When Claudius invaded Britain, in 43, the Iceni offered no opposition, and voluntarily accepted Roman domination. Presumably as a reward, they were granted the status of a ‘client kingdom’. Though subject to Rome, the government of a client kingdom was handed to a, pro-Roman, native ruler. The Romans avoided the expense of garrisoning the territory; the ‘client king’ (or, indeed, queen) kept the peace, and was assured wealth and Roman backing against rivals. The contract was between Rome and the individual, so when the king died, the agreement died with him. The names of three British client rulers are known (there may well have been others), these are: Queen Cartimandua, of the Brigantes, ruling most of (what is now) northern England; King Togidubnus, south of the middle Thames; and King Prasutagus, of the Iceni, in East Anglia. Prasutagus' wife was called Boudica.


Silver unit: weight 1.27 g,
diameter 13 mm.
When Prasutagus began to rule is not known. It is conceivable that it was before the advent of the Romans. Perhaps he was installed by the Romans in 43, or maybe he supplanted a previous incumbent after the Icenian revolt of c.48. His name is provided by Tacitus. It is possible, however, that this is not correct. There are late Icenian coins (example on right), Romanized in style, with the inscription SVB ESVPRASTO on the obverse and ESICO FECIT on the reverse. It may be that this should be interpreted as “under Esuprasto, Esico made me” (Esico is presumed to be the moneyer). It is possible that this Esuprasto is a completely different individual, but there is a widespread belief that he and Prasutagus are one and the same.
The name of Prasutagus' wife translates from the Greek of Dio Cassius as Boudouica. To Tacitus she was Boudicca. For many years she was known by a corrupted version of Tacitus' spelling: Boadicea. Modern scholarship, however, suggests that her true name was Boudica, which, being derived from a Celtic word meaning ‘victory’, equates to, the modern name, Victoria.
In the ‘Annals’, Tacitus' account of Boudica's rebellion and its aftermath is placed under the year 61. It is clear, though, that the events reported straddle two years. Most modern authorities agree that the balance of evidence points to the rebellion having begun in 60.
In the year 60, Prasutagus died. Governor Gaius Suetonius Paullinus was campaigning in, a stronghold of British resistance to Rome, the island of Mona (Anglesey). Tacitus:
“While he was thus occupied, the sudden revolt of the province was announced to Suetonius.
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. As a beginning, his wife Boudicca was subjected to the lash and his daughters violated: all the chief men of the Icenians were stripped of their family estates, and the relatives of the king were treated as slaves. Impelled by this outrage and the dread of worse to come – for they had now been reduced to the status of a province – they flew to arms, and incited to rebellion the Trinovantes and others, who, not yet broken by servitude, had entered into a secret and treasonable compact to resume their independence.”Supplement
‘Annals’ Book XIV Chapters 30–31
Dio Cassius:
“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, as Decianus Catus, the procurator [finance official] of the island, maintained, were to be paid back. This was one reason for the uprising; another was found in 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. But 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 Boudouica, a Briton woman of the royal family and possessed of greater intelligence than often belongs to women. This woman assembled her army, to the number of some 120,000, and then ascended a tribunal which had been constructed of earth in the Roman fashion. In stature she was very tall, in appearance most terrifying, in the glance of her eye most fierce, and her voice was harsh; a great mass of the tawniest hair fell to her hips; around her neck was a large golden necklace; and she wore a tunic of divers colours over which a thick mantle was fastened with a brooch. This was her invariable attire.”
Dio Cassius (Xiphilinus) ‘Romaika’ Epitome of Book LXII Chapter 2
At this point in his narrative, Dio puts a lengthy rallying speech into Boudica's mouth.Supplement
“Having finished an appeal to her people of this general tenor, Boudouica led her army against the Romans; for these chanced to be without a leader, inasmuch as Paulinus, their commander, had gone on an expedition to Mona, an island near Britain.”
