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What was the long-term impact and significance of the Boudiccan Rebellion, c43-300?

Updated on October 16, 2013
TMDHemsley17 profile image

Thomas is a History student at the University of Leeds, and the editor of a recent satirical news website called 'Leeds Flipside'.

This is the second part article to 'What was the short-term significance of the Boudiccan Rebellion in Roman Britain, AD60-1?'. This hub looks at the changes to Roman power and control in Britain between AD43-300 and considers if whether the rebellion is a key turning point in these changes. The first article looked at the historiographical debate surrounding the events and its immediate aftermath, whereas this one will be about analysis of policy in Roman Britain in the following centuries. For any students, please don't reference the hub or copy from it; it's simply my work rewritten for an article format. I recommend checking the bibliography at the bottom for a list of texts I used, all of which are useful for the topic. I hope you find this engaging and interesting.

The Roman Emperor Claudius (Reigned AD41-54), who launched the first successful Roman invasion of Britain.
The Roman Emperor Claudius (Reigned AD41-54), who launched the first successful Roman invasion of Britain.

Introduction - The Background of Roman Britain

Britain lacked any real political system before the Roman Invasion in AD43, being inhabited by primitive tribes that often fought among themselves. However, Julius Caesar's attempted invasion some 100 years prior to this did have some influence on Britain, in that it created the beginnings of British 'Clientelism'.1 Clientelism was a regulatory system employed by the Romans whereby the Empire would give the tribes of a contested land a degree of independence and advantages, provided they adhered to Roman rule. The system meant that the Romans were able to rule over new territory and enforce taxes, and the 'client-king' got privileges and the promise that they could continue in power on the Romans' behalf, an arrangement which, in theory at least, suited everyone. Caesar's invasion installed few client-kings, but the system was employed a great deal more by his successors.2 Client state status was generally forced upon tribes, but was sometimes offered as a form of protection against rival tribes. Clientelism was an efficient method of control for the Romans, as it allowed them to expand their power and influence without directly doing so.3

Claudius was proclaimed emperor in AD41. Being a gaunt, weak figure with a stammer, Claudius was viewed as an uncharismatic embarrassment by those around him.4 As such, he desired to bolster his image and status, and Britain fit the bill for this, as it rivalled triumphs of his predecessors.5 He sent an invasion force of 40,000 men6 in AD43, and it proved to be a success, as many British tribes swiftly came under Roman rule7, and so Claudius achieved his aims as his status as a great leader was cemented. However, the Romans didn't immediately conquer the whole of Britain, and they were met with resistance for many years into the occupation. Early resistance came from an army led by two Catuvellaunian kings; Togodumnus and Caratacus. Their resistance was quickly crushed and Togodumnus was killed8, whilst Caratacus escaped and would continue to further unrest later during the Roman campaign in Wales under the general Ostorius Scapula, where he was eventually captured.9 Further resistance came in AD47 by the Iceni tribe, who had voluntarily allied with the Romans in their initial invasion and had not revolted before, allegedly due to anger at having their weapons confiscated, but this revolt was also quickly quelled. The Iceni were allowed to retain their independence in spite of this.10 Roman control in Britain prior to the Boudiccan Rebellion was at its greatest strength in the south, where the client system was mostly successful, whilst the north and Wales stayed predominantly resistant to the invasion.

Map showing the location of the Iceni tribe.
Map showing the location of the Iceni tribe.

The Rebellion and its Aftermath

The Boudiccan Rebellion occurred during the reign of Claudius' successor, his grand-nephew and adopted son Nero (AD54-68). It was the consequence of the Roman attack on the Iceni in response to Prasutagus' dividing of his kingdom between the emperor and his own daughters11, and frustrations due to economic pressures.12 Boudicca, queen of the Iceni, led the Iceni and Trinovantes tribes in a violent revolt against the Roman invaders, destroying 3 cities, Colchester, London and St Albans, and slaughtering many Romans.13 The revolt managed to destroy these major Roman British cities because, firstly, the majority of the forces stationed in Britain were occupied elsewhere when the rebellion began14, and secondly, because the cities lacked defensive walls.15 The rebellion was brought to a close by the intervention of the governer Suetonius Paulinus. The damage wrought by the Britons was of significant magnitude, but it wasn't a turning point as the effects were short-term, arguably having no effect on Roman British affairs after the late 60s.

