- Born: Around 30 AD, possibly in South East England
- Died: 60 or 61 AD, undisclosed location
- Occupation: Queen of the Iceni
- Know For: Boudica’s Uprising
Boudica, also known as Boudicca, Boadicea, Boudicea, and Buddug in Welsh, was a queen of the British Iceni tribe. She led an uprising against the conquering forces of the Roman Empire in AD 60 or 61, which she ultimately lost, but this has cemented her position as a folk hero in modern Britain.
Boudica was married to Prasutagus, who ruled over the Iceni tribe. The couple had two daughters together, who Prasutagus left his kingdom jointly to along with the Roman emperor. At the time, the kingdom was ruled a nominally independent ally of Rome, but following Prasutagus death, his will was ignored and his kingdom was taken from Boudica and her daughters.
Therefore, in AD 60 or 61, Boudica led the Iceni, the Trinovantes, and others in revolt against the Romans. They destroyed Camulodunum (modern Colchester), Londinium (modern London) and Verulamium (modern St Albans).
It is thought around 70,000 to 80,000 Romans and Britons were killed in the three cities, but the Romans fought back against Boudica and her tribe. Led by Suetonius, the Romans, although heavily outnumbered by the Britons, defeated them.
Boudica died shortly after the defeat, although it is not known exactly how. Some say she either killed herself to avoid capture, or died of an illness. Regardless, she has remained an important figure in Roman history, with interest in her revolt being revived in the English Renaissance, leading to her fame in the Victorian era. In modern day history, Boudica is remembered for being a symbol of freedom, justice and courage.
Background of Boudica
Very little is known about Boudica’s life, especially her early life. There are two primary sources from the classical period which reported on Boudica specifically — Tacitus and Cassius Dio.
Tacitus’ mention of Boudica appears in only two of his vast number of works: the Annals, AD 115-117, and the Agricola, around AD 98. 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. It is generally thought that Dio based his account Tacitus’ account, but simplifies the sequence of events.
Boudica has been known by several versions of her name. Her name was spelt Boudicca in the most complete manuscripts of Tacitus, which was also proven to be misspelt with the addition of the second ‘c’. However, this misspelling by Tacitus was copied, and further deviations of her name began to appear. Along with the second ‘c’ becoming an ‘e’, and ‘a’ replaced the ‘u’. This is where the medieval (and most common) spelling ‘Boadicea’ is derived from.
Tacitus and Dio both agree that Boudica was of royal descent. It is thought that she was born around AD 30 into an elite family in South East England. Dio said that she was tall and had hair described as red, reddish-brown, or tawny hanging below her waist. Dio also said she had a harsh voice and piercing glare, and habitually wore a large golden necklace (perhaps a torc), a colorful tunic, and a thick cloak fastened by a brooch.
Boudica married King Prasutagus, ruler of the Iceni, in around AD 48. They had two daughters together, whose names are not known. The Iceni were a tribe of people who inhabited what is now modern Norfolk. During the Roman conquest of southern Britain in AD 43, Prasutagus allied his people with the Romans and Emperor Claudius. They were proud of their independence, and had revolted in AD 47 when the then-governor Publius Ostorius Scapula threatened to disarm them.
Prasutagus wanted to preserve his line, and therefore made Emperor Nero co-heir to his kingdom, along with his wife and two daughters. It is thought that he left half of his fortune to his two daughters and the other half to Nero. It was common practice Roman practice to allow allied kingdoms their independence only for the lifetime of their client king, who would then agree to leave his kingdom to Rome in his will.
However, Roman law only 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. During this time, Boudica was flogged and her daughters were raped.
To protest the Romans, 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 Boudica.
In AD 60 (or 61) when the Roman governor and most senior Roman administrator of Britain, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, was away campaigning on the island of Mona (modern Anglesey) in North Wales, Boudica and her army began their uprising. Mona, which was a refuge for British rebels and a stronghold of the druids, was conquered by the Roman army, who then heard the news of Boudica’s rising and had to march rapidly eastward again.
At first, the Britons had great success, targeting Camulodunum (modern Colchester), which was a Roman colonia for retired soldiers. This was a good target for the Iceni army as in Camulodunum there was a Roman temple erected to the deified Claudius, and natives were treated brutally by the veterans.
