History

Famous Leaders of Ancient Celts

Leaders ordered by date they appear in history.

lagerthaOnomaris

Onomaris was a Galatian woman thought to have lived in the 4th century BCE. She was described in the short Greek work Tractatus De Mulieribus which was written by an anonymous author. In the text, fourteen famous ancient women are discussed. According to this text, her people, suffering from scarcity offered to obey anyone willing to lead them. When no man accepted the offer, Onomaris pooled her resources and led the emigration.


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Statue of Brennus.

Brennus

Brennus was Chieftain of the Gaulish tribe, the Senones in modern day France. He was born in the 4th century BCE. In 387 BCE, he led an army in the Battle of Allia and captured the city of Rome, holding it for several months and almost single handedly bringing down the Roman empire before it even began. The accounts of the battle itself and reasoning for the battle are debatable. Needless to say, they successfully captured the city. The Romans offered to pay one thousand pounds weight of gold for the city to be returned to them to which Brennus was said to have thrown his sword down and utter the famous words “Vae victis!” which means “woe to the conquered”. It’s thought the army may have been weakened by a disease such as dysentery and while Brennus was waiting to be paid, another Roman army arrived and effectively took the city back by force. *Brennus is the same name as a leader of the Gauls that fought in the Battle of Thermopylae and attack of Delphi in 279 BCE that went on to commit suicide upon defeat.


Woodcut_illustration_of_Chiomara,_wife_of_Orgiagon_of_Galatia_-_Penn_Provenance_ProjectChiomara

Chiomara was a Galatian noblewoman and wife of Orgiagon, Chieftain of the tribe Tectosagi in modern day France. Her tribe was one of the three Galatian tribes during the Galatian War with Rome in 189 BCE. She was described as a “woman of exceptional beauty”. A Roman centurion was put in charge of a group of captives, one of which was Chiomara. When she declined his sexual advances, he raped her and then offered to make up for his mistake, to return her to her people for a ransom. He sent a slave with his message which was accepted. Her countrymen came to the appointed place to make the exchange and he bid her well. Before he could leave however, she indicated her men with a particular nod and they chopped off his head without a word having to be said. She then carried the head home to her husband and threw it at his feet in pride. Polybius also said to have met her and thought she was of “good sense and intelligence”.

“It fell out that Chiomara, the wife of Ortiagon, was taken captive with other women, in the time when the Romans under Cneus Manlius overcame the Galatians of Asia in battle. The centurion that took her made use of his fortune soldier-like and defiled her; for he was, as to voluptuousness and covetousness, an ill-bred and insatiable man, over whom avarice had gotten an absolute conquest. A great quantity of gold being promised by the woman for her ransom, in order to her redemption he brought her to a certain bank of a river. As the Galatians passed over and paid him the money in gold, and received Chiomara into their possession, she gave an intimation of her pleasure to one of them by nod,—to smite the Roman while he was kissing and taking his leave of her. He obeyed her commands and cut off his head. She takes it, wraps it up in her apron, and carries it with her; and as she comes to her husband, she casts down the head before him, at which being startled he said, O wife! thy fidelity is noble. Yea, verily, replied she, it is a nobler thing that there is now but one man alive that hath ever lain with me. Polybius saith that he discoursed with this woman at Sardis, and admired her prudence and discretion.” -Plutarch (Greek, 46 – 120 CE


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José de Madrazo’s painting of the death of Viriathus.

