Lost Women of History: Boudicca

Editor’s note: I have always been a strong proponent of making education about, celebration of, and respect for history a significant part of the feminist movement. The entire first chapter of A Little F’d Up: Why Feminism Is Not A Dirty Word is actually a broad overview of the incredible women who came before us. Trailblazing women are routinely left out of the history books and, beyond this being insulting to their brave and historic work and memory, it can often lead to young women today failing to realize just how far we’ve come in a relatively short period of time. So, in that spirit, we’re starting a series on the FBomb devoted to remembering some of these figures.

"...a terrible disaster occurred in Britain. Two cities were sacked, eighty thousand of the Romans and of their allies perished, and the island was lost to Rome. Moreover, all this ruin was brought upon the Romans by a woman, a fact which in itself caused them the greatest shame” -Cassius Dio

The story of Boudicca, the Celtic Queen who waged a brave battle against the Roman Empire in 60 AD, is only recorded in two classical manuscripts, condemning her inspiring story to the shadows of history. However, the rebellion of Boudicca has an important place in British history.  Although Boudicca did not win her war, she inspired her people while showing the world the true potential and strength of women.

Boudicca was the wife of King Prasutagus of the Iceni. The Iceni were a Celtic tribe located in an area of southern Britain known as East Anglia. When the King died, he left his kingdom to be shared by both his two daughters and Nero, the new Roman Emperor.  However, sharing power with women was not accepted under Roman law and it would be embarrassing for a Roman man to treat a woman as an equal.  The Romans took advantage of Prasutagus’ death. According to the Roman historian Tacitus: “Kingdom and household alike were plundered like prizes of war, the one by Roman officers, the other by Roman slaves. As a beginning, his widow Boudicca was flogged and their daughters raped. The Icenian chiefs were deprived of their hereditary estates as if the Romans had been given the whole country. The king's own relatives were treated like slaves.”

Boudicca refused to watch passively as her culture and people were oppressed, uniting with other tribal forces to combat the invaders.  According to another Roman historian, Cassius Dio, “the person who was chiefly instrumental in rousing the natives and persuading them to fight the Romans, the person who was thought worthy to be their leader and who directed the conduct of the entire war, was Boudicca, a Briton woman of the royal family and possessed of greater intelligence than often belongs to women.”  Although he compliments her at the expense of women in general, he admits that at least one woman is capable of achieving great things for her people.

Although the Romans triumphed in the end, and Boudicca died (possibly by suicide), her rebellion is an example of indigenous people joining forces and rising up against their oppressors.  She was a strong political and military leader who was respected by the men of her culture and even those of her enemies.  Her life and her story should not be forgotten.

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Chloe Hallinan
WMC Fbomb Editorial Board Member
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