The Revolution of Queen Boudica

Hayley Milliman

Hayley Milliman
Content Lead

Rome wasn’t built in a day.

It didn’t fall in a day, either – over centuries, more and more cracks appeared that would eventually splinter the empire’s carefully laid Tuscan column foundation.

One of those cracks took the shape of a powerful Celtic Queen. By the time this queen was done giving Rome the business, she had killed tens of thousands of people, melted three cities to the ground, and established herself as one of the most feared warriors in Rome’s eternal history.

The queen’s name was Boudica, and she was one badass bitch.

Nothing But Respect For MY King and Queen

Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears and get the f*ck out of my homeland!

We don’t know a lot about Boudica’s upbringing. In fact, we’re not even 100% sure about her real name: both primary and secondary sources have spelled “Boudica” in a number of different variations. We’re going to go with Boudica, mainly because it’s already showing up fine in our spellcheck.

Most of what we do know about Boudica comes from the Ancient Roman historians Tacitus and Cassius Dio 1. And just in case you’re saying to yourself, “Wow! It’s so cool that these Roman historians cared so much about the female leader of a far-flung Celtic tribe,” let me assure you that no, they generally did not give a sh*t about the so-called barbarians that adjoined Rome’s far-reaching borders, except for when said barbarians had a direct impact on Mamma Roma.

Boudica only appears on Tacitus’ and Dio’s cuneiform tablets when she begins to give Rome hell… thus, theories about her early life are really just conjecture.

Here are the facts: Boudica was likely born to Celtic royalty. We know this because she was married to a man named Prasutagus, who was king of the Iceni people. The Iceni lived in eastern England, near modern-day Norfolk, and were a fiercely independent people who had voluntarily allied themselves with Rome after Emperor Claudius marched through and conquered southern Britain in 43 AD.2

Now, saying the Iceni were voluntary allies of the Romans is a bit of a stretch, because the relationship between the Iceni and the Romans was neither voluntary nor an alliance. Basically, the Romans came in, tore sh*t up across southern Britain, and told the Iceni and a handful of other Celtic tribes a bit farther north: “Submit, or you’re next.” Prasutagus’ HBOGo subscription was up-to-date, so he knew from Game of Thrones that when an angry, all-powerful ruler tells you to bend the knee or die, he (or she) means business.

So, the Iceni entered into a nominal “alliance” with the Roman empire where they promised to co-exist peacefully alongside the Romans and got to keep their true King and Queen, Prasutagus and Boudica.

Broken Promises

Things continued along rather calmly between the Iceni and the Romans (or, at least, we can assume they did, based on the lack of mentions in Tacitus’ and Dio’s works) for about fifteen years.

Unfortunately, Prasutagus died in 60 CE, leaving behind Boudica and their two daughters. Prasutagus left his kingdom and his fortune to his daughters, and, in a bid to keep peace with the Romans, made the emperor the “co-heir” to his throne.

The Romans didn’t care for the gesture – they were done keeping up appearances with the Iceni. Within a short time after Prasutagus’ death, the Romans a.) annexed the entire kingdom of Iceni, b.) confiscated all of Prasutagus’ land and property, and c.) publicly flogged Boudica for resisting and raped the two daughters.3

It’s no small wonder that Boudica, after enduring unthinkable loss and suffering, uttered this promise of vengeance: “Nothing is safe from Roman pride and arrogance. They will deface the sacred and will deflower our virgins. Win the battle or perish, that is what I, a woman, will do.”

The Romans, having recently destroyed Boudica’s entire life, weren’t too afraid by what they thought was an empty pronouncement.

They soon would be.

If You Mess With The Boudica, You’re Gonna Get The Horns

In addition to passing their thrones and wealth to their female heirs, the Iceni people believed in training their women to be badass warriors. As a child, Boudica had studied fighting techniques and weaponry, all of which contributed to her extremely complicated tactical goal of burning Roman towns to the f***ing ground. 4

In all seriousness, we don’t know too much about Boudica’s goals for her campaign, only that she wanted to take down as many Romans and Roman settlements as she possibly could.

