Big, bad Boudica united thousands of ancient Britons against Rome

The Roman Empire's grip on Britannia was slipping when the Iceni queen's massive revolt scored several victories and burned London to the ground.

Warrior Queen

When depicting people from the past, artists often turn to historical documents and archaeology in search of details about someone’s features, garments, and possessions. To create a portrait of Boudica for the cover of National Geographic History, the artist turned to the ancient accounts of Roman historians (in particular, the second-and third-century Greco-Roman author Dio Cassius) and archaeological evidence to create a vivid depiction of the Iceni queen.
Illustration by Almudena Cuesta

Rebel, queen, warrior, widow, mother, woman–Boudica had many roles in her life despite only appearing in two historical sources, both written by Roman historians. Her leadership of a massive uprising in A.D. 60 not only ensured her a central place in history, but also revealed the complicated relationships between the colonizing Romans and the local population of ancient Britain.

The early second-century work of the Roman historian Tacitus is one of only two written sources on Boudica. The other was written in the third century by historian Dio Cassius. Each provides details about the British uprising: the causes, the characters, and the outcomes. These events are conventionally dated from A.D. 60 to 61. Recent research, however, suggests the upheaval may have been over by late A.D. 60, as information in recently discovered Roman writing tablets indicate that Londinium was once again a thriving commercial center at this time. (Ancient Roman 'IOUs' were found underneath London construction site.)

Readers of the accounts of Boudica’s revolt are presented with different perspectives from the two authors. Tacitus presents both sides of the story by describing the provocations endured by the Britons. Although himself a member of the Roman elite, Tacitus was not an admirer of dictatorial government, and he uses the rebellion to question the manner in which the province was being managed. (Learn about Joan of Arc's role in the Hundred Years' War.)

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