Boudicca (Boadicea)

Celtic Warrior Queen

Boudicca and the Burning of London
Boudicca and the Burning of London. Engraved by Tomlinson after Stothard. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Boudicca was a British Celtic warrior queen who led a revolt against Roman occupation, She died in 61 CE.  An alternative British spelling is Boudica, the Welsh call her Buddug, and she is sometimes known by a Latinization of her name, Boadicea or Boadacaea,

We know the history of Boudicca through two writers: Tacitus, in "Agricola" (98 CE) and "The Annals" (109 CE), and Cassius Dio, in "The Rebellion of Boudicca" (about 163 CE).

Boudicca was the wife of Prasutagus, who was head of the Iceni tribe in East England, in what is now Norfolk and Suffolk.  We know nothing about her birth date or birth family.

Roman Occupation and Prasutagus

In 43 CE, the Romans invaded Britain, and most of the Celtic tribes were forced to submit. However, the Romans allowed two Celtic kings to retain some of their traditional power. One of these two was Prasutagus.

The Roman occupation brought increased Roman settlement, military presence, and attempts to suppress Celtic religious culture. There were major economic changes, including heavy taxes and money lending.

In 47 CE the Romans forced the Ireni to disarm, creating resentment. Prasutagus had been given a grant by the Romans, but the Romans then redefined this as a loan. When Prasutagus died in 60 CE, he left his kingdom to his two daughters and jointly to the Emperor Nero to settle this debt.

Romans Seize Power After Prasutagus Dies

The Romans arrived to collect, but instead of settling for half the kingdom, seized control of it. According to Tacitus, to humiliate the former rulers, the Romans beat Boudicca publicly, raped their two daughters, seized the wealth of many Iceni and sold much of the royal family into slavery.

Dio has an alternative story that does not include the rape and beating. In his version, Seneca, a Roman moneylender, called in loans of the Britons.

The Roman governor Suetonius turned his attention to attacking Wales, taking two-thirds of the Roman military in Britain. Boudicca meanwhile met with the leaders of the Iceni, Trinovanti, Cornovii, Durotiges, and other tribes, who also had grievances against the Romans including grants that had been redefined as loans. They planned to revolt and drive out the Romans.

Boudicca's Army Attacks

Led by Boudicca, about 100,000 British attacked Camulodunum (now Colchester), where the Roans had their main center of rule. With Suetonius and most of the Roman forces away, Camulodunum was not well-defended, and the Romans were drive out. he Procurator Decianus was forced to flee. Boudicca's army burned Camulodunum to the ground; only the Roman temple was left.

Immediately Boudicca's army turned to the largest city in the British Isles, Londinium (London). Suetonius strategically abandoned the city, and Boudicca's army burned Londinium and massacred the 25,000 inhabitants who had not fled. Archaeological evidence of a layer of burned ash shows the extent of the destruction.

Next, Boudicca and her army marched on Verulamium (St. Albans), a city largely populated by Britons who had cooperated with the Romans and who were killed as the city was destroyed.

Changing Fortunes

Boudicca's army had counted on seizing Roman food stores when the tribes abandoned their own fields to wage rebellion, but Suetonius had strategically seen to the burning of the Roman stores. Famine thus struck the victorious army, weakening them.

Boudicca fought one more battle, though its precise location is not sure. Boudicca's army attacked uphill, and, exhausted, hungry, was easy for the Romans to rout. Roman troops of 1,200 defeated Boudicca's army of 100,000, killing 80,000 to their own loss of 400.

Death and Legacy

What happened to Boudicca is uncertain. It is said she returned to her home territory and took poison to avoid Roman capture.

A result of the rebellion was that the Romans strengthened their military presence in Britain and also lessened the oppressiveness of their rule.

Boudicca's story was nearly forgotten until Tacitus' work, Annals, was rediscovered in 1360. Her story became popular during the reign of another English queen who headed an army against foreign invasion, Queen Elizabeth I.

Boudicca's life has been the subject of historical novels and a 2003 British television film, Warrior Queen.

Boudicca Quotes

• If you weigh well the strengths of our armies you will see that in this battle we must conquer or die. This is a woman's resolve. As for the men, they may live or be slaves.

• I am not fighting for my kingdom and wealth now. I am fighting as an ordinary person for my lost freedom, my bruised body, and my outraged daughters.

Quote About Boudicca

“What is deemed as “his-story” is often determined by those who survived to write it. In other words, history is written by the victors...Now, with the help of the Roman historian Tacitus, I shall tell you Queen Boudicca’s story, her-story……”  Thomas Jerome Baker