Remembering Boudicca’s Rebellion And Her Daring Revenge on Rome

Gustav Klimt. Pallas Athene. 1898, oil on canvas and inlay. Vienna Museum.

…a terrible disaster occurred in Britain. Two cities were sacked, eighty thousand of the Romans and of their allies perished, and the island was lost to Rome. Moreover, all this ruin was brought upon the Romans by a woman, a fact which in itself caused them the greatest shame… But the person who was chiefly instrumental in rousing the natives and persuading them to fight the Romans, the person who was thought worthy to be their leader and who directed the conduct of the entire war, was Buduica, a Briton woman of the royal family who possessed of greater intelligence than often belongs to women… In stature she was very tall, in appearance most terrifying, in the glance of her eye most fierce, and her voice was harsh; a great mass of the tawniest hair fell to her hips; around her neck was a large golden necklace; and she wore a tunic of diverse colours over which a thick mantle was fastened with a brooch. This was her invariable attire.  

Artist Unknown. Boudica. 20th century, oil painting.

Despite what it sounds like, this description of Boudicca—the Warrior Queen of the Iceni people—was not pulled from some long-lost Viking myth but rather, straight out of a historic volume called Roman History, written by statesman Cassius Dio around 146 CE. In his lifetime, he wrote prolifically on the subject of the ancient Empire, and more specifically on the brave actions of the famous Celtic woman, Boudicca, who led the Iceni people and the ancient Britons in a bloody revolt against the Roman Legionaries in 60 CE. Along with the 1st-century writings of Cornelius Tacitus, who was notably closer to the events, a surprisingly thorough version of Boudicca’s life exists, capable of titillating even the most skeptical scholars. The image of Boudicca—and the surreal nature of her tale—has drawn the praise of many English monarchs, including Queens Victoria and Elizabeth, and has played a great role in Britain’s national identity. Because she symbolized the eternal struggle for freedom in the face of tyranny, her memory has gone on to bolster the stamina and determination of the British people on many levels. Even more profoundly, her rebellion against the insurmountable Roman Empire may very well be one of the most riveting, well-documented, and darkly romantic stories in all of history. When it comes to tales of love, suffering, bravery, and the need for violent retribution, there are few more poetic than that of Boudicca, the first pagan rebel—not to mention badass Barbarian woman—to ever threaten the livelihood of infamous Emperor Nero and his massive empire.

CREDIT: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The word “barbarian” has always been linked with the image of a crude savage who isn’t capable of appreciating the civilized world, but the first definition that exists refers to someone who lived outside, especially north of, the great Roman Empire. Historically, a barbarian was a foreigner or someone who resided in a non-Christian civilization. In this light, it becomes easier to see how the negative labels created by dominant societies throughout history have persevered and established accepted norms, even today. The ancient Greeks used the term barbarian to describe Persians or anyone who possessed a different language or custom, while the Romans found all things outside of themselves to be “barbarous.” This attitude, of course, was perpetuated through the ages, as Europeans noted the uncivilized qualities of just about everyone they met—from Africans to Arabs to Native Americans. And in the case of Boudicca and her Celtic tribe, the term was liberally applied to their way of life, their strange connection to the old ways, and their seemingly wild methods. They were barbarians through and through, deserving of whatever ill-treatment the Romans deemed suitable.

Plate 17 from Philip Clüver’s Germania Antiqua. Barbarians.  (1616)

But even though Boudicca was a Barbarian of Britannia, her appearance did not reflect the derogatory definition—instead, she was known be a physically commanding and capable woman in the midst of seemingly meek ones. And within her beautifully formed breast beat the heart of a savage warrior, someone who knew the intrinsic value of righteous revenge and was not afraid to dole it out. Equally as titillating were the details of her harrowing journey from royal wife and mother to brutalized insurgent, all of which took place in the mythical Fenlands of eastern England. If not for the primary sources of Dio and Tacitus—not to mention significant archeological findings —related to her existence, her story would be virtually impossible to believe. As a historical figure, Boudicca was a mother, a widow, a leader, and a military genius, but she was also an embodiment of the pagan goddess Andraste, the keeper of victories, ravens, and battles. As a Druid priestess and a noble queen, she was spirit, she was mind, and she was body—all galvanized into action after suffering horrific abuses at the hands of the Roman soldiers.

