Boudica, Queen of the Iceni
If Golda Meir took on the Arab world, and won, our next woman in power and war is Boudica, the Celtic, Iceni queen who picked a fight with the Roman Empire and almost won.
Boudica is one of those obscure historical figures whose life story has been manufactured almost entirely by popular legend. She is a central figure of the traditional British resistance to occupation, and an icon of the feminist movement. Described by Roman historian Cassius Dio as ‘possessed of greater intelligence than often belongs to women’, Boudica was of noble, perhaps even royal birth. How she became queen of the Iceni, however, is not entirely understood, and, in fact, most of what is known about her is from Roman records.
The Roman occupation of Britain began in AD 43, under Emperor Claudius. The province of Britannia was held entirely by force of arms, simply because the various British tribes, not to mention the Scottish, were utterly inimical to conquest. At the moment Roman military force was withdrawn, the tribes resurged, backing down again only when thoroughly defeated. Typically, when the Romans were engaged with one tribe, another would immediately rise up and cause havoc.
In about 60 AD, while the Roman governor, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, was leading a campaign in the north of Wales, the Iceni, a tribe of the eastern bulge of England, known now as East Anglia, began to conspire with other tribes to stage a coordinated revolt. To lead this revolt, Boudica, Queen of the Iceni, was chosen.
One can only really speculate what the attributes of this young woman were that led to her election to lead a war, and in particular, a war where the stakes were so high. If defeated, Roman retribution would be swift and terrible. Initially, however, the omens were good. The British rebels marched on the Roman market town of Colchester, and unprepared for any such thing, the Roman garrison, and a Roman relief force, was virtually annihilated.
From there, the victorious horde, led by the wild and ferocious Boudica, bore down on London, or Londinium. With the Governor and his army in Wales, the city was abandoned, and the raiding army destroyed it, killing everyone, Roman or collaborator, that they could get their hands on.
Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, when the news reached him, hurried back, and rallying the Roman population, led his army to meet Boudica. Now facing a constituted, and well-led Roman army, defeat was almost inevitable. The Britons fought hard, but were in the end overwhelmed, and the Romans did precisely what expected, and launched into a general slaughter. Boudica exhorted her troops from her chariot, her daughters beside her, but in the end, she killed both herself and her daughters to keep them out of Roman hands.