Monday, October 08, 2012

Would the Real Boudicca Please Stand Up?

Would the Real Boudicca Please Stand Up? | Help Your Child to Learn

Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni
Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The Queen of the Iceni, she came to embody Celtic rebellion against Roman Rule in the first century. The Victorians had a bit of a love affair with her, imagining her as a great warrior queen leading her tribe against the power of the Roman army. Others have portrayed her as a woman wronged, fighting back against her attackers.

I must admit, I have a personal fascination with her. I grew up in St Albans, known as Verulamium to the Romans, which was one of the cities that she destroyed on her rampage through southern England. The evidence of her presence is still clear in the archaeology around the town.

The Iceni tribe ruled a large chunk of what is now East Anglia. Boudicca’s husband, Prasutagus, ruled the Iceni and for whatever reason, decided that he could live alongside the Romans. He made a pact with them and they agreed to allow him to rule his tribe.

However, when Prasutagus died the Romans changed their mind. They confiscated the land belonging to the tribe and insisted on ruling them directly. The accounts suggest that they stripped and flogged Boudicca and raped her daughters. Needless to say, this did not go down well with the native population.

In AD 60/61, while the Roman governor Paulinus was away fighting in Wales, the Iceni tribe began their rebellion. They were soon joined by a number of other local tribes and they attacked and destroyed the city of Colchester which at that time was the capital of Roman Britain. From there they went on to destroy Verulamium and Londinium.
English: A map showing the territory of the Ic...
English: A map showing the territory of the Iceni tribe overlayed in red in the context of the modern county boundaries of England and wales (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Finally Paulinus was able to defeat the rebels by bringing the Roman Army back from Wales. But not before thousands of Britons were killed and major cities were destroyed. It is thought that Boudicca took poison rather than be captured by the Romans.

Here’s my question:

Was Boudicca a heroine defending her home or some brutal warrior?

I don’t suppose we’ll ever know. Since she has become such an iconic figure it is difficult to know who she really was and what she was really like. There are numerous accounts of her life and many commentators who want to portray her one way or another.

The only contemporary records that we have about her were written by Romans. What might have motivated them to portray her in this way? And why did the Victorians turn her into the iconic British heroine represented by the statue in London?

When we read history stories we must always remember that they were written from one perspective or another. Each writer has their own reasons for writing and we need to understand those reasons if we are to really understand the truths that they are stating.

A story like the one of Boudicca is fantastic to inspire children to get into history. After all, you’ve got a wronged woman and a small tribe fighting the all-powerful Roman army. Getting them to recognise the motivations behind the rebels and even the Romans will help them to understand more about what happened. Using these motivations to decide how reliable a source of information is on a particular topic is also an important skill for studying history.

Comparing written sources with archaeological evidence is another important skill. The Internet is a great way of finding information but we need to assess the reliability of the sources that we find online. Helping your child to do this will enable them to make sensible decisions about what they find out – both in terms of history topics and other matters that they use the Internet for.

What’s your favourite history story? What got you interested in it? How could you use it to inspire your child?