Where I live now in the county of Norfolk, eastern England, was once home to a tribal people called the Iceni. They extended south into modern-day Suffolk, and west as far as what we now call Cambridgeshire. They were one of the original Brittonic peoples.
At the time of the Roman Invasion, they had been well-established and powerful since the early Iron Age. They had a social structure, a royal hierachy, and issued coinage that could be used in the territory they controlled.
Most lived in fortified villages, in large houses made of rendered mud with thatched roofs. (Replica of an Iceni village)
After the Roman conquest was completed by Emperor Claudius in AD43, the Iceni allied with the invaders, and that decision allowed them to expand, as well as becoming wealthier and more influential. However, the Romans constantly sought to integrate the Iceni into Roman society, and after the death of her husband in AD60, the new Queen of the Iceni, Boudica, began a revolt against the Roman occupiers. For over a year, her large army of over 30,000 untrained warriors, led by her riding in a chariot, defeated many Roman armies sent against it, and managed to travel south as far as the Roman city of Londinium, (London) which was looted and burned.
On the way to London, her army attacked the Roman city of Camulodonum (modern day Colchester) killing every single person inside, then went on to defeat a Roman force of 2,000 professional soldiers of the 9th legion that had just arrived outside that city.
Once in Londinium, the Iceni spared nobody in the Romanized capital. Contemporary reports put the death toll at close to 70,000 soldiers and citizens. Things were looking so bad for the Romans, the Emperor seriously considered abandoning Britain entirely, and returning all his soldiers and citizens to Rome.
However, Roman General Gaius Suetonius Paulinus returned with his army from a campaign in Wales, determined to crush the Iceni rebellion. Joined by other British tribes, Boudica took an army estimated to be almost 80,000 strong, and set off to meet the approaching Romans. Somewhere in modern-day Shropshire, on the old Roman road named Watling Street, the armies clashed in AD61.
Despite his force being heavily outnumbered, Suetonius had 10,000 well trained and battle-hardened soldiers under his command who could be relied upon to fight in formation, and obey every order.
By contrast, Boudica’s huge force was relatively untrained, poorly equipped, and had just travelled a long way on foot, living off the land. They attacked the Roman army in a disorganised fashion, and were easliy beaten, with most of their number being killed. It was said that Boudica took poison when she realised they would be defeated, rather than face capture, and the shame of slavery.
Boudica (also called Boadicea) is commemorated by this statue, on the north side of Westminster Bridge in London.
She is known to history as ‘The Warrior Queen’ of England.