Boudica (or Boudicca, or Boadicea, or Buddug) was a queen of the Iceni, a tribe resident somewhere around modern Essex (or Norfolk) in Britain, early in The Roman Empire, and is most famous for leading a rebellion during Nero's reign, razing Colchester and London and making Nero briefly think twice about the whole "Roman Britain" thing, until she was defeated in about 60-61AD somewhere along the Roman road now called Watling Street, whereupon she either died of illness or committed suicide, Depending on the Writer.
Her motivations for her uprising originate from the politics of the Emperor Claudius' time, where her husband, Prasutagus the king of the Iceni, nominally retained his independence in a period where Rome was trying to consolidate his rule over Britain. Prasutagus decided to placate Rome by naming the Emperor heir to his lands (he had two daughters and no son.) This spectacularly backfired and someone gave orders to invade Iceni lands, confiscate their property, then flog Boudica and rape her daughters (it is unlikely to have been The Governor of Britain as he was putting down a rebellion in Wales, the most likely origin was Seneca the Younger, as he did loan the Iceni 300,000,000 sesterces that they did not want).
What followed was a Roaring Rampage of Revenge comparable to Genghis Khan's ravage of the Khwarezmid Empire (because the latter killed his messengers). Boudica was elected leader of a massive coalition of British tribes, and first headed to Camulodunum (modern Colchester, and commonly cited candidate for Camelot). The city's defenders asked for reinforcements... and got about 200 auxiliaries. The rebels stormed the city and methodically destroyed the entire place; killing every man, woman, child, and slave in the city before burning it to the ground (a large layer of ash is buried beneath the city even to this day). Other reinforcements (an entire legion, IX "Hispania") were also wiped off the face of the Earth, contributing to the legend of the "Lost Legion". The rebels next turned to Londinium (modern London). The Roman Governor Suetonius raced back there from Wales before its fall, but judged he lacked the strengh to defend it. He and his men left the city, but not before evacuating as many of the civilians as they could. When the Iceni reached Londinium they destroyed it, whereupon another great massacre (of both the Romans and Romanised Britons who remained in the city) ensued. Verulamium (modern St. Albans) was destroyed, too.
According to Cassius Dio and Tacitus, people were carved up and displayed in a variety of incredibly creative fashions - the noblewomen in particular were beheaded, with their breasts cut off and sewn to their mouths. While historians agree that the three massacres took place, there is debate as to whether or not torture of this nature was present. Additionally it is unknown whether or not Boudica ordered these atrocities, refused to prevent them, or was simply unable to keep her soldiers in line. Though most modern documentaries and fictional depictions of Boudica's Rebellion assume that she directly ordered them. note
As per the accounts by Cassius Dio and Tacitus note , the Romans started to take this threat seriously. The Roman Governor Suetonius Paulinus rallied his remaining troops to Hold the Line somewhere along Watling Street, and foiled Boudica's Attack! Attack! Attack! tactics by methodically forming a shield-wall with a forest behind them and a gorge at their sides and killing the first to charge with thrown javelins, then pressing on the British lines with a wedge-shaped charge. They apparently outnumbered the Romans 200 to 1, but even taking into account how Romans loved to exaggerate their numbers to make their defenses and victories look even more impressive, most agree that the Romans defeated a numerically superior army with their standard discipline and shield wall formation. The Iceni were broke and routed, and when the Britons attempted to flee, they got trapped by their own logistics train, and the rebellion was slaughtered there and then. As mentioned above, Boudica died shortly afterwards in unclear circumstances (she might have been Driven to Suicide, or she might have been killed in the fighting). Following the rebellion, Suetonius, Seneca, and pretty much every Roman politician stationed in Britain were recalled to Rome, stripped of their positions to prevent them from provoking another revolt, and replaced by more diplomatic politicians who got the remaining natives to submit by treating them better. All told, her rebellion left between 70,000 and 80,000 Romans and Britons dead.
She was forgotten by The Middle Ages, but rediscovery of Roman histories during the Renaissance led to her fame rising, surging massively in the reign of Queen Victoria, who was her apparent namesake in meaning ("Boudica" is said to derive from *boudā (victor)). She benefited greatly from the Romantic revival where the drive for folklore and native traditions led many to revisit their Celtic past, and reclaim Boudica as a founder-precursor for British might and resolve. The Romantics naturally saw her as a female Byronic Hero, proud, fierce, driven to violence by an unjust society, and doomed by a tragic fate. The emerging suffragette and feminist movement, saw her as a victim of appalling abuse striking back against her oppressors, and they and later writers claimed her as a hero and an icon of women, proof that the latter can be More Deadly Than the Male. This undoubtedly says more about the recent past than it does about Ancient Britain, and the victims of the three massacres tend to either be forgotten or ignored.
