Queen Boudica

Queen Boudica

The life of Boudicca: the warrior queen of the the Iceni

She was the rebel queen of the ancient British Celtic Iceni tribe, who led an army against the Romans in AD 60/61, securing her place in the history books as one of Britain’s most iconic rulers.

Boudicca (also written as Boudica and Boudicea) is believed to have been born around AD 30 into an elite family in South East England. Most of the information about her comes from two Roman historians – Tacitus and Cassius Dio.

In AD 43, Emperor Claudius mounted an invasion force and successfully conquered southern Britain. In AD 48, at the age of 18, Boudicca married Prasutagas the king of the Iceni tribe, whose lands occupied what is now modern-day Norfolk. It is believed Prasutagas submitted to Claudius after the AD 43 invasion and had been permitted to continue to rule as an independent ally of Rome.

Boudicca gave birth to two daughters whose names are unknown and she remained at Prasutagas side until his death from illness. In his will, he left half of his kingdom and possessions to his daughters and the other half to Emperor Nero. It was an attempt to appease Rome whilst at the same time preserving his own family dynasty. The plan backfired and the Romans ignored his wishes and decided to call in debts that the late king had accumulated. The lands and property of leading Iceni tribesmen were confiscated and the people stripped of their ally status, effectively reducing them to the level of slaves.

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When Boudicca protested the move, she was publicly stripped and flogged and her two daughters raped by Roman soldiers. Boudicca swore revenge and began to muster an army to rebel against her oppressive new masters.

Cassius Dio described Boudicca as very tall, with long tawny coloured hair, highly intelligent and equipped with a fierce look and authoritative voice. Like other Celtic women, Boudica had been trained as a warrior so she knew how to fight.

The Iceni joined forces with the neighbouring Trinovantes and along with other tribes combined to make an army of around 100,000 Britons, all under the command of Boudicca.

In AD 60 (or 61) when the Roman governor of Britain, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, was away campaigning on the island of Mona (modern Anglesey) in North Wales, Boudicca and her army began their uprising.

First, they marched on Camulodunum (modern Colchester), which was the provincial Roman capital of Britain at the time. The town lay virtually unprotected, defended only by a small number of veteran soldiers. Boudicca’s army laid waste to the town, burning it to the ground, massacring its inhabitants (Romans and pro-Roman Britain’s alike) and decapitating a bronze statue to the emperor Nero. The Roman Ninth Legion, under the command of Quintus Petillius Cerialis, attempted to relieve the city but Boudicca routed the advancing army and annihilated most of the legion.

Londinium (modern London), the trade centre of the Roman Empire in Britain, now lay ahead. By this time, Suetonius had got word of the revolt and began marching his troops back down south. He arrived at Londinium before Boudicca, however, the settlement was poorly fortified and with just a few thousand men Suetonius decided to abandon the town to the rebels.

Londinium suffered the same fate of Camulodunum with Boudicca’s forces razing it to the ground and killing and torturing anyone who had failed to evacuate. Verulamium (modern St Albans) would be their next target and again Suetonius refused to defend the town, leaving it to be freely sacked, burned and obliterated by the warrior Queen.

Accounts suggest that between 70,000-80,000 people were killed when Boudicca destroyed those three settlements. Nero was said to be contemplating pulling out of Britain altogether.

Although Boudicca’s army had now grown even larger in size, her campaign of revenge was about to come to an end.

‘It is not as a woman descended from noble ancestry, but as one of the people that I am avenging lost freedom. '

Suetonius regrouped his forces and amassed an army of around 10,000 men. A master of military tactics, Suetonius designed a plan that would effectively eliminate his enemy’s numerical advantage. He chose a steep-sided narrow gorge with woods protecting his rear as the spot to make his stand, denying the rebels the chance to exploit their superior numbers. Although the location of the final battle is unknown, historians have suggested it could have taken place along the Roman road now known as Watling Street, somewhere most likely in the West Midlands.

Before the battle commenced, Tacitus records that Boudicca addressed her troops. ‘It is not as a woman descended from noble ancestry, but as one of the people that I am avenging lost freedom, my scourged body, the outraged chastity of my daughters. Roman lust has gone so far that not our very persons, nor even age or virginity, are left unpolluted. But heaven is on the side of a righteous vengeance a legion which dared to fight has perished the rest are hiding themselves in their camp, or are thinking anxiously of flight…This is a woman's resolve as for men, they may live and be slaves.’

However, Boudicca’s opposition was better trained, better disciplined and better equipped. The rebels had also made the fateful decision of encircling their rear with their families, wagons and animals, preventing any escape once the battle had been lost. In the end, her troops were slaughtered almost to the last, whilst the Romans, according to Tacitus, suffered just a few hundred casualties.

Cassius Dio and Tacitus differ on what happened next to the warrior Queen. Dio says she fell ill and died after the battle, whilst Tacitus says she poisoned herself. Nothing in the histories tells of what happened to her two daughters.

