- Education and Science»
- History & Archaeology
Boudicca - Celtic Warrior Queen
Boudicca, or Boudica, or Buddug (in Welsh) was a true and real Queen of the British Celtic Iceni tribe that lived in the southeast area of modern day England, then known as East Anglia. Her legend is so famous that today Boudicca is an important cultural symbol in the UK.
Based on later development of Welsh and Irish, her name comes from the Proto-Celtic feminine adjective boudika, which means victorious, and it also comes from the Celtic word bouda, which means victory. Victoria would be the comparable English name.
And, the word bodacious, meaning a lively, spirited woman, is said to be derived from her name. We use this in English, of course.
During the time of Celtic tribes in Britain, Boudicca was of royal birth and came to marry Celtic King Prasutagus, the ruler of the Celtic Iceni tribe. Although, at this time, around 60-61 AD Roman emperors ruled Britain, Prasutagus had autonomous rule over his Iceni Celtic tribe, and Boudicca shared power and rule as his Queen.
The area the Romans had conquered, in what is present day England, was called Britannia, and the reason the Iceni are referred to as a British Celtic tribe. The Iceni lived only in what today is southeast England and Boudicca and her husband are both English Celts.
Boudicca is legend because after her husband's death, she led the Celtic Iceni and Trinovantes and a few other Celtic tribes in armed revolt against the Romans. And, she had good reason for doing so.
Boudicca was victorious in soundly defeating the Roman army on three occasions, but sadly, was defeated in the end.
Her story is an inspiration to women everywhere and especially in England, with Queen Victoria being portrayed as her namesake.
Boudicca is a credit to women everywhere and was a legend in her own time and was larger than life itself. Here is her true story.
Because the Celtic tribes in Britain left no written records and passed on their history verbally, we only have two sources written about Boudicca and those are Roman and obviously biased, but they do give a portrait of a strong and fierce woman.
Tacitus wrote his history of her about fifty years after the events of 60 AD. He relied on information he observed and his father-in-law observed in battle against her.
Dio Cassius also left a written account of her. Both of these are biased accounts but they lay down the chronological order of events of early Roman Britain. Dio Cassius has described Boudicca as, "she possessed of greater intelligence than often belongs to women."
He continues to describe her as tall with reddish hair hanging below her waist. She had a harsh voice and piercing glare. She wore a large golden necklace and many colored tunic covered by a thick cloak fastened by a brooch.
There have been no archaeological findings of her in modern day England, not even of her burial which was quite the event for those times.
Boudicca was believed to have come from an outside Celtic tribe, in what is modern day England, but not the Iceni. When she married King Prasutagus around 43-45 AD she became Queen of the Iceni. They had two daughters together.
Celtic society is interesting because all those years ago in the upper echelons of Celtic society women held positions of prestige and power. Women took prominent roles in political religious and artistic life. Women owned land, could choose spouses and initiate divorces.
It is into this society that Queen Boudicca married and she ruled equally alongside her husband. They ruled an area that was geographically isolated. To the north and east boundary was the sea. The remainder of their area was covered with dense forest, so invasion from foreigners was almost impossible.
They maintained a farming economy and the people were of mixed Celtic origins with the majority being Iceni Celts. An influx of people from the Hallstat culture brought knowledge of iron and pottery to the Iceni and they merged with the skills of those already there from the late Bronze Age.
When Roman Emperor Claudius invaded and conquered large arts of Britain in 43 AD the Iceni remained passive and watched.
King Prasutagus went to the city of Camulodunum to become a client of Roman king. The Romans forced him to answer to the Roman ruling class but allowed his tribe and their culture to remain autonomous. King Prasutagus believed appeasement and accommodation of Roman rule was better than all out war which could result in the Celts becoming conquered slaves.
They were voluntarily aligned to Rome but very proud of their independence.
King Prasutagus and Queen Boudicca ruled peacefully for many years and it was not until around 60-61 AD that King Prasutagus died. In his will, King Prasutagus had left his kingdom to his wife and two daughters to rule peacefully. But, the Romans would not allow that to be.
Are you familiar with Boudicca's story?
According to Roman law, inheritance came only through the male line, therefore, Prasutagus' lands and property were confiscated and his kingdom annexed as if it had been conquered. Celtic nobles were treated as slaves.
The Roman practice was to allow the allied kingdoms their independence only for the lifetime of their client king who would then agree to leave his kingdom to Rome in his will.
When Boudicca resisted this and demanded Prasutagus' will be honored, she was publicly flogged and her two daughters, approximately the age of twelve, were publicly raped before her eyes.
Roman financiers also called in all their loans from the Celtic Iceni. These acts were unconscionable to Boudicca and the Romans were now her enemies.
