by Daniel Russ on July 26, 2011

Boudica, Queen of the Iceni

The Queen of the Iceni was betrayed and brutalized by the Romans. So she put together an army and smashed a Roman Legion, and burned three Roman occupied cities.


Boudica, was “possessed of greater intelligence than often belongs to women”, that she was tall, had hair described as reddish-brown or tawny hanging below her waist, a harsh voice and a piercing glare, and habitually wore a large golden necklace, a many-colored tunic, and a thick cloak fastened by a brooch.”




After a lifetime of successful and generally peaceful relations with Roman occupiers, Prasutagus, the King of the Iceni, produced a will that would upon his death give half of everything to his wife Boudica, and half to the Roman governors at the time. This was not an uncommon arrangement; the Romans had in fact occupied Britain for a century previously. Trade relations, particularly the grain coming in from Britain, was very valuable to the huge and peripatetic Roman army.  When Prasutagus died, the Romans disregarded the will. Roman law did not recognize female foreign nationals to inherit Roman property. So rightly, then they took all of it. They simply repossessed the lands, and treated everyone, Iceni royalty included, like slaves. Boudica argued with the local governor and so he had her flogged and her daughters were raped.



Boudica Scuplture

Boudica assembled a group of tribes mutually allied to strike back at the Romans for double-crossing them. The Romans felt their cavalier actions might not have been friendly they were quite legal however. The Germans and some Gallic tribes had succeeded in driving the Romans out of their territory. So Boudica was outraged, and she was hopeful as well. She had grown up in a family and in a dynasty that had established a good relationship with the Romans and had worked on establishing great trade. The British tribes in the north were much more rebellious, but the Iceni had created a century long alliance that lasted from the death of Julius Caesar until the rise of Claudius.


Soon after the repossession of the Iceni lands, the Roman Governor of Britain, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus had on his hands a rebellion. This was also not a rare thing to happen either as Rome had expanded into the territory of more than a hundred tribes, and tribes from Northern Europe began running out of land. Starting around this time Rome was becoming inundated with people just wanting a place to live, and Rome, sometimes laden with debt, traded land for tributes and service in the Roman military. Paulinus firmly believed that the Druids, the clerics of the Pagan tribes, had fermented revolution. They were hiding on the island of Mora and banding with rebels also hiding there. Therefore Paulinus put together an expedition and invaded the island, looking to quell the insurgency and to gain a bit of military glory for himself.


While he was away quelling the insurgency, in 61 AD Boudica’s forces struck. First she chose a place that was symbolic of the intransigence of the Roman rulers and their ungracious behavior given the cooperation they had been enjoying from the southern British tribes. This was Camulodulan, present day Colchester, a town where the newly crowned Emperor Claudius had a temple built for himself at local’s expense. Upon request for help against the increasing hordes of tribal armies, the local procurator could only raise 200 auxiliary troops to defend the city. The 9th Spanish League also showed up and tried to relieve the city. But the Iceni were unstoppable. These few unprepared Romans and locals must have been absolutely slaughtered by the thousands of blooded Iceni warriors who swarmed over them, feverish with revenge. Only the garrison combat leader and a few cavalry soldiers made it out alive.


Officially, Boudica was on a roll.


She then went to Londinium, the future site of London, a huge river port trading village that used the Thames to move goods. The Roman soldiers who could be mustered abandoned Londinium and the slaughter began. Boudicas’ forces slaughtered the entire populace, men women and children. Archeologists tell us that Boudica burned the entire city down methodically and that the soot layer is still there to prove it. Afterwards she sacked Verulanium, present day St. Albans.


It is estimated that the attacks on these three cities took the lives of up to 70,000 people. Brutality won the day again. Hell hath no fury like a woman’s scorn, they might say, but one might guess that a woman, a mother at that, might understand the terror of war on children and parents. Who knows exactly what happened? There are scholarly historic texts about the Roman occupation of the British Isles where Boudica never shows up. So the fine thread of her life might be as much myth as reality. If she was real and she has certainly appeared all over culture in movies and books, she was probably so scarred by the betrayal, the rape of her daughters, and her own humiliation that she expressed her rage with her army.


It wasn’t long before Suetonius put a force together of 10,000 Legionnaires and met on a place now called Watling Street. There the order and discipline of a Roman Legion felled what is estimated at over 200,000 Iceni. Many of these could have been the families stationed behind the fighting lines and often happy to fight. Her forces succumbed to Roman pila thrown by the thousands and arrows said to have felled all tolled eight thousand Iceni. Boudica is said to have been killed, or died of illness or poisoned her self. I will guess a combination of the last two.


Source: (2003). “Bleeding from the Roman Rods: Boudica”. Defying Rome: The Rebels of Roman Britain. Tempus: Stroud. Guy Bedoyere., Wiki


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