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The Ancient Sources for Boudica

How do we know about Boudica? No grave or physical evidence is known for her, and our primary ancient sources for Boudica and her revolt come from two Roman historians, Publius Cornelius Tacitus (ca. AD 56-117) and Cassius Dio (ca. AD 150-235). They give us two different versions of the story, including the reason for the revolt. Tacitus claims the revolt sprang from the ill treatment of the Iceni following Prasutagus' death while Dio writes that the cause of the uprising was a dispute over a loan.


Publius (or Gaius) Cornelius Tacitus, a Roman historian and politician, was one of the greatest Roman historians. What survives of his two major works—the Annals and the Histories—examine the reigns of the emperors Tiberius, Claudius, Nero, and those who reigned in the Year of the Four Emperors (69 AD). His writing on Boudica is found in the Annals xiv 29-39 and can be read in full here.

Cassius Dio

Lucius Cassius Dio (also known as Dio Cassius) was a Roman statesman and historian of Greek and Roman origin and who wrote in Greek, not Latin. He published 80 volumes of history on ancient Rome, written in ancient Greek over 22 years. What Cassius Dio has to say of Boudica can be read here.

Differences in their accounts - what do you think?

Read the two accounts and find where they differ from one another. Differences include the reason for the start of the revolt, but also the treatment of Boudica and her daughters and the cause of Boudica's death. Which source do you find most trustworthy and why?

Tacitus' account is generally accepted as being closer to the truth because his father-in-law, Gnaeus Julius Agricola (AD 40-93 CE) was not just an eye-witness but was the governor in Britain during the conquest. Agricola himself took part suppressing the revolt, serving under Suetonius as a young soldier in AD 60-61.

When reading ancient sources, always consider who the author is writing for, and why they are writing. If Tacitus was writing about his father-in-law, might flattery have played a role in his account? And what reasons might Cassius Dio have for writing, and how might this have affected his style and his treatment of matters such as Boudica's revolt?