Original Research

Iceni to iconic: Literary, political and ideological transformations of Boudica through time

Margaret C. Steyn
Literator | Vol 40, No 1 | a1474 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v40i1.1474 | © 2019 Margaret C. Steyn | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 11 January 2018 | Published: 09 December 2019

About the author(s)

Margaret C. Steyn, Department of English Studies, College of Human Sciences, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa


Boudica has captivated the imagination of generations of scholars, artists, writers and poets, eventually becoming firmly entrenched in popular culture which has attempted to articulate England’s national identity through the dwelling on the heroic past and emphasising her position as a Muse. This article focuses on the use and manipulation of the image of Boudica to evoke the heritage of the ‘noble savage’ or as an example of ‘native barbarianism’ by successive regimes striving to establish a historical foundational past in an attempt to create a nationalist historiography. The representation of the image of Boudica through a detailed historical analysis, starting from the earliest mention in Tacitus to more recent representations of the icon, will illustrate how the dichotomy of interpretation has rendered her a chameleon: sometimes a villain and sometimes a heroine. However, through all these incarnations, Boudica never truly loses her place as a nationalistic icon, symbol of victory and figurehead of resistance for the emergent British people.


Boudica; iconic representation; national identity; gender in antiquity; transformations of Boudica; Boudica in literature; British identity; popularisation of ancient icons; reception


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