Dio Cassius (Xiphilinus) ‘Romaika’ Epitome of Book LXII Chapter 7
The first target of Boudica's army was the ‘colonia’ – colony of legionary veterans (established, probably in 49, by, the then governor, Publius Ostorius Scapula) – at Camulodunum (Colchester, Essex). Tacitus:
“The bitterest animosity was felt against the veterans; who, fresh from their settlement in the colonia of Camulodunum, were acting as though they had received a free gift of the entire country, driving the natives from their homes, ejecting them from their lands – they styled them “captives” and “slaves” – and abetted in their fury by the troops, with their similar mode of life and their hopes of equal indulgence. More than this, the temple raised to the deified Claudius continually met the view, like the citadel of an eternal tyranny; while the priests, chosen for its service, were bound under the pretext of religion to pour out their fortunes like water. Nor did there seem any great difficulty in the demolition of a colonia unprotected by fortifications – a point too little regarded by our commanders, whose thoughts had run more on the agreeable than on the useful.
The above bronze head, usually said to be of Claudius (though Nero is also a possibility), was found in the River Alde at the village of Rendham, Suffolk, in 1907. The head has been broken away from a statue. There is no real evidence, but a widely accepted hunch is that the statue was at Camulodunum; that it was destroyed by the rebels and the head carried off as a trophy; perhaps being hurled into the river as an offering to the gods. In 1979, part of the leg of a bronze horse was found at Ashill, Norfolk. Apparently, metallurgical analysis has suggested that head and leg could both have come from the same statue.
Photograph courtesy of the British Museum.
Meanwhile, for no apparent reason, the statue of Victory at Camulodunum fell, with its back turned as if in retreat from the enemy. Women, converted into maniacs by excitement, cried that destruction was at hand and that alien cries had been heard in the invaders' senate-house: the theatre had rung with shrieks, and in the estuary of the Thames had been seen a vision of the ruined colonia. Again, that the Ocean had appeared blood-red and that the ebbing tide had left behind it what looked to be human corpses, were indications read by the Britons with hope and by the veterans with corresponding alarm. However, as Suetonius was far away, they applied for help to the procurator Catus Decianus. He sent not more than two hundred men, without their proper weapons: in addition, there was a small body of troops in the town. Relying on the protection of the temple, and hampered also by covert adherents of the rebellion who interfered with their plans, they neither secured their position by fosse or rampart nor took steps, by removing the women and the aged, to leave only able-bodied men in the place. They were as carelessly guarded as if the world was at peace, when they were enveloped by a great barbarian host. All else was pillaged or fired in the first onrush: only the temple, in which the troops had massed themselves, stood a two days' siege, and was then carried by storm. Turning to meet Petilius Cerialis, commander of the Ninth Legion, who was arriving to the rescue, the victorious Britons routed the legion and slaughtered the infantry to a man: Cerialis with the cavalry escaped to the camp, and found shelter behind its fortifications. Unnerved by the disaster and the hatred of the province which his rapacity had goaded into war, the procurator Catus crossed to Gaul.
Suetonius, on the other hand, with remarkable firmness, marched straight through the midst of the enemy upon Londinium [London]; which, though not distinguished by the title of colonia, was none the less a busy centre, chiefly through its crowd of merchants and stores. Once there, he felt some doubt whether to choose it as a base of operations; but, on considering the fewness of his troops and the sufficiently severe lesson which had been read to the rashness of Petilius, he determined to save the country as a whole at the cost of one town. The laments and tears of the inhabitants, as they implored his protection, found him inflexible: he gave the signal for departure, and embodied in the column those capable of accompanying the march: all who had been detained by the disabilities of sex, by the lassitude of age, or by local attachment, fell into the hands of the enemy. A similar catastrophe was reserved for the municipium of Verulamium [St.Albans, Hertfordshire]; as the natives, with their delight in plunder and their distaste for exertion, left the forts and garrison-posts on one side, and made for the point which offered the richest material for the pillager and was unsafe for a defending force. It is established that close upon seventy thousand Roman citizens and allies fell in the places mentioned. For the enemy neither took captive nor sold into captivity; there was none of the other commerce of war; he was hasty with slaughter and the gibbet, with arson and the cross, as though his day of reckoning must come, but only after he had snatched his revenge in the interval.”
