Boudica (also Boudicca, Boadicea, Buduica, Bonduca) (d. 60 - 61 C.E.) is a heroine of the Brythonic Celtic Iceni people of Norfolk in Eastern Roman Britain. Upon the death of her husband Prasutagus (ca. 60 C.E.), the Romans first annexed his kingdom and then brutally humiliated Boudica and her daughters, spurring her leadership. She led a major uprising of the Celtic tribes against the occupying forces of the Roman Empire.
In 60 or 61 C.E., while 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 a rebellion. Her forces destroyed the former Trinovantian capital and Roman colonia of Camulodunum (Colchester), and routed the Roman Legio IX Hispana under Quintus Petillius Cerialis. Boudica's army then burned the 20-year-old settlement of Londinium (London) to the ground and destroyed Verulamium (Saint Albans), killing an estimated 70,000-80,000 people. The uprising was so fierce and strong that Roman emperor Nero briefly considered withdrawing Roman forces from the island. But Boudica was ultimately defeated at the Battle of Watling Street by the heavily outnumbered forces of Roman provincial governor Gaius Suetonius Paulinus.
The chronicles of these events, as recorded by the historians Tacitus, and Dio Cassius were rediscovered during the Renaissance. This discovery 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.
Until the late twentieh century, Boudica was known as Boadicea, 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, but was almost certainly originally Boudicca or Boudica, derived from the Celtic word *bouda, victory (cf. Irish bua, Buaidheach, Welsh buddug).
Based on later development of Welsh and Irish, Kenneth Jackson concludes that the correct spelling of the name is Boudica, pronounced /bəʊ'diː.ka:/, although it is mispronounced by many as /buː.dik'ə/.
It has been suggested that the most comparable English name would be "Victoria."
Boudica, The Woman
Tacitus and Dio agree that Boudica was of royal descent. Dio says that she was "possessed of greater intelligence than often belongs to women." He also described her as tall, with long red hair down to her hips, a harsh voice and a piercing glare. She was said to have habitually worn a large golden necklace (perhaps a torc), a many-colored tunic and a thick cloak fastened by a brooch.
Boudica's husband, Prasutagus, was the king of Iceni. He and his family and tribe inhabited the approximate area around what is now Norfolk. This community was initially not part of the territory under direct Roman control. They had voluntarily allied themselves to Rome following Claudius's conquest of 43 C.E. They were protective of their independence, revolting in 47 C.E. when the then-governor, Publius Ostorius Scapula, threatened to disarm them.
Prasutagus lived a long life of conspicuous wealth. Hoping to preserve his line, he made the Roman emperor co-heir to his kingdom along with his two daughters. It was normal Roman practice to allow allied kingdoms their independence only for the lifetime of their client kings, who agree to leave their kingdom to Rome in their wills. The provinces of Bithynia and Galatia, for example, were incorporated into the Empire in just this way.
Roman law allowed inheritance only through the male line. So when Prasutagus died, his attempts to preserve his line were ignored. 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.
Another early historian Dio Cassius writes that Roman financiers, including Seneca the Younger, chose this point to call in their loans. Tacitus does not mention this. But he singles out the procurator, Catus Decianus, for criticism of his "avarice." It seems Prasutagus had lived well on borrowed Roman money. At the time of his death, his subjects became liable for the debt.
In 60 or 61 C.E., the current Roman governor, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, was leading a campaign against the island of Anglesey in north Wales, a refuge for British rebels and a stronghold of the druids. Meanwhile, the Iceni conspired with their neighbors the Trinovantes, and others, to revolt. Boudica was chosen as their leader.
They drew inspiration from the example of Arminius, the prince of the Cherusci who had driven the Romans out of Germany in 9 C.E., and their own ancestors who had driven Julius Caesar from Britain.
Dio says that at the outset Boudica employed a form of divination. She released a hare from the folds of her dress, interpreted the direction it ran, and invoked Andraste, a British goddess of victory. Some say that Boudica was a high priestess of Andraste. It is significant that Boudica's own name means "victory."
The rebels' first target was Camulodunum (Colchester), the former Trinovantian capital and now a Roman colonia. The Roman veterans who were settled there mistreated the locals. 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. They besieged 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. They burned it down, slaughtering anyone who had not evacuated with Suetonius.
Verulamium (Saint Albans) was next to be destroyed.
During the destruction of the three cities, between seventy and eighty thousand people are said to have been killed. Tacitus says the Britons had no interest in taking or selling prisoners. The warriors were only interested in slaughter by gibbet, fire or cross.
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.
Suetonius took a stand at an unidentified location, probably in the West Midlands somewhere along 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.
Boudica exhorted her troops from her chariot, her daughters beside her. The historian Tacitus says she gave a short speech, presenting 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 exclaimed that 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, expressed her resolve to win or die. Boudica chided the men that if they wanted to live in slavery, that was their choice, goading them to fight with all they had.
However, the unmaneuverability of the British forces, combined with lack of open field tactics to command these numbers put the rebels at a disadvantage. The Romans were skilled at open combat due to their superior equipment and discipline. 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. When the Roman soldiers had used up their javelins, they were able to engage Boudica's second wave in the open. This made the Roman phalanx potent and difficult to break. As the phalanx advanced in a wedge formation, the Britons attempted to flee. But they were impeded by the presence of their own families, stationed in a ring of wagons at the edge of the battlefield. It was slaughter. Tacitus states 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. Though the exact cause of her death may be disputed, she was given a lavish burial fitting of a revered heroine.
