Who Was Boudica?

Who Was Boudica?

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Boudica (also written as Boadicea) was a Celtic queen who led a revolt against Roman rule in ancient Britain in A.D. 60 or 61. As all of the existing information about her comes from Roman scholars, particularly Tacitus and Cassius Dio, little is known about her early life; it’s believed she was born into an elite family in Camulodunum (now Colchester) around A.D. 30.

At the age of 18, Boudica married Prasutagas, king of the Iceni tribe of modern-day East Anglia. When the Romans conquered southern England in A.D. 43, most Celtic tribes were forced to submit, but the Romans let Prasutagas continue in power as a forced ally of the Empire. When he died without a male heir in A.D. 60, the Romans annexed his kingdom and confiscated his family’s land and property. As a further humiliation, they publicly flogged Boudica and raped her two daughters. Tacitus recorded Boudicca’s promise of vengeance after this last violation: “Nothing is safe from Roman pride and arrogance. They will deface the sacred and will deflower our virgins. Win the battle or perish, that is what I, a woman, will do.”

Like other ancient Celtic women, Boudica had trained as a warrior, including fighting techniques and the use of weapons. With the Roman provincial governor Gaius Suetonius Paulinus leading a military campaign in Wales, Boudica led a rebellion of the Iceni and members of other tribes resentful of Roman rule. After defeating the Roman Ninth Legion, the queen’s forces destroyed Camulodunum, then the captain of Roman Britain, and massacred its inhabitants. They went on to give similar treatment to London and Verulamium (modern St. Albans). By that time, Suetonius had returned from Wales and marshaled his army to confront the rebels. In the clash that followed–the exact battle site is unknown, but possibilities range from London to Northamptonshire–the Romans managed to defeat the Britons despite inferior numbers, and Boudica and her daughters apparently killed themselves by taking poison in order to avoid capture.

In all, Tacitus claimed, Boudica’s forces had massacred some 70,000 Romans and pro-Roman Britons. Though her rebellion failed, and the Romans would continue to control Britain until A.D. 410, Boudica is celebrated today as a national heroine and an embodiment of the struggle for justice and independence.

Queen Boudica: The Crazy Life And Death Of The Celtic Warrior Queen

There's a sad truth to the idiom "well-behaved women rarely make history." The past is full of women who did great things, who were wise and brilliant and heroic. People forgot most of them, though, because history was written by men and the men of history ignored most of the things women did. Also, for every quietly heroic woman, there were 100 who had heroic hearts but never had the chance to prove it because they were stuck in front of a pot of porridge for 364 days a year and they were giving birth on the other day.

History does remember the women who were loud and badly behaved, though "badly behaved" is totally subjective and a label that only landed on women who were busting out of that cycle of childbirth and porridge and doing things that only men were supposed to do. Joan of Arc, Catherine the Great, Elizabeth I — we remember them because they adopted traditionally male roles and they did not apologize for it.

Leading the way for all of the powerful women who live in our world today was a Celtic queen named Boudica. You may not know anything about her kingdom, but you've almost certainly heard her name — history remembers her because she was, as the idiom goes, less than "well-behaved." Here is the crazy story of Queen Boudica.

Women of History: Boudica

When I decided to start a blog series about women from history, Boudica jumped out at me. Not because she was my favorite historical woman, or because she had some major play in history. She just did. So for no reason whatsoever other than ‘because’, she’ll be my first post subject.

Boudica was a British Queen, back during the Roman Empire. At that point England (And Great Britian as a whole) was made up of different tribes. She was part of the Iceni Tribe which lived in what is now modern day Norfolk.

Boudica (also spelled Boadicea, Boudicea, and called Budding in Welsh) was born around 25 AD She was married to Prasutagus, who was the elected ruler or King of the Iceni. Prasutagus had a agreeable relationship with the Roman Empire, enough so that when he died he left his kingdom to both his daughters and the Empire. This of course caused problems.

The Romans had left the Iceni and the other British tribes for the most part alone since Ceaser visited a century before. However, around 43 AD, Emperor Claudius decided to invade, and this time take control. The Tribes eventually had to submit, but instead of leaving them alone for the most part, Claudius left behind his soldiers on the island. Some of the native population continued to rebel, but successive governors of the island sent by rome made things more and more difficult for the Iceni and their neighbors. At one point they no longer had the ability to have any weapons that could be used for rebellion (hunting weapons were still allowed to a point). When Claudius died, his successor Nero had them build a temple in Camulodunum for him, which required the Celtic Icenic to worship their invader. They were also forced to pay for it. Not having the funds to do so, they ended up borrowing money from rich Romans.

Boudica’s eventual rebellion was motivated by different things, depending on what source you were told. Most of the tales of Boudica were Roman, as there was no written celtic history at the time. However, the Romans who wrote about the Queen of the Iceni had different ideas of what motivated her. According to some, her motivations were due to oppression. The Romans, such as Seneca, who had leant money to the Britions called those loans in with force. The Governers took more and more of the freedoms the Celtic populations enjoyed to keep them under control. THis included destruction of their holy lands, which sadly would not be the last time this would happen in history. This got worse when her husband, who had on friendly terms with the Roman Empire, died. Rome decided to take complete control rather then share with the man’s daughters.

Other accounts have more dramatic reasons. According to Tacitus, Boudica was flogged for resisting her estate being taken over by the local leader and her daughters raped. Given that there is no account from the side of the Celtics, or Boudica herself, its hard to know for sure what really happened to her or her people that caused her to decide to seize leadership and rebel.

In around 60-61 AD, Boudica lead Celtic rebels in full rebellion against the Roman invaders. She attacked, and destroyed several cities. One of which was the City of London, which still bears traces of the attack where Boudica’s army burned the city down. Other cities included Verulamium, and Camulodunum (Colchester). According to Dio, she was vicious in her retribution, killing those who remained in the cities. She had a larger army, with an estimate of 230 thousand. However in the end the Roman leader Suetonius was victorious and returned Britain to Roman control. His troops were better trained and better armed, and in the end that seemed to win the day.

Boudica died soon afterwards, with even her death in dispute. In some accounts she ended it by poison, others she died of an illness. She was given a costly funeral by her tribesman. Despite the loss, she was still greatly respected by most accounts. I suppose in a way its amazing that she managed to not only gain the respect of her fellow celts, but enough respect from the Romans that they told stories about her. They won, they could have told any story they wanted. Made her out to be some demon, but they didn’t.

I suppose it confused them. The Romans weren’t particularly equalitarian when it came to gender. Most of the heroines of their tales were either godesses or foriegn Queens. Boudica, Dido, Cleopatra. Women who defyed the Roman idea of Womanhood.

Today it doesn’t seem that far fetched that a group of fighters would go into battle for their Queen. Its happened many times before. Boudica left in imprint on the history of Great Britain, not just as a Queen. She became a symbol of resistance. She became a subject of Art, and inspiration during the Victorian Age.


Boudica has been known by several versions of her name. In the 16th century, Raphael Holinshed called her Voadicia, while Edmund Spenser called her Bunduca, a variation of which was used in the popular Jacobean play Bonduca of 1612. [11] In the 18th century, William Cowper's poem Boadicea, an ode (1782) popularised an alternative version of the name. [12]

Her name was spelt Boudicca in the most complete manuscripts of Tacitus, which through investigation of the language of the Celts was also proven to be misspelt with the addition of the second 'c.' [13] The misspelling by Tacitus was copied, and further deviations of her name began to appear. Along with the second 'c' becoming an 'e,' in place of the 'u' appeared an 'a' this is where the medieval (and most common) spelling 'Boadicea' is derived from. [13]

In the later, and probably secondary, epitome of Cassius Dio in Greek she was Βουδουικα , Βουνδουικα , and Βοδουικα . [ citation needed ]

Kenneth Jackson concludes, based on the later development in Welsh (Buddug) and Irish (Buaidheach), that the name derives from the Proto-Celtic feminine adjective *boudīkā 'victorious', that in turn is derived from the Celtic word *boudā 'victory' (cf. Irish bua (Classical Irish buadh) 'victory', Scottish Gaelic buaidheach 'victorious effective', Welsh buddug, buddugol 'victorious', buddugoliaeth 'victory'), and that the correct spelling of the name in Common Brittonic (the British Celtic language) is Boudica, pronounced [bɒʊˈdiːkaː] . The Gaulish version is attested in inscriptions as Boudiga in Bordeaux, Boudica in Lusitania, and Bodicca in Algeria. [14] [15]

The closest English equivalent to the vowel in the first syllable is the ow in "bow-and-arrow". [16] John Rhys suggested that the most comparable Latin name, in meaning only, would be "Victorina". [17] Alternatively, Graham Webster claims the name can be directly translated as "Victoria." [18]

Historical sources Edit

There are two primary sources from the classical period which reported on Boudica specifically, namely Tacitus and Cassius Dio. [19] Tacitus' mention of Boudica appears in only two of his vast number of works: the Annals, c.AD 115-117 and the Agricola, c. AD 98. [20] Both were published many years after Boudica's revolt, but Tacitus had an eyewitness at his disposal for the retelling of some of the events his father-in-law Gnaeus Julius Agricola served in Britain there three times as a military tribune under Suetonius Paulinus it was during Suetonius' absence that Tacitus says the Britons began to congregate under Boudica. [21] Cassius Dio's account, published over a century after Boudica's death, is only known from an epitome, written by John Xiphilinus. Dio provides a considerable amount of information not found in the work of Tacitus, suggesting that the sources he used were lost long ago. [22]

