The Causes of the Iceni Revolt (60AD)

The Roman province of Britannia very nearly collapsed in the Boudiccan Revolt in AD 60-61. Boudicca was the Queen of the Iceni after her husband, who was an ally of Rome, died. The Iceni were probably one of the original 11 tribes who submitted to Claudius in 43AD, after which they retained their nominal independence in return for aligning themselves with the Roman settlers. So why did they rebel?

Ostorius Scapula disarms the Tribes

Ostorius Scapula replaced Plautius in 47 Caractacus timed a series of raids to coincide with the change of governors, so Ostorius arrived to news of fighting. Ostorius decided to disarm those subject tribes that he felt he could not fully trust, including the Iceni. Established Roman law forbade subject populations to keep weapons other than those used for hunting game, but that was contrary to Celtic law and custom. The Iceni rebelled in AD 47, and Ostorius defeated them. It was at this point that Prasutagus became the King of the Iceni.

Setting up of the Colonia at Camulodunum

Two years later, in 49, Ostorius confiscated land in and around Camulodunum to set up a colonia. This was a town for retired Legionaries, in which each veteran was granted a homestead. The town gave the veterans a secure retirement and concentrated an experienced reserve force in the new province, on which Rome could call in case of emergency.

[A] colony of a strong body of veterans was established at Camulodunum on the conquered lands, as a defence against the rebels, and as a means of imbuing the allies with respect for our laws.

Cornelius Tacitus, The Annals Book 12, Chapter 32

In theory, it was supposed to provide a model of Roman civilization to which the natives might aspire. Unfortunately, the colonia at Camulodunum caused more problems than it solved. As it grew over the next decade, more and more Britons were driven off their land, some enslaved by the veterans, others executed and their heads exhibited on stakes.

It was against the veterans that they had the most intense hatred for. For these new settlers in the colony of Camulodunum drove people out of their houses, ejected them from their farms, called them captives and slaves, and the lawlessness of the veterans was encouraged by the soldiers

Cornelius Tacitus, The Annals Book 14, Chapter 31

The Temple to Claudius at Camulodunum

Another serious grievance was the great temple of Claudius at Camulodunum, described as arx aeternae domination is, a stronghold of eternal tyranny (“arx aeternae dominationis“).

A temple also erected to the Divine Claudius was ever before their eyes, a citadel, as it seemed, of perpetual tyranny

Cornelius Tacitus, The Annals Book 14, Chapter 31

The Temple was built between AD 54 and AD 60. After his death in AD 54, the Senate decided that a temple should be dedicated to him in the place of his greatest and only triumph – Britain. The words used by Tacitus, “templum divo Claudio constitutum“, must mean that the building had not yet been consecrated, but only decreed by the Senate. We know the Temple was built by 6o, since the veterans used its massive walls for their last stand.

We know that Gaulish nobles and aristocracy would need to visit Lugdunum (Lyon) annually and profess loyalty to the Emperor and Rome at the Altar of the Three Gauls. Lugdunum was located at the junction of the three Gallic provinces: Gallia Aquitania, Gallia Belgica and Gallia Lugdunensis. Was there an altar at the Temple at Camulodunum that the Council of Britain would need to pay their annual respects? Was this why it was a citadel of perpetual tyranny?

Were the British chiefs obliged to pay for the building of the temple. Was this another source of aggravation?

Also the inhabitants of Britain and of Gaul, oppressed by the taxes, were becoming more vexed and inflamed than ever.

Cassius Dio Cocceianus, The Histories of Rome, Epitome of Book LXIII

The Massacre of the Druids

The two governor’s of Rome, Quintus Veranius and Caius Suetonius Paullinus were waging war not just on their enemies but also on their religion. This culminated in the massacre of the druids and the demolishing of their sacred groves.

Quintus Veranius a distinguished Roman general, became the governor of Britain in the winter of 57-58. There were many problems in the newly ‘conquered’ province of Britainia and Quintus Veranius was chosen based on his experience and seniority. Veranius replaced Aulus Didius Gallus. He reversed Didius’s policy of maintaining existing borders and began military operations against the troublesome Silures in what is now Wales, but died within a year in 58.

In the search for a successor for Quintus Veranius, military considerations, not diplomatic considerations were probably judged more important. Caius Suetonius Paullinus was chosen, a hard, uncompromising soldier, totally lacking the skills and graces of a diplomat.

We know little of his early career. Having served as praetor in 40 AD, Suetonius was appointed governor of Mauretania the following year. In collaboration with Gnaeus Hosidius Geta, he suppressed the revolt led by Aedemon in the mountainous province that arose from the execution of the local ruler by Caligula.In 41 AD Suetonius was the first Roman commander to lead troops across the Atlas Mountains, and Pliny the Elder quotes his description of the area in his Natural History.

Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, Bath

The centre of discontent and hostility towards the Romans emanated from the sacred groves of the Druids on Anglesey or Mona. The island served as a sanctuary for those who opposed Rome.