Andrey Shishkin. Andraste. 1960, oil painting. Russian.

Her life as a rebellious and outspoken widow also highlighted the feminist plight of women during her time and the brutal nature of their regard. She raised a fierce army of Barbarians against the established muscle of Rome—and arguably their most depraved Emperor, Nero—achieving notoriety as a military figure of mythical proportions. Boudicca’s fury burned so hotly, traces of scorched red ash have been found beneath the streets of modern London to corroborate her historic victory. And to emphasize the fierce romanticism of her plight, it’s worth noting she was defeated just one battle shy of achieving her ultimate objective—Rome’s retreat from the ancient island of Britannia and the return of Celtic freedom.

Peter Nicolai Arbo. Valkyrie. 1865, oil on canvas. Norwegian.

Following the Raven’s flight back some 2,000 years, we find the Roman Empire close to the zenith of its unprecedented power, having conveniently clustered their geographical assets around the boot of Italy in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. Because the island of Britannia (now Britain) sat on the far side of France and could only be reached through the Strait of Dover, it was viewed by the Empire as a land beyond the ocean or the civilized world, where mist and supernatural spirits were known to prevail. Although the region itself was prized for its rich, exotic, and fertile properties, the Romans had trouble conquering it as they grappled with the ferocity of the native Celts who often appeared on the battlefield half-naked, streaked with warpaint, and brandishing the severed heads of their enemies. They rode chariots strapped with skulls of the dead and knew no physical limits in war, often fighting with far more passion than strategy. The Celts were, in fact, so effective at protecting the border of Britannia, they had held the Romans off for almost 100 years when Boudicca married Prasutagus, the beloved King of the Iceni people. She went on to have two daughters—Camorra and Tascal—and ruled the Iceni people for several years alongside her husband.

Artist Unknown. Illustration.

But when Emperor Claudius ordered the invasion of Britannia in the 43 CE, his objective was to take it by force, no matter what. The wild Celts rose up to meet the 40,000 troops sent in to seize the stronghold, but they were eventually beaten back and forced into defeat. One by one, the Celt tribes began to fall, and those who didn’t die in battle were pressured into peace treaties with Claudius’s Empire. At this point, King Prasutagus and Queen Boudicca—along with hundreds of other Celtic tribes—had been fighting the Romans for many years, and finally finding some degree of peace with the invaders quickly became the most attractive option. But this amicable relationship turned rotten when two major events happened around the same time—Boudicca’s powerful and beloved husband Prasutagus died, and the infamous Emperor Nero ascended the marble throne of Rome.

Eugène Delacroix. Francois-Joseph Talma in the role of Nero. 1789, oil on canvas. French.

Prasutagus’s dying wish was to have his wife and two daughters oversee his tribal kingdom, and this desire was just about to happen when the Romans caught wind of the recent turn of events. His death had left the Brittonic tribe of the Iceni—whose territory occupied the coastal region of what is now Norfolk—in a vulnerable position, as his transition of power to the women gave the Romans an excuse to crack down on what they saw as an unruly kingdom of savages. To have a Barbarian king in their Empire was one thing—but to endure his Barbarian Queen? Well, that was surely out of the question. Women of ancient Rome were allowed to own property, dine out with men, move through the city—albeit with a male chaperone—and even counsel the Emperor if they had such connections. But allowing them to rule the roost of a Roman conquest was most frowned upon.

Ferdinand Leeke. Wotan and Brünnhilde. 1930, oil on canvas. German, private collection.

Back in Rome, Nero had replaced the more patient Emperor Claudius and was intent on squeezing as much wealth as possible from his new Celtic conquests. This was a man who had killed his own mother, Agrippina the Younger and taken a prostitute into his bed who resembled her once she was gone. History also suggests Nero murdered his first wife, Octavia, and allegedly his second wife, Poppæa by kicking her to death, all while never wearing the same outfit twice. He was obsessed with money, status, and the ability to have whatever he wanted at any time. But despite his pernicious nature, Nero was always a popular ruler in Rome—so when he ordered his armies to storm Prasutagus’s kingdom of Iceni, push the absurd Barbarian Queen Boudicca aside, and retrieve as much booty as possible to fill his coffers, his orders were met with ecstatic compliance. As Tacitus recorded in his Annals:

Kingdom and household alike were plundered like prizes of war, the one by Roman officers, the other by Roman slaves. As a beginning, his widow Boudicca was flogged and their daughters raped. The Icenian chiefs were deprived of their hereditary estates as if the Romans had been given the whole country. The king’s own relatives were treated liked slaves.