Tacitus ‘Annals’ Book XIV Chapters 31–33
“Those who were taken captive by the Britons were subjected to every known form of outrage. The worst and most bestial atrocity committed by their captors was the following. They hung up naked the noblest and most distinguished women and then cut off their breasts and sewed them to their mouths, in order to make the victims appear to be eating them; afterwards they impaled the women on sharp skewers run lengthwise through the entire body. All this they did to the accompaniment of sacrifices, banquets, and wanton behaviour, not only in all their other sacred places, but particularly in the grove of Andate. This was their name for Victory, and they regarded her with most exceptional reverence.
... [Paullinus] was not willing to risk a conflict with the barbarians immediately, as he feared their numbers and their desperation, but was inclined to postpone battle to a more convenient season. But as he grew short of food and the barbarians pressed relentlessly upon him, he was compelled, contrary to his judgment, to engage them.”
Dio Cassius (Xiphilinus) ‘Romaika’ Epitome of Book LXII Chapters 7–8
“Suetonius had already the Fourteenth Legion, with a detachment of the Twentieth and auxiliaries from the nearest stations, altogether some ten thousand armed men, when he prepared to abandon delay and contest a pitched battle. He chose a position approached by a narrow defile and secured in the rear by a wood, first satisfying himself that there was no trace of an enemy except in his front, and that the plain there was devoid of cover and allowed no suspicion of an ambuscade. The legionaries were posted in serried ranks, the light-armed troops on either side, and the cavalry massed on the extreme wings. The British forces, on the other hand, disposed in bands of foot and horse were moving jubilantly in every direction. They were in unprecedented numbers, and confidence ran so high that they brought even their wives to witness the victory and installed them in waggons, which they had stationed just over the extreme fringe of the plain.”
Tacitus ‘Annals’ Book XIV Chapter 34
“Boudouica, at the head of an army of about 230,000 men, rode in a chariot herself and assigned the others to their several stations. Paulinus could not extend his line the whole length of hers, for, even if the men had been drawn up only one deep, they would not have reached far enough, so inferior were they in numbers; nor, on the other hand, did he dare join battle in a single compact force, for fear of being surrounded and cut to pieces. He therefore separated his army into three divisions, in order to fight at several points at one and the same time, and he made each of the divisions so strong that it could not easily be broken through.”
Dio Cassius (Xiphilinus) ‘Romaika’ Epitome of Book LXII Chapter 8
A bronze statue of Boudica and her daughters, designed by Thomas Thornycroft (1815–85), standing on the Thames Embankment at Westminster.
(There is no evidence to suggest that real British chariots had blades attached to their wheels.)
“Boudicca, mounted in a chariot with her daughters before her, rode up to clan after clan and delivered her protest:– “It was customary, she knew, with Britons to fight under female captaincy; but now she was avenging, not, as a queen of glorious ancestry, her ravished realm and power, but, as a woman of the people, her liberty lost, her body tortured by the lash, the tarnished honour of her daughters. Roman cupidity had progressed so far that not their very persons, not age itself, nor maidenhood, were left unpolluted. Yet Heaven was on the side of their just revenge: one legion, which ventured battle, had perished; the rest were skulking in their camps, or looking around them for a way of escape. They would never face even the din and roar of those many thousands, far less their onslaught and their swords! – If they considered in their own hearts the forces under arms and the motives of the war, on that field they must conquer or fall. Such was the settled purpose of a woman – the men might live and be slaves!”
Even Suetonius, in this critical moment, broke silence. In spite of his reliance on the courage of the men, he still blended exhortations and entreaty:– “They must treat with contempt the noise and empty menaces of the barbarians: in the ranks opposite, more women than soldiers meet the eye. Unwarlike and unarmed, they would break immediately, when, taught by so many defeats, they recognized once more the steel and the valour of their conquerors. Even in a number of legions, it was but a few men who decided the fate of battles; and it would be an additional glory that they, a handful of troops, were gathering the laurels of an entire army. Only, keeping their order close, and, when their javelins were discharged, employing shield-boss and sword, let them steadily pile up the dead and forget the thought of plunder: once the victory was gained, all would be their own.”Supplement Such was the ardour following the general's words – with such alacrity had his seasoned troops, with the long experience of battle, prepared themselves in a moment to hurl the pilum [javelin] – that Suetonius, without a doubt of the issue, gave the signal to engage.
