Dig uncovers Boudicca's brutal streak
Jason Burke, chief reporter
Sunday December 3, 2000
In the history books, she is a flame-haired paragon of wronged womanhood, a first-century feminist leading a horde of righteous Britons against their nasty Mediterranean overlords.
But new archaeological evidence shows Boudicca, the warrior queen who led the Britons in revolt against the Romans, in a very different light: as a calculating, vengeful and brutal military leader, who methodically razed cities.
A dig in Colchester has revealed that, when Boudicca's troops seized the city in the first year of their two-year revolt that began in AD60, they went to enormous lengths to destroy anything touched by the Romans.
'These were not flammable buildings,' said Philip Crummy, who directed the dig. 'But they were levelled. It was a murderous, determined, intensive and deliberate attack.'
The dig found that every house had been carefully levelled, one by one, by the Iceni tribesmen. The new evidence is to be revealed on the digital channel BBC Knowledge later this month.
Crummy compared the attack to 'ethnic cleansing' in the Balkans. 'The civilian population was wiped out. There were no prisoners. Men, women and children were all killed,' he said.
No remains of any casualties have been found. Experts believe the Romans took their dead home and that many others were buried in mass graves. Estimates of the number of Romans and 'collaborators' killed by Boudicca and her followers vary, although Roman historians claimed that up to 70,000 people died.
The new evidence of Boudicca's brutality will dismay many. For 150 years the woman who led the Iceni tribe from its base in Norfolk against the Roman invaders has been viewed as an icon of national resistance. She was a favourite subject for Victorian painters and sculptors. A statue of her still remains close to the Houses of Parliament on Westminster Bridge in London, ideally placed to give heart to passing Euro-sceptic MPs. The Sun recently described Boudicca as 'inspiring' and a reason 'to be proud to be British'. She was also a heroine for early feminists, regularly featuring in suffragette literature.
Boudicca led her revolt after her husband, the king of the Iceni, died, allowing the invaders to annex his lands and plunder the chief tribes men. After being flogged and seeing her two young daughters raped, she launched the most serious uprising faced by the Romans during their occupation of Britain.
The rebels targeted and razed Colchester, then called Camulodunum, first. It was the most important site in Britain for the Romans at the time. St Albans (Verulamium) and London were next but, after inflicting serious casualties on the Roman army in a series of skirmishes, the Iceni were finally defeated in a hard and bloody battle. Boudicca is thought to have poisoned herself rather than be taken prisoner. Her body is said to lie under Platform 9 of London's King's Cross station.