"'They are men who bathe in warm water, eat artificial dainties, drink unmixed wine, anoint themeselves with myrrh, sleep on soft couches and are slaves to the incompetent lyre player'?" - On the Romans
Boudica (also Boudicca, Boadicea, Buduica, Bonduca) (d. 60/61) was a queen of the Brythonic Celtic Iceni people of Norfolk in Eastern Britain who led a major uprising of the tribes against the occupying forces of the Roman Empire. Upon the death of her husband Prasutagus (circa 60), the Romans annexed his kingdom and brutally humiliated Boudica and her daughters (some sources say she was beaten and her daughters raped), spurring her leadership of the revolt.
In 60 or 61, while governor Gaius Suetonius Paulinus was leading a campaign against the druids on the island of Anglesey in north Wales, the Iceni and their neighbours, the Trinovantes, rebelled, and led by Boudica, destroyed the former Trinovantian capital and Roman colonia of Camulodunum (Colchester), and routed the Roman Legio IX Hispana under Quintus Petillius Cerialis. Boudica's army then burned to the ground the twenty-year-old settlement of Londinium (London) and destroyed Verulamium (St Albans), killing an estimated 70,000-80,000 people. Roman emperor Nero briefly considered withdrawing Roman forces from the island, but ultimately Boudica was defeated at the Battle of Watling Street by the heavily outnumbered forces of Roman provincial governor Gaius Suetonius Paulinus.
The chronicles of these events, as recorded by the historians Tacitus1 and Dio Cassius2, were rediscovered during the Renaissance and led to a resurgence of Boudica's legendary fame during the Victorian era, when Queen Victoria was portrayed as her "namesake". Boudica has since remained an important cultural symbol in the United Kingdom.
Boudica or Boadicea?
Until recently, Boudica was known as Boadicea, which is probably derived from a mistranscription when a manuscript of Tacitus was copied in the Middle Ages. Her name takes many forms in various manuscripts, but was almost certainly originally Boudicca or Boudica, derived from the Celtic word *bouda, victory (cf. Irish bua, 'Buaidheach, Welsh buddug). The name is attested in inscriptions as "Boudica" in Lusitania, "Boudiga" in Bordeaux and "Bodicca" in Britain.3
Based on later development of Welsh and Irish, Kenneth Jackson concludes that the correct spelling of the name is Boudica, pronounced 'Bow-DEE-cah' (first syllable as in bow-and-arrow, i and a both long), although it is mispronounced by many as [bu-dik'?].4Early Life
It is assumed that Boudica's family was well-off, as Tacitus comments that Boudica described herself as being of noble ancestry. She was brought up in a traditional Celtic roundhouse, which would have been large and taken a few weeks to build. When Boudica was older (around seven), she went to live with a second family and stayed there until she was around fourteen. While away, she met new people and learned how to be sociable. She also learned about the history of the Celts and her tribe, traditions, culture and religion. She attended a warrior school, learning to use a sword, spear and shield. A few years after Boudica returned home (around 47 AD), her family found a marriage partner for her, Prasutagus of the Iceni tribe. They married and had two daughters.
The Iceni inhabited roughly what is now Norfolk. They were not at this stage part of the territory under direct Roman control, having voluntarily allied themselves to Rome following Claudius's conquest of 43. They were jealous of their independence, and had revolted in 47 when the then-governor, Publius Ostorius Scapula, threatened to disarm them.5 It is possible that Prasutagus was installed as a pro-Roman ruler following the suppression of this uprising. He lived a long life of conspicuous wealth, and, hoping to preserve his line, made the Roman emperor co-heir to his kingdom along with his two daughters.
