Boudica (also spelled Boudicca, formerly known as Boadicea, and known in Welsh culture and legends as "Buddug") (d. AD 60 or 61) was a queen of the Iceni tribe of what is now known as East Anglia who led an uprising of the tribes against the occupying forces of the Roman Empire.
Her husband, Prasutagus, an Icenian king who had ruled as a nominally independent ally of Rome, left his kingdom jointly to his daughters and the Roman Emperor in his will, but when he died his will was ignored, possibly because the Romans, unlike the Britons, did not recognise daughters as heirs. 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 north Wales, Boudica led the Iceni, along with the Trinovantes and others, in revolt. They destroyed Camulodunum (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, built and maintained at local expense, and 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 which was the rebels' next target, but concluding he did not have the numbers to defend it, 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. Suetonius, meanwhile, regrouped his forces in the West Midlands, and despite being heavily outnumbered, defeated Boudica in the Battle of Watling Street. The crisis had led the emperor Nero to consider withdrawing all Roman forces from the island, but Suetonius's eventual victory over Boudica secured Roman control of the province.
The history of these events, as recorded by Tacitus and Cassius Dio, 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.
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's 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 raped. Dio Cassius 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.
The rebels' 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 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. Archaeology shows the city was methodically demolished. The future governor Quintus Petillius Cerialis, then commanding the Legio IX Hispana, attempted to relieve the city, but his forces were completely annihilated. His infantry was wiped out: only the commander and some of his cavalry escaped. 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 43 AD, 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 prurient 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.
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 maneuverability of the British 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 only put forth 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.
It is possible 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.
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:
Regions Caesar never knew Thy posterity shall sway.
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.
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, and J. F. Broxholme (a pseudonym of Duncan Kyle). 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. 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.
There is also a long-lived urban myth that she is buried under Platform 10 of King's Cross railway station in London. This originates from the village of Battle Bridge (previously on the station's site), which was said to be the site of her last battle, suicide and burial. This is now accepted as a fiction and a hoax, whose origins can be traced back to Lewis Spence's book 'Boadicea - Warrior Queen of the Britons (1937) (where it is given but unevidenced) or earlier. It is now thought that Battle Bridge was a corruption of 'Broad Ford Bridge'. Other such legends place her burial on Parliament Hill, Hampstead or in Suffolk.
In the game Civilization IV's expansion Beyond the Sword, Boudica is added as a leader of the Celtic Civilization, along with Brennus.
In the BBC sitcom The Vicar of Dibley the title character is named Boadicea Geraldine Granger.
The Irish singer Enya references her in her song "Boadicea" on her 1992 album "The Celts".