Boudica’s husband Prasutagus ruled as a nominally independent ally of Rome and left his kingdom jointly to his daughters and the Roman emperor in his will. However, when he died his will was ignored, and the kingdom was annexed. Boudica was flogged, her daughters raped, and Roman financiers called in their loans.
In AD 60 or 61, when the Roman governor Gaius Suetonius Paulinus was campaigning on the island of Anglesey off the northwest coast of Wales, Boudica led the Iceni, the Trinovantes, and others in revolt. They destroyed Camulodunum (modern Colchester), earlier the capital of the Trinovantes but at that time a colonia, a settlement for discharged Roman soldiers and site of a temple to the former Emperor Claudius. Upon hearing of the revolt, Suetonius hurried to Londinium (modern London), the 20-year-old commercial settlement that was the rebels’ next target.
The Romans, having concluded that they lacked sufficient numbers to defend the settlement, evacuated and abandoned Londinium. Boudica led 100,000 Iceni, Trinovantes, and others to fight Legio IX Hispana, and burned and destroyed Londinium, and Verulamium (modern-day St Albans). An estimated 70,000–80,000 Romans and British were killed in the three cities by those led by Boudica. Suetonius, meanwhile, regrouped his forces in the West Midlands, and despite being heavily outnumbered defeated the Britons in the Battle of Watling Street.
The crisis caused the Emperor Nero to consider withdrawing all Roman forces from Britain, but Suetonius’ eventual victory over Boudica confirmed Roman control of the province. Boudica then either killed herself, so she would not be captured, or fell ill and died. The extant sources, Tacitus and Cassius Dio, differ.
Interest in these events revived in the English Renaissance and led to Boudica’s fame in the Victorian era. Boudica has remained an important cultural symbol in the United Kingdom. However, the absence of native British literature during the early part of the first millennium means that knowledge of Boudica’s rebellion comes solely from the writings of the Romans.
Tacitus and Cassius Dio agree that Boudica was of royal descent. Dio describes her as “possessed of greater intelligence than often belongs to women.” He also describes her as tall, with tawny hair hanging down to below her waist, a harsh voice and a piercing glare. He notes that she habitually wore a large golden necklace (perhaps a torc), a colourful tunic, and a thick cloak fastened by a brooch.[
Boudicca’s husband, Prasutagus, was the king of the Iceni, a people who inhabited roughly what is now Norfolk. The Iceni initially voluntarily allied with Rome following Claudius’s conquest of Southern Britain AD 43. They were proud of their independence, and had revolted in AD 47 when the then Roman governor Publius Ostorius Scapula planned to disarm all the peoples in the area of Britain under Roman control following a number of local uprisings. Ostorius defeated them and went on to put down other uprisings around Britain. The Iceni remained independent. Tacitus first mentioned Prasutagus when he wrote about Boudica’s rebellion. We do not know whether he became the king after the mentioned defeat of the Iceni. We do not have any record as to whether the Iceni at that point were still Roman allies or had become a client kingdom.
Tacitus wrote “The Icenian king Prasutagus, celebrated for his long prosperity, had named the emperor his heir, together with his two daughters; an act of deference which he thought would place his kingdom and household beyond the risk of injury. The result was contrary — so much so that his kingdom was pillaged by centurions, his household by slaves; as though they had been prizes of war.” He added that Boudica was lashed and her two daughters were raped and that the estates of the leading Iceni men were confiscated.
Cassius Dio wrote: “An excuse for the war was found in the confiscation of the sums of money that Claudius had given to the foremost Britons; for these sums, asDecianus Catus, the procurator of the island maintained, were to be paid back.” He also said that another reasons was “the fact that Seneca, in the hope of receiving a good rate of interest, had lent to the islanders 40,000,000 sesterces that they did not want, and had afterwards called in this loan all at once and had resorted to severe measures in exacting it.”
Tacitus did not say why Prasutagus’ naming the emperor as his heir as well as his daughters was meant to avert the risk of injury. He did not explain why the Romans pillaged the kingdom, why they took the lands of the chiefs or why Boudica was flogged and her daughters were raped. Cassius Dio did not mention any of this. He said that the cause of the rebellion was the decision of the procurator of Britain (the chief financial officer) and Seneca (an advisor of the emperor Nero) to call in Prasutagus’ debts and the harsh measures which were taken to collect them. Tacitus does not mention these events. However, he wrote: “Alarmed by this disaster and by the fury of the province which he had goaded into war by his rapacity, the procurator Catus crossed over into Gaul.”