Viriathus

Viriathus was a Celtiberian leader of the Lusitanians in modern day Spain and Portugal. Diodorus Siculus claims he was from the “Lusitanian tribes to the ocean side”. It’s unclear when he was born but he died in 139 BCE. He was responsible for developing extensive alliances at the time in response to Roman rule. He led several victories over the Romans between 147 – 139 BCE. It’s thought that he belonged to a ruling class of warriors. Livy described him as a shepherd who became a hunter and then a soldier, following the path of most young warriors of the Celtic culture. He was described as being a warrior for the sake of it rather than for material gain and had all of the principles of fairness and honesty of those who were “anciently virtuous”. He would go on to become a Portuguese national hero and symbol of independence. Viriathus was one of the few survivors of the treacherous Lusitanian army massacres organized by the Roman praetor Galba and he vowed vengeance. Galba was awarded part of Hispania (Lusitanian territory) by Rome and upon arriving, he immediately set to disposing troublesome people and revolts, in this case, the Lusitanians. In approx. 150 BCE, and after one particularly large defeat on both sides in various ways, the Lusitanians wanted to make amends and forge a peace. Galba agreed and insisted the Lusitanians split their remaining armies and people and head to specified locations to colonize fertile land provided by the Romans. Once each group arrived at their destination, any fighting age boys and men were ruthlessly massacred in front of their families, children and wives. Two years after the massacre, Viriathus became leader of the Lusitanian army. At this point, the Lusitanians had been revolting for nearly 40 years. The Lusitanian land was particularly plentiful both in agricultural and natural resources. It’s thought that between approx. 209 – 169 BCE, the Roman army had collected over 4 tons of gold, 800 tons of silver, countless slaves and imposed enough taxes to make the remaining people nearly slaves by how much they needed to work to pay for the taxes. To add insult to injury, men were often forced to serve in the Roman army. When Viriathus began to lead the Lusitanian army, it was a much need reprieve. The war with Viriathus became known as the “War of Fire” and he frequently carried out both regular army techniques along with guerrilla tactics in smaller groups against the Roman occupation. Over the course of at least eight large scale battles, Viriathus and his forces beat back each Roman attack, slaughtering thousands of their soldiers, the largest being somewhere around 15,000 soldiers and 2,000 cavalry. The results of Viriathus’s effect was not only a significant reduction in Legion recruitment rates but also a rousing of surrounding tribes to revolt as well. Rome sent one of their best generals, Fabius Maximus Servillianus to Iberia but he fell into a Lusitanian ambush. He forged a peace treaty with Viriathus that was ratified by the Senate and lasted one year. However, Servillianus’s brother, Servilius Caepio who replaced him in position, was not happy with the treaty and badgered Viriatus until he could once again declare war. Once the year was up, and planning to enact war, he bribed three of Viriathus’s soldiers into killing him knowing how important he was to the Lusitanian cause. They later returned to camp, and treacherously killed Viriathus while he was sleeping. When they returned to Servilius Caepio for their reward, it’s said that he replied “Rome does not pay traitors who kill their chief”. After Viriathus’s death, the Lusitanians kept fighting under Tautalus. Total pacification of Lusitania was never truly achieved and Viriathus stands as one of the most successful leaders who ever opposed Rome. The flag of the Spanish province of Zamora has eight red stripes honoring the eight victories of Viriathus over the Romans.

“[On Viriathus]For he was, as is agreed by all, valiant in dangers, prudent and careful in providing whatever was necessary, and that which was most considerable of all was that whilst he commanded he was more beloved than ever any was before him.” -Diodorus Siculus (Greek, 90 – 20 BCE)


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Statue of Ambiorix.

Ambiorix

Ambiorix was King of the Belgic Gaulish tribe, the Eburones in modern day Belgium. His name meant “king in all directions” and he lived around the 1st century BCE. He ruled half of his tribe’s territory while another man by the name of Catuvolcus ruled the other half. By approx. 57 BCE, the Eburones had come under Roman rule as a Roman state. In 54 BCE, there was a particularly difficult drought and Caesar was forced to retire many of his legions there over the winter. The Belgic tribes were naturally reluctant to give up their hard earned winter food stores and this caused a great deal of tension. Roman centurions were left behind in each tribe to make sure the correct food supplies were timely delivered. It wasn’t long before Ambiorix and Catuvolcus led an uprising. Ambiorix tricked the wintering soldiers, telling them there was a large Germanic force crossing the Rhine preparing to attack. Trusting him, the soldiers left the next morning but were ambushed and slaughtered by the Eburones en route. Ambiorix and Catuvolcus traveled to the neighboring tribe of Nervii and organized a coalition between the tribes. The roman force wintering with the Nervii was also slaughtered but a messenger was able to slip through and warned Caesar of the attacks. He immediately sent soldiers and vowed vengeance. Within three years, the entirety of the Belgic tribes (Belgica) were slaughtered or driven out and their fields and homes were burned. Ambiorix and his men were said to have slipped away across the Rhine and disappeared.


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Vercingetorix throws down his arms at the feet of Julius Caesar. Painting by Lionel Royer.

