Who Was Boudica, the Warrior Queen of the Iceni?

Boudica was a historical figure from Iron Age Britain who is often associated with her role in the revolt of 60/61 CE against Rome.

Jul 6, 2024By Rachel Sweeney, MA Art History, BA History & Art History

who was boudica warrior queen iceni


Boudica is a historical figure that continues to be shrouded in mystery. Not much is known about her beyond her role in the rebellion of the Iceni and surrounding Brythonic tribes against the Romans in Londinium in 60/61 CE. She has, however, captivated the imagination of the modern public as one of history’s strongest women, and is recognized in Britain as an icon of national heritage. So, who was she?


What’s in a Name? 

Boudica, illustration by Charles Hamilton Smith, 1821, Source: Wikimedia Commons


Boudica’s name has been written in different ways throughout history. While “Boudica” is the most common spelling, she has also been identified as Boudicca, Boadicea, Boudicea, and Buddug. The first two spellings are from the Brythonic boudi (victory, win) and ka (having), indicating that her name translates to “Victorious Woman.” The names Boadicea and Boudicea are from Latin accounts of her, and Buddug is the Welsh translation of her name. The Gaelic word “boudeg” also translates to victory.


It is believed that Boudica was born into an elite family in Camulodunum—what is now Colchester—and that she would have been trained as a warrior, learning fighting techniques and the use of weapons. Though her family may not have anticipated the circumstances that led to her role in the uprising of 60/61 CE, when she was born, she was certainly equipped with the tools to ensure her authority as queen of a tribal people from a young age.


Boudica’s Personal Life

Boadicea Haranging the Britons, by John Opie, 1807, Source: Wikimedia Commons


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Boudica is believed to have been born in Camulodunum, the ancient Roman name for the Brythonic Celtic Camulodunum, or “stronghold of Camulos.” Camulos, or Camulus, was a war god that the Romans associated with Mars. Camulodunum became a satellite kingdom of Rome after its initial occupation and was the first capital of Roman Britain.


Boudica married her husband Prasutagus by the time she was 18, and they had two daughters. How Prasutagus came to be king of the Iceni, a Celtic tribe living in East Anglia, is unclear; he may have been one of the eleven kings who initially surrendered to Roman emperor Claudius following the conquest in 43 CE, or he may have been appointed after the rebellion of the Iceni against Roman occupation in AD 47, at which point the area became a satellite kingdom.


Prasutagus, by all accounts, seems to have been a loyal ally to Rome. He died in 60 or 61 CE, and he left his kingdom to both his daughters and the Roman emperor in his will. His provisions for his family were ignored, and the imperial procurator Decianus Catus seized his entire estate. According to Tacitus, “…his wife Boudicca​ was subjected to the lash and his daughters violated: all the chief men of the Icenians were stripped of their family estates, and the relatives of the king were treated as slaves.” These events directly led to the uprising of 60/61 CE.


Boadicea Shows the Marks of the Roman Rods, by W Parkinson, from Beric, the Briton: a story of the Roman invasion, by G.A. Henty, 1893, Source: The Internet Archive


Boudica’s role as queen of the Iceni raises the question of the social position of women in Celtic society. In truth, it was rare for Celtic women to occupy ruling positions without an accompanying ruling male partner. Boudica is one of two examples, the other being Cartimandua of the Brigantes.


Generally, whether women were able to obtain high status without the aid of a husband varied between Celtic societies. Some of the richest graves that archaeologists have uncovered from the Iron Age likely belonged to women, based on the specific furnishings and jewelry that were included. Celtic society was, by and large, patriarchal, but women of high status certainly existed and many, like Boudica, received training as warriors like that of Celtic men.


The Uprising of 60/61 CE

British coin, attributed to the Iceni, 50-20 BCE, Source: The British Museum


After the events following the death of Prasutagus, Boudica led the Iceni in revolt against the Roman presence in Britain. To gather more forces, Boudica and the Iceni conspired with a neighboring Celtic tribe, the Trinovantes, among other tribes. The Trinovantes had similar cause to join the rebellion, as the imposition of a Roman colony on their formal tribal center—as well as the treatment of the native Britons as captives and slaves—had caused resentment over time. It is believed that Boudica amassed an army of around 100,000 Britons.


Boudica initiated the rebellion by launching an attack on Camulodunum, her birthplace and the provincial capital of Roman Britain. Camulodunum was entirely unprepared for the attack; its Roman citizens appealed to Decianus Catus for help, and he sent an armed force of only 200 men. Boudica and her troops burned the city to the ground and killed many of its inhabitants. In an act of pure defiance, they decapitated a bronze statue of the Roman emperor Nero.


Boadicea’s attack upon Camulodunum in 60 AD, by Henry A. Payne, from The History of the Nation, 1922, Source: Roman-Britain.co.uk


Boudica then marched her troops towards Londinium to advance another attack. By this point, the Roman provincial governor, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, had received word of the rebellion and attempted to fight back against her in Londinium. The city was, like Camulodunum, unprepared for the attack, and Suetonius abandoned the area upon realizing his few thousand troops would not be enough defense. Again, like Camulodunum, Boudica’s troops burned Londinium to the ground. Finally, Boudica’s forces attacked Verulamium. Anticipating how much Boudica’s forces outweighed his own Suetonius did not attempt to defend the site, and the troops once again destroyed the town and killed many of its people.


Boudica’s rebellion had a major impact on the Roman occupation of Britain. Various accounts estimate that around 70,000-80,000 people were killed because of the three attacks on Roman cities and that Nero may have even contemplated ending the Roman colonial project in Britain as a result. Suetonius, however, managed to gather an army of 10,000 troops to fight back against Boudica and the Britons. Though his army was much smaller than hers, he is said to have strategically waged the battle in a deep-sided narrow gorge surrounded by woods so that Boudica could not take advantage of her army’s numbers. Suetonius was victorious, and Boudica’s army was defeated and slaughtered.


