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Nostalgia Is this the last resting place of Boudicca? As Britannia, a blockbuster new drama set in 43 AD, hits our TV screens, MIKE LOCKLEY looks at the Midland link to Boudicca, queen of the Iceni and scourge of the Romans...

T WAS the bloodiest battle in British history, yet its location in the West Midlands remains a source of heated debate.

IAnd even the landmark conflict has become a mere footnote.

Because the Battle of Watling Street - when the Romans crushed a much larger force led by warrior queen Boudicca - did more than any other to shape this island.

Experts on Roman Britain are divided over where the blood was spilled, although Mancetter, north Warwickshire, remains the most popular.

Other battlefield locations include Weedon, Northamptonshire, Towcester, on the outskirts of Shrewsbury... and even Birmingham.

In fact, there are those who believe the flame-haired queen of the Iceni tribe, who took poison after the defeat, is buried under McDonald's in Kings Norton.

The only thing known about this nugget of deep history is that the battle to end all battles took place and it ended hopes of booting the Romans out of Britain.

Documents described Boudicca - also known as Boadicea and Buddug - as "frightening" in appearance.

"She was huge of frame, terrifying of aspect and with a harsh voice," wrote Roman Cassius Dio. "A great mass of bright red hair fell to her knees.

"She wore a great twisted golden necklace and a tunic of many colours over which was a thick mantle fastened by a brooch."

She certainly had a murderous temper, and every right to be very annoyed with the Romans.

The invaders reneged on a financial agreement, beat up Boudicca and raped her daughters.

Those are the kind of things a woman doesn't forget. They were certainly the catalyst for the most significant revolts in this island's history.

Boudicca was married to Prasutagus, king of the Iceni tribe, based in East Anglia.

The Romans had enjoyed a cosy relationship with the Iceni, with the Emperor Claudius handing a sizeable grant to King Prasutagus. As part of the terms of that cash agreement, Prasutagus left half his kingdom to the emperor's successor, Nero.

But in the summer of AD 61 the friendship became more than a little frosty.

With Prasutagus dead, hated procurator Catus Decianus moved centurions into Iceni territories, ripped up the agreement, took the whole kingdom and brutalised Boudicca and her family. Some relatives were sold into slavery.

The deposed Queen burned for revenge and held a secret meeting with other tribes. According to Cassius Dio, 120,000 were present.

The massive army first razed Camulodunum. There's little doubt they would have presented a terrifying spectacle, painted blue and accompanied by Druids who screamed terrifying curses at the Romans. Londinium (London) was hit before an evacuation could take place. It was an appalling slaughter, with the Druid priests offering up the heads of Romans to the goddess of victory.

Verulamium (St Albans) fell two days later and the attack brought the death toll to 70,000.

Boudicca's army was vast, but ill-disciplined: the Roman Briton equivalent of football hooligans running riot. The scene was set for the Battle of Watling Street and the end of Boudicca's winning run.

The Romans, led by Gaius Suetonius, were massively outnumbered, with some historians giving figures of 10,000 against 230,000.

But those 10,000 Romans were all well-drilled soldiers, while Boudicca's rag-tag mob included women and even children.

Many of the warriors didn't even have weapons, others clutched only sticks.

Fifty years after the battle, Roman historian Tacitus wrote down Boudica's rousing speech to her followers: "But now 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 our very persons, nor even age or virginity, are left unpolluted.

But heaven is on the side of a righteous vengeance."

At close quarters, the Romans' armour and superior weapons proved too much - and they didn't forget the atrocities of Camulodunum and Londinium. They killed women, children and even the animals.

Tacitus relates 80,000 Britons were butchered, compared to just 400 Romans.

Boudicca's fate is unclear. Tacitus wrote that she poisoned herself; Cassius Dio claims she died of disease. Archaeologists have long hunted for her burial site - and some believe the Iceni queen's bones are in Kings Norton.

The McDonald's, at Parsons Hill, fits many of the facts known about the Battle of Watling Street.

It was hilly with mature woodland, an ideal tactical mixture for a badly-outnumbered Roman general.

It was also on the route to Metchley, the Roman fort discovered in Edgbaston.
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Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 4, 2018
Words:752
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