Boudica, or Boadicea or Boudicca, is a historical figure from Iron Age Britain. She is best known for leading the rebellion against the Roman empire between 60 and 61 AD. Boudica was Queen of the Iceni tribe and a mother of two daughters. When she, her family and her people were horrifically wronged by the Roman empire, she started a rebellion that united the Iceni tribe with their neighbouring tribe, the Trinovantes. The rebellion led by Queen Boudica attacked and burned three roman settlement cities; Camulodunum (modern day Colchester), Londinium (modern day London), and Verulamium (modern day Saint Albans). When the rebellion faced the Roman Imperial army on the battlefield, the rebels were ultimately defeated and Boudica dead from possible suicide to avoid capture.
Work by: John Opie – engraving by William Sharp https://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Boadicea_Haranguing_the_Britons_(called_Boudicca,_or_Boadicea)_by_John_Opie.jpg
Iron Age Britain
The pre-Roman period Britain is identified as Iron Age Britain because iron was regularly used in society. It is believed that the Iron Age in Britain ended when the Romans invaded Britannia. For the Iceni, the Iron Age lasted until 60/61 AD when the tribe was defeated in Boudica’s rebellion. During the Iron Age Britain, the island was inhabited by political groups that archaeologists defined as ‘tribes’. Boudica was the wife of the leader of the Iceni tribe.
The Romans may have perceived Britain’s society as primitive and barbaric, however archaeological evidence shows the people of Britannia were far from being a primitive society. Instead, they had their own civilisation that was based on agricultural economies and lived in remarkable settlements. These communities had round, and oval shaped houses and had their own agricultural economy that was developed from over 3000 years of experience. The citizens of these communities used handmade pottery and were mostly self-sufficient.
Archaeologists have found weaponry and jewellery that indicates some people of these Iron Age communities had access to objects that would define their status amongst their community. The found weaponry suggest the Iron Age communities were dominated by a warrior aristocracy. It is possible that in some Iron Age societies, power and influence derived from success in warfare and the ownership of weapons was used as a representation of this power. Little is known about the nature of Iron Age warfare, though the type of weapons found suggest that hand-to-hand fighting was common.
Map by: Wikimedia Commons,https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:South.Britain.Late.Iron.Age.jpg
Romans Invading Britain
Before the expansion of the Roman empire across Western Europe, it is possible the people in Britain lived in peace but once the Romans invaded, it caused a great instability amongst the tribes. For example, while the Iceni were essentially being driven towards outright rebelling against the Romans, their southern neighbour tribe, the Trinovantes, were suffering from heavy taxation from the Roman empire due to the maintenance of the temple at Camulodunum where the living Roman emperor was worshipped. This led the Trinovantes to open revolt and unite with the Iceni against the Romans.
Before the Iceni tribe was ruled by Boudica and her husband Prasatagus, the tribe was largely ruled by a man whose name is believed to be Antedios. When emperor Claudius arrived, the Iceni under Antedios rule surrendered and regarded themselves as allies of Rome according to Tacitus. The treaty they made with Claudius established the Iceni as a ‘client kingdom’ under Roman rule. The Iceni believed that for their tribute and supply of army recruits for the empire, they had regained their independence. Antedios was replaced by Boudica’s husband Prasatagus and it appears he was successful in ruling the Iceni. It is unknown how much command Boudica had over the tribe during her husband’s rule, but her behaviour after her husband’s death suggests she may have had considerable power behind the throne when Prasatagus was king. Roman historians Tacitus and Cassius Dio suggested in their works, women in Britain could be chosen as leaders and could lead their people into battle, but it is uncertain how common women leaders during Iron Age Britain were.
When Nero succeeded Claudius and became emperor, he often seized entire estates from those who have been conquered by Rome when he thought they did not leave enough for him in their wills. Half of an estate would have been considered insufficient to Nero which was the amount Prasatagus left to the emperor in his will. Prasatagus’ death in AD 59/60 was the beginning of a chain of events that caused Rome to nearly lose their hold of Britain.
Rise of Boudica’s Rebellion
King Prasatagus of the Iceni died around 59/60 AD. In his will, he left half of his estates to the emperor, and the other half to his two daughters. According to Tacitus, Prasatagus did this thinking it would keep his household and kingdom, “beyond the risk of injury” (Grant 1961). However, his kingdom was pillaged by the Romans, the chief men of the tribe were stripped of their family estates and relatives of the king were treated as slaves. Queen Boudica was flogged and her daughters were raped by Roman soldiers. Outraged of the injustice and the horrendous acts the Romans unleashed on her, her daughters and her people, Boudica began a rebellion against the Roman empire.
Uniting with the Trinovantes, the rebellion led by Queen Boudica went on to attack Camulodunum, Londinium, and Verulamium; Roman settlement cities in Britain. In the settlement city of Camulodunum, the rebels looted the city, sacked the temple of Claudius and set the city on fire. Archaeological evidence shows there was a fire layer in excavations of Londinium (modern day London), particularly north of the London Bridge. This evidence supports the siege on Londinium led by Queen Boudica in 60 AD.
In Cassius Dio’s Roman history (1925), he describes the rebellion committing acts of revenge against the civilians amongst these roman cities;
They hung up naked the noblest and most distinguished women and then cut off their breasts and sewed them to their mouths, in order to make the victims appear to be eating them; afterwards they impaled the women on sharp skewers run lengthwise through the entire body. (p.96).
The commander of the Roman legion Suetonius, abandoned Londinium due to lack of numbers in soldiers and instead regrouped the legion and met the rebels on a battlefield beyond Verulamium. The legion used a wedge formation against the rebels to strike deeply into the midst of their army. The rebellion ultimately loses against the Roman legion, and at the end of the battle, Boudica is dead. Boudica’s death varies amongst the written sources, she most likely poisoned herself to avoid capture when her rebellion was defeated, however other sources say she fell ill and died.
Photo by: Norlando Pobre, https://www.flickr.com/photos/npobre/14709340203
There have been modern depictions of Boudica in media, for instance, there is a film directed by Bill Anderson, Boudica starring Alex Kingston that was released in 2003. Even though information on Boudica is small, Anderson’s depiction of the historical figure and Iron Age Britain was well researched. The Iceni tribe are portrayed as farmers and warriors that are associated with the Druid religion. Alex Kingston portrays Boudica as a fierce independent warrior queen and mother who fights for her people’s freedom from the Roman Empire.
Anderson, B. (Director). (2003). Boudica[Motion picture on DVD]. United Kingdom: Independent Television.
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Gillespie, C. C. (2017). Boudica: Warrior woman of Roman Britain. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Grant, M. (1961). Tacitus: The annals of imperial Rome. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.
Hingley, R., & Unwin, C. (2006). Boudica Iron Age Warrior Queen. London: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC.
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Potter, T. W., & Johns, C. (1992). Roman Britain. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.
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Wacher, J. S. (1997). The towns of Roman Britain. London: Batsford.