Boudica (also spelled Boudicca, formerly better known as Boadicea) (d. AD 60/61) was a queen of the Iceni of early Roman Britain, who led a major rebellion against the occupying Romans. Upon the death of her husband Prasutagus, the Romans annexed his kingdom and brutally humiliated Boudica and her daughters, spurring her leadership of the revolt.
In 60 or 61, while governor Gaius Suetonius Paulinus was leading a campaign on the island of Anglesey in north Wales, Boudica led the Iceni, along with the Trinovantes and others, in a rebellion which destroyed the former Trinovantian capital and Roman colonia of Camulodunum (Colchester), and routed the Ninth Legion under Quintus Petillius Cerialis. Boudica's army then burned to the ground the twenty-year-old settlement of Londinium (London) and destroyed Verulamium (St Albans), killing an estimated 70,000-80,000 people. Suetonius regrouped, and despite being heavily outnumbered, defeated Boudica in a single battle. The crisis almost persuaded the emperor Nero to withdraw from the island, but Suetonius's victory secured Roman control of the province.
The events of Boudica's revolt were recorded by two historians, Tacitus and Cassius Dio. Tacitus, the most important Roman historian of this period, took a particular interest in Britain as Gnaeus Julius Agricola, his father-in-law and the subject of his first book, served there three times. Agricola was a military tribune under Suetonius Paulinus, which almost certainly gave Tacitus an eyewitness source for Boudica's revolt. Dio's account is later and only known from an epitome, and his sources are uncertain. He is generally agreed to have based his account on that of Tacitus, but he simplifies the sequence of events and adds details that Tacitus does not mention.
Until the late 20th century, Boudica was known as Boadicea, which is probably derived from a mistranscription when a manuscript of Tacitus was copied in the Middle Ages. Her name takes many forms in various manuscripts – Boadicea and Boudicea in Tacitus; Βουδουικα, Βουνδουικα, and Βοδουικα in Dio – but was almost certainly originally Boudicca or Boudica, derived from the Celtic word *bouda, victory (proto-celtic *boudīko "victorious") (cf. Irish bua, Buaidheach, Welsh buddug). The name is attested in inscriptions as "Boudica" in Lusitania, "Boudiga" in Bordeaux and "Bodicca" in Britain. Based on later development of Welsh and Irish, Kenneth Jackson concludes that the correct spelling of the name is Boudica, pronounced [bɒʊˈdiːka:].
Tacitus and Dio agree that Boudica was of royal descent. Dio says that she was "possessed of greater intelligence than often belongs to women", that she was tall, had long red hair down to her hips, a harsh voice and a piercing glare, and habitually wore a large golden necklace (perhaps a torc), a many-coloured tunic and a thick cloak fastened by a brooch.
Her husband, Prasutagus, was the king of Iceni, who inhabited roughly what is now Norfolk. They were initially not part of the territory under direct Roman control, having voluntarily allied themselves to Rome following Claudius's conquest of 43. They were jealous of their independence and had revolted before in 47 when the then-governor, Publius Ostorius Scapula, threatened to disarm them. Prasutagus lived a long life of conspicuous wealth, and, hoping to preserve his line, made the Roman emperor co-heir to his kingdom along with his two daughters.
It was not unusual for the Romans to allow allied kingdoms their independence only for the lifetime of their client king, who would agree to leave his kingdom to Rome in his will. Roman law also allowed inheritance only through the male line. So when Prasutagus died his attempts to preserve his line were ignored and his kingdom was annexed as if it had been conquered. Lands and property were confiscated and nobles treated like slaves. According to Tacitus, Boudica was flogged and her daughters raped. Dio says that Roman financiers, including Seneca the Younger, chose this point to call in their loans. Tacitus does not mention this, but does single out the procurator, Catus Decianus, for criticism for his "avarice". Prasutagus, it seems, had lived well on borrowed Roman money, and on his death his subjects had become liable for the debt.
In 60 or 61, while the governor, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, was leading a campaign against the island of Mona (modern Anglesey) in north Wales, which was a refuge for British rebels and a stronghold of the druids, the Iceni conspired with their neighbours the Trinovantes, amongst others, to revolt. Boudica was chosen as their leader. According to Tacitus, they drew inspiration from the example of Arminius, the prince of the Cherusci who had driven the Romans out of Germania in AD 9, and their own ancestors who had driven Julius Caesar from Britain. Dio says that at the outset Boudica employed a form of divination, releasing a hare from the folds of her dress and interpreting the direction it ran, and invoked Andraste, a British goddess of victory. It is perhaps significant that Boudica's own name means "victory".
The rebels' first target was Camulodunum, the former Trinovantian capital and now a Roman colonia. The Roman veterans who had been settled there mistreated the locals, and a temple to the former emperor Claudius had been erected there at local expense, making the city a focus for resentment. Its inhabitants sought reinforcements from the procurator, Catus Decianus, but he sent only two hundred auxiliaries. Boudica's army fell on the poorly defended city and destroyed it, besieging the last defenders in the temple for two days before it fell. The future governor Quintus Petilius Cerialis, then commanding the Ninth Legion, attempted to relieve the city, but his forces were routed. His infantry was wiped out: only the commander and some of his cavalry escaped.
