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Boudicca

From Academic Kids

Boudicca (bū-dĭk'ə) (also written Boudica, Boadicea, Buduica, Bonduca), was a Celtic female chieftain who led the Iceni and a number of other Celtic tribes, including the neighbouring Trinovantes, in a major uprising against the occupying Roman forces in Britain in CE 60 or 61 during the reign of the emperor Nero. These events are told by two historians, Tacitus (in his Annals and Agricola) and Dio Cassius (in his Roman History).

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Statue of Boudicca near Westminster Pier

History

Boudicca's husband, Prasutagus, was king of the Iceni, who inhabited roughly what is now Norfolk. He was allowed to remain nominally independent as an ally of Rome (he may have been installed as a pro-Roman ruler following the defeat of a previous Icenian rebellion in 47). Hoping to preserve his line, Prasutagus made the Roman emperor co-heir, along with his two daughters, to his kingdom.

When Prasutagus died, the Romans ignored his will and took over, depriving the nobles of their lands and plundering the kingdom. According to Tacitus, Boudicca was flogged and her daughters raped. Dio Cassius adds that Roman financiers, including Seneca the Younger, chose this point to call in their loans. Tacitus does not mention this, but does single out procurator Catus Decianus for criticism for his "rapacity".

While the Roman governor, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, was leading a campaign against the druids on the island of Anglesey in north Wales, the Iceni rebelled, along with their neighbours the Trinovantes, under Boudicca's leadership. Their first target was Camulodunum (Colchester), the former Trinovantian capital, which had been settled with Roman veterans and where a temple to the former emperor Claudius had been erected at local expense. The city was poorly defended and the rebels destroyed it, besieging the last defenders in the temple for two days before it fell. The future governor Quintus Petillius Cerialis, then commanding the Legio IX Hispana, attempted to relieve the city, but his forces were routed.

When news of the rebellion reached him, Suetonius hurried to Londinium (London), an important mercantile settlement, but concluded he did not have the numbers to defend it. Londinium was abandoned to the rebels, who burnt it down (archaeology shows extensive destruction by fire at this time), slaughtering anyone who had not evacuated with Suetonius. Verulamium (St Albans) was next to be destroyed.

Suetonius regrouped with the XIV Gemina, some vexillationes (detachments) of the XX Valeria Victrix, and any available auxiliaries. The prefect of Legio II Augusta, Poenius Postumus, ignored the call, but nonetheless the governor was able to call on almost ten thousand men. He took a stand at an unidentified location, probably in the West Midlands somewhere along Watling Street, in a defile with a wood behind him. They were greatly outnumbered by the British rebels (who were 230,000 strong by now according to Dio Cassius) but superior Roman tactics and training won the day at the battle of Watling Street. 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. (The German king Ariovistus is reported to have made the same mistake in Julius Caesar's Gallic Wars.) Tacitus reports that "According to one report almost eighty thousand Britons fell" compared with only four hundred Romans. Boudicca, according to Tacitus, poisoned herself; Dio Cassius says she fell sick and died, and was given a lavish burial.

The site of Boudicca's defeat is unknown. According to London legend it was at Kings Cross in London (a nearby street is named Battle Bridge Road), and that Boudicca herself is buried under one of the platforms at Kings Cross Station (different sources list platforms eight, nine or ten as her supposed resting place) but this is unlikely. Manduessedum near the modern day town of Atherstone in Warwickshire has been suggested.

Postumus, on hearing of the Roman victory, fell on his sword. Catus Decianus fled to Gaul and was replaced as procurator by Gaius Julius Alpinus Classicianus. Suetonius conducted punitive operations, but criticism by Classicianus led to an investigation headed by Nero's freedman Polyclitus, and Suetonius was removed as governor, to be replaced by Publius Petronius Turpilianus.

Historical sources

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. He was a military tribune under Suetonius Paulinus, which almost certainly gave Tacitus an eyewitness source for Boudicca's revolt.

Dio Cassius's sources are less certain. 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. He says of Boudicca:

"Boudicca was tall, terrible to look on and gifted with a powerful voice. A flood of bright red hair ran down to her knees; she wore a golden necklet made up of ornate pieces, a multi-coloured robe and over it a thick cloak held together by a brooch. She took up a long spear to cause dread in all who set eyes on her."

He reports that she committed all sorts of atrocities in the name of a goddess called Andraste, who he claims is the British equivalent of Victoria, the Roman goddess of victory. Boudicca's own name means "victory".

It is generally thought that Gildas, in his 6th century polemic De Excidio Britanniae, alludes to Boudicca 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.

Boudicca in Victorian Britain

Boudicca's fame took on legendary proportion in Victorian Britain, and Queen Victoria was seen as her "namesake".

The great bronze statue of Boudicca next to Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament was commissioned by Prince Albert and executed by Thomas Thornycroft, depicts Boudicca in her war chariot (furnished with scythes after Persian fashion), together with her daughters.

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