John William Waterhouse. The Remorse of The Emperor Nero After The Murder of His Mother. 1878, oil on canvas. Private Collection.

That’s right. When Boudicca raised her voice against the tyranny of the Roman soldiers, she was dragged in front of her people and subjected to a merciless public flogging. And this was not just any whipping—a Roman scourge was usually applied right before execution, as they employed a short whip called a flagrum which had two or three long thick leather cords, each weighted at some distance with lead balls or bones to create deep contusions. The result would have been horrific and caused Boudicca to hemorrhage profusely before teetering on the edge of delirium. While the Hebrews adhered to a strict limit of 40 lashes, the Romans had no such boundary and were known to deliver over 100 for the right infractions.


Boudicca’s hands were bound over her head, and her body, head, shoulders, and upper legs were whipped repeatedly while her people looked on in horror. And her two young daughters, who were approximately eight and ten years old, shrieked in terror as the soldiers grabbed their hair and dragged them to a nearby hut where they proceeded to gang-rape the helpless girls, rutting them like filthy boars until they were satisfied their innocence had been ground to dust. Once they were finished, the soldiers tossed Boudicca’s young daughters back into her shaking arms, paralyzed and streaked with bloody scum. The Romans had shown the Barbarian nobility the measure of their worth and went on to impressed the mark even further by enslaving all influential Iceni and seizing their valuables. Under Roman law, daughters of disgraced Consuls could suffer habitual rape before being strangled and thrown to their deaths, so perhaps Boudicca should have considered herself lucky.

Simone Pignoni. The Rape of Proserpine. 1622, oil on canvas. Italian.

This violent tragedy became Boudicca’s cross to bear, her living nightmare, and her wrath for everything to come. She steeled herself with resolve—the Romans would pay for what they had done to her children, her body, her name, and her future. Her lifeblood had been thrown in the dirt and ravaged, mutilated, but she did not mourn her loss—she mixed the dirt with water and used it to paint her eyes black with guile. Her heart had gone from flesh to flint, and she had no alternative other than to meet violence with violence. The Romans had not killed her, and she pledged from that moment forward to make them regret that decision. But despite her obvious strength and station, the neighboring tribes denied her request to come together in the name of war. As both a woman and a humiliated Queen, it was challenging to convince other Celtic bands like the Corieltauvi, the Trinovantes, and the Catuvellauni to unite with her under a shared military banner. To make matters worse for Boudicca, the Britons had also been fighting each other for centuries and were hesitant to come together under her leadership, even if it meant ridding themselves of Roman occupation.

Charles Gogin. Boadicea. 1864, oil on canvas. Williamson Art Gallery & Museum, U.K.

At the time, the spiritual and political advisors to Boudicca and her people were the Druids, whose mystical history dates back to the 3rd century BCE. They lived primarily on the Isle of Mona in Wales and were considered the learning class among the ancient tribes. According to Julius Caesar, who was the principal source of information on the Druids, they served as priests, teachers, and judges, overseeing tribal quarrels and establishing penalties for wrongdoings. Because Boudicca shared a strong connection with the Druids and was herself considered to be a priestess of the old ways, she was able to entice some of the tribes, the most famous being the Trinovantes, to band together under her leadership as a fierce fighter and a spiritually righteous figure. This union of faith and fervor, along with the Roman threat to destroy the Druids, was what fueled the indigenous agenda and convinced many skeptical tribes to commit their armies to Boudicca’s command. As a result, the crestfallen warrior Queen gained great military strength and formed a legitimately dangerous army of her own.

Lisbeth Cheever-Gessaman. Boudica. 21 century, tangible media. American.

