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Queen Boudica in John Opie's painting Boadicea Haranguing the Britons
|Died||c. 60 or 61 AD|
|Other names||Boudicea, Boadicea, Buddug|
|Occupation||Queen of the Iceni|
Boudica (Latinised as Boadicea or Boudicea //, and known in Welsh as Buddug [ˈbɨ̞ðɨ̞ɡ]) was a queen of the British Celtic Iceni tribe who led an uprising against the occupying forces of the Roman Empire in AD 60 or 61, and died shortly after its failure, having supposedly poisoned herself. She is considered a British folk hero.
Boudica's husband, Prasutagus, ruled as a nominally independent ally of Rome and left his kingdom jointly to his daughters and the Roman emperor in his will. However, when he died, his will was ignored, and the kingdom was annexed and his property taken. According to Tacitus, Boudica was flogged and her daughters raped. Cassius Dio provides an alternative explanation for Boudica's response, saying that previous imperial donations to influential Britons were confiscated and the Roman financier and philosopher Seneca called in the loans he had forced on the reluctant Britons.
In AD 60 or 61, when the Roman governor Gaius Suetonius Paulinus was campaigning on the island of Anglesey off the northwest coast of Wales, Boudica led the Iceni, the Trinovantes, and others in revolt. They destroyed Camulodunum (modern Colchester), earlier the capital of the Trinovantes but at that time a colonia, a settlement for discharged Roman soldiers and site of a temple to the former Emperor Claudius. Upon hearing of the revolt, Suetonius hurried to Londinium (modern London), the 20-year-old commercial settlement that was the rebels' next target. The Romans, having concluded that they lacked sufficient numbers to defend the settlement, evacuated and abandoned Londinium. Boudica led 100,000 Iceni, Trinovantes, and others to fight Legio IX Hispana, and burned and destroyed Londinium and Verulamium (modern-day St Albans).
An estimated 70,000–80,000 Romans and British were then killed in the three cities by those led by Boudica. Suetonius, meanwhile, regrouped his forces in the West Midlands, and, despite being heavily outnumbered, defeated the Britons in the Battle of Watling Street. The crisis caused Nero to consider withdrawing all Roman forces from Britain, but Suetonius' eventual victory over Boudica confirmed Roman control of the province. Boudica then either killed herself to avoid capture, or died of illness. The extant sources, Tacitus and Cassius Dio, differ.
Interest in these events revived in the English Renaissance and led to Boudica's fame in the Victorian era. Boudica has 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 knowledge of Boudica's rebellion comes solely from the writings of the Romans.
Boudica has been known by several versions of her name. Raphael Holinshed calls her Voadicia, while Edmund Spenser calls her Bunduca, a version of the name that was used in the popular Jacobean play Bonduca, in 1612. William Cowper's poem, Boadicea, an ode (1782) popularised an alternative version of the name. From the 19th century until 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.
Kenneth Jackson concludes, based on later development of Welsh and Irish, that the name derives from the Proto-Celtic feminine adjective *boudīkā, "victorious", that in turn is derived from the Celtic word *boudā, "victory" (cf. Irish bua (Classical Irish buadh), Buaidheach, Welsh buddugoliaeth), and that the correct spelling of the name in Common Brittonic (the British Celtic language) is Boudica, pronounced [bɒʊˈdiːkaː]. The Gaulish version is attested in inscriptions as Boudiga in Bordeaux, Boudica in Lusitania, and Bodicca in Algeria.
Tacitus and Cassius Dio agree that Boudica was of royal descent. Dio describes her as "possessed of greater intelligence than often belongs to women." He also describes her as tall, with tawny hair hanging down to below her waist, a harsh voice and a piercing glare. He says that she habitually wore a large golden necklace (perhaps a torc), a colourful tunic, and a thick cloak fastened by a brooch.
