Boudica (/ˈbuːdᵻkə/; alternative spellings: Boudicca, Boudicea, also known as Boadicea /boʊdᵻˈsiːə/ and in Welsh as Buddug [ˈbɨ̞ðɨ̞ɡ]) (d. AD 60 or 61) was a queen of the British Celtic Iceni tribe who led an uprising against the occupying forces of the Roman Empire.
Boudica’s husband Prasutagus ruled as a nominally independent ally of Rome and left his kingdom jointly to his daughters and the Roman emperor in his will. However, when he died his will was ignored, and the kingdom was annexed. Boudica was flogged, her daughters raped, and Roman financiers called in their loans.
Boudicca: Warrior Queen
In AD 60 or 61, when the Roman governor Gaius Suetonius Paulinus was campaigning on the island of Anglesey off the northwest coast of Wales, Boudica led the Iceni, the Trinovantes, and others in revolt. They destroyed Camulodunum (modern Colchester), earlier the capital of the Trinovantes but at that time a colonia, a settlement for discharged Roman soldiers and site of a temple to the former Emperor Claudius. Upon hearing of the revolt, Suetonius hurried to Londinium (modern London), the 20-year-old commercial settlement that was the rebels’ next target.
The Romans, having concluded that they lacked sufficient numbers to defend the settlement, evacuated and abandoned Londinium. Boudica led 100,000 Iceni, Trinovantes, and others to fight Legio IX Hispana, and burned and destroyed Londinium, and Verulamium (modern-day St Albans).
THE ROMAN EMPIRE – THE CONQUEST OF BRITAIN
An estimated 70,000–80,000 Romans and British were killed in the three cities by those led by Boudica. Suetonius, meanwhile, regrouped his forces in the West Midlands, and despite being heavily outnumbered defeated the Britons in the Battle of Watling Street.
The crisis caused Nero to consider withdrawing all Roman forces from Britain, but Suetonius’ eventual victory over Boudica confirmed Roman control of the province. Boudica then either killed herself, to avoid capture, or died of illness. The extant sources, Tacitus and Cassius Dio, differ.
Interest in these events revived in the English Renaissance and led to Boudica’s fame in the Victorian era. Boudica has remained an important cultural symbol in the United Kingdom. However, the absence of native British literature during the early part of the first millennium means that knowledge of Boudica’s rebellion comes solely from the writings of the Romans.
Boudica Warrior Queen 2003
Boudica has been known by several versions of her name. Raphael Holinshed calls her Voadicia, while Edmund Spenser calls her Bunduca, a version of the name that was used in the popular Jacobean play Bonduca, in 1612. William Cowper‘s poem, Boadicea, an ode (1782) popularised an alternative version of the name.
From the 19th century and much of the late 20th century, Boadicea was the most common version of the name, which is probably derived from a mistranscription when a manuscript of Tacitus was copied in the Middle Ages.
Her name was clearly spelled Boudicca in the best manuscripts of Tacitus, but also Βουδουικα, Βουνδουικα, and Βοδουικα in the (later and probably secondary) epitome of Cassius Dio. The name is attested in inscriptions as Boudica in Lusitania, Boudiga in Bordeaux, and Bodicca in Algeria.
Kenneth Jackson concludes, based on later development of Welsh and Irish, 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), Buaidheach, Welsh buddugoliaeth), and that the correct spelling of the name in Common Brittonic (the British Celtic language) is Boudica, pronounced [bɒʊˈdiːkaː].
The closest English equivalent to the vowel in the first syllable is the ow in “bow-and-arrow”. The modern English pronunciation is /ˈbuːdɪkə/, and it has been suggested that the most comparable English name, in meaning only, would be “Victoria”.
Tacitus and Cassius 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.
Boudicca’s husband, Prasutagus, was the king of the Iceni, a people who inhabited roughly what is now Norfolk. The Iceni initially voluntarily allied with Rome following Claudius’s conquest of Southern Britain AD 43. They 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. The Iceni remained independent. Tacitus first mentioned Prasutagus when he wrote about Boudica’s rebellion. We do not know whether he became the king after the mentioned defeat of the Iceni. We do not have any record as to whether the Iceni at that point were still Roman allies or had become a client kingdom.
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 and her two daughters were raped and that the estates of the leading Iceni men were confiscated.
Cassius Dio wrote:
“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 reasons 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.”