Although the Roman campaign had stretched over the entire area of Britannia, the Empire greatly feared the Druid capital on Mona because it had fueled past rebellions against their Emperor Caesar. Over time, this island had become the geographical epicenter of heightened nationalism and anti-Roman activities, and as such, it became a prized target for the Centurions. Their leader was Roman General Suetonius Paulinus, who focused so intently on the destruction of the Druids that he did not recognize Boudicca’s growing clout in the south or the fact that she had raised a force of 100,000 people strong. As Paulinus’s legions zoomed in on their northern campaign against the Druids—leaving both Londinium and Camulodunum exposed and unprotected—Boudicca executed her first major battle in 60 CE by storming the Roman-held city of Camulodunum and completely razing it to the ground. Also known as the Massacre of the Ninth Legion, this major military victory for the Iceni and their allies marked the start of Boudicca’s vendetta against the Romans and the end of their apathy towards her rage. According to Tacitus, Boudicca had transitioned from a tragic victim to a calculated and merciless military figure. She knew the town of Camulodunum was filled with retired but influential military men, which made it the ideal soft target, and she planned to use this knowledge to maximize the damage.

Joseph-Noël Sylvestre. Batalla del Lago Trasimeno. 19th century, oil on canvas. French.

Camulodunum was also filled with valuable infrastructure, including the Temple of Claudius, which had been built between 49 and 60 CE to honor the great Emperor of Rome. Claudius had conquered Britannia some five years before, and the building commemorated his accomplishment with a large octastyle temple, including a theatre, a council chamber, and a spiritual forum. After his death in 54 CE, the Temple was dedicated to him and established as the center of the town, which made it a “stronghold of everlasting domination” in the eyes of Boudicca and her people. It was the first thing she targeted upon entering the city, and after two days of constant siege against the people hiding behind its heavy metal doors, she finally sacked and burned it to rubble. To emphasize the symbolism, the bronze head of Claudius was struck from his equestrian statue out front and left somewhere in the smoldering ash. Unbelievably, this ancient relic of Claudius’s face was found just recently in Suffolk, making it one of the oldest portraits to be found on British soil and an astonishing archeological treasure. But for Boudicca, who had successfully overtaken the city of Camulodunum, Caesar’s rolling head among the flames marked the inception of her long-awaited “rebellion” and the beginning of a major Roman headache.

The Burning of Camulodunum. Artist Unknown. Circa 19th century.

Boudicca and her armies had stormed into Camulodunum using the same type of guerrilla warfare and ruthless tactics employed by the Romans, killing tens of thousands of innocent civilians. The written accounts of Boudicca’s invasion describe her as utterly savage, chopping the heads from her victims and offering them to the goddess of victory, as was customary of the Celts. The Warrior Queen—adorned with an ornamental shield and armor—sounded trumpets to confuse and intimidate the enemy while her soldiers ran through the town half-naked and heavily tattooed, slashing and burning whatever stood in their way. The scene was noted as being particularly wild and frightening, as screaming women ran about with wild hair, and the Druids raised their arms to the sky and called upon the gods to bring Boudicca victory over the evil usurpers. The scene was chaotic and terrifying—and likely everything Queen Boudicca had hoped it would be. The Iceni used decapitation of a matter of religious principle were known to embalm the heads of their enemies before mounting them on their chariots of war, while the rest were thrown into the rivers (where they are still occasionally found to this day). And to heighten the drama of this historic event, archeological evidence discovered beneath the streets of modern-day London has revealed a layer of ash so thick, it confirms the area experienced an intense conflagration right around the time of Boudicca’s famous battle.

Chris Rawlins. Boudica. 20th century, digital art. American.

Within hours, Rome received word of the attack on Camulodunum and turned their ferocious gaze (and military strength) in Boudicca’s direction. Troops were dispatched from Londinium, and it appeared the Celts would soon find themselves facing a more prepared—and pissed off—set of Legionnaires. While Boudicca’s first victory over the Romans of Camulodunum had been triumphant, the enemy had been mostly composed of worn out vets who hadn’t lifted a sword in decades. But she was undeterred by the threat of Roman might and continued her military journey to East Anglia where she planned to attack the major port of Londinium—now modern-day London—and essentially cut off their supply route. Although Boudicca had no military training or even a reliable map, she made these decisions based on the basic knowledge she possessed about her enemy and their geographic needs. Many of the Roman soldiers had left the area of Londinium to aid the smoldering town of Camulodunum, leaving the valuable city vulnerable to Boudicca—an opportunity she seized with great vigor.