Likewise at the time, the British had become an empire far vaster and wealthier than the Romans could ever fathom, and modern historians comment on the irony of a bronze statue of a victim and opponent of Roman Imperialism such as the statue of her and her daughters in Neoclassical style that now overlooks Westminster — slap bang in the middle of the city she and her forces razed and burned to the ground — erected by her latter day descendants and Spiritual Successor who had themselves become oppressors and colonizers. Many note that Queen Boudica would have had far more in common with Rani of Jhansi of the Indian Rebellion of 1857, than she would with her namesake Victoria. Victorians however felt that they, as Boudicca's descendants had avenged her death and defeat. The inscription on her plinth is : Regions Caesar never knew /Thy posterity shall sway.
Tropes as portrayed in fiction:
- Action Girl: Usually portrayed as one, although there's no evidence she was personally involved in combat.
- Attack! Attack! Attack!: Sadly (for her), Boudica's forces were short on tactics and were defeated once Rome stopped to consolidate its forces logically.
- Bittersweet Ending: In the long run. Boudica and her fellow rebels (and their families) got slaughtered, her culture got subsumed, foreigners would rule her country up until the present day (the current rulers being the descendants of a combination of Angles, Saxons, and Normans), and she would be used as a symbol of the things she hated (she became popular in Britain when it was becoming an oppressive Empire in its own right). However the men who provoked the rebellion in the first place (along with the governor who suppressed it) were recalled to Rome and stripped of their positions to keep them from provoking another rebellion. They were then replaced by two more diplomatic governors who rebuilt the cities that Boudica destroyed and got the remaining natives to submit and assimilate by treating them better.
- Both Sides Have a Point: While Boudica was right to rebel against the Romans (some soldiers tortured her and her daughters), the Romans also had every right to fear her because of her total destruction of three Romano-British cities via Revenge by Proxy.
- Byronic Hero: The Romantics and the Victorians saw her as a rare female example of this.
- Category Traitor: According to Dio, the rebels didn't differentiate between Romans and Britons living in Roman settlements, or even between slaves and free people. They killed them all.
- Crack Defeat: Roman sources claimed Boudica pretty much suffered one, though it's pretty likely that the numerical disparity was definitely exaggerated to some sort of degree, and along with the stated terrain and that the Iceni were said to be poorly-equipped, it's more explainable why the rebellion lost then and there.
- Create Your Own Villain: Regardless of the atrocities Boudica committed, this doesn't change the fact that the Romans directly provoked her to take action against them. Even Tacitus and Dio acknowledge this.
- Cycle of Revenge: First Roman Soldiers flogged Boudica and raped her daughters (under orders from Seneca the Younger), so in response she took revenge by leading a rebellion which destroyed three roman cities. The Romans then took revenge by wiping out her Rebel Army at Watling Street and launching punitive actions against the rebel tribes. Before this cycle could continue further, the Roman Governor was removed from his post and replaced with a more diplomatic one.
- Driven to Suicide: One possible cause of her death.
- Final Solution: What her army did to Camulodunum, Londinium, and Verulamium. Whether or not she ordered or permitted this is unknown.
- Future Imperfect: Very little is known about her, most of it having been lost to history. We don't know how she felt about the massacres her armies committed (whether she ordered them, permitted them, or was powerless to prevent them), nor do we know how she died (it might have been suicide, it might have been death in battle, it might even have been illness), nor do we know anything about her life before the rebellion other than that she was married to the Iceni King and that she had two daughters. The only sources we have are archeological records of her rebellion (such as the destruction layers under the cities her army massacred) and writings by Tacitus and Cassius Dio (whose reliability is somewhat debated). The location of the Battle of Watling Street isn't even sure - the name for it is just one, though prevalent, guess to the whereabouts of it from a very long road.
- Geo Effects: With a forest behind the Romans to slow approaches to their rear, the sides of a gorge to protect their flanks, and an open plain before them forcing Boudica's army to approach them in clear view, Boudica's numbers wouldn't have be able to be effectively exploited in the climatic Battle of Watling Street.
- Here We Go Again!: Boudica's Rebellion is actually the second time the Iceni revolted against Roman Rule. The first time was in 43 AD, when Governor Publius Ostorius Scapula threatened to take their weapons away. Emperor Claudius prevented any punitive measures from being conducted after the revolt was suppressed, having decided that Scapula was to blame.
- Historical Domain Character: At least after her 16th-century re-emergence.
- Historical Hero Upgrade: Most stories following Boudica's rebellion paint her as a freedom fighting Rebel Leader. That her army mass-murdered three cities is usually either glossed or otherwise treated as a heroic and glorious action of an underdog. Usually paired with a Historical Villain Upgrade for her opponent, the Roman Governor who ultimately defeated her.