Boudica’s mission resonated pretty strongly with her fellow Iceni and Celtic tribesmen and women. The Romans, it seems, had pissed quite a few people off in their quest to conquer-all-the-lands. Boudica was able to raise a large band of Celtic peoples to begin to fight back against their oppressive overlords.

Boudica’s rebellion started at the town of Camulodunum, at that time the capital of Roman Britain.

The Romans got word that Boudica was marching on Camulodunum, and were either too arrogant or too stupid to do much of anything about it. The governor was away quashing another uprising in Wales (clearly, the Romans were super popular), so he sent a lightly armed force of 200 men in his place to protect the city.5

Tacitus and Cassius Dio don’t exactly cover what those 200 men thought when Boudica’s force of 120,000 angry Celtic men and women arrived at Camulodunum, but we’re pretty sure they were probably sh*ting their pants. Either way, the tiny band of Romans didn’t last long: Boudica and her forces utterly decimated Camulodunum, leaving nothing but a six-inch layer of smoking dust in their wake.

News of Boudica’s victory quickly spread, and her party swelled from 120,000 to over 200,000 spitting angry Britons. The band turned to Londinium (modern-day London) next and made quick work of that outpost as well, burning it to the ground like Camulodunum.

By this time, the governor realized that his biggest problem was Boudica, so he quickly left Wales and marched to meet Boudica. Initially hoping to save London, the governor eventually left the city to its fate after realizing Boudica’s forces vastly outnumbered his own. Fortunately for him, being the Roman governor had its perks, chief among them getting to summon a really gigantic army when the natives were getting a bit more than restless.6

While Boudica and her crew marched to and destroyed their third Roman city, Verulamium, the governor and his forces found a tactically advantageous place to meet Boudica, in a narrow field where the Romans could easily pick off the Britons from a protected spot.

When Boudica and her forces arrived, their superior numbers meant nothing: the governor’s Roman troops had too much training and too good of a position. When the cavalry and reinforcements arrived, most of the Britons scattered, only to find that the Romans had snuck up from the rear as well, and basically consigned the rebels to be massacred.

Enduring Legend

Boudica and her daughters managed to escape the carnage, which today is known as The Battle of Watling Street. Though their exact cause of death is unknown, most historians agree that the women took poison to avoid capture.7

Though the cause ultimately ended in failure, Boudica’s rebellion killed over 70,000 Romans, utterly destroyed three Roman cities, and routed Rome’s 9th Legion. Later governors would rule Britain with much more magnanimity and kindness than the leaders of Boudica’s time.

To this day, Boudica is celebrated throughout Britain as a national heroine, an embodiment of the struggle for justice, and a truly badass bitch.

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Notes 📌

  1. Mark, J. (2016 November). Boudicca. Retrieved from https://www.ancient.eu/Boudicca/.
  2. Mark, J. (2016 November). Boudicca. Retrieved from https://www.ancient.eu/Boudicca/.
  3. Pruitt, S. (2016 May). Who Was Boudica? Retrieved from https://www.history.com/news/ask-history/who-was-boudica.
  4. Pruitt, S. (2016 May). Who Was Boudica? Retrieved from https://www.history.com/news/ask-history/who-was-boudica.
  5. Mark, J. (2016 November). Boudicca. Retrieved from https://www.ancient.eu/Boudicca/.
  6. Mark, J. (2016 November). Boudicca. Retrieved from https://www.ancient.eu/Boudicca/.
  7. Pruitt, S. (2016 May). Who Was Boudica? Retrieved from https://www.history.com/news/ask-history/who-was-boudica.

Additional Resources

  • Encyclopedia Britannica. (2018 March). Boudicca: Queen of Britain. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Boudicca.
  • Mark, J. (2016 November). Boudicca. Retrieved from https://www.ancient.eu/Boudicca/.
  • Pruitt, S. (2016 May). Who Was Boudica? Retrieved from https://www.history.com/news/ask-history/who-was-boudica.

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