had shields, chainmail, and swords, but the majority were probably unprotected by armour and only really had makeshift weapons, weapons they had made out of whatever was available. 

[00:14:52] On the other hand, Paulinus’ men were properly trained and shielded in body armour, not to mention equipped with the finest of Roman weapons. 

[00:15:04] The scene was set for a final, decisive battle.

[00:15:09] On the one hand, an army of over 200,000 Celts defending their homeland. 

[00:15:16] On the other side, around 10,000 Roman soldiers. 

[00:15:21] You might have thought it would be no contest, with more than 20 fierce Celtic warriors for every 1 Roman soldier.

[00:15:30] And indeed the Celts were confident of victory. 

[00:15:34] So confident, in fact, that they had invited their families and friends to come watch as they crushed the Roman forces.

[00:15:44] There’s a saying in English - and I'm sure there are also similar sayings in your language, that “pride comes before a fall” - and it certainly applies in this case.

[00:15:57] What the Romans lacked in numbers, they made up for in training, equipment, organisation and strategy.

[00:16:05] The Roman governor, a man named Suetonius, had also chosen a favourable position for the battle.

[00:16:13] The Roman forces had a forest behind them and cliffs to the side, meaning that the Celts would have to run straight at them, they couldn't go round the side. They had also chosen a high position, which allowed them to throw their javelins, their spears, down onto the Celts as they approached.

[00:16:37] With low quality armour, the Celts were helpless against the cold steel of the Roman soldiers.

[00:16:45] Tens of thousands were cut down, and as the Roman soldiers pushed further towards the Celts, they did so in a formation that forced the Celtic soldiers closer together.

[00:16:58] The Celts had big, long swords that worked well in open space. But when packed closer together, there was no room to swing them.

[00:17:10] The Roman soldiers, on the other hand, had short swords that were ideal for close combat.

[00:17:17] The Roman troops started closing in, killing men and women left, right, and centre, including those who had just come to spectate, who had just come to look at the battle. They massacred 80,000 men, women, and children on the field, while only losing around 400 of their own soldiers.

[00:17:40] This battle, which would later be remembered as The Battle of Watling Street, concluded Boudicca’s rebellion, and was the first and last major rebellion the Romans faced in Britain. 

[00:17:54] As for Boudicca, our warrior queen, little is known about her fate, and it’s thought that she either committed suicide by drinking poison or was killed in the battle. 

[00:18:08] And interestingly enough, the little we know about Boudicca, in fact all we know about Boudicca, comes from Roman sources.

[00:18:17] We have two historians’ accounts to rely on; both of whom were Roman so hardly neutral observers.

[00:18:26] The first was Tacitus, and the second Cassius Dio, and neither of them were actually even in Britain at the time. 

[00:18:35] Tacitus, although he is one of the most respected Roman historians, would only have been 3 or 4 years old during Boudicca’s rebellion. His information all comes from his father-in-law, who had served in Britain and fought at the Battle of Watling Street. 

[00:18:54] The other historian, Cassius Dio, was born 95 years after the rebellion, and his reports were primarily based on Tacitus’s accounts.

[00:19:06] Nevertheless, we have some fantastic, dramatic accounts of Boudicca as a person, and of her actions. 

[00:19:14] I'll read you a few of them now but please do take them with a pinch of salt

[00:19:20] So, Cassius Dio wrote, of Boudicca, “In stature, she was very tall, in appearance most terrifying, in the glance of her eye most fierce, and her voice was harsh; a great mass of the tawniest hair fell to her hips; around her neck was a large golden necklace; and she wore a tunic of diverse colours over which a thick mantle was fastened with a brooch.”

[00:19:51] So, you can see there that she is being portrayed as an “other”, as a “savage”. 

[00:19:57] And Cassius Dio gives her a slightly backhanded compliment too, saying “she possessed greater intelligence than often belongs to women.”

[00:20:09] Tacitus even goes as far as to describe, word for word, Boudicca's rousing speech to her troops before they went into battle. He wrote:

[00:20:21] “We British are used to women commanders in war; But I am not fighting for my kingdom and wealth now. I am fighting as an ordinary person for my lost freedom, my bruised body, and my outraged daughters... Consider how many of you are fighting – and why! Then you will win this battle, or perish. That is what I, a woman, plan to do! Let the men live in slavery if they will.”

