Distinguished Women of Past and Present

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(died 62 AD)

Boudica (or Boadicea) was the wife of Prasutagus, king of the Iceni, a British tribe, at a time when Britain was a Roman province. When Prasutagus died he willed half of his kingdom to the Roman empire and half to Boudica and their two daughters, Camorra and Tasca1 or, according to legend, Voada and Voadicia2. British law allowed royal inheritance to be passed to daughters in the absence of male heir, but Roman law did not. The Roman administrator ignored the will and proceded to take over the entire kingdom. Roman historian Tacitus wrote, "Kingdom and household alike were plundered like prizes of war... for a start, his widow Boudica was flogged and their daughters raped. The chieftains of the Iceni were deprived of their family estates as if the whole country had been handed over to the Romans. The king's own relatives were treated as slaves."

Enraged Boudica joined Iceni forces with another tribe, the Trinobantes, and together they fought back. They attacked and conquered the Roman colony Camulodunum (now Colchester) and burned the temple dedicated to Claudius, the Roman emperor who completed the conquest of Britain. The Romans retaliated against the insurgents by sending a whole division of soldiers, but they were defeated. The insurgents then marched on London, which they sacked, and killed its Roman population, as well as their sympathizers. They did the same at Verulamium (now St. Albans) and other settlements.

Finally, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, the Roman governor of Britain, gathered all the Roman troops in the south of Britain and attacked the British in a narrow valley so that the superior numbers of rebel force would be of no advantage against the smaller Roman army. Tacitus reported that Boudica was seen riding her chariot and inspiring her troops before the battle.

However, this time the Romans were victorious, and slaughtered the rebel troops. Boudica and her daughters escaped but then poisoned themselves rather than allow capture. Roman retribution for rebellion was swift and cruel but the British kept up the fight for another year, when Suetonius was succeeded by Publius Petronius Turpilianus, who changed the policy toward the native population to one of appeasement, which remained in use for three hundred more years of Roman occupation of Britain.

Contributed by Danuta Bois, 1997.

1. Heroines: Remarkable and Inspiring Women/An Illustrated Anthology of Essays by Women Writers, Crescent Books, 1995. Boudica profile writtten by Andrea Hopkins.
2. Women Who Ruled: A Biographical Encyclopedia by Guida M. Jackson, Barnes & Noble Books, 1998

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