On the shore stood the opposing army with its dense array of armed
warriors, while between the ranks dashed women, in black attire like
the Furies, with hair dishevelled, waving brands. All around, the
Druids, lifting up their hands to heaven, and pouring forth dreadful
imprecations, scared our soldiers by the unfamiliar sight, so that,
as if their limbs were paralysed, they stood motionless, and exposed
to wounds. Then urged by their general’s appeals and mutual encouragements
not to quail before a troop of frenzied women, they bore the standards
onwards, smote down all resistance, and wrapped the foe in the flames
of his own brands. A force was next set over the conquered, and their
groves, devoted to inhuman superstitions, were destroyed. They deemed
it indeed a duty to cover their altars with the blood of captives
and to consult their deities through human entrails.

Suetonius while thus occupied received tidings of the sudden revolt
of the province. 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. But the reverse was the result,
so much so that his kingdom was plundered by centurions, his house
by slaves, as if they were the spoils of war. First, his wife Boudicea
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. Roused by these insults and the dread of worse, reduced as
they now were into the condition of a province, they flew to arms
and stirred to revolt the Trinobantes and others who, not yet cowed
by slavery, had agreed in secret conspiracy to reclaim their freedom.
It was against the veterans that their hatred was most intense. 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, who lived a similar life and hoped for similar licence.
A temple also erected to the Divine Claudius was ever before their
eyes, a citadel, as it seemed, of perpetual tyranny. Men chosen as
priests had to squander their whole fortunes under the pretence of
a religious ceremonial. It appeared too no difficult matter to destroy
the colony, undefended as it was by fortifications, a precaution neglected
by our generals, while they thought more of what was agreeable than
of what was expedient.

Meanwhile, without any evident cause, the statue of Victory at Camulodunum
fell prostrate and turned its back to the enemy, as though it fled
before them. Women excited to frenzy prophesied impending destruction;
ravings in a strange tongue, it was said, were heard in their Senate-house;
their theatre resounded with wailings, and in the estuary of the Tamesa
had been seen the appearance of an overthrown town; even the ocean
had worn the aspect of blood, and, when the tide ebbed, there had
been left the likenesses of human forms, marvels interpreted by the
Britons, as hopeful, by the veterans, as alarming. But as Suetonius
was far away, they implored aid from the procurator, Catus Decianus.
All he did was to send two hundred men, and no more, without regular
arms, and there was in the place but a small military force. Trusting
to the protection of the temple, hindered too by secret accomplices
in the revolt, who embarrassed their plans, they had constructed neither
fosse nor rampart; nor had they removed their old men and women, leaving
their youth alone to face the foe. Surprised, as it were, in the midst
of peace, they were surrounded by an immense host of the barbarians.
All else was plundered or fired in the onslaught; the temple where
the soldiers had assembled, was stormed after a two days’ siege. The
victorious enemy met Petilius Cerialis, commander of the ninth legion,
as he was coming to the rescue, routed his troops, and destroyed all
his infantry. Cerialis escaped with some cavalry into the camp, and
was saved by its fortifications. Alarmed by this disaster and by the
fury of the province which he had goaded into war by his rapacity,
the procurator Catus crossed over into Gaul.

Suetonius, however, with wonderful resolution, marched amidst a hostile
population to Londinium, which, though undistinguished by the name
of a colony, was much frequented by a number of merchants and trading
vessels. Uncertain whether he should choose it as a seat of war, as
he looked round on his scanty force of soldiers, and remembered with
what a serious warning the rashness of Petilius had been punished,
he resolved to save the province at the cost of a single town. Nor
did the tears and weeping of the people, as they implored his aid,
deter him from giving the signal of departure and receiving into his
army all who would go with him. Those who were chained to the spot
by the weakness of their sex, or the infirmity of age, or the attractions
of the place, were cut off by the enemy. Like ruin fell on the town
of Verulamium, for the barbarians, who delighted in plunder and were
indifferent to all else, passed by the fortresses with military garrisons,
and attacked whatever offered most wealth to the spoiler, and was
unsafe for defence. About seventy thousand citizens and allies, it
appeared, fell in the places which I have mentioned. For it was not
on making prisoners and selling them, or on any of the barter of war,
that the enemy was bent, but on slaughter, on the gibbet, the fire
and the cross, like men soon about to pay the penalty, and meanwhile
snatching at instant vengeance.

Suetonius had the fourteenth legion with the veterans of the twentieth,
and auxiliaries from the neighbourhood, to the number of about ten
thousand armed men, when he prepared to break off delay and fight
a battle. He chose a position approached by a narrow defile, closed
in at the rear by a forest, having first ascertained that there was
not a soldier of the enemy except in his front, where an open plain
extended without any danger from ambuscades. His legions were in close
array; round them, the light-armed troops, and the cavalry in dense
array on the wings. On the other side, the army of the Britons, with
its masses of infantry and cavalry, was confidently exulting, a vaster
host than ever had assembled, and so fierce in spirit that they actually
brought with them, to witness the victory, their wives riding in waggons,
which they had placed on the extreme border of the plain.

Boudicea, with her daughters before her in a chariot, went up to tribe
after tribe, protesting that it was indeed usual for Britons to fight
under the leadership of women. “But now,” she said, “it is not as
a woman descended from noble ancestry, but as one of the people that
I am avenging lost freedom, my scourged body, the outraged chastity
of my daughters. Roman lust has gone so far that not our very persons,
nor even age or virginity, are left unpolluted. But heaven is on the
side of a righteous vengeance; a legion which dared to fight has perished;
the rest are hiding themselves in their camp, or are thinking anxiously
of flight. They will not sustain even the din and the shout of so
many thousands, much less our charge and our blows. If you weigh well
the strength of the armies, and the causes of the war, you will see
that in this battle you must conquer or die. This is a woman’s resolve;
as for men, they may live and be slaves.”
The Annals by Tacitus