Boudica's husband, Prasutagus, was the king of the Iceni, a people who inhabited roughly what is now Norfolk. The Iceni initially voluntarily allied with Rome following Claudius's conquest of southern Britain in AD 43. They were proud of their independence, and had revolted in AD 47 when the then Roman governor Publius Ostorius Scapula planned to disarm all the peoples in the area of Britain under Roman control following a number of local uprisings. Ostorius defeated them and went on to put down other uprisings around Britain. The Iceni remained independent. Tacitus first mentioned Prasutagus when he wrote about Boudica's rebellion. It is unknown whether he became the king after the mentioned defeat of the Iceni. The client relationship with Rome ended after the end of the rebellion.
Tacitus wrote, "The Icenian king Prasutagus, celebrated for his long prosperity, had named the emperor his heir, together with his two daughters; an act of deference which he thought would place his kingdom and household beyond the risk of injury. The result was contrary — so much so that his kingdom was pillaged by centurions, his household by slaves; as though they had been prizes of war." He added that Boudica was lashed, her two daughters were raped, and that the estates of the leading Iceni men were confiscated.
Cassius Dio wrote: "An excuse for the war was found in the confiscation of the sums of money that Claudius had given to the foremost Britons; for these sums, as Decianus Catus, the procurator of the island maintained, were to be paid back." He also said that another reason was "the fact that Seneca, in the hope of receiving a good rate of interest, had lent to the islanders 40,000,000 sesterces that they did not want, and had afterwards called in this loan all at once and had resorted to severe measures in exacting it."
Tacitus did not say why Prasutagus's naming the emperor as his heir as well as his daughters was meant to avert the risk of injury. He did not explain why the Romans pillaged the kingdom, why they took the lands of the chiefs or why Boudica was flogged and her daughters were raped. Cassius Dio did not mention any of this. He said that the cause of the rebellion was the decision of the procurator of Britain (the chief financial officer) and Seneca (an advisor of the emperor Nero) to call in Prasutagus's debts and the harsh measures which were taken to collect them. Tacitus does not mention these events. However, he wrote: "Alarmed by this disaster and by the fury of the province which he had goaded into war by his rapacity, the procurator Catus crossed over into Gaul."
This was happening while the governor of Britain, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, was away fighting in North Wales. It is unknown whether he approved of these actions. The centurions who pillaged the kingdom and who sent them are unknown. The text of Cassius Dio seems to suggest that Seneca, who was a private citizen, was responsible for the violence. It is unlikely that a legion was sent to the land of the Iceni as two of them were fighting at the island of Anglesey and the other two were stationed at their garrisons. Tacitus said, "It was against the veterans that their hatred was most intense. For these new settlers in the colony of Camulodunum drove people out of their houses, ejected them from their farms, called them captives and slaves ...."
In AD 60 or 61, while the current governor, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, was leading a campaign against the island of Mona (modern Anglesey) in the north of 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. Tacitus records that she addressed her army with these words, "It is not as a woman descended from noble ancestry, but as one of the people that I am avenging lost freedom, my scourged body, the outraged chastity of my daughters," and concluded, "This is a woman's resolve; as for men, they may live and be slaves." 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.
The rebels' first target was Camulodunum (Colchester), the former Trinovantian capital and, at that time, 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 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 demolished. 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 destruction of the Legio IX is now claimed by some to be 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. Londinium was a relatively new settlement, founded after the conquest of AD 43, 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.
Alarmed by this disaster and by the fury of the province which he had goaded into war by his rapacity, the procurator Catus crossed over into Gaul. Suetonius, however, with wonderful resolution, marched amidst a hostile population to Londinium, which, though undistinguished by the name of a colony, was much frequented by a number of merchants and trading vessels. Uncertain whether he should choose it as a seat of war, as he looked round on his scanty force of soldiers, and remembered with what a serious warning the rashness of Petilius had been punished, he resolved to save the province at the cost of a single town. Nor did the tears and weeping of the people, as they implored his aid, deter him from giving the signal of departure and receiving into his army all who would go with him. Those who were chained to the spot by the weakness of their sex, or the infirmity of age, or the attractions of the place, were cut off by the enemy.— Tacitus
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 AD 60 within the bounds of Roman Londinium; while Roman-era skulls found in the Walbrook in 2013 were potentially linked to victims of the rebels. Verulamium (St Albans) was next to be destroyed.