It was normal Roman practice to allow allied kingdoms their independence only for the lifetime of their client king, who would agree to leave his kingdom to Rome in his will: the provinces of Bithynia6 and Galatia7, for example, were incorporated into the Empire in just this way. Roman law also allowed inheritance only through the male line. So when Prasutagus died his attempts to preserve his line were ignored and his kingdom was annexed as if it had been conquered. Lands and property were confiscated and nobles treated like slaves. According to Tacitus, Boudica was flogged and her daughters raped. Dio Cassius says that Roman financiers, including Seneca the Younger, chose this point to call in their loans. Tacitus does not mention this, but does single out the procurator, Catus Decianus, for criticism for his "avarice". Prasutagus, it seems, had lived well on borrowed Roman money, and on his death his subjects had become liable for the debt.
In 60 or 61, while the current governor, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, was leading a campaign against the druids on the island of Anglesey in north Wales, the Iceni rebelled, along with their neighbours the Trinovantes, under Boudica's leadership.
Their first target was Camulodunum (Colchester), the former Trinovantian capital and now 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 city was poorly defended and the rebels destroyed it, besieging the last defenders in the temple for two days before it fell. The future governor Quintus Petillius Cerialis, then commanding the Legio IX Hispana, attempted to relieve the city, but his forces were routed.
When news of the rebellion reached him, Suetonius hurried along Watling Street through hostile territory to Londinium (London). Londinium was a relatively new town, founded after the conquest of 43, but had grown to be a thriving commercial centre with a population of travellers, traders, and probably Roman officials. The procurator, Catus Decianus, likely had his office there. Suetonius considered giving battle there, but considering his lack of numbers and chastened by Petilius's defeat, decided to sacrifice the city to save the province. Londinium was abandoned to the rebels, who burnt it down, slaughtering anyone who had not evacuated with Suetonius (archaeology shows a thick layer of burnt debris covering coins and pottery dating before 608). Verulamium (St Albans) was next to be destroyed. In the three cities destroyed, between seventy and eighty thousand people are said to have been killed.
Suetonius regrouped with the XIV Gemina, some vexillationes (detachments) of the XX Valeria Victrix, and any available auxiliaries. The prefect of Legio II Augusta, Poenius Postumus, ignored the call, but nonetheless the governor was able to call on almost ten thousand men. He took a stand at an unidentified location, probably in the West Midlands somewhere along Watling Street, in a defile with a wood behind him. They were greatly outnumbered by the British rebels (who were 230,000 strong by now according to Dio Cassius) but superior Roman tactics and training won the day at the Battle of Watling Street. 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 (The German king Ariovistus is reported to have made the same mistake in Julius Caesar's Gallic Wars).9 Tacitus reports that "according to one report almost eighty thousand Britons fell" compared with only four hundred Romans. According to Tacitus, Boudica poisoned herself; Dio Cassius says she fell sick and died, and was given a lavish burial. She may well have been cremated which was the custom of many Celtic tribes at this time. This would also serve to save her body from being defiled and would explain why the remains have never been found.
Location of her defeat
The site of Boudica's battle is unknown. According to London legend it was at Kings Cross in London (a nearby street is named Battle Bridge Road), and that Boudica herself is buried under one of the platforms at Kings Cross Station (different sources list platforms eight, nine or ten as her supposed resting place) but, based on Tacitus, it is unlikely Suetonius returned to London. Most historians favour a site in the West Midlands. Kevin K. Carroll suggests a site close to High Cross in Leicestershire, on the junction of Watling Street and the Fosse Way, would have allowed the Legio II Augusta, based at Exeter, to rendezvous with the rest of Suetonius's forces.10 Manduessedum (Mancetter), near the modern day town of Atherstone in Warwickshire, has also been suggested.11
Postumus, on hearing of the Roman victory, fell on his sword. Catus Decianus fled to Gaul and was replaced by Gaius Julius Alpinus Classicianus. Gaius Suetonius Paulinus conducted punitive operations, but criticism by Classicianus led to an investigation headed by Nero's freedman Polyclitus. Suetonius was removed as governor, replaced by Publius Petronius Turpilianus. Suetonius the historian tells us the crisis had almost persuaded Nero to abandon Britain.12Historical sources
Tacitus, the most important Roman historian of this period, took a particular interest in Britain as Gnaeus Julius Agricola, his father-in-law and the subject of his first book, served there three times. He was a military tribune under Suetonius Paulinus, which almost certainly gave Tacitus an eyewitness source for Boudica's revolt.