Vercingetorix

Vercingetorix was King of the Celtica Gaulish tribe, the Arverni in modern day France. His name meant “great warrior king” or “king of great warriors” and he was born in 82 BCE. Once he gained chieftainship of the Averni in 52 BCE, he immediately established an alliance between the surrounding Gaulish tribes in an effort to revolt against encroaching Roman power and authority. He was responsible for the Gaul’s win at the Battle of Gergovia later that year in which Caesar suffered thousands of losses causing him to temporarily withdraw. Unfortunately, Vercingetorix’s attempt to unite Gaul had come a little too late and Caesar was still able to manipulate and exploit Gaulish internal divisions through the previously conquered and neighboring tribe of the Aedui. In September of 52 BCE, Caesar attacked the Gallic oppidum of Alesia where Vercingetorix and his allies had retreated to. Romans outnumbered the Gauls by roughly four to one. This was essentially, the last engagement between the Gauls and Romans and their complete defeat was considered one of Caesar’s greatest military achievements. To prevent a complete destruction of his people, Vercingetorix convened with his counsel and proposed that he surrender himself to appease Caesar. He was held prisoner for five years and then in 46 BCE, he was paraded around Rome and executed by strangulation as part of a display of Caesar’s triumph over the Gauls. Moving forward, the Aedui and Arverni continued as Roman states and subjects, excepting for the 40,000 prisoners that were taken and given to Roman soldiers, one slave for each soldier. Vercingetorix is still a local hero in his native region today and two statues have been erected in his honor in France, one in Alesia and the other in Clermont-Ferrand.

“I did not undertake the war for private needs, but in the cause of national liberty.” -Vercingetorix to Caesar before his capture and death


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Commius was King of the Belgic tribe, the Atrebates in modern day Belgium. He was born in the 1st century BCE. When Julius Caesar conquered the Atrebates in 57 BCE, he appointed Commius as King. In exchange for his loyalty, the Atrebates could remain independent and exempt from taxes. Commius was even sent to Britain on an expedition in approx. 54 BCE to try to convince British chieftains to pledge loyalty to Rome upon Caesar’s arrival. However, it’s believed that he was never truly loyal and after Caesar’s death, he was involved in conspiracy to revolt against Rome. He was invited to a sham meeting by the Roman legate Titus Labienus in the winter of 53 BCE, which he was to be secretly executed. He narrowly escaped with a head wound and vowed to never associate with Romans again. In Vercingetorix’s revolt, Commius was said to be one of the leaders amongst the army. After defeat, he sought refugee with German allies. Later, he appears in Britain and was again declared King of the Atrebates. Coins marked with his name were issued until approx. 20 BCE. Some historians speculate this may have been his son but it’s not impossible to have been the man himself.


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Orgetorix coins minted during his reign.

Orgetorix

Orgetorix was a wealthy aristocrat among the Gaulish tribe, the Helvetii in modern day Switzerland. His name may have meant “to kill or hit” and he was born in the 1st century BCE. He had aims to become a leader although those dreams would never come to fruition. He convinced the Helvetians to attempt to migrate to western Gaul along with Dumnorix of the Aedui and Casticus of the Sequani. He was tried for conspiracy and called to a Roman hearing in chains. He was released but died mysteriously afterward. It was rumored to be a suicide. The Helvetians went on with their plans to migrate but were defeated and returned and this marked the beginning of the Gallic Wars in which Julius Caesar would go on to subjugate all of Gaul.

“Among the Helvetii, Orgetorix was by far the most distinguished and wealthy. He, when Marcus Messala and Marcus Piso were consuls [61 BCE], incited by lust of sovereignty, formed a conspiracy among the nobility, and persuaded the people to go forth from their territories with all their possessions, [saying] that it would be very easy, since they excelled all in valor, to acquire the supremacy of the whole of Gaul. To this he the more easily persuaded them, because the Helvetii, are confined on every side by the nature of their situation; on one side by the Rhine, a very broad and deep river, which separates the Helvetian territory from the Germans; on a second side by the Jura, a very high mountain, which is [situated] between the Sequani and the Helvetii; on a third by the Lake of Geneva, and by the river Rhone, which separates our Province from the Helvetii. From these circumstances it resulted, that they could range less widely, and could less easily make war upon their neighbors; for which reason men fond of war [as they were] were affected with great regret. They thought, that considering the extent of their population, and their renown for warfare and bravery, they had but narrow limits, although they extended in length 240, and in breadth 180 [Roman] miles.

