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Boudicca (Boadicea)

Celtic Warrior Queen

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Boudicca's Uprising

Boudicca - also written as Boadicea, Boadaceia or Boudica - was a British Celtic warrior queen who led a revolt against Roman occupation

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Queen Boudicca of the Iceni

Bronze statue of Queen Boudicca stands at the north end of Westminster Bridge in London.

© Anthony Baggett via iStockphoto
Boudicca and the Burning of London

Boudicca and the Burning of London. Engraved by Tomlinson after Stothard.

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Boudicca Facts:

Known for: British Celtic warrior queen who led a revolt against Roman occupation
Dates: ? - 61 CE
Also known as: Boudica, Boadicea, Boadacaea

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

Boudicca Biography:

Boudicca was the wife of Prasutagus, who was head of the Iceni tribe in East England, in what is now Norfolk and Suffolk.

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 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 half his kingdom to the Emperor Nero to settle this debt.

The Romans arrived to collect, but instead of settling for half the kingdom, seized control of it. 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.

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.

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.

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