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Chapter 19: The Boadicean War

Toward the end of Paul’s third missionary journey in 57 A.D., Paul wrote a letter to the “Romans” from Corinth, anticipating a missionary journey to Rome. But he knew that the way to Rome was through Jerusalem, and this perhaps explains why he was so anxious to get to Jerusalem by Pentecost.

At some point Paul knew that he would be arrested in Jerusalem. This was confirmed by the prophet Agabus. He also knew that God would protect him, because he had not yet been sent “far hence unto the ethnos.” By this time, he knew clearly that he was called to make a trip not “far hence” to Rome, but also to Spain and to Britain. He probably wanted to visit the Church in Spain to see how they were doing after the death of their apostle James (44 A.D.). He also wanted to visit the brethren in Britain in order to see the land of Caradoc and the royal family of Claudia and Linus.

No doubt Paul intended to reach Rome within the next year (58) in order to have opportunity to meet Caradoc, whose exile would end in the following year (59). Paul had no way of knowing that a great war would break out in Britain in 60 A.D. He had no way of knowing that, had his plans gone perfectly, he could well have been in Britain during this war. But God saw to it that Paul was detained in Caesarea for two whole years. By the time he appealed to Caesar in 60 A.D., Caradoc had already returned to Britain.

In Paul’s letter to the “Romans,” he wrote “to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints” (Rom. 1:7). He was writing to the British saints in Rome, but not necessarily to Roman people. In fact, he was writing to British people who had been taken captive to Rome.

Because Paul wrote his letter prior to 59 A.D., when Caradoc returned to Britain, he greeted that great military conqueror under the Greek name of Andronicus, “conqueror of men” (Rom. 16:7). Andronicus, along with others, Paul called “my kinsmen.” They were kinsmen because Caradoc was the father of Claudia, the wife of Rufus, whose mother was also Paul's mother (Rom. 16:13). Rufus was his half-brother. Thus, Paul felt a kinship with Caradoc and his family.

But by the time Paul arrived in Rome in 61, Caradoc had already departed for Britain two years earlier. Paul remained in Rome two full years (Acts 28:30), and by the time Paul arrived in Britain in 63, the land had been torn apart by the Boadicean War. Thus, by the time Paul preached at Ludgate Hill, where St. Paul's Cathedral now stands in his honor, the scars of war and bloodshed must have been evident everywhere.

The cause of the war is given in Roman history. The territory of the Iceni tribe in Britain was rich in lead, and the mines there had made those people wealthy. When the Romans conquered that part of Britain, they immediately seized the lead mines to increase their own wealth, and this cut off one of Britain's most important sources of income. It forced the king to borrow money from Seneca, the wealthy Roman philosopher and Nero's tutor in his childhood.

Nero's legate in Britain, Aulius Didius, was then replaced by Suetonius Paulinus, who vowed to conquer more territory in Britain. He was, of course, opposed by British forces, which was considered to be a “revolt.” It was always a “revolt” when anyone resisted Rome's conquests, just as anyone outside the Roman Empire was a “barbarian.” Such is the nature of propaganda.

At about the same time of this “revolt,” the old king of Iceni tribe was about to die. The Roman historian, Tacitus, tells us about this in his Annals, XIV, x,

“Prasutages, King of the Iceni, famed for his long prosperity, had made the Emperor [Nero] his heir along with his two daughters, under the impression that this token of submission would put his kingdom and his house out of reach of wrong.”

In other words, the king gave half of his estate to Nero and the other half he divided between his two daughters. Tacitus continues,

“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 scourged, and his daughters outraged [raped]. All the chief men of the Iceni, as if Rome had received [been given] his whole country as a gift, were stript of their ancestral possessions, and the king's relatives were made slaves.”

This seizure was done under the pretext of “foreclosure” on the high-interest loan made by Seneca earlier. Obviously, though, it was a case of simple greed by the head of the Roman military, whose ambitious commander wanted to make a reputation for himself by increasing Rome's territory. Tacitus continues,

“Roused 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 Trinovantes 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 license.”

Many retired army veterans had been given land in various new Roman colonies (cities) in Britain. They decided to seize the farms and houses of the British people. This is a remarkable admission from a Roman historian, and Tacitus places the blame for this uprising fully upon the veterans and Roman soldiers.

The uprising virtually destroyed Rome’s Ninth Legion, along with Roman colonies and one of their prominent temples “erected to the Divine Claudius.” Tacitus tells us,

“About seventy thousand citizens and allies, it appeared, fell in the places which I have mentioned. About 40,000 of them were from London alone” (Londinium).

Meanwhile, Queen Boadicea went from tribe to tribe, inciting the people to join in the revolt. Tacitus gives an example of her speech:

“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 not our very persons, nor even age or virginity, are left unpolluted. But heaven is on the side of a righteous vengeance, a legion which dared to fight has perished; the rest are hiding themselves in their camp, or are thinking anxiously of flight.”

Isabel Hill Elder's book, Celt, Druid, and Culdee, p. 41, quotes Dion Cassius, who gives us more of the Queen’s appeal:

“. . . I implore your aid for freedom, for victory over enemies infamous for the wantonness of the wrongs they inflict, for their perversion of justice, for their insatiable greed; a people that revel in unmanly pleasures, whose affections are more to be dreaded and abhorred than their enmity. Never let a foreigner bear rule over me or over my countrymen; never let slavery reign in this island.”

She immediately found herself leading a huge army of outraged Britons, and Rome lost battle after battle. Suetonius mentions the Boadicean War, speaking of “a disaster in Britain, where two important towns were sacked” (Nero, XXXIX). Later, he says,

“Inclining rather to this last hope, after losing Armenia and Britain and recovering both . . . .” (Nero, XI).

This tells us that Rome had actually “lost” Britain for a while in the Boadicean War and underscores the seriousness of that situation.

In the end, however, the British forces were defeated, and Boadicea appears to have been poisoned in Flintshire (according to Tacitus). The war then continued on a smaller scale, led by Arviragus, Venusius, and Gwallog.

Arviragus had been continuing the resistance ever since his cousin Caradoc had been captured and brought to Rome in 52 A.D. Even after Caradoc returned to Britain just before the outbreak of this latest war, he did not take up arms against Rome, but left this to his cousin, Arviragus.

After the dust had settled, Suetonius Paulinus resigned his post in 61 A.D. and was replaced by Petronius Turpilianus.

Meanwhile, far to the east, Paul was appealing to Rome to avoid being sent to Jerusalem for judgment. The ship left in September or October of 60 A.D. shortly after the Day of Atonement. And so Paul had been detained in Caesarea while the Boadicean War raged in Britain.