Induced by these factors, and influenced by the authority of Orgetorix, they determined to provide such things as were necessary for their expedition: to buy up as great a number as possible of beasts of burden and wagons; to make their sowings as large as possible, so that on their march plenty of grain might be in store; and to establish peace and friendship with the neighboring states. They reckoned that a term of two years would be sufficient for them to execute their designs; they fixed by decree their departure for the third year. Orgetorix was chosen to complete these arrangements. He took upon himself the office of messenger to the states: on this journey he persuades Casticus, the son of Catamantaledes (one of the Sequani, whose father had possessed the sovereignty among the people for many years, and had been styled “friend” by the senate of the Roman people), to seize upon the sovereignty in his own state, which his father had held before him, and he likewise persuades Dumnorix, an Aeduan, the brother of Divitiacus, who at that time possessed the chief authority in the state, and was exceedingly beloved by the people, to attempt the same, and gives him his daughter in marriage. He proves to them that to accomplish their attempts was a thing very easy to be done, because he himself would obtain the government of his own state; that there was no doubt that the Helvetii were the most powerful of the whole of Gaul; he assures them that he will, with his own forces and his own army, acquire the sovereignty for them. Incited by this speech, they give a pledge and oath to one another, and hope that, when they have seized the sovereignty, they will, by means of the three most powerful and valiant nations, be enabled to obtain possession of the whole of Gaul. -Julius Caesar (Roman, 100 – 44 BCE)


589950.jpgDumnorix

Dumnorix was Chieftain of part of the Gaulish tribe, the Aedui in modern day France. His name may have  meant “king of the world” and he was born in the 1st century BCE. He was most famously the brother of the Druid Divitiacus. The Aedui became allies of Rome but Dumnorix went on to lead the anti-Roman faction. He conspired with Orgetorix, of the Helvetii and Casticus of the Sequani to plan a migration of their people to western Gaul and make themselves kings in their own tribes. He organized many annoyances in regards to delivering Roman supplies and stirring up revolts. Caesar decided to keep him as a hostage on his travels to Britain fearing that he would cause trouble in Gaul in his absence. Dumnorix escaped while in Britain and was immediately killed upon capture. It is said that he shouted “I am a freeman of a free state” directly before his death.


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Statue illustration of Caractacus.

Caractacus

Caratacus was King of the Celtic British tribe, the Catuvellauni in modern day Wales. His name likely meant some derivative of “beloved” and he was born in the 1st century. Caractacus resisted Roman invasion for nearly a decade and used mixed guerrilla warfare. After he was ultimately defeated he sought refuge with the Queen of the Brigantes, Cartimandua. She delivered him and his family in chains to the Romans. He was sentenced to death as a Roman prisoner but his speech before his execution was so passionate that the Emperor Claudius decided to spare him. He was henceforth allowed to live in Rome, in peace. According to Dio Cassius, Caratacus was so impressed by the city of Rome that he said, “And you can, then, who have got such possessions and so many of them, covet our poor tents?”

“[Caractacus’s speech]If the degree of my nobility and fortune had been matched by moderation in success, I would have come to this City as a friend rather than a captive, nor would you have disdained to receive with a treaty of peace one sprung from brilliant ancestors and commanding a great many nations. But my present lot, disfiguring as it as for me, is magnificent for you. I had horses, men, arms, and wealth: what wonder if I was unwilling to lose them? If you wish to command everyone, does it really follow that everyone should accept your slavery? If I were no being handed over as one who had surrendered immediately, neither my fortune nor your glory would have achieved brilliance. It is also true that in my case any reprisal will be followed by oblivion. On the other hand, if you preserve me safe and sound, I shall be an eternal example of your clemency.” –Tacitus (Roman, 55 – 120 CE)

Caractacus selected a hill fort, to fight a decisive battle with the Romans, where it was both easy for the Britons to move forward to attack the Romans but also to retreat if things did not go well in the battle. At the same time it would be hard for the Romans to attack or retreat. On the more gentle slopes the Britons piled up stones to make a rampart. The British warriors positioned themselves in front of these defences but they were still protected by a river which was in front of them. The chieftains of the various tribes moved amongst their men encouraging them. Caractacus, darted everywhere, telling his men that this battle would be the beginning of the recovery of their freedom or else of everlasting slavery. He recalled how their ancestors had driven back Julius Caesar, and through their bravery the British were freed from the threat of being ruled by the Roman military and government. While he was speaking, the warriors shouted applause; every warrior swore not to flee from weapons or wounds. The Roman leader, Ostorius faced a daunting sight: the river and the rampart the British tribesmen had added to it, the hill fort and masses of fighting men everywhere. But his soldiers insisted they had the courage for battle and the prefects and tribunes encouraged this idea. The Romans surveyed the area and worked out the easiest way to attack. Ostorius, led his furious men, and crossed the river without difficulty. When they reached the defences, the British threw their missiles and the Romans suffered the worst casualties. But when the Romans formed the testudo and tore down the stone rampart, it became an equal hand-to-hand fight and the barbarians retreated to higher ground. But the higher ground was not enough to protect the Britons from the soldiers who rushed into attack. The lightly armed Roman soldiers harassed the enemy with missiles, while the heavily-armed soldiers closed in on them, and the Britons were broken, as they had no breast-plates or helmets to protect them. They were killed by the swords and javelins of our legionaries; if they turned around, they faced the sabres and spears of the auxiliaries. It was a glorious victory; the wife and daughter of Caratacus were captured, and his brothers also surrendered.” –Tacitus (Roman, 55 – 120 CE)


