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The Iceni Tribe

Background to the Iceni

Location of the Iceni Location of the tribe

On the east coast of England where Norfolk now resides.

Background to the tribe

The Iceni were probably best known for Queen Boudicca, or Boadicea as she is also known, and the Boudiccan rebellion of 60/61AD.

The Iceni or Eceni were a British tribe who inhabited an area of East Anglia corresponding roughly to the modern-day county of Norfolk between the 1st century BC and the 1st century AD. They were bordered by the Corieltauvi to the west, and the Catuvellauni and Trinovantes to the south.

The Cenimagni, who surrendered to Julius Caesar during his second expedition to Britain in 54 BC, may have been a branch of the Iceni or it could be a corruption of Iceni Magni meaning "Great Iceni."

Archaeological evidence of the Iceni includes torcs — heavy rings of gold, silver or electrum worn around the neck and shoulders. The Iceni began producing coins circa 10 BC. Their coins were a distinctive adaptation of the Gallo-Belgic "face/horse" design, and in some early issues, most numerous near Norwich, the horse was replaced with a boar. Some coins are inscribed ECENI, making them the only coin-producing group to use their tribal name on coins. The earliest personal name to appear on coins is Antedios (ca. 10 BC), and other abbreviated names like AESU and SAEMU follow.

Sir Thomas Browne, the first English archaeological writer, said of the Roman occupation, Boudica and Iceni coins:

That Britain was notably populous is undeniable, from that expression of Caesar. That the Romans themselves were early in no small Numbers, Seventy Thousand with their associates slain by Bouadicea, affords a sure account... And no small number of silver pieces near Norwich; with a rude head upon the obverse, an ill-formed horse on the reverse, with the Inscriptions Ic. Duro.T. whether implying Iceni, Durotriges, Tascia, or Trinobantes, we leave to higher conjecture. The British Coyns afford conjecture of early habitation in these parts, though the city of Norwich arose from the ruins of Venta, and though perhaps not without some habitation before, was enlarged, built, and nominated by the Saxons.

The Icknield Way, an ancient trackway linking East Anglia to the Chilterns, may be named after the Iceni.

The Roman invasion

While the meaning of the name Iceni is unknown, it is tempting to see it as derived from a Proto-Celtic adjective cognate with Latin picea ‘pine tree,’ the Italic tribal name Piceni, English picene, and with the English hydronym Itchen. Icenian coins dating from the 1st century AD use the spelling ECEN, which probably suggests a different etymology.

Tacitus records that the Iceni were not conquered in the Claudian invasion of AD 43, but had come to a voluntary alliance with the Romans. However, they rose against them in 47 after the governor, Publius Ostorius Scapula, threatened to disarm them. The Iceni were defeated by Ostorius in a fierce battle at a fortified place, but were allowed to retain their independence. The site of the battle may have been Stonea Camp in Cambridgeshire.

Statue of Boudica and Her Daughters is a bronze sculptural group located in London.

A second and more serious uprising took place in AD 61. Prasutagus, the wealthy, pro-Roman Icenian king, had died. It was common practice for a Roman client king to leave his kingdom to Rome on his death, but Prasutagus had attempted to preserve his line by bequeathing his kingdom jointly to the Emperor and his own daughters. The Romans ignored this, and the procurator Catus Decianus seized his entire estate. Boudiccan revoltPrasutagus's widow, Boudica, was flogged, and her daughters were raped. At the same time, Roman financiers called in their loans. While the governor, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, was campaigning in Wales, Boudica led the Iceni and the neighbouring Trinovantes in a large-scale revolt, destroying and looting Camulodunum (Colchester), Londinium (London) and Verulamium (St Albans) before finally being defeated by Suetonius Paulinus and his legions. Although the Britons outnumbered the Romans greatly, they lacked the superior discipline and tactics that won the Romans a decisive victory. The battle took place at an unknown location, probably in the West Midlands somewhere along Watling Street. Today, a large statue of Boudica wielding a sword and charging upon a chariot can be seen in London on the north bank of the Thames by Westminster Bridge.

The Iceni are recorded as a civitas of Roman Britain in Ptolemy's Geographia which names Venta Icenorum as a town of theirs. Venta, which is also mentioned in the Ravenna Cosmography, and the Antonine Itinerary,was a settlement near the village of Caistor St. Edmund, some five miles south of present-day Norwich, and a mile or two from the Bronze Age Henge at Arminghall.

After the Romans left Britain, it is possible that some of the Iceni migrated west away from the Angles into the inhospitable marshlands around The Wash known as the Fens. The possibility of this occurrence is supported by the Life of Saint Guthlac — a biography written about the East Anglian religious hermit who lived in the Fens during the early 8th century — it is stated that Saint Guthlac was attacked by people he believed were Britons living in the Fens at that time, 200 years after the establishment of Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, although Bertram Colgrave in the introduction to The Life of Saint Guthlac states that is very unlikely due to the lack of evidence for British survival in the region and the fact that British placenames in the area are "very few".