It is generally agreed that Dio based his account on that of Tacitus, but simplifies the sequence of events. [23] The abuses which Boudica and her daughters suffered at the hands of the Romans is not mentioned in Dio's account, instead he cites three different causes for the rebellion: the recalling of loans that were given to the Britons by Seneca Decianus Catus' confiscation of money formerly loaned to the Britons by the Emperor Claudius and Boudica's own entreaties. [24] [25]

Tacitus depicts Boudica as a victim of Roman slavery and licentiousness, her fight against both of which made her a champion of barbarian and British liberty. [26] It is also for this reason that Tacitus' narrative depicts Boudica as the standard of bravery as a free woman, rather than just a queen, sparing her the negative connotations associated with queenship in the ancient world. [26]

Both Tacitus (Tac. Annals. 14.35) and Dio (Dio Cass. 62.3-6) incorporate fictitious speeches by Boudica in their work. [19] These types of pre-battle speeches were invented by ancient historians as a means of arousing dramatic and rhetorical considerations from the reader. [24] Boudica, being neither Greek nor Latin herself, would not have addressed her people in either language, and it is unlikely that either Tacitus or Dio would have been able to accurately recount any of her speeches. [24] These speeches, though imaginary, portray an image of patriotism that laid the groundwork for the legend of Boudica to endure as the first real champion of the British people. [27]

Background Edit

Cassius Dio describes her as very tall and most terrifying in appearance, she had tawny hair hanging down to below her waist, a harsh voice and a piercing glare. [28] He writes that she habitually wore a large golden necklace (perhaps a torc), a colourful tunic, and a thick cloak fastened by a brooch. [29] [30]

Boudica was the wife of King Prasutagus, ruler of the Iceni, a people who inhabited what is now modern Norfolk. [31] When the Roman conquest of southern Britain began in AD 43 under the Emperor Claudius, Prasutagus allied his people with the Romans. [32] The Iceni were proud of their independence, and had revolted in AD 47 when the then Roman governor Publius Ostorius Scapula planned to disarm all the peoples in the area of Britain under Roman control following a number of local uprisings. Ostorius defeated them and went on to put down other uprisings around Britain. [33] The Iceni remained independent under Prasutagus, suggesting they were not absorbed into the Roman Empire after the first revolt. [34] It is unknown whether he became the king only after Ostorius's defeat of the Iceni but his status as a friendly king suggests he was a pro-Roman ruler, supporting the invasion of AD 43 and helping the Romans during the revolts in AD 47 to 48. [35] Further evidence of Prasutagus' alliance with the Romans can be found in his will. Upon his death in AD 60/61, he left half of his fortune to his two daughters and the other half to the Roman Emperor Nero. [28] Tacitus does not date the start of Prasutagus's reign and first mentioned him, as a long-reigning king who had died, when he wrote about Boudica's rebellion. [36]

Tacitus mentions longstanding reasons for the Trinovantes (a tribe of people from what is now modern Essex) to hate Rome and join forces with the Iceni: "It was against the veterans that their hatred was most intense. For these new settlers in the colony of Camulodunum drove people out of their houses, ejected them from their farms, called them captives and slaves . " [37]

The immediate cause of the rebellion was gross mistreatment by the Romans. Tacitus wrote,

"The Icenian king Prasutagus, celebrated for his long prosperity, had named the emperor his heir, together with his two daughters an act of deference which he thought would place his kingdom and household beyond the risk of injury. The result was contrary – so much so that his kingdom was pillaged by centurions, his household by slaves as though they had been prizes of war." He added that Boudica was lashed, her two daughters were raped, and that the estates of the leading Iceni men were confiscated. [37]

"An excuse for the war was found in the confiscation of the sums of money that Claudius had given to the foremost Britons for these sums, as Decianus Catus, the procurator of the island maintained, were to be paid back." He also said that another reason was "the fact that Seneca, in the hope of receiving a good rate of interest, had lent to the islanders 40,000,000 sesterces that they did not want, and had afterwards called in this loan all at once and had resorted to severe measures in exacting it." [38]

Dio's apocryphal speech of Boudica includes an address to the Trinovantes. She stressed to them how much better their life was before Roman occupation, stressing to them that wealth cannot be enjoyed under slavery, and places the blame upon herself for not expelling the Romans as they had done when Julius Caesar previously came for their land. [27] The willingness of the barbarians to sacrifice a higher quality of living under the Romans, in exchange for their freedom and personal liberty, is an important interpretation of what Dio considered as motivation for the rebellions. [27]

Uprising Edit

Initial actions Edit

In AD 60 or 61, the current governor and most senior Roman administrator in the province, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, was leading a campaign against the island of Mona (modern Anglesey) in Wales, where he had previously been participating in earlier campaigns long before this one. [21] Mona was conquered by the Roman army, who then heard the news of Boudica's rising and had to march rapidly eastward again. Under Boudica's lead, the Iceni and the Trinovantes comprised an army of 120,000 strong to fight their common enemy in the Romans. [39] Dio claims that before the initial revolts, Boudica called upon the British goddess of victory, Andraste, to aid them in battle. [40]

The rebels' first target was Camulodunum (modern Colchester), a Roman colonia for retired soldiers. [41] The reason for the colony was twofold: to introduce the natives to Roman style of life and government, and protect the land from revolting tribes. [39] A Roman temple was erected to the deified Claudius, which coupled with brutal treatment of the natives by the veterans, made Camulodunum an ideal target. [42] Once the revolt was underway, the only troops available to provide assistance (aside from the few within the colony), were two hundred auxiliaries located in London who were not equipped to quell Boudica's troops, and the colony of Camulodunum was captured. [43] Those who survived the initial attack managed to hold the temple of Claudius for two days before they died. [44] A bronze statue to the emperor Nero, which probably stood in front of the temple, was decapitated and its head taken as a trophy by Boudica's army. [45] The future governor Quintus Petillius Cerialis, then commanding the Legio IX Hispana, attempted to relieve the city, but suffered an overwhelming defeat. [46] The infantry with him were all killed – only the commander and some of his cavalry escaped. After this defeat, Catus Decianus fled to Gaul. [46]

When news of the rebellion reached Suetonius, he hurried along Watling Street through hostile territory to Londinium. Suetonius considered giving battle there, but considering his lack of numbers and chastened by Petillius's defeat, decided to sacrifice the city to save the province. [47] The wealthy citizens and traders had fled after the news of Catus Decianus defecting to Gaul, and the rest of the inhabitants were left to their own fate. [48]

Londinium was abandoned to the rebels, who burnt it down, torturing and killing anyone who had not evacuated with Suetonius. The municipium of Verulamium (modern St Albans) was next to be destroyed, although the full extent of its destruction is unclear. [49]

In the three settlements destroyed, between seventy and eighty thousand people are said to have been killed. Tacitus says that the Britons had no interest in taking or selling prisoners, only in slaughter by gibbet, fire, or cross. [50] Dio's account gives more detail that the noblest women were impaled on spikes and had their breasts cut off and sewn to their mouths, "to the accompaniment of sacrifices, banquets, and wanton behaviour" in sacred places, particularly the groves of Andraste. [51]

Romans rally Edit

While Boudica's army continued their assault in Verulamium (St. Albans), Suetonius regrouped his forces. According to Tacitus, he amassed a force including his own Legio XIV Gemina, some vexillationes (detachments) of the XX Valeria Victrix, and any available auxiliaries. [52] The prefect of Legio II Augusta, Poenius Postumus, ignored the call, [53] and a fourth legion, IX Hispana, had been routed trying to relieve Camulodunum, [54] but nonetheless the governor now commanded an army of almost ten thousand men.

Suetonius took a stand at an unidentified location, probably somewhere along the Roman road now known as Watling Street, in a defile with a wood behind him – but his men were heavily outnumbered. According to Dio the rebels numbered 230–300 thousand. Boudica's army was crushed and according to Tacitus neither the women or the animals were spared. [55]

The Roman slaughter of women and animals was unusual, as they could have been sold for profit, and point to the mutual enmity between the two sides. [56] According to Tacitus in his Annals, Boudica poisoned herself, though in the Agricola which was written almost twenty years before the Annals he mentions nothing of suicide and attributes the end of the revolt to socordia ("indolence") Dio says she fell sick and died and then was given a lavish burial.

Catus Decianus, who had fled to Gaul, was replaced by Gaius Julius Alpinus Classicianus. Suetonius conducted punitive operations, but criticism by Classicianus led to an investigation headed by Nero's freedman Polyclitus. [57] Fearing Suetonius's actions would provoke further rebellion, Nero replaced the governor with the more conciliatory Publius Petronius Turpilianus. [58] The historian Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus tells us the crisis had almost persuaded Nero to abandon Britain. [59] No historical records tell what had happened to Boudica's two daughters.

