Veleda – 1st Century – Lippe River, Germany



Veleda (also known as Velleda and Weleda) was a Celtic woman who lived during the first century and achieved some notoriety for her psychic abilities during the Batavian rebellion of 69-70.

VelledaVeleda practiced as a Völva (shamanic priestess) for her tribe, the Bructeri, in northeast Germany (modern day North Rhine-Westphali).

The name Veleda may actually be her title (from the Celtic welet meaning ‘seer’) rather than her personal name, and we know that she must have been highly revered by her tribe. In ancient Germany (and among other Nordic peoples) it was believed that priestesses were capable of seeing the future and tribes treated women like Veleda as living goddesses.

Veleda in particular was widely known for her powers and worshipped by many tribes. The term Völva literally means ‘wand carrier’ or ‘wand bearer’, and many of our modern notions about witchcraft and wizardry stem from the practices of women like Veleda.

In true fairy tale style, she lived in a tower by the Lippe River, where tribespeople would visit her for consultations. No one was allowed inside, instead she was passed messages by a relative, who acted as an intermediary. (This is similar to the lifestyle of the Pythia or Oracle of Delphi).


The River Lippe

During Veleda’s lifetime large parts of Germany were occupied by the Roman Empire – which by the year 69 was in the grips of a power struggle. Following the death of Emperor Nero, who had left no heirs, Rome broke into a civil war known as ‘The year of Four Emperors’. This turmoil weakened Rome’s military presence in Germany, which did not go unnoticed by the local chiefs.

Civilis, the leader of the Batavian’s came out in open revolt against the Roman presence – and it is said that he did this following a prophecy from Veleda which promised him victory.800px-Velleda,_Laurent-Honoré_Marqueste

The revolt was indeed successful, at least initially. Civilius’ forces were soon joined by the Treviri tribe and together they quickly toppled the Roman garrisons at Novaesium (Neuss) and Castra Vetera (in modern day Neiderrhein).

The Batavians attributed their victories to Veleda’s power, and as a thank you gift they rowed a praetorian trireme (galley ship) up the Lippe to her tower.

Unfortunately the rebellion was short lived. It took nine Roman legions, but Civilis and his cohorts were defeated and dispersed. As Roman dominance in Germany was so reliant on co-operation with the Celtic tribes, the rebels were not harshly punished, and Veleda was allowed to continue in her capacity as Völva for some time.

Veleda is next heard of in 77, when she is either captured or rescued by the Roman army – for what reason, we do not know.


In fiction:

  • Velleda, ein Zauberroman (Velleda, a Magic Novel) by Benedikte Naubert fictionalises the lives of both Veleda and Boudica. (1795)
  • Die Symbole (The Symbols) by Amalie von Helwig in which she was called Welleda. (1814)
  • Welleda und Gemma by Friedrich de la Motte-Fouqué (1818)
  • The opera Velleda by Eduard Sobolewski  (1835)
  • Star of the Sea by Poul Anderson (1991)
  • The Iron Hand of Mars (1992) and Saturnalia (2007).by Lindsey Davis 
  • She is also a character in The Dragon Lord (1979), by David Drake.

In Science:

On November 5, 1872, Paul Henry of Paris discovered an asteroid that was named 126 Velleda in honor of Veleda.


On Wikipedia:

Image credits:

Lippe in Luenen 1” by Wolfgang Hunscher.

Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Ed0048” by Original illustration by Creator:Carl Larsson (1853-1919), engraving by Gunnar Forssell (1859-1903). – Project Runeberg: Originally from Fredrik Sander’s 1893 edition of the poetic Edda.

Licensed under Public Domain via Commons

Velleda” by Charles Voillemot –

Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Velleda, Laurent-Honoré Marqueste” by Léna – Own work.

Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons





Cartimandua – 43 – 69 – Britain

Britain, England


Cartimandua lived around the same time as the more famous Celtic queen Boudica, during the second Roman conquest of Britain. While Boudica’s circumstances forced her to fight back against Roman occupation, Cartimandua enjoyed a generally friendly and profitable relationship with Rome.