Tacitus did not say why Prasutagus’ naming the emperor as his heir as well as his daughters was meant to avert the risk of injury. He did not explain why the Romans pillaged the kingdom, why they took the lands of the chiefs or why Boudica was flogged and her daughters were raped. Cassius Dio did not mention any of this. He said that the cause of the rebellion was the decision of the procurator of Britain (the chief financial officer) and Seneca (an advisor of the emperor Nero) to call in Prasutagus’ debts and the harsh measures which were taken to collect them. Tacitus does not mention these events. However, he wrote: “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.”
It has to be noted that this was happening while the governor of Britain, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, was away fighting in North Wales. We do not know whether he approved of these actions. We do not know who the centurions who pillaged the kingdom were and who sent them. The text of Cassius Dio seems to suggest that Seneca, who was a private citizen, was responsible for the violence. It is unlikely that a legion was sent to land of the Iceni as two of them were fighting at the island of Anglesey and the other two were stationed at their garrisons. Tacitus said that “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 …”
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.
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; while Roman-era skulls found in the Walbrook in 2013 were potentially linked to victims of the rebels.
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. 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’s 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.
Location of her defeat
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, 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”.
Boudica and King’s Cross
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. 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.
History and literature
By the Middle Ages Boudica was forgotten. She makes no appearance in Bede‘s work, 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 Vergil 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 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
THE ROMAN EMPIRE: The ICENI REBELLION – YouTube
The Iceni or Eceni were a Brittonic tribe of eastern Britain during the Iron Age and early Roman era. Their territory included present-day Norfolk and parts of Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, and bordered the area of the Corieltauvi to the west, and the Catuvellauni and Trinovantes to the south. In the Roman period, their capital was Venta Icenorum at modern-day Caistor St Edmund.
Julius Caesar does not mention the Iceni in his account of his invasions of Britain in 55 and 54 BC, though they may be related to the Cenimagni, who Caesar notes as living north of the River Thames at that time. The Iceni were a significant power in eastern Britain during Claudius‘ conquest of Britain in AD 43, in which they allied with Rome. Increasing Roman influence on their affairs led to revolt in 47, though they remained nominally independent under king Prasutagus until his death around AD 60. Roman encroachment after Prasutagus’ death led his wife Boudica to launch a major revolt from 60–61. Boudica’s uprising seriously endangered Roman rule in Britain and resulted in the burning of Londinium and other cities. The Romans finally crushed the rebellion, and the Iceni were increasingly incorporated into the Roman province.
Archaeological evidence of the Iceni includes torcs — heavy rings of gold, silver or electrum worn around the neck and shoulders. The Iceni began producing coins around 10 BC. Their coins were a distinctive adaptation of the Gallo-Belgic “face/horse” design, and in some early issues, most numerous near Norwich, the horse was replaced with a boar. Some coins are inscribed ECENI, making them the only coin-producing group to use their tribal name on coins. The earliest personal name to appear on coins is Antedios (about 10 BC), and other abbreviated names like AESU and SAEMU follow.
It has been discovered that the name of Antedios’ succeeding ruler Prasutagus appears on the coins as well. H. R. Mossop in his article “An Elusive Icenian Legend” discusses coins that were discovered by D. F. Allen in Joist Fen, Suffolk, and states, “It is the coins Nos. 6 and 7 which give an advance in the obverse reading, confirming Allen’s attractive reading PRASTO, with its implied allusion to Prasutagus” (Mossop and Allen 258).
That Britain was notably populous is undeniable, from that expression of Caesar. That the Romans themselves were early in no small Numbers, Seventy Thousand with their associates slain by Bouadicea, affords a sure account… And no small number of silver pieces near Norwich; with a rude head upon the obverse, an ill-formed horse on the reverse, with the Inscriptions Ic. Duro.T. whether implying Iceni, Durotriges, Tascia, or Trinobantes, we leave to higher conjecture. The British Coyns afford conjecture of early habitation in these parts, though the city of Norwich arose from the ruins of Venta, and though perhaps not without some habitation before, was enlarged, built, and nominated by the Saxons.
John A. Davies and Tony Gregory conducted archaeological surveys of Roman coins that appeared during the period of Roman occupation of Norfolk. Their study showed that the bulk of the coins circulating before AD 60 was Icenian rather than Roman. They speculated that Roman coins were not adapted into the Iceni area until after AD 60. The coin study also showed that there was not a regular supply of Roman coinage from year to year:
The predominance of specific issues at sites across the province and relative scarcity of coins of some emperors illustrates the point that supply was sporadic and that there were periods when little or no fresh coinage was sent to Britain from the imperial mints.
