non sibi sed toti

Classics Teaching Resources

Roman Britain - Invasion

We who live in England use roads the Romans made.
Pots and coins may surface beneath our garden spade.
Excavate a car-park and find a Roman town;
What they left remains here, not many inches down.
But the hopes, ambitions, loves and hates and fears,
Are they lost for ever, down the fading years?
Where we lesser mortals find them past our reach,
Poets have imagined, given those spirits speech.

David Parsons, May 2004

On other pages:

Hadrian's Wall
Now and Then
On this page:

Boadicea, an Ode by William Cowper
Boadicea by Alfred Lord Tennyson
Boadicea by Steve McDonald

Boadicea: An Ode

by William Cowper (1731–1800)

WHEN the British warrior queen,	
  Bleeding from the Roman rods,	
Sought, with an indignant mien,	
  Counsel of her country’s gods,	
Sage beneath a spreading oak	        5
  Sat the Druid, hoary chief;	
Every burning word he spoke	
  Full of rage, and full of grief.	
‘Princess! if our aged eyes	
  Weep upon thy matchless wrongs,	10
’Tis because resentment ties	
  All the terrors of our tongues.	
‘Rome shall perish—write that word	
  In the blood that she has spilt;	
Perish, hopeless and abhorred,	        15
  Deep in ruin as in guilt.	
‘Rome, for empire far renowned,	
  Tramples on a thousand states;	
Soon her pride shall kiss the ground—	
  Hark! the Gaul is at her gates!	20
‘Other Romans shall arise,	
  Heedless of a soldier’s name;	
Sounds, not arms, shall win the prize—	
  Harmony the path to fame.	
‘Then the progeny that springs	        25
  From the forests of our land,	
Armed with thunder, clad with wings,	
  Shall a wider world command.	
‘Regions Cæsar never knew	
  Thy posterity shall sway,	        30
Where his eagles never flew,	
  None invincible as they.’	
Such the bard’s prophetic words,	
  Pregnant with celestial fire,	
Bending, as he swept the chords	        35
  Of his sweet but awful lyre.	
She, with all a monarch’s pride,	
  Felt them in her bosom glow;	
Rushed to battle, fought, and died;	
  Dying, hurled them at the foe.	40
‘Ruffians, pitiless as proud,	
  Heaven awards the vengeance due:	
Empire is on us bestowed,	
  Shame and ruin wait for you.’


  	While about the shore of Mona those Neronian legionaries
Burnt and broke the grove and altar of the Druid and Druidess,
Far in the East Boadicea, standing loftily charioted,
Mad and maddening all that heard her in her fierce volubility,
Girt by half the tribes of Britain, near the colony Camulodune,
Yell'd and shriek'd between her daughters o'er a wild confederacy.

`They that scorn the tribes and call us Britain's barbarous populaces,
Did they hear me, would they listen, did they pity me supplicating?
Shall I heed them in their anguish? shall I brook to be supplicated?
Hear Icenian, Catieuchlanian, hear Coritanian, Trinobant!
Must their ever-ravening eagle's beak and talon annihilate us?
Tear the noble hear of Britain, leave it gorily quivering?
Bark an answer, Britain's raven! bark and blacken innumerable,
Blacken round the Roman carrion, make the carcase a skeleton,
Kite and kestrel, wolf and wolfkin, from the wilderness, wallow in it,
Till the face of Bel be brighten'd, Taranis be propitiated.
Lo their colony half-defended! lo their colony, Camulodune!
There the horde of Roman robbers mock at a barbarous adversary.
There the hive of Roman liars worship a gluttonous emperor-idiot.
Such is Rome, and this her deity: hear it, Spirit of Cassivelaun!

`Hear it, Gods! the Gods have heard it, O Icenian, O Coritanian!
Doubt not ye the Gods have answer'd, Catieuchlanian, Trinobant.
These have told us all their anger in miraculous utterances,
Thunder, a flying fire in heaven, a murmur heard aerially,
Phantom sound of blows descending, moan of an enemy massacred,
Phantom wail of women and children, multitudinous agonies.
Bloodily flow'd the Tamesa rolling phantom bodies of horses and men;
Then a phantom colony smoulder'd on the refluent estuary;
Lastly yonder yester-even, suddenly giddily tottering--
There was one who watch'd and told me--down their statue of Victory fell.
Lo their precious Roman bantling, lo the colony Camulodune,
Shall we teach it a Roman lesson? shall we care to be pitiful?
Shall we deal with it as an infant? shall we dandle it amorously?

