Defeat of Boudica

The battle which ended the Boudican Rebellion took place in Roman Britain in AD 60 or 61, and pitted an alliance of British peoples led by Boudica against a Roman army led by Gaius Suetonius Paulinus. Although heavily outnumbered, the Romans decisively defeated the allied tribes and inflicted heavy losses. The battle marked the end of resistance to Roman rule in most of the southern half of Great Britain, a period that lasted until 410 AD.[2] Modern historians are dependent for information about the uprising and the defeat of Boudica on the narratives written by the Roman historians Tacitus and Dio Cassius, which are the only surviving accounts of the battle known to exist.[3]

Defeat of Boudica
Part of the Boudican Rebellion
Watling Street route.jpg
Roman Britain with Watling Street highlighted in red. Watling Street was a strategic factor in the campaign and a suggested location for the final battle site.
DateAD 60 or 61
Probably the English Midlands

Roman victory

  • End of Boudica's revolt
  • Roman rule secured in Britain
Roman Empire Iceni, Trinovantes, and other British peoples
Commanders and leaders
Gaius Suetonius Paulinus Boudica
10,000[1] 100,000 - 230,000
Casualties and losses
400 dead[1] 80,000 dead[1]

The location of the battlefield is not known. Boudica's forces may have been moving west or north-west from the destruction of Londinium to meet Suetonius, who was trying to assemble legions that were scattered in the west of Britain in Isca Dumnoniorum (Exeter), Wroxeter, and North Wales. (The acting commander of the Legio II Augusta, in Isca, disobeyed orders to bring his troops and Legio II was not present.) Speculation has identified possible locations that include Flintshire (Wales) and multiple potential locations in the Midlands and Southern England, near the Roman roads between Londinium and the west and north-west.


In 43 AD Rome invaded southeastern Britain.[4] The conquest was gradual, and while some kingdoms were defeated in battle and occupied, others remained nominally independent as allies of the Roman empire.[5]

One such tribe was the Iceni in what is now Norfolk. Their king, Prasutagus, thought he had secured his independence by leaving his lands jointly to his daughters and to the Roman emperor, Nero, in his will. However, when he died, in 61 or shortly before, his will was ignored. The Romans seized his lands and violently humiliated his family: his widow, Boudica, was flogged and her daughters raped.[6] Roman financiers called in their loans.[7] At that time, the Roman Governor of Britain, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, was leading a campaign on the island of Mona (Anglesey), off the coast of north Wales, which had been a stronghold of resistance to Roman occupation.[8]

The Iceni rose in revolt. They joined with their neighbours the Trinovantes, whose former capital, Camulodunum (Colchester), was now a colony for Roman military veterans who had been accused of mistreating the locals. A huge temple to the former emperor Claudius had also been erected in the city at great expense to the local population, causing much resentment. The rebels descended on Camulodunum and destroyed it, besieging the last defenders in the temple for two days until it fell. All the inhabitants were killed.[9]

Boudica and her army next marched on Londinium (London). Suetonius arrived ahead of the rebels and concluded that he did not have the numbers to defend the city. He ordered Londinium to be evacuated before it was attacked and withdrew, taking as refugees those who wanted to escape. Londinium, too, was burned to the ground and Tacitus states that every inhabitant who did not leave was killed.[10]

While Boudica's army continued its assault, possibly in Verulamium (St. Albans), Suetonius regrouped his forces. According to Tacitus, he amassed a force including his own Legio XIV Gemina, parts of the XX Valeria Victrix and any available auxiliaries, a total of 10,000 men.[11] A third legion, II Augusta, at Isca (Exeter), failed to join him;[12] a fourth, IX Hispana, had been routed trying to relieve Camulodunum.[13]


Overwhelmingly outnumbered, Suetonius chose his battleground carefully. He selected a narrow defile with a forest behind, opening out into a wide plain. The sides of the defile protected the Roman flanks from attack and the forest would impede approach from the rear. These precautions would have prevented Boudica from bringing her considerable forces to bear on the Roman position other than from the front, and the open plain would have made surprise attacks impossible. Suetonius placed his legionaries in close order, with auxilia infantry on the flanks and cavalry on the wings.[13]

Boadicea by Thomas Thornycroft, depicting Boudica with her daughters in their chariot as she addresses troops before the battle.

