Silver Iceni Coin from the time of Boudicca, Britain, Late 1st Century BC
This is a “face/horse” type coin. It shows a Celticized head facing right; a branch behind. On the reverse, a horse prances right; a wheel above and a lozenge below.
Boudicca was queen of the Iceni tribe, a Celtic tribe of Britain, who led an uprising against the occupying forces of the Roman Empire.
The Iceni began producing coins c. 10 BC. They were a distinctive adaptation of the Gallo-Belgic “face/horse” design, and in some early issues, most numerous near Norwich, the horse was replaced with a boar. Some coins are inscribed ECENI, making them the only coin-producing group to use their tribal name on coins.
Boudicca, Celtic warrior queen of the Iceni people of Eastern England. After the Romans took their land, stripped her, flogged her and raped her daughters, she led a rebellion against them, destroying several cities and armies in the process. Badass.
Queen Boudicca probably isn’t a name you have heard before. For one thing, she wasn’t a real queen. (At least not by the standard definitions.) We only have two primary sources which mention her at all, and both of these historians date back to the first or second century AD.
The short version: Romans are assholes and Boudicca tries to fight back. She loses. The End.
So why the fuck should you care? Because Boudicca was a bonafide badass that’s why. During the first half of the first century AD, the native Britons/Celts lived in peace. But that all changed when the firenation Romans attacked. Emperor Claudius decided that the British isle looked like a lovely place for his vacation home (who wants a vacation home in England? It’s always raining) and began colonization. Some native tribes submitted to the emperor hoping their people would be spared.
Boudicca’s husband tells the Romans leave me the fuck alone and I’ll let you have half my land when I die. He left the rest of the land to his wife and daughters, because unlike pretty much every other civilization in existence during this time, the Celts knew what the hell gender equality was. Women could hold positions of authority or political power, own land, choose whom they married, and even initiate divorce. Boudicca’s husband dies and the land is left jointly to her and the Emperor, right? No fuck that, newly crowned emperor Nero Caesar says woman aren’t people and therefore all the land is his.
So in the Romans go. They flog Boudicca and force her to watch as her 12 year old daughters are tortured and raped. And of course nobody in Rome expects a women to be powerful, so they let her go. Probably a bad idea, considering at this point she was pissed.Boudicca gathers up 1-2 hundred thousand of her closest buddies and starts going on a rampage. She and her little band of freedom fighters destroy two major cities before getting to London. London (Londinium) was still a new settlement at the time, but it had a population of about 10,000. She sacks that too, beating up every pussy Roman general she found. She rode around in a chariot fighting these guys off with both her daughters fighting alongside. I don’t know about you, but after turmoil like that, if you see one of those woman riding straight for you with a spear you fucking run. The only sources we have describe Boudicca as a half naked mad women with wild red hair and tattoos. (on second thought, maybe i wouldn’t run away.)
Eventually Rome realizes that they’re messing with some serious lady power here. They send in plenty of backup and beat back the Celts. Boudicca, like the badass she is, escapes capture and takes her own life so that Rome can never have the honor of defeating her. Boudicca became a symbol for woman’s rights and empowerment. Queen Victoria took on Boudicca as her namesake. “Ironically, the great anti-imperialist rebel was now identified with the head of the British Empire, and her statue stood guard over the city she razed to the ground.”
Known for: British Celtic warrior queen who led a revolt against Roman occupation
Boadicea was the wife of Prasutagus, who was head of the Iceni tribe in East England, in what is now Norfolk and Suffolk.
In 43 CE, the Romans invaded Britain, and most of the Celtic tribes were forced to submit. However, the Romans allowed two Celtic kings to retain some of their traditional power; one was Prasutagus.
The Roman occupation brought increased Roman settlement, military presence, and attempts to suppress Celtic religious culture. There were major economic changes, including heavy taxes and money lending.
In 47 CE the Romans forced the Ireni to disarm, creating resentment. Prasutagus had been given a grant by the Romans, but the Romans then redefined this as a loan. When Prasutagus died in 60 CE, he left half his kingdom to the Emperor Nero to settle this debt.
The Romans arrived to collect, but instead of settling for half the kingdom, seized control of it. To humiliate the former rulers, the Romans beat Boadicea publicly, raped their two daughters, seized the wealth of many Iceni and sold much of the royal family into slavery.
The Roman governor Suetonius turned his attention to attacking Wales, taking two-thirds of the Roman military in Britain. Boadicea meanwhile met with the leaders of the Iceni, Trinovanti, Cornovii, Durotiges, and other tribes, who also had grievances against the Romans including grants that had been redefined as loans. They planned to revolt and drive out the Romans.
