Home History THE BECOMING OF BADASS WOMEN

THE BECOMING OF BADASS WOMEN

From Freedom Fighters to Female Firsts, Explore The Stories of 20 Women Who Changed History.

The following are the first two chapters from the book “The Becoming of Badass Women”

Chapter One
Boudica
25 AD – 61 AD

Celtic Warrior Queen

The Romans tried several times to conquer the land that we call England. But it wasn’t until 43 AD that they were successful. Many of the tribes entered into a treatise with the invaders to save their lands and people. It was to one of these chieftains that Boudica would end up marrying. Boudica, the warrior Queen, would take on the Romans’ injustices and would lead her Iceni tribe and many others into a rebellion that though unsuccessful, would have her becoming one of the most legendary women warriors of all time.

The Becoming of Boudica the Celtic Queen That Stood up to the Romans

The young Boudica had just seen her eighteenth year when the Romans were finally able to take the continent. Julius Caesar had attempted the feat but failed, and many other attempts were made to conquer the Celtic and Briton tribes that inhabited the island. In 43 AD Claudius’ forces landed near Kent. The battles were gruesome, and in the end, Boudica’s tribe and her soon-to-be husband’s tribe, the Iceni, surrendered the Romans. In total, eleven of Britain’s kings gave up, which would significantly impact young Boudica’s life.

The accomplishment of taking Britain was so significant that the Emperor himself made his way to Britain to accept the king’s surrender. Boudica watched as Claudius rode into Colchester (Camulodunum) flanked by the Senate and massive war elephants. With that, the tribes of the nation no longer had the power they used to. Unfortunately for Boudica and her respected family, that meant them too.

That same year, Boudica, a tall, imposing beauty, made her way to Venta Icenorum, where her family had arranged a union with the king of the Iceni, Prasutagus. For the next fifteen years, she lived peaceably amongst her new tribe. She and Prasutagus stayed in good standing with the Roman forces and governors. While times were quiet and relatively peaceful, they had two daughters. Boudica watched as her husband toiled over the fact that he had no male heirs. She knew this meant that if he passed, there could be trouble with the Romans, and though she disagreed with the choice, she supported her husband when he named the Roman Emperor Nero as co-heir along with their daughters. This maneuver would be the cause of many pain and blood-filled days for Boudica, her daughters, and the tribes of Briton in the future.

The Beginnings of a Rebellion

Though the Celtic and Briton tribes were not happy with the Romans’ occupation for a reasonable amount of time, they lived in relative peace. In 54 AD, though, things for Boudica and her people were about to get a significant upheaval. In Rome, Claudius had been poisoned and died, and his successor, Nero, took the seat.

Rumors spread through Rome of the suspicious death, and Nero, trying to shift his people’s focus, ordered a temple to the newly appointed god Claudius to be built in Britain. This temple was set to be built in Camulodunum. With the erection of this temple, the belittled tribal chiefs were forced to bow at the man’s feet who occupied their lands. Rome was not to foot the bill though. Nero had decreed he was calling in all the loans his uncle had leaned out, and it just so happened that Prasutagus had taken some of those loans.

The man in charge, Lucius Seneca, used any means necessary to collect, and this included force. Boudica felt this was a major insult and, for Boudica, was the beginning of the stirrings of a rebellion.

Boudica and her tribe withstood the insult, but more was coming in 58 AD, when a new governor came to power. Caius Suetonius Paulinus was a wholly different breed from the previous governor, and he wanted to leave a mark. He had heard of the Celt’s practice of human sacrifice and their holy order known as druids. He intended to make a statement, so the minute he took power, he began a military campaign through Wales. Just three years later, in 61 AD, he reached the sacred druid island of Mona. The Romans paused as the druid gathered on the shore but only for a minute, and then the Romans attacked without mercy, burning the druids alive and eventually cutting the sacred groves of the island down. For Boudica, this was an insult she could not forgive, but she was about to go through a lot of personal tragedy, which would be the final straw.

Prasutagus fell sick and died, leaving Boudica alone and at the mercy of the Romans.

Unfortunately, the king’s maneuver of appointing Nero as co-heir was negated by Celtic traditions; he could not designate his heir through a will. On the other hand, he was a client king, and once he died, all his property became the property of Rome according to their laws. So when the news of Boudica’s husband passing, the Romans acted quickly to reclaim what was theirs. The Roman procurator entered the Iceni court and, without addressing Boudica, began to take inventory of what he deemed Rome’s property. He then began to let his soldiers plunder the entire town, and even his slaves were permitted to rape the woman without a second thought.