In certain rural regions of Norfolk, Davies and Gregory speculate that the Iceni farmers were impacted very little by the civitas, seeing as there is a scarce presence of coinage and treasures. On the other hand, their surveys found “coin-rich temple sites, which appear to have served as centres for periodic fairs and festivals and provided locations for markets and commercial transactions within their complexes and environs. In such rural areas, producers and consumers would have been attracted to these sites for commerce from afield”
The Roman invasion
The meaning of the name Iceni is unknown. Icenian coins dating from the 1st century AD use the spelling ECEN,: another article by D. F. Allen titled “The Coins of the Iceni,” discusses the difference between coins with the inscription ECE versus coins with ECEN. This difference, Allen posits, tells archeologists and historians when Prasutagus started his reign because the coins did not start reading the name of the tribe until around AD 47. Allen suggests that when Antedios was king of the Iceni, the coins did not yet have the name of the tribe on them but instead the name of its ruler, stating, “If so, the coins suggest that the Prasutagus era commenced only after the events of 47” (Allen 16).
Tacitus records that the Iceni were not conquered in the Claudian invasion of AD 43, but had come to a voluntary alliance with the Romans. However, they rose against them in 47 after the governor, Publius Ostorius Scapula, threatened to disarm them. D. F. Allen explains in further detail, in his article “The Coins of the Iceni,” that Scapula had been “preoccupied with defense against the unconquered Silures in South Wales and Brigantes in Yorkshire.” Allen informs readers that this was how Prasutagus had come to gain full control over the Iceni (Allen 2). The Iceni were defeated by Ostorius in a fierce battle at a fortified place, but were allowed to retain their independence.
A second and more serious uprising took place in AD 61. Prasutagus, the wealthy, pro-Roman Icenian king, who, according to a section in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography titled “Roman Britain, British Leaders”. was leader of the Iceni between AD 43 and 50 (Todd 4), had died. It was common practice for a Roman client king to leave his kingdom to Rome on his death, but Prasutagus had attempted to preserve his line by bequeathing his kingdom — which Allen believes was located in Breckland, near Norwich (Allen 15) — jointly to the Emperor and his own daughters. The Romans ignored this, and the procurator Catus Decianus seized his entire estate. Prasutagus’s widow, Boudica, was flogged, and her daughters were raped. At the same time, Roman financiers called in their loans. While the governor, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, was campaigning in Wales, Boudica led the Iceni and the neighbouring Trinovantes in a large-scale revolt:
…a terrible disaster occurred in Britain. Two cities were sacked, eighty thousand of the Romans and of their allies perished, and the island was lost to Rome. Moreover, all this ruin was brought upon the Romans by a woman, a fact which in itself caused them the greatest shame…. But the person who was chiefly instrumental in rousing the natives and persuading them to fight the Romans, the person who was thought worthy to be their leader and who directed the conduct of the entire war, was Buduica, a Briton woman of the royal family and possessed of greater intelligence than often belongs to women…. In stature she was very tall, in appearance most terrifying, in the glance of her eye most fierce, and her voice was harsh; a great mass of the tawniest hair fell to her hips; around her neck was a large golden necklace; and she wore a tunic of divers colours over which a thick mantle was fastened with a brooch. This was her invariable attire.
The revolt caused the destruction and looting of Camulodunum (Colchester), Londinium (London), and Verulamium (St Albans) before finally being defeated by Suetonius Paulinus and his legions. Although the Britons outnumbered the Romans greatly, they lacked the superior discipline and tactics that won the Romans a decisive victory. The battle took place at an unknown location, probably in the West Midlands somewhere along Watling Street. Today, a large statue of Boudica wielding a sword and charging upon a chariot can be seen in London on the north bank of the Thames by Westminster Bridge.
The Iceni are recorded as a civitas of Roman Britain in Ptolemy‘s Geographia, which names Venta Icenorum as a town of theirs. Venta, which is also mentioned in the Ravenna Cosmography, and the Antonine Itinerary, was a settlement near the village of Caistor St. Edmund, some five miles south of present-day Norwich, and a mile or two from the Bronze Age Henge at Arminghall.