Boudica (pronounced /ˈbuːdɨkə/; also spelled Boudicca), formerly
known as Boadicea /boʊdɨˈsiːə/ and known in Welsh as "Buddug" [ˈbɨ̞ðɨ̞ɡ]
(d. AD 60 or 61) was queen of the Iceni tribe who led a rebellion
against the all conquering Roman Empire.
Boudica's husband Prasutagus, who ruled as a nominally
independent ally of Rome, left his kingdom jointly to his daughters
and the Roman Emperor. However, when he died his will was ignored.
The kingdom was annexed, Boudica was flogged, her daughters raped
and Roman loans were all called in.
Boadicea Haranguing the Britons
In AD 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 people with the Trinovantes and others,
They destroyed Camulodunum (modern Colchester), formerly the
capital of the Trinovantes, but then a colonia (for discharged Roman
soldiers). They also routed a Roman legion, sent to relieve the
On news of the rebellion, Suetonius hurried to Londinium
(London), the rebels' next target. Unable to defend it, Suetonius
evacuated and abandoned it. The rebels burnt Londinium to the
ground, as well as Verulamium (St Albans). Up to 80,000 people were
killed in the three cities (numbers are difficult to verify).
Suetonius, meanwhile, regrouped his army in the West Midlands,
and despite being heavily outnumbered, defeated the Britons at the
Battle of Watling Street.
The rebellion caused the emperor Nero to consider withdrawing
from the island. Suetonius's eventual victory over Boudica meant
that the Romans eventually regained control. Boudica then killed
herself so as not to be be captured, fell ill or died; Tacitus and
Dio accounts differ.
The history of these events, as recorded by Tacitus
and Cassius Dio, was
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. The absence of native British literature during the
early part of the first millennium means that Britain owes its knowledge of
Boudica's rebellion to the writings of the Romans.
Boudica has been known by several versions of her name.
Raphael Holinshed calls her "Bonduca", a version of the name
that was used in the popular Jacobean play Bonduca, in
William Cowper's poem, Boadicea, an ode (1782)
popularised an alternate 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 takes many forms
in various manuscripts—Boadicea and Boudicea in
Tacitus; Βουδουικα, Βουνδουικα, and Βοδουικα
in Dio—but almost certainly, it was originally Boudicca
or Boudica, and is the Proto-Celtic feminine adjective
*boudīka, "victorious", derived from the Celtic word *bouda,
"victory" (cf. Irish bua (Classical Irish buadh),
Buaidheach, Welsh buddugoliaeth).
It is suggested that the most comparable English name would be
"Victoria". The name is
attested in inscriptions as "Boudica" in Lusitania, "Boudiga" in Bordeaux,
and "Bodicca" in Britain.
Based on later development of Welsh and Irish, Kenneth Jackson concludes
that the correct spelling of the name in the British language is Boudica,
(the closest English equivalent to the vowel in the first syllable is the
ow in "bow-and-arrow"). The modern English pronunciation is
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.
Her husband, Prasutagus, was the king of Iceni, people who inhabited
roughly what is now Norfolk. They initially were not part of the territory
under direct Roman control, having voluntarily allied themselves to Rome
following Claudius' conquest of AD 43. They were jealous of their
independence and had revolted in AD 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 were raped.
Dio Cassius says that Roman financiers, including Seneca the Younger, chose
this time to call in their loans. Tacitus does not mention this, but does
single out the procurator, Catus Decianus, for criticism for his "avarice".
Prasutagus, it seems, had lived well on borrowed Roman money, and on his
death his subjects had become liable for the debt.
In AD 60 or 61, while the current governor, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, was
leading a campaign against the island of Mona (modern Anglesey) in 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 in which
it ran, and invoked Andraste, a British goddess of victory. Perhaps it is
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. The Roman inhabitants of the city 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
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 battle is claimed by 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 (London). Londinium was a
relatively new town, founded after the conquest of 43 AD, 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. 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 AD 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 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
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. 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, parts of the XX
Valeria Victrix, and any available auxiliaries, a total of 10,000
men. A third
legion, II Augusta, near Exeter, failed to join him;
a fourth, IX Hispana, had been routed trying to relieve Camulodunum.
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 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, and the narrowness of the field meant
that Boudica could put forth only as many troops as the Romans could at a
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, Boudica
poisoned herself; Dio says she fell sick and died, and was given a lavish
Postumus, on hearing of the Roman victory, fell on his sword. Catus
Decianus, who had fled to Gaul, was replaced by Gaius Julius Alpinus
Classicianus. Suetonius conducted punitive operations, but criticism by
Classicianus led to an investigation headed by Nero's freedman Polyclitus.
Fearing Suetonius' actions would provoke further rebellion, Nero replaced
the governor with the more conciliatory Publius Petronius Turpilianus.
The historian Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus tells us the crisis had almost
persuaded Nero to abandon Britain.