Boudica, tired of the indignity, stood up and stood her ground. But when she did this, the procurator ordered his soldiers to restrain her. For her insolence, he ordered her flogged in front of her people. But perhaps worse than that to Boudica, he ordered his slaves to rape her daughter. When the Romans were done, they left the town and, unbeknownst to them, a woman who would look for revenge for the remainder of her life.

Boudica called her tribe to arms. For though Rome had banned the tribes from having weapons, they had a stockpile, and with this last indignation, Boudica and her daughters were ready to use them. And use them they did as one Roman city fell after the other tension came to a head, and it could only end one way.

Boudica’s Rebellion Comes to Bitter End

The two armies prepared themselves for a bloody clash. Boudica and Suetonius lined up on the respective parts of the field. Suetonius had chosen an advantageous location with a tree line to his back, so he only had one front to protect for the marauding Celts lead by the warrior queen Boudica. Suetonius troops looked out across the field to a mass of warriors that outnumbered them by many. The Roman governor rode up and down in front of his men delivering his rally speech. “These barbarians may be many, but there are more women in their ranks, and these savages are poorly armed! They don’t have the training or prowess of you.” He said this as he looked his men in the eye.

Across the field, Boudica’s warriors, consisting of many tribes, had assembled. In her chariot, along with her daughters, Boudica rode up and down in front of her troops as well. Delivering a speech that would sound a lot like the words that Suetonius was telling his men. However, Boudica talked about the disrespect and evil that the Romans had brought with them. Boudica’s men and women clanged their weapons and let out screams ad taunts at the army across the field. Boudica motioned for her warriors to attack, and the battle was on. The more trained Roman soldiers, though, had something that the Celts didn’t—patience. Instead of charging the moment that their enemies started to, a portion of Suetonius’ forces lay in wait in alleys until Boudica and her warriors came into range and then began with a salvo of javelins.

It seemed that the Roman soldier’s weapons were all designed to work in this battle better than the Boudica’s troops. The Romans used a short sword which was perfect for stabbing in close-quarter combat. On the other hand, Boudica’s warriors used long blades, which were better for slashing. As the battle raged on, the Romans used their lighter chariots for better coverage of their flanks. Due to their weapons and vehicles, the Romans had a tactical advantage. This advantage quickly led Boudica to realize that the battle was lost. Those of her mean and women that still stood fled the fields. With this, Boudica’s rebellion had so passionately instigated came to an end, and Rome would control the island for almost four hundred more years.

Fascinating Facts That You Might Not Know About Boudica

How did Boudica gain power?

Boudica was the queen that sat alongside the puppet King Prasutagus. So in 60 AD, when he died and had no male heir, she took control of the reins of the tribe even after being treated horrendously by the Roman governor at the time.

What started the conflict between the Iceni and the Romans?

The Iceni and the Romans’ actual conflict began with the Iceni Kings naming of Emperor Nero and his daughters as co-heirs should the king die. This decision was meant to help keep the Iceni kingdom and his family safe from attack if anything happened to him.

What did Suetonius, the Roman governor, do to Boudica and her daughters after the king’s death?

After the king’s death, the governor allowed his Roman soldiers to run amuck. He called for Boudica, and her daughters to be removed from their house. Boudica was flogged in public while roman slaves raped her daughters. This abuse was not just done to Boudica and her tribe but also to many other villages and their chieftains families. This, of course, led to an uprising amongst the tribes, including the Iceni and Trinovantes.

What other cities did Boudica lead to victory?

Because of the ferocity of the attacks from the Briton army led by Boudica when their forces approached cities like Londinium and Verulamium, the troops inside fled, leaving these two significant cities free to be sacked and burned. Boudicca and her forces left nothing unturned, including the Roman cemeteries and iconology they had left behind.

Who were the two Roman scholars who captured Boudica’s history?

The story of Boudica would have been lost to time if it hadn’t been for the writings of Roman historians Tacitus and Cassius Dio. One of the chief texts that tell the tales of this badass woman warrior and chieftains was found in Tacitus’ “Annals of Rome.”

Approximately how many Romans fell to the weapons of Boudica’s tribe?

There is no way to tell for sure, but the Roman historian, Tacitus’s recollections, places Boudica’s death toll at around seventy thousand Romans and fellow Britons who collaborated with them.

What was the first city Boudica attacked? And why?

Boudica raged with intense hatred and a desire to drive this curse from her land. Clad in a tunic, cloak, and a chieftains torque, she gathered her tribe, and with the aid of members of the tribe she had been born into, the Trinovantes, the first target was chosen. The sacrilegious construction being dedicated to Claudius in Camulodunum seemed like an excellent place to start. Boudica and her daughters marched their tribe toward the city.

