Boudicca is one of history’s most powerful and respected women. According to historians her story was nearly lost until it was retold by a man named Tacitus, whose work, the Annals (109 AD), was rediscovered in 1360. However, her story was not regarded until it became popular during the reign of another queen who headed an army against another foreign invasion, Queen Elizabeth I. (Parke 1) Despite my efforts I could not find very much information on the life of Boudicca before she married and became the warrior queen we know today, so I have chosen to explain the story of how she became one of the most renowned women in history. According to my research, Boudicca was a part of a tribe of warriors by the name of Keltoi (Celts), whose history and can be traced back to 1200 BC. Historians believe pieces of their diverse culture can be found all over Europe and into England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland. Amongst the ancient Celts, surprisingly, women were equal to men and held a number of rights. Women’s marriage rights were especially well defined and permitted them the right of redress against offenses.
“A whole troop of foreigners would not be able to withstand a single Celt if he called his wife to his assistance. The wife is even more formidable. She is usually very strong, and with blue eyes; in rage her neck veins swell, she gnashes her teeth, and brandishes her snow-white robust arms. She begins to strike blows mingled with kicks, as if they were so many missiles sent from the string of a catapult.” (Marcllinus)
Boudicca was married to a man by the name of Prasutagus, who was King of the Icenii in East England, which is now Norfolk and Suffolk. According to historians, in 43 AD, the Romans invaded Britain and most of the Celtic tribes were forced to submit. However, the Romans allowed two Celtic kings to keep some of their power, land and respect. One of these kings was Prasutagus. However in 47 AD, the Romans forced the Icenii to disarm, creating great resentment and conflict between the Romans and the Celts. Prasutagus had been given money for he and the Icenii people, but when conflict arose, the Romans changed the arrangement and regareded the money given to Prasutagus as a loan. Because of this, Prasutagus made his will naming the Roman emperor the heir of one-half his kingdom and wealth, and the other half he left to his wife and his two twelve-year old daughters, Comorra and Tasca. He believed that this arrangement would repay his debt to Rome, and create peace so that he could preserve at least part of his kingdom out of Roman reach, and ensure he provided tranquility for his family and people. Sadly, due to his sudden death, in 60 AD, Rome changed the terms.
They got greedy and wanted all of the Celtic land. (Campbell 24) After the death of her husband, Roman officials forced Boudicca to hand over all her wealth and territories that she and her daughters had inherited by her husband. But Boudicca was not a weak woman, she refused the Romans demands. She was angry and acknowledged her treatment as unfitting of a queen. Because of her disobedience soldiers were ordered to arrest and publicly beat her. Not only did the Romans beet Boudicca, but they then brutally raped both her daughters right before her own eyes.
After the assault endured by herself, her children, her family and her kingdom, it was time for revenge. (Swift 19) The Celtic people had suffered under Roman taxation and slavery for several years after they took over the Celt’s territory. They had been driven off their own land and subjected to lives as prisoners and slaves. They had endured the sight of their culture and everything they loved be destroyed, and now they were angry. They were even more angered by the attack on the headquarters of the Druidic religion, which they practiced. After suffering all these offenses, and also being subjected to the harsh rule of the Romans, the Trinovantii and other neighboring tribes were willing to join Boudicca in her rebellion against Rome. (Campbell 44)
“She was huge of frame, terrifying of aspect, and with a harsh voice. A great mass of bright red hair fell to her knees: She wore a great twisted golden necklace, and a tunic of many colors, over which was a thick mantle, fastened by a brooch. Now she grasped a spear, to strike fear into all who watched her…” (Dio Cassius)
After several years Boudicca was tired of the conditions they had lived through, and in turn brought together an army of 100,000 Celtic people. Boudicca was fueled by anger and had no plans on letting the Romans get off lightly in any way. Boudicca’s first mission was to began expressing her rage by storming the Roman city of Camulodunum (Colchester).
Tacitus wrote, “…without any evident cause, the statue of Victory at Camulodunum fell prostrate and turned its back to the enemy, as though it fled before them. Women, excited to frenzy, prophesied impending destruction; ravings in a strange tongue, it was said, were heard in their Senate-house, their theatre resounded with wailings, and in the estuary of the Tamesa (Thames), had been seen the appearance of an overthrown town…”
Boudicca’s forces put the town’s inhabitants to death and burned all its temples. In response to destroying Thames, a Roman infantry of 5,000 men were sent to deal with the Queen but they were also annihilated down to the last man. From there Boudicca’s Army moved on. According to my research she then continued her revenge by attacking the next cities, Londinium and Verulamium (St. Albans). Both of which were systematically attacked and burned along with their surrounding settlements.
One may ask what could cause a woman to want kill and burn down 3 entire cites, but luckily Dio Cassius gives a detailed description of the torturing of the Roman women; “their breasts were cut off and stuffed in their mouths, sohat they seemed to be eating them, then their bodies were skewered lengthwise on sharp stakes.” Tacitus gives an account of the final battle that tells of the women running about frantically, hair wild, naked and screaming. Trumpets would be blaring in an attempt to confuse and intimidate the enemy. Meanwhile, the Druids were standing nearby with their arms raised to the sky and calling on the gods to aid them. Tacitus gives a count of roughly 70,000 casualties before the final battle. The principle cities of the province had been captured and the inhabitants brutally massacred. (Parke 2) Governor Suetonius, gathered an army of 10,000 legionnaires and marched them to meet Boudicca. Confident of victory against such a small force, the Celts invited their families to come witness their destruction.
The battle raged all day with Boudicca sending wave after wave of her Celts against Suetonius’s legions. The disciplined legionnaires successfully repelled the rebels and eventually surrounded them amidst their own trapped and terrified families. The battle became a massacre. (Campbell 3) Tacitus tells us that not even the women, children and elderly were spared. Boudicca escaped with her daughters and, it is believed, ended their lives with poison, choosing suicide rather than capture by the Romans. Today, Boudicca, warrior Queen of the Icenii, is regarded as a warrior queen, and a strong woman and leader who stood against the hated invaders from the South. Rape was not considered shameful but it demanded revenge.
In the case of Boudicca, the public lashing she received and the rape of her daughters was a move on the part of the offending Romans, whose intent was to show the Celts their helplessness against their conquerors. But one can argue that she definitely showed the Romans that they would not mistreat her family and people and walk away. I feel that Boudicca embodies the strength and power that many women strive for today. She did not give up nor did she allow herself to die at the hand of a Roman. After researching her story and learning how she became the dynamic woman we know today, she inspired me to never back down, demand my respect, and never let a challenge I am facing dictate my reaction nor let the challenge defeat me mentally or physically. Because of determination for revenge, she is still be talked about today, as well as being written about in many poems and literary works. One of the poems I found and truly enjoyed was that of Alfred Tennyson……