[00:20:54] What is clear is that, even though she was the enemy of Rome, and she caused huge problems for the Romans, there is a certain degree of respect given to her by these Roman historians.

[00:21:09] And in Britain she is remembered as a warrior queen, an example of the power of Britain, and of the power of women.

[00:21:20] As a result, she becomes channelled, used by people in Britain, as a cultural icon.

[00:21:27] This is especially the case by British queens, first Elizabeth I and then Queen Victoria. The idea is, of course, that Boudicca was the original British warrior queen, one who almost toppled the most powerful empire in the world. 

[00:21:48] And, faced with hostility against women, sexism ultimately, these two British queens increasingly brought Boudicca back into the public eye, showing that, yes, women were just as strong as men, and women can be both mothers and leaders.

[00:22:07] Boudicca has risen to the status of an epic British heroine, an icon of national resistance, who not only symbolises freedom and strength but also embodies women's empowerment

[00:22:22] She has received accolades in the form of paintings, sculptures, documentaries, movies, and books. 

[00:22:30] If you want to witness her in her element as British historians have later portrayed her, you can see her in a statue on Westminster Bridge in Central London. 

[00:22:41] She stands there in bronze, guiding her warrior chariot, her troops, and the Celtic people to reclaim what was taken from them – their freedom and their dignity – and serving as an eternal reminder of the power of British women.

[00:23:01] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Boudicca, the woman who fought the Romans.

[00:23:08] I hope it's been an interesting one, and that you've learnt something new. 

[00:23:12] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:23:16] Had you heard about the story of Boudicca before?

[00:23:20] What do you think we can learn from her story?

[00:23:22] And how reliable do you think this story even is, given that it was written from second and even third-degree sources?

[00:23:31] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started. You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:23:45] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:23:50] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English. 

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about a woman called Boudicca.

[00:00:29] She was the queen of a Celtic tribe who stood up to the most powerful empire in the world, inspiring her people, slaughtering tens of thousands of Romans, and becoming a British folk hero in the process.

[00:00:45] It’s a fascinating story that involves ancient Rome, the Celtic people, emperor Nero, violence, colonialism, and even Queen Victoria.

[00:00:56] So, get ready, I hope you’ll enjoy it.

[00:01:00] OK then, Boudicca.

[00:01:04] When the Romans invaded Britain, in 43AD, they weren’t quite sure what they would find on this mysterious far northern island.

[00:01:15] Sure, Julius Caesar had invaded with a small army 100 years before, and there were established trade links between Britain and Gaul, modern day northern France, but the Romans had never sought to bring the entire British Isles under Roman control.

[00:01:35] There were plenty of questions.

[00:01:38] What would the people be like? 

[00:01:40] How would they be different to the civilised Romans? 

[00:01:44] How easy would it be to conquer them and bring them into the Roman empire?

[00:01:50] Well, invading Britain didn’t prove to be particularly difficult for the Romans in AD43. 

[00:01:59] Britain at the time was made up of a collection of tribes, with a long history of complicated allegiances and rivalries.

[00:02:10] The Roman army, on the other hand, was well-trained, well-equipped, it was the most powerful army in the world.

[00:02:18] So, it would surprise the Romans, and even surprise the Roman emperor Nero, to find that 17 years after invading Britain, after a period of relative peace, the Roman army was brought to its knees, tens of thousand of Romans were killed, the entire Roman army almost needed to retreat from Britain with its tail between its legs, and according to some historians the Roman empire might even have collapsed. 

[00:02:49] It would be even more surprising to Rome that it was almost beaten not just by one of the local uncultured savages, but by a woman.

[00:03:00] So, to understand how all this came about, let me paint you a bit of a picture of Roman Britain.

[00:03:09] Britain, during the time of the Roman invasion, as I said, was made up of a collection of tribes. When it was clear that they would be no match for the all-powerful Roman soldiers, many of these tribes became what’s called clients of the Romans.

[00:03:28] This meant that they would have pledged their loyalty to Rome, and they would be allowed to keep a certain level of freedom. 

[00:03:37] Essentially they were allowed to continue life almost as normal, and there wasn’t too much interference from the Romans in their day-to-day life.

[00:03:48] This was mostly in the south-east of England - the Romans didn’t head further north until after the story we’re talking about today.

[00:03:58] To state the obvious, the Romans thought of themselves as, and indeed were, very different from the Celtic people. 

