Woman of the week - Boudicca

Name: Boudicca/Boudica (formerly also know as Boadicea)
Born: Eastern England, 15-30 A.D. (?)
Dead: England 60 or 61 A.D.
Married to: Prastagus, king of the Iceni
Children: Two daughters (names not known)
Occupation: Queen

She is one of the first Britain women known by name, she is famous for her uprising against the Romans and is mentioned by Tacitus - and we have no idea what she looked like, where she was born or where she died.

Boudicca was married to Prastagus, king of the Iceni tribe in Eastern Britain at a time when the Romans were doing their best to have complete control of the country. They didn't mind having vassal kings though, and Prastagus was one of them. When he died the kingship was passed on to his wife and daughters. It was said that the Romans would respect this decision - and honour Boudicca as the new leader of the Iceni. They did not. Instead the land was annexed by the Romans, Boudicca flogged and her daughters raped. The prize the Romans would pay for these acts were high indeed.

Boudicca saw no reason to accept such a treatment and instead turned to other Celtic tribes in the area to join forces with her to start an uprising against the Romans, who had been present in the country for less than 20 years. It was easy indeed to find support among other tribes, for example the Trinovantes. The Romans were at the moment busy in another part of the country and it was very easy indeed for Boudicca to lead her troops to the city of Camulodunum (present day Colchester). The city was at the time inhabited by Roman troop veterans - and they were an easy prey for the enraged Celts. The city was burnt down - and they took no prisoners.

After this initial success they continued their tour to Londinium (London) and Verulamium (St Albans). These cities were also completely destroyed and those who opposed - or just were in the way - were killed. By now the Romans had started to evacuate people, so the numbers must have decreased somewhat. And the Romans began to grasp that they needed to take this seriously indeed. Under the leadership of the commander Suetonius (not the historian) they forced the Celtic tribes into a battle in an, to us, unknown place with features ill suited for the Celtic battle tactics - lacking much open ground, a difficult place to battle in chariots which was the Celts main feature. And although the Romans were outnumbered they succeeded in defeating Boudicca and her troops.

What happened after this is not know. Tacitus (one of the few sources for this part of British history) claims that Boudicca took poison. Since all things were far from lost for her though, it seems a little odd. Cassius Dio (the other historical source for this period) claims that she fell ill and simply died from some decease. Cassius Dio usually relies heavily on Tacitus, but the fact that he does not do so now is striking.

No matter how she died, she was dead, and without this obviously strong and competent leader the Celtic troops didn't stand a chance against the Romans. And the Romans didn't hesitate to make the Celts pay for their misdeeds. Many were killed and the harvest destroyed - which of course resulted in famine. Things were so bad that even Rome reacted and the governor Suetonius was replaced to someone with a bit more lenient hand.

And her name? Boadicea is probably the result of bad spelling in the Middle Ages when Tacitus' manuscript was copied. Boudicca probably comes from the proto-Celtic word bodika, a feminine adjective meaning victorious.

The statue of Boudicca - and her two daughters - is from 19th century and was commissioned by Prince Albert. It was done by Thomas Thornycroft and stands near Westminster Pier in London.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I really like the story of Boudicea.