The territory of the Brigantes

Ruler of the Brigantes tribe in northern England, Cartimandua was queen in her own right (not through her husband or son). She came to power at a very turbulent time for Iron Age Britain, as the Emperor Claudius had invaded in 43. The less developed native Celts had never faced anything like the Roman army and were quickly subdued.

Either Cartimandua’s father or the queen herself chose to co-operate with the Romans rather than revolt. As a result, the Brigantes enjoyed wealth and protection. Among the Britons who did revolt was Caractacus, king of the Catuvellauni tribe. After his resistance was defeated in Wales, Caractacus fled to seek sanctuary from Cartimandua – who promptly handed him over to the Roman’s in chains.

This even further cemented her loyalty to Rome, as Caractacus was bought back to Rome for Claudius’ triumphal parade and Cartimandua was richly rewarded.

Cartimandua (1)

Cartimandua presents Caractacus to the Romans

The queen was married to a man named Venutius, who became a figurehead of the British resistance after the capture of Caractacus. Whether for political or personal reasons, Cartimandua divorced him and quickly remarried his armour-bearer Vollocatus instead. She and Venutius became sworn emenies.

In 57, Cartimandua seized Venutius’ family and held them hostage – but this would not stop him. He built up a resistance army to make war against Cartimandua and the Roman invaders. The Roman army had anticipated this and sent units to assist the queen, enabling her to retain her throne.

However, Venutius simply bided his time. In 69 the Roman empire was in turmoil due to civil war. Taking advantage of this instability, Venutius launched abother attack. This time, there weren’t enough troops to protect Cartimandua, and her only choice was to flee, leaving Venutius to usurp her.

After this episode, Cartimandua disappears from historical record.

The bulk of what we know about Cartimandua comes from the Roman historian Tacitus, who describes her as ‘treacherous’ for handing Caractactus to the Romans, and sexually wanton for divorcing her royal husband in favour of a common soldier.

In fiction:

Daughters of Fire by Barbara Erskine features Cartimandua as a main character.


On Wikipedia:

Image credits:

Map of the Territory of the Brigantes” by England_Celtic_tribes_-_North_and_Midlands.png: self-createdderivative work: Jpb1301 (talk) – England_Celtic_tribes_-_North_and_Midlands.png.

Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Cartimandua” by Francesco Bartolozzi (publisher/printer; printmaker; Italian; British; Male; 1728 – 1815)

Boudica – d. 60/61 – Norfolk, Britain


Trigger Warning: Rape

“She was huge of frame, terrifying of aspect, and with a harsh voice. A great mass of bright red hair fell to her knees… Now she grasped a spear, to strike fear into all who watched her……”


The enduring image of Boudica, warrior queen of the Celts, needs no introduction. Fierce and heroic, this remarkable woman remains vivid in our imaginations today.

Boadicea Haranguing The Britons. John Opie, R.A. (1761-1807). Oil On Canvas.

Boadicea Haranguing The Britons. John Opie, R.A. (1761-1807). Oil On Canvas.

She was queen of the Iceni tribe in ancient Britain and her territory covered roughly the modern day county of Norfolk. She is described as having been tall with long red hair falling past her waist. Roman historians Tacitus and Cassius Dio ‘generously’ describe her as possessed of greater intelligence than often belongs to women.

Boudica was the wife of Prasutagus, the Iceni king. Though Britain had been under Roman occupation for many years, the Iceni tribe had remained proudly independent, allies to Rome but not under Roman control. Prasutagus died a very wealthy man and in his will left his territory to both the Roman emperor (Nero) and his wife and two daughters.

Unfortunately for Boudica, the Romans did not recognise women’s inheritance. As Prasutagus had left no sons, the will was ignored and the Iceni kingdom annexed. The Roman army was brutal, taking the land by force and enslaving the local nobility. The terror did not stop there; Boudica herself was publicly flogged and her two daughters were raped by Roman soldiers.