The revolt had significant short-term consequences for Britain. Nero increased the number of military personnel in Britain immediately following it16, and Suetonius enacted heavy reprisals against the Britons to crush further resistance.17 The reprisals were so ferocious that it was feared that it would alienate the Britons, and so the procurator Decianus was replaced with the more sympathetic Julius Classicianus18, and Suetonius was replaced by the more lenient Petronius Turpilianus, and together the two of them succeeded in ending the reprisals and stopping the risk of more rebellion.19 However, this also meant that under Turpilianus, very little military activity, such as expansion, was undertaken.20

In terms of structural damage caused, reconstruction did begin but not with particular speed, with the exception of civil construction in London which began soon after the rebellion's end.21 A major structural development that emerged as a consequence was the introduction of defensive walls and ditches to Roman cities22, a practice which continued on throughout the Empire's existence, and is arguably the only long-term consequence of the revolt. The only significant changes to come out of the attack were an increased military presence for a while, momentous reprisals against the Britons, and a change in defensive policy for Roman colonies. It can be argued that the initial reason why there was little change in response to the rebellion after the 60s is because of the 'Year of the Four Emperors'.

Civil War in Rome

The 'Year of the Four Emperors' is the name given to the year in which a civil war occurred as different Roman generals and leaders battled for the imperial throne, which had been left without an heir after Nero committed suicide in AD68. Four emperors, hence the name, had the throne in quick succession; Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian, who emerged victorius.

During this civil war, all affairs outside of Rome were put on hold, including happenings in Britain.23 It was at this time that an anti-Roman Briton called Venutius, a member of the Brigantes tribe, used the instability as a chance to overthrow the pro-Roman ruler of the Brigantes, Cartimandua, and lead the Brigantes into revolt24, and the tribe became a common problem throughout later Roman Britain. It should be said that this revolt was unrelated to the Boudiccan rebellion, as the catalyst of it was power struggles in Rome and not political changes in Britain itself.

Galba (June AD68-Jan 69), Otho (Jan AD69-Apr 69), Vitellius (Apr AD69-Dec 69), and Vespasian (Dec AD69-79), the Four emperors in the civil war.
Galba (June AD68-Jan 69), Otho (Jan AD69-Apr 69), Vitellius (Apr AD69-Dec 69), and Vespasian (Dec AD69-79), the Four emperors in the civil war.
Roman Bath houses in the city of Bath, where the Roman-British deity Sulis Minerva was worshipped.
Roman Bath houses in the city of Bath, where the Roman-British deity Sulis Minerva was worshipped.

Effect on Romanisation?

When looking at the effects and influence of the rebellion, one must consider what impact it had on the policy of 'Romanisation'. The short answer: very little, if any. Romanisation was the process by which Roman ideals, culture and way of life were introduced to and internalised by a conquered people (specifically this would have been the elite members of a conquered people, who were given access to Roman resources as both invasion and Romanisation were more easily achieved through them), and was implemented in all invaded Roman territory. However, Romanisation didn't begin in Britain until around AD70, by which time the rebellion would have begun to fade into obscurity, especially with the civil war having only just ended and there being more pressing matters that focused Roman attention, such as the new Brigantian revolt. The Boudiccan Rebellion may have had some minor influence on Romanisation in that Classicianus' anad Turpilianus' sympathetic reigns may have prepared the Britons for later Romanisation, since they settled unrest and calmed negativity towards Rome.25

