Boudicca is a historical figure of undeniable significance, “one of those rare individuals from the past who have become folk heroes…” (Hingley, R & Unwin, C, 2005, 7). In Iron Age Britain, Boudicca was able to emerge as a Queen with unwavering passion, determination and the upmost of bravery in her rebellion against Roman rule. It therefore seems fitting to assess her significance and the impact she had in the years following her defeat and subsequent death in AD 60 or 61. However, today we have an ambiguous understanding of her actions, deficient in adequate archaeological evidence. Yet through drawing on the contemporary and secondary sources available, a well crafted interpretation of Boudicca and her short term impact will hopefully be achieved. Much of our historical knowledge is sourced from two classical writers in particular, Tacitus and Cassius Dio, and their texts in existence.
Hingley and Unwin note that Tacitus was “writing within living memory of the events. His close relationship with his father-in-law, Agricola, suggests that some of his knowledge of historical events in Britain at this time may have been passed down directly to him” (Hingley & Unwin, 2005, 43).
One short term significance of Boudicca is thousands of brutal deaths. With a relentless lust for revenge after being treated like slaves in their own country (Ireland, 1986, 58), Boudicca’s determined rebels virtually destroyed the provinces three most economically and culturally affluent towns through bestial violence. There is certainly convincing evidence supporting Boudicca’s success at Camulodunum, where she ransacked and torched the city, targeting anything that symbolised Rome and its rule. Tacitus records that “They cried that in the local senate house outlandish yells had been heard; the theatre had echoed with shrieks: at the mouth of the Thames a phantom settlement had been seen in ruins. A blood-red colour in the sea…” (Hingley & Unwin, 2005, 48). Although archaeologists have searched for many years in hope of finding evidence of these statements, nothing had ever been discovered supporting the view that Tacitus expresses “a legend that had built up around events” (Hingley & Unwin, 2005, 49). However, archaeologists have found other evidence supporting such stories. A bronze head of the hated oppressor, Emperor Claudius, was discovered in river bed in 1907 (www.unc.edu/celtic/catalogue/boudica/claudius.html). It is believed the head was removed from a statue displayed outside of a public building in Camulodunum and was thrown into the river Alde as a votive offering to the gods. As well as this piece of contemporary evidence, the smashed tomb of Longinus, a Roman cavalry officer who was buried at Colchester, serves as vivid evidence representing the ruthless nature of the invasion. Thwaite mentions that “when Boudicca’s rebels reached Camulodunum, they smashed Longinus’s tombstone in two, and deliberately destroyed the proud face of the man on horseback” (Thwaite, 1976, 27). Boudicca’s most shocking act in Colchester however, was the destruction of the Roman temple in which masses of Roman men, women and children sought refuge during the siege. It has been stated that “when all else had been laid waste and burned at the (first) onset, the temple, in which the garrison had concentrated, was taken by storm after a two-day siege.”
London, at the time a growing commercial city, was left open for attack, and the horrors that followed were atrocious, with the enemy slaughtered “on the gibbet, the fire and the cross” (Dudley & Webster, 1963, 67). Archaeologists at Wessex Archaeology found evidence of deliberate desecration of a small cemetery. A coin found at the site indicates that the mutilated bodies are most probably a result of Boudicca’s sack of London (British Archaeology Magazine, 2003), supporting Dudley and Webster’s claims that Boudicca lead a massacre. In...