Military Heritage Magazine November 2015
Boudicca, Britain’s Warrior Queen
By Ludwig Heinrich Dyck
“I thank thee Andraste and call upon you woman to woman…I pray to thee for victory,”1 Boudicca
The Roman eagle had sunk its claws deep into Britannia but all that Rome had gained was nearly lost, when Roman avarice and cruelty drove the tribes into revolt.
“The lash bit into the flesh of the woman’s back, beaten raw by metal balls tied into the ends of leather thongs. Her arms bound to a post, she wallowed in a pool of her own blood. She was Boudicca, queen of the Iceni.”
“Boudicca’s late husband’s goodwill meant nothing to the Romans. Surrounded by Roman provincial territory, the Iceni lands seemed ripe for exploitation.”
“Nothing is any longer safe from [the Romans’] greed and lust…cowards seize our homes, kidnap our children, and conscript our men” such were their common sentiments according to Roman historian Tacitus. Iceni nobles, their warrior routines and rural tribesmen, all were ready to follow Boudicca into battle. Fields remained unplowed and unsown but forges blazed, with the smithing of axe, spear and sword blade.
“Boudicca proudly ascended a raised platform of earth to face an ocean of humanity. Over 100,000 Briton men and women, veterans and youngsters looked to her for inspiration. Her hair cascading down to her hips, her eyes fierce and wild, her hands grasping a spear, Boudicca was tall, beautiful and terrifying.”
Governor Suetonius was busy demolishing the druid groves on Mona when news arrived of Boudicca’s rebellion. One of Rome’s leading commanders, Suetonius had previously crushed a Moor uprising in Africa. In the conquest of Mona, Suetonius had sought an equal to his rival Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo’s re-conquest of Armenia. Suetonius’ men had faced black-robed women, their hair wild like that of the Furies, who brandished torches while druids, according to Tacitus, raised “their hands to the heavens and screamed dreadful curses.” Suetonius recalled the faces of his legionaries, paralyzed with superstitious fear at the sight of fanatical women, until, urged on by their centurions, the legionaries had charged forward to destroy the enemy “in the flames of their own torches.”
Again it was a woman, Boudicca, who was Suetonius’ most formidable foe and who gave the misogynist Romans, in Dio’s words, “the greatest shame.”
Ludwig H. Dyck’s article about Boudicca, the defiant queen of the Iceni and her fateful struggle with the redoubtable might of Rome is featured in the Soldiers column of Military Heritage Magazine’s November 2015 issue.
1. Dio, Roman History, translated by Earnest Cary (London: William Heinemann LTD., 1914) 62. 6, 7