When I decided to start a blog series about women from history, Boudica jumped out at me. Not because she was my favorite historical woman, or because she had some major play in history. She just did. So for no reason whatsoever other than ‘because’, she’ll be my first post subject.
Boudica was a British Queen, back during the Roman Empire. At that point England (And Great Britian as a whole) was made up of different tribes. She was part of the Iceni Tribe which lived in what is now modern day Norfolk.
Boudica (also spelled Boadicea, Boudicea, and called Budding in Welsh) was born around 25 AD She was married to Prasutagus, who was the elected ruler or King of the Iceni. Prasutagus had a agreeable relationship with the Roman Empire, enough so that when he died he left his kingdom to both his daughters and the Empire. This of course caused problems.
The Romans had left the Iceni and the other British tribes for the most part alone since Ceaser visited a century before. However, around 43 AD, Emperor Claudius decided to invade, and this time take control. The Tribes eventually had to submit, but instead of leaving them alone for the most part, Claudius left behind his soldiers on the island. Some of the native population continued to rebel, but successive governors of the island sent by rome made things more and more difficult for the Iceni and their neighbors. At one point they no longer had the ability to have any weapons that could be used for rebellion (hunting weapons were still allowed to a point). When Claudius died, his successor Nero had them build a temple in Camulodunum for him, which required the Celtic Icenic to worship their invader. They were also forced to pay for it. Not having the funds to do so, they ended up borrowing money from rich Romans.
Boudica’s eventual rebellion was motivated by different things, depending on what source you were told. Most of the tales of Boudica were Roman, as there was no written celtic history at the time. However, the Romans who wrote about the Queen of the Iceni had different ideas of what motivated her. According to some, her motivations were due to oppression. The Romans, such as Seneca, who had leant money to the Britions called those loans in with force. The Governers took more and more of the freedoms the Celtic populations enjoyed to keep them under control. THis included destruction of their holy lands, which sadly would not be the last time this would happen in history. This got worse when her husband, who had on friendly terms with the Roman Empire, died. Rome decided to take complete control rather then share with the man’s daughters.
Other accounts have more dramatic reasons. According to Tacitus, Boudica was flogged for resisting her estate being taken over by the local leader and her daughters raped. Given that there is no account from the side of the Celtics, or Boudica herself, its hard to know for sure what really happened to her or her people that caused her to decide to seize leadership and rebel.
In around 60-61 AD, Boudica lead Celtic rebels in full rebellion against the Roman invaders. She attacked, and destroyed several cities. One of which was the City of London, which still bears traces of the attack where Boudica’s army burned the city down. Other cities included Verulamium, and Camulodunum (Colchester). According to Dio, she was vicious in her retribution, killing those who remained in the cities. She had a larger army, with an estimate of 230 thousand. However in the end the Roman leader Suetonius was victorious and returned Britain to Roman control. His troops were better trained and better armed, and in the end that seemed to win the day.
Boudica died soon afterwards, with even her death in dispute. In some accounts she ended it by poison, others she died of an illness. She was given a costly funeral by her tribesman. Despite the loss, she was still greatly respected by most accounts. I suppose in a way its amazing that she managed to not only gain the respect of her fellow celts, but enough respect from the Romans that they told stories about her. They won, they could have told any story they wanted. Made her out to be some demon, but they didn’t.
I suppose it confused them. The Romans weren’t particularly equalitarian when it came to gender. Most of the heroines of their tales were either godesses or foriegn Queens. Boudica, Dido, Cleopatra. Women who defyed the Roman idea of Womanhood.
Today it doesn’t seem that far fetched that a group of fighters would go into battle for their Queen. Its happened many times before. Boudica left in imprint on the history of Great Britain, not just as a Queen. She became a symbol of resistance. She became a subject of Art, and inspiration during the Victorian Age.
Boudica: Celtic War Queen who challenged Rome