10 Facts About Queen Boudicca

Tristan Hughes

4 mins

15 Jan 2020

In 60/61 AD Britain’s most famous Celtic Queen led a bloody revolt against Rome, determined to evict the occupiers from Britain by the spear. Her name was Boudicca, a name that now sits among the most recognised in the whole of British history.

Here are 10 facts about the Iceni queen.

1. Her daughters were bequeathed the Iceni Kingdom…

Following the death of Prasutagus, Boudicca’s husband, the Iceni chieftain had willed that his kingdom be divided equally between his two daughters and the Roman Emperor Nero. Boudicca would retain the title of Queen.

2. …but the Romans had other ideas

Rather than abide by the late Prasutagus’ wishes, the Romans had other plans. They wanted to seize Iceni wealth.

Throughout Iceni territory, they committed mass ill-treatment of both the native nobility and the common folk. Lands were pillaged and homes were plundered, sparking great resentment among all levels of the tribal hierarchy towards the Roman soldiers.

Iceni royalty did not avoid the Roman scourge. Prasutagus’ two daughters, supposedly meant for joint rule with Rome, were raped. Boudicca, the Iceni queen, was flogged.

According to Tacitus:

The whole country was considered as a legacy bequeathed to the plunderers. The relations of the deceased king were reduced to slavery.

boudicca-haraunging-britons

An engraving depicting Boudicca haranguing the Britons. (Credit: John Opie).

3. She roused the Britons to revolt

The injustice Boudicca, her daughters and the rest of her tribe suffered at Roman hands sparked rebellion. She became a figurehead for revolt against Roman rule.

Citing her family’s mistreatment she harangued her subjects and neighbouring tribes, encouraging them to rise up and join her in forcing the Romans out of Britain by the spear.

Past Roman oppression against these tribes ensured that Boudicca’s rallying cry met with much approval; very quickly the ranks of her rebellion swelled.

4. She swiftly sacked three Roman cities

In due succession Boudicca and her horde razed the Roman cities of Camulodonum (Colchester), Verulamium (St Albans) and Londinium (London).

Slaughter was rife in these three Roman colonies: according to Tacitus some 70,000 Romans were put to the sword.

The sacking of Camulodonum was particularly brutal. Known for its large population of Roman veterans and epitomising Roman over-lordship, Boudicca’s soldiers vented their full fury at the largely-unprotected colony. No-one was spared.

This was a terror campaign with a deadly message to all Romans in Britain: get out or die.

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5. Her forces then massacred the famous Ninth Legion

Though the Ninth Legion is best remembered for its later disappearance, in 61 AD it played an active role opposing Boudicca’s revolt.

Upon hearing of the sacking of Camulodonum, the Ninth Legion – stationed at Lindum Colonia (modern day Lincoln) – marched south to come to the aid. It was not to be.

The legion was annihilated. En-route Boudicca and her large army overwhelmed and destroyed almost the entire relief force. No infantrymen were spared: only the Roman commander and his cavalry managed to escape the slaughter.

6. Her defining encounter was at the Battle of Watling Street

Boudicca confronted the last, great bastion of Roman resistance in Britain somewhere along Watling Street. Her opposition consisted of two Roman legions – the 14th and parts of the 20th – commanded by Suetonius Paulinus.

Paulinus was the Roman Governor of Britain, who had previously been preparing to attack the Druid haven on Anglesey.

Watling Street route

General route of Watling Street overlaid on an outdated map of the Roman road network in Britain (Credit: Neddyseagoon / CC).

7. She greatly-outnumbered her opponent

According to Cassius Dio, Boudicca had amassed an army of 230,000 warriors, though more conservative figures place her strength near the 100,000 mark. Suetonius Paulinus meanwhile, had just under 10,000 men.

Despite being greatly-outnumbered, Paulinus could take heart in two factors.

First of all, the governor had chosen a battleground that helped to negate his foe’s numerical advantage: he had placed his forces at the head of a bowl-shaped valley. Any attacking force would be funnelled in by the terrain.

Secondly, Paulinus knew that his soldiers had the advantage in skill, armour and discipline.

8. History has provided her a fiery pre-battle speech…

Tacitus provides her a glorious – if not certainly fictitious – speech before the decisive battle. She ends her vicious disparagement of her foe with the words:

On this spot we must either conquer, or die with glory. There is no alternative. Though a woman, my resolution is fixed: the men, if they please, may survive with infamy, and live in bondage.”

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9. …but her army still lost the battle

Paulinus’ tactics negated Boudicca’s numerical advantage. Compressed in the bowl-shaped valley, Boudicca’s advancing soldiers found themselves hemmed in and unable to use their weapons. Their numbers worked against them and the ill-equipped warriors became sitting targets for their enemy. Roman pila javelins rained down on their ranks, inflicting terrible casualties.

Paulinus seized the momentum. Taking out their short swords, the Romans advanced down the hill in wedge formation, carving through their foe and inflicting terrible casualties. A cavalry charge put to flight the last remnants of organised resistance.

According to Tacitus:

…some reports put the British dead at not much below eighty thousand, with roughly four hundred Roman soldiers killed.

Statue of Suetonius Paulinus at the Roman Baths

Statue of Suetonius Paulinus, the victor of Watling Street, at the Roman Baths in Bath (Credit: Ad Meskens / CC).

10. She committed suicide following the defeat

Although the sources debate her exact fate, the most popular story is that Boudicca committed suicide with poison, along with her daughters.

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