Link to Instruction materials link to Companion home page link to Worlds of Roman Women in texts & images

Cornelius Tacitus, Annales XIV. 34-35: Boudica

sarcophagus
Bronze winged Victory bearing leafy crown, 1st century CE

Boudica, "a Briton woman of the royal family and possessed of greater intelligence than often belongs to women" (Dio, Ep. 62.2), lived among the Iceni people in the mid-first century CE. She instigated the largest, most threatening rebellion of British tribes against the Romans in 60-61 CE (Timeline). Her name (also Boudicca, Buduica, Boadicea) is thought to derive from the Celtic word for victory (bouda). Her husband Prasutagus, a client-king of Rome, to protect his legacy willed half his kingdom to Nero and half to his daughters. At his death the procurator Decianus Catus charged him with debt, and allowed soldiers to plunder his kingdom, abuse his nobles, flog his wife and rape their daughters. Boudica united tribes disgruntled by Roman occupation, characterized since Emperor Claudius' conquest in 43 CE by property confiscation, conscriptions, crippling taxation, and religious intolerance (see Ag. 4.15; treatment of Druids). The Greek historian Dio Cassius asserts that she "directed the conduct of the entire war" (Ep. 62.2)," destroying the colonia Camulodunum (Colchester), ambushing Q. Petillius Cerialis' 9th legion, and eradicating the settlement at Londinium (London) and the municipium of Verulamium (St. Albans), while taking no prisoners. Tacitus portrays her as an outraged mother and rebel, but Dio, a century later, paints her as a barbarian warrior queen: "In stature she was very tall, in appearance most terrifying, in the glance of her eye most fierce, and her voice was harsh; a great mass of the tawniest hair fell to her hips; around her neck was a large golden necklace (e.g., Snettisham torque); and she wore a tunic of divers colours over which a thick mantle was fastened with a brooch. This was her invariable attire. She now grasped a spear to aid her in terrifying all beholders and spoke" (Ep. 62.2). Dio imagines her battle-speech extoling tribal manliness and scorning Roman luxury; in it she alludes to Nero not as emperor but as Domitia: "though in name a man . . . in fact a woman" (Ep. 62.6). The passage below describes the tribes gathered for the final battle Boudica commanded against the Roman governor C. Suetonius Paulinus and Tacitus' representation of the pre-battle speech she delivered to her people. Tacitus records that after her unexpected defeat by the outnumbered Roman forces, she took poison rather than be captured (An. 14.37).

Although her life prior to 60 CE is unknown, Boudica's opposition to Roman domination is preserved in three ancient texts: Cornelius Tacitus's Agricola 4. 14-17 and Annales 14.31-37, and the Roman History (Epitome 62.1-12) of Dio Cassius. In 155 CE Antoninus Pius marked the triumph of Rome with a copper coin bearing on its reverse BRITANNIA and the image of a mourning woman. For further information, see Adler (2008), Collingridge (2005), Gillespie (2018), Hingley (2005) in the Bibliography. For Boudica's afterlife as champion for women, justice and freedom, see: Queen Victoria-inspired poetry (Cowper, Tennyson), 1883 bronze group by Th. Thornycroft (left, right), 1916 marble group by J. Havard Thomas, 1979 Dinner Party: Boadaceia by Judy Chicago, Masterpiece Theatre's 2003 production "Warrior Queen."

Chapter 34  
(4) at Britannorum copiae passim per catervas et turmas exultabant, quanta non alias multitudo, et animo adeo feroci, ut coniuges quoque testes victoriae secum traherent plaustrisque imponerent, quae super extremum ambitum campi posuerant.
Chapter 35  
(1) Boudicca curru filias prae se vehens, ut quamque nationem accesserat, solitum quidem Britannis feminarum ductu bellare testabatur, sed tunc non ut tantis maioribus ortam regnum et opes, verum ut unam e vulgo libertatem amissam, confectum verberibus corpus, contrectatam filiarum pudicitiam ulcisci.



(2) Eo provectas Romanorum cupidines, ut non corpora, ne senectam quidem aut virginitatem impollutam relinquant.
(3) Adesse tamen deos iustae vindictae; cecidisse legionem, quae proelium ausa sit; ceteros castris occultari aut fugam circumspicere.
(4) Ne strepitum quidem clamorem tot milium, nedum impetus et manus perlaturos. Si copias armatorum, si causas belli secum expenderent, vincendum illa acie vel cadendum esse.  
(5) Id mulieri destinatum: viverent viri et servirent.  

Click on the underlined words for translation aids and commentary, which will appear in a small window. Click on the icon link to the right of the text for related images and information.


Ann R. Raia and Judith Lynn Sebesta
Return to The World of State
August 2008; updated July 2018