What did the Celts in the city do to help Boudica with her victory?

Boudica got her warriors in place while the rebels inside the city created an atmosphere of superstition within the city walls. Things like the victory statue tumbling and nightly yells and shrieks that seemed to come from nowhere. This subterfuge unnerved the Roman residents enough that many of them complained in the senate about the foreboding end that was upon them.

What legion made their way to Camulodunum? Why didn’t they ever arrive?

When word of the battle of Camulodunum was received, the 9th Legion set out to squelch Boudica’s rebellion, but they never made it. Boudica had anticipated this move and had ordered a portion of her fighting force to lay in wait and ambush any reinforcements that might show up. They were able to do that and eliminate most of the infantry of the legion. The cavalry and the general leading the legion would escape to a camp and Lindum.

How did Boudica die?

Boudica lived a tragic and rough life. She survived the battle and knew the Romans would come for her. She would not give the Romans the pleasure of taking her hostage. The exact date is not known, but in 60 or 61 AD, in her final act, Boudica poisoned herself. That is according to Tacitus. If you read the annals of Cassius Dio, she fell ill and passed away.

Chapter Two
Zenobia
240 AD – 274 AD (approximately)

Palmyrene Queen

Born to a high-standing family in modern-day Syria, Zenobia would marry into a position of power and eventually, through murder and intrigue, find herself on the throne of one of the world’s most integral regions. The young queen would go down in history as a warrior queen who stood up to Rome when very few dared.

The Becoming of Zenobia the Warrior Queen of the Palmyrene Empire

The world, or rather the Roman Empire, was in constant upheaval in the 3rd century. This tumultuous world was the one that Zenobia was born into and would shape her life. By the time this crisis reached its height, the empire would split into three parts—the Gallic Empire, the Roman Empire, and the Palmyrene Empire.

The latter being the home of young Zenobia. Julia Aurelia Zenobia was born in Palmyra (in modern-day Syria), which was at this time was a province of the Empire and had been since early in the 2nd century. At the time, young Zenobia was a Roman citizen, and her family was well respected. Being from this well-respected family with a well-known lineage Zenobia had a carefree life. She spent her days being educated in the languages and works of literature from the great thinkers.

This education helped make her a well-rounded young woman who, unlike many of her contemporaries, could bridge the gap between a woman’s duties and that of an independent woman. Even with this stalwart persona, she still had responsibilities to do as a woman, and one of these was to marry. In 258 AD, she would fulfill this duty by marrying Lucius Septimus Odaenthus, who was soon to become the Eastern Roman Empire’s governor. In the end, this fortuitous marriage would bring Zenobia into power and cement her legend in history.

Coming to Power

Zenobia and her husband enjoyed a prominent place in the Roman city of Palmyra. After all, they lived none of the most critical parts of the empire as the province of Palmyra bordered the Persian Empire. The town was also an essential stop on the Silk Road, which cut through the Persian Empire. This fact means that the empire had many issues with the Persians interrupting the flow of goods from the east. In 260 AD, the Roman emperor decided that he had had enough of this interference and gathered his troops to assault the Sassanids (Persians). This battle led to a crushing defeat for the Emperor. But Odaenathus saw this defeat as a way to elevate his place in the Emperor’s eyes. So he left his wife and took his troops into battle.

Odaenathus had made a calculated decision that could have backfired, but he and his troops were successful in their campaign, and this shone a bright light on both him and his wife. With his victory, he had earned a new rank and title, Roman governor of the Eastern Roman Empire. This title allowed him and his ambitious wife a lot of anonymity, given that Palmyra was so far from the heart of the empire. Soon, the two styled themselves as the king and queen of Palmyra while still governing the province within the Roman empire’s laws’ confines. But the reign of Odaenathus wasn’t to last long! Just seven years after his rise to power, Zenobia would lose her husband to ambition. The “king,” his firstborn son, and nephew had gone on a hunting trip, which had gone well, and as they wrapped up the trip, Maeonius (the nephew) killed both his uncle and cousin.

He had hoped this would leave the seat open for him to take over, but he had forgotten one thing—there was another son. Zenobia had given birth to Odaenathus’ second son, Vaballathus, two years earlier. The seat went to him, but because he was only two, the power fell into Zenobia’s hands.

