Monday, April 21, 2008

Two Roman revolts

It is a surprising and little known fact that both the Britons and the Jews revolted against the Roman Empire at roughly the same time.

The Britons went first: in 60 CE Boudica (also spelled Boudicca, formerly better known as Boadicea) who was a queen of the Iceni people of Norfolk in Eastern Britain, led an uprising of the Celtic tribes against the occupying forces of the Roman Empire. Her husband, had left his kingdom to his daughters in his will, but the Romans did not recognise daughters as heirs. The kingdom was annexed as if conquered, Boudica was flogged and her daughters raped. While the Roman governor, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, was leading a campaign in north Wales, Boudica led the Iceni, along with the Trinovantes and others, in revolt. They destroyed Camulodunum (Colchester), the site of a temple to the former emperor Claudius, and routed a Roman legion sent to relieve the settlement. On hearing the news of the revolt, Suetonius hurried to Londinium (London), the twenty-year-old (!) administrative capital which was the rebels' next target, but concluding he did not have the numbers to defend it, evacuated and abandoned it. It was burnt to the ground, as was Verulamium (St. Albans) to the north. An estimated 70,000-80,000 people were killed in the three cities. Suetonius, meanwhile, regrouped his forces in the West Midlands, and despite being heavily outnumbered, defeated Boudica in the Battle of Watling Street. Suetonius' eventual victory over Boudica secured Roman control of the province. The history of these events were recorded by Tacitus and Cassius Dio, and were rediscovered during the Renaissance. Boudica has since remained an important cultural symbol in the United Kingdom.
The first Roman-Jewish War, sometimes called "The Great Revolt," was the first of three major rebellions by the Jews of the Province of Judaea against the Roman Empire that started in in the year 66 CE. It stemmed from long-simmering religious tensions between the Greek Romans and the Jews. It ended after a campaign described by Josephus in "The Jewish Wars," when legions under Titus besieged and destroyed Jerusalem, looted and burned Herod's Temple (in the year 70 CE) and Jewish strongholds (notably Gamla in 67 and Masada in 73), and enslaved or massacred a large part of the Jewish population. The defeat of the Jewish revolts by the Roman Empire contributed substantially to the numbers and geography of the Jewish diaspora, as many Jews were scattered or sold into slavery after losing their state.

The results of these two revolts, although superficially similar in that they lead to the defeat of the revolting peoples, Britons and Jews, by Roman forces, had entirely different ends. Since Britain was an island, the Britons were trapped by the Roman forces and many were massacred. The indigenous Celtic Britons then intermixed with the Roman conquerors and largely lost their culture and language. The Romans withdrew from Britain in 410 CE and Britain was later invaded by Angle and Saxon tribes (from ca. 500 CE) and the Romanized Celts were pushed to the periphery of Britain, becoming the Welsh, Irish and Scottish. Britain was then again invaded by the Vikings and the Normans (1066 CE), and so became a people of mixed Celtic, Roman, German, Norse and French origin and culture. By contrast, the Jews although dispersed and persecuted, managed to maintain their original religion, culture and identity. Meanwhile the peoples surrounding them converted to Christianity and Islam, heretical forms of their own religion, but it did not help them.


Post a Comment

<< Home