Boudica: Queen of the Iceni Tribe

⚠️ TW: mention of sexual abuse/rape, violence and suicide

And once again we travel back in time for an article on a strong woman of the long gone past. This time we visit the a celtic clan and their queen: Boudica. 📝

Boudica was a woman that had a great impact on the history of Britannia as revolt leader against the Roman Empire. She fought for freedom of her and many other tribes, but her life took a tragic end. ⚔️

Read more about her history and the way she became a heroine of Britain in the article below!

Boudica | *unknown| † ca. 60/61 BC| Britannia | Celtic Warrior, Queen of the Iceni Tribe

For this article, I am going back in time, to the 40s and 50s of year zero, to discuss a Celtic warrior and queen named Boudica, who is a personal idol of mine and a great example of a strong and fierce woman. Because she lived so long ago, not much is known about her, but she is still an important figure in the British history. A statue has even been made and placed in London across the Westminster Palace and in between other big attractions like the London Eye and the Big Ben. 

I can hear you think: who are these Celts and what is a Celtic warrior? The Celtic culture and people are a very important aspect of the history of a great part of what is now Europe. The Celts were first mentioned around 500 BC by a Greek historian and geographer named Hekataios of Milete. He wrote about a Greek colony near a land of the Celts. At that time Celts were already living in what is now Southern France. Another writer, named Herodotus, wrote about the Celts living near the river of Danube and also called them the most western residents of Europe: the Celts were everywhere! The most known representation of the Celts, although a fictional representation, are the Asterix and Obelix comics. Asterix, Obelix and the people in their town are a depiction of the Gauls, another name for the Celts. Two cultural periods: the Hallstatt and the La Tène, were a big part of the Celtic culture and history. Combined, the two periods lasted from the 8th century BC until around the 1st century BC, after these periods the Celts would integrate themselves in the Roman Empire. The Celtic culture included a lot of different groups and people and naturally, there were a lot of different Celtic tribes. One of these tribes was the Iceni. 

Boudica, who has had many different versions of her name throughout the years, was the leader of the Celtic tribe, the Iceni. What is known about her comes from the writings of Cassius Dio and Tacitus. It is agreed that Boudica was of royal descent. Cassius Dio describes Boudica as tall, with orange-brown hair, which reached below her waist, a harsh voice and a piercing glare. Cassius Dio writes that Boudica wore a large golden necklace (probably referencing a torque, which was a sign of wealth and wisdom in the Celtic culture), a colorful tunic, and a cloak fastened by a brooch.

Since the year 43, the Iceni were part of the Roman Empire. The king of the Iceni and husband to Boudica, Prasutagus, had a good relationship with the Roman emperors and reigned over the Iceni for a long time. After he passed away, things began to get ugly. Tacitus wrote about this: 

“The Icenian king Prasutagus, celebrated for his long prosperity, had named the emperor his heir, together with his two daughters; an act of deference, which he thought, would place his kingdom and household beyond the risk of injury. The result was contrary – so much so that his kingdom was pillaged by centurions, his household by slaves; as though they had been prizes of war.” (Tacitus, The Annals, 14.31)

When Emperor Claudius died and the Roman Empire came under the rule of Emperor Nero in AD 54, the people of the Iceni lands were treated badly. Their land was taken and when Boudica objected, she was lashed and her daughters raped. All the chief men of the Iceni were stripped of their ancestral possessions, and relatives of the late king Prasutagus were made slaves. Wanting revenge, Boudica asked their neighboring tribe, the Trinobantes, and other tribes who wanted to reclaim their freedom, for help. They all chose Boudica as their leader to lead a great revolt against the Romans in year 60 or 61. Tacitus wrote about this uprising in his work, The Annals

“Boudicea, with her daughters before her in a chariot, went up to tribe after tribe, protesting that it was indeed usual for Britons to fight under the leadership of women. ‘But now,’ she said, ‘it is not as a woman descended from noble ancestry, but as one of the people that I am avenging lost freedom, my scourged body, the outraged chastity of my daughters. Roman lust has gone so far that not our very persons, 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.’” (14.35)

The tribes, under command of Boudica, destroyed parts of what are now London, Colchester and St. Albans and murdered many Roman soldiers. Somewhere, where Wales now lies, the governor of the Romans defeated the Iceni tribe and the story goes that, after the defeat of the Iceni, Boudica either committed suicide by poisoning herself or died of her wounds from battle. She is seen as a British heroine and as part of British, as well as Roman and European history. She fought against the Romans and stood up for an important tribe and people in Britannia at the time. 

This narrative of Boudica tells the story of a strong and fierce Celtic warrior, a great queen to her tribe Iceni, a loving mother and a feminist from the past. The speech she gave to her people before the uprising shows the importance of Boudica as the female leader of the uprising and it shows the importance of strong women in the Celtic culture, and of someone who is still known for her actions today. 


Author: Sanne Akkermans
Image: Lily15

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