Romanisation largely occurred in the south of England; an example of this would be the baths and temples worshipping the new Roman-British deity, Sulis Minerva, built in the city of Bath some 15 years after the rebellion26, as well as significant civilian development that occurred throughout the Roman occupation. The combination of Roman deities and British culture demonstrates how Roman way of life was introduced to Britain. However, it is difficult to see how Boudicca's rebellion could have influenced Romanisation after AD70, as it likely occurred due to re-focus on other territories following the civil war's end.Tacitus argued that Romanisation was implemented by the general Agricola, who built temples and houses, and educated tribal elites, in order to encourage the more hostile Britons to be more peaceful and accommodating towards the Romans.27 One example of where Romanisation took hold was the previously hostile Silures tribe in Wales, which had been vehemently anti-Roman, but came under Roman control some time during the Flavian period.28 It didn't take much hold in the north however, as demonstrated by the repeated revolts by the Brigantes and their allies.

Consolidation, Expansion, Control - The Flavians

There are a number of significant changes to Roman power and control in the long term, but the Boudiccan rebellion cannot be seen as a turning point as these changes weren't a result of the revolt, but of present matters at the time and the individual ideas and aspirations of later emperors. Emperor's military decisions are largely influenced by the desire to improve their status, such as Claudius' invasion of Britain mentioned earlier, or by contemporary problems. The Flavian period, which encompassed the reigns of Vespasian (AD69-79) and his sons Titus (AD79-81) and Domitian (AD81-96), was marred by a consolidation of conquered territory, further invasion, and increased military control.30 During this period, specifically during the British campaigns of Agricola, the Brigantes and much of the north, as well as Wales, were subjugated by the Romans, and a small section of southern Scotland was invaded as well.31 Agricola's campaign helped to suppress revolt in the north to some degree, as he split up the inhabitants into smaller units through the construction of forts and garrisons, meaning they could be more easily managed and controlled.32 Arguing that the Flavian expansion was the result of Boudicca makes little sense, and is more accurate to see it as partially in response to more immediate unrest in the north and west, and partially the result of the desire to continue expansion of the empire. It should be also noted that during the reigns of Domitian and the later emperor Trajan (AD98-117), military presence in Britain decreased as troops had to be used to fight in the Dacian Wars.33

The location and extents of Hadrian's Wall and the Antonine Wall.
The location and extents of Hadrian's Wall and the Antonine Wall.

The Walls - Hadrian and Antoninus

One of the major changes to Roman security policy was Hadrian's Wall, as whilst marking out boundaries was normal, enclosing a province in a solid, running wall had never been done before.34 A primary reason for the construction of the wall must have been in response to persistent problems in the north of Britain, such as an alleged British revolt early in Hadrian's reign35, but the reason for it is much debated, with other explanations being that it was an expression of Rome's power36, or for religious reasons. Whatever the reasoning, it certainly wasn't in response to Boudicca, as construction of the wall began sometime between AD122 and AD12637, over 60 years after the rebellion. As such there are plenty of more contemporary problems that the wall would have been in response to, such as continuing unrest in the north or resistance against the inhabitants of Scotland, and by this point few would remember the rebellion.

Following Hadrian, his successor, Antoninus Pius, continued along similar lines and constructed the Antonine Wall further into Scotland. Antoninus may have built the wall out of the need to achieve status through military conquest and by outdoing Hadrian38, as well as other debated reasons similar to Hadrian's supposed influences. Like Hadrian's Wall, the Antonine Wall also wasn't in response to Boudicca, and much more likely was a result of immediate issues. Another point to take into account is that during the times of Hadrian and Antoninus it is estimated that somewhere between 40,000-55,000 Roman troops occupied Britain39, an unusually high concentration of forces, suggesting that unrest was particularly high during this period, although it could also suggest that Romanisation was working well, as this high number could be because many Britons were recruited into the Roman ranks.40

Remains of Hadrian's Wall.
Remains of Hadrian's Wall.
The emperor Diocletian (AD284-305).
The emperor Diocletian (AD284-305).