- Hollywood Tactics: Charging en masse and surrounding the rear of the army with the baggage train were typical British practices, which didn't work too well against Rome's Mighty Glacier turtle formation. That being said, the terrain rather prevented anything more elegant.
- Irony: She became a symbol of British nationalism by the time the country was irreversibly shaped by Roman influence and when it was expanding to rule a quarter of the world's surface (becoming a bigger Empire than Rome ever was), and her statue overlooks London, the city she massacred.
- Lady of War: The modern codifier in Britain, at least.
- Les Collaborateurs: Prior to the rebellion, the Iceni were a Client Kingdom of the Romans. She and her husband Prasutagus were both technically Roman Citizens, and the latter might have even been installed by the Romans.
- Long Hair Is Feminine: Cassius Dio makes a point of noting her hair reached down to her waist. It should be noted that most Celtic and Gaelic cultures tended to grow their hair long, regardless of gender, (to the point that, before all of Gaul was conquered, the unconquered parts where called Gallia Comata, meaning "long-haired Gaul") making this description of her not improbable in absence of other sources.
- Monument of Humiliation and Defeat: Part of the reason why she and her army targeted Camulodunum first; the Romans living there built a Temple to Emperor Claudius (the Emperor who first conquered Britain) and forced the local natives to build and defend it. After her defeat the Roman Emperor would build one to honor in Rome the person who defeated her, and the one in Camulodunum would be rebuilt (along with the cities her army destroyed).
- Occupiers Out of Our Country: The ultimate goal of the Iceni rebellion. They failed miserably, to the point where these occupiers would stay in their country for centuries to come before being replaced by more occupiers, and more occupiers, and even more occupiers.
- Rape and Revenge: Her daughters being raped is the main cause of her rebellion.
- Rape as Drama: Not her, but her daughters. Nonetheless, it was one of many motivations of the rebellion.
- Revenge by Proxy: The civilians in the Camulodunum, Londinium, and Verulamium had nothing to do with Boudica being flogged or her daughters being raped, yet her army (possibly on her orders or permission) mass-murdered them all anyway. On the other end of it, after the Roman Soldiers defeated her army at Watling Street they killed the families of the Iceni Warriors despite said families having nothing to do with the massacres.
- The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: See above about the whole boob-sewing thing, and the massacres that her army carried out. Also see Would Hurt a Child below.
- Roaring Rampage of Revenge: One of the most defining examples in history. There's a reason why the Romantics loved her, since elaborate self-destructive revenge schemes fit their aesthetic well.
- Rousing Speech: The one attributed to her by Tacitus before the final battle at Watling Bridge.Boudica: But now, it is not as a woman descended from noble ancestry, but as one of the people that I am avenging lost freedom, my scourged , and marked body, the outraged chastity of my daughters. Roman lust has gone so far that not our very person, nor even age or virginity, are left unpolluted. But heaven is on the side of a righteous vengeance; a legion which dared to fight has perished; the rest are hiding themselves in their camp, or are thinking anxiously of flight. They will not sustain even the din and the shout of so many thousands, much less our charge and our blows. If you weigh well the strength of the armies, and the causes of the war, you will see that in this battle you must conquer or die. This is a woman's resolve; as for men, they may live and be slaves, and captive.
- Soldier vs. Warrior: Boudica and her Iceni and Trinovante Tribal Warriors vs Suetonius and his Roman Legionary Soldiers. The soldiers won.
- Spell My Name with an "S": Her name has been Romanised and Anglicised in a number of fashions, and her first reappearance in literature has her name rendered as Voadicea.
- Spiked Wheels: Trope Namer in Britain, although there's no evidence that her chariots used Scythian-style spikes.
- A Taste of the Lash: Dealt unto her by Romans. She got off slightly easier than her daughters (see below).
- Unreliable Narrator: Apart from archaeological remains, the primary sources on Boudica are Cassius Dio and Tacitus. On one hand they were far from Imperial lapdogs and in fact were often critical of both the Roman government and Roman society as a whole, but on the other hands being Roman must have at least partially biased their view of the matters. Additionally both of them were known to exaggerate details to make their writing more popular, and neither were actually present in the rebellion. It should also be noted that one of the Roman commanders at Watling Street, Julius Agricola (who would become Governor of Britain) was Tacitus's father-in-law, so it follows the historian would exaggerate to emphasize the victory.
- To make matters worse with Dio's account, we don't actually have a full copy of it anymore. All we know about it comes from an epitome, or condensed version, written by a later author, so we have to deal with both Dio's bias and the later author's bias.
- Would Hurt a Child: When Boudica's army massacred the three Roman Cities in Britian they killed EVERY civilian in those cities, including the children. To repeat, Boudica's soldiers killed children.