As their armies deployed, the commanders would have sought to motivate their soldiers. Tacitus, who wrote of the battle more than 50 years later, imagined Boudica's speech to her followers:

'But now,' she said, 'it is not as a woman descended from noble ancestry, but as one of the people that I am avenging lost freedom, my scourged body, the outraged chastity of my daughters. Roman lust has gone so far that not our very persons, nor even age or virginity, are left unpolluted. But heaven is on the side of a righteous vengeance; a legion which dared to fight has perished; the rest are hiding themselves in their camp, or are thinking anxiously of flight. They will not sustain even the din and the shout of so many thousands, much less our charge and our blows. If you weigh well the strength of the armies, and the causes of the war, you will see that in this battle you must conquer or die. This is a woman's resolve; as for men, they may live and be slaves.'[14]

Although the Britons were gathered in considerable force, the Iceni and other tribes had been disarmed some years before the rebellion and it is thought they may have been poorly equipped.[3] They placed their wagons at the far end of the field, from where their families could watch what they may have expected to be an overwhelming victory.[11] Two Germanic leaders, Boiorix of the Cimbri and Ariovistus of the Suebi, are reported to have done the same thing in their battles against Gaius Marius and Julius Caesar, respectively.[15]

Tacitus also wrote of Suetonius addressing his legionaries:

Ignore the racket made by these savages. There are more women than men in their ranks. They are not soldiers — they are not even properly equipped. We have beaten them before and when they see our weapons and feel our spirit, they will crack. Stick together. Throw the javelins, then push forward: knock them down with your shields and finish them off with your swords. Forget about plunder. Just win and you will have everything.[16]

Although Tacitus, like many historians of his day, was given to inventing stirring speeches for such occasions, Suetonius's speech here is unusually blunt and practical. Tacitus's father-in-law, the future governor Gnaeus Julius Agricola, was on Suetonius's staff at the time and may have reported it fairly accurately.[17]

Boudica led her army across the plain and into the narrowing defile, and as the Britons advanced they were channelled into a tightly packed mass. Before they came into contact with the front line of Romans, the Roman infantry threw their pila, a type of javelin, to cut down many of the charging Britons and pierce the shields of others, forcing them to be discarded and leave the warriors exposed. When the Romans had exhausted their missiles, they advanced behind their shields in a wedge formation, wielding their short stabbing swords, into the tightly-packed Britons. With their superior armour, weapons, training and discipline, the Romans had a decisive advantage in the close-quarter fighting that followed. Their cavalry entered the battle on the flanks.

As the Britons' losses increased they tried to retreat, but their flight was blocked by their wagons and they were massacred. The Romans killed not only the warriors, but also the women and children and even the pack animals. Tacitus states that 80,000 Britons fell against the loss of only 400 Romans,[12] although the figures quoted for the campaign in ancient sources are regarded by modern historians as extravagant.[3][18]

Boudica's deathEdit

After the battle, Boudica is said by Tacitus to have poisoned herself;[12] Cassius Dio says she fell ill, died and was given a lavish burial.[19] Poenius Postumus, prefect of the Second Legion which had not marched to join the battle, thus robbing his men of a share of the glory, died by falling on his sword.[12]


The site of the battle is not identified by either historian, although Tacitus gives a brief description of it.[12] The location of the battle at which Boudica was defeated is unknown.[20] The last known location of the Roman army was north Wales whilst Boudica's army's last known location was Hertfordshire and so according to a historian, the final battle place of Boudica could have taken place anywhere between these locations.[21]

North east Wales theoryEdit

Tradition places Boudica's last battle on the Wyddelian road, Trelawnyd (previously Newmarket) in Flintshire, Wales.[22][23] This theory has been supported by two authors.[24][25] Morien suggests that Boudica, became supported by the Celts who were enraged at the killing of druids on the Menai straits, and proceeded to moved fast towards the Roman force in North Wales, with battle ensuing in Trelawnyd.[25] The mound "Bryn Paulin" of St Asaph suggests that the Roman Paulinus and his troops were present there on the way to or from the island of Mona (Anglesey).[26]

Eastern England theoryEdit

A wide variety of sites, all consistent with an army attacking from the area of London toward the Roman forces concentrating from the direction of Devon and Wales, has been suggested. One legend is said to place it at Battle Bridge Road in King's Cross, London, although from reading Tacitus it seems unlikely that Suetonius would have returned to the city.

Most historians favour potential location sites in The Midlands, probably along the Roman road between Londinium and Viroconium (Wroxeter) which became the Anglo-Saxon Watling Street and subsequently the A5.[citation needed]

Other plausible suggestions include;

Boudica's burial placeEdit

Boudica's burial site is popularly associated with Gop Hill Cairn in Trelawnwyd in Flintshire, Wales and there is a grave stone in the churchyard of Whitford with the inscription Latin: Hic iacit mulier bona nobili" (Here lies a good and noble wife), which locals refer to as "Carreg Fedd Buddug" in Welsh ("Buddug's gravestone"). The site has not gained consensus as the place of Boudica's last battle nor her burial place by archaeologists or historians.[37][38] The site's location as the likely burial place of Boudica has been supported by two authors.[39] [40] Morien suggests that Bryn Sion may have been the site where Boudica "fell" and that a golden torc found in 1816 in the area may have belonged to Boudica or one of her two daughters.[40]


It is said that the emperor Nero was so shaken by these events that he considered withdrawing from Britain altogether,[41] but with the revolt brought to a decisive end, the occupation of Britain continued. Fearing that Suetonius's punitive actions against the British tribes would provoke further rebellion, Nero replaced him with the more conciliatory Publius Petronius Turpilianus.[42]