Dio Cassius's sources are less certain. 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. He says of Boudica:
"Boudica was tall, terrible to look on and gifted with a powerful voice. A flood of bright red hair ran down to her knees; she wore a golden necklet made up of ornate pieces, a multi-coloured robe and over it a thick cloak held together by a brooch. She took up a long spear to cause dread in all who set eyes on her."
He reports that she committed all sorts of atrocities in the name of a goddess called Andraste, who he claims is the British equivalent of Victoria, the Roman goddess of victory. Boudica's own name means "victory".
It is generally thought that Gildas, in his 6th century polemic De Excidio Britanniae, alludes to Boudica in his typically oblique fashion as a "treacherous lioness", although his general lack of knowledge about the real history of the Roman conquest of Britain makes this far from certain.13Cultural impact
History and literature
By the Middle Ages Boudica was forgotten. She makes no appearance in Bede, the Historia Brittonum, the Mabinogion or Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain. But the rediscovery of the works of Tacitus and Dio Cassius during the Renaissance allowed Polydore Virgil to reintroduce her into British history in 1534. However he misinterpreted the "Voadicea" he found in Tacitus and the "Bunduica" in Dio Cassius as two separate women. Boudica's story was included in Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles 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. Queen Victoria was seen as her "namesake". Victoria's Poet Laureate, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, wrote a poem, Boadicea. A great bronze statue of Boudica in her war chariot (furnished with scythes after Persian fashion), together with her daughters, was commissioned by Prince Albert and executed by Thomas Thornycroft. It was completed in 1905 and stands next to Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament. Ironically, the great anti-imperialist rebel was now identified with the head of the British Empire.14
Boudica has inspired several novels: examples include Rosemary Sutcliff's 1978 historical novel for children, Song for a Dark Queen, and Manda Scott's series of novels, Dreaming the Eagle, Dreaming the Bull, Dreaming the Hound and Dreaming the Serpent Spear. Joyce Doré wrote Hemlock, (ISBN 1898030197), a fictional account of the life of Boudica published in 2002, in which Boudica and her two daughters are taken to Rome, before Nero, who makes her drink hemlock. Doré claims to be a psychic and to have based the book on her conversations with the historical characters. The major American publisher Penguin has produced a recent book about Boudica called Warrior Queen, written by Australian novelist Alan Gold. It has been critically acclaimed.
Films and television
Boudica has been the subject of two feature films, 1928's Boadicea, starring Phyllis Nielson-Terry, and 2003's Boudica, a TV film written by Andrew Davies and starring Alex Kingston. A new film is planned for release in 2006 entitled Warrior, written by Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal, directed by Gavin O'Connor, and produced by Mel Gibson.15 A British TV series, Warrior Queen, was made by Thames Television in 1978 starring Sian Phillips as Boudica and Nigel Hawthorne as Catus Decianus. Boudica was also featured in the fifth episode of one hour documentary Warrior Women on the Discovery Channel, hosted by New Zealand actress Lucy Lawless.
The Irish singer/songwriter Enya produced a song called "Boadicea" on her 1992 album The Celts. This track was most famously sampled by the rap group The Fugees for their single "Ready or Not" (from 1996's The Score), and most recently by Mario Winans (featuring Sean "P. Diddy" Combs) on his song "I Don't Wanna Know" (2004). The track was also used in the soundtrack of the film Sleepwalkers.