Camulodunum was captured easily, as the only troops able to help the Romans were two hundred auxiliaries located in London, sent by the procurator, Catus Decianus, who were not equipped to fight Boudica’s troops. While some managed to hold the temple of Claudius for two days, they were eventually killed and a bronze statue to the emperor Nero, which stood in front of the temple, was decapitated and its head was taken as a trophy by Boudica’s army.
The future governor Quintus Petillius Cerialis, then commanding the Legio IX Hispana, attempted to relieve Camulodunum, but suffered an overwhelming defeat. Following this, Catus Decianus fled to Gaul.
When Suetonius heard of the defeat in Camulodunum, he hurried along Watling Street through hostile territory to Londinium (modern day London). 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.
While Suetonius did briefly consider trying to protect Londinium, given the defeat Petillius had, he decided to sacrifice the city instead to help save the province.
Wealthy citizens and traders had fled Londinium after Catus Decianus had left for Gaul, which left the poorer citizens to their own fate. Londinium was captured and burnt to the ground, and any remaining citizens were tortured and killed. The municipium of Verulamium (modern St Albans) was destroyed next. During these conquers, between seventy and eighty thousand people are said to have been killed.
While Nero was said to be contemplating pulling out of Britain altogether, Suetonius regrouped his forces and amassed an army of around 10,000 men. Suetonius took a stand at an unidentified location, probably in the West Midlands somewhere along the Roman road now known as Watling Street.
They stood 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, because the the rebel forces were, at that time, said to have numbered 230,000. Despite this, this number should be treated with scepticism, as Dio’s account is known only from a late epitome, and ancient sources commonly exaggerate enemy numbers.
While Boudica’s army were more greatly numbered, they lacked the manoeuvrability of the Roman forces, and also lacked the open-field tactics to command these numbers. This put them at a disadvantage to the Romans, because they had superior equipment and discipline. The field was also narrow, which meant that Boudica could put forth only as many troops as the Romans could at a given time.
The Romans first used volleys of pila (heavy javelins) to kill thousands of Britons who were rushing toward the Roman lines. They then advanced in a wedge formation, while the Britons attempted to flee. However, the Britons 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.
Boudica’s army was defeated, with neither the women or the animals spared, which was unusual. 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.
The exact location of Boudica’s defeat is unknown. Some historians say it was somewhere along the Roman road now known as Watling Street, while others have theorized it is close to High Cross, Leicestershire, the Cuttle Mill area of Paulerspury in Northamptonshire, Manduessedum (Mancetter), near the modern town of Atherstone in Warwickshire, “The Rampart” near Messing, Essex, and Ambresbury Banks in Epping Forest.
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 that was headed by Nero’s freedman Polyclitus. Fearing that Suetonius’ actions would provoke further rebellion, Nero replaced him with the more appeasing Publius Petronius Turpilianus.
Boudica’s Historical Significance
Although Boudica 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. She fought against the Romans triumphed as courageous female leader, standing up for what she believed in. This courage is perhaps what she is most famous for, and what has kept her historically significant throughout the centuries.
Boudica is not just famous in the modern day. Boudica began to be seen as an important figure in British history during the reign of Elizabeth I, when the works of Tacitus were rediscovered. Boudica’s defence against the Romans was often compared to Elizabeth, who, at the time in 1588, was required to defend Britain from a possible invasion of Spanish Armada.
However, Boudica gained the most amount of interest in the Victorian period, which led to her position in history today. The husband of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, commissioned the statue of Boudica which stands outside the Houses of Parliament in London. Boudica actually became a symbol of the British Empire. Plays, poems and books were written about Boudica, too.
Boudica was also 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.
In Wales, Boudica was chosen by the Welsh public as one of eleven statues of historical figures to be included in the Marble Hall at Cardiff City Hall.
What is Boudica famous for?
Queen Boudica is famous for being the warrior queen of the Iceni people, who led the revolt against Roman rule. Although her forces massacred around 70,000 Romans and their supporters, they were ultimately defeated. She is considered a British folk hero.
Did Boudica have any children?
Boudica had two children during her marriage with King Prasutagus. However, their names are unknown.
How did Boudica die?
According to Roman sources, shortly after the uprising failed, she poisoned herself or died of her wounds, although there is no actual evidence of her fate. One historian, Tacitus, claimed Boudica poisoned herself, while another, Dio, says she fell sick and died.
Link/cite this page
If you use any of the content on this page in your own work, please use the code below to cite this page as the source of the content.
Link will appear as Hanson, Marilee. "Boudica" https://englishhistory.net/romans/boudica/, April 29, 2022