If you squeeze London’s poor too much they will riot: ask Decianus Catus!

If you dig deep enough anywhere around the City of London and Southwark on the South Bank, you will after, a while, come across a thin blackened layer of earth. The colour of the layer, a little like the rings of a tree, is testament to the age of the earth, and to a period in the early history of London. The blackened layer is what remains of a manmade conflagration, a response to greed and exploitation, that all but destroyed London in the first century AD. According to David Nash Ford in 60AD London, then a Roman city was burned to the ground by the forces of Queen Boudicca of the Iceni Tribe, which was based in Norfolk.

The fury of Boudicca and her army was said to be a response to the greed, exploitation and violence that the Roman rulers were subjecting the people of Norfolk to. According to Mike Ibeji Boudicca and the Iceni had embraced Roman rule up until 60AD, part of which required the Iceni to open up their trade and market to the influence of Roman investors, who were able to offer loans to the Iceni. According to Ibeji, “Vast loans were granted at ruinous rates of interest”. Around about 60AD Prasutagus, king of the Iceni died, and in his will he left half his kingdom to emperor Nero, hoping in this way to secure the other half for his wife, Boudicca. However, according to Mike Ibeji, “the imperial procurator, Decianus Catus, was aware that Nero viewed a half-share of an estate as a personal snub, and moved to sequester the lot. At the same time, he sent in the bailiffs to act on the loans outstanding and allowed the local centurions to requisition provisions for the army. When the royal family resisted these moves, Boudicca was flogged and her daughters were raped”.

According to Mike Ibeji, “There could be only one consequence. The humiliated Iceni rose up in revolt, joined by other East Anglian tribes who had similar grievances.” When Boudica’s army reached London they were able to take advantage of the fact that most of the Roman troops based there were in North Wales fighting against Druids. With just 200 men to defend him, Decianus Catus fled to Gaul at their approach. Suetonius Paulinus the governor of London and head of the troops was said to have returned to London, only to find that Boudicca’s army was too large for them to possibly take on and defeat. The only option was to evacuate the city. According to David Nash Ford, not everyone was able to escape and many of those who could not were subsequently massacred. According to Mike Ibeji, “the black earth of the destruction layer and mutilated tombstones attest to the ferocity of the British assault”.

Apparently Suetonius Paulinus eventually went to battle with and defeated Boudicca and the Iceni, however, “the punitive expedition into Iceni territory was halted when it was feared that further reprisals would harm future imperial revenues”.

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