When you come to a fork in the road, take it. The "Learning History" project has its origin in my boys' school, when I stood at a fork in history and was forced to take both roads. In drama I was assigned the role of Boadicea and made thunderous speeches about us Britons fighting the Roman tyrants to preserve our liberties.  Then  in history I was taught about the noble campaign of Julius Caesar, while my respect for ancient Rome was reinforced in Latin, then the basis of a good education. Virgil's Aeneid Book II made quite an impression on me, but I found Somnium Scipionis boring.  It call came back today when I watched a BBC documentary on Boadicea, which is apparently the Roman name for that Amazon. Now, in the interests of affirmative action on behalf of her Celts, the spellings Boudicca is preferred.  In the documentary her name is pronounced Budisha, with stress on the first syllable. Henceforth I will refer to her as B, this avoiding the spelling problem.  She was quite a woman, indeed termagant, a word whose origin Ed Jajko and I must discuss.  Here is what one source says about her:

Between AD 61 and AD 63 Boadicea led her Iceni people to a glorious but bloody war against the Romans. The Iceni Celts had submitted their kingdom in East Anglia to the conquering Romans and the rule of Emperor Claudius in AD 43. In AD 61, Prasutagus, Boadicea's husband and King of the Iceni died. A dispute followed during which Boadicea, was publicly beaten by the soldiers of the emperor, and her two daughters raped. The Iceni were insulted and rose in revolt led by their queen Boadicea. So successful was the uprising that the Romans were almost defeated. Unfortunately for the Iceni and their allies, the military skill of the Roman army finally led to the crushing of the rebellion.After the revolt, Roman rule was re-established. For almost two glorious years, Boadicea pillaged the Roman settlements; she remains to this day, the greatest of the heroines of Britain.

Another source said: Boadicea, or Boudicca meaning Victorious, was Queen of the Iceni tribe of East Anglia. She led a rebellion in 60 A.D. against the Romans, destroying the cities of Colchester, St. Albans and capturing London. She was eventually defeated by the Romans, and rather than be humiliated by them, she poisoned herself. Colchester was the first Roman colonia in Britain and its most important city.  When B. attacked, the whole population took refuge in the temple. B. set it afire, and all inside perished The TV documentary took advantage of this dramatic episode.  B then marched on London, the trading center whose inhabitants likewise got the treatment. By the Thames today there is a large statue of this victorious woman.  However, the Roman amy, using its wedge formation, defeated her army and she allegedly took poison.  That was the end of  the British struggle against the Romans, who, as the victors, wrote history.  The Britons were fierce fighters, since they believed that those who died in battle would be resurrected in glory. Did they?

I am still standing at that fork in the road of history.  I feel a deep sympathy for B, but my classical training puts me on the side of the Romans. Such rifts must occur in the teaching of history in many countries, e.g. Mexico, where there is a pro-Spanish, Catholic version of history and the official liberal one.  Do you have a similar dilemma?

Ronald Hilton 2005


last updated: June 10, 2005