Three Legendary Celtic Rulers
Although now over 2000 years of history lie between their lives and ours, the Celtic rulers of pre-Roman Britain and Gaul are still hugely fascinating to many people in the modern day. Their incredible tenacity and courage in the face of an overwhelmingly technologically superior foreign empire is inspiring. However, they ultimately create a melancholy story as they were all eventually defeated by the Roman Legions. These are just three of the most well-documented Celtic rulers, who fought the Romans across the British Isles and France – from the sandy beaches of Kent and Normandy to the wild fells and dales of ancient Yorkshire.
A leader of the Catuvellauni tribe in Southern Britain before the very first Roman incursions into the Isles in AD 43, Caratacus at first fought a successful guerrilla war campaign against Emperor Claudius’ centurions. However, he was defeated in pitched battle near Medway in Kent that same year. Afterwards, he and his surviving forces retreated to Wales but in 51 AD he was again defeated by the Romans. This time he fled to modern Yorkshire where he was captured by Queen Cartimandua of the Brigants and delivered to the Romans in chains.
Caratacus was eventually taken to Rome as prisoner of war. Originally due to be executed, he gave an impassioned speech that so impressed Claudius he was set free to live out his remaining days in glorious Rome.
With a name straight out of an Asterix and Obelix novella, and a suitably Celtic-named father called Celtiluss, Vercingetorix is a legendary figure who remains a folk hero of central France to this day. He led what was possibly the most successful Celtic rebellion against Roman rule across the European continent. His biggest achievement was uniting the warring tribes of Gaul and crushing Caesar’s forces at the Battle of Gergovia, near modern day La Roche-Blanche.
This defeat caused the Roman legion to temporary withdraw from Gaul – although Caesar personally led the forces that returned and captured Vercingetorix less than a year later. Supposedly the Celtic leader dramatically stripped himself of his armour and fell to the ground before the victorious Roman, although accounts do vary on that. Nevertheless, the legend of Vercingetorix is a long-lasting one and he can be seen in many statues throughout France to this day.
Boudica is one of the most famous Celtic warrior queens, with her story of (admittedly bloody) rebellion against tremendous odds resonating through the thousands of years since. In fact, you can still see a giant statue of her near Buckingham Palace in London today. After her husband, King Prasutagus, accepted Roman rule in return for part-control of his kingdoms and was violently betrayed upon his death, Boudica mounted what would be the last major Celtic rebellion against Roman rule in Britain for over 400 years.
Rampaging down from their home countries, in what is now Norfolk, Boudica’s Iceni tribe burned the cities of Camulodunum (Colchester) and Londinium to the ground – killing an estimated 60,000 or more Roman soldiers and civilians. Eventually though, her forces were catastrophically defeated at an unknown location somewhere between modern North London and Shropshire. Boudica poisoned herself rather than be captured, and her name has gone down in history ever since.