Principal towns and settlements in Iceni territory

  • Venta Icenorum — (Caistor St. Edmund, Norfolk) — A small walled town. The civitas capital>

Other settlements

  • Brettenham — (Norfolk) — Small settlement on the Peddlar's Way, east of Thetford.
  • Caister by Yarmouth — (Norfolk) — A small, walled seaport serving the civitas capital.
  • Camvorritum — (Lackford, nr. Icklingham, Suffolk) — Posting station.
  • Durolipons — (Cambridge).
  • Ixworth — (Suffolk) — Major settlement succeeded an earlier Roman fort.
  • Narford — (nr. Castle Acre?, Norfolk) — Small settlement on the Icknield Way.
  • Thetford — (Norfolk) — Major religious centre at an important river-crossing.
  • Snettisham — (Norfolk) — Small settlement on the Icknield Way, a former Celtic centre and the location of a find of Celtic gold torcs.
  • Toftrees — (nr. Fakenham, Norfolk) — Small settlement on native pathway between Venta and the Wash.
  • Venta Icenorum — (Cambridge)
  • Wilton — (Hockwold cum Wilton, Norfolk) — Small settlement on the Little Ouse, west of Thatcham. There is a rural temple nearby at Hockwold.
  • Woodcock Hill — (Hockham Heath, Norfolk) — Small settlement or posting station north-east of Thetford.

Some of the Iceni kings and queens

Anted-- : He ruled during the time of the Roman invasion of 43AD, but did not actually allow his tribe to defend his territory against the Romans. For this he was rewarded by the Romans by being allowed to stay as ruler of the Iceni in the capacity of a Client King. He produced his first coins marked 'ANTED' to record his actions. This possibly incited the Iceni people who were opposed to the rule of a leader who had no powers to govern his own people, and this prompted Antedios to issue coinage inscribed with 'ECEN', representing the name of the tribe. There was a fear that the name of 'Iceni' would disappear entirely. This seemed not to appease at least two of the Iceni aristocracy, Aesu-- and Saenu-- who minted their own coins around 45AD.
During the Iceni civil war of 47AD, Anted — was believed to have been killed and it was the Romans under the governor's son, Marcus Ostorius who restored order. To ensure that peace remained within the Iceni, the stern pro-Roman Prasutagus was installed as the new Client King.
Aesu-- : He was a friend of Anted —, and was a co-ruler of the Iceni with Anted — during the invasion of 43AD. He possibly represented a rival faction within the Iceni who were opposed in principle to the appointment by Rome of a single Client King. This was probably because he would lose all his powers to the favoured Anted —. He issued his own coinage around 45AD, and was joined in this apparent show of defiance by another Iceni leader, Saenu, who also issued coinage during the clientship of Anted — in defiance of Roman rule.
In 47AD, this resentment turned to aggression when the Iceni, possibly led by Aesu —, Anted — and possibly Saenu —, took the opportunity of a change in governorship to rebel against the Romans. All three Icenian nobles probably died during the fighting or were executed on the orders of Marcus Ostorius and Prasutagus was made Client King.
Saenu-- : He resented the preferential treatment that Anted — was given by Rome and was presumably one of the leading figures during the Icenian civil war War of 47AD and was in killed either during the fighting or executed immediately afterwards.
Prasutagus — Was the husband of the most famous of Celtic British women, Boudicca. He was made Client King over the Iceni following the Icenian civil war War of 47AD, when the inter tribal struggles between Anted —, and the factions of Aesu — and Saenu —, escalated into armed revolt against Rome. His death around 60AD sparked the rebellion led by his wife, Boudicca, which was to end with the complete overwhelming of the Iceni.
Boudicca — One of two British women to be mentioned by the Romans in their writings. She was the wife of King Prasutagus who was given the Client Kingship of the Iceni, after the Icenian civil war of 47AD. Following her husbands death around 60AD her kingdom was pillaged by the imperial procurator Decianus Catus, and when she took the matter to a higher Roman authority, she was publicly flogged and her daughters violated. Indignant at her treatment she instigated a rebellion within her tribe and, joined by the Trinovantes directly to the south, plundered the Romano-British towns of Camulodunum (Colchester), Verulamium (St. Albans) and Londinium (London) before being beaten in a pitched battle with the forces of the governor, Suetonius Paullinus, near Manduessedum in the midlands.

Note: Where two dashes ( -- ) follow a name, this name is incomplete and only the portion known is quoted.

Romans in Britain Celtic Tribes menu headerIceniTrinovantesCatuvellanuniCantiumAtrebatesDumnonniDurotrigesDobunniSiluresDemetaeOrdovicesCornoviiCorieltauviDruidsDeceangliBrigantesParisiVotadiniSelgovaeNovantae?VeniconesThere be Dragons here!TaexaliVacomagiCaledonni

To see the details of a tribe from an area, pass your mouse pointer over the map and select a specific region.

This section is not quite complete, as there are some tribes for which there is little information. These will be updated when the necessary facts have been established.



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