Boudica (Born 25 AD* - died 62 AD* approx.*) was queen of the Iceni, a Celtic tribe living in what is now known as Norfolk in eastern Britain.
Location of modern Norfolk, once inhabited by the Iceni.
Boudica also spelled as Boudicia, Boadicea, Boudicca and Boudicea. These spellings are probably derived from a mistranscription of documents written by the Roman Historian Tacitus.
Kenneth Jackson, English linguist and a translator who specialized in the Brythonic (or Brittonic languages) concluded that the correct spelling of the name is Boudica, pronounced /bau:di:ka:/, although it is mispronounced by many as /'bu:dIka/.
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Boudica (also spelled Boudicca, formerly better known as Boadicea) (d. 60/61) was a queen of the Brythonic Celtic Iceni people of Norfolk in Eastern Britain who led a major uprising of the tribes against the occupying forces of the Roman Empire.
Her husband, Prasutagus, the Icenian king, who had ruled as a nominally independent ally of Rome, had left his kingdom jointly to his daughters and the Roman Emperor in his will, but when he died his will was ignored, possibly because the Romans, unlike the Britons, did not recognise daughters as heirs. The kingdom was annexed as if conquered, Boudica was flogged and her daughters raped, and Roman financiers called in their loans.
In 60 or 61, while the Roman governor, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, was leading a campaign on the island of Anglesey in north Wales, Boudica led the Iceni, along with the Trinovantes and others, in revolt. They destroyed Camulodunum (Colchester), formerly the capital of the Trinovantes but now a colonia (a settlement for discharged Roman soldiers) and the site of a temple to the former emperor Claudius, built and maintained at local expense, and routed a Roman legion, the IX Hispana, sent to relieve the settlement.
On hearing the news, Suetonius hurried to Londinium (London), the twenty-year-old commercial settlement which was the rebels' next target, but concluding he did not have the numbers to defend it, evacuated and abandoned it. It was burnt to the ground, as was Verulamium (St Albans). An estimated 70,000-80,000 people were killed in the three cities. Suetonius, meanwhile, regrouped his forces in the West Midlands, and despite being heavily outnumbered, defeated Boudica in the Battle of Watling Street. The crisis had led the emperor Nero to consider withdrawing Roman forces from the island, but Suetonius's victory secured Roman control of the province.
The chronicles of these events, as recorded by the historians Tacitus and Cassius Dio, were rediscovered during the Renaissance and led to a resurgence of Boudica's legendary fame during the Victorian era, when Queen Victoria was portrayed as her "namesake". Boudica has since remained an important cultural symbol in the United Kingdom.
Tacitus and Dio agree that Boudica was of royal descent. Dio says that she was "possessed of greater intelligence than often belongs to women", that she was tall, had long red hair down to her hips, a harsh voice and a piercing glare, and habitually wore a large golden necklace (perhaps a torc), a many-coloured tunic and a thick cloak fastened by a brooch.
Location of modern Norfolk, once inhabited by the Iceni.
Location of modern Norfolk, once inhabited by the Iceni.
Her husband, Prasutagus, was the king of Iceni, who inhabited roughly what is now Norfolk. They were initially not part of the territory under direct Roman control, having voluntarily allied themselves to Rome following Claudius's conquest of 43. They were protective of their independence and had revolted in 47 when the then-governor, Publius Ostorius Scapula, threatened to disarm them. Prasutagus 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 agree to leave his kingdom to Rome in his will: the provinces of Bithynia and Galatia, for example, 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. Lands and property were confiscated and nobles treated like slaves. According to Tacitus, Boudica was flogged and her daughters raped. Dio Cassius says that Roman financiers, including Seneca the Younger, chose this point to call in their loans. Tacitus does not mention this, but does single out the 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 60 or 61, while the current governor, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, was leading a campaign against the island of Mona (modern Anglesey) in north 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 it ran, and invoked Andraste, a British goddess of victory. It is perhaps significant that Boudica's own name means "victory" (see above).
The rebels' first target was Camulodunum (Colchester), the former Trinovantian capital and now 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. Its 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. The future governor Quintus Petillius Cerialis, then commanding the Legio IX Hispana, attempted to relieve the city, but his forces were routed. His infantry was wiped out: only the commander and some of his cavalry escaped. Catus Decianus fled to Gaul.
When news of the rebellion reached him, Suetonius hurried along Watling Street through hostile territory to Londinium (London). Londinium was a relatively new town, founded after the conquest of 43, but 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. 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 60 within the bounds of the Roman city. Verulamium (St Albans) was next to be destroyed.
In the three cities destroyed, between seventy and eighty thousand people are said to have been killed. Tacitus says the Britons had no interest in taking or selling prisoners, only in slaughter by gibbet, fire or cross. Dio's account gives more prurient 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.
Suetonius regrouped with the XIV Gemina, some vexillationes (detachments) of the XX Valeria Victrix, and any available auxiliaries. The prefect of Legio II Augusta, Poenius Postumus, ignored the call, but nonetheless the governor was able to call on almost ten thousand men. He 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 numbered 230,000 (this and all 'exact' numbers should be disputed as to the sensationalist nature of the sources).
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. Their cause was just, and the gods 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 unmaneuverability 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, and the narrowness of the field meant that Boudica could only put forth as many troops as the Romans could at a given time. First, the Romans stood their ground and used waves of javelins to kill thousands of Britons who were rushing toward the Roman lines. The Roman soldiers, who had now used up their javelins, 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. Tacitus reports that "according to one report almost eighty thousand Britons fell" compared with only four hundred Romans. According to Tacitus, Boudica poisoned herself; Dio says she fell sick and died, and was given a lavish burial.
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 Paulinus would provoke further rebellion, Nero replaced the governor with the more passive 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 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. Manduessedum (Mancetter), near the modern day town of Atherstone in Warwickshire, has also been suggested. More recently a new discovery of Roman artifacts in Kings Norton close to Metchley Camp has suggested another possibility.
Tacitus, the most important Roman historian of this period, took a particular interest in Britain as Gnaeus Julius Agricola, his father-in-law and the subject of his first book, served there three times. 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.
It is possible that Gildas, in his 6th century polemic De Excidio Britanniae, alludes to Boudica in his typically oblique fashion as a "treacherous lioness", although his general lack of knowledge about the real history of the Roman conquest of Britain makes this far from certain.
By the Middle Ages Boudica was forgotten. She makes no appearance in Bede, the Historia Brittonum, the Mabinogion or Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain. But the rediscovery of the works of Tacitus during the Renaissance allowed Polydore Virgil to reintroduce her into British history as "Voadicea" in 1534. Raphael Holinshed also included her story in his Chronicles (1577), based on Tacitus and Dio, and inspired Shakespeare's younger contemporaries Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher to write a play, Bonduca, in 1610. William Cowper wrote a popular poem, Boadicea, an ode, in 1782.
It was in the Victorian era that Boudica's fame took on legendary proportions as Queen Victoria was seen to be Boudica's "namesake". Victoria's Poet Laureate, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, wrote a poem, Boadicea, and ships were named after her. A great bronze statue of Boudica in her war chariot (furnished with scythes after Persian fashion), together with her daughters, was commissioned by Prince Albert and executed by Thomas Thornycroft. It was completed in 1905 and stands next to Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament, with the following lines from Cowper's poem, referring to the British Empire:
Regions Caesar never knew
Thy posterity shall sway.
Ironically, the great anti-imperialist rebel was now identified with the head of the British Empire.