I was whipped by the Romans when they tried to take our lands — and now I am fighting for my freedom. Think how many of us are fighting and why. We must win this battle or die. Let the men live as slaves if they want. I will not.”
These, according to the Roman historian Cassius Dio, were the last words of Boudica, queen of the Iceni tribe during the Roman occupation of Britain. This is her story …
Boudica was born into a noble family. She was a tall strong, intelligent woman with long, red hair, and as a young girl she was taught how to fight. Her name probably came from the Celtic word “Bouda”, which means victory. Sometime between 50 and 60 AD, she married Prasutagus, the king of the Iceni, who the Romans allowed to rule an area of south-east England as a local ally.
In AD 60 or 61, Prasutagus died. In his will he left half of his wealth and lands to Rome and Emperor Nero, and half to his two daughters. But the Romans decided that they wanted everything, so they took all the territory, buildings and goods. Boudica protested, and in response she was flogged and her daughters abused in front of her.
Boudica decided to get her revenge. She convinced the Trinovantes and other tribes to join her Iceni forces, and started a rebellion with around 100,000 soldiers behind her. First they attacked Camulodunum (today’s city of Colchester), next Verulamium (now St Albans) and then Londinium (modern-day London). None of the cities were very well defended, and it is estimated that the fierce queen’s army killed as many as 70-80,000 Romans and British.
The Roman governor of Britain at the time was Gaius Suetonius Paulinus. When he heard of the rebellion, he marched his troops south from north Wales, where they had been fighting, but saw that they could do nothing to save Londinium. So he went north again to the Midlands and waited for Boudica and the Britons. The Roman army was heavily outnumbered, but Suetonius had chosen a good position, in a valley, with a forest behind him. His men were well-trained and well-armed, and they won the Battle of Watling Street. Boudica died; some say as a result of injury, others think she and her daughters took poison to escape being captured by the enemy.