Jim Fitzpatrick. Red Hair Queen of the Fir Bolg. 20th century, illustration. Irish.

Somehow her next attack on Londinium grew even harsher, as her soldiers burned, choked, hanged, beheaded, and slit the throats of every Roman they found. And her vendetta was not just satiated with blood—she wanted true vengeance on the privilege of Rome which she exacted through many horrific tortures. As is confirmed through the writings of both Tacitus and Cassius Dio, Boudicca specifically targeted the most beautiful and privileged Roman women and looked on calmly as “their breasts were cut off and stuffed in their mouths, so that they seemed to be eating them, their bodies skewered lengthwise on sharp stakes” and hung in the town for all to see. By this point, Boudicca’s forces had killed about 70,000 people and laid waste to several Roman centers, all without suffering any real damage herself. As a prominent Roman historian wrote, “all this ruin was brought upon the Romans by a woman, a fact which in itself caused them the greatest shame.” This was indeed true; however, she had yet to encounter the reputable army of Paulinus who had been far to busy subduing the ancient tribes of Wales to do much about it. He was focused on Rome’s campaign to destroy the Druids, a goal which he finally accomplished when his forces took the island and murdered all the priests and their subjects, essentially desecrating Britannia’s spiritual stronghold.

Henri Paul Motte. Druids Cutting the Mistletoe on the Sixth Day of the Moon. 1890, oil painting. French.

Tacitus describes what happened in his Annals: “The enemy lined the shore in a dense armed mass. Among them were black-robed women with disheveled hair like Furies, brandishing torches. Close by stood Druids, raising their hands to heaven and screaming dreadful curses.” Uncertain about what was happening, the Roman forces hesitated momentarily but then pressed on, eventually slaughtering everyone before them. Like an apocalypse, this ripped the heart out of Briton and their religion, politics, and communication with their gods. The Druids had been eradicated. Most military leaders would have seen this destruction as a major blow to their efforts, but not Queen Boudicca—regardless of her love for the ancient Druids, their massacre only succeeding heating her endless fury.

Tomlinson. Boudicca and the Burning of London. 20th century, engraving. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Although Paulinus apparently had the opportunity to enter Londinium and face Boudicca towards the end of her attack, he decided to linger outside the city because he lacked the military numbers to overtake her. Paulinus was a shrewd and calculating general, willing to swallow his pride and lose the battle in order to win the war. But things were looking good for the Warrior Queen, as her 230,000 strong seriously outnumbered the Roman forces of just 10,000—according to Dio’s account. Word of her success had also spread among the Celts of Britannia who became increasingly willing to join her ranks in pursuit of the freedom they had been missing for some 300 years. But Paulinus was not intimidated by this discrepancy and stood his ground outside Londinium, somewhere in the West Midlands along Watling Street.

General Suetonius Paulinus.

By this point, the Roman Empire was near the peak of its geographic holdings and had conquered almost all of Britannia. Although Roman control was based on sheer dominion—tedious and pressurized to say the least—their campaign through Britannia had almost reached the sea, and the only thing now standing in their way was a wild-eyed ginger Queen who was determined to fight them at every turn. Rome had taken two violent hits so far—a failure they had never before experienced—and all at the hands of a woman. They had anticipated her pathetic outbreak would have abated by now, yet Boudicca appeared stronger than ever—a suspicion that was soon confirmed. Under her leadership, the Britons went on to take Verulamium a few days later, also using the element of surprise to gain victory. This was the capital of the Catuvellauni tribe and had eventually become the official municipality of Rome when it was conquered, which meant the Briton inhabitants were treated most poorly. At this point, Boudicca had devastated the three main cities in the Roman Empire—and still the most prominent regions in Britain today—ultimately ending the lives of over 70,000 Roman enemies. But Paulinus was headed her way, and it became clear a final battle was on the horizon for Boudicca and the Romans—but who would emerge victorious was far from certain.

