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Thomas Thornycroft's Boadicea and Her Daughters

An Introduction to Boudica

The name Boudica or Boudicca (also known as Boadicea or in Welsh, Buddug) is known from a couple of ancient sources. Tacitus (Annals) calls her Boudicca, while Cassius Dio (Roman History), who wrote in Greek, called her Βουδουῖκα - Boudouika. As the name, however it is spelt, is linked to the Celtic word for 'victory', it is unclear if this was her real name, or a title bestowed upon her.

In Celtic the name was most probably pronounced along the lines of Boadika, the 'Boa' sound like the bow of 'bow and arrow'. Boudica was a queen of the Iceni tribe who were based around modern day Norfolk. She led an uprising against the Romans in AD 60 or 61 and died following her defeat, perhaps by poisoning herself.

Her characteristic image, with long flaming hair, is a modern invention. Cassius Dio is the only author to give us a description (this from a man who was born a hundred years after her death). He describes her in the following way (LXII 2.2):

In stature she was very tall, in appearance most terrifying, in the glance of her eye most fierce, and her voice was harsh; 4 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.

The word he uses for hair colour is ξανθοτάτος - xanthotatos - meaning 'most golden'. With xanthos in Greek referring to anything from blonde through to auburn, it is difficult to tell what hair colour Cassius Dio imagined. But perhaps even in Roman times the idea of the fiery Celtic redhead was already a thing.