Boudicca, Warrior Queen Part III —- The Empire Strikes Back
As revenge for the humiliation brought upon her, her kingdom, and the violation of her daughters, Queen Boudicca of the Iceni formed a massive army and destroyed the Roman cities of Camulodinum and Londinium. Tens of thousands of Romans and and Romanized Britons were massacred as a result of Boudicca’s revenge. For the Romans, the military situation seemed bleak, as there were few soldiers in the area to stop the rebellion. In addition, the Roman Governor, Seutonius, was away on campaign against the druids in Wales. The situation was so bad, that the Roman Emperor Nero considering evacuating the island and abandoning Britain altogether.
When word of the Iceni Rebellion reached Seutonius, he left Wales immediately and traveled back to England as fast as possible, mustering as many soldiers as he could along the way. By the time he met with Boudicca’s army, Seutonius’ forces numbered a mere 10,000. Estimates from the time number Boudicca’s army at around 230,000 warriors, although historians today accept 100,000 as a more realistic number.
Regardless of numbers, it was clear that the Romans were greatly outnumbered in the upcoming battle. Today the precise location of the battle is unknown, though historians place it near a Roman road now known as Watling Street, near Wroexeter in Shropshire. Seutonius chose his ground wisely, positioning his army in a narrow gorge at the end of a wide open field. The rear of his army was protected by a dense forest while the flanks of his army was protected by the gorge itself. Thus the Britons were unable to use their superiority of numbers, allowing them to merely surround and annihilate the Romans. Rather, Boudicca and her warriors were forced to attack the Romans head on; the way Romans liked to fight.
In terms of weapons and tactics the Romans and Britons couldn’t be more different from each other. The Britons favored longer and larger weapons such as broadswords, axes, and spears. Such weapons required sufficient space to swing or thrust. The Romans, however, preferred close quarter tactics using small wieldy weapons. A typical Roman Legionary was armed with two javelins (pila), a short sword (gladius), and a dagger (pugio). In addition the Roman Legionary wore heavy army such as chainmail or segmented plate armor, and a helmet. They key to a Roman soldier’s equipment was a large square shield called a scutum. The Roman scutum was so large that it covered almost the entirety of the body. The Romans would do battle in tight formations, with their shields at the front for protection. When attacked, the Romans would slam into their enemies with their shields, pinning them in a tightly packed battle space where larger weapons such as broadswords, axes, and spears were useless. Then, using their handy and compact short swords, the Romans thrust against their enemies from the sides of their shields with quick stabbing attacks to the abdomen and chest. It was a very aggressive form of warfare, but unlike the combat of their Celtic enemies, it was a highly disciplined and organized form of warfare, with each Roman depending on each other for success and victory.
Boudicca, believing she had trapped the Romans, ordered her warriors to charge in a direct frontal assault. Tens of thousands of warriors charged across the plain, both men and women, filling the air with furious war cries. As the Britons closed in on the Romans, the Romans, with cool discipline threw their two javelins. Under a hail of 20,000 javelins, the Iceni charge was halted in its tracks. Taking advantage of this pause, Seutonius then ordered his men to advance. Despite being badly outnumbered, it would be Roman discipline that would win the day as the Romans cut through the Britons like a gladius through jello. At the front was Seutonius himself, urging his soldiers on shouting,
"Ignore the racket made by these savages. There are more women than men in their ranks. They are not soldiers - they’re not even properly equipped. We’ve beaten them before and when they see our weapons and feel our spirit, they’ll crack. Stick together. Throw the javelins, then push forward: knock them down with your shields and finish them off with your swords. Forget about plunder. Just win and you’ll have everything."
Eventually, Celtic ranks broke and the Iceni army attempted to retreat from the Roman onslaught. However, before the battle, the families of the Iceni warriors parked their wagons behind the army to watch the fight. Now this line of wagons provided an obstacle that prevented the Iceni from retreating. As the Romans continued to advance the battlefield grew so crowded that Iceni trampled each other to death trying to escape. By the end of the battle, over 80,000 Iceni and other Britons lay dead, wounded, or dying on the battlefield. The Romans suffered only 400 casualties.