At first, the legionaries stood motionless, keeping to the defile as a natural protection: then, when the closer advance of the enemy had enabled them to exhaust their missiles with certitude of aim, they dashed forward in a wedge-like formation. The auxiliaries charged in the same style; and the cavalry, with lances extended, broke a way through any parties of resolute men whom they encountered.”
Tacitus ‘Annals’ Book XIV Chapters 35-37
“... the armies approached each other, the barbarians with much shouting mingled with menacing battle-songs, but the Romans silently and in order until they came within a javelin's throw of the enemy. Then, while their foes were still advancing against them at a walk, the Romans rushed forward at a signal and charged them at full speed, and when the clash came, easily broke through the opposing ranks; but, as they were surrounded by the great numbers of the enemy, they had to be fighting everywhere at once. Their struggle took many forms. Light-armed troops exchanged missiles with light-armed, heavy-armed were opposed to heavy-armed, cavalry clashed with cavalry, and against the chariots of the barbarians the Roman archers contended. The barbarians would assail the Romans with a rush of their chariots, knocking them helter-skelter, but, since they fought without breastplates, would themselves be repulsed by the arrows. Horseman would overthrow foot-soldier and foot-soldier strike down horseman; a group of Romans, forming in close order, would advance to meet the chariots, and others would be scattered by them; a band of Britons would come to close quarters with the archers and rout them, while others were content to dodge their shafts at a distance; and all this was going on not at one spot only, but in all three divisions at once. They contended for a long time, both parties being animated by the same zeal and daring. But finally, late in the day, the Romans prevailed ...”
Dio Cassius (Xiphilinus) ‘Romaika’ Epitome of Book LXII Chapter 12
“The remainder [of the Britons] took to flight, although escape was difficult, as the cordon of waggons had blocked the outlets. The troops gave no quarter even to the women: the baggage animals themselves had been speared and added to the pile of bodies. The glory won in the course of the day was remarkable, and equal to that of our older victories: for, by some accounts, little less than eighty thousand Britons fell, at a cost of some four hundred Romans killed and a not much greater number of wounded. Boudicca ended her days by poison; while Poenius Postumus, camp-prefect of the Second Legion, informed of the exploits of the men of the Fourteenth and Twentieth, and conscious that he had cheated his own corps of a share in the honours and had violated the rules of the service by ignoring the orders of his commander, ran his sword through his body.”
Tacitus ‘Annals’ Book XIV Chapter 37
“Nevertheless, not a few [Britons] made their escape and were preparing to fight again. In the meantime, however, Boudouica fell sick and died. The Britons mourned her deeply and gave her a costly burial; but, feeling that now at last they were really defeated, they scattered to their homes. So much for affairs in Britain.”
Dio Cassius (Xiphilinus) ‘Romaika’ Epitome of Book LXII Chapter 12
“Had not Paulinus on hearing of the outbreak in the province rendered prompt succour, Britain would have been lost. By one successful engagement, he brought it back to its former obedience, though many, troubled by the conscious guilt of rebellion and by particular dread of the legate, still clung to their arms.”
Tacitus ‘Agricola’ Chapter 16
“The whole army was now concentrated and kept under canvas, with a view to finishing what was left of the campaign. Its strength was increased by Caesar [i.e. Emperor Nero], who sent over from Germany two thousand legionaries, eight cohorts of auxiliaries, and a thousand cavalry. Their advent allowed the gaps in the Ninth Legion to be filled with regular troops; the allied foot and horse were stationed in new winter quarters; and the tribes which had shown themselves dubious or disaffected were harried with fire and sword. Nothing, however, pressed so hard as famine on an enemy who, careless about the sowing of his crops, had diverted all ages of the population to military purposes, while marking out our supplies for his own property. In addition, the fierce-tempered clans inclined the more slowly to peace because Julius Classicianus, who had been sent in succession to Catus and was not on good terms with Suetonius, was hampering the public welfare by his private animosities, and had circulated a report that it would be well to wait for a new legate [i.e. governor]; who, lacking the bitterness of an enemy and the arrogance of a conqueror, would show consideration to those who surrendered. At the same time, he reported to Rome that no cessation of fighting need be expected until the supersession of Suetonius, the failures of whom he referred to his own perversity, his successes to the kindness of fortune.