Henri Paul Motte. Vercingetorix Before Caesar. 1886, oil on canvas. French.

For those who enjoy the details of an epic historical face-off, Boudicca’s story does not disappoint. In what is now known as the Battle of Watling Street—located near Wroxeter in Shropshire—this epic confrontation marked the beginning of the end for dear Boudicca. Paulinus had chosen his battleground carefully, while she was forced to accommodate his position. Flanked by his forces, he emerged from a heavily wooded area to meet the Celts who were faced with only a narrow gorge ahead of them and a band of heavy wagons trailing behind. Filled with the families of the soldiers, this convoy took up position behind the tribes and essentially blocked any form of military exit. In this way, Paulinus’s men were free to spread out behind him without fear of direct attack, which also meant Boudicca would be forced to “thread the needle” with considerable speed if she planned to make successfully circumvent this obstacle and maximize her infamous hand-to-hand combat.

Artist Unknown. Watercolor Drawing.

With the dense forest behind him and a narrow passage ahead of him, Paulinus held the better position, yet Boudicca possessed a larger, more savage army. As such, their confrontation depicted a delightfully romanticized clash of policy versus passion. With her daughters in front of her, Boudicca drover her chariot among the tribes, shouting encouragement, as the Romans waited to hurl their arrows before shouldering their way forward and attacking her directly. This was precisely what happened. With open plains in front of her, Boudicca had no choice but to charge the Romans head on and funnel her forces into a tight mass, where they were inevitably cut down by a volley of javelins. Once the Celts were scattered, Paulinus moved his men forward in a wedge-shaped formation and overpowered Boudicca’s army. Despite their massive size and righteous mission, the Britons were no match for the discipline, armor, and weaponry of the Roman Legions. And when they finally realized their vulnerability, the retreat of the Britons was blocked by the ring of wagons behind them which carried their own families. The Romans moved in without hesitation and massacred 80,000 of the men, women, and children on the field, while only losing approximately 400 of their own soldiers.


Cassius Dio describes the battle:

Thereupon the armies approached each other, the barbarians with much shouting mingled with menacing battle-songs, but the Romans silently and in order until they came within a javelin’s throw of the enemy. Then, while their foes were still advancing against them at a walk, the Romans rushed forward at a signal and charged them at full speed, and when the clash came, easily broke through the opposing ranks…

Evariste Vital Luminais. The Barbarians Before Rome. 1852, oil on canvas. French.

Although’s Boudicca’s rebellion ended in defeat, she herself was not killed on the battlefield that day.  Her death came soon thereafter as the result of either poison, illness, or suicide—historians are conflicted. A fictional depiction of her death feels most appropriate: “She took poison after her defeat, rather than be forced to march in a Roman triumphal parade,” although Cassius Dio does assert in his works that Boudicca was buried secretly with great honor by her people, no one knows where this might have taken place. Yes, the details of her death may be lost to history, but the romance of her condition most certainly is not, as is well-known hemlock was a popular method for Roman suicide. Once a queen like herself had been captured, Boudicca would never have allowed anyone to come near her or her daughters—she would surely have killed herself and her children in a righteous gesture of resistance. If she wanted to take her own life, she would have done it without nary a thought, because that’s what Boudicca did—lived life on her own terms.

Vlaho Bukovac. 20th century, oil on canvas. Croatian.

But even though Boudicca did not make it through her own rebellion alive, she became a symbol of resistance for the Celts who still managed to hold off the invaders for another 60 years before finally surrendering Britannia to the Romans. And many historians believe this phase of consistent fighting is what eventually broke the indomitable spirit of the Empire, as they simply could not sustain this degree of tenuous occupation after finally taking Britannia. Without a more sophisticated form of government, the Romans were not able to support their existing conquest any longer—they had simply stretched their men and their resources too thin. In many ways, Boudicca’s rebellion was the cause of this hesitation and the stumble that came before the fall.

Charles Ernest Butler. Siegfried and Brunnhilde. 1909, oil on canvas. British.

