Boudica: National heroine or murderous villain?

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1. National treasure or national disgrace?

When Boudica's army attacked Colchester around 60AD, she had Roman families hanged, burnt and crucified. Yet today her statue stands outside Parliament, immortalised as one of Britain’s first heroic patriots.

Boudica’s name means different things to different people – for you, she might be a brave warrior, a blue-faced Celtic superwoman or a feminist icon. Although Boudica bravely rose up against Roman rule in Britain, she also killed thousands of innocent people and led her own army into a bloody massacre. Perhaps it’s time to reassess Britain's brutal Iron Age freedom-fighter.

Warning: this guide features descriptions of extreme violence and brutality.

2. Building the legend

Boudica's story has become part of our national history. Click to reveal how it resurfaced during the life and times of these women:

Queen Elizabeth I

Elizabethan writers and artists thought Boudica's story mirrored their queen's own.

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Queen Elizabeth I

At Tilbury, like Boudica before her, Elizabeth addressed her army with a powerful speech as she prepared to fight a growing continental empire.

Queen Victoria

Thanks to a misspelling, Boudica became Boadicea.

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Queen Victoria

Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, commissioned the famous sculpture of Boudica that stands outside the houses of parliament.

The Suffragettes

Boudica became an icon for a new generation of women.

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The Suffragettes

The Suffragettes put Boudica on their posters, banners and badges. She was a rebel who proved women could rise up and fight against oppression.

Margaret Thatcher

Supporters, opponents and satirists saw Boudica in the 'Iron Lady'.

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Margaret Thatcher

During the Falklands war, opposition MP Denis Healey claimed the first female British prime minister charged about like a 'bargain-basement Boadicea'.

3. The ultimate betrayal

Boudica's story is one of transformation, from obedient citizen to the Roman Empire's deadliest enemy. Although we don't have any first-hand testimony, the accounts we do have were written by eminent Roman historians – Tacitus and Cassius Dio – both writing within a century of the events.

A friend of Rome

In the first century, Boudica married Prasutagus, king of the Iceni tribe and a good friend of the Romans. By the second half of the century, his kingdom was a client-state of Rome. In return for allegiance to the Emperor, the Iceni were allowed to live peacefully and in accordance with their native customs. This meant that Boudica and her family were in fact Roman citizens.

Prasutagus dies

The Iceni were betrayed when Prasutagus died. In his will, the king split his kingdom between his daughters and the Emperor Nero but Britannia’s financial minister ignored this and heavily taxed the tribe and ordered soldiers to occupy Iceni land. The Iceni were treated as slaves. Boudica objected but, according to Tacitus, the Romans refused to listen – they flogged the queen in front of her people and raped her two daughters.

The Celts rise up

Boudica could not allow such an affront to stand: she would teach the Romans a gruesome lesson. With the help of the Trinovantes, another tribe, she prepared to launch a campaign of blood-letting and butchery which would stretch across southern England…

4. A path of vengeance

Click on the icons to find out how Boudica's blood-soaked rebellion unfolded:

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5. Should Boudica be revered or reviled?

It's your chance to decide whether Boudica deserves a place in history alongside Britain's greatest men and women.

Revered

She was a fearless rebel who challenged the might of Rome.

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Revered

Her legacy has endured and inspired artists since Shakespeare – from Ben Jonson to Alfred, Lord Tennyson and The Libertines.

Reviled

She was nothing more than a sadistic killer.

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Reviled

Boudica's quest for revenge is thought to have claimed the lives of approximately 150,400 people, many of them Britons and defenceless Roman civilians.