Accordingly Polyclitus, one of the [imperial] freedmen, was sent to inspect the state of Britain, Nero cherishing high hopes that, through his influence, not only might a reconciliation be effected between the legate and the procurator, but the rebellious temper of the natives be brought to acquiesce in peace. Polyclitus, in fact, whose immense train had been an incubus to Italy and Gaul, did not fail, when once he had crossed the seas, to render his march a terror even to Roman soldiers. To the enemy, on the other hand, he was a subject of derision: with them, the fire of freedom was not yet quenched; they had still to make acquaintance with the power of freedmen; and they wondered that a general and an army who had accounted for such a war should obey a troop of slaves. None the less, everything was reported to the emperor in a more favourable light. Suetonius was retained at the head of affairs; but, when later on he lost a few ships on the beach, and the crews with them, he was ordered, under pretence that the war was still in being, to transfer his army to Petronius Turpilianus, who by now had laid down his consulate. The new-comer abstained from provoking the enemy, was not challenged himself, and conferred on this spiritless inaction the honourable name of peace.”
Tacitus ‘Annals’ Book XIV Chapters 38–39
Year of the Four Emperors    
Tacitus ‘Annals’ by John Jackson
Dio Cassius ‘Romaika’ by Earnest Cary
Seneca(?) ‘Apocolocyntosis’ by W.H.D. Rouse
Tacitus ‘Agricola’ by Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb
See: Atrebates, Belgae and Regni.
Also found spelled with a single ‘L’, i.e. Paulinus.
As more coins, with clearer inscriptions, have been found, the reading ESVPRASTO has superseded an earlier reading: RI PRASTO. Going by this earlier reading, the connection with Prasutagus seemed obvious – RI was assumed to mean ’king’ and PRASTO to be an abbreviation of the king's name.
Philosopher, statesman and dramatist, Lucius Annaeus Seneca (c.4BC–AD65) had been made an exile on Corsica, by Claudius, in 41. In 49, he was recalled to Rome by, Claudius' new wife, Agrippina, to become tutor to, her son by a previous husband, Nero. Seneca subsequently became Emperor Nero's advisor. He retired in 62, but in 65 he was accused of treachery and ordered, by Nero, to commit suicide.
Like a colonia, a municipium was self governing and had its own surrounding territory. However, whereas a colonia was a town created for retired legionaries (by definition, Roman citizens), the rank of municipium conferred some privileges of citizenship to an existing town (hence, a municipium was of lower status than a colonia). The mention by Tacitus is the only evidence that Verulamium was a municipium, and makes it the only reported municipium in Britain.
See: Iceni, Catuvellauni, Trinovantes and Cantiaci
The ‘Apocolocyntosis’ is the name usually given to a biting satire, traditionally attributed to Seneca, on the deification of Claudius. It was written soon after Claudius' death (in 54), and It contains, what would clearly seem to be, a reference to Camulodunum:
“Is it not enough that he [Claudius] has a temple in Britain, that savages worship him and pray to him as a god, so that they may find a fool to have mercy upon them?”
‘Apocolocyntosis’ Chapter 8
It is generally accepted that the 14th Legion (Legio XIV Gemina) was awarded the title ‘Martia Victrix’ for the part it played in defeating Boudica.
It is now, in the main, believed that the 20th Legion (Legio XX) gained the title ‘Valeria Victrix’ for the part it played in defeating Boudica. The meaning of the word ‘Valeria’ is, however, not certain, so there remains an element of doubt. It is possible that Valeria was already part of the legion's name prior to the Boudican revolt, indeed, it is conceivable that it is all pre-Boudican. The modern view, though, tends to be that the title was awarded, as a whole, in recognition of the legion's role in the crushing of Boudica's rebellion – certainly, it is not attested by epigraphic evidence before that time, and ‘Valeria’ alone is nowhere attested.
Gaius Julius Alpinus Classicianus was a member of the Gallic aristocracy. He died during his term in Britain. Pieces of his tombstone were found, in London, in 1852, 1885 and 1935. They had been incorporated into the Roman city's wall during the 4th century. The reconstructed memorial is in the British Museum.
In full: Quintus Petillius Cerialis Caesius Rufus, who would become governor of Britain in 71.
The correct spelling is, apparently, with a double ‘L’.