All Roads Lead to Britain: Chapter III (Part II)



Who wears the trousers?  (Is this what they call “the weaker sex”?)

         Boudicca, sometimes also written Boadicea (or, what’s the same, Boadicea, sometimes also written Boudicca), was about to drive the Romans from Britain. She was the Queen of the Iceni, who lived in East Anglia, and one of the most ferocious warriors who has ever existed. The army she gathered in order to fight the Romans is said to have killed around 70,000 of them and to have laid waste to a big part of southeastern Britain. She was the personification of fury and rage, and an exemplification of what may happen when somebody makes your blood boil.
         Many Roman writers commented on the trouble caused by this strong courageous woman. Soldiers who survived her attacks never forgot the experience. This is what one of those Roman soldiers might have said about her: ‘Ego suae facis numquam obliviscar...’; sorry, for the sake of understanding, we will translate his comment into English. It goes like this: ‘I’ll never forget her face. She was there, opposite me. Her eyes were bright and penetrating, as penetrating as her sword wanted to be, not in my own sight, but in my stomach. It was just a second, but for me it was an eternity. She was approaching me in her chariot at top speed; she was giving blows with her sword to all and sundry, right and left, and suddenly stopped. Then she looked at me and I looked at her. Everything around me became still; I could hear nothing but silence; it was so quiet that you could have heard a pin drop. I was going to be her next prey, I was sure. My whole world at that moment was just that woman frothing at the mouth, her two eyes boiling with anger, her victorious sword raised in the air and stained with Roman blood, and two exhausted horses pulling a chariot. Then she charged, ...like a bull at a gate. I don’t know how, but she missed the blow; I managed to throw myself onto the ground at the right second, rather at the right thousandth of a second, and I felt the sword pass over my head and my hair move as if a short and sudden rush of wind had blown and had quickly vanished. I stood on the ground one more second thanking Mars, Juno, Jupiter, Saturn, Mercury, Minerva, Diana and all other gods and godesses I could remember for having saved me from a certain death. And while I was praying (I don’t know how I was able to pray so much in just one second before standing up again), I heard something; I heard the voice of a furious woman shout:  “But...shit!!!...Lucius!!!”. I guess why she spoke in such a rude and offensive way, but I still wonder how on earth she had learnt my name’.
         This same event might have been narrated by Boudicca herself in a slightly different way; perhaps something like this: ‘Yes, I remember the day perfectly well, which is something commendable because since my husband died, I have been doing the same every day, just fighting. But I remember it because it was one of the few times when I missed a blow. I was on my chariot, engaged in killing Romans on my right and Romans on my left, when I came across two eyes staring at me. Under the eyes there was a mouth trembling and teeth chattering. Below I could see a pair of knees clinking and keeping time to the sound of the teeth. You all know how much I like collecting heads of my enemies; it is a custom which goes back to our remotest Celtic ancestors and I love traditions. I like getting as many as I can, especially after having heard a saying that goes two heads are better than one; some friends tell me that I misinterpret it and that the meaning of it is not literal, but I don’t believe them; they say something about “brains” and about “working together”, but I tell them: “two is two” and “better is better”, so I guess that three heads are better than two, and that four heads are better than three...
 I don’t know if the head of that stupefied and terrified Roman opposite me with his heart in his mouth would be head number 742 or head number 743 (I had lost count of that) but it was an interesting head for the collection. So I charged, I whipped my horses and I rushed the Roman soldier, who was “still standing still” there. I was coming nearer and nearer, my prey was within arm’s reach, I raised my sword and... atchuuummm!!!. That bad cold which had not healed up...! Then I looked back and saw him lying on the ground. I shouted at him: Bad hit!!! ...Lucky you!!!’
         Boudicca’s rage was unprecedented and unequalled. But why did this woman rise against the Romans and wipe the floor with them? Why was she so cross with the Romans as to want to have their guts for garters? How did all this begin?...Let’s place ourselves in 61 AD; it all started when Boudicca’s better half, Prasutagas, King of the Iceni, died.

Let sleeping dogs lie   (If you’re looking for trouble, you came to the right place)

         If dogs which are sleeping are allowed to lie, they don’t wake up. If they don’t wake up, they don’t get cross. If they don’t get cross, they don’t attack you. If they don’t attack you, they don’t kill you. But if dogs which are sleeping are wakened, then you are lost... The Romans should have known this,  then a sleeping dog would not have become a mad dog, and they could have saved themselves much time and effort. Perhaps Boudicca would not have liked this epithet but she had justified reasons to act like one of them.
         Prasutagas was one of the many British kings who had already accepted the Roman rule. The Iceni lived at peace with the Romans and there was a, let’s say, warm relationship between both of them, a sort of “live and let live”, but in the literal sense of the expression. In his will, he had decided not to hang all his bells on one horse: he had left his kingdom jointly to his daughters and the Roman Emperor, so that the situation after his death could be the same as during his lifetime. But when he died, things were not the way he had thought. The Romans hit below the belt; they did not respect the king’s will and seized the kingdom. There was not much talking, just acting; Boudicca was flogged and her daughters..., her daughters (let’s write it poetically though nothing can be so far from poetry as this) ...met with a fate worse than death (How could one refuse this convincing kind of argument?). That was enough to rouse the queen’s bile, and if there had been more liquids in her liver they would have been roused as well. At that moment of madness this raging lioness might have roared like this: (Note.- we will avoid giving a detailed account of all the swear-words and rude insults uttered by Boudicca since we do not know the age of our readers)
 ‘You have not played fair! You Romans think you can get everything just because you are powerful and we are a humble nation. Do you think you can always have it all your own way?...No!!! I’ll show you what a British woman is able to do. Mark my words! You’ll pay dearly for what you have done, I promise!!! Are you listening to me? I promise you will regret having done this. Do you think I am so stupid as to do nothing while you are making fun of an infuriated woman?...No!!! I am nobody’s fool! Do you think that my threats will go up in smoke?...No, I’ll make you remember my name for ages even though that may be the last thing I do in my life!’.
...Too much emotion has filled the pages of this book. Wipe the tears from your eyes and drink a glass of water. You have thirty seconds... All right? Now continue reading.

