Boadicea and her destruction of Colchester.
Anno Domini 60 or 61
Much has been written about a warrior queen by the name of Boadicea, who gathered a huge army and rose up against the might of Roman rule in first century Britain. As far as we know, her first attack was made on the colonia of Britain, then known as Camulodunum, but now known as Colchester - Britain's oldest recorded town. Most of what has been written is pure conjecture. She is viewed as a British heroine and one that is linked to Colchester. For that reason this web page shows a little of how Colchester treats the memory of this formidable woman and enemy.
To set the matter straight, right from the beginning, we are using her name of Boadicea, as she has been known for centuries. Nobody knows how she pronounced or spelled her name, any more than we do of Jesus Christ. All we know is how others wrote her name - and that is fine with us. You may refer to her as Boudica, Boudicca, or whatever. It is unlikely that any of us have it right. To us at Camulos she will always be Boadicea, a true warrior queen.
We know of Boadicea through two writers: the Roman writer Publius or Gaius Cornelius Tacitus, in his "Agricola" (written around 98 AD) and "The Annals" (written around 109 AD), and another Roman writer named Dio Cassius Cocceianus, in his "The Rebellion of Boadicea" (written around 163 AD). Neither record is contemporary, so the accuracy of the record can only be guessed at. However, Tacitus is more likely to be accurate as his account would have come from his close links with the army/
Tacitus, the most important Roman historian of this period, took a particular interest in Britain as Gnaeus Julius Agricola, his father-in-law and the subject of his first book, served there three times. He was a military tribune under Suetonius Paulinus, which almost certainly gave Tacitus an eyewitness source for Boadicea's revolt.
Dio Cassius's sources are less certain. He is generally agreed to have based his account on that of Tacitus, but he simplifies the sequence of events and adds details, such as the calling in of loans, that Tacitus does not mention. He says of Boadicea:
"Boadicea was tall, terrible to look on and gifted with a powerful voice. A flood of bright red hair ran down to her knees; she wore a golden necklet made up of ornate pieces, a multi-coloured robe and over it a thick cloak held together by a brooch. She took up a long spear to cause dread in all who set eyes on her."
He reports that she committed all sorts of atrocities in the name of a goddess called Andraste, who he claims is the British equivalent of Victoria, the Roman goddess of victory.
Tacitus reports that "According to one report almost eighty thousand Britons fell" compared with only four hundred Romans. Boadicea, according to Tacitus, poisoned herself; Dio Cassius says she fell sick and died, and was given a lavish burial. One thing is for sure, the Roman writers gave no information about the alleged final battle took place and much speculation has been bandied about to claim the likely site. If 80,000 were put to the sword, as is claimed, wouldn't there have been some soil evidence - as was found to form the location of the German Varusslacht Museum.
We must assume that Boadicea wasn't stupid. Women don't tend to suffer the gung-ho warrior instinct. Surely she had a game plan, knowing, as she must have, that the Roman legions were far away when she attacked. She would equally have known that the legions would hot-foot it back when they heard of what was going on. Wouldn't she have dispersed her army after the attack on Verulamium and blended into obscurity in a safe haven somewhere? So who to believe? Does it matter? What is for certain is that we will never know the truth.
The following links will give more information:
It would not be correct to say that the people of Colchester have treated Boadicea as a heroine. After all is said and done, she destroyed the colonia and butchered its inhabitants - or so we are led to believe by writer's referring to the event over 30 years later. What we do have is the record left by Tacitus and Cassius Dio and the corroborating evidence of a layer of burnt earth and debris from that period, so often uncovered when archaeologists do their work in the centre of the town.
We accept Boadicea as a person who is very much a part of our history: somebody worthy of our respect and commemoration. So, for your information and a bit of fun, we offer you a few images of Boadicea in many guises, as portrayed in a Colchester setting.
An Edwardian stained glass impression of her in Colchester Town Hall.
Cartoon by Barrie Pearce
2000 years later!
Cartoon by Barrie Pearce
Statue to Boadicea at North Station by Jonathan Clarke of Bury St Edmunds
Boobica, alias Mike Hogg
The Boadicea Challenge Trophy
Statue to Boadicea
at St Benedict's School (Dec 2005)
You can pick up the story of Boadicea in Colchester here, as part of our Virtual Tour.
page created 070106
last updated 111212