Division - Septimius and Diocletian

A significant change to administrative policy came under the reign of the emperor Septimius Severus (AD193-211), as he divided Britain into two provinces: Britannia Superior (the south) and Britannia Inferior (the north).41 Divided in AD197, the Boudiccan rebellion certainly didn't have any influence on this decision, the most notable explanation for it being Severus attempting to reduce the risk of any one governer gaining too much power and trying to usurp the throne.42 The decision may have also been in response to uproar in Britain, and dividing it into two would have made administrating and controlling unrest easier.43 Furthermore, Severus repaired Hadrian's Wall, which had been abandoned by this point, suggesting that there was still unrest in the north that needed controlling, although the more likely explanation was that it was in preparation for Severus' short lived reoccupation of Scotland44, a campaign that was attempted not because of any Boudiccan influence, but because Severus needed his sons Caracalla (AD211-217) and Geta (AD209-211) to gain prestige.

The Severan division being in response to uproar would make sense in terms of explaning why the later emperor Diocletian (AD284-305) further divided Britain, as well as other Roman territories, into 4 provinces.45 Before this, a Roman named Carausius rebelled against the Romans and took control of Britain for a short time46, but was eventually reclaimed, and Diocletian's division may have been in response to this. Diocletian’s division of Britain also may have been, similar to Severus, to prevent governers from amassing more power than they should, as under Diocletian there was a separation of civil and military powers, with governers having their military powers taken away from them.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the Boudiccan rebellion was not a significant turning point in Roman Britain in terms of Roman power and control, as the effects of the rebellion were only short-term. The causes and influences of later changes to Britain were down to more immediate matters at the times in which the changes occurred, and it is unlikely that Boudicca’s revolt was the reason for changes as there were a multitude of revolts after Boudicca, any of which could have had the same attributed effects.

Footnotes

1. Frere, S, Britannia: A History of Roman Britain, 1974, Sphere Books Ltd, pg.55

2. De La Bedoyere, G, Roman Britain: A New History, 2010, Thames and Hudson Ltd, pg.18

3. Salway, P, Roman Britain: A Very Short Introduction, 2000, Oxford University Press, pg.20

4. Collingridge, V, Boudica, 2006, Ebury Publishing, pg.123

5. Moffat, A, The Wall: Rome's Greatest Frontier, 2009, Birlinn Ltd, pg.27

6. Salway, P, Roman Britain: A Very Short Introduction, 2000, Oxford University Press, pg.18

7. Hingley, R and Unwin, C, Boudica: Iron Age Warrior Queen, 2006, Continuum Publishing, pg.19

8. Southern, P, Roman Britain: A New History 55BC-AD450, 2011, Amberley Publishing, pg.68

9. Southern, P, Roman Britain: A New History 55BC-AD450, 2011, Amberley Publishing, pg.86

10. Hingley, R and Unwin, C, Boudica: Iron Age Warrior Queen, 2006, Continuum Publishing, pg.26

11. Tacitus, Annuls

12, Dio Cassius, Roman History

13. Collingridge, V, Boudica, 2006, Ebury Publishing, pg.265

14. Frere, S, Britannia: A History of Roman Britain, 1974, Sphere Books Ltd, pg.70

15. Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars, Nero-39

16. Salway, P, The Oxford Illustrated History of Roman Britain, 1993, Oxford University Press, pg.84

17. Collingridge, V, Boudica, 2006, Ebury Publishing, pg.265

18. Southern, P, Roman Britain: A New History 55BC-AD450, 2011, Amberley Publishing, pg.114

19. Salway, P, The Oxford Illustrated History of Roman Britain, 1993, Oxford University Press, pg.86

20. Southern, P, Roman Britain: A New History 55BC-AD450, 2011, Amberley Publishing, pg.116

21.Salway, P, The Oxford University History of Roman Britain, 1993, Oxford University Press, pg.87

