The Statue of Queen Boadicea, Westminster Bridge, London
Beric the Briton's Essay
By Cinthya (From Mexico)
Beric the Briton is a historical novel, written by George Alfred Henty, which describes the wars between the Ancient Briton tribes, the Trinobantes and the Iceni, with their warrior leader, Queen Boadicea, and the Romans, between the years 61 and 63 AD. Because GA Henty chooses Beric, a young boy, to be his hero he also describes several situations which happened before, during and after the invasion of the Britons by the Romans in AD. 43. And in doing this Henty builds up a picture for his readership of what things were like for an Ancient Briton living all those centuries ago. But it’s good to warn you here and now that Beric does get captured after the wars and taken to Rome. Actually more than half the story takes place in Rome under the emperor Nero. Beric even witnesses the great fire of 64 AD. He becomes a gladiator. So you could say the story is a little bit like the one which stars Russell Crowe. The only problem is that even as a gladiator Beric spends much more time talking about philosophy and exploring Rome’s libraries than he does fighting other gladiators. So in that sense Beric the Briton and Russell Crowe don’t have that much in common.
Personally, I have to say that this story is perfectly written. Its descriptions are amazing and it's interesting how GA Henty draws them. While you read you can feel how the novel captures you. You are able not only to imagine, but to literally live out what it is happening throughout. You almost don’t notice that Henty is giving you a history lesson. He teaches us all about the Roman subjugation of the Britons. Then he teaches us all about the politics of the Roman empire under Nero and the persecution of the Christians. He even goes on to explain how Nero fell from power and was, eventually, replaced by Vespasian. The book really is a history lesson disguised as a story. But it’s such an excellent story that we are compelled to absorb the historical fact as we read. In the following essay I will write about three main points: Firstly, the obstacles that life puts in our way. Secondly, differences between cultures. And, finally, the confidence people should have in themselves.
First of all I want to say that life may present you with many obstacles. And sometimes we do not even know why certain things happen to us. However, I surely know that life, or destiny as some people call it, has its own purpose. And it is for that reason that these things to occur. In Henty’s story this can clearly be seen right from the beginning. It so happens that Beric the Briton is given to the Romans as a hostage. His tribe was defeated by the Romans in battle. And to ensure the peaceful cooperation of his defeated peoples the Romans demanded that children of important noble Briton families moved into their Roman city. If the tribes behaved themselves their children would live.
Beric’s own mother, the wife of a Briton chieftain, bears witness to this. But she is a wise lady and gives her departing son good advice. As she talks to him she tells him not to be angry or have any other feeling of bitterness. His mother says, “...Till then employ your mind in gaining what good you may by your residence among them; there must be some advantage in their methods of warfare which has enabled the people of one city to conquer the world...Learn then their language, throw your whole mind into that at first, then study their military discipline and their laws. It must be the last as much as their discipline that has made them rulers over so vast an empire...”
It’s my own personal belief that barriers in life will never end. And, as I’ve also said, I believe that they have a purpose. And, because I believe these things, I couldn’t help being struck by the force of Beric’s mother’s advice. Her son is being torn away from her and his family, and yet here she is giving him advice on how to grow stronger, wiser and cleverer as a result of it! It’s as if GA Henty was speaking directly to me today saying, “instead of letting yourself down, take notice of every advantage the situation may offer. It may be difficult. But, in the end, you will have your reward. And Beric is rewarded several times by having taken note of Roman customs and having learned their language. Throughout his life that is a constant theme of the story. It could be described as his destiny. However, with that said, the belief that our destiny is already written is a not shared by all men equally. Such beliefs are part of a culture.
Most of us are aware of many differences between cultures, differences such as interests, ideology, economy, objectives, physical environment, beliefs (which are among the greatest differences between cultures) and so on. Cultures differ in these aspects, so it is normal that they encounter problems when they coexist. Henty goes to much trouble to show the great differences in all these aspects between the Romans and their captives. Personally, I believe this is one of many reasons why so many wars take place around the world. And there would not have been an exception between the Britons and the Romans. We can perceive cultures to be proud of what they are and have. In this case the Romans thought they were better and more powerful than Britons. Actually the Britons were better fighters! In fact what happened was that the Ancient Britons felt much too overconfident. The many tribes of Ancient Britons had been fighting each other for centuries. All they knew was warfare. They had endless warlike traditions, endless war stories. Their villages, tribes, nobles, lands and everything they owned were all shaped by a series of endless wars. And they certainly didn’t think that these Romans, who in any case were much physically smaller than they were, and dressed and acted like women, had anything to teach them about making war! Well, as they soon found out, the effeminate Romans did actually know a thing or two about fighting after all. And, for the Britons, all the knowledge they had, their strategies and their weapons, were not quite as useful as they thought they would be at the moment of fighting.