- Would Not Shoot a Civilian: Averted. Boudica's rebels would and did shoot civilians. Tens of thousands of them, in fact.
- Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: Was Boudica a heroic Queen leading La Résistance in a noble cause, or was she an Ax-Crazy murderer on a quest to sate her own bloodlust? Virtually all historians agree that her army massacred three large cities, though it is unknown if she ordered or permitted this. Even historians who believe that she did order these massacres still argue as to whether or not they can be justified.
Appearances in popular culture
- The Green Lantern Corpswoman Boodikka, who appears in Green Lantern: First Flight, is named after her.
- She briefly appears in Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. In The Black Dossier, Orlando has a section narrating his past in Roman Britain, which includes being a witness to Boudicca's uprising. Later, when he arrives in King's Cross he remarks that more than a thousand plus years ago, it was the site of the Battle of Watling Street.
- Aquila: Queen Boudica is a major character in the first arc that details her war against Rome, although both the Britons and the Romans have access to sorcerous powers. She's undefeated up until the massacres happen, and dies requesting Aquila say her name when he kills Nero. Aquila grants her wish.
- Several biopics, such as Boadicea (1927), The Viking Queen (1967, a Broad Strokes adaptation), Boudica (2003)
- The first Marcus Didius Falco novel, The Silver Pigs, has Falco briefly recount his service for Rome during the rebellion.
- Song for a Dark Queen, a historical novel by Rosemary Sutcliff.
- In Boudicca: Guilty or Innocent? (The Timewarp Trials), Boudica is made to stand trial for the massacre of Camulodunum. A prosecutor presents evidence and witnesses against her, then she makes a defence. The reader is a member of the jury.
- The Boudica Quadrilogy, a series of novels by Manda Scott.
- In Harry Turtledove's Ruled Britannia, none other than William Shakespeare writes a highly-sympathetic version of her story, in hopes of inspiring Englishmen to rally against their latest occupiers, the Spanish.
- The examination of her tomb is the focus of an infamous Bonekickers episode.
- Appeared on Horrible Histories.
- She appeared in the episode "The Deliverer" of Xena: Warrior Princess, complete with Breast Plate. Her conflict with Rome is backdated by over 100 years to Julius Caesar and Stonehenge is formed as a result of that episode's events.
- She appeared in The History Channel's Barbarians Rising, played by Kirsty Mitchell. The reenactment portions of the episode have her and her daughters slain at Watling Street; however the website for the series notes Tacitus' account that she took poison to avoid capture.
- In History Bites, her story is depicted as a parody of Thelma & Louise, thus reinterpreting Boudica as turning violence against women into violence by women.
- In The Goodies episode set during the time of Ancient Rome, the Running Gag of Tim Brooke-Taylor's enthusiasm for the Royal Family continues, only this time the Queen he's referring to is Boudica.
- She appears as the leader of the Celtic tribe in some of the Civilization entries.
- She appears in a heavily fictionalised version of her rebellion which somehow is as far north as Eboracum (York) and also somehow employs War Elephants in Ryse: Son of Rome. The rebellion also somehow makes it all the way to Italy to threaten Rome even though her actual rebellion couldn't even get past the governor's army in Britain.
- A tutorial level in Rise of Nations has the player playing as Boudica during the early part of her rebellion.
- Imperivm III includes a mission protagonized by Boudica (here called Boadicea).
- She appears as a Rider-class Servant in Fate/Grand Order and is a direct ally in the Rome Singularity. Curiously, this depiction of Boudica paints her less as a wrathful queen and more like a Cool Big Sis, explicitly stated to be the her before the whole Roaring Rampage of Revenge. Her Noble Phantasm, her chariot, doesn't damage the enemy but provides defense and offense buffs to the party. She even spends the Rome Singularity fighting as a general in Rome's army, and this contrast is commented by both the protagonists and her leader Nero, who still remembers her but years earlier as The Dreaded (Nero doesn't realize she's actually dead and a Servant for most of the arc). Boudica herself states that her grudge remains, but the United Roman Empire they're fighting is much worse. She even possesses a skill that lets her do more damage to enemies that have the "Roman" trait, particularly useful considering most of the enemy Servants in the Singularity are former Roman emperors.
- In Dragon Age, the local Christ equivalent figure and basis of the main religion, has a life and history that is clearly modeled in part on Boudica (with a bit of Joan of Arc as well): she united the Ferelden clans (a Fantasy Counterpart Culture for pre-Norman Britain, both Saxon and Celtic) against The Tevinter Imperium (who bear a close resemblance to Rome), but was betrayed by her most trusted ally and burned at the stake (the Joan of Arc connection). To make the Boudica connection clear, her name, Andraste, comes from the Iceni war goddess that, according to Roman historians, Boudica herself invoked before battle.