This is a story-telling activity with added decision-making, for use with KS2 or KS3. The decision-making aspect is important for involving students in the story – what decisions faced the people of Camulodonum? Why did the Roman governor desert London? Why didn’t the Second Legion help the rest of the Roman army?
The activity uses the room as a map of Britain, requiring students to move around the map. It’s this physical movement in conjunction with thinking through options and taking decisions ‘from the inside’ of events that improves students’ recall of the story and their overall understanding.
At the end of the activity students should have developed
- a coherent knowledge of the story of Boudicca’s rebellion
- an understanding of why it as initially successful and why it was so difficult for the Romans to deal with
- an insight into why the sources are so one-sided and making knowing the full story so problematical.
1. The activity assumes that students will already have covered the Roman conquest of Britain and the reasons why the revolt broke out after the death of Prasutagus, king of the Iceni. The activity begins with the outbreak of the revolt.
2. Set up your room, using large labels or notices to show the key places – Mona (Anglesey), Londinium, Camulodonum (Colchester), Verulamium (St. Albans), Lindum (Lincoln) and Isca Dumnoniorum ( Exeter). Using the Latin names adds a sense of difference and period. Using a large room such as a hall or gym helps create a sense of distance, which is particularly helpful as Paulinus has to march back from Mona.
You could use the signs provided by Mick Cutler of Harrogate High School [ click here for the signs ]
3. Select students to play key roles –
- Paulinus, the Roman governor and commander,
- Cerialis, commander of the Ninth Legion at Lindum
- Postumus, stand-in commander of the Second Legion at Isca
- Leaders of the citizens in Londinium, Camulodonum and Verulamium.
Distribute prompt sheets devised by Mick Cutler of Harrogate High School [ click here for the prompt cards ]
4. Divide the rest of your students into groups and position them as shown in the plan.
The groups and proportional sizes (including key roles above) are, based on a class of 30,
- Boudicca’s Iceni (12)
- The Roman army with Paulinus (5)
- The Trinovantes, another British people (3)
- The Second Legion (2)
- The Ninth Legion (2)
- The people of Londinium (2)
- The people of Camulodonum (2)
- The people of Verulamium (2)
5. The teachers’ role combines those of narrator, interviewer and provider of options. You move the story on by announcing what is happening but also asking groups what they are going to do, offering them options and gently dropping in information or ideas to help them decide.
1. Now you have everyone in place, walk around the room introducing the groups and explaining who they are. Make a production out of it – bow low before the great Queen of the Iceni, salute the Roman commander etc. Explain that Paulinus is heading for Mona to destroy the Druids.
2. Announce the outbreak of the rebellion amongst the Iceni.
Ask the Trinovantes - will they join the rebellion? And ask them why?
Probe them with questions – what happens if you do and if you don’t? Who is closer to make life difficult for you i.e. the Iceni?
(NB – this doesn’t seem to have been a nationalist revolt against Rome – motives were more likely to have been practical than theoretical nationalism.)
3. The news of the rebellion reaches Cerialis, the commander of the Ninth Legion at Lindum.
Ask Cerialis, the commander what he will do? He doesn’t have all his man available so will he march against the rebels? What does he need to know to make the decision? Numbers? Not sure at this stage but may be out-numbered.
Now explain what happened - Cerialis takes a body of legionaries and his cavalry but is heavily outnumbered – the legionaries are massacred and Cerialis and the cavalry only just make it back to Lincoln.
4. The Iceni near Camulodonum
Ask – what the Roman veterans in the city what they will do? Fight or run? What will help them decide?
They can see they are outnumbered but they are Romans. They have stone buildings to defend. Running is unlikely to save them with women and children and few horses.
5. Announce that Camulodonum is burned to the ground and everyone there is killed.
Ask Iceni – have you done enough or will you carry on your rebellion?
6. News of the rising reaches Paulinus in North Wales. Ask Paulinus what will he do? Where can he get help from?
What he did was send message to Isca, telling Second Legion to head north to rendezvous with Paulinus’s army.
7. Arrive at Isca as the messenger and announce Paulinus’s orders. The Second Legion is commanded by the second in command, Poenius Postumus.
Ask Postumus what will he do? – obey orders and risk the legion being massacred by the Iceni or stay at Isca to keep the legion safe and attack later?
His decision was to stay at Isca – thus leaving Paulinus without support.
8. March Paulinus to London. He sailed from Mona to Chester and then rode ahead so he reached London ahead of his army with only a small force.
Ask – will he defend London or abandon it to attack by the Iceni?
Points to build in - he doesn’t have enough men to defend the city effectively - the Roman army will fight more effectively on a battlefield of its own choosing - but abandoning the city means the people will all die.
Manoeuvre the students into deciding to abandon the city. Ask the citizens what they will do. Many fled but many stayed, unable to believe that the Iceni can take the city or too old or ill to travel. Paulinus heads north-west to meet his army.
