QUEEN Boudica was the Colchester heroine who led the Iceni tribe in revolt against its Roman oppressors at a time when the Empire was approaching its peak – or at least, this is the story popular mythology would have you believe.

History is continually being told and retold, however, and Simon Scarrow’s latest historical novel, Rebellion, charts the aftermath of the Romans’ sacking of London and Boudica’s subsequent capturing of the capital of the British province, Camulodunum.

As the 22nd novel of the Eagles of Empire series, Mr Scarrow’s retelling of the life of Queen Boudica, a figure who is honoured with a statue opposite the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, does not portray the Celtic rebel in such a way many of us will be familiar with.

And with good reason, too, Mr Scarrow claims, given Boudica stuck to the blood-stained manuscript of Roman history.

Gazette: History – Colchester's Roman history is well-knownHistory – Colchester's Roman history is well-known (Image: Newsquest)

Indeed, Mr Scarrow, whose interest in Roman Britain was piqued by field trips to Colchester when he was at school, believes the Boudica memorial in London is “as insensitive as sticking a statue of Osama Bin Laden up opposite the remains of Twin Towers”.

He said: “What I want to get across to the reader is what is at stake, why it was as bloody as it was, why they responded to the Romans the way they did, and why the Romans responded to the atrocities which the Iceni and rebels carried out.

“I needed to write it in such a way that [readers] felt appalled by how both sides were treating each other and what actually happens when you treat people in this way, and you have this spiral of violence.”

The site of much of that violence was Colchester, where atrocities were carried out by both sides.

“It was all about building that up so the reader would understand the degree of hostility between the two sides that led to the battle when it was a ‘no prisoners taken situation’,” Mr Scarrow explained.

At the high-water mark of the rebellion, Boudica razed London and slaughtered its occupants – hardly the actions of a bloodless heroine.

Sections of the book retell this barbarism in a disturbing level of detail; at one stage, Boudica shows Macro, a Roman centurion, a tent full of severed Roman heads.

As far as historians can gather, it is likely that this is very much how it was, and when it comes to Boudica, Mr Scarrow ensures his depiction of the Iceni leader is equally prosaic.

“[This book] is an opportunity to go back and say ‘right, let’s have another look at Boudica’.

Gazette: Respected – Simon Scarrow's historical novels on the Romans have drawn the praise of criticsRespected – Simon Scarrow's historical novels on the Romans have drawn the praise of critics (Image: Ransom PR)

“She’s not this glorious leader, she’s someone who is horribly abused and then, in response, behaves in a gratuitously violent and horrific manner – and that’s very much a story of our times.”

Mr Scarrow’s nod to the crisis in Gaza reminds us that there is not as much to distinguish us from the brutality of human conflict 2,000 years ago as we would like to think.

He said: “What’s interesting is the whole backstory of the oppression of the British, with the Romans setting up this colony in Colchester and the Roman veterans taking over the local land, cheesing off people, abusing them and killing the odd one and so on – you think history is just repeating itself all over again.”

As it does so, history is also constantly being re-written, even if the similarities to the present remain largely the same.

But that is not to say Mr Scarrow’s most recent retelling of history is not worth visiting; rather, it is a typically rollicking read.