Biography of Boudicca, British Celtic Warrior Queen

She led a revolt against Roman occupation

Boudicca and the Burning of London

Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Boudicca was a British Celtic warrior queen who led a revolt against Roman occupation. Her date and place of birth are unknown and it's believed she died in 60 or 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) and "The Annals" (109), and Cassius Dio, in "The Rebellion of Boudicca" (about 163) Boudicca was the wife of Prasutagus, who was head of the Iceni tribe in East England, in what is now Norfolk and Suffolk. Nothing is known about her birth date or birth family.

Fast Facts: Boudicca

  • Known For: British Celtic Warrior Queen 
  • Also Known As: Boudicea, Boadicea, Buddug, Queen of Britain
  • Born: Britannia (date unknown)
  • Died: 60 or 61 CE
  • Spouse: Prasutagus
  • Honors: A statue of Boudicca with her daughters in her war chariot stands next to Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament in England. It was commissioned by Prince Albert, executed by Thomas Thornycroft, and completed in 1905.
  • Notable 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."

Roman Occupation and Prasutagus

Boudicca was married to Prasutagus, ruler of the Iceni people of East Anglia, in 43 CE, when 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 an 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, 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 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, they seized control of all 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 rapes and beatings. In his version, a Roman moneylender named Seneca 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 Romans had their main center of rule. With Suetonius and most of the Roman forces away, Camulodunum was not well-defended, and the Romans were driven out. The 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 burned the Roman stores. Famine thus struck the victorious army, greatly weakening it.

Boudicca fought one more battle, though its precise location is unknown. Boudicca's army attacked uphill, and, exhausted and hungry, was easily routed by the Romans to rout. Roman troops—numbering just 1,200—defeated Boudicca's army of 100,000, killing 80,000 while suffering only 400 casualties.

Death and Legacy

What happened to Boudicca is uncertain. She may have returned to her home territory and taken poison to avoid Roman capture. As a result of the rebellion, the Romans strengthened their military presence in Britain but also lessened the oppressiveness of their rule.

After the Romans suppressed Boudicca's rebellion, Britons mounted a few smaller insurrections in the coming years, but none gained the same widespread support or cost as many lives. The Romans would continue to hold Britain, without any further significant trouble, until their withdrawal from the region in 410.

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. Today, Boudicca is considered a national heroine in Great Briton, and she is seen as a universal symbol of the human desire for freedom and justice.

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

Sources

  • History - Boudicca.” BBC, BBC.
  • Mark, Joshua J. “Boudicca.” Ancient History Encyclopedia, Ancient History Encyclopedia, 28 Feb. 2019.
  • Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Boudicca.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 23 Jan. 2017.