Monday, November 3, 2014

Queen Boudicca Book Reviews

I've been reading about the Celtic warrior queen Boudica. Until recently I didn't know much beyond the fact that she lead a revolt against the Romans. Shortly into my first book I learned that there are actually very few details known about her and her battles (even her name has been confused). To build a more complete picture authors combine the surviving Roman accounts (by Tacitus and Cassius Dio), archaeology, and general descriptions of Celts and Romans. Books on this subject are all pretty short, the differences lying in how the authors choose to fill in the blanks.

Here's the short story: Boudica was married to the ruler of the Iceni, an independent tribe bordering Roman-occupied Britain. In 60 AD he died, and in his will he called for joint rule by Queen Boudica and Emperor Nero (in far off Rome). The Romans (who had invaded Britain only 17 years earlier) took this opportunity to annex all the Iceni territory. When Boudica protested she and her daughters were assaulted by Roman soldiers. Boudica and the enraged Iceni began an armed rebellion, joined by the neighboring Trinovantes tribe. They destroyed three Roman towns (including London), but within a year they were defeated by the Roman governor's legions in a single decisive battle.

The Boudican Revolt Against Rome by Paul R. Sealey.

(published by Shire*)

As a professional archaeologist, Sealey focuses on what can be learned from physical discoveries. For instance, we're able to map out the precise borders of the Iceni territory because the coins and ceramics they left behind were in a different style than neighboring tribes. We can tell the size and layout of the Roman towns that were destroyed because they left a distinct layer of ash and ruin. Sealey ends his book with a chapter on the Roman rebuilding and reconciliation after the war.

*This book was first published by Shire in in 1987, but it was updated and reprinted in 2004. It appears to be out of print now, maybe because Osprey (which now owns Shire) released their own book on Boudica.

Boudicca’s Rebellion AD 60–61: The Britons rise up against Rome by Nic Fields

(published by Osprey Publishing)

Nic Field's book includes the same chapters as all books in Osprey Publishing's Campaign series: an intro, a timeline of events, Opposing commanders, Opposing armies, Opposing plans, The Campaign, Aftermath, The Battlefield today, and a bibliography. In the introduction the author makes some extreme statements about soldiers in general. I guess he was trying to be clever, but it was just distracting. The rest of the book, thankfully, doesn't suffer from this.

A discussion of typical Roman and Celtic armies of the time augment the Boudica story. The chapter is skewed a bit too much on the Roman side. There are more photos and descriptions for Roman military equipment. The Celtic section focuses heavily on their use of the the chariot, while giving little attention to shields (the most most important piece of defensive equipment used by the Celts). Fields dismisses the idea of sophisticated Celtic battle tactics, but I'd say the captured Celtic standards and horns seen on the Arch of Orange imply they did indeed have the capabilities for battlefield signaling and coordination. The military background of the Roman governor Paulinus was welcome, as were the explanations of the financial pressures and need for natural resources that drove Roman actions.

The text is supported by four large well-research illustrations by Peter Dennis (I really like his style), as well as numerous color photos of artifacts and reproductions.

Boudica: Iron Age Warrior Queen by Richard Hingley and Christina Unwin

(published by Continuum / Bloomsbury)

I almost passed this book by because the cover somehow looks like a self-published novel to me. But, I'm glad I got it. Hingley and Unwin are both archaeologists. Their book is a careful investigation of the evidence, divided into two parts: "Boudica," the ancient history and "Boudicea," a discussion of how she has been perceived in culture through the ages.

The first section opens with a overview of Iron Age British and Roman society. The authors then thoroughly analyze the three ancient texts that mention Boudica and her rebellion. Lastly they take a critical look at the archaeology, stressing how misleading some of the finds can be. (I didn't bother with the second section about the cultural Boudicea since I'm only interested in the historical Boudica.)

P.S. Boadicea, Boudicca, Boudica?

Misspellings made by ancient authors and errors made by scribes are to blame for the incorrect spellings of Boudica's name. The rediscovery of these ancient texts texts during the Renaissance made the incorrect "Boudicea" spelling popular. This lasted until mid-twentieth century linguistic studies strongly suggested that "Boudica" is the correct spelling. In the Celtic language her name translated as "victory".

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