Zenobia took the job very seriously, and with her education, she managed the governing with ease. She opted to toe the line for a while so that Rome had no issues and no question to her power. Choosing to do this meant she had to follow her dearly departed husband’s policies and worked to increase and further the empire’s interests. Even though the Imperial crisis had been going on her whole life, it was at this time when it reached its peak. The young Queen felt the empire was crumbling; this left an opening for her ambitions and empire to grow. Gradually she began to change policies within the Palmyrene province. Eventually, she knew the time had come; the Roman emperor was occupied with more significant concerns, and the field was open for her to begin taking land for her own.

Zenobia knew that before she could do this, she would need to build her own military up. With the guidance of her general, Zabadas, she did just that. In 270 AD, her army had reached its pinnacle and was primed for her expansion campaign. Her first target was the mighty Egyptian lands to her southwest. She began by sending her army in the guise of helping the Roman governor Claudius II Gothicus with an uprising that had started by a Syrian-Egyptian rebel known as Timagenes. Zenobia knew that annexing Egypt in this fashion could be explained away if Rome noticed her move by protecting the empire’s resources. Her mighty victory in Egypt brought many other neighbors in the east to the bargaining table. Soon she would also be ruling over the Levant (some of the countries that this area included were modern-day Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan) and parts of Asia Minor. Over the next two years, Zenobia found herself in an ever-growing Palmyrene empire that included lands from Persia down into Egypt as well as most of modern-day Turkey.

Zenobia’s End

It seemed to Zenobia that her path was left unchecked as the string of emperors had enough on their plates to worry about, then her little corner of the Empire. So she continued her conquest, growing her empire more and more every day. The new emperor Aurelian took charge of the other unruly parts of the empire and reclaimed them one by one. He had not turned a blind eye to what was happening in Zenobia’s region of the world but preferred to tackle the Goths and vandals first. Now that that task had been completed, he was ready to take on the warrior queen of Palmyra. The warrior emperor did his due duty and sent emissaries to the court of Zenobia to make her aware of his intent and ensure her intentions. Aurelian didn’t wait, though, for any reply known that his adversary would not send any answer to his inquiries.

Aurelian, fueled with the victories he had, ushered his troops over the border and into Asia Minor. As he went on his way to get with Zenobia’s troops, he took each city by force, that is until he reached Tyana. This city was home to a man Aurelian greatly admired, and he paused outsides its borders to admire Apollonius, the famed philosopher’s home. He and his troops rested there for a night, and during that night, he had a prophetic dream where the great philosopher told him to spare the city. Instead of laying waste to it, the Roman emperor let the city surrender to him, and no blood was shed. This benevolent act showed the other cities in his path that the better option for them would be to follow suit. The cities surrendered to his will, which left his path clear all the way to where he knew the two mighty armies would clash: the city of Daphne.

Fully aware of the army headed her way, Zenobia prepared herself to stand her ground and fight for her empire. Knowing that it would be much better to fight for the capital city of Palmyra, Zenobia took her troops and prepared for battle outside of Daphne. Her general felt confident that they had a tactical advantage. Zabadas deployed his cavalry and infantry troops strategically to give them the most advantage when the battle started. After a long march, Aurelian arrived on the battlefield and seemingly set himself up defensively. Zenobia and her general were pleased, and with the nod of his queen, Zabdas signaled for the battle to begin. He sent the cavalry in first, and with the first sign of movement, Aurelian signaled his troops into action as well.

But what Zabdas and Zenobia didn’t know was that this was all a ploy and one that would work very well. Aurelian’s troops waited until the two armies were just about to clash and then turned, feigning a retreat. Feeling that her forces were going to be victorious, the queen and her general ordered the troops to continue the chase. But at the last moment, Aurelian’s troops turned again and drove mercilessly through the Palmyrian troops.

Aurelian seemed to have turned the supposed advantage that Zenobia and Zabdas were so sure of, against them. The battle was a decisive victory for the Roman forces. Zenobia and Zabdas pulled their troops and retreated to Emessa. The warrior queen and her men lost once again, and she fled back to the capital before the invading Romans could capture her.

Zenobia knew that she and her son would not be safe staying in the city she had ruled from and called her home her entire life. She quickly packed everything she needed and abandoned the city. Aurelian wanted her taken alive. He rode as fast as he could to Palmyra, but when he entered the palace, he found it empty. Zenobia had fled and was nowhere to be found. Zenobia mounted with her son on a camel and began a long, arduous ride across the lands towards Persia. But she was not to reach the safety of that empire where she planned to suggest an alliance.

When Aurelian found the palace empty, he sent out his cavalry in every direction with the order to bring Zenobia and her child back to him to face her punishment.

The once mighty Queen of the Palmyrene Empire was taken trying to cross the Euphrates and brought back to Aurelian and eventually taken back to Rome as a prisoner.