Postumus, on hearing of the Roman victory, fell on his sword in shame for his failure to heed the call to battle. 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. Suetonius was removed as governor, replaced by the more conciliatory Publius Petronius Turpilianus. The historian Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus tells us the crisis had nearly persuaded Nero to abandon Britain. It was the courage and leadership of Boudica that is credited with giving the Celts the drive for their valiant attempt to expel their occupier.
Location of her defeat
The site of Boudica's final battle is unknown. According to London legend it was at Battle Bridge Road, at King's Cross, London. Many believe that Boudica herself is buried under one of the platforms at King's Cross railway station.
However, based on Tacitus's account, it is unlikely Suetonius returned to London. Most historians favour a site in the West Midlands. Kevin K. Carroll suggests a site close to High Cross in Leicestershire, on the junction of Watling Street and the Fosse Way. This 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.
Tacitus, the most important Roman historian of this period, took a particular interest in Britain. His father-in-law, Gnaeus Julius Agricola, and the subject of Tasitus' first book, served in Britain three times. He was a military tribune under Suetonius Paulinus. This almost certainly would have given Tacitus an eyewitness source for Boudica's revolt.
Dio Cassius's sources are less certain. 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.
Cultural Impact in History and Literature
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 and Dio Cassius during the Renaissance allowed Polydore Virgil to reintroduce her into British history in 1534. Interestingly, he misinterpreted the "Voadicea" he found in Tacitus and the "Bunduica" in Dio Cassius as two separate women.
Boudica's story was included in Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles 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. Queen Victoria was seen as her "namesake." Victoria's Poet Laureate, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, wrote a poem,  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 verse referring to the British Empire:
- Regions Caesar never knew
- Thy posterity shall sway.
- Agricola 14-17; Tacitus, "The Life of Cnæus Julius Agricola" (eds. Alfred John Church, William Jackson Brodribb) (in English) 14:29-39 Tufts Univ. Retrieved November 9, 2007.
- Tacitus, "The Annals" BOOK XIV: A.D. 59—62. (in English) 62:1-12. University of Chicago. Retrieved November 9, 2007.
- Graham Webster, Boudica: The British Revolt against Rome AD 60 (NY: Routledge, 1999, ISBN 0415226066).
- Guy de la Bédoyère, The Roman Army in Britain Retrieved July 5, 2005.
- Kenneth Jackson, "Queen Boudicca?" (Britannia 10, 1979.)
- John Rhys, Celtic Britain (Nabu Press, 2010, ISBN 978-1172248568).
- Tacitus, Annals 12:31-32 Retrieved November 9, 2007.
- H. H. Scullard, From the Gracchi to Nero (NY: Routldedge, 1982, ISBN 0415025273), 90.
- John Morris, Londinium: London in the Roman Empire (NY: St Martin's Press, 1982, ISBN 0312494696), 107-108.
- Tacitus, Agricola 15"The Life of Cnæus Julius Agricola" (eds. Alfred John Church, William Jackson Brodribb) (in English) Retrieved November 9, 2007.
- George Patrick Welch, Britannia: The Roman Conquest & Occupation of Britain (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1963, ISBN 978-0006316206), 107.
- Nero Suetonius, "The Lives of the Caesars" "The Life of Nero" (Loeb Classical Library, 1914) 18, 39-40 Retrieved November 9, 2007.
- Kevin K. Carroll, "The Date of Boudicca's Revolt," (Britannia 10, 1979).
- Sheppard Frere, Britannia: A History of Roman Britain (London: Routledge, 1987, ISBN 0710212151), 73.
- Study notes to classical literature, Bonduca Bibliomania Retrieved November 9, 2007.
- Boadicea, an ode, Bartleby.com. Retrieved November 9, 2007.
- 'Boadicea Old Poetry.com Retrieved June 28, 2016.
ReferencesISBN links support NWE through referral fees
- Collingridge, Vanessa. Boudica. Ebury, London: Overlook, 2006. ISBN 978-1585679126
- Collingridge, Vanessa. Boudica: The Life and Legends of Britain's Warrior Queen. Overlook, 2006. ISBN 978-1585677788
- Frere, Sheppard. Britannia: A History of Roman Britain. London: Routledge, 1988. ISBN 978-0710212153
- Hingley, Richard, and Christina Unwin. Boudica: Iron age Warrior Queen. Bloomsbury Academic, 2006. ISBN 978-1852855161
- Morris, John. Londinium: London in the Roman Empire. NY: St Martin's Press, 1982. ISBN 978-0312494698
- Roesch, Joseph E. Boudica: Queen of the Iceni. Robert Hale, 2006. ISBN 978-0709079583
- Rhys, John. Celtic Britain. Nabu Press, 2010. ISBN 978-1172248568
- Salway, Peter. The Oxford Illustrated History of Roman Britain. Oxford University Press, 1993. ISBN 978-0198229841
- Scullard, H. H. From the Gracchi to Nero. NY: Routldedge, 1982. ISBN 978-0415025270
- Webster, Graham. Boudica: The British Revolt against Rome AD 60. Routledge, 2000. ISBN 978-0415226066
- Welch, George Patrick. Britannia, the Roman Conquest and Occupation of Britain. Wesleyan University Press, 1963.
All links retrieved November 20, 2023.
- James Grout: Boudica, part of the Encyclopædia Romana
- Dan Snow Trying to Rule Britannia; BBC News, 6 August 2004.
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