Location of her defeat Edit

The location of Boudica's defeat is unknown. [60] Some historians favour a site somewhere along the Roman road now known as Watling Street. [61] Kevin K. Carroll suggests a site close to High Cross, Leicestershire, on the junction of Watling Street and the Fosse Way, which would have allowed the Legio II Augusta, based at Exeter, to rendezvous with the rest of Suetonius's forces, had they not failed to do so. [62] Manduessedum (Mancetter), near the modern town of Atherstone in Warwickshire, has also been suggested, [63] and according to legend "The Rampart" near Messing, Essex and Ambresbury Banks in Epping Forest. [64] More recently, a discovery of Roman artefacts in Kings Norton close to Metchley Camp has suggested another possibility. [65] One individual has suggested the Cuttle Mill area of Paulerspury in Northamptonshire, [66] where fragments of Roman pottery from the 1st century have been found. [67]

In 2009, it was suggested that the Iceni were returning to East Anglia along the Icknield Way when they encountered the Roman army in the vicinity of Arbury Banks, Hertfordshire. [68] In March 2010, evidence was published suggesting the site may be located at Church Stowe, Northamptonshire. [69]

One of the earliest possible mentions of Boudica (excluding Tacitus' and Dio's accounts) was the 6th-century work On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain by the British monk Gildas. In it, he demonstrates his knowledge of a female leader whom he describes as a "treacherous lionness" who "butchered the governors who had been left to give fuller voice and strength to the endeavours of Roman rule." It is likely that Gildas is referring to Boudica in this statement. [6] Polydore Vergil may have reintroduced her to British history as "Voadicea" in 1534. [70] Raphael Holinshed also included her story in his Chronicles (1577) based on Tacitus and Dio. [71]

16th–18th centuries Edit

During the reign of Elizabeth I, Boudica began to be seen as an important figure in British history. [72] During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, the works of Tacitus were rediscovered, and therefore interest in Boudica and her rebellion was triggered. It has been said that the Elizabethan era was a time where her popularity could flourish as Elizabeth, in 1588, was required to defend Britain from a possible invasion of Spanish Armada. Boudica had once defended Britain as well, however from the Romans. [73] In 1610, Shakespeare's younger contemporaries Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher to write a play, Bonduca, said to have been inspired by Holinshed's Chronicles. [11] A version of that play called Bonduca, or the British Heroine was set to music by Henry Purcell in 1695 one of the choruses, Britons, Strike Home!, became a popular patriotic song in the 18th and 19th centuries. [74] William Cowper wrote a popular poem, "Boadicea, an ode", in 1782. [12]

19th-20th century Edit

Britain Edit

It was in the Victorian era that Boudica's fame took on legendary proportions as Queen Victoria came to be seen as Boudica's "namesake", their names being identical in meaning. Victoria's Poet Laureate, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, wrote a poem, "Boadicea", and several ships were named after her. [75] Boadicea and Her Daughters, a statue of the queen in her war chariot (anachronistically furnished with scythes after the Persian fashion) was executed by Thomas Thornycroft over the 1850s and 1860s with the encouragement of Prince Albert, who lent his horses for use as models. [76] Thornycroft exhibited the head separately in 1864. It was cast in bronze in 1902, 17 years after Thornycroft's death, by his son Sir John, who presented it to the London County Council. They erected it on a plinth on the Victoria Embankment next to Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament, inscribed with the following lines from Cowper's poem:

Regions Caesar never knew
Thy posterity shall sway.

A statue of her now stands guard over the city she razed to the ground. [14] [77] The area of King's Cross, London was previously a village known as Battle Bridge which was an ancient crossing of the River Fleet. The original name of the bridge was Broad Ford Bridge. The name "Battle Bridge" led to a tradition that this was the site of a major battle between the Romans and the Iceni tribe led by Boudica. [78] The tradition is not supported by any historical evidence and is rejected by modern historians. However, Lewis Spence's 1937 book Boadicea – warrior queen of the Britons went so far as to include a map showing the positions of the opposing armies. There is a belief that she was buried between platforms 9 and 10 in King's Cross station in London, England. There is no evidence for this and it is probably a post-World War II invention. [79] At Colchester Town Hall, a life-sized statue of Boudica stands on the south facade, sculpted by L J Watts in 1902 another depiction of her is in a stained glass window by Clayton and Bell in the council chamber. [80]

Boudica was adopted by the Suffragettes as one of the symbols of the campaign for women's suffrage. In 1908, a "Boadicea Banner" was carried in several National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies marches. She appears as character in A Pageant of Great Women written by Cicely Hamilton, which opened at the Scala Theatre, London, in November 1909 before a national tour, and she was described in a 1909 pamphlet as "the eternal feminine. the guardian of the hearth, the avenger of its wrongs upon the defacer and the despoiler". [81]

Wales Edit

Buddug has yet to be conclusively identified within the canon of medieval Welsh literature and she is not apparent in the Historia Brittonum, the Mabinogion or Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain.

Boudica (Buddug) was also chosen by the Welsh public as one of eleven statues of historical figures to be included in the Marble Hall at Cardiff City Hall. The statue was unveiled by David Lloyd George on 27 October 1916. Unlike the London chariot statue, it shows her as a more motherly figure without warrior trappings. The popularity of Buddug alongside other Welsh heroes such as Saint David and Owain Glyndŵr was surprising to many – of the statues, Buddug is the most ancient, the only female, and the only antecedent from outside the modern Welsh nation. [82]

21st century Edit

Permanent exhibitions describing the Boudican Revolt are at the Museum of London, Colchester Castle Museum and the Verulamium Museum. [83] At the Norwich Castle Museum, a dedicated gallery includes a reproduction of an Iceni chariot. [84] A 36-mile (58 km) long distance footpath called Boudica's Way passes through countryside between Norwich and Diss in Norfolk. [85]

The Celtic Rebellion

Boudica donned a torc (the Celtic equivalent of donning a crown), gave an angry speech, and sent messengers out to every Celtic tribe in the area, telling them that Roman rule had gone on long enough.

The rest of the tribes more than agreed. They had secretly been stockpiling weapons against Rome and were ready for war. They joined up with Boudica and Boudica launched her rebellion.

She decided to strike Camulodunum first, home of that hateful temple that Nero had constructed. Boudica wanted to make a statement. She rigged the statue Nero had erected of his uncle, Claudius, to fall down to the earth in fire and smoke without explanation, as if the gods had sent it tumbling. Then, she sent women in to chant deliriously, predicting the doom of the city. It worked. The Romans fell into a terror and begged for military assistance from London.

Catus Decianus didn’t think much of it and sent only 200 soldiers to reinforce the town’s small garrison. The Romans hadn’t built a wall around the city. In their arrogance, they didn’t even bother to evacuate the women, children, and elderly.

Boudica waited for the settlers to fall into a terror and the soldiers to puff themselves up in arrogance and then she swooped in. Her army overran the town, tore down the temple that Nero had built for his uncle, and smashed the entire town to the ground. In fact, archaeological records show that Boudica set the entire city to flame and the fire was so hot that it fired some of the buildings’ clay walls as if they had been in a pottery kiln.

Boudica went on to ambush and slaughter 2,000 Roman legionaries and 500 Roman cavalry. When more reinforcements came out to support the Romans in the area, Boudica butchered them, too. She burned a path all the way to Londinium, dead set on purging the Romans from Britain for good.

Even the Roman governor, Seutonius, could do nothing to stop her. He decided to sacrifice Londonium in an attempt to save Britannia from the rebellion. When Boudica got there, she was met no resistance. She killed everyone in the city, strung the Roman nobles naked in the city streets, impaled the Roman women on stakes outside the town, and torched the entire city.

After that, another Roman city, Verulamium fell to Boudica’s wrath, too.


Britain has produced many fierce, noble warriors down the ages who have fought to keep Britain free, but there was one formidable lady in history whose name will never be forgotten – Queen Boudica or Boadicea as she is more commonly called.

At the time of the Roman conquest of southern Britain Queen Boudica ruled the Iceni tribe of East Anglia alongside her husband King Prasutagus.

Boudica was a striking looking woman. – “She was very tall, the glance of her eye most fierce her voice harsh. A great mass of the reddest hair fell down to her hips. Her appearance was terrifying.” – Definitely a lady to be noticed!

The trouble started when Prasutagus, hoping to curry favour with the Romans, made the Roman Emperor Nero co-heir with his daughters to his considerable kingdom and wealth. He hoped by this ploy, to keep his kingdom and household free from attack.

But no! Unfortunately the Roman Governor of Britain at that time was Suetonius Paulinus who had other ideas on the subject of lands and property. After Prasutagus’s death his lands and household were plundered by the Roman officers and their slaves.

Not content with taking all the property and lands, Suetonius had Prasutagus’ widow Boudica publicly flogged and her daughters were raped by Roman slaves!

Other Iceni chiefs suffered in a like manner and their families were treated like slaves.

Not surprisingly these outrages provoked the Iceni, Trinobantes and other tribes to rebel against the Romans.

The Britons at first had great successes. They captured the hated Roman settlement of Camulodunum (Colchester) and the Roman division there was routed, the Imperial agent fleeing to Gaul.

Boudica and her allies gave no quarter in their victories and when Londinium (London) and Verulamium (St. Albans) were stormed, the defenders fled and the towns were sacked and burned! The revolting Britons even desecrated the Roman cemeteries, mutilating statues and breaking tombstones. Some of these mutilated statues can be seen today in Colchester Museum.

Finally Suetonius, who had made a tactical withdrawal (fled) with his troops into relative safety of the Roman military zone, decided to challenge Boudica. He assembled an army of 10,000 regulars and auxiliaries, the backbone of which was made up from the 14th Legion.