The Romans had quelled the rebellion and secured Southern Britain. Publius Petronius Turpilianus replaced Suetonious as governor and took a more conciliatory approach. In the decades that followed, however, the Romans continued their expansion northwards into Wales and towards Scotland.

Though Boudicca ultimately failed in her quest to rid Britain of the Romans, she is still celebrated today as a national heroine and a symbol of freedom, justice and courage in the face of tyranny.


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]

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.

The Iceni had progressive views about women

In much of the ancient world, like Ancient Greece, women were treated like second class citizens. Surprise. They couldn't inherit property, they couldn't become warriors, and they sure as heck couldn't rule a kingdom. (One exception: Women rulers occasionally rose to power in the feminist utopia that was Ancient Egypt, and had been doing so for thousands of years). The Iceni, on the other hand, were way too busy being badass to care about whether or not their women were just as badass as they were.

Celtic women enjoyed rights that most ancient women didn't even have time to dream about, because of all the porridge-making and the childbirth that they were expected to do all the time. According to ThoughtCo., Celtic women could be artists, religious leaders, politicians, judges, and more. They were free to choose their husbands and they were free to divorce their husbands, too. There were strict laws against the violation of women and the punishments were explicitly outlined. If you were going to be a woman in the ancient world, Celtic Britain was one of your better options. Not that you had options, but you know, if you were lucky.


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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Quashing the revolt

Suetonius Paulinus, Britannia’s governor, was a senior member of the Roman elite. Suetonius Paulinus was born in Rome and had served in other provinces before being appointed governor of Britain circa A.D. 58. Provincial governors in the Roman Empire were responsible for the management of the territory and military control.

Shortly before Boudica’s rebellion, Suetonius Paulinus had been called away to Mona, a druid stronghold on the large island of Anglesey off the northwestern coast of Wales. Tacitus described how the Romans were “welcomed” by black-robed women on the opposite shore who cursed the Roman soldiers as they attempted to cross the water. This attack on the Druids’ sacred island presumably escalated the anger felt by the Britons. When word reached him of Boudica’s revolt in southern Britain, the governor was then compelled to withdraw and head southeast.

After deciding not to engage with the rebels near Londinium, Suetonius Paulinus prepared to battle with Boudica at another site. He chose to deploy a force of around 10,000 men drawn from the 14th and 20th Legions, supplemented by auxiliary soldiers, in a valley backed by woodland. The Romans were outnumbered by the Britons, who were so confident of victory that they had stationed their families overlooking the battle site.

The exact location of the final battle has been the subject of speculation. It is likely that the clash took place in the Midlands of modern-day England, sometime after the Britons had sacked Verulamium and were moving northwest along the Roman highway known as Watling Street. Tacitus wrote that Boudica and her daughters drove around the battlefield in a chariot shouting to her armies to rile them up:

Behold the proud display of warlike spirits, and consider the motives for which we draw the avenging sword. On this spot we must either conquer, or die with glory. There is no alternative. Though a woman, my resolution is fixed: the men, if they please, may survive with infamy, and live in bondage.

The contest that followed was heated, as Dio Cassius described: “They contended for a long time, both parties being animated by the same zeal and daring. But finally, late in the day, the Romans prevailed.” Tacitus’s more detailed account gives the impression that Boudica’s passionate followers were effectively defeated by Roman discipline:

The Britons brought into the field an incredible multitude. They formed no regular line of battle. Detached parties and loose battalions displayed their numbers, in frantic transport bounding with exultation, and so sure of victory, that they placed their wives in wagons at the extremity of the plain, where they might survey the scene of action, and behold the wonders of British valour.

Apparently 80,000 Britons, including women, were killed, while Roman casualties amounted to around 400 dead and a few more wounded. Following their victory, the Roman military probably disposed of the British dead in large pits or incinerated their bodies. The only trace of this battle might be large pits filled with dismembered skeletons or broken weapons. Perhaps one day this place will be found.

Queen Boudica - History

A majestic statue of Queen Boudica, erected in 1902, stands guard along the River Thames in London across from Big Ben and Westminster Bridge.

Celtic lore speaks of the great Queen Boudica who led her people in a widespread revolt in 61 A.D. against Roman invaders who sought to eliminate the native cultures of Britannia and destroy all who refused to succumb to their might. Her husband, King Prasutagus of the Iceni tribe, had preserved a tenuous relationship with the Roman occupiers who provided him funds to maintain peace and order at this remote edge of their empire.

Upon his death, Boudica became the sole ruler of the Iceni. However, Roman law and culture forbade women any level of authority and sought her resignation. Additionally, the funds provided to her husband were declared loans which the Roman government now sought repayment.

One day, Roman legions attacked her village seeking to end her reign and annex the entire kingdom for the Emperor. Finally, they flogged her in public and attacked her two daughters as she watched helplessly. (And we think modern day foreclosures are brutal!)