[00:04:07] The Romans portrayed the Celts as wild, savages, fighting naked, painting their bodies with ancient symbols, blowing loud horns to frighten their enemies, and beheading anyone who got in their way. 

[00:04:24] The history of this time was written almost exclusively by the Romans, so we of course need to factor this into any consideration of what the Celtic people were really like.

[00:04:37] Although we don’t have real written records from the Celts at this time, we can see the products of their society, archaeologists continue to this day to dig up artefacts from this time.

[00:04:52] We can see that, yes, the Celts might not have had sophisticated aqueducts and underfloor heating like the Romans did, but it’s clear that these supposed “wild savages” created beautiful ceramics and wore gold necklaces displaying elaborate designs – the work of the finest artisans

[00:05:16] In fact, it’s believed by some historians that the paving of roads was also the brainchild of the Celts even though Romans tried hard to claim that innovation as their own. 

[00:05:30] Now, although there might have been relative peace between the Romans and the local tribes, it would only take one incident to spark a huge conflict that would rock the Roman Empire.

[00:05:44] And that spark all came down, ultimately, to differing views on the role of women in society.

[00:05:53] See, while the Celts might have been considered wild savages, many Celtic tribes had what we would now call progressive, or simply, normal views about gender equality.

[00:06:09] The Romans, on the other hand, believed men to be superior to women. You’ll know that there were no female Roman emperors, and women always played second fiddle, they came after men in Roman society.

[00:06:26] So, how does this relate to our story?

[00:06:29] Well, Boudicca, our protagonist, was married to an Iceni king, a man named Prasutagus. They had two daughters together. 

[00:06:39] Iceni by the way, was the name of the Celtic tribe from a part of the country called East Anglia, to the north east of London. Remember, London was an early Roman settlement.

[00:06:52] And Prasutagus and the Iceni had a good relationship with the Romans. 

[00:06:58] Prasutagus was a client-king of the Romans - he was allowed to rule over the tribe in the knowledge that it was really the Romans who pulled the strings, who all had the power. 

[00:07:11] But things all started to go downhill, they started to go wrong, when Prasutagus died.

[00:07:20] Under Iceni customs, if a King died the rule passed to his children, no matter whether those were male or female children, sons or daughters. 

[00:07:32] Women had an important role in Iceni culture - they were considered able to rule, we know that many would have been druids, a powerful sort of scientific and religious position, and they were rightly considered to be just as capable as men.

[00:07:50] But under Roman law, women weren’t allowed to rule, and there was great fear about what women would do if they took power. 

[00:08:00] Cleopatra, the queen of Egypt, was to Romans an example of the dangers of what would happen if a woman was in charge.

[00:08:10] As a result, Roman women weren’t even allowed to vote, own property, or have anything resembling independence.

[00:08:19] So, when Prasutagus died, there was a problem. 

[00:08:23] In his will, Prasutagus had written that his property and his kingdom would be divided between his daughters and the Roman emperor, Nero, a man who would later become famous for all sorts of terrible and unspeakable things, including killing his mother.

[00:08:41] But Roman law stated that the entirety of Prasutagus property would pass to the emperor. Women got nothing under Roman law.

[00:08:52] Indeed, the Romans turned up, demanding that all of the property should pass to them, to the Romans.

[00:09:00] When Bouddica objected, she was flogged, that is whipped with thick leather cords with lead balls or animals bones that created deep cuts, and her daughters were brutally raped, they were sexually assaulted. All the chief men of the Iceni were stripped of their ancestral possessions and the king's relatives were made slaves.

[00:09:28] Bruised and humiliated, Boudicca decided to get her revenge. 

[00:09:34] Her people were no longer independent, her daughters had been assaulted, and her body bore the scars of the flogging she had received. 

[00:09:44] So, she did what no one had yet been able to do for the Celts – she united them under one cause – fighting the Romans! 

[00:09:54] Before launching her assault, Boudicca did a kind of divination, that is fortune telling, asking the gods how things would go.

[00:10:04] Acting just as a druid would, which suggested she had had some druid training, she released a hare from her tunic and watched the way it ran. It ran a particular way that she believed to be a sign that the Iceni goddess of victory, Andraste, was on her side. 

[00:10:26] Boudicca summoned the client kings and leaders of the other tribes. All of them had faced one injustice or another at the hands of Romans. 

[00:10:36] They agreed to follow Boudicca as their queen in a rebellion against the Romans. 

[00:10:43] Many of the tribes had actually been stockpiling weapons in secret and they now planned an attack.