The Roman historian Tacitus in his ‘Annals of Rome’ gives a very vivid account of the final battle, which was fought in the Midlands of England, possibly at place called Mancetter near Nuneaton, in AD61.

Boudica and her daughters drove round in her chariot to all her tribes before the battle, exhorting them to be brave. She cried that she was descended from mighty men but she was fighting as an ordinary person for her lost freedom, her bruised body and outraged daughters. Perhaps as taunt to the men in her ranks, it is said that she asked them to consider: ‘Win the battle or perish: that is what I, a woman will do you men can live on in slavery if that’s what you want.’

The Britons attacked crowding in on the Roman defensive line. The order was given and a volley of several thousand heavy Roman javelins was thrown into the advancing Britons, followed quickly by a second volley. The lightly armed Britons must have suffered massive casualties within the first minutes of the battle. The Romans moved in for the kill, attacking in tight formation, stabbing with their short swords.

The Britons now had little chance, with so many of them involved in the battle it is likely that their massed ranks worked against them by restricting their movements so they were unable to use their long swords effectively. To ensure success the Roman cavalry was released which promptly encircled the enemy and began their slaughter from the rear. Seemingly mad with blood lust, Tacitus records that 80,000 Britons men, women and children, were killed. The Roman losses amounted to 400 dead with a slightly larger number wounded.

Boudica was not killed in the battle but took poison rather than be taken alive by the Romans.

Boudica has secured a special place of her own in British folk history remembered for her courage The Warrior Queen who fought the might of Rome. And in a way she did get her revenge, as in 1902 a bronze statue of her riding high in her chariot, designed by Thomas Thorneycroft, was placed on the Thames embankment next to the Houses of Parliament in the old Roman capital of Britain, Londinium – The ultimate in Girl Power!

Boudica: Celtic War Queen Who Challenged Rome

She slaughtered a Roman army. She torched Londinium, leaving a charred layer almost half a meter thick that can still be traced under modern London. According to the Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus, her army killed as many as 70,000 civilians in Londinium, Verulamium and Camulodunum, rushing ‘to cut throats, hang, burn, and crucify. Who was she? Why was she so angry?

Most of Boudica’s life is shrouded in mystery. She was born around AD 25 to a royal family in Celtic Britain, and as a young woman she married Prasutagus, who later became king (a term adopted by the Celts, but as practiced by them, more of an elected chief) of the Iceni tribe. They had two daughters, probably born during the few years immediately after the Roman conquest in ad 43. She may have been Iceni herself, a cousin of Prasutagus, and she may have had druidic training. Even the color of her hair is mysterious. Another Roman historian, Cassius Dio — who wrote long after she died — described it with a word translators have rendered as fair, tawny, and even flaming red, though Dio probably intended his audience to picture it as golden-blonde with perhaps a reddish tinge. Her name meant victory.

Boudica’s people once welcomed the Romans. Nearly 100 years earlier, when Gaius Julius Caesar made the first Roman foray into Britannia in 55 and 54 BC, the Iceni were among six tribes that offered him their allegiance. But this greatest of all Roman generals was unable to cope with either the power of the coastal tides or the guerrilla tactics of the other Britons who fought him. After negotiating a pro forma surrender and payment of tribute, Caesar departed.

For the next 97 years, no Roman military force set foot on British soil. The Iceni watched as their southern neighbors, the Catuvellauni, grew rich from exporting grain, cattle and hides, iron and precious metals, slaves and hunting dogs to Rome. From Rome, they imported luxury goods such as wine and olive oil, fine Italian pottery, and silver and bronze drinking cups, and they minted huge numbers of gold coins at their capital, Camulodunum.

A century of Roman emperors came and went. Then, in 41 Claudius (Tiberius Claudius Nero Germanicus) rose to the imperial purple. There were many practical reasons why he might have thought it useful to add Britannia to the empire, one being that the island was an important source of grain and other supplies needed in quantity by the Roman army. Stories abounded about the mineral wealth there. Outbreaks of unrest in Gaul were stirred up — so the Romans believed — by druid agitators from Britannia.

The most compelling reason for Claudius, however, was political. Born with a limp and a stutter, he had once been regarded as a fool and kept out of public view — although those handicaps were largely responsible for his survival amid the intrigue and murder that befell many members of his noble family. Now the emperor desperately needed a prestige boost of the sort that, in Rome, could be provided only by an important military victory. So when the chief of a minor British tribe turned up in Rome, complaining that he had been deposed and asking the emperor to restore his rule, Claudius must have thought it the perfect excuse to launch an invasion.

Boudica would have been about 18 years old in 43, the year Claudius invaded, old enough to be aware of the events that would transform her life. She may already have been married to Prasutagus, but the king of the Iceni was still Antedios, probably an older relative of Prasutagus. Antedios seems to have taken a neutral position toward Rome. Other tribes openly supported the conquest, but most, including the Icenis’ neighbor to the south, did not. Caradoc, king of the Catuvellauni (called Caractacus by the Romans), and his brother Togodumnus led an alliance of tribes to repel the invaders.

When the Roman troops landed at the far southeastern tip of Britannia, Caractacus and his allies harried them as they marched inland. Then the Britons retreated to gather into a single force on the other side of the River Medway. There, the Romans won a major battle in which Caractacus’ brother was either killed or mortally wounded. At that point, Emperor Claudius himself came to Britannia to seal the conquest with a victory at Camulodunum — now known as Colchester — where he accepted the formal submission of 11 British rulers, including Antedios of the Iceni.

Boudica and the Iceni may well have expected the Romans to sail away as they had in the past. They soon learned otherwise. Claudius built a Legionary fortress at Camulodunum, stationed troops there and established other fortresses throughout eastern Britannia. He appointed the invasion forces’ commander, Aulus Plautius, as Britannia’s first Roman governor. Caractacus retreated westward, recruited fresh troops and continued to fight a guerrilla war against the Romans.

The ham-fisted Ostorius Scapula replaced Plautius in 47. Caractacus timed a series of raids to coincide with the change of governors, so Ostorius arrived to news of fighting. Was it this unpleasant reception that made Ostorius so mistrustful of all the Britons, even those who had surrendered? Or was he short-tempered because he already suffered from the illness from which he would die five years later? For whatever reason Ostorius decided to disarm those subject tribes that he felt he could not fully trust, including the Iceni. Established Roman law forbade subject populations to keep weapons other than those used for hunting game, but that was contrary to Celtic law and custom. The Iceni rebelled, and Ostorius defeated them. Antedios may have been killed in the rebellion. If not, it seems likely that Ostorius removed him immediately afterward and installed Prasutagus as client-king in his place. Boudica was now queen of the Iceni.

Two years later, in 49, Ostorius confiscated land in and around Camulodunum to set up a colonia. This was a town for retired Legionaries, in which each veteran was granted a homestead. The town gave the veterans a secure retirement and concentrated an experienced reserve force in the new province, on which Rome could call in case of emergency. In theory, it was supposed to provide a model of Roman civilization to which the natives might aspire. Unfortunately, the colonia at Camulodunum caused more problems than it solved. As it grew over the next decade, more and more Britons were driven off their land, some enslaved by the veterans, others executed and their heads exhibited on stakes.

The Iceni had once avoided trade with Rome, while the Catuvellauni grew rich from it. Now, the Iceni submitted, while the former king of the Catuvellauni fought Rome, and his people suffered the consequences. Ostorius finally defeated Caractacus in 51 and captured him in 52. That same year, Ostorius died. Rome replaced him with Didius Gallus, who provoked no internal rebellions, though the unconquered western tribes continued to fight.

Emperor Claudius was poisoned in 54, and Nero (Nero Claudius Drusus Germanicus) succeeded him. Perhaps to deflect the suspicion that he had been involved in his uncle’s murder, Nero elevated Claudius to the status of a god and ordered a temple to him built at Camulodunum. Now the British chieftains would be obliged not only to worship once a year at the altar of the man who had invaded and occupied their lands, but also to finance the building of the extravagant and costly temple.

Rome further pressed British patience by calling for the repayment of money given or loaned to the tribes. It is possible that Antedios had received some of the money Claudius had handed out, and his successor, Prasutagus, was now expected to repay it. Prasutagus had probably also received an unwanted loan from Lucius Seneca, Roman philosopher and Nero’s tutor, who had pressed on the tribal leaders a total of 40 million sesterces, evidently an investment he hoped would bring a healthy return in interest. Now, the procurator — Rome’s financial officer, responsible for taxation and other monetary matters in Britannia — insisted the money from Claudius must be repaid. And Seneca, according to Dio, resorted to severe measures in exacting repayment of his loans. His agents, backed by force, may have showed up at the royal residence and demanded the money. Boudica would not have forgotten such an insult.

Caius Suetonius Paullinus, a man in the aggressive mold of Ostorius, became governor of Britain in 58. He began his term with a military campaign in Wales. By the spring of 61, he had reached its northwestern limit, the druid stronghold on the Isle of Mona. Tacitus described the forces Suetonius faced: The enemy lined the shore in a dense armed mass. Among them were black-robed women with disheveled hair like Furies, brandishing torches. Close by stood Druids, raising their hands to heaven and screaming dreadful curses. For a moment, the Romans stood paralyzed by fright. Then, urged by Suetonius and each other not to fear a horde of fanatical women, they attacked and enveloped the opposing forces in the flames of their own torches.

