Showing posts with label romans. Show all posts
Showing posts with label romans. Show all posts

Friday, May 26, 2017

Damn, Girl-Boudicca of the Iceni

It is a fact, universally acknowledged, that the Romans were dicks. And that the Romans, if given an inch, will take your entire hecking country. It's also a fact that the Romans had very little respect for the traditions of the lands that they conquered, so is it really a surprise that in 60 CE the fiery Queen Boudicca had to take the Romans to task?

Image result for boudicca
There are no surviving pictures of the queen,
but this statue of her stands on the banks of
the Thames near the Houses of Parliament
Boudicca was queen of the Iceni, a tribe of Britons living in what is now modern Norfolk. Her husband, Prasutagus, was a client king under the Romans, a sort of half ally-half subject, and when he died he left half of his stuff to his daughters--Isolda and Siora--and the other half to Emperor Nero. The Romans, who didn't believe in letting women inherit property*, gave the Iceni the middle finger, and took everything that Prasutagus left behind, as well as the lands and possessions of several other members of the British nobility. When Boudicca protested the Romans had her flogged and her daughters raped to put them in their place. Big mistake.
As you might imagine, Boudicca was a little pissed off, and so she rallied not only her own forces, but also the forces of the Trinovantes of the south, as well as other local tribes. Army behind her, Boudicca decided to take on the Roman Empire.

She chose an advantageous time to attack. The Roman governor, Gaius Suetonius Paullinus was off fighting the Welsh when Boudicca led her troops south. They took the cities of Camulodunam (Colchester), Londinium (London), and Verulamium (St. Albans), looting and putting the entire population to the sword. 

This, as you might imagine, freaked out the defending Romans just a bit. Most of the legions were off in Wales, and the Romans were spread thin. Not only that, but the Iceni were brutal. Cassius Dio, one of the two surviving primary sources from Boudicca's rebellion, wrote of the Iceni gathering the noble ladies of the city, stripping them naked, hanging them, cutting off their breasts, sewing said breasts to their mouths, then driving a spear through them all kebab style. According to Dio, this didn't phase the Iceni at all. So you can understand why Paullinus was a bit worried when he got back.

Image result for boudicca
Dio described her as being tall, with a flinty
gaze, a loud voice, and waist-length red hair
Even with Paullinus' forces returned from Wales, the Iceni still outnumbered the Romans by quite a lot, so Paullinus chose to engage the tribes in a narrow area where their greater numbers would be a disadvantage. The overconfident Iceni cut off their own escape route with wagons, and could not flee when the Romans fell on them. The Romans slaughtered every Briton they could, but Boudicca and her daughters escaped.

However, Boudicca refused to be taken captive by the Romans. She and her daughters drank poison, and died shortly after the battle.

Boudicca was a smart and fearless woman. She managed to unite groups of Britons who traditionally did not work well together, and led them into battle personally. That she was a woman greatly embarrassed the Romans, who couldn't conceive that a female could lead. Though her rebellion failed the Romans let up on some of their restrictions; they'd seen what the Britons could do when angered.

*If you had to be a woman in the ancient world, it was pretty good to be a Briton. Women were not only allowed to inherit, but were educated, trained as warriors, and enjoyed more protections under law than their counterparts in the rest of Europe. The Romans, who treated their women abysmally, couldn't quite wrap their heads around this.


Thursday, March 9, 2017

Oops, I Started A Civil War.

So I started watching the documentary series Roman Empire: Reign of Blood on Netflix, and in the very first episode we come across a character that very much intrigued me. Her name was Annia Galeria Faustina, also known as Faustina the younger. She was, by all accounts, a loving wife and devoted mother. She also started a civil war. But, in her defense, it was an accident.

Faustina Minor Louvre Ma1144.jpg
Faustina, lookin' fly.
See, the Roman Empire was a pretty dangerous place to be in any sort of political power, and Faustina was the wife of Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Marcus spent most of his time fighting in Germany, leaving Faustina back at home. It wasn't at all unusual for Emperors and their families to be brutally killed in a power grab, so is it any surprise that when reports of Marcus' death reached Rome, Faustina took action?

Faustina was the daughter of an emperor, and she had known power all her life. Her son, Commodus, was set to be the next emperor, but he was only thirteen, and much too young to rule. She needed to keep the throne in the family, so she made a risky move; she visited a family friend.

Enter Avidius Cassius.  The year is 175 CE, and Avidius is an experienced political leader, having served as Prefect of Egypt under Hadrian. He was considered by Marcus to be the second most powerful man in the empire, and he was perfect for Faustina's purposes. She encouraged him to proclaim himself emperor, and start his own bid for the throne. Avidius was moderately successful too, taking Egypt, where the Romans got their grain.

Things seem like they're going well for Faustina. Her husband, whom she was reportedly very close to, may be dead, but it seems like she and her children aren't about to be brutally murdered by their political rivals, so all in all, everything's pretty okay. Then they receive news from the north. Marcus Aurelius dead? Bitch, you thought.

And since it seems that the real emperor is actually alive, Avidius was promptly murdered by a centurion, after being 'emperor' for only three months.

Image result for faustina the younger coin
And here's our girl on a coin
This leaves Faustina in the extremely perilous position of having accidentally started a civil war. Albeit, it was fairly minor as far as civil wars went, nothing like the Caesar-Pompey-Crassus debacle of the early '40s (BCE), but it still couldn't have been easy to explain to her husband. so is it really unsurprising that she died in the winter of that year?

A lot of historians like to paint Faustina as a femme fatale. There are numerous accounts of her taking many lovers, and ordering executions. But while that may have been the case, there are also many contemporary accounts of her closeness with Marcus, and their loving relationship. They did have thirteen children.

And like so many strong historical females, you can't take any account of Faustina without a grain of salt. Misogyny is still alive today, so it follows that it was around in Faustina's time as well. She was most likely vilified after her death. She was well loved by the Roman soldiers, who referred to her as 'Mother of the Camp', and Marcus deified her after her death, not exactly something you'd for someone who was unfaithful to you.