History: Boudaca's name - background - uprising - Romans Raly - Location of her defeat - Historical sources
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Boudica (alternative spelling: Boudicca), also known as Boadicea and known in Welsh as "Buddug" (d. AD 60 or 61) was queen of the Brythonic/Celtic Iceni tribe who led an uprising against the occupying forces of the Roman Empire.Boudica's husband Prasutagus, ruler of the Iceni tribe who had ruled as a nominally independent ally of Rome, left his kingdom jointly to his daughters and the Roman Emperor in his will. However, when he died, his will was ignored. The kingdom was annexed as if conquered, Boudica was flogged and her daughters raped, and Roman financiers called in their loans.
In AD 60 or 61, while the Roman governor, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, was leading a campaign on the island of Anglesey in northern Wales, Boudica led the Iceni people, along with the Trinovantes and others, in revolt. They destroyed Camulodunum (modern Colchester), formerly the capital of the Trinovantes, but now a colonia (a settlement for discharged Roman soldiers) and the site of a temple to the former emperor Claudius, which was built and maintained at local expense. They also routed a Roman legion, the IX Hispana, sent to relieve the settlement.
On hearing the news of the revolt, Suetonius hurried to Londinium (London), the twenty-year-old commercial settlement that was the rebels' next target. Concluding he did not have the numbers to defend it, Suetonius evacuated and abandoned it. It was burnt to the ground, as was Verulamium (St Albans). An estimated 70,000–80,000 people were killed in the three cities (though the figures are suspect). 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 the emperor Nero to consider withdrawing all Roman forces from the island, but Suetonius' eventual victory over Boudica secured Roman control of the province. Boudica then killed herself so she would not be captured, or fell ill and died; the extant sources, Tacitus and Cassius Dio, differ.
Interest in the history of these events was revived during the English 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. The absence of native British literature during the early part of the first millennium means that Britain owes its knowledge of Boudica's rebellion solely to 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 alternate version of the name. From the 19th century and much of 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. Her name was clearly spelled Boudicca in the best manuscripts of Tacitus., but also Βουδουικα, Βουνδουικα, and Βοδουικα in the (later and probably secondary) epitome of Cassius Dio. Boudica is a commonly repeated spelling based upon Jackson's hypothesis that it was originally a Proto-Celtic feminine adjective *boudīka "victorious", derived from the Celtic word *bouda, "victory" (cf. Irish bua (Classical Irish buadh), Buaidheach, Welsh buddugoliaeth). It is suggested that the most comparable English name would be "Victoria". The name is attested in inscriptions as "Boudica" in Lusitania, "Boudiga" in Bordeaux, and "Bodicca" in Algeria. Based on later development of Welsh and Irish, Kenneth Jackson concludes that the correct spelling of the name in the British language is Boudica, (the closest English equivalent to the vowel in the first syllable is the ow in "bow-and-arrow").
Location of Iceni territory within England; modern county borders for England and Wales are shown for context. Tacitus and Dio agree that Boudica was of royal descent. Dio says that she was "possessed of greater intelligence than often belongs to women", that she was tall, had hair described as reddish-brown or tawny hanging below her waist, a harsh voice and a piercing glare, and habitually wore a large golden necklace (perhaps a torc), a many-coloured tunic, and a thick cloak fastened by a brooch.
Her husband, Prasutagus, was the king of Iceni, people who inhabited roughly what is now Norfolk. They initially were not part of the territory under direct Roman control, having voluntarily allied themselves to Rome following Claudius' conquest of AD 43. They were jealous of their independence and had revolted in AD 47 when the then-governor Publius Ostorius Scapula threatened to disarm them. Prasutagus 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 wife and 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 Bithynia and Galatia, 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 were raped. Cassius Dio says that Roman financiers, including Seneca the Younger, chose this time 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 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. 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. Perhaps it is significant that Boudica's own name means "victory" (see above).
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 of the city 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 battle is claimed by 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 (London). Londinium was a relatively new town, founded after the conquest of 43AD, 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. 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 60 AD within the bounds of the Roman city. 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. Tacitus says 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.