Led by Boadicea, about 100,000 British attacked Camulodunum (now Colchester), where the Roans had their main center of rule. With Suetonius and most of the Roman forces away, Camulodunum was not well-defended, and the Romans were drive out. he Procurator Decianus was forced to flee. Boadicea’s army burned Camulodunum to the ground; only the Roman temple was left.
Immediately Boadicea’s army turned to the largest city in the British Isles, Londinium (London). Suetonius strategically abandoned the city, and Boadicea’s army burned Londinium and massacred the 25,000 inhabitants who had not fled. Archaeological evidence of a layer of burned ash shows the extent of the destruction.
Next, Boadicea and her army marched on Verulamium (St. Albans), a city largely populated by Britons who had cooperated with the Romans, and they were killed as the city was destroyed.
Boadicea’s army had counted on seizing Roman food stores when the tribes abandoned their own fields to wage rebellion, but Suetonius had strategically seen to the burning of the Roman stores. Famine thus struck the victorious army, weakening them.
Boadicea fought one more battle, though its precise location is not sure. Boadicea’s army attacked uphill, and, exhausted, hungry, was easy for the Romans to rout. Roman troops of 1,200 defeated Boadicea’s army of 100,000, killing 80,000 to their own loss of 400.
What happened to Boadicea is uncertain. It is said she returned to her home territory and took poison to avoid Roman capture.
A result of the rebellion was that the Romans strengthened their military presence in Britain and also lessened the oppressiveness of their rule.
Boadicea’s story was nearly forgotten until Tacitus’ work, Annals, was rediscovered in 1360. Her story became popular during the reign of another English queen who headed an army against foreign invasion, Queen Elizabeth I.
She stood upon her chariot, spear in hand, a frightful sight and spoke:
‘I am avenging lost freedom, my scourged body, the chastity of my daughters. Behold the proud display of warlike spirits, and consider the motives for which we draw the avenging sword. On this spot we must either conquer or die with glory. There is no alternative. I am a woman but my resolution remains firm. You men can either fight or die.’
She was a very tall woman and she had a terrifying look. She had fierce eyes and harsh voice. Her tawny hair fell in great mass on her hips. About clothing, she dressed invariably a gold chain and a colorful tunic. All was covered by a thick cloak fixed by a brooch. While she was talking, she keep close a lance in order to terrorize anyone who looked at her.
Boadicea The Woman with the Sword During the Roman Empire, a number of foreign queens fought against the Roman rule, including Cleopatra, who sat on the throne of Egypt, and Queen Candace, who ruled the neighboring kingdom of Ethiopia. And then there was Boadicea. Her name came to mean “Woman with the Sword,” for she raised an army of 230,000 British men and women to defy the mighty power of Rome. Through her mother’s royal lineage she claimed descent from the kings of Troy and the Ptolemys of Egypt. Her marriage to Arviragus made her queen of the Iceni, who lived in Essex, Norfolk, and Cambridgeshire – today known as East Anglia inEngland.
From Women Warriors: Myths and Legends of Heroic Women by Marianna Mayer. Illustrations by Julek Heller.
Correction: Boadicea married King Prasutagus, not Arviragus. The quote is from the book.
This,” she said, “is not the first time that the Britons have been led to battle by a woman. But now she did not come to boast the pride of a long line of ancestry, nor even to recover her kingdom and the plundered wealth of her family. She took the field, like the meanest among them, to assert the cause of public liberty, and to seek revenge for her body seamed with ignominious stripes, and her two daughters infamously ravished. From the pride and arrogance of the Romans nothing is sacred; all are subject to violation; the old endure the scourge, and the virgins are deflowered. But the vindictive gods are now at hand. A Roman legion dared to face the warlike Britons: with their lives they paid for their rashness; those who survived the carnage of that day, lie poorly hid behind their entrenchments, meditating nothing but how to save themselves by an ignominious flight. From the din of preparation, and the shouts of the British army, the Romans, even now, shrink back with terror. What will be their case when the assault begins? Look round, and view your numbers. Behold the proud display of warlike spirits, and consider the motives for which we draw the avenging sword. On this spot we must either conquer, or die with glory. There is no alternative. Though a woman, my resolution is fixed: the men, if they please, may survive with infamy, and live in bondage.
“So the Queen Boadicea, standing loftily charioted,/Brandishing in her hand a dart and rolling glances lioness-like-” Will broke off at Tessa’s look of incomprehension and grinned. “Nothing? If you were English you’d know. Remind me to find a book about her for you. Regardless, she was a powerful warrior queen. When she was finally defeated, she took poison rather than let herself be captured by the Romans. She was braver than any man. ” -Clockwork Angel, Chapter 4: We Are Shadows, Page 93.