Location of her
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 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.
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."
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
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 several ships were named after her. A great bronze statue of Boudica
with her daughters in her war chariot (furnished with scythes after the
Persian fashion) 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, and her statue
stood guard over the city she razed to the ground.
In more recent times, Boudica has been the subject of numerous
documentaries, including some by Discovery Channel, History International
Channel, and the BBC.
Boudica has been the subject of two feature films, the 1928 film
Boadicea, where she was portrayed by Phyllis Neilson-Terry,
and 2003's Boudica (Warrior Queen in the USA), a UK TV film
written by Andrew Davies and starring Alex Kingston as Boudica.
A new film is planned for release in 2010 entitled Boudicca, written
by Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal, directed by Gavin O'Connor, and produced
by Mel Gibson. She has
also been the subject of a 1978 British TV series, Warrior Queen,
starring Siân Phillips as Boudica. Jennifer Ward-Lealand portrayed Boudica
in an episode of Xena - Warrior Princess entitled "The Deliverer" in
The Viking Queen is a 1967 Hammer Films adventure film set in ancient
Britain, in which the role of Queen Salina is based up on the historical
figure of Boudica.
Boudica's story is the subject of several novels, including books by
Rosemary Sutcliff, Pauline Gedge, Manda Scott, Alan Gold, Diana L. Paxson,
David Wishart, George Shipway, Simon Scarrow and J. F. Broxholme (a
pseudonym of Duncan Kyle). She plays a central role in the first part of G.
A. Henty's novel Beric the Briton. One of the viewpoint characters of
Ian Watson's novel Oracle is an eyewitness to her defeat. She has
also appeared in several comic book series, including the Sláine,
which featured two runs, entitled "Demon Killer" and "Queen of Witches"
giving a free interpretation of Boudica's story. Other comic appearances
include Witchblade and From Hell. Boudicca is a character in
the animated series Gargoyles.
Additionally, in the alternate history novel Ruled Britannia" by
Harry Turtledove, Boudicca is the subject of a play written by William
Shakespeare to incite the people of Britain to revolt against Spanish
Henry Purcell's last major work, composed in 1695, was music for play
entitled Bonduca, or the British Heroine (Z. 574). Selections include
"To Arms", "Britons, Strike Home" and "O lead me to some peaceful gloom".
Boudica has also been the primary subject of songs by Irish
singer/songwriter Enya, Dutch soprano Petra Berger, Scottish
singer/songwriter Steve McDonald, English metal band Bal-Sagoth, Faith and
the Muse and Dreams in the Witching House. She has also been mentioned in
The Libertines' song The Good Old Days.
There have been scattered reports that the restless spirit of Boudica has
been seen in the county of Lincolnshire. These reports, dating back to the
mid-19th century, claim Boudica rides her chariot, heading for some unknown
destination, and many a traveller and motorist have claimed to have seen
There is also a long-lived urban myth that she is buried under Platform
10 of King's Cross railway station in London.
This originates from the village of Battle Bridge (previously on the
station's site), which was said to be the site of her last battle, suicide
and burial. This is now accepted as a fiction and a hoax, whose origins can
be traced back to Lewis Spence's book Boadicea — Warrior Queen of the
Britons (1937) (where it is given but unevidenced)
or earlier. It is now
thought that Battle Bridge was a corruption of 'Broad Ford Bridge'. Other
such legends place her burial on Parliament Hill, Hampstead or in Suffolk.
In 2003, an LTR retrotransposon from the genome of the human blood fluke
Schistosoma mansoni was named Boudicca.
The Boudicca retrotransposon, a high-copy retroviral-like element, was the
first mobile genetic element of this type to be discovered in S. mansoni.
In July 2008, the UK Television series Bonekickers, dedicated an hour to
Boudicca in the episode named "The Eternal Fire"[citation
On her 1987 debut album, the Irish singer Enya performed the song
Various female politicians, including former Prime Minister of New
Zealand, Helen Clark have been called Boudica.
Róisín Murphy is featured in a song titled "Boadicea" from Mason (DJ)'s
2010 debut album.
- Guy de la Bédoyère, 'Bleeding from the Roman Rods: Boudica' in
Defying Rome. The Rebels of Roman Britain, Tempus, Stroud, 2003
- Vanessa Collingridge; Boudica, Ebury, London, 2004
- Richard Hingley & Christina Unwin,
Boudica: Iron Age Warrior
- Manfred Böckl: Die letzte Königin der Kelten. (The last Queen
of the Celts). Novel telling the life of the Iceni-Queen Boadicea in
German language. (Rights: Aufbau Verlag, Berlin, Germany, 2005.)
- Joseph E. Roesch,
Boudica, Queen of The Iceni (London, Robert
Hale Ltd, 2006).
- Andrew Godsell "Boadicea: A Woman's Resolve" in "Legends of British
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