When the battle ended in a Roman victory, Suetonius garrisoned the island and cut down its sacred groves — the fearsome site of human sacrifices, according to Tacitus, who claimed it was a Celtic religious practice to drench their altars in the blood of prisoners and consult their gods by means of human entrails. In view of the routine, organized murder of the Roman gladiatorial games, one might wonder whether a Roman was in a position to criticize. Though the Celts did practice human sacrifice, most of their sacrifices consisted of symbolic deposits of such valuable objects as jewelry and weapons into sacred wells and lakes.

For Boudica and her people, news of the destruction of the druidic center on Mona, the razing of the sacred groves and the slaughter of druids must have been deeply painful. But Boudica suffered a more personal loss during this time. Prasutagus of the Iceni died sometime during the attack on Mona or its aftermath. He left behind a will whose provisions had no legal precedent under either Celtic or Roman law. It named the Roman emperor as co-heir with the two daughters of Prasutagus and Boudica, now in their teens. According to Celtic tradition, chiefs served by the consent of their people, and so could not designate their successors through their wills. And under Roman law, a client-king’s death ended the client relationship, effectively making his property and estates the property of the emperor until and unless the emperor put a new client-king into office. Prasutagus’ will may have been a desperate attempt to retain a degree of independence for his people and respect for his family. If it was, it did not succeed.

After Prasutagus died, the Roman procurator, Decianus Catus, arrived at the Iceni court with his staff and a military guard. He proceeded to take inventory of the estate. He regarded this as Roman property and probably planned to allocate a generous share for himself, following the habit of most Roman procurators. When Boudica objected, he had her flogged. Her daughters were raped.

At that point, Boudica decided the Romans had ruled in Britannia long enough. The building fury of other tribes, such as the Trinovantes to the south, made them eager recruits to her cause. Despite the Roman ban, they had secretly stockpiled weapons, and they now armed themselves and planned their assault. Dio wrote that before she attacked, Boudica engaged in a type of divination by releasing a hare from the fold of her tunic. When it ran on the side the Britons believed auspicious, they cheered. Boudica raised her hand to heaven and said, `I thank you Andraste.’ This religious demonstration is the reason some historians think she may have had druidic training.

Boudica mounted a tribunal made in the Roman fashion out of earth, according to Dio, who described her as very tall and grim in appearance, with a piercing gaze and a harsh voice. She had a mass of very fair hair which she grew down to her hips, and wore a great gold torque and a multi-colored tunic folded round her, over which was a thick cloak fastened with a brooch. Boudica’s tunic, cloak and brooch were typical Celtic dress for the time. The torque, the characteristic ornament of the Celtic warrior chieftain, was a metal band, usually of twisted strands of gold that fit closely about the neck, finished in decorative knobs worn at the front of the throat. Such torques may have symbolized a warrior’s readiness to sacrifice his life for the good of his tribe. If so, it is significant that Boudica wore one — they were not normally worn by women.

Tacitus, whose father-in-law served as a military tribune in Britain during that time, recounted the rebellion in detail. Boudica moved first against Camulodunum. Before she attacked, rebels inside the colonia conspired to unnerve the superstitious Romans. [F]or no visible reason, Tacitus wrote, the statue of Victory at Camulodunum fell down — with its back turned as though it were fleeing the enemy. Delirious women chanted of destruction at hand. They cried that in the local senate-house outlandish yells had been heard the theater had echoed with shrieks at the mouth of the Thames a phantom settlement had been seen in ruins. A blood-red color in the sea, too, and shapes like human corpses left by the ebb tide, were interpreted hopefully by the Britons — and with terror by the settlers.

Camulodunum pleaded for military assistance from Catus Decianus in Londinium, but he sent only 200 inadequately armed men to reinforce the town’s small garrison. In their overconfidence, the Romans had built no wall around Camulodunum. In fact, they had leveled the turf banks around the Legionary fortress and built on the leveled areas. Misled by the rebel saboteurs, they did not bother to erect ramparts, dig trenches or even evacuate the women and elderly.

Boudica’s army overran the town, and the Roman garrison retreated to the unfinished temple, which had been one of the prime causes of the rebellion. After two days of fighting, it fell. Recent archaeological work shows how thorough the Britons were in their destruction. The buildings in Camulodunum had been made from a framework of timber posts encased in clay and would not have caught fire easily. But they were burned and smashed from one end of town to the other. So hot were the flames, some of the clay walls were fired as though in a pottery kiln and are preserved in that form to the present day.

The only Legionary force immediately available to put down the rebellion was a detachment of Legio IX Hispania, under the command of Quintus Petilius Cerialis Caesius Rufus, consisting of some 2,000 Legionaries and 500 auxiliary cavalry. Cerialis did not wait to gather a larger force, but set out immediately for Camulodunum. He never got there. Boudica ambushed and slaughtered his infantry. Cerialis escaped with his cavalry and took shelter in his camp at Lindum.

Suetonius, mopping up the operation on Mona, now learned of the revolt and set sail down the River Dee ahead of his army. He reached Londinium before Boudica, but what he found gave no cause for optimism. Like Camulodunum, Londinium was unwalled. About 15 years old, it had been built on undeveloped ground near the Thames River, by means of which supplies and personnel could be shipped to and from Rome. It was a sprawling town, with few large buildings that might be pressed into service as defensive positions — a smattering of government offices, warehouses and the homes of wealthy merchants. Catus Decianus had already fled to Gaul. Suetonius decided to sacrifice Londinium to save the province and ordered the town evacuated. Many of the women and elderly stayed, along with others who were attached to the place.

Boudica killed everone she found when she reached Londinium. Dio described the savagery of her army: They hung up naked the noblest and most distinguished women and then cut off their breasts and sewed them to their mouths, in order to make the victims appear to be eating them afterwards they impaled the women on sharp skewers run lengthwise through the entire body.

Verulamium, the old capital of the Catuvellauni tribe lying northwest of Londinium (outside of present-day St. Albans), met a similar fate. Rome had granted it the status of municipium, giving the townsfolk a degree of self-government and making its magistrates eligible for Roman citizenship. Boudica evidently punished the town for its close and willing association with Rome.

By then Suetonius had an army with him amounting to nearly 10,000 men, comprising Legio XIV and parts of Legio XX, which he had used for the attack on Mona, as well as some auxiliaries gathered from the nearest stations. He also sent an urgent summons to Legio II Augusta at Isca Dumnoniorum, present-day Exeter, but its commander, Poenius Posthumus, never responded. Evidently he was unwilling to march through the hostile territory of the Dumnonii, who had thrown their lot in with Boudica, and thereby risk sharing the fate of Cerialis’ men. At the head of his hastily summoned force, Suetonius marched to confront Boudica.

Precisely where they met is not known, but the most plausible guesses — based on Tacitus’ description of the favorable terrain where Suetonius positioned his force — include Mancetter in Warwickshire or along Old Roman Watling Street (now A5) near Towcaster. According to Tacitus: [Suetonius] chose a position in a defile with a wood behind him. There could be no enemy, he knew, except at his front, where there was open country without cover for ambushes. Suetonius drew up his regular troops in close order, with the light-armed auxiliaries at their flanks, and the cavalry massed on the wings. Dio wrote that Boudica’s troops numbered about 230,000 men. If we can believe this, Boudica’s army would have been more than 20 times the size of Suetonius’. Whatever the actual numbers were, it is clear that her forces greatly outnumbered his. But the Britons’ arms and training could not compare to the highly evolved arms and fighting techniques of the Roman Legions.

The forces of the Britons, wrote Tacitus, pranced about far and wide in bands of infantry and cavalry, their numbers without precedent and so confident that they brought their wives with them and set them in carts drawn up around the far edge of the battlefield to witness their victory. Boudica rode in a chariot with her daughters before her, and as she approached each tribe, she declared that the Britons were accustomed to engage in warfare under the leadership of women. The picture of Boudica riding about the battlefield to encourage her warriors rings true, but it is unlikely that any Roman understood what she said. She would have spoken in the Celtic tongue and had no need to inform her troops of their own customs. Tacitus puts those words in her mouth as a device to educate his Roman readers about a practice that must have struck them as exotic and strange.

The speech Tacitus reports Suetonius gave may be a closer reflection of what he said, appealing to his Legions to disregard the clamor and empty threats of the natives. He told them: There were more women visible in their ranks than fighting men, and they, unwarlike and poorly armed, routed on so many occasions, would immediately give way when they recognized the steel and courage of those who had always conquered them. Even when many Legions were involved, it was a few men who actually decided battles. It would redound to their honor that their small numbers won the glory of a whole army.

Legions and auxiliaries waited in the shelter of the narrow valley until Boudica’s troops came within range. Then they hurled their javelins at the Britons and ran forward in wedge formation, supported by the cavalry with their lances. The Roman infantrymen protected themselves with their capacious shields and used their short swords to strike at close range, driving the points into the Britons’ bellies, then stepping across the dead to reach the next rank. The Britons, who fought with long swords designed for slashing rather than stabbing, needed room to swing their blades and could not fight effectively at such close range. Furthermore, the light chariots that gave them an advantage when fighting on a wide plain were similarly ineffective, with the Romans emerging from a narrow, protected valley that prevented the chariots from reaching their flanks.

