Y'all know I like a good warrior queen. I'm fascinated by the prevalence --as much as many scholars might wish otherwise--of female warriors throughout history.(1) One of the first I ever learned about, so long ago that i don't even recall where i first heard her story, was Boudica.(2) I was in London over the holidays and saw the iconic Boudica sculpture that stands opposite Big Ben and so I was inspired to write about her. I honor our warrior ancestors, I speak for the military dead. I also honor our Polytheistic heroes and martyrs and in my opinion, Boudica fits both categories. Since returning from the UK, I've decided to consciously add her to my shrine for the warrior dead. She certainly left her mark in history.
Boy did she also piss off the Romans--a feeling i'm fairly sure given the facts was fairly mutual! Let me tell you her tale. I'll be telling it from memory but I'll give you a list of book recommendations as the end of this post should any of you want to learn more.
Boudica was Chieftain or Queen of a British tribe called the Iceni. Most scholars believe that her name means 'victory' or "victorious' which, given the circumstances is fitting. Boudica and her tribe were living during the time of Roman occupation but, through careful maneuvering had managed to maintain their freedom. When her husband died, the Romans, never one to respect female leadership, decided it was as good an opportunity as any to annex Iceni lands. They moved in. The Roman military leaders in the area had Boudica publicly flogged and her two daughters publicly raped. Then they took control of Iceni lands. This did not sit well with either Boudica or her people and she vowed a bloody revenge.
She raised a band of British warriors--and mind you, this area of the world has a history of female fighters. The people would not have been unaccustomed to following a woman into war. She raised her band of fighters comprised not only of Iceni but of other tribes as well and in 60 or 61 C.E. when the Roman governor of the province (Gaius Suetonius Paulinus) was out of the area marched in revolt. They routed more than one Roman legion, destroyed Colchester, and burnt Londinium (modern day London) to the ground. She and her people were not kind to the Romans and collaborators they captured. There was enough bloodshed and the fires were so fierce that to this day archaeologists can find a layer of burnt soil if they dig far enough below what was once Roman London.
Eventually Gaius Suetonius successfully defeated Boudica and her troops and reasserted control over the area. We don't exactly know what happened to Boudica. it's most commonly believed that she killed herself to avoid being captured and forced to march in a Roman triumph. Her near victory shook Roman leadership and she is sometimes liked to the German Arminius for the long term impact of her revolt.
One of my favorite parts of her story is that before making the final decision to ride into battle against Rome, Boudica made an offering to the Warrior Goddess Andraste, and released a hare (ostensibly Her sacred animal) observing its behavior and which way it ran for an omen of whether or not to proceed.
I think it's important to recognize our ancestors, particularly those ancestors who fought for us and who inspired us. Boudica fills that role for me. As someone who does so much work with the warrior dead, she's someone who stands out as worthy of honor.
Here are some books that folks might find helpful for learning more:
"Warrior Queens" by Antonia Fraser
"Boudica: The Life of Britain's Legendary Warrior Queen" by Vanessa Collingridge
"Boudica's Last Stand" by John Waite
"Boudica: The British Revolt Against Rome" by Graham Webster
"Roman Britain: A New History" by Guy de la Bedoyere
"History of Roman Britain" by Peter Salway
This is a good link as well:
1. Archaeologists seem to have a consistent problem in accurately identifying the graves of female warriors. Every excuse will be used other than that the body is that of a warrior who happened to be female. The current idiotic theory of choice is that any sword or spear buried with a woman (including women buried in full battle armor who died of battlefield injuries) had really been repurposed as a weaving implement. I kid you not. Several archaeologists Renate Rolle and Jeanine Davis Kimball most notable among them have been doing quite a bit of work to fight this bias, having noted the rampant mis-identification in Sauromatian graves. I recommend starting with Davis-Kimball's "Warrior Women" for those who want more info. She provides an extensive bibliography. This is also an interesting article:
2. There are several ways to spell her name: Boudica and Boadicea being the most common.