Boadicea by Thomas Thornycroft, standing near Westminster Pier, London
Boudica exhorted her troops from her chariot, her daughters beside her. Tacitus gives her 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. 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 Iceni 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, and 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, Boudica poisoned herself; Dio says she fell sick and died, and 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' 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.
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 in 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.
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. 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.
Gildas, in his 6th century De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae, may have been alluding to Boudica when he wrote "A treacherous lioness butchered the governors who had been left to give fuller voice and strength to the endeavours of Roman rule."
History and literature
By the Middle Ages Boudica was forgotten. She makes no appearance in Bede's work, the Historia Brittonum, the Mabinogion or Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain. But the rediscovery of the works of Tacitus during the Renaissance allowed Polydore Virgil to reintroduce her into 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 was seen to be Boudica's "namesake". Victoria's Poet Laureate, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, wrote a poem, Boadicea, and several ships were named after her. A great bronze statue of Boudica with her daughters in her war chariot (furnished with scythes after the Persian fashion) 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, with the following lines from Cowper's poem, referring to the British Empire:
Ironically, the great anti-imperialist rebel was now identified with the head of the British Empire, and her statue stood guard over the city she razed to the ground.
In more recent times, Boudica has been the subject of numerous documentaries, including some by Discovery Channel, History International Channel, and the BBC.
Boudica has been the subject of two feature films, the 1928 film Boadicea, where she was portrayed by Phyllis Neilson-Terry, and 2003's Boudica (Warrior Queen in the USA), a UK TV film written by Andrew Davies and starring Alex Kingston as Boudica. She has also been the subject of a 1978 British TV series, Warrior Queen, starring Siân Phillips as Boudica. Jennifer Ward-Lealand portrayed Boudica in an episode of Xena - Warrior Princess entitled "The Deliverer" in 1997.
The Viking Queen is a 1967 Hammer Films adventure film set in ancient Britain, in which the role of Queen Salina is based up on the historical figure of Boudica.
Boudica's story is the subject of several novels, including books by Rosemary Sutcliff, Pauline Gedge, Manda Scott, Alan Gold, Diana L. Paxson, David Wishart, George Shipway, Simon Scarrow and J. F. Broxholme (a pseudonym of Duncan Kyle). She plays a central role in the first part of G. A. Henty's novel Beric the Briton and in a childrens novel by Henry Treece. One of the viewpoint characters of Ian Watson's novel Oracle is an eyewitness to her defeat. She has also appeared in several comic book series, including the Sláine, which featured two runs, entitled "Demon Killer" and "Queen of Witches" giving a free interpretation of Boudica's story. Other comic appearances include Witchblade and From Hell. Boudicca is a character in the animated series Gargoyles. Additionally, in the alternate history novel Ruled Britannia by Harry Turtledove, Boudicca is the subject of a play written by William Shakespeare to incite the people of Britain to revolt against Spanish conquerors.
Henry Purcell's last major work, composed in 1695, was music for play entitled Bonduca, or the British Heroine (Z. 574). Selections include "To Arms", "Britons, Strike Home" and "O lead me to some peaceful gloom". Boudica has also been the primary subject of songs by Irish singer/songwriter Enya, Dutch soprano Petra Berger, Scottish singer/songwriter Steve McDonald, English metal band Bal-Sagoth, Faith and the Muse and Dreams in the Witching House. She has also been mentioned in The Libertines' song The Good Old Days.
In 2003, a LTR retrotransposon from the genome of the human blood fluke Schistosoma mansoni was named Boudicca. The Boudicca retrotransposon, a high-copy retroviral-like element, was the first mobile genetic element of this type to be discovered in S. mansoni.
In July 2008, the UK Television series Bonekickers, dedicated an hour to Boudica in the episode named "The Eternal Fire".
On her 1987 debut album, the Irish singer Enya performed the song "Boadicea".
Various female politicians, including former Prime Minister of New Zealand, Helen Clark have been called Boadicea.
Róisín Murphy is featured in a song titled "Boadicea" from Mason (DJ)'s 2010 debut album.
Boudicca is mentioned several times in the novel Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare.
Boudicca is referenced in the opening line of The Good Old Days by The Libertines.
List of women warriors in folklore