When news of the rebellion reached him, Suetonius hurried along the Roman road now known as Watling Street, through hostile territory to Londinium. Londinium was a relatively new town, founded after the conquest of 43, but had grown to be a thriving commercial centre with a population of travellers, traders, and probably Roman officials. Suetonius considered giving battle there, but considering his lack of numbers and chastened by Cerialis's defeat, decided to sacrifice the city to save the province. Londinium was abandoned to the rebels, who burnt it down, slaughtering anyone who had not evacuated with Suetonius. Archaeology shows a thick red layer of burnt debris covering coins and pottery dating before 60 within the bounds of the Roman city. Verulamium was next to be destroyed.
In the three cities destroyed, between seventy and eighty thousand people are said to have been killed. Tacitus says the Britons had no interest in taking or selling prisoners, only in slaughter by gibbet, fire or cross. Dio's account gives more prurient detail: that the noblest women were impaled on spikes and had their breasts cut off and sewn to their mouths, "to the accompaniment of sacrifices, banquets, and wanton behaviour" in sacred places, particularly the groves of Andraste.
Suetonius regrouped with the Fourteenth Legion, some detachments of the Twentieth, and any available auxiliaries. The prefect of Second Legion, Poenius Postumus, ignored the call, but nonetheless the governor was able to call on almost ten thousand men. He took a stand at an unidentified location. Most historians favour a site in the West Midlands, somewhere along Watling Street. Kevin K. Carroll suggests a site close to High Cross in Leicestershire, on the junction of Watling Street and the Fosse Way, which would have allowed the Second Legion, based at Exeter, to rendezvous with the rest of Suetonius's forces. Manduessedum (Mancetter, near Atherstone in Warwickshire) has also been suggested.
Boudica exhorted her troops from her chariot, her daughters beside her. Tacitus gives her a short speech in which she presents herself not as an aristocrat avenging her lost wealth, but as an ordinary person, avenging her lost freedom, her battered body and the abused chastity of her daughters. Their cause was just, and the gods were on their side; the one legion that had dared to face them had been destroyed. She, a woman, was resolved to win or die; if the men wanted to live in slavery, that was their choice.
The Romans were heavily outnumbered. Dio says that, even if they were lined up one deep, they would not have extended the length of Boudica's line: by now the rebel forces numbered 230,000. The Britons were so confident that they had stationed their families in a ring of wagons at the back of the field to watch their victory. However, Suetonius had chosen as his battlefield a narrow defile opening onto a wide plain, with his rear protected by a forest. The narrowness of the defile meant that Boudica's line could be no wider than the Romans', and the openness of the plain prevented any surprise attack.
As the Britons charged, the Romans first threw their javelins, then advanced in a wedge formation. Then the auxiliary infantry and cavalry entered the fray. The British line broke, but their flight was blocked by the ring of wagons, and they were slaughtered. Tacitus reports that "according to one report almost eighty thousand Britons fell" compared with only four hundred Romans. According to Tacitus, Boudica poisoned herself; Dio says she fell sick and died, and was given a lavish burial.
Postumus, on hearing of the Roman victory, fell on his sword. Catus Decianus fled to Gaul, and was replaced by Gaius Julius Alpinus Classicianus. Suetonius conducted punitive operations, but criticism by Classicianus led to an investigation headed by Nero's freedman Polyclitus. Suetonius was removed as governor on a pretext, replaced by the more conciliatory Publius Petronius Turpilianus. The historian Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus tells us the crisis had almost persuaded Nero to abandon Britain.
With the possible exception of a cryptic reference by Gildas, in his 6th century polemic De Excidio Britanniae, to a "deceitful lioness",  by the Middle Ages Boudica was forgotten. She makes no appearance in Bede, the Historia Brittonum, the Mabinogion or Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain. But the rediscovery of the works of Tacitus during the Renaissance allowed Polydore Virgil to reintroduce her into British history as "Voadicea" in 1534. Raphael Holinshed also included her story in his Chronicles (1577), based on Tacitus and Dio, and inspired Shakespeare's younger contemporaries Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher to write a play, Bonduca, in 1610. William Cowper wrote a popular poem, Boadicea, an ode, in 1782.
It was in the Victorian era that Boudica's fame took on legendary proportions as Queen Victoria was seen to be Boudica's "namesake". Victoria's Poet Laureate, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, wrote a poem, Boadicea. A great bronze statue of Boudica in her war chariot (furnished with scythes after Persian fashion), together with her daughters, was commissioned by Prince Albert and executed by Thomas Thornycroft. It was completed in 1905 and stands next to Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament, with the following lines from Cowper's poem:
- Regions Caesar never knew
Thy posterity shall sway.
- Tacitus, Agricola 14-16; Annals 14:29-39
- Cassius Dio, Roman History 62:1-12
- Graham Webster, Boudica: The British Revolt against Rome AD 60, 1978; Guy de la Bédoyère, The Roman Army in Britain
- Kenneth Jackson, "Queen Boudicca?", Britannia 10, 1979
- Tacitus, Annals 12:31-32
- Tacitus, Agricola 15
- George Patrick Welch, Britannia: The Roman Conquest & Occupation of Britain, 1963, p. 107
- Kevin K. Carroll, "The Date of Boudicca's Revolt", Britannia 10, 1979
- Sheppard Frere, Britannia: A History of Roman Britain, 1987, p. 73
- Suetonius, Nero 18, 39-40
- Gildas, The Ruin of Britain 6
- Polydore Vergil's English History Book 2 (pp. 69-72).
- Raphael Holinshed, Chronicles: History of England 4.9-13
- Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, Bonduca
- William Cowper, Boadicea, an ode
- Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Boadicea
- Graham Webster, Boudica: The British Revolt against Rome AD 60, 1978