Such an unspeakable personal assault against her family spurred Boudica to lead not only the Iceni people, but also neighboring tribes to take arms against the Romans who had invaded their lands.

In a series of swift and brutal attacks, Boudica led her warriors shoulder-to-shoulder in battle on a scorched earth offensive against the tyranny and brutality which had befallen their realm. 100,000 strong, she and her militia burned and destroyed at least three Romans settlements in Britannia, including Londinium (ancient London).

Boudica (which translates to "Victory") remains a symbol of strength and resistance in the face of great tribulation for the Celtic and British people. Even Queen Victoria was portrayed as her namesake. Later in World War II, Winston Churchill would often speak of Boudica during rallying speeches to bombarded Londoners as they looked to her as a source of resilience.

To this day, Boudica's mark remains. If you dig a hole four meters deep in downtown London, you will find a deposit of burnt ash left behind from the flames that raged when she and her people yelled, "No more!" Archaeologists call this 'The Boudica Destruction Layer.'

Mead likely served as a favored drink that powered Boudica and her rebels against tyranny. Honey Grail seeks to reintroduce mead to the American public by adapting it to modern palettes. Our meads are neither excessively sweet nor overly priced.

The incredible story of how Boudica destroyed a Hertfordshire city

It’s easy to get complacent with our knowledge of our county’s Roman history.

We can see the walls and ruins around St Albans especially, and although incredible to look at we perhaps don’t know as much as we should about what actually happened in our area.

One of the most well-told stories is about Boudica’s revolt against the Romans and the damage she inflicted on some of their major towns - including Verulamium, neighbouring to modern day St Albans.

Find some slightly more recent history in your area below:

Boudica’s husband Prasutagus ruled the Iceni as an ally of Rome, with the intention to pass on the land to his daughters and the Roman Emperor once he died.

However, soon after his requests were ignored, with property seized and land annexed and taken from the Iceni tribe, while inflicting personal punishment upon the family.

It’s believed that they flogged and stripped Boudica and raped her daughters - however, instead of fleeing or going into hiding, Boudica led a spirited revolt against the Romans.

In 60 or 61 AD, the Roman governor Gaius Suetonius Paullinus was leading a campaign in North Wales, giving her an opportunity to start an uprising.

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The Iceni was backed by other tribes as her warriors began to ransack some of the most high profile sites of the Roman invasion.

This first included defeating the Roman Ninth Legion and destroying Camulodunum (now Colchester), the capital of Roman Britain.

That was before making Londinium (modern London) their next target and successfully destroyed the settlement.

It was around the same time that the army came to Verulamium.

It’s thought that during the three attacks they killed and tortured thousands, and completely destroyed Verulamium.

However, despite what historians have long thought about the scale of the destruction, in excavation work carried out between 2010 and 2013, a Roman writing tablet mentions contracts between Verulamium and Londinium, in 62 AD - indicating the towns were back in business within a year.

Some historians even believe that Boudica’s destruction of the iron age settlements actually pushed Verulamium forward as it could be rebuilt along conventional Roman lines.

Boudica has, of course, become an iconic figure of the Roman period, and folk hero since the 16th century when works of Tacitus were rediscovered and her story uncovered.

Even if the story is new, you might recognise the name and imagery - most likely from the statue Boadicea and Her Daughters that sits on a plinth next to Westminster Bridge that was erected in 1902 after being designed by Thomas Thornycroft - who died in 1885 before he could see it take a final form.

There’s also another statue depicting Boudicca at Colchester Town Hall, which was erected in the same year.

The statues depict her riding on her chariot, and it’s believed that Boudica and her daughters used to travel along the tribesmen to urge them to be brave in battle.

Despite the chaos she managed to inflict on the first three settlements, Boudica’s army and the Britons were eventually beaten by Seutonius Paulinus’ Roman army.

It’s not yet known where the final battle took place, but historians believe that it was likely in the Midlands, as Boudica’s troops moved north following the destruction of Verulamium.

According to Tacitus, the passion of the Britons were no match of the discipline of the Roman army, writing: “The Britons brought into the field an incredible multitude. They formed no regular line of battle. Detached parties and loose battalions displayed their numbers, in frantic transport bounding with exultation, and so sure of victory, that they placed their wives in wagons at the extremity of the plain, where they might survey the scene of action, and behold the wonders of British valour.”

The army was outnumbered but were able to restore their power, and end their last major threat of revolt until 410AD - 250 years later.

The ultimate fate of Boudica, though, is still not known.

It’s also disputed how Boudica died - with some accounts believing that she poisoned herself and her daughters before they were captured, with others believing she had fallen ill and given a significant burial.

The location is also not known, with the two most famous guessing in recent years suggesting beneath Platform 9 and 10 at King’s Cross station - although this is very disputed - or even beneath a McDonald’s restaurant in Birmingham.

It’s likely that Verulamium and St Albans was the site of her last success, and while there’s not much evidence of that today, it’s another reminder of just how storied our county’s past is.

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