In the three settlements destroyed, between seventy and eighty thousand people are said to have been killed. Tacitus says that 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.
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, some vexillationes (detachments) of the XX Valeria Victrix, and any available auxiliaries. The prefect of Legio II Augusta, Poenius Postumus, stationed near Exeter, ignored the call, and a fourth legion, IX Hispana, had been routed trying to relieve Camulodunum, 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 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 were said to have numbered 230,000. 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.
Boudica exhorted her troops from her chariot, her daughters beside her. Tacitus records her giving 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. She said 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. Also, the narrowness of the field meant that Boudica could put forth only as many troops as the Romans could at a given time.
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 in his Annals, Boudica poisoned herself, though in the Agricola which was written almost twenty years prior he mentions nothing of suicide and attributes the end of the revolt to socordia ("indolence"); Dio says she fell sick and died and then was given a lavish burial.
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's 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. No historical records tell what had happened to Boudica's two daughters.
Location of her defeat
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, 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 artefacts in Kings Norton close to Metchley Camp has suggested another possibility, and a thorough examination of a stretch of Watling Street between St. Albans, Boudica's last known location, and the Fosse Way junction has suggested the Cuttle Mill area of Paulerspury in Northamptonshire, which has topography very closely matching that described by Tacitus of the scene of the battle.
In 2009, it was suggested that the Iceni were returning to East Anglia along the Icknield Way when they encountered the Roman army in the vicinity of Arbury Banks, Hertfordshire. In March 2010, evidence was published suggesting the site may be located at Church Stowe, Northamptonshire.
Tacitus took a particular interest in Britain as his father-in-law Gnaeus Julius Agricola served there three times (and was the subject of his first book). 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.
Buddug is likely to have been a figure of praise in the post-Roman Bardic tradition of the British Celts. In his 6th century work On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain, the monk Gildas demonstrates his knowledge of this tradition, but is critical of the anti-Roman separatism:
"A treacherous lioness butchered the governors who had been left to give fuller voice and strength to the endeavors of Roman rule".
Buddug has yet to be conclusively identified within the cannon of medieval Welsh literature and she is not apparent in the Historia Brittonum, the Mabinogion or Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain.
The name "Battle Bridge" led to a tradition that this was the site of a major battle between the Romans and the Iceni tribe led by Boudica. The tradition is not supported by any historical evidence and is rejected by modern historians. However, Lewis Spence's 1937 book Boadicea — warrior queen of the Britons went so far as to include a map showing the positions of the opposing armies. There is a belief that she was buried between platforms 9 and 10 in King's Cross station in London, England. There is no evidence for this and it is probably a post-World War II invention.
The first English writings appear during the reign of Queen Elizabeth following the rediscovery of the works of Tacitus. Polydore Vergil may have reintroduced her to 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 came to be seen as Boudica's "namesake", their names being identical in meaning. Victoria's Poet Laureate, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, wrote a poem, "Boadicea", and several ships were named after her.
Boadicea and Her Daughters, a statue of the queen in her war chariot (anachronistically furnished with scythes after the Persian fashion) was executed by Thomas Thornycroft over the 1850s and 1860s with the encouragement of Prince Albert, who lent his horses for use as models. Thornycroft exhibited the head separately in 1864. It was cast in bronze in 1902, 17 years after Thornycroft's death, by his son Sir John, who presented it to the London County Council. They erected it on a plinth on the Victoria Embankment next to Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament, inscribed with the following lines from Cowper's poem:
Regions Caesar never knew
Thy posterity shall sway.
Boudica (Buddug) was chosen as one of eleven statues of historical figures chosen by the Welsh public to be included in The Marble Hall at Cardiff City Hall. The statue was unveiled by David Lloyd George on 27 October 1916. The popularity of Buddug alongside other Welsh heroes such as St David and Owain Glyndwr was surprising to many, of the statues Buddug is the most ancient, the only female, and the only antecedent from outside the modern Welsh nation.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Boudica.|
|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Boadicea.|
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- The Iceni Hoard at the British Museum