The tale of Boudicca is so sensational and moving, it has drawn the skepticism of more than one cranky historian who feels it must surely have been concocted to support the narrative of good Britons versus evil Romans. But archeologists have uncovered several Roman relics from this time period which support the story of the Barbarian Queen. It is has been well-proven by 2nd-century roofing tiles, the remains of a governor’s palace, tombstones from his staff, and a military camp that Londinium did, in fact, exist under Roman control and was extremely well armed and defended. In 1981, the remains of a massive bridge were found close to the modern London Bridge, and some camp ditches from the time of Claudius were also uncovered. Coins have been discovered in Suffolk which read SVB ESVPRASTO ESICO FECIT, or “under Esuprastus Esico made this” in Latin, which suggests Esuprastus may have actually been the name of the King Tacitus called “Prasutagus,” Boudicca’s husband. Some of these coins were inscribed with the word “ECENI” which supported a connection with her people and their long-standing coin-making tradition from as far back as 10 BCE. These findings—along with the scorched earth beneath Londinium and the bronze head of Claudius—do much to bolster the truth of Boudicca’s great rebellion.


Boudicca may have died as a result of her own wrath, but her legend among the Britons—and the world—most certainly did not. Not only has her story established an epic poem of rebellion, it also radically altered the course of Roman behavior over the next four centuries. Her confederacy of barbarian “savages” had taken the placid Roman usurpers completely by surprise, which led to the creation of certain reforms after her death. The Romans lightened up on their demands of the Britons and even instituted a fairer system of taxation to pacify them. And in the 5th century CE, the Roman Empire fell into disintegration and England was released from their dominion. And for many hundreds of years later—until 1360 CE—no one even knew about Boudicca’s life until Tacitus’s manuscript on the events were uncovered by the Italian writer Giovanni Boccaccio in a little-known monastery.

The first official biography on her life emerged in 1591 when another Italian writer living in England, Petruccio Ubaldini, wrote The Lives of the Noble Ladies of the Kingdom of England and Scotland. Then in 1610, the Jacobean playwright John Fletcher, who followed in the illustrious footsteps of Shakespeare, wrote a drama called Bonduca which exalted her notable life on the London stage. Depicted as a fiercely passionate woman with masculine traits, the play was quite successful and did much to promote her heroic image. And, of course, English poet John Milton famously penned History of Britain in 1670 about her vivid and glorious tale. But it seemed Boudicca’s image was not just well suited to the Elizabethan era, as her heroic exploits have persevered well into the 20th century. Winston Churchill wrote of her in his History of the English-Speaking Peoples, stating this period was “probably the most horrible episode which our Island has known. We see the crude and corrupt beginning of a higher civilization blotted out by the ferocious uprising of the native tribes. Still, it is the primary right of men to die and kill for the land they live in, and to punish with exceptional severity all members of their own race who have warmed their hands at the invader’s earth.” Given England’s own history of imperialism and tyranny, this statement was more than a bit ironic—but sincere nonetheless.

Artist Unknown. 1870, wood engraving. The Image Works.

Today, anyone can feel the commanding power of Boudicca by visiting a London statue dedicated to her memory. Located on the north banks of the Thames by Westminster Bridge, the bronze rendering shows the Warrior Queen, along with her young daughters, mounted on a scythed chariot drawn by two rearing horses. She stands upright with regal stature, her hands raised in two opposing gestures of warfare and peace. While her left hand seems to capture the spiritual memory of the ancient Druids, raised to the gods in a motion of deference, the javelin in her right hand stands as a fierce reminder to those who would oppose her. And looking out from behind her stately form are the two faces of her young daughters, clearly just blossoming into their own womanhood, who appear to draw courage and ability through their mother’s majestic strength—a feeling we can all surely relate to.


 And the rest is history.


One Comment Add yours

  1. Gabriela says:

    Oh, such a beautiful story and beautifully said!
    Maybe only one thing – Queen Victoria wasn’t entitled to dress herself in Budica’s glory. As almost all British rulers in history she had no one drop of Celtic blood; was the Anglo-Saxon and Norman mix of the 400 or so Norman knights’ families that even today own 3/4 of British land and 100% of still feudal privileges, their ‘birth rights’. In Victorian time the Celts were mainly servants in their own land.
    I really hope that Brexit will be so ruinous for Britons that they at last will claim … Republic of Britain.


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