22. Collingridge, V, Boudica, 2006, Ebury Publishing, pg.285

23. Southern, P, Roman Britain: A New History 55BC-AD450, 2011, Amberley Publishing, pg.119

24. Mattingly, D, An Imperial Possession: Britain in the Roman Empire 54BC-AD409, 2007, Penguin Publishing, pg.114

25. Salway, P, The Oxford Illustrated History of Roman Britain, 1993, Oxford University Press, pg.86

26. Salway, P, The Oxford Illustrated History of Roman Britain, 1993, Oxford University Press, pg.87

27. Tacitus, The Agricola

28. Salway, P, The Oxford Illustrated History of Roman Britain, 1993, Oxford University Press, pg.95

29. Moffat, A, The Wall: Rome's Greatest Frontier, 2009, Birlinn Ltd, pg.205

30. Southern P, Roman Britain: A New History 55BC-AD450, 2011, Amberley Publishing, pg.134

31. Mattingly, D, An Imperial Possession: Britain in the Roman Empire 54BC-AD409, 2007, Penguin Publishing, pg.116

32. Salway, P, The Oxford Illustrated History of Roman Britain, 1993, Oxford University Press, pg.97

33. Southern, P, Roman Britain: A New History 55BC-AD450, 2011, Amberley Publishing, pg.166

34. Mattingly, D, An Imperial Possession: Britain in the Roman Empire 54BC-AD409, 2007, Penguin Publishing

35. Southern, P, Roman Britain: A New History 55BC-AD450, 2011, Amberley Publishing, pg.174

36. Mattingly, D, An Imperial Possession: Britain in the Roman Empire 54BC-AD409, 2007, Penguin Publishing, pg.178

37. De La Bedoyere, G, Roman Britain: A New History, 2010, Thames and Hudson Ltd, pg.54

38. Southern, P, Roman Britain: A New History 55BC-AD450, 2011, Amberley Publishing, pg.200

39. Mattingly, D, An Imperial Possession: Britain in the Roman Empire 54BC-AD409, 2007, Penguin Publishing, pg.131

40. Mattingly, D, An Imperial Possession: Britain in the Roman Empire 54BC-AD409, 2007, Penguin Publishing, pg.131

41. Frere.S, Britannia: A History of Roman Britain, 1974, Sphere Books Ltd, pg.162

42. Moffat.A, The Wall: Rome’s Greatest Frontier, 2009, Birlinn Ltd, pg.217

43. Moffat.A, The Wall: Rome’s Greatest Frontier, 2009, Birlinn Ltd, pg.214

44. Mattingly.D, An Imperial Possession: Britain in the Roman Empire 54BC-AD409, 2007, Penguin Publishing, pg.149

45. Moffat.A, The Wall: Rome’s Greatest Frontier, 2009, Birlinn Ltd, pg.223

46. Southern.P, Roman Britain: A New History 55BC-AD450, 2011, Amberley Publishing, pg.282

Bibliography

Peter Salway, The Oxford Illustrated History of Roman Britain, 1993, Oxford University Press

Patricia Southern, Roman Britain: A New History 55BC-AD450, 2011, Amberley Publishing

Sheppard Frere, Britannia: A History of Roman Britain, 1974, Sphere Books Ltd

Vanessa Collingridge, Boudica, 2006, Ebury Publishing

Guy De La Bedoyere, Roman Britain: A New History, 2010, Thames and Hudson Ltd

Peter Salway, Roman Britain: A Very Short Introduction, 2000, OxfordUniversity Press

Alistair Moffat, The Wall: Rome’s Greatest Frontier, 2009, Birlinn Ltd

Richard Hingley and Christina Unwin, Boudica: Iron Age Warrior Queen, 2006, Continuum Publishing

Tacitus, Annuls

Dio Cassius, Roman History

Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars

David Mattingly, An Imperial Possession: Britain in the Roman Empire 54BC-AD409, 2007, Penguin Publishing

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