This weekend I did what every learning junkie does: put on a documentary, put my feet up (especially with a newly broken toe motivating me to behave myself), and relaxed.
Usually I pick documentaries outside of my area of expertise and specific research; it’s more fun that way and I’m less likely to pause the video to tell the birds where I disagree with the video.
Sunday night I deviated from that by watching a documentary about Boudicca. Whereas I was mostly happy with the program, what disturbed me most about it was the portrayal of King Prasutagus who seemed overly OLD in comparison to Boudicca herself and was depicted as dying quietly in his bed.
What’s wrong with that picture? Well for one it is very Roman. As I explore in Boudicca: Britain’s Queen of the Iceni, British and Roman cultures could not be more different. Celts, especially British Celts, were fiercely independent and egalitarian, especially between women and men. Women did not lead Celtic clans and tribes as a measure of last resort (think about it: would Queen Elizabeth II be queen today if her father had produced sons as well, let alone sons OLDER than her?). Women led as true equals.
The most equal relationships we possess are those where social standing, wealth, and age especially are closely matched. A married couple with only two or three years age difference is far more equal from the onset than one where one or the other is much older. This power difference grows when the elder is male and the younger is female — as any younger sister to a much older brother knows!
The ancient Celts fiercely believed in both individualism and equality. While it’s been argued to me that perhaps Boudicca was his second or third marriage, I find that very unlikely given that his only children were Boudicca’s daughters. Assuming (and we simply do not know either way) that older siblings were given precedence over younger siblings in inheritance, the sheer fact that Prasutagus named his two daughters by Boudicca his joint heiresses with Nero tells me that Boudicca was his only wife and his daughters (probably twins) by her were his only children. In light of the Iceni and British values, I find it much more likely that Boudicca and Prasutagus were both in their late teens or early twenties at the time of their marriage, putting them in their early thirties in 60 or 61 CE when Prasutagus died.
So if Prasutagus was no more than 35 at the time of his death, how did he die?
Unlike the constantly promoted idea of a quiet death in his bed, I find a violent death much more likely, especially at the hands of Rome, the situation you see presented in Boudicca: Britain’s Queen of the Iceni and even more poignantly in Boudicca: A Play in Three Acts. Once Prasutagus notified the bloodthirsty and ambitious Governor Gaius Suetonius Paullinus of the contents in his last will and testament (giving half his kingdom to Nero), Prasutagus essentially forfeited his value in the eyes of Rome. He became much more valuable dead than alive, a bounty a man like Suetonius Paullinus would find irresistible.
Therefore I contest what I see others writing about Boudicca and Prasutagus. Instead of the good Roman patrician taking a wife young enough to be his own daughter, I see Prasutagus as the Briton he was: an equal partner with his wife, religiously devout to British goddesses and gods like The Morrigan and Camulos, humble before druid judges, teachers, and law givers, and very much a champion to his people. Prasutagus was, fundamentally, British caught between what he felt he could do in the face of Roman military strength and what he believed in.
His was a struggle we can all related to — and a battle still waiting to be won.