[00:10:52] The Romans were completely unprepared for this, both mentally and strategically.

[00:10:58] On a mental level, as we heard, they simply thought a woman would be incapable of leading men. 

[00:11:06] So, they didn’t prepare to fight, and instead the Roman Governor of Britain, a man named Paulinus, was away with his soldiers in Wales on a military campaign, leaving the Roman towns and settlements unguarded

[00:11:24] Taking advantage of the situation, Boudicca marched forward with her troops of around 120,000 men to the city of Colchester, in southeast England. The city was practically undefended. 

[00:11:40] She killed all the Roman men and women she encountered, chopping off the heads of her enemies and offering them to the Icenic goddess of victory, Andraste.

[00:11:51] Some of these heads were embalmed and mounted on their chariots, while others were thrown into rivers.

[00:12:00] The remaining Roman citizens sought refuge, they sought safety, in the large Temple of Claudius. And for a couple of days, it held out, Boudicca and her forces couldn’t get in.

[00:12:14] Eventually they did, they set fire to it, they burned the structure to the ground, and then marched further south to the town of Londinium, modern day London.

[00:12:26] You might have thought that the sacking of Colchester would have been enough to worry the Romans, but, when the Roman leadership learnt of the situation, they decided a woman surely can't pose much difficulty and they sent a measly 200 men to take care of the ‘problem.’ 

[00:12:47] When it was clear that 200 men wouldn’t be sufficient, wouldn't be enough, another 2,500 were sent.

[00:12:56] In the meantime, Boudicca had arrived in London and burned it to the ground. The settlement was tiny compared to modern London, but it was still the capital of Roman Britain, so to be destroyed not just by a local tribe but by a local tribe led by a woman was, well, it was embarrassing and humiliating to Rome. 

[00:13:22] As the Roman historian Cassius Dio later wrote, “all this ruin was brought upon the Romans by a woman, a fact which in itself caused them the greatest shame.” 

[00:13:36] Paulinus convinced Nero, who was on the verge of surrendering according to some accounts, to fight back against Boudicca. 

[00:13:45] So, Paulinus amassed around 10,000 soldiers and they marched along the famous Roman road, Watling Street, to face Boudicca and her Celtic army. 

[00:13:58] Watling Street was the long Roman road that went from the southeast of England through almost to Wales, a road almost 500km long.

[00:14:09] In the meantime, Boudicca had expanded her army to 230,000 men, gaining oppressed Celts as soldiers from the towns along the route of her victory. 

[00:14:22] Boudicca had the advantage in terms of numbers. However, her army lacked modern weaponry, proper military training, food and other supplies. 

[00:14:34] Some of her soldiers would likely have had shields, chainmail, and swords, but the majority were probably unprotected by armour and only really had makeshift weapons, weapons they had made out of whatever was available. 

[00:14:52] On the other hand, Paulinus’ men were properly trained and shielded in body armour, not to mention equipped with the finest of Roman weapons. 

[00:15:04] The scene was set for a final, decisive battle.

[00:15:09] On the one hand, an army of over 200,000 Celts defending their homeland. 

[00:15:16] On the other side, around 10,000 Roman soldiers. 

[00:15:21] You might have thought it would be no contest, with more than 20 fierce Celtic warriors for every 1 Roman soldier.

[00:15:30] And indeed the Celts were confident of victory. 

[00:15:34] So confident, in fact, that they had invited their families and friends to come watch as they crushed the Roman forces.

[00:15:44] There’s a saying in English - and I'm sure there are also similar sayings in your language, that “pride comes before a fall” - and it certainly applies in this case.

[00:15:57] What the Romans lacked in numbers, they made up for in training, equipment, organisation and strategy.

[00:16:05] The Roman governor, a man named Suetonius, had also chosen a favourable position for the battle.

[00:16:13] The Roman forces had a forest behind them and cliffs to the side, meaning that the Celts would have to run straight at them, they couldn't go round the side. They had also chosen a high position, which allowed them to throw their javelins, their spears, down onto the Celts as they approached.

[00:16:37] With low quality armour, the Celts were helpless against the cold steel of the Roman soldiers.

[00:16:45] Tens of thousands were cut down, and as the Roman soldiers pushed further towards the Celts, they did so in a formation that forced the Celtic soldiers closer together.

[00:16:58] The Celts had big, long swords that worked well in open space. But when packed closer together, there was no room to swing them.