The result was an overwhelming Roman victory. Those Britons who survived ran, but the circle of the women’s wagons blocked their way, causing confusion and delay. The Romans did not refrain from slaughtering even the womenfolk, while the baggage animals too, transfixed with weapons, added to the piles of bodies, Tacitus reported, citing figures of 80,000 British casualties and 400 Roman dead and a slightly larger number wounded.

According to Tacitus, there were at least two notable casualties in the immediate wake of the battle. Upon learning of the victory, Poenius Posthumus felt so dishonored by the failure of his Legio II to have fought its way out to join Suetonius in full force that he committed suicide by falling upon his own sword. Boudica, Tacitus noted, ended her life with poison.

The rebellion was effectively over, but its initial success had shocked Rome. The overall Roman casualties are suggested by the number of troops Nero sent from Germany as reinforcements, according to Tacitus a total of 7,000, consisting of two thousand regular troops, which brought the ninth division to full strength, also eight auxiliary infantry battalions and a thousand cavalry. The civilian dead in Camulodunum, Londinium and Verulamium — some 70,000 if Tacitus’ figure is accurate — would have multiplied the toll. British unrest seems to have continued even after the decisive battle. Dio wrote that the Britons were regrouping and preparing to fight again at the time Boudica died.

When the Roman reinforcements arrived, Suetonius stationed them in new winter quarters. Tacitus wrote that, rather than turning to diplomacy, Suetonius ravaged with fire and sword those he believed to be still hostile or wavering. His punitive policy, calculated to crush the Britons rather than to reconcile them with Roman rule, was consistent with the policies that had caused the rebellion.

On top of that, a famine broke out. According to Tacitus, the Britons had expected to raid the Roman grain stores, and so had mustered all available men into the army and neglected to plant a crop. It is hard to believe an agricultural society, which both depended on grain for its own sustenance and produced it as a major export, would neglect to sow an entire year’s crop. But if they had planted, much of the crop was likely destroyed in Suetonius’ campaign of revenge.

To replace Catus Decianus, Rome sent a new procurator, Julius Classicianus. Tacitus heartily disapproved of Classicianus, sniping that he had a grudge against Suetonius and allowed his personal animosity to stand in the way of the national interest. Classicianus was a Celt from the Roman province of Gaul, and he seems to have done much to calm the angry Britons. He told them it would be well to await a new governor who would deal gently with those who surrendered. Then he reported to Rome that they should expect no end to hostilities unless a replacement were found for Suetonius.

Nero dispatched one of his administrators, a freed slave named Polyclitus, to investigate the situation. Evidently, Polyclitus supported Classicianus’ report. Soon afterward, when Suetonius lost some ships and their crews to a British raid, he was recalled. The new governor, Petronius Turpilianus, ended the punitive expeditions, following instead a policy of not provoking the enemy nor being provoked by them. Tacitus sneered at his slothful inactivity, but he brought peace to Britain.

Of Boudica, Dio wrote, The Britons mourned her deeply and gave her a costly burial. The Roman conquest had brought to the Iceni misfortune that ripened into disaster after their rebellion failed. But as time passed, Britannia became an orderly and respected part of the Roman empire. It remained so for another three centuries. Boudica’s people finally won what it seems they had wanted all along: respect, peace and a government that treated them with justice and honor.

This article was written by Margaret Donsbach and originally published in the April 2004 issue of Military History.

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Boudica’s Britain

In Boudica’s lifetime Britannia was a young Roman province. The Roman army had been campaigning there since landing a substantial military force in Kent in A.D. 43. Rome won a major victory then that resulted in the surrender of 11 British kings at Colchester in Essex. So important was this new territory that Emperor Claudius himself traveled from Rome to witness the victory, accompanied by important members of the Roman Senate and an entourage that included war elephants.

In the first century A.D. the population of ancient Britain was made up of a large number of independent peoples, or tribes. Boudica’s husband, Prasutagus, ruled the Iceni. Historians report that the pair were parents to two daughters and that Prasutagus was not hostile to Rome. Some scholars believe that the Romans may have appointed Prasutagus as a client ruler in their Icenian territory after the invasion of 43. If so, it is likely that both he and his family would have regarded themselves as allies of Rome.

Boudica’s husband died, and Roman officials were upset to learn that he had not bequeathed his holdings to Rome. Instead, he left half of his wealth and territory to his daughters and the other half to Emperor Nero. Indignant Roman imperial administrators ignored his final wishes. They seized all Prasutagus’s property. They publicly beat the widow Boudica and raped her daughters. These outrages against the Iceni and their queen enraged the people. Tacitus describes how a neighboring tribe, the Trinovantes, joined the Iceni. Many others followed soon after.

Temple of Doom

The historian Tacitus explains how the legionary veterans in Camulodunum (Colchester) inspired hatred among the Trinovantes in whose territory they settled. “The troops drove the Trinovantes from their homes and land and called them prisoners and slaves.” According to Tacitus, the Britons saw the colony’s great temple, dedicated to the emperor Claudius, as “a citadel of eternal domination.” When the rebels stormed the colonies, there was no defensive wall. All the Roman inhabitants could do was to shelter in the Temple of Claudius, which may not even have been completed. The colony fell rapidly to Boudica’s rebels, who destroyed the hated symbol and those within it.

In the speech attributed to her by Dio Cassius, Boudica rallies her forces and prepares them for war. She sets out the causes for the revolt:

[A]lthough some among you may previously, through ignorance of which was better, have been deceived by the alluring promises of the Romans, . . . you have learned how great a mistake you made in preferring an imported despotism to your ancestral mode of life, and you have come to realize how much better is poverty with no master than wealth with slavery.

She rails against Roman avarice and the heavy taxes levied against the population. Boudica then calls for unity among the people in this fight against tyranny:

[L]et us, my countrymen and friends and kinsmen—for I consider you all kinsmen, seeing that you inhabit a single island and are called by one common name—let us, I say, do our duty while we still remember what freedom is, that we may leave to our children not only its appellation but also its reality. For, if we utterly forget the happy state in which we were born and bred, what, pray, will they do, reared in bondage?

United behind their queen, the Britons would rise up and savage several Roman settlements. (Zenobia, queen of Palmyra, also led a rebellion against Rome.)

Boudica and The Slaughter at Camulodunum

Camulodunum (Colchester) was the capital of Roman Britain, and the site of the first battle of the Iceni rebellion. What happened at Camulodunum deserves special mention as it was not simply a battle, but a systematic slaughter of every Roman who lived there.

The rage of the occupied Britons is hard to overestimate. The wound that had been festering among the British tribes at the rough handling of the indigenous people was finally cauterised with the systematic butchering of every Roman in Camulodunum.

Boadicea (Boudica) haranguing the Britons, by John Opie

The mutual hatred at the time was palpable. Boudica was ruler of a satellite kingdom to Rome, and by that measure, very probably a Roman citizen. After the death of her husband Prasutagus, the imperial procurator Decianus Catus seized all of his estate. When Boudica contested this, she was flogged and her daughters raped. To strip and flog a Roman citizen would have been anathema, but more than that, to gang-rape two princesses, who were most probably virgins, was even more unthinkable. The fact that the Roman historian Tacitus describes these events so sparingly shows the abhorrence with which this would have been considered at the time. Tacitus, who delights in the description of the later brutalities of the campaign, is circumspect at best in describing these atrocities, for that is what they were. This shows his shock and disgust at these events. Romans considered the Iceni sub-human and treated them so the Iceni saw their occupiers as brutal and amoral. This sickening symbiosis of hatred led to what was one of the most violent massacres of the time.

Camulodunum was no different to any other Roman occupied town at that time. With the indigenous peoples being taxed to pay for their own servitude, the occupation was universally despised. At the same time there was famine and people were going hungry: add to this the fact that some taxes were paid in grain, and the resentment only deepened. Furthermore, young Iceni men were being conscripted into the Roman army to fight and die for those they hated, and the tribal lands were being systematically seized by Roman citizens, dispossessing those who had lived on and farmed that land for years.

Bust of the Emperor Claudius

However, what made Camulodunum more important than most was the adding of insult to this already immeasurable injury: the construction of the Temple of Claudius. This temple was erected in the town to honour the very Roman Emperor who had enforced their subjugation. The people loathed this symbol of Roman dominance.

When Boudica’s rebellion began in outrage in AD60, Camulodunum was not chosen as the first target for their collective retribution by accident, but because it exemplified the quintessential Roman rule in Britain at the time.

The land surrounding the town had been taken from the Trinobantes tribe and given to Roman veterans to live out their retirement in peace and comfort. The town had been completely rebuilt on a Roman grid system and the temple to Claudius had been erected within it.

The Roman Balkerne Gate at Colchester

The Trinobantes had been some of the first to join the rebellion, aching to revenge themselves on their Roman overlords. As the army (and it was an army) marched towards Camulodunum many, many more people joined the rebellion. It was no longer an Iceni force but a British one, furious and hell bent on erasing the Romans from British lands. Estimates vary wildly, but when the army reached Colchester it was certainly in the tens of thousands, with some historians arguing it may have numbered as many as one hundred thousand.

Camulodunum was completely unprepared for the onslaught. If they had known that Boudica was coming for them with her armies, they were certainly not as afraid as they should have been, at least not until it was too late. When the Roman veterans and townspeople realised this was not a mere gaggle of women but a rolling tide of rage and hatred, heading straight for them with a palpable blood thirst, they begged Londinium for help. But it was too late. There were no legions in the area and Londinium sent a paltry 200 men to their defence. The veterans did the best they could, they were no strangers to Rome’s fight, but they were long retired, and the 200 sent to help them were not nearly enough.