9. The Iceni destroy London
Ask – is that enough or will you pursue the Roman army?
They pursue – it’s all gone well so far!
10. The Iceni reach Verulamium
Ask – what will the Roman veterans in the city do? Fight or run? What will help them decide?
They can see they are outnumbered but they are Romans. Running is unlikely to save them with women and children and few horses.
11. Ask the Iceni – you have destroyed three cities – is that enough or are you going to fight Paulinus’s army?
The Iceni decide to pursue Paulinus and fight.
Announce the result of the battle – the Romans are heavily outnumbered but destroy the Iceni – the Iceni are trapped by their own wagons and families and so are unable to escape the battlefield. Boudicca and her daughters commit suicide.
12. What happened to Postumus? When the news came of the Roman victory he committed suicide, because he had let Paulinus down. There are also stories that he was killed by some of his own men.
1. Go back over the story to pick out the key points. Begin with the factual sequence – where was Paulinus when the revolt began, which town did Boudicca attack first etc. then move onto questions that require explanation – why was the rebellion so successful? Why didn’t Paulinus defend London?
2. Now move onto how much we really know about Boudicca’s revolt and why the accounts are one-sided. Ask the Romans to imagine what they’d tell people about these events in 40 years time. Encourage them to be subjective. What would they miss out or be sure to put in. At the same time ask the British to tell each other the key points that they would put in their history of the revolt – but they can’t write anything down because they can’t write.
Once everyone has done this, look at the consequences of this activity.
- No British accounts survived for the future – their history was oral.
- The Roman activity takes us close to what Agricola, one of Paulinus’s staff officers, told his son-in-law, Tacitus decades later, leading to Tacitus writing the most detailed account of the rising.
The following feedback was provided by Mick Cutler.
I did Boudicca's rebellion with three year seven groups last week and the week before. I videoed the final one just to give myself an idea of how it went. The classes all seem to have got hold of the chain of events and also the possible decision making process that went into those events. A few points:
I started by explaining Prasutagus' death as all but one class came to this activity cold. That helped anger the Iceni.
I finished with a walk through of the battle using chairs to represent the woods and the 'narrow' entrance to the clearing. This really helped pupils appreciate the tactical significance of Paulinus' battlefield choice. I also used chairs behind the Iceni to represent the wagons and had everyone who had died during the activity come back to life as Iceni wives and children. There was no physical contact during the battle, it wasn't 'best avoided' as Ian claimed on the notes.....!
I felt that I talked too much. If I had time I would have given each pupil a briefing sheet on the back of the A4 card that I gave out with their character name on it. This would help them think about their character and perhaps come up with more ideas themselves. It would also mean I would have to do less explaining and therefore less talking. For an active lesson, it was also rather didactic.
Despite that, all the pupils really enjoyed it, and a fair amount of knowledge 'went in'. They also now know that history isn't boring. In fact, I have had other pupils higher up the school moaning that they 'didn't get to do that when they were in Year 7'. Super.
Oh yes, and the follow up activity asking them to write down what they would want people to remember about the battle in future years from their point of view also went down well. 'You mean it would be biased Sir?' Ta Daa!
Other points are:
1. What do you do about the battle? Avoid it is the safest policy, relying on your powers of story-telling! However you can demonstrate the shape of the battlefield using chairs to show how the Iceni blocked themselves in by drawing up their wagons round the sides of the battlefield and so were unable to escape quickly from the legions – of course, that’s the Roman story!
2. This structure can be adapted for many other events. The activity on the events of 1066 on this site uses the same structure and approach and it can be applied to other revolts and military campaigns.
This from a teacher in Stoke, also about Boudicca – more evidence that activities don't just help students.
I did a lesson this morning for an observation on the revolt by Boudicca. It was with a very enthusiastic and somewhat talkative class. It took some time in terms of settling them and getting them to come to grips with the fact that we were outside the restraints of a classroom. They all grasped the main points of the story and I found that it ticked all sorts of boxes with regards to thinking skills, speaking and listening as well as historical skills. I have been teaching for twelve years and the last decade in particular, I became far more conservative in the teaching and learning that took place. Throwing the shackles off and doing things in a different way has not only given the students greater enjoyment (They all said they preferred it) but also has given me renewed enthusiasm for the job, so thank you to all who provided resources and advice on how to approach the lesson.
- Did you make the right choices about which students played which parts? Did you learn anything about individual students that would have been harder to learn from more standard activities?
- How effective was your use of space and movement? Would you do anything differently in terms of organization next time? (and don’t be afraid to pat yourself on the back!)
- How did tackling this topic through this physical activity affect students’ learning? e.g. was understanding of the patterns of events deeper? Did they have a better-developed sense of the possibilities for different interpretations?