Heroine or villain? 'Trial' acquits Norfolk's Boudicca of 80,000 deaths

Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni, led a fierce and bloody uprising against the occupying forces of the R

Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni, led a fierce and bloody uprising against the occupying forces of the Roman empire (photo: Lebrecht Music & Arts/Alamy Stock Photo) - Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

Heroine or villain? It's a question which has been asked about Boudicca for centuries.

The female warrior, leader of the East Anglian Iceni tribe, led a revolt against occupying Roman forces from AD 60 to 61 after they went back on a promise to let her people rule themselves.

Thousands of members of the tribe marched from what is now Norfolk to ravage Roman cities of Camulodunum (now Colchester) Londinium (London) and Verulamium (which was near what is now St Albans in Hertfordshire).

Her role in history, whether she was a heroine for fighting for her people's rights or a villain for the loss of life suffered, has been debated down the centuries.

The uprising saw London burnt to the ground and was responsible for the deaths of 80,000 people.

But a 'trial' held at the Supreme Court has now acquitted her of committing terrorist acts against the Romans almost 2,000 years ago.

A screenshot of the livestreamed trial at the Supreme Court, organised by Classics for All.

A screenshot of the livestreamed trial at the Supreme Court, organised by Classics for All. - Credit: Classics for All

Her trial on Thursday was the sixth held by the group - previous ones have included Greek philosopher Socrates and Brutus, one of the assassins of Julius Caesar.

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It was held by Classics for All, an education charity founded in 2010 with the aim of reversing the decline in the teaching of the ancient world, involved QC lawyers and saw the warrior 'charged' under the Terrorism Act 2000.

Boudicca Way

Boudicca Way - Credit: Archant

By a margin of 10 to one, the 50-strong jury decided the acts committed were in self-defence.

After she was acquitted, judge Lord Justice Stephens said Boudicca was free to leave "without any stain on your character and remain as a national symbol of an inspirational hero".

The prosecution, which was brought on behalf of the 'Senate and People of Rome', was led by QC Alison Morgan, who has been involved in recent terrorism prosecutions, including the attempted bomb attacks in London on July 21, 2005, and a plot to bomb the London Stock Exchange.

She argued the Romans were running a functioning government, and said: "It is important to acknowledge the principle that protects us all from serious violence perpetrated because one individual feels they are entitled to take action."

Defence was led by Thomas Grant QC, who said after she had made a "mild protest", the Romans had been so violent that her actions were "the only conceivable response".

Boudicca was a queen of the British Celtic Iceni tribe who led an uprising against Rome. This is an

Boudicca was a queen of the British Celtic Iceni tribe who led an uprising against Rome. This is an artist's impression of what she could have looked like, from a previous exhibition at Norwich Castle Museum. Image: Keiron Tovell - Credit: EDP © 2001

Who was Boudicca and what was the revolt?

Boudicca was the Queen of the Iceni people, a British tribe which lived in what is today Norfolk, and parts of Suffolk and Cambridgeshire.

Her husband, Prasutagus, was ruler of the Iceni people, and the Romans allowed Prasutagus to continue as king, ruling on their behalf.

But, when Prasutagus died, the Romans decided to rule the Iceni directly and they confiscated the property of the leading Iceni families.

The Romans are also said to have stripped and whipped Boudicca, and raped her daughters. 

Tactitus, a Roman historian and politician, records that a speech by Boudicca ended with the words: "Win this battle or perish. That is what I, a woman, plan to do. Let the men live in slavery if they will."

Though they did defeat Roman legions, Boudicca was eventually defeated and is believed to have poisoned herself to avoid capture.

The indictment against Boudicca as part of the 'trial' at the Supreme Court.

The indictment against Boudicca as part of the 'trial' at the Supreme Court. - Credit: Classics for All

Her legacy is still seen in Norfolk today, with businesses, walking trails and even cycling tours named after her.

Norwich Castle museum has a Boudicca exhibition, with the chance to see recreated scenes and watch an animation about the Iceni Queen. You can also ride on reproduction wooden chariot of the type she rode as she led her people in battle.

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