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Caractacus, King of the Silures, delivered up to Ostorius, the Roman General, by Cartimandua, Queen of the Brigantes – print by F. Bartolozzi, British Museum.

Cartimandua

Cartimandua was Queen of the Celtic British tribe, the Brigantes in modern day Northern England. Brigantes at the time was the biggest tribe in Britain, at least territorially. She was born sometime in the 1st century and was the granddaughter of the King Bellnorix. Her name may have meant a variation of pony and chasing and her reign lasted from 43 – 69 CE. Cartimandua appears to have ruled by right rather than marriage and was said by Tacitus in 51 CE to have been of “illustrious birth”. When the Roman Emperor Claudius arrived in Great Britain with aim to conquer it, it’s unclear whether she was one of the eleven kings that “surrendered without a fight” in order to retain their kingship. A revolt of the Brigantes was defeated by the Roman general Publius Scapula in 48 CE and at least from that point on, Cartimandua was considered to be loyal to Rome. Caractacus sought refuge with the Brigantes after being defeated in Wales by the same general, but Cartimandua handed him and his family over to the Romans in chains. She was surely rewarded handsomely for her loyalty and Tacitus described her as loyal to Rome albeit treacherous to her own people and sexually self indulgent. This likely angered many of her kinsmen and set the stage for being overthrown. From 52 – 57 CE, her husband Venutius made allies with surrounding tribes and in 57, he attempted to make war and overthrow Cartimandua. Cartimandua had long ago seized his brother and other relatives to hold as hostage and it’s unclear how long they remained with her. Venutius was ultimately defeated when an extra legion of Roman soldiers arrived to defend her. She divorced Venutius for his “lesser” amour-bearer, Vellocatus which spurred Venutius to make another attempt to overthrow her. In 69 CE he was finally successful and became the new King of Brigantes. Cartimandua fled to the nearest Roman Fort where she disappears from history. Venutius ruled Brigantia very briefly before the Romans ousted him in 71 and the Brigantes territory was annexed.


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Boudicca or Boadicea was Queen of the British tribe, the Iceni, in modern day Norfolk, Britain. Her name means “victory” and it’s unknown when she was born. She was described as being of royal descent and possessing great intelligence. She was tall, with tawny hair that fell below her waist, and was told to have had a harsh voice and piercing glare. Boudicca’s husband, Prasutagus was ruler of their tribe, an independent ally of Rome. In his will, he left half of the kingdom to the emperor Nero and half to his wife and two daughters thinking this would appease the Romans. However when he died in 61 CE, the kingdom was annexed and taken by Roman authority. It’s alluded in some sources the reasoning may have been that Prasutagus had a previous deal from twenty years earlier when Prasutagus’s first revolt was put down in 43 CE. The Roman’s agreed to let the Iceni stay independent as long as Prasutagus was ruler in exchange for him to stop his revolt. He may have owed many debts as well. Upon his death, Roman centurions pillaged his house, Boudicca was flogged and her young daughters were raped. All of Iceni people of any rank were essentially reduced to slavery. Completely abhorred by the Roman’s treatment, the Iceni along with the neighboring tribe of Trinovantes among others organized a revolt with Boudicca as their leader. Interestingly enough and not coincidentally, this revolt took place at the same time as when Suetonius Paulinus, the Roman Governor at the time was leading much of Roman forces to destroy the Druid stronghold of Anglesey in modern day Wales. This likely contributed to the reasoning of the revolt as well. Dio Cassius illustrates one of the only documented uses of divination using animals when he describes Boudicca releasing a rabbit from the folds of her dress to foretell the events of the impending battle. Her forces went on to burn through three major towns including Londinium (London), Verulamium (St. Albans) and Camulodunum (Colchester). A thick layer of red soot still remains in Colchester today from where Colchester was leveled and burned to the ground, which is known as Boudicca’s Destruction Horizon. Colchester was a particular area of local hatred as it held a monument to Emperor Claudius that was built by Britain slave labor. Archaeological digs have uncovered countless Celtic bodies that were bludgeoned to death, some that had their heads cut off and displayed on a pike. Her forces killed approx. 80,000 people, mostly citizens. Ultimately, they became trapped and cut off by their own supply train behind them and the enemy in front of them. In close quarters, they were picked off quickly by Roman soldiers. Boudicca is said by Tacitus to have taken her life by poison rather than becoming a Roman slave. It’s unknown what happened to her daughters but they likely perished as well as Tacitus describes a complete massacre where the Roman soldiers spared no woman or child. Her revolt nearly caused emperor Nero to withdraw all Roman forces from Britain. However, the governor Suetonius Paulinus returned from Angelsey and was able to suppress the revolt in its entirety.   