Scottish singer/songwriter Steve McDonald composed a biographical song called "Boadicea" on his 1997 album Stone of Destiny, detailing her life and tragic death.16 British rock band The Libertines refer to "Queen Boadicea" in their song "The Good Old Days", indicating a belief that her spirit still lives on in Britons today.17 The British metal band Bal-Sagoth have written a song entitled "Blood Slakes the Sand at the Circus Maximus" (found on the band's album Battle Magic) which features an Iceni Warrior of Boudica's uprising being captured and brought back to Rome. Her name (always spelled "Boudicca") returns in the song "When Rides the Scion of the Storms" of the same album.18
Faith and the Muse produced a song, Boudiccea, in their most recent album, Burning Season. The song suggests that Boudiccea may have committed suicide by falling on her sword.19
Other cultural references
There have been scattered reports that the restless spirit of Boudica has been seen in the county of Lincolnshire. These reports, dating back to the mid-19th century, claim Boudica rides her chariot, heading for some unknown destination, and many a traveller and motorist have claimed to have seen her. There has been some debate as to how long this has been going on. Some say that the queen's restless spirit has been appearing since her death, while other suggest that the revival of interest in Boudica's story in the 19th century might have summoned her spirit back to our world. As with all reports of ghostly activity, it is up to the individual to decide whether they are true or not.20
In 1984, Judy Grahn, in her book Another Mother Tongue, claimed that Boudica was the origin of the present day English word "bull dyke" (a vulgar term for a lesbian); this is thought to be dubious.
In the 1990s, DC Comics' Green Lantern Corps included a member named Boodikka, portrayed as a fierce female warrior.
In 2003, an LTR retrotransposon from the genome of the human blood fluke Schistosoma mansoni was named Boudicca.21References
1. Agricola 14-17; Annals 14:29-39
2. Roman History 62:1-12
3. Graham Webster, Boudica: The British Revolt against Rome AD 60, 1978; Guy de la Bédoyère, The Roman Army in Britain
4. Kenneth Jackson, "Queen Boudicca?", Britannia 10, 1979
5. Tacitus, Annals 12:31-32
6. H. H. Scullard, From the Gracchi to Nero, 1982, p. 90
7. John Morris, Londinium: London in the Roman Empire, 1982, pp. 107-108
8. George Patrick Welch, Britannia: The Roman Conquest & Occupation of Britain, 1963, p. 107
9. Commentarii de Bello Gallico 12:31
10. Kevin K. Carroll, "The Date of Boudicca's Revolt", Britannia 10, 1979
11. Sheppard Frere, Britannia: A History of Roman Britain, 1987, p. 73
12. Nero 18, 39-40
13. Gildas, The Ruin of Britain and other documents, ed & trans Michael Winterbottom, Phillimore 1978; Fabio P. Barbieri, History of Britain, 407-597, Book 1, Chapter 2, 2002 (retrieved 5 July 2005)
14. Graham Webster, Boudica: The British Revolt against Rome AD 60, 1978
15. Boadicea (1928), Boudica (2003), and Warrior (2006) at imdb.com
16. Stone of Destiny lyrics from Official Steve McDonald Fanlisting
17. The Libertines, "The Good Old Days" lyrics
18. Bal-Sagoth, "Blood Slakes the Sand at the Circus Maximus" lyrics, "When Rides the Scion of the Storms lyrics
19. Dan Asfar, Haunted Highways: Ghost Stories and Strange Tales, 2003
20. Copeland CS, Brindley PJ, Heyers O, Michael SF, Johnston DA, Williams DL, Ivens AC, Kalinna BH, "Boudicca, a retrovirus-like long terminal repeat retrotransposon from the genome of the human blood fluke Schistosoma mansoni". Journal of Virology 2003 Jun;77(11):6153-66; Copeland CS, Heyers O, Kalinna BH, Bachmair A, Stadler PF, Hofacker IL, Brindley PJ, "Structural and evolutionary analysis of the transcribed sequence of Boudicca, a Schistosoma mansoni retrotransposon". Gene 2004;329:103-114.
21. Boudiccea lyrics from the Faith and the Muse Site