It has to be noted that this was happening while the governor of Britain, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, was away fighting in North Wales. We do not know whether he approved of these actions. We do not know who the centurions who pillaged the kingdom were and who sent them. The text of Cassius Dio seems to suggest that Seneca, who was a private citizen, was responsible for the violence. It is unlikely that a legion was sent to land of the Iceni as two of them were fighting at the island of Anglesey and the other two were stationed at their garrisons. Tacitus said that “It was against the veterans that their hatred was most intense. For these new settlers in the colony of Camulodunum drove people out of their houses, ejected them from their farms, called them captives and slaves …”  This could raise the possibility that it was the retired veterans (who were no longer subject to military discipline) who might have been called on to or hired to intervene in the kingdom of the Iceni and may help to account for the extent of the violence and abuse.
In AD 60 or 61, while the current governor, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, was leading a campaign against the island of Mona (modern Anglesey) in the north of Wales, which was a refuge for British rebels and a stronghold of the druids, the Iceni conspired with their neighbours the Trinovantes, amongst others, to revolt. Boudica was chosen as their leader. According to Tacitus, they drew inspiration from the example of Arminius, the prince of the Cherusci who had driven the Romans out of Germany in AD 9, and their own ancestors who had driven Julius Caesar from Britain. Dio says that at the outset Boudica employed a form of divination, releasing a hare from the folds of her dress and interpreting the direction in which it ran, and invoked Andraste, a British goddess of victory.
The rebels’ first target was Camulodunum (Colchester), the former Trinovantian capital and, at that time, a Roman colonia. The Roman veterans who had been settled there mistreated the locals and a temple to the former emperor Claudius had been erected there at local expense, making the city a focus for resentment. The Roman inhabitants sought reinforcements from the procurator, Catus Decianus, but he sent only two hundred auxiliary troops. Boudica’s army fell on the poorly defended city and destroyed it, besieging the last defenders in the temple for two days before it fell. Archaeologists have shown that the city was methodically demolished. The future governor Quintus Petillius Cerialis, then commanding the Legio IX Hispana, attempted to relieve the city, but suffered an overwhelming defeat. His infantry was wiped out—only the commander and some of his cavalry escaped. The location of this famous destruction of the Legio IX is now claimed by some to be the village of Great Wratting, in Suffolk, which lies in the Stour Valley on the Icknield Way West of Colchester, and by a village in Essex. After this defeat, Catus Decianus fled to Gaul.
When news of the rebellion reached him, Suetonius hurried along Watling Street through hostile territory to Londinium. Londinium was a relatively new settlement, founded after the conquest of AD 43, but it had grown to be a thriving commercial centre with a population of travellers, traders, and, probably, Roman officials. Suetonius considered giving battle there, but considering his lack of numbers and chastened by Petillius’s defeat, decided to sacrifice the city to save the province.
Alarmed by this disaster and by the fury of the province which he had goaded into war by his rapacity, the procurator Catus crossed over into Gaul. Suetonius, however, with wonderful resolution, marched amidst a hostile population to Londinium, which, though undistinguished by the name of a colony, was much frequented by a number of merchants and trading vessels. Uncertain whether he should choose it as a seat of war, as he looked round on his scanty force of soldiers, and remembered with what a serious warning the rashness of Petilius had been punished, he resolved to save the province at the cost of a single town. Nor did the tears and weeping of the people, as they implored his aid, deter him from giving the signal of departure and receiving into his army all who would go with him. Those who were chained to the spot by the weakness of their sex, or the infirmity of age, or the attractions of the place, were cut off by the enemy. — Tacitus
Londinium was abandoned to the rebels who burnt it down, slaughtering anyone who had not evacuated with Suetonius. Archaeology shows a thick red layer of burnt debris covering coins and pottery dating before AD 60 within the bounds of Roman Londinium; whilst Roman-era skulls found in the Walbrook in 2013 were potentially linked to victims of the rebels. Verulamium (St Albans) was next to be destroyed.
In the three settlements destroyed, between seventy and eighty thousand people are said to have been killed. Tacitus says that the Britons had no interest in taking or selling prisoners, only in slaughter bygibbet, fire, or cross. Dio’s account gives more detail; that the noblest women were impaled on spikes and had their breasts cut off and sewn to their mouths, “to the accompaniment of sacrifices, banquets, and wanton behaviour” in sacred places, particularly the groves of Andraste.