`Hear Icenian, Catieuchlanian, hear Coritanian, Trinobant!
While I roved about the forest, long and bitterly meditating,
There I heard them in the darkness, at the mystical ceremony,
Loosely robed in flying raiment, sang the terrible prophetesses.
"Fear not, isle of blowing woodland, isle of silvery parapets!
Tho' the Roman eagle shadow thee, tho' the gathering enemy narrow thee,
Thou shalt wax and he shall dwindle, thou shalt be the mighty one yet!
Thine the liberty, thine the glory, thine the deeds to be celebrated,
Thine the myriad-rolling ocean, light and shadow illimitable,
Thine the lands of lasting summer, many-blossoming Paradises,
Thine the North and thine the South and thine the battle-thunder of God."
So they chanted: how shall Britain light upon auguries happier?
So they chanted in the darkness, and there cometh a victory now.

Hear Icenian, Catieuchlanian, hear Coritanian, Trinobant!
Me the wife of rich Prasutagus, me the lover of liberty,
Me they seized and me they tortured, me they lash'd and humiliated,
Me the sport of ribald Veterans, mine of ruffian violators!
See they sit, they hide their faces, miserable in ignominy!
Wherefore in me burns an anger, not by blood to be satiated.
Lo the palaces and the temple, lo the colony Camulodune!
There they ruled, and thence they wasted all the flourishing territory,
Thither at their will they haled the yellow-ringleted Britoness--
Bloodily, bloodily fall the battle-axe, unexhausted, inexorable.
Shout Icenian, Catieuchlanian, shout Coritanian, Trinobant,
Till the victim hear within and yearn to hurry precipitously
Like the leaf in a roaring whirlwind, like the smoke in a hurricane whirl'd.
Lo the colony, there they rioted in the city of Cunobeline!
There they drank in cups of emerald, there at tables of ebony lay,
Rolling on their purple couches in their tender effeminacy.
There they dwelt and there they rioted; there--there--they dwell no more.
Burst the gates, and burn the palaces, break the works of the statuary,
Take the hoary Roman head and shatter it, hold it abominable,
Cut the Roman boy to pieces in his lust and voluptuousness,
Lash the maiden into swooning, me they lash'd and humiliated,
Chop the breasts from off the mother, dash the brains of the little one out,
Up my Britons, on my chariot, on my chargers, trample them under us.'

So the Queen Boadicea, standing loftily charioted,
Brandishing in her hand a dart and rolling glances lioness-like,
Yell'd and shriek'd between her daughters in her fierce volubility.
Till her people all around the royal chariot agitated,
Madly dash'd the darts together, writhing barbarous lineaments,
Made the noise of frosty woodlands, when they shiver in January,
Roar'd as when the rolling breakers boom and blanch on the precipices,
Yell'd as when the winds of winter tear an oak on a promontory.
So the silent colony hearing her tumultuous adversaries
Clash the darts and on the buckler beat with rapid unanimous hand,
Thought on all her evil tyrannies, all her pitiless avarice,
Till she felt the heart within her fall and flutter tremulously,
Then her pulses at the clamoring of her enemy fainted away.
Out of evil evil flourishes, out of tyranny tyranny buds.
Ran the land with Roman slaughter, multitudinous agonies.
Perish'd many a maid and matron, many a valorous legionary.
Fell the colony, city, and citadel, London, Verulam, Camulodune.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Song lyrics by Steve McDonald


Boadicea, Boadicea, Boadicea,
Boadicea, Boadicea, Boadicea

Deep in the night, in a quiet place
I hear her voice, I see her face
All in a dream
She was the Warrior Queen.

Brought to war,
by the pain of her daughters
She vowed revenge,
and promised to slaughter
The enemy there
It was an honor affair.

Fight the foe, fight the foe
Sang the Warrior Queen
The lion looks proud...
in the shade of the tree
But the lioness hunts down the prey
The victor is she.

Boadicea, Boadicea

Across the land, her chariot sped
Burning London 20,000 dead
Feared and serene
The Iceni Queen

Though soon she would falter
Suetonius would reign
Forgotten victories are all that remain
Her voice they can hear
An echo from yesteryear.

Fight the foe, fight the foe
Sang the Warrior Queen
The lion looks proud...
in the shade of the tree
But the lioness hunts down the prey
The victor is she.

Across the land, her chariot sped
Burning London 20,000 dead
Feared and serene
The Iceni Queen

Though soon she would falter
Suetonius would reign
Forgotten victories are all that remain
Her voice they still hear
An echo from yesteryear.


Boadicea, Boadicea, Boadicea, Boadicea
The warrior queen
The warrior queen
The warrior queen
Boadicea, Boadicea
The warrior queen
Boadicea, Boadicea
The warrior queen

Deep in the night, She took her own life
Blessed with a smile and a tear
Though she had severed their dearest veins
None would ever forget, Boadicea. 


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