An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth   (Revenge, sweet revenge)

         Boudicca had promised herself that she would get even with the Romans. She was not thinking of driving them from Britain, she just longed to pay them back in their own coin. The fact that she almost actually got it was something unpredictable and had never crossed her mind. She just wanted revenge... But how does one really take revenge? What does one have to do?... We can consider that there are a few golden rules which are absolutely essential; they must be carefully studied and learnt if you really want to fulfill your revenge:

         1.- First of all, you have to wait until you have the right moment to attack your sworn foe. Restrain your rage. You should not act in a hurry. If you do, you might have a rush of blood to the head and you would regret it later. So patience is the first step to success.

         2.- Secondly, don’t show your wrath in public. Don’t let your enemy know that you are planning a counter-attack. You cannot let them be prepared for defence, that is, they must be caught napping.

         3.- Then, there comes the decisive moment; that moment everyone, except your enemy, has been waiting for, longing for  and wishing for: the time to take revenge. But don’t forget, under no circumstances step number three must be taken unless the two previous steps have already been taken. If you can take revenge on your own, go ahead!. If you need help, do not hesitate to ask your friends (that’s what friends are for) or even to pay others to support you, either morally or physically (or both), depending on the kind of revenge you want to take. When everything is ready, show your enemy your teeth.

         4.- Once your enemy has no time to react, be as cruel, savage and beastly as you can. Shouting-yelling-and-roaring is not essential, but it helps. Show no mercy, even though  tears are streaming down their faces. Remember what they have done to you! Try to make them suffer as much as you have suffered, or, if possible, more than you have. If you cannot find a worse way to make them suffer (or a better one, from your point of view), try with the same (it is not very creative or ingenious, but revenge does not necessarily have to march arm in arm with originality). If it is not possible to provide them with the same torment, try to find an equivalent. For example, imagine that your neighbour has deliberately stepped on the flowers which you had been neatly growing in your garden. What can you do to this abominable person?... Be as abominable as him; you can also step on the flowers...; but remember something very important: now we are talking about his flowers, not yours. If you think that this idea is not a good one you can try something better. You can send him an anonymous parcel with a carnivorous plant inside, if possible two metres high. If you are lucky and he swallows the bait, one of these days the plant will eat your neighbour. End of revenge. Victorious smile. Overjoy. Standing ovation.

         5.- And finally, don’t make the same mistake as your enemy. Don’t lower your guard or you can lose the game in the end. Being overconfident may lead you to the final disaster.

         If you follow these five steps, revenge is sure to be achieved. The only problem is that your enemies may have the same idea you had. Then they may take revenge because you have taken revenge. If that happens, it can be worse than what you did to them, but never mind, then you can take revenge because your enemies have taken revenge after you had taken revenge first. What’s the problem now? Your enemies may possibly take revenge because you took revenge when they took revenge after you had taken revenge. In conclusion, this may become a vicious circle and the only way to nip it in the bud is to eliminate one of the two adversaries. It is a drastic measure indeed, but if you are the one who is not eliminated, you won’t regret it.
         Boudicca, who reached the highest level of ability in the field of avenging, followed those instructions to the letter; well, all except one, number five. She did not attack immediately; she did when the governor Suetonius Paulinus was campaigning in Wales and all other legions were at a considerable distance. She waited for some time until she got the support of other British tribes in the east; the Trinovantes were soon convinced by Boudicca and they climbed on the bandwagon. The aim was to destroy everything they could and to wipe out as many Romans as possible. Camulodonum (Colchester), Verulamium (St Albans) and Londinium (this one is easy, London) were razed to the ground, thousands of Roman soldiers were killed and thousands of heads were cut off. It was a total massacre, something unheard of. However, this did not mean the end of the struggle. Boudicca had won some battles but not the war.

He laughs best who laughs last

         In fact, Boudicca did not have the ghost of a chance of succeeding. It is true that the Romans were in check for some months; it is true that they were made to kiss the dust; and it is true that they were starting to see that their presence in Britain was in danger. However, perhaps Boudicca knew that in order to say “checkmate” to the Romans one needs something more than an angry woman and her supporters; perhaps she knew that her power was but a drop in the ocean compared with the power, strength and organization of the Roman army; and perhaps she knew that she was fighting with a rope around her neck. But what if the attempt was worthwhile? Wouldn’t it have been nice to achieve fame for having defeated the Roman army...? Perhaps she knew all this and nevertheless she insisted, although by defying the Romans she was digging her own grave.
         As could be expected, the Romans counter-attacked and defeated Boudicca. There was no way out. When she realized that her goose was cooked she committed suicide. She poisoned herself before she could be taken captive. The idea of expelling the invaders from the island was over. By that time, Britain had already become a Roman province.

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