On the shore [of Anglesey] stood the opposing army [of Britons] with its dense array of armed warriors, while between the ranks dashed women, in black attire like the Furies, with hair dishevelled, waving firebrands. All around, the druids, lifting up their hands to heaven, and pouring forth dreadful imprecations, scared our soldiers by the unfamiliar sight, so that, as if their limbs were paralysed, they stood motionless, and exposed to wounds. Then urged by their general’s appeals and mutual encouragements not to quail before a troop of frenzied women, they bore the standards onwards, smote down all resistance, and wrapped the foe in the flames of his own brands. A force was next set over the conquered, and their groves, devoted to inhuman superstitions, were destroyed. They deemed it indeed a duty to cover their altars with the blood of captives and to consult their deities through human entrails.” –Tacitus (Roman, 55 – 120 CE)

“Let us, therefore, go against (the Romans), trusting boldly to good fortune. Let us show them that they are hares and foxes trying to rule over dogs and wolves.” When she (Boudica) had finished speaking, she employed a species of divination, letting a hare escape from the fold of her dress; and since it ran on what they considered the auspicious side, the whole multitude shouted with pleasure, and Boudica, raising her hand toward heaven, said: “I thank you, Andraste, and call upon you as woman speaking to woman … I beg you for victory and preservation of liberty.” -Dio Cassius (Roman, 1st century)

“[In AD 60] a terrible disaster occurred in Britain. Two cities were sacked, eighty thousand of the Romans and of their allies perished, and the island was lost to Rome. Moreover, all this ruin was brought upon the Romans by a woman, a fact which in itself caused them the greatest shame … The person who was chiefly instrumental in rousing the natives and persuading them to fight the Romans, the person who was thought worthy to be their leader and who directed the conduct of the entire war, was Boadicea, a Briton woman of the royal family and possessed of greater intelligence than often belongs to women … In stature she was very tall, in appearance most terrifying, in the glance of her eye most fierce, and her voice was harsh; a great mass of the tawniest hair fell to her hips; around her neck was a large golden necklace; and she wore a tunic of divers colours over which a thick mantle was fastened with a brooch. This was her invariable attire.” -Dio Cassius (Roman, 1st century)

“Suetonius while thus occupied received tidings of the sudden revolt of the province. Prasutagus, king of the Iceni, famed for his long prosperity, had made the emperor his heir along with his two daughters, under the impression that this token of submission would put his kingdom and his house out of the reach of wrong. But the reverse was the result, so much so that his kingdom was plundered by centurions, his house by slaves, as if they were the spoils of war. First, his wife Boudicea was whipped and his daughters raped. All the chief men of the Iceni, as if Rome had received the whole country as a gift, were stripped of their ancestral possessions, and the king’s relatives were made slaves. Provoked by these insults and the dread of worse, reduced as they now were into the condition of a province, they flew to arms and stirred to revolt the Trinobantes and others who, not yet cowed by slavery, had agreed in secret conspiracy to reclaim their freedom. It was against the veterans that their hatred was most intense. For these new settlers in the colony of Camulodunum drove people out of their houses, ejected them from their farms, called them captives and slaves, and the lawlessness of the veterans was encouraged by the soldiers, who lived a similar life and hoped for similar privileges. A temple also erected to the Divine Claudius was ever before their eyes, a citadel, as it seemed, of perpetual tyranny. Men chosen as priests had to squander their whole fortunes under the pretence of a religious ceremonial. It appeared too no difficult matter to destroy the colony, undefended as it was by fortifications, a precaution neglected by our generals, while they thought more of what was agreeable than of what was expedient.” -Tacitus (Roman, 55 – 120 CE) 