While the defeat of Boudica consolidated Roman rule in southern Britain, northern Britain remained volatile. In AD 69 Venutius, a Brigantes noble, was to lead another less well documented revolt, initially inspired by tribal rivalry but soon becoming anti-Roman.[43]


  1. ^ a b c Ermatinger, James W. (31 May 2018). The Roman Empire: A Historical Encyclopedia [2 volumes]. ISBN 9781440838095.
  2. ^ Webster, Graham (1978). Boudica the British revolt against Rome, AD 60. London: Routledge. ISBN 0415226066.
  3. ^ a b c Bulst, Christoph M. (October 1961). "The Revolt of Queen Boudicca in A.D. 60". Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte. 10 (4): 496–509. JSTOR 4434717.
  4. ^ Cassius Dio, Roman History 19-22
  5. ^ Tacitus, Agricola 14
  6. ^ Tacitus Annals 14.31
  7. ^ Cassius Dio, Roman History 62.2
  8. ^ Tacitus, Annals 14.29-39, Agricola 14-16; Cassius Dio, Roman History 62.1-12
  9. ^ Tacitus, Annals 14.31-32
  10. ^ Tacitus, Annals 14.33
  11. ^ a b Tacitus, Annals 14.34
  12. ^ a b c d e Tacitus, Annals 14.37
  13. ^ a b Tacitus, Annals 14.32
  14. ^ Tacitus, Annals
  15. ^ Florus, Epitome of Roman History 1.38; Julius Caesar, Commentarii de Bello Gallico 1.51
  16. ^ Tacitus, Annals 14.36
  17. ^ Cassius Dio (Roman History 9-11) gives Suetonius a quite different speech.
  18. ^ Townend, G. B. (1964). "Some Rhetorical Battle-Pictures in Dio". Hermes. 92 (4): 479–80.
  19. ^ Cassius Dio, Roman History 62.12.6
  20. ^ "BBC – History – Boudicca". Retrieved 17 April 2017.
  21. ^ "Is Boudicca buried in Birmingham?". 25 May 2006. Retrieved 5 August 2022.
  22. ^ Morgan, R. W. (24 June 2022). St. Paul in Britain. BoD – Books on Demand. ISBN 978-3-375-06741-0.
  23. ^ Parry, Edward (1851). Royal visits and progresses to Wales, and the border counties.
  24. ^ Smart, Janet (10 January 2022). Boudica The Truth. eBook Partnership. ISBN 978-1-83952-420-2.
  25. ^ a b Vandrei, Martha (2018). Queen Boudica and Historical Culture in Britain.
  26. ^ Williams, Carolyn D. (2009). Boudica and Her Stories: Narrative Transformations of a Warrior Queen. University of Delaware Press. ISBN 978-0-87413-079-9.
  27. ^ Frere, Sheppard (1967). Britannia: a History of Roman Britain. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. p. 91.
  28. ^ Carroll, Kevin K. (1979). "The Date of Boudicca's Revolt". Britannia. 10: 197–202. doi:10.2307/526056. JSTOR 526056. S2CID 164078824.
  29. ^ "Boudica and Clifton... the final battle of the Celtic Revolt of AD60". Clifton-upon-Dunsmore Local History Group. Archived from the original on 4 February 2007. Retrieved 2 October 2019.
  30. ^ British History Online, Paulerspury pp 111-117, last paragraph.
  31. ^ Rogers, Byron (11 October 2003). "The original Iron Lady rides again". Daily Telegraph.
  32. ^ Evans, Martin Marix. "Boudica's last battle". Osprey Publishing. Archived from the original on 27 September 2007.
  33. ^ Appleby, Grahame A. (2009). "The Boudican Revolt: countdown to defeat". Hertfordshire Archaeology and History. 16: 57–65.
  34. ^ Pegg, John (2010). "Landscape Analysis and Appraisal: Church Stowe, Northamptonshire". {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  35. ^ Horne, Barry (2014). "Did Boudica and Paulinus meet south of Dunstable". South Midlands Archaeology. 44: 89–93.
  36. ^ Fuentes, Nicholas (1983). "Boudicca Revisited". London Archaeologist. 4 (12): 311–317.
  37. ^ Goucher, Candice (24 January 2022). Women Who Changed the World: Their Lives, Challenges, and Accomplishments through History [4 volumes]. ABC-CLIO. p. 206. ISBN 978-1-4408-6825-2.
  38. ^ Live, North Wales (2 May 2004). "Bring Boudicca back to Wales". North Wales Live. Retrieved 5 August 2022.
  39. ^ Smart, Janet (10 January 2022). Boudica The Truth. eBook Partnership. ISBN 978-1-83952-420-2.
  40. ^ a b Vandrei, Martha (2018). Queen Boudica and Historical Culture in Britain.
  41. ^ Suetonius, Nero 18, 39-40
  42. ^ Tacitus, Annals 38-39
  43. ^ Tacitus, Histories, 3.45

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