Boudicca of the Iceni was a true warrior queen. In AD 60-61, she inspired and led the largest revolt against Roman rule in Britain - but what do you know about her? Read the article below and then test yourself. Or if you're feeling brave - do it now! Take the test!
Details of her life are sketchy but Boudicca is still celebrated as someone who stood up against foreign oppression. What motivated her to take on the might of the Roman empire?
From around 65 BC, the Iceni people of East Anglia had grown prosperous by trading with Romans on the Continent. When the forces of Emperor Claudius conquered Britain in AD 43, the Iceni were able to negotiate for themselves an arrangement that allowed them to exist as a client kingdom loyal to Rome. But trouble was on the way. When the Iceni King, Prasutagas, died, he bequeathed his kingdom jointly to his two teenage daughters and the Roman Emperor Nero. This was perceived as an insult by Rome, which believed it had a right to inherit and subjugate the entire Iceni kingdom. A brutal crackdown on the Iceni began.
Queen Boudicca was the widow of Prasutagus. In an attempt to quash the Iceni, Roman officials had her publicly flogged and allowed the empire's soldiers to rape her daughters. But Rome had misjudged Boudicca and the Iceni. Instead of submitting humbly, Boudicca raised a huge army and led them against Rome's forces in Britain. The Roman historian, Cassius Dio, writes that Boudicca was "most tall, in appearance most terrifying, in the glance of her eye most fierce, and her voice was harsh." She was an effective, brutal commander and her Celtic fighters soon overran the capital of Roman Britain, Camulodunum (modern-day Colchester).
The sacking of London
Boudicca's timing was good. The majority of Rome's legions were tied up in Wales, fighting the Druids. There was little effective opposition as Boudicca and her army swept into the commercial centre of Londinium on the Thames. The Iceni were merciless as they tore through the town, razing most of it to the ground and butchering any civilians left behind by Rome's retreating forces. Inspired by the crushing victory at Londinium, Boudicca turned north and headed for Verulamium, known today as St Albans. Another vicious sacking followed.
The Roman military governor, Suetonius Paulinus, had refused to commit his forces to the defence of Londiunium or Verulamium. Instead, he lured Boudicca and her warriors north of Verulanium to a site somewhere in the Midlands. Contemporary historians never identified where the crucial battle between Rome and the Iceni was fought but the outcome was decisive. Paulinus had just 10,000 men. Estimates of the Iceni strength vary between 100,000 and 250,000 but they were no match for the disciplined troops of Paulinus. Rome routed the Britons in one of the ancient world's most bloody massacres.
Defeat for Boudicca
The attacking hordes of spear-wielding Britons, many daubed with blue war paint derived from the woad plant, must have been a terrifying sight as they charged at the Roman lines but Paulinus had chosen his battleground carefully. The Roman historian, Tacitus, describes it as an area with a narrow approach, backed by woodland. This meant that the Britons could not use their superior numbers to outflank Paulinus and encircle him. Instead, they were forced to hurl themselves at the Roman front lines, in wave after desperate wave. The well-trained Roman soldiers advanced with their large shields, stabbing at the Britons with their easily manoeuvrable short swords. Boudicca's best warriors had no room to swing their long swords and were trapped between the deadly Roman advance and their own advancing hordes. Around 80,000 Britons died as Paulinus took his revenge. Roman casualties were around 400 dead and a similar number of wounded. Boudicca and her daughters survived the battle but are believed to have taken poison to avoid capture and ritual humiliation at the hands of the Romans.