From my own point of view, I strongly disagree with wars taking place in any part of our world. The only reason why wars exist is because of mankind’s Ego. So many nations, countries or cultures want to prove either to themselves, or to others, that they are the best. It is the Ego which keeps telling us, and I include myself in this, that I have to prove that I am the best person on earth. It is always, “I am..., I want..., I need...” The emperor, Nero, speaks to Beric about this. He is extremely impressed that Beric is so humble and in fact doesn’t constantly talk about his needs. Beric does the opposite in fact. Nero is fascinated by the enormous differences in their two cultures and immediately takes Beric into his palace as a trusted bodyguard.
One truth is repeated throughout the story. The emperor, Nero, tells Beric that Roman citizens constantly need to prove themselves greater than each other. He tells Beric that they visit great cruelties upon each other in their obsession with supremacy. GA Henty was very acutely aware of that dangerous lesson from history. And in his story he wants us, his readers to learn about it. The Romans wanted to prove they were the best civilization in the ancient world. And vice versa, the Britons wanted to prove that the Romans were wrong and in fact it was they, and not the Romans, who were better than anyone in their world. It’s very interesting how in a famous part of the battle, when the Iceni warriors sacked the Roman city of Camulodinum, (today called Colchester,) and burned the terrified Roman citizens to death in their temple, Henty stops the battle to tell us about the queen’s preferred interior decorations. I’m quite serious. During the battle Boadicea, being at the head of her army, needed a headquarters. The Ancient Britons found a house in the captured city which they had not set on fire. And Boadicea moved into it. But before she could go into the captured house it had to have all its carpets burned and all of its wall-paintings hacked off with chisels. According to the Britons it was all their unnecessary luxury which made the Romans weak. The truth was that it was only having four hundred soldiers remaining behind to guard the city which made the Romans weak. But when the Roman governor heard about what had happened to his city he soon fixed his limited troop number problem. And with that problem fixed the Ancient Britons were in for a rude surprise! Henty tells us that not long after the Britons’ great victory at Camulodinum the Roman governor Suetonius brought his forces to bear on Boadicea’s army and crushed it with great slaughter. And what’s worse than that is that the furious Roman armies than travelled around the countryside massacring every villager that they could find for hundreds of miles and burning their homes and farms. The dead could not be counted there were so many of them. And the Britons’ Trinobantes tribe was wiped out completely.
Thanks to mankind’s Ego, whether in ancient times or in modern times, the most evil wars have occurred time and time again. Mankind never learns. After all this time it seems as though mankind has learned nothing. The men who go to war today are just as confused as Beric was! In over fifteen hundred years mankind has learned nothing. And personally I do not think that this behavior will lead us to anything better in the future than it led to for the Ancient Britons at the hands of the Romans.
After the defeat of Boadicea the Britons, who are able to run from the Romans, flee for their lives. Soon they hear that their warrior queen has killed herself by drinking poison. But the Britons don’t have time to feel sad. They are far too busy running for their lives. And they go north, into the forests, marshes and swamps, looking for places where the Roman armies won’t be able to follow them. And now Beric is their new leader. But the Romans do indeed follow them. And after much fighting Beric and twenty of his followers are captured and taken into slavery. This is the second time that Beric has been captured by the Romans. By this time, however, Beric already speaks their language. He soon makes use of these skills. It’s time to mention here that during the destruction of the Roman city of Camulodinum Beric found and rescued his childhood friend, the Roman girl, Berenice. This turns out to be significant, because Berenice’s father heard of Beric’s capture and wrote directly to the emperor in Rome to plead Beric’s case. So, although Beric becomes the property of a gladiator training school, and is taught to fight in the arena, he manages to lead the life of an educated Roman gentleman at the same time. It’s quite strange. But we’ll accept it for the sake of the story.
Well, all in all, Beric has many, many more adventures, I won’t spoil the whole story by telling you about them. But it is a very exciting story and it follows closely the turbulent events of Nero’s reign. Beric gets a ringside seat because he’s the emperor’s personal bodyguard.
In conclusion, I can say that Beric the Briton is a book in which you can find above all history combined with adventure. The many feelings encountered, love, friendship, loyalty, fear and so on, are all given a perfect place in describing how a proud, young warrior overcomes a list of life’s obstacles that most ordinary people would succumb to. Beric is a man with a lion’s heart. But in choosing him as a hero Henty is also describing the Ancient Britons as a people with lions’ hearts. After all, Beric is one of them. Everything is perfectly combined to make this book truly a masterpiece. My father is used to saying, “Read everything that reaches to your hands.” Well, this is my advice for all of you. Create your own point of view because as many people down here in Mexico say, “Every head is a world.”