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Reviewed by:
  • Boudica: Iron Age Warrior Queen
  • A. T. Fear (bio)
R. Hingley and C. Unwin. Boudica: Iron Age Warrior Queen. London: Hambleton and London, 2005. xii + 293 pp. 44 figs. 8 plates. ISBN 1-85285-438-3, £19.99.

Recently, after a long drought, there has been a flurry of interest, both scholarly and literary, in the ancient British queen Boudica. This work, divided into two equal sized halves—the first of which, entitled "Boudica," deals with the Queen's life and times, while the second, "Boadicea," is concerned with the ways in which the queen has been portrayed, or her memory deployed, after her death up to the present day—happily synthesizes the intellectual interests of much of these recent endeavors. [End Page 351]

"Boudica" begins with a broad chapter on the Celts of Britain and the early Roman period. This is useful background material, though of more interest to the general reader than a specialist. What perhaps is lacking here is a discussion of the Roman policy of establishing "client kingdoms," which would allow the reader to see the kingdom of the Iceni in a broader, empire-wide context.

The literary and archaeological sources concerned with Boudica are then discussed individually. There are copious illustrations and helpful maps, though occasionally the latter seem self-contradictory—for example, that on page xv with that on page 9, where the latter is surely correct. It is rightly emphasized that none of our literary texts (Tacitus in his Agricola and at greater length in the Annals, and Dio's much later account in his History) dealing with the uprising are straightforward accounts of the event, and are in many ways concerned with other matters. While one of these other matters is indeed the Roman attitude to powerful women, rather too much emphasis is placed on this point, and concern with "gender" is a topic upon which disproportionate emphasis is placed throughout the work. A more important issue for our sources is the contrast between incompetence, or worse, at the center and patriotism and bravery at the periphery. This point is sadly lost sight of here. Nevertheless, we are treated to a close and careful reading of the texts concerned. The contrast drawn between the two Tacitean accounts of the uprising is particularly helpful. We are shown that the Agricola diverges from the longer account in the Annals in strikingly surprising ways. Boudica, for example, is implied to be the queen of the Brigantes in the Agricola rather than the Iceni, as stated in the Annals, and whereas the Agricola has the queen storming Roman forts, in the Annals she is said to avoid them. The differences between the accounts of Boudica's last battle found in Tacitus and in Dio are also underlined. This latter divergence leads our authors to suggest that Dio may have had access to a non-Tacitean account of the battle. Sadly, no suggestion as to what this may have been is forthcoming, nor is there any discussion of how this difference—Tacitus presents an almost textbook account of a Roman battle, whereas Dio portrays a much more close-run encounter—has come about.

Noting that "it is very tempting for archaeologists to claim that their evidence has an association with Boudica" (69), a rigorous skepticism is deployed with regard to archaeological evidence which may be associated with the queen. It is firmly pointed out that much evidence which has been previously regarded as indubitably connected with the uprising—for example, the tombstone of Longinus Sdapeze in Colchester—may have a much more tenuous, or no link to it at all. This critical and fair-minded approach, which [End Page 352] extends to questioning the evidence for extensive destruction at St. Albans, is a useful corrective to many previous accounts, and serves to remind us how little we in fact know about the details of the uprising.

The second section of the book looks at Boudica's reputation through the ages. Much intriguing material is covered here, but it is at times marred once again by an over-emphasis on matters of "gender." While it is never easy to draw lines, perhaps Dio's account and...


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