Cassius Dio and Tacitus differ in their accounts of how Boudica died: Cassius Dio suggested that she fell ill and died after the battle, and Tacitus suggested that she poisoned herself. Southern Britain was re-secured by the Romans, Londinium was rebuilt and established as the new capital, and Rome would go on to occupy Britain until the Anglo-Saxon invasions of the 5th century.


References to Boudica in Ancient Sources

Tribes of Celtic Britain, Davies, 2000, and Cunliffe, 2012, Source ResearchGate


One of the most striking references made to Boudica in ancient textual sources is by Cassius Dio in his Roman History. He wrote:


“But the person who was chiefly instrumental in rousing the natives and persuading them to fight the Romans, the person who was thought worthy to be their leader and who directed the conduct of the entire war, was Buduica, a Briton woman of the royal family and possessed of greater intelligence than often belongs to women….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; and she wore a tunic of diverse colors over which a thick mantle was fastened with a brooch. This was her invariable attire.”


Dio’s description of Boudica provides much of the information we have about her character today: that she was responsible for gathering troops in rebellion against Rome, that she possessed a degree of authority, that she was highly militaristic, and that she was a fearsome woman. Dio also states that she had “tawny” hair, a brownish-orange color that has led to many depictions of Boudica as redheaded, sporting a torc.


Boudica urges the Britons to defend their country against the Roman invaders, by Thomas Stothard, c. 1795. Source: Proantic


In Tacitus’s Annals, he describes Boudica’s speech to the Britons encouraging them to war:


“Boudicca, mounted in a chariot with her daughters before her, rode up to clan after clan and delivered her protest:—‘It was customary, she knew, with Britons to fight under female captaincy; but now she was avenging, not, as a queen of glorious ancestry, her ravished realm and power, but, as a woman of the people, her liberty lost, her body tortured by the lash, the tarnished honor of her daughters. Roman cupidity had progressed so far that not their very persons, not age itself, nor maidenhood, were left unpolluted. Yet Heaven was on the side of their just revenge: one legion, which ventured battle, had perished; the rest were skulking in their camps, or looking around them for a way of escape. They would never face even the din and roar of those many thousands, far less their onslaught and their swords!—If they considered in their own hearts the forces under arms and the motives of the war, on that field they must conquer or fall. Such was the settled purpose of a woman—the men might live and be slaves!’”


Tacitus was not an eyewitness to these events, so it is unlikely that these were Boudica’s exact words. He likely recorded this as a way of communicating to the Roman reader what their enemy’s motivations were. These words, however, formed Boudica’s legacy as a national hero in Britain.


References to Boudica, 16th-19th Centuries

Boadicea and Her Daughters, by Thomas Thornycroft,1856-1883, Victoria Embankment, Westminster, photo by Paul Walters, Source: Wikimedia Commons


Boudica re-entered the cultural lexicon in the 16th century, when the works of Cassius Dio and Tacitus became available in England during the Renaissance. She appeared in early chronicles of British history like Polydore Vergil’s Anglica Historia (as early as 1506), Hector Boece’s The History and Chronicles of Scotland (1526), and Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles (c. 1577-1587). She also appeared as a character in British theater, first in the 1612 Jacobean play Bonduca, and a different version of that play called Bonduca, or the British Heroine in 1695. The music from the 1695 production was the source of a popular patriotic song in the 18th and 19th centuries, “Britons, Strike Home!”


The revival of texts from antiquity during the English Renaissance, like those by Cassius Dio and Tacitus, aided in England’s “rediscovery” of its past over the course of the 18th and 19th centuries. Many European countries had nationalist movements then, and historians, archaeologists, and antiquarians aided in national interests to trace the histories of modern nations to their “ancient” roots.


In the case of Britain, this past was “Celtic,” rather than Greek or Roman. Boudica became a popular national figure, put forth as representative of quintessentially British values, and she appeared as the subject of poetry, paintings, prints, and monumental statues.


Boudica in Popular Culture Today

Olga Kurylenko in Boudica: Queen of War, Source: Deadline


Boudica remains a relatively popular figure today. She is particularly famous for her position as a strong, powerful woman from ancient history. She received a place setting in the contemporary artist Judy Chicago’s monumental 1970s work The Dinner Party, which contained 39 place settings dedicated to historical figures that have made contributions to women’s lives throughout history. Her history as a feminist figure goes back to the early 20th century, as she was adopted by the suffragettes as a symbol of women’s suffrage.


There have been a few different television and film depictions of Boudica, including the 2003 British television film Boudica, released in the United States as Warrior Queen, and the more recent 2023 film Boudica: Queen of War. She is also referenced in video games like Civilization IV: Beyond the Sword as leader of the Celts and Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, where players can explore a “Boudicca Tomb” in East Anglia.




Champion, T. (1996). Power, politics, and status. In M. Green (Ed.), The Celtic World (pp. 85-94). Routledge.

Crummy, P. (1997). City of Victory; the story of Colchester – Britain’s first Roman town. Colchester Archaeological Trust.

Webster, G. (1996). The Celtic Britons under Rome. In M. Green (Ed.), The Celtic World (pp. 623-635). Routledge.

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By Rachel SweeneyMA Art History, BA History & Art HistoryRachel holds an MA in Art History, a dual-degree BA in History and Art History, and a certificate in Medieval Studies. Her research so far has focused on Celtic art and early medieval art of Ireland and the British Isles.