The battle was over before it began. Boudica and her army slaughtered everyone. They poured into the town like an unstoppable plague of death and destruction. People fled where they could but were inevitably caught and brutalized. Some historians state that women had their breasts cut off and forced down their throats people were hacked to pieces where they stood or cut down as they ran. It is no exaggeration to say that the streets would have run red with blood. Those who turned to their Emperor and their gods for help by taking refuge in the temple that was so despised, were routed and murdered. No one was left alive. The Britons revenge was bloody, brutal and unstoppable.

Camulodunum was not a battle within a rebellion, it was a revenge massacre. So great was the tribes’ rage, they did not even loot the town but purposefully burned the buildings to the ground. They would rather annihilate any sign of Roman occupation rather than take anything of value to be found. When they had exacted their terrible revenge on Camulodunum their focus turned to Londinium, where the rebellion was to claim even more lives. When it was finally over, the death toll was estimated at around 70,000.

There is one enduring mystery to this. It is undeniable that this massacre occurred and that the Iceni rebellion took place, and yet, where are the bodies of those that were slaughtered at Camulodunum? Throughout history there are only two instances of bones being found in Colchester dating from Boudica’s rebellion, once in 1965 and then again in 2014. If so many people perished within this town, where are their remains? And what really happened to the bodies of those who were butchered so brutally in Camulodunum in AD60?

Boudica – The Celtic Queen Who Challenged Rome

Arminius, born in the Germanic territories and forced to become a Roman soldier, never forgot his past and decided, when the chance came, to fight against Rome. Arminius took an important step to stop the expansion of the Roman Empire on the continent, becoming the first to defeat and expel the Romans from his homeland.

Arminius’ crushing victory in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest (9 AD), was a shocking blow to Rome and changed the course of Roman history.

Germanic warriors storm the field.

In 21 AD, the Roman Empire completely abandoned the campaign in the Germanic territories, establishing its border to the east of the Rhine river. But the Roman Empire was extremely expansionist, basing its strength on the conquest of territories, subjugating the inhabitants and seizing their resources.

Expelled from Germania in the east, the empire set its sights on one of the last territories that was not under its complete domain: Britannia.

A place full of mystery for the Romans, with important resources (gold, silver, slaves, grains) for their empire, this was enough reason to send 40 thousand men on a new campaign of conquest in 43AD by the order of Emperor Claudius.

The Conquest of Britannia

Roman campaigns from AD 43 to 60.

During the previous 100 years, the Romans had tried on several occasions, beginning with the incursions of Julius Caesar, to gain control of the island, but always came up against great resistance from the indigenous Celts, fierce warriors who painted their body blue to intimidate opponents.

However, the Celts, despite challenging the Romans, lacked resources and military training, something that Romans did not suffer. The result of the conquest campaigns in 43 AD was overwhelming. The Romans, in just 2 years, controlled the southern half of the island.

Conquered – Submission and Romanization

Landing of the Romans on the Coast of Kent.

In view of complete Roman superiority, some tribes decided to cooperate, being forced to declare the Roman emperor, in this case, Nero, as co-heir of their lands. Although at first sight it looked to be unfavorable treatment, this guaranteed not just survival, but also allowed the local rulers to remain on the throne.

This was the case of Prasutagus (husband of Boudica), King of the Iceni, a small tribe from the southeast of Britannia.

Iceni Tribe

Celtic gold stater Iceni tribe. By: Numisantica – CC BY-SA 3.0 nl

The Iceni were a Celtic tribe that inhabited part of the Eastern region of present-day England, specifically in the county of Norfolk. The nobility was characterized by wearing torcs, heavy necklaces designed to be worn around the neck and shoulders. Most torcs were made with gold or silver.

Iceni women (and generally all Celtic women) had superior rights compared with contemporary Greek and Roman women. They could inherit, manage their property, divorce and even govern.

Death of the Iceni King 60A.D. – Prasutagus

Prasutagus, in his will, gave half of his possessions to the emperor Nero in an attempt to gain his favor and preserve his daughters on the throne of the Icenis. But Rome did not have the smallest interest in honoring the last will of Prasutagus. They did not consider in any way that the kingdom could be ruled by his daughters, and therefore the legitimate heir was unquestionably the Emperor. The procurator Cato Deciano was ordered to seize all the assets of Prasutagus to honor the debts contracted.

Queen Boudica in John Opie’s painting Boadicea Haranguing the Britons

Boudica, Queen of the Iceni and a woman of great courage, refused and tried to resist. The punishment for this “insolence” was exemplary and cruel. Boudica was whipped in public and her daughters raped by Roman soldiers. Many of her nobles were enslaved and the lands and their possessions confiscated. Boudica swore to take revenge for the treason of Rome.


The little that is known about Boudica is due to the Roman historians Tacitus and Dión Casio, They describe her as a long red haired warrior of great intelligence and charisma, tall and strong, with a severe look and an authoritative voice. Her name means Victoria in the Celtic language.

Emperor Nero’s ambition

The Emperor Claudius Cesar Nero, greedy for riches, set his sights on Britannia and total control of the island and its treasures. To fulfill his objective, in the year 60AD he designated as Governor of Britannia the General Cayo Suetonio Paulinus.

Bust of Nero at the Capitoline Museum, Rome. Photo: cjh1452000 – CC BY-SA 3.0

In 61AD, Paulinus mobilizes 10,000 legionaries to the Isle of Mona with the intention of killing the druids, the political and religious advisors of the Celtic tribes. The druids served as communicators with the gods. Paulinus was merciless and druid priests, women and children were killed.

The Mona campaign left the principal Roman urban centers in Britannia without protection, and Boudica knew it.

Boudica – The beginning of Her Rebellion

While General Paulinus was in North Wales directing the operation on the Island of Mona, in the east of Britannia, in a consensus between the main Celtic tribes (Trinovantes, Catfish, Catuvellaun, Iceni), Boudica was chosen as the leader to face the Romans, giving rise to their rebellion.

Camulodunum, located in the southeast, was the capital and administrative heart of the Roman Empire in Britannia, was the first target for Boudica. With Paulinus on Mona, the city was virtually unprotected, without ramparts and defended only by a small number of veteran soldiers. It was a massacre.

Boudica wanted to send a message of terror to all the borders of Rome. She devastated the city in a way the Romans had never before suffered in their history. The few survivors took refuge in a temple they built in honor of the late Emperor, Claudius. Boudica had no mercy and set fire to the temple, regardless of the fact that there were women and children inside.

Boudica, leader of the rebellion against the Romans.

In response, Rome sent troops from Londinium. A city poorly defended with some veteran soldiers was one thing, but it was quite another to face a detachment of legionaries. However, using guerrilla tactics, Boudica defeated them.

This left the road free for Boudica to attack Londinium, the trade center of the Roman Empire in Britannia and Verulamium. She and her army devastated both cities. A great portion of the population fled before the attack those who remained were brutally killed. Paulinus hurried to help but reached Londinium too late. He arrived to see it burning.

Despite the successes obtained by Boudica, weeks later Paulinus decided to confront her. By this time, however, Boudica had an army without supplies.

The Fall

Paulinus, an expert in military tactics, designed a plan that forced the Celts to cross a narrow passage. Like King Leonidas and its 300 Spartans in the Thermopylae, in this way General Paulinus, with just ten thousand legionaries of the 14th Roman legion eliminated the numerical advantage of Boudica, who had an army of more than one hundred thousand men (although all these men were without armor and many did not even have military experience).

Statue of Gaius Suetonius Paulinus on the terrace of the Roman Baths (Bath). Photo: Ad Meskens / CC BY SA 3.0

The battle strategy had three simple parts. First, the legionaries launched their “pilum” (a javelin) against the Celts. Then, the Roman infantry managed to resist the onslaught of the Celts. Finally, the cavalry of General Paulinus attacked the Celts on the flanks. When seeing themselves lost, Boudica and her army tried to retreat, but the disposition of its own chariots and camps made it difficult to execute a withdrawal.

The Roman cavalry managed to envelop the rebels, who were then massacred without mercy. Very few survived the encounter.

The fate of Boudica is not clear. She either decided to poison herself after the defeat or she fell in battle, but her legacy continues to this day, as an example of courage against tyranny.


Tacitus and Dio agree that Boudica was of royal descent. Dio describes her as "possessed of greater intelligence than often belongs to women." He also describes her as tall, with tawny hair hanging down to below her waist, a harsh voice and a piercing glare. He notes that she habitually wore a large golden necklace (perhaps a torc), a colourful tunic, and a thick cloak fastened by a brooch.

Her husband Prasutagus was the king of the Iceni, the people who inhabited roughly what is now Norfolk. They initially were not part of the territory under direct Roman control, having voluntarily allied themselves to Rome following Claudius' conquest of AD 43. They were proud of their independence, and had revolted in AD 47 when the then-governor Publius Ostorius Scapula threatened to disarm them. Prasutagus had lived a long life of conspicuous wealth and, hoping to preserve his line, made the Roman emperor co-heir to his kingdom, along with his wife and two daughters.