“Boudicca, in a [chariot], with her two daughters before her, drove through the ranks. She harangued the different nations in their turn: “This,” she said, “is not the first time that the Britons have been led to battle by a woman. But now she did not come to boast the pride of a long line of ancestry, nor even to recover her kingdom and the plundered wealth of her family. She took the field, like the meanest among them, to assert the cause of public liberty, and to seek revenge for her body seamed with ignominious stripes, and her two daughters infamously ravished. From the pride and arrogance of the Romans nothing is sacred; all are subject to violation; the old endure the scourge, and the virgins are deflowered. But the vindictive gods are now at hand. A Roman legion dared to face the warlike Britons: with their lives they paid for their rashness; those who survived the carnage of that day, lie poorly hid behind their entrenchments, meditating nothing but how to save themselves by an ignominious flight. From the din of preparation, and the shouts of the British army, the Romans, even now, shrink back with terror. What will be their case when the assault begins? Look round, and view your numbers. Behold the proud display of warlike spirits, and consider the motives for which we draw the avenging sword. On this spot we must either conquer, or die with glory. There is no alternative. Though a woman, my resolution is fixed: the men, if they please, may survive with infamy, and live in bondage.” -Tacitus (Roman, 55 – 120 CE) 

“The natives enjoyed plundering and thought of nothing else. By-passing forts and garrisons, they made for where loot was richest and protection weakest. Roman and provincial deaths at the places mentioned are estimated at seventy thousand. For the Britons did not take or sell prisoners, or practice war-time exchanges. They could not wait to cut throats, hang, burn, and crucify–as though avenging, in advance, the retribution that was on its way.” -Tacitus (Roman, 55 – 120 CE) 

“[The decisive battle.] The engagement began. The Roman legion presented a close embodied line. The narrow defile gave them the shelter of a rampart. The Britons advanced with ferocity, and discharged their darts at random. In that instant, the Romans rushed forward in the form of a wedge. The auxiliaries followed with equal ardour. The cavalry, at the same time, bore down upon the enemy, and, with their pikes, overpowered all who dared to make a stand. The Britons betook themselves to flight, but their waggons in the rear obstructed their passage. A dreadful slaughter followed. Neither sex nor age was spared. The cattle, falling in one promiscuous carnage, added to the heaps of slain. The glory of the day was equal to the most splendid victory of ancient times. According to some writers, not less than eighty thousand Britons were put to the sword. The Romans lost about four hundred men, and the wounded did not exceed that number. Boudicca, by a dose of poison, [ended] her life. Poenius Postumius, the Prefect in the camp of the second legion, as soon as he heard of the brave exploits of the fourteenth and twentieth legions, felt the disgrace of having, in disobedience to the orders of his general, robbed the soldiers under his command of their share in so complete a victory. Stung with remorse, he fell upon his sword, and expired on the spot.” -Tacitus (Roman, 55 – 120 CE)


e43660db604b7303b2d971aba0a44200Camma

Camma was a Galation princess and priestess who most likely lived in the 1st century. The Greek writer Plutarch is the only source on Camma and therefore she cannot be historically verified but the story is interesting and likely true given the nature and style of Plutarch’s writing. In summary, a man killed her husband in an attempt to win her favor. She accepted his offer of favor, but ultimately only to bide her time and kill him in revenge.

“There were two most potent persons among the tretrarches of Galatia, allied by kin to each other, Sinatus and Synorix; one of which, Sinatus, took a maid to wife, Camma by name, very comely to behold for person and favor, but principally to be admired for virtue. For she was not only modest and loving to her husband, but discreet and of a generous mind. And by reason of her gentle and courteous behavior she was extremely acceptable to her inferiors; that which rendered her more eminently renowned was, that being a priest of Diana (for the Galatians worship that goddess most) she did always appear magnificently adorned in all sacred possessions and at the sacrifices. Wherefore Synorix, falling in love with her, could not prevail either by persuasions or violence, whilst her husband lived. He commits a horrid crime, he slays Sinatus treacherously, and not long after accosts Camma, whist she abode within the temple. He was importunate in his humble addresses, neither did he seem to use arguments that were without all show of honesty. For as in other things he pretended that he far excelled Sinatus, so he slew him for the love he bare to Camma and for no other wicked design. The woman’s’ denials were at first not very peremptory, and then by little and little she seemed to be softened towards him. Her familiars and friends also lay at her in the service and favor of Synorix, who was a man of great power, persuading and even forcing her. In fine therefore she consented, and accordingly sent for him to come to her, that the mutual contract and covenant might be solemnized in the presence of the Goddess. When he came, she received him with much courtesy, and bringing him before the altar and pouring out some of the drink-offering upon the altar out of the bowls, part of the remainder she drank herself and part she gave him to drink. The cup was poisoned mead. As she saw him drink it all up, she lifted up a shrill loud voice, and fell down and worshipped her Goddess, saying: I call thee to witness, O most reverend Divinity! that for this very day’s work’s sake I have over-lived the murder of Sinatus, no otherwise taking any comfort in this part of my life but in the hope of revenge that I have had. And now I go down to my husband. And for thee, the lewdest person among men, let thy relations prepare a sepulchre, instead of a bride-chamber and nuptials. When the Galatian heard these things, and perceived the poison to wamble up and down and indispose his body, he ascended his chariot, hoping to be relieved by the jogging and shaking. But he presently alighted, and put himself into a litter, and died that evening. Camma continued all that night, and being told that he had ended his life, she comfortably and cheerfully expired.” -Plutarch (Greek, 46 – 120 CE)


