Mother -- Queen -- Warrior
The sacking of Londinium, AD 60
by Richard Sorrell (Museum of London)
Far below the modern streets of the City of London the events of AD 60
are indelibly scorched on the soil as a red layer of burnt debris....
Peter Marsden,
Roman London
(referring to the so-called 'red layer' 13 feet below ground)
What followed is a terrible testament to the Celtic peoples' independent spirit, and their anger and outrage against their oppressors.  The first Roman stronghold to fall was Camulodunum (today's Colchester), where numerous acts of defiance against their leaders' uncharacteristically heavy-handed rule had made the Romans uneasy for quite some time.  But not uneasy enough to expect anything like this, this army of 120,000 marching against them (much less, of course, an army led by a woman!).  Their confidence in themselves as the absolute rulers of all they surveyed certainly contributed to their defeat -- however temporary.  Our old friend, the Procurator Catus Decianus "whose rapacity had driven the province to war," as Tacitus points out, fled the country with his officers and left the provice without a ruling government.

Boadicea next turned her army toward Londinium (the year was 60 AD).  The Roman army under the command of Governor Suetonius, who had led an offensive against the Druids at Mona, took one look, deemed the city indefensible, and abandoned it's civilian population to their fate (and a terrible fate it would be).  Londinium of this time was not a military stronghold but a major trading center, where Roman merchants had gotten rich off the backs of the Britons.  A city without much in the way of fortification, it was sacked, burned, destroyed, its citizenry, those who did not manage to flee, were slaughtered.  It is reported that the treatment of the Londinians was especially savage.  If not really justifiable, then certainly understandable in light of what the Britons were suffering from the hands of the Romans.

But in the end, the Romans gathered their strength and in a decisive and calculated strike, the troops of Suetonius finally bested Boadicea's army in the year 61 AD.  It is said that her dead numbered some eighty thousand.  Suetonius was an experienced warrior, a man who had the advantage of years of Roman military training and experience; Boadicea 'only' a woman, but one driven by righteous anger, as well as a thirst for revenge and a desire to free her people, strengthened by her devotion to the Goddess Adraste, to whom she offered sacrifices before battle.

The place of this final battle is unknown, as is Boadicea's own fate.  Reportedly, she survived.  Tacitus tells us she took poison and thus died by her own hand, Dio tells us she fell sick and died.  Sickness caused by poison?  We don't know.  But it stands to reason that she did not want to fall into the hands of the Romans again.  Did her daughters die with her?  They are never mentioned again.  Their names, as well as their fate, is another of history's mysteries.

As is the location of Boadicea's grave.  Many places have been designated as such (Dio tells of a "costly burial," Tacitus says nothing).  Even Stonehenge has been mentioned as her monument, but that was back in the 17th century (before they figured out Stonehenge was several thousand years too old for that honour).

But it is uncertainty, not knowledge, that fires our imagination and has transported Boadicea into the realm of legend.

The Britons, however, were made to suffer for a long time for their courage, inspired by a great woman, and by their desire to throw off the yoke of Roman imperialism. 

As for the story of Boadicea, it almost ended with her death and burial in an unknown grave.  Her name faded from memory, her heroic deeds forgotten by history.  Until the 14th Century, when Tacitus' manuscripts were discovered in a monastery library.
Page 1 --  Page 2
Description by Tacitus of the Rebellion of Boudicca (AD 60-61)
Mata Hari ... did she or didn't she?
Legends & Faery Tales Index
This page and background created in celebration of
Women's History Month, March 2001, by Val Grant.
Images copyrighted to the original copyright holders.