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Cornelius Tacitus, Annales XIV.34-35

Bronze Victory with leafy crown, 1st century CE

Boudica, Queen of the Iceni, was the instigator of the largest, most threatening revolt of British tribes against the Romans (60-61 CE), whose occupation of Celtic Britain after the Emperor Claudius' conquest (43 CE) was characterized by property confiscations, crippling taxation, and religious intolerance. Her name (also Boudicca, Buduica, and Boadicea) probably derives from the Celtic word for victory (bouda). Her husband King Prasutagus, a voluntary client of Rome, at his death willed part of his kingdom to Rome to protect his family; instead his kingdom was plundered, his nobles demeaned, his wife flogged and their daughters raped. Boudica, summoning neighboring tribes to throw off the yoke of Rome, commanded the destruction of the military colony at Colchester (Temple of Claudius) and attacks on London and St. Albans, wiping out the Roman 9th legion. Dio Cassius describes a warrior queen in total contrast to the Roman matrona: " 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 (Celtic woman); around her neck was a large golden necklace (Celtic 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. 62.2.2-4). Calling her "a Briton woman of the royal family and possessed of greater intelligence than often belongs to women," he imagines a battle-speech full of outrage and confidence. In it she celebrates tribal manliness and mocks Roman luxury; the Emperor Nero is termed Domitia, "in name a man, [he] is in fact a woman." When her forces finally lost to the badly outnumbered Romans, she took poison rather than be taken prisoner (Annales 14.37.12). While her life prior to 60 CE is unknown (theories; research), evidence of her survives in three ancient texts: Tacitus' Annales 4.31-37 and Agricola 14-16, Dio Cassius' Epitome 62.1-12 (of his lost Roman History). For further information about her, see the articles by Adler and Gillespie in Bibliography. For later reception of Boudica's achievements, see this first Queen Victoria-inspired poetry (Cowper, Tennyson), the bronze sculpture by Th. Thornycroft (side view, left, right), and this PBS special.

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.  

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