Screen Shot 2018-04-14 at 4.11.32 PM copy.jpgCalgacus

Calgacus was Chieftain of a Celtic Caledonia tribe, in modern day Scotland near the Mons Graupius mountain range. His name meant “possessing a blade” and he was born sometime in the 1st century. He is described by Tacitus as “the most distinguished for birth and velour among the chieftains”. The Caledonians were forced to fight as the Romans marched towards their main granaries and winter stores. They were faced with the choice of fighting the Romans or starving over winter. Calgacus is described as giving a rousing speech to his troops before the famous Battle of Mons Graupius in approx. 83 or 84 CE. The Caledonions were said to number in the 30,000 range and the Roman army was approx. 20,000 to 30,000 as well. Approx. 10,000 Caledonions were said to be slaughtered before the remainder fled into the woods. Tacitus claims only 360 Romans were killed. Calgacus is not mentioned by Tacitus again and for that reason, it’s assumed he escaped. The entire account of this battle has been debated by historians as possibly fictitious in order to falsely herald Julius Agricola’s victory and deeds. He was after all, Tacitus’s father in law. While Rome may have intended on going back to the area and establishing a more permanent residency, the reality is they declared the entirety of Britain for Rome but also left immediately and did not return to that part of Scotland.

“[Retelling what Calgacus said…]Whenever I consider the origin of this war and the necessities of our position, I have a sure confidence that this day, and this union of yours, will be the beginning of freedom to the whole of Britain. To all of us slavery is a thing unknown; there are no lands beyond us, and even the sea is not safe, menaced as we are by a Roman fleet. And thus in war and battle, in which the brave find glory, even the coward will find safety. Former contests, in which, with varying fortune, the Romans were resisted, still left in us a last hope of succour, inasmuch as being the most renowned nation of Britain, dwelling in the very heart of the country, and out of sight of the shores of the conquered, we could keep even our eyes unpolluted by the contagion of slavery. To us who dwell on the uttermost confines of the earth and of freedom, this remote sanctuary of Britain’s glory has up to this time been a defence. Now, however, the furthest limits of Britain are thrown open, and the unknown always passes for the marvellous. But there are no nations beyond us, nothing indeed but waves and rocks, and the yet more terrible Romans, from whose oppression escape is vainly sought by obedience and submission. Robbers of the world, having by their universal plunder exhausted the land, they rifle the deep. If the enemy be rich, they are rapacious; if he be poor, they lust for dominion; neither the east nor the west has been able to satisfy them. Alone among men they covet with equal eagerness poverty and riches. To robbery, slaughter, plunder, they give the lying name of empire; they make a solitude and call it peace. Do you suppose that the Romans will be as brave in war as they are licentious in peace? To our strifes and discords they owe their fame, and they turn the errors of an enemy to the renown of their own army, an army which, composed as it is of every variety of nations, is held together by success and will be broken up by disaster. These Gauls and Germans, and, I blush to say, these Britons, who, though they lend their lives to support a stranger’s rule, have been its enemies longer than its subjects, you cannot imagine to be bound by fidelity and affection. Fear and terror there certainly are, feeble bonds of attachment; remove them, and those who have ceased to fear will begin to hate. All the incentives to victory are on our side. Think, therefore, as you advance to battle, at once of your ancestors and of your posterity.” -Tacitus (Roman, 55 – 120 CE

For more information check out Celts and the Classical World by David Rankin!


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Isla MacKinnon

Writer and Herbalist

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A founding member of Discover Druidry, Isla is a writer, photographer and avid gardener. She wrote the Celtic Druidry Handbook: An Evidence Based Guide.

 

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