It was normal Roman practice to allow allied kingdoms their independence only for the lifetime of their client king, who would then agree to leave his kingdom to Rome in his will. For example, the provinces of Bithynia and Galatia were incorporated into the Empire in just this way. Roman law also allowed inheritance only through the male line, so when Prasutagus died, his attempts to preserve his line were ignored and his kingdom was annexed as if it had been conquered. His lands and property were confiscated and nobles treated like slaves. According to Tacitus, Boudica was flogged and her daughters were raped. Cassius Dio says that Roman financiers, including Seneca the Younger, chose this time to call in their loans. Tacitus does not mention this, but does single out the Roman procurator Catus Decianus for criticism for his "avarice". Prasutagus, it seems, had lived well on borrowed Roman money, and on his death his subjects had become liable for the debt.

In AD 60 or 61, while the current governor, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, was leading a campaign against the island of Mona (modern Anglesey) in the north of Wales, which was a refuge for British rebels and a stronghold of the druids, the Iceni conspired with their neighbours the Trinovantes, amongst others, to revolt. Boudica was chosen as their leader. According to Tacitus, they drew inspiration from the example of Arminius, the prince of the Cherusci who had driven the Romans out of Germany in AD 9, and their own ancestors who had driven Julius Caesar from Britain.Dio says that at the outset Boudica employed a form of divination, releasing a hare from the folds of her dress and interpreting the direction in which it ran, and invoked Andraste, a British goddess of victory.

The rebels' first target was Camulodunum (Colchester), the former Trinovantian capital and, at that time, a Roman colonia. The Roman veterans who had been settled there mistreated the locals and a temple to the former emperor Claudius had been erected there at local expense, making the city a focus for resentment. The Roman inhabitants sought reinforcements from the procurator, Catus Decianus, but he sent only two hundred auxiliary troops. Boudica's army fell on the poorly defended city and destroyed it, besieging the last defenders in the temple for two days before it fell. Archaeologists have shown that the city was methodically demolished.The future governor Quintus Petillius Cerialis, then commanding the Legio IX Hispana, attempted to relieve the city, but suffered an overwhelming defeat. His infantry was wiped out—only the commander and some of his cavalry escaped. The location of this famous destruction of the Legio IX is now claimed by some to be the village of Great Wratting, in Suffolk, which lies in the Stour Valley on the Icknield Way West of Colchester, and by a village in Essex. After this defeat, Catus Decianus fled to Gaul.

When news of the rebellion reached him, Suetonius hurried along Watling Street through hostile territory to Londinium. Londinium was a relatively new settlement, founded after the conquest of AD 43, but it had grown to be a thriving commercial centre with a population of travellers, traders, and, probably, Roman officials. Suetonius considered giving battle there, but considering his lack of numbers and chastened by Petillius's defeat, decided to sacrifice the city to save the province.

Queen Boudica in John Opie's painting "Boadicea Haranguing the Britons"

. Alarmed by this disaster and by the fury of the province which he had goaded into war by his rapacity, the procurator Catus crossed over into Gaul. Suetonius, however, with wonderful resolution, marched amidst a hostile population to Londinium, which, though undistinguished by the name of a colony, was much frequented by a number of merchants and trading vessels. Uncertain whether he should choose it as a seat of war, as he looked round on his scanty force of soldiers, and remembered with what a serious warning the rashness of Petilius had been punished, he resolved to save the province at the cost of a single town. Nor did the tears and weeping of the people, as they implored his aid, deter him from giving the signal of departure and receiving into his army all who would go with him. Those who were chained to the spot by the weakness of their sex, or the infirmity of age, or the attractions of the place, were cut off by the enemy. - Tacitus

Londinium was abandoned to the rebels who burnt it down, slaughtering anyone who had not evacuated with Suetonius. Archaeology shows a thick red layer of burnt debris covering coins and pottery dating before AD 60 within the bounds of Roman Londinium., whilst Roman-era skulls found in the Walbrook in 2013 were potentially linked to victims of the rebels. Verulamium (St Albans) was next to be destroyed.

In the three settlements destroyed, between seventy and eighty thousand people are said to have been killed. Tacitus says that the Britons had no interest in taking or selling prisoners, only in slaughter by gibbet, fire, or cross. Dio's account gives more detail that the noblest women were impaled on spikes and had their breasts cut off and sewn to their mouths, "to the accompaniment of sacrifices, banquets, and wanton behaviour" in sacred places, particularly the groves of Andraste.

While Boudica's army continued their assault in Verulamium (St. Albans), Suetonius regrouped his forces. According to Tacitus, he amassed a force including his own Legio XIV Gemina, some vexillationes (detachments) of the XX Valeria Victrix, and any available auxiliaries.[25] The prefect of Legio II Augusta, Poenius Postumus, stationed near Exeter, ignored the call,and a fourth legion, IX Hispana, had been routed trying to relieve Camulodunum, but nonetheless the governor was able to call on almost ten thousand men.

Suetonius took a stand at an unidentified location, probably in the West Midlands somewhere along the Roman road now known as Watling Street, in a defile with a wood behind him — but his men were heavily outnumbered. Dio says that, even if they were lined up one deep, they would not have extended the length of Boudica's line. By now the rebel forces were said to have numbered 230,000, however, this number should be treated with scepticism — Dio's account is known only from a late epitome, and ancient sources commonly exaggerate enemy numbers.

Boudica exhorted her troops from her chariot, her daughters beside her. Tacitus gives her a short speech in which she presents herself not as an aristocrat avenging her lost wealth, but as an ordinary person, avenging her lost freedom, her battered body, and the abused chastity of her daughters. She said their cause was just, and the deities were on their side the one legion that had dared to face them had been destroyed. She, a woman, was resolved to win or die if the men wanted to live in slavery, that was their choice.

However, the lack of manoeuvrability of the British forces, combined with lack of open-field tactics to command these numbers, put them at a disadvantage to the Romans, who were skilled at open combat due to their superior equipment and discipline. Also, the narrowness of the field meant that Boudica could put forth only as many troops as the Romans could at a given time.

First, the Romans stood their ground and used volleys of pila (heavy javelins) to kill thousands of Britons who were rushing toward the Roman lines. The Roman soldiers, who had now used up their pila, were then able to engage Boudica's second wave in the open. As the Romans advanced in a wedge formation, the Britons attempted to flee, but were impeded by the presence of their own families, whom they had stationed in a ring of wagons at the edge of the battlefield, and were slaughtered. This is not the first instance of this tactic—the women of the Cimbri, in the Battle of Vercellae against Gaius Marius, were stationed in a line of wagons and acted as a last line of defence. Ariovistus of the Suebi is reported to have done the same thing in his battle against Julius Caesar. Tacitus reports that "according to one report almost eighty thousand Britons fell" compared with only four hundred Romans.

According to Tacitus in his Annals, Boudica poisoned herself, though in the Agricola which was written almost twenty years prior he mentions nothing of suicide and attributes the end of the revolt to socordia ("indolence") Dio says she fell sick and died and then was given a lavish burial though this may be a convenient way to remove her from the story. Considering Dio must have read Tacitus, it is worth noting he mentions nothing about suicide (which was also how Postumus and Nero ended their lives).

Postumus, on hearing of the Roman victory, fell on his sword. Catus Decianus, who had fled to Gaul, was replaced by Gaius Julius Alpinus Classicianus. Suetonius conducted punitive operations, but criticism by Classicianus led to an investigation headed by Nero's freedman Polyclitus. Fearing Suetonius' actions would provoke further rebellion, Nero replaced the governor with the more conciliatory Publius Petronius Turpilianus.The historian Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus tells us the crisis had almost persuaded Nero to abandon Britain.

The location of Boudica's defeat is unknown. Most historians[citation needed] favour a site in the West Midlands, somewhere along the Roman road now known as Watling Street. Kevin K. Carroll suggests a site close to High Cross in Leicestershire, on the junction of Watling Street and the Fosse Way, which would have allowed the Legio II Augusta, based at Exeter, to rendezvous with the rest of Suetonius's forces, had they not failed to do so. Manduessedum (Mancetter), near the modern town of Atherstone in Warwickshire, has also been suggested, as has "The Rampart" near Messing in Essex, according to legend. More recently, a discovery of Roman artefacts in Kings Norton close to Metchley Camp has suggested another possibility,and a thorough examination of a stretch of Watling Street between St. Albans, Boudica's last known location, and the Fosse Way junction has suggested the Cuttle Mill area of Paulerspury in Northamptonshire, which has topography very closely matching that described by Tacitus of the scene of the battle.

In 2009 it was suggested that the Iceni were returning to East Anglia along the Icknield Way when they encountered the Roman army in the vicinity of Arbury Bank, Hertfordshire.In March 2010, evidence was published suggesting the site may be located at Church Stowe, Northamptonshire.

Tacitus, the most important Roman historian of this period, took a particular interest in Britain as his father-in-law Gnaeus Julius Agricola served there three times (and was the subject of his first book). Agricola was a military tribune under Suetonius Paulinus, which almost certainly gave Tacitus an eyewitness source for Boudica's revolt. Cassius Dio's account is only known from an epitome, and his sources are uncertain. He is generally agreed to have based his account on that of Tacitus, but he simplifies the sequence of events and adds details, such as the calling in of loans, that Tacitus does not mention.

Gildas, in his 6th century De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae, may have been alluding to Boudica when he wrote "A treacherous lioness butchered the governors who had been left to give fuller voice and strength to the endeavours of Roman rule".