[00:17:10] The Roman soldiers, on the other hand, had short swords that were ideal for close combat.

[00:17:17] The Roman troops started closing in, killing men and women left, right, and centre, including those who had just come to spectate, who had just come to look at the battle. They massacred 80,000 men, women, and children on the field, while only losing around 400 of their own soldiers.

[00:17:40] This battle, which would later be remembered as The Battle of Watling Street, concluded Boudicca’s rebellion, and was the first and last major rebellion the Romans faced in Britain. 

[00:17:54] As for Boudicca, our warrior queen, little is known about her fate, and it’s thought that she either committed suicide by drinking poison or was killed in the battle. 

[00:18:08] And interestingly enough, the little we know about Boudicca, in fact all we know about Boudicca, comes from Roman sources.

[00:18:17] We have two historians’ accounts to rely on; both of whom were Roman so hardly neutral observers.

[00:18:26] The first was Tacitus, and the second Cassius Dio, and neither of them were actually even in Britain at the time. 

[00:18:35] Tacitus, although he is one of the most respected Roman historians, would only have been 3 or 4 years old during Boudicca’s rebellion. His information all comes from his father-in-law, who had served in Britain and fought at the Battle of Watling Street. 

[00:18:54] The other historian, Cassius Dio, was born 95 years after the rebellion, and his reports were primarily based on Tacitus’s accounts.

[00:19:06] Nevertheless, we have some fantastic, dramatic accounts of Boudicca as a person, and of her actions. 

[00:19:14] I'll read you a few of them now but please do take them with a pinch of salt

[00:19:20] So, Cassius Dio wrote, of Boudicca, “In stature, she was very tall, in appearance most terrifying, in the glance of her eye most fierce, and her voice was harsh; a great mass of the tawniest hair fell to her hips; around her neck was a large golden necklace; and she wore a tunic of diverse colours over which a thick mantle was fastened with a brooch.”

[00:19:51] So, you can see there that she is being portrayed as an “other”, as a “savage”. 

[00:19:57] And Cassius Dio gives her a slightly backhanded compliment too, saying “she possessed greater intelligence than often belongs to women.”

[00:20:09] Tacitus even goes as far as to describe, word for word, Boudicca's rousing speech to her troops before they went into battle. He wrote:

[00:20:21] “We British are used to women commanders in war; But I am not fighting for my kingdom and wealth now. I am fighting as an ordinary person for my lost freedom, my bruised body, and my outraged daughters... Consider how many of you are fighting – and why! Then you will win this battle, or perish. That is what I, a woman, plan to do! Let the men live in slavery if they will.”

[00:20:54] What is clear is that, even though she was the enemy of Rome, and she caused huge problems for the Romans, there is a certain degree of respect given to her by these Roman historians.

[00:21:09] And in Britain she is remembered as a warrior queen, an example of the power of Britain, and of the power of women.

[00:21:20] As a result, she becomes channelled, used by people in Britain, as a cultural icon.

[00:21:27] This is especially the case by British queens, first Elizabeth I and then Queen Victoria. The idea is, of course, that Boudicca was the original British warrior queen, one who almost toppled the most powerful empire in the world. 

[00:21:48] And, faced with hostility against women, sexism ultimately, these two British queens increasingly brought Boudicca back into the public eye, showing that, yes, women were just as strong as men, and women can be both mothers and leaders.

[00:22:07] Boudicca has risen to the status of an epic British heroine, an icon of national resistance, who not only symbolises freedom and strength but also embodies women's empowerment

[00:22:22] She has received accolades in the form of paintings, sculptures, documentaries, movies, and books. 

[00:22:30] If you want to witness her in her element as British historians have later portrayed her, you can see her in a statue on Westminster Bridge in Central London. 

[00:22:41] She stands there in bronze, guiding her warrior chariot, her troops, and the Celtic people to reclaim what was taken from them – their freedom and their dignity – and serving as an eternal reminder of the power of British women.

[00:23:01] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Boudicca, the woman who fought the Romans.

[00:23:08] I hope it's been an interesting one, and that you've learnt something new. 

[00:23:12] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:23:16] Had you heard about the story of Boudicca before?

[00:23:20] What do you think we can learn from her story?

[00:23:22] And how reliable do you think this story even is, given that it was written from second and even third-degree sources?

[00:23:31] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started. You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:23:45] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:23:50] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]