The Iceni Celts saw Boudicca as their natural leader although she had no power by Roman rule and rights, however, they were willing to support an anti-Roman uprising, because they had been driven off their land and were now mere Roman slaves.
Boudicca drew inspiration to revolt against the Romans from Arminus, prince of Cherusi, who drove the Romans out of Germany in 9 AD and her own ancestors who previously had driven out Julius Caesar from Britain.
According to Tacitus' writings, Boudicca invoked Andraste, a British goddess of victory. She released a hare from her skirts and the direction in which it ran was interpreted to mean she was to fight the Romans.
She gathered all the Iceni tribe of people, along with Trinovante Celtic tribe among others to fight Legio IX Hispana. She massed what is believed to be today an army of 100,000 men and women, to fight the Romans who were outnumbered at the time.
According to the writings of Tacitus, Boudicca gave a short speech to her army from her chariot announcing she was not fighting for wealth lost but for lost freedom, her abused body and the chastity of her daughters.
As a woman she was resolved to win or die; if men wanted to live in slavery that was their choice.
Boudicca lead her forces first to Camulodumnum (modern day Colchester) and destroyed and massacred everyone there.
Next, she and her army headed for Londinum (modern day London) and her army burned and totally destroyed this Roman city. The Romans, greatly outnumbered, evacuated Londinum because they could not defend the settlement.
The third city she defeated was Verluamium (modern day St. Albans). She had soundly defeated the Romans in three of their major cities. She had massacred as many Romans as she could find and burnt down the cities. At this point, the Roman empire in Britain was reduced to ashes.
An estimated 70-80,000 Romans and British were killed in these three cities.
The Celts excelled in small-scale guerrilla warfare with small bands of Celtic warriors slipping quietly through the dense forest of the area. The slow moving large Roman units were at a disadvantage in the dense forest.
The Celts fought naked with no armor and only decorated in war paint and tattoos.
The Celts also used fast-moving, small and light chariots. The driver and warrior were protected on all sides by wicker screens.
Tacitus and Dio Cassius describe Boudicca and her army as savage and brutal. It was a chaotic war scene and they were described as uncivilized animals as opposed to the civilized Roman army. Boudicca took no prisoners and massacred every Roman she could find, including women and children.
Finally, the Romans regrouped their forces under Roman Governor, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus in the Western Midlands and though outnumbered, they finally defeated Boudicca and her army in the Battle of Watling Street. Her defeat is believed to be in modern day High Cross in Leicestershire at the junction of Watling Street and Fosse Way.
Boudicca's army had put armaments, family and wagons/chariots behind them in battle and cut off any escape route and then they found themselves surrounded by and in hand to hand battle with the Romans. It was in this battle that the Romans were finally able to defeat Boudicca and her Celtic army.
Boudicca's last battle
It is here, after battle, that the written histories of Tacitus and Dio Cassius differ. Tacitus writes that when defeated, Boudicca took her own life, living by her vow she gave her army at the beginning of the revolt.
Dio Cassius, on the other hand, writes that Boudicca fell ill and died after battle. Whatever the case of her demise, Boudicca was given a funeral and burial fitting for a queen and leader of battles. The Romans had come to respect her for her fortitude, bravery and courage. This much is written both by Tacitus and Dio Cassius.
With the Celtic defeat, southern Britain was secured for Rome and from then on Rome ruled through gentler means. Boudicca's courageous revolt resulted in better lives for the Celts of the region under the Romans and, therefore, her revolt was not made in vain. Smaller insurrections were mounted by the Celts, but none gained the wide support hers did.
Today, unfortunately, we have no idea where her burial site is and archaeological diggings have not turned up anything regarding her life in Britain.
By the middle ages, Boudicca had been forgotten and there is no mention of her in the Historia Brittonum or in the History of Kings of Britain written by Geoffrey Monmouth.
During the English Renaissance Period of the 17th century, Tacitus' works were rediscovered by the British and so attention was brought back to Boudicca. Both Frances Beaumont and John Fletcher (1610), contemporaries of William Shakespeare, wrote plays about Boudicca and so British people were once again reminded of her life and bravery.
William Cowper, in 1782, wrote the poem "Boadicea, an ode," and so Boudicca was not completely forgotten. During the Victorian Era, Boudicca's fame took on legendary proportions as Queen Victoria was seen by the British as Boudicca's namesake as the names have identical meaning - Victorious.
Throughout history and today, Boudicca is seen less as a Queen and more of a mother, wife, and warrior defending her country. She has become very awe-inspiring to many.
Today, Boudicca is remembered as a British national heroine and someone willing to give her life for freedom and justice.
Full length movie of Boudica's life
© 2014 Suzette Walker