Caitlin Gillespie (Columbia) "Boudica: Dux Femina of Roman Britain"

  • 603 Hamilton Hall Columbia University

This talk stems from my current book project on Boudica and introduces one of my modes of examining Boudica as a comparative model in Tacitus’ works. I focus on Tacitus’ identification of Boudica as a dux femina and analyze this characterization in light of recent scholarship on gender and identity. The label of dux femina activates a host of literary associations and challenges the reader to contemplate Boudica’s place within a distinct literary canon: the topos originates with Vergil’s Dido, but generally functions pejoratively in Roman historiography. This is particularly true in Tacitus’ Annals, where the term is applied to women of the imperial family. I analyze Boudica’s characterization in Annals 14 as an exploration of the possibility for a non-Roman dux femina to lead an army and gain sympathy from her audience. Tacitus’ Boudica serves as a powerful internal commentator on the failures of Nero and the lack of imperial models, and her revolt offers a non-Roman parallel to ongoing conflicts of gender and power at the end of the Julio-Claudian era.