After her defeat at the Battle of Watling Street, Queen Boudicca committed suicide. Being captured by the Romans meant a whole slew of humiliations, including torture, being paraded through the City of Rome in a triumph, and eventually executed by strangulation at the steps of the Roman Forum. Boudicca was determined she would not be humiliated by the Romans again. As for the remaining Iceni and Britons, most were scattered across the empire and sold as slaves.
After the Iceni Rebellion, Seutonius would serve as a general under Emperor Otho throughout the Roman civil war known as the “Year of the Five Emperors”. Otho was defeated and killed, but the fate of Seutonius is unknown.
After the failure of the Iceni Rebellion, the Romans managed to conquer all of what is modern day England and Wales, eventually setting up a frontier at the English/Scottish border. Under Roman occupation, Most Britons ceased to be Celts in culture and become “Romanized”. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, England was conquered and settled by two Germanic tribes called the Angles and the Saxons. The mixture of Romanized Britons, Angles, and Saxons formed a new people called the Anglo Saxons.
Today, Boudicca is hailed as a national hero in Britain. In the middle ages she was mostly forgotten, however the rise of another female British ruler in the 19th century, Queen Victoria, would revive her legend among British nationalists and romantic writers. Constructed in 1905, a statue built in her honor can be found next to Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament.
The Italian Invasion of France during World War II,
When Germany invaded Belgium the Netherlands, and France on May 10th, 1940, the Italian dictator Mussolini chose to stay out of the war, being advised that the Italian Army was not ready for major combat operations. However, by June of that year German forces had blitzkrieged through the French Army and were driving deeply into French territory. With victory almost assured for the Axis forces, it seemed to Italy that it needed to get on the conquest bandwagon. The new fascist Roman Empire had its eye on the provinces of Nice and Savoy, lands once a part of Italy that were sold to France in 1858.
Between June 10th and June 19th Italian bombers and warships bombarding strategic towns and cities along the French Alpine border. Then on June 20th, 300,000 Italian troops attacked, crossing the border and attacking into Southern France. At first the French were unprepared for the invasion. Suffering defeat after defeat at the hands of the German Wehrmacht, the French were taken by surprised by Italy’s assault. Due to the fighting in the north, the French Army could only spare 85,000 men to counter the 300,000 man Italian invasion force. However by June 22nd, the French had manned heavily fortified positions that guarded several key strategic passes through the Alps. The Italian Army immediately halted, then slowly began to fall back under heavy French artillery fire. Worse yet, the Italians suffered from shortages of everything as Italian Army logistics was unprepared for combat operations. Especially in short supply was cold weather gear, a must when fighting in the cold climate of the French/Italian Alps. Many Italian troops suffered from frostbite and hypothermia.
On June 22nd, 1944 France formally surrendered to Germany. However France was still at war with Italy, and the fighting continued. By June 23rd, France’s elite Alpine troops attacked using a massive snow storm for cover. They made short work of the Italian infantry, who were poorly trained, equipped, and disciplined. By June 24th, the situation was growing worse even worse for Italy. The French Air Force engaged and defeated the Italian Air Force, grounding and destroying Italy’s bomber fleet in the Alps. French battleships and other naval units bombarded Italian ports.
By the end of June 24th, the Italian Army was near breaking point. The next day the French planned an offensive with heavy artillery and air support that would have certainly sent the Italians in full retreat. However, on June 25th, the Italian Army was saved by the bell. Under pressure from Hitler, what remained of the French government issued orders for all French forces to stand down and surrender. A formal armistice was signed later that day.
The performance of the Italian Army during the Battle of France was a major embarrassment to Mussolini and the Fascist Party. Its ironic that while France had already been soundly defeated by Germany, the Italians were being soundly defeated by France. During the four day battle Italian losses numbered over 6,000 dead. French forces lost only 40 men.
As a result of Italy’s lackluster combat performance, Italian territorial demands were exceptionally modest. The Germans granted Italy control of a 50km wide strip of land along the Italian border, as well as control over the Island of Corsica. As the Third Reich pillaged France throughout the war, the Italian zone of occupation became a refuge for French Jews, with 80% of Jews from Vichy France fleeing to the zone after Nazi persecution. The Italian occupation zone was taken over by Germany when Italy signed an armistice with the Allies on Sept. 8th, 1943.