The tale from here differs on her exact punishment or how the rest of her life played out. No matter how it ended, her ability, in a time where women had very little power, to build an empire under the nose of the Roman Empire was enough to make her a badass woman in history that everyone should know.

Fascinating Facts That You Might Not Know About Zenobia

Why was Palmyra so crucial to the Roman Empire?

The central city in the Roman province, Palmyra, was an incredibly prosperous area as it sat at a critical juncture on the Silk Road from the east. This city was one of the many toll cities that merchants had to stop at and pay their Roman taxes. It was also a city and region that bordered the Sassanid kingdom and was vital in fending off Persians’ attacks on the Roman Empire.

How did Zenobia gain power?

Zenobia’s husband had some success in the campaign against the Persian Empire, but some had their eye on his position, including members of his own family. In 267 AD, in an attempted coup, Odaenathus and his eldest son Hairan were assassinated by Maeonius, his nephew or cousin, after a hunting trip. The attempt to take control of the region by Maeonius failed as Vaballathus was named heir. The child was only two at the time, so Zenobia took control.

What Roman emperor marched on Zenobia to regain the province?

During the first part of her moves to expand her empire, Zenobia went primarily unnoticed. In 270 AD, though, a new ruler took charge of the kingdom and began reclaiming the Roman empire’s wayward regions that had separated from the empire during the third-century crisis. Aurelian took over after his brother was killed, and once he had finished with the Vandals, Goths, and Alemanni, he set his sights on regaining control of Palmyra. He marched on Zenobia’s empire in 272 AD.

What was different about Lucius Domitius Aurelianus from the previous Roman emperors?

Aurelian, the new Roman emperor, ascended without having much ambition to be the emperor. He had worked his way up through the ranks of the Roman army. Aurelian started as an infantryman and ended up as a general. This fact meant unlike most of the other emperors, he thought of himself as a soldier above all and was a politician by chance.

Who helped Zenobia conquer Egypt?

With Rome distracted, Zenobia decided she wanted to take Egypt. To not arouse too much attention, Zenobia waited for a Syrian Egyptian named Timagenes to initiate a revolt. He did this while the roman governor was away, and then Zenobia used this as a reason to march into the region.

How did Zenobia’s husband gain power?

In 260 AD, the Emperor of the time, Valerian, was tired of the flow of trade stalling because of the Persians’ interference. So he marched against them and ended the problem for the time being. Zenobia’s husband was part of this campaign, and because of his service to the emperor, he was made governor over the most crucial area of the Eastern empire. Then through some maneuvering and an open challenge in the form of combat, Odaenthus could rest even more control and rule the realm independently.

What were the two factors that may have contributed to Zenobia’s forces losing to the Roman legions?

In the final conflict between Zenobia’s troops and the Roman Legions led by Aurelian, a few things probably contributed to Zenobia’s defeat. One of these could have been the armor worn by her troops. They wore heavy armor, which slowed them down compared to the Roman soldiers’ light armor. Aurelian’s strategic use of his cavalry also played an essential part. Zenobia’s troops may have assumed they were going to charge into battle. However, Aurelian used the terrain and his cavalry to perfection.

What city did the two forces clash outside of?

Aurelian marched into Zenobia’s empire and began taking city after city, and eventually, he got to Daphne. Here his and Zenobia’s forces, led by the Queen herself, finally came face to face at the Battle of Immae.

What city did Zenobia flee to when she realized the battle wasn’t going her way?

When the Battle of Immae was done, Zenobia’s forces were defeated. Realizing she needed to flee so that she could rally her troops once more, the queen and her general, Zabdas, pulled back to the city of Emesa, where there were more troops ready to defend the empire.

Where was the Palmyrene Empire located? How did it come to be?

Zenobia ruled the Palmyrene Empire, which was part of the Roman Empire in the 3rd century. It would splinter off at this time. The empire, when looking at the modern map, would be in modern-day Syria. In the third century, Rome was in crisis. This period in the Roman Empire was rife with civil war after the murder of the Roman ruler Alexander Severus in 235 AD. This murder left the throne, so to speak, open, and the Roman military generals began to fight amongst themselves to control the reigns. The empty throne caused a lot of civil unrest and broke the empire into three regions—the Gallic, Roman, and Palmyrene empires.

How did Zenobia die?

There is no clear cause of death as multiple sources described various outcomes. One account stated that Zenobia died before crossing the Bosporus on her way to Rome. Another account stated she became ill or starved herself to death. And another account is from a less than reliable source, chronicler John Malalas, who stated that Aurelian humiliated Zenobia by parading her through eastern cities on a dromedary and she was then beheaded.

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