He [Suetonius Paulinus] prepared accordingly to attack the island of Mona, which had a considerable population of its own, while serving as a haven for refugees.

Cornelius Tacitus, The Annals Book 14, Chapter 24

Rome usually showed the respect for local gods and native religions. They would often accept various deities of other nations into their pantheon. So they were not disturbed by the worship of the god Bela, in which they saw Apollo, the god Lera was considered Neptune, and the goddess Morrigan, was considered the equivalent of Bellona. They shied away from interfering with the strong fears and beliefs of unsophisticated people. In the pre-Christian period of Imperial Rome, there were only two occasions Rome moved against a nation’s religion – in Britain and Judaea.

Massacre of the Druids
Copperplate engraving from M. A. Jones’ History of England from Julius Caesar to George IV, G. Virtue, 26 Ivy Lane, London, 1836.

Suetonius attacked the island, massacred the Druids and their allies. Afterwards he installed a garrison and destroyed their sacred groves.

The next step was to install a garrison among the conquered population, and to demolish the groves consecrated to their savage cults: for they considered it a pious duty to slake the altars with captive blood and to consult their deities by means of human entrails. While he was thus occupied, the sudden revolt of the province was announced to Suetonius.

Tacitus Annals XIV, xx

For Boudica and her people, news of the destruction of the druidic center on Mona, the razing of the sacred groves and the slaughter of druids must have been deeply painful.

The Repayment of Loans

 An excuse for the war was found in the confiscation of the sums of money that Claudius had given to the foremost Britons ; for these sums, as Decianus Catus, the procurator of the island, maintained, were to be paid back. 

Cassius Dio Cocceianus, The Histories of Rome, Book LXII, Chapter 2

According to Dio Seneca had also loaned 40,000,000 sesterces to British tribes. Seneca fearing that Nero was considering the act of abandoning the province Seneca decided to demand repayment.

Seneca, in the hope of receiving a good rate of interest, had lent to the islanders 40,000,000 sesterces that they did not want, and had afterwards called in this loan all at once and had resorted to severe measures in exacting it

Cassius Dio Cocceianus, The Histories of Rome, Book LXII, Chapter 2

Considering Seneca’s influence within Nero’s court, and the fear of losing his money, Decianus Catus, Britains Procurator, was possibly given orders to retrieve funds and assets at any cost. It would not have been impossible for Seneca to issue orders of this kind to Catus. It is also quite possible that Prasutagus and Boudica had considered these loans to have been diplomatic gifts.

Seizure of the Royal Properties of the Iceni

Prasutagus of the Iceni died sometime during the attack on Mona or its aftermath and this ended the special client relationship of the tribe with Rome. He left behind a will whose provisions had no legal precedent under either Celtic or Roman law. Presumably Prasutagus had no son, and so named the Roman emperor as co-heir with the two daughters of Prasutagus and Boudica, now in their teens. 

Prasutagus, king of the Iceni, famed for his long prosperity, had made the emperor his heir along with his two daughters, under the impression that this token of submission would put his kingdom and his house out of the reach of wrong. 

Cornelius Tacitus, The Annals Book 14, Chapter 36

It appears that Nero took the view that the personal fortune and estates of a client King became Imperial property on his death unless the emperor put a new client-king into office.

The Procurator of Britain, Decianus Catus, began to ensure that the whole estate of Prasutagus was taken over, by beginning a full inventory of lands, livestock, family plate and jewels and all portable wealth. The junior officers and collectors were mostly old legionaries serving as beneficiarii. Although long past active service, the military bearing and training made them useful in the roles of police, toll and tax collectors, and they would not have been above a little looting or bribery; there were also the slaves of the Procurator, who acted as clerks and secretaries. These were the kind of men who appeared unheralded at the royal palace of the Iceni.

Roman soldiers attacking a Barbarian village – from the Column of Antoninus Pius

Boudica was flogged by the Roman centurions, and her daughters were brutally raped.  Icenian nobility were stripped of all their ancestral possessions, and those of the royal house were treated like slaves.

his kingdom was plundered by centurions, his house by slaves, as if they were the spoils of war. First, his wife Boudica was scourged, and his daughters outraged. All the chief men of the Iceni, as if Rome had received the whole country as a gift, were stript of their ancestral possessions, and the king’s relatives were made slaves. 

Cornelius Tacitus, The Annals Book 14, Chapter 36

Main Causes of Revolt

The three main causes of the Revolt was the appropriation of lands and brutal behaviour of the colonists towards the Trinovantes; the building of the temple in Camulodunum; and, the seizure of the royal properties of the Iceni, and the violence and shameful acts against Boudica and her daughters.

On top of this the background must not be forgotten. The humiliation of being conquered, the rash terror tactics of Scapula in 48, the harassment by Roman officials and foreign traders, the money and loans transactions, which men not used to a capitalist economy did not fully understand. All these grievances were encouraged by propaganda from the Druids, in a desperate effort to save their sacred places.