Humiliated, abused and devastated, the Iceni sought help from neighbouring tribe the Queen_Boadicea2Trinovantes to organise a revolt. Boudica, who had lost so much and who was filled with rage at the Romans, was chosen as their leader.

Cassius Dio writes about an interesting episode in which Boudica acted as a kind of oracle or priestess, releasing a hare from the folds of her dress and interpreting the direction in which in ran as a positive omen. She also invoked Andraste, the ancient British goddess of victory, saying:

“I thank you, Andraste, and call upon you as woman speaking to woman … I beg you for victory and preservation of liberty.”

Boudica’s army first targeted Camulodunum (Colchester, Essex), which had been the Trinovantian capital but was now a Roman colony. The city was poorly defended and the furious Celts demolished it in two days. Commander Quintus Petillius Cerialis’s legion was destroyed, and he escaped with only a few cavalry.

The Celts next set their sights on Londinium (London). At the time, this city was only 20 years old, but a popular and busy centre of trade. The Roman Governor of Britain, Suetonius had heard about Boudica’s triumph in Colchester and was on his way to Londinium from Wales. Nervous and lacking numbers, Suetonius chose to order the Romans to abandon Londinium rather than attempt to defend it.


Like Colchester, London was wiped out and burnt to the ground and any remaining settlers were slaughtered on sight. The rebel army led by Boudica next moved on to Verulanium (St Albans) and did the same.

Historians today estimate that between seventy and eighty thousand people were killed in the destruction of the three settlements at Colchester, London and St Albans. Boudica took no prisoners, and Tacitus writes that she was interested only in slaughtering as many Romans as possible. They also reclaimed the sacred spaces which had been taken from them, including the groves of Andraste.

While the rebels were still in St Albans, Suetonius was regrouping. He had called in every legion close enough and amassed an army of ten thousand. The experienced General then held firm at a location on the Roman road known as Watling Street and waited for Boudica’s army.

When the rebels came to attack, they had greater numbers, but when it came to combat skills and technique the Romans had them beaten. At first the Romans stood their ground, throwing volleys of javelins at the Britons who rushed at the Roman lines. Then they advanced in wedge formation at Boudica’s second wave.

Watling Street, Northamptonshire

Watling Street, Northamptonshire

Boudica famously rode a chariot into battle, with her daughters at her side. She also positioned lines of wagons and women at the back of the battlefield as a last line of defence. As the Romans came towards them, the terrified Britons attempted to escape, but were trapped by their own families and forced into the wagon ring where they were slaughtered.

Boudica died around this time, though accounts vary. Tacitus wrote that she poisoned herself rather than face capture, Dio says that she died of an illness and was given a queens burial. The crisis that the Celtic queen had caused in Britain shook Rome and the emperor Nero nearly considered abandoning Britain altogether.

Interestingly, Boudica’s rebellion was almost forgotten by history. It wasn’t until the Victorian era that her story became legend. Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote the poem Boadicea and it became fashionable to name ships after the fallen queen.

Ironically, a statue to commemorate Boudica stands next to Westminster bridge in London, the city she razed to the ground.


The name Boudica most probably derives from the Celtic word boudīka, meaning “victorious”, that in turn is derived from bouda, “victory” (cf. Irish bua (Classical Irish buadh), Buaidheach, Welsh buddugoliaeth).

The closest English equivalent to the vowel in the first syllable is the ‘ow’ in “bow-and-arrow”. The modern English pronunciation is bo-dik-ah.

In fiction:


  • One of the viewpoint characters of Ian Watson’s novel Oracle is an eyewitness to her defeat.
  • Ruled Britannia is an alternate history novel by Harry Turtledove in which Shakespeare writes a play called Boudica.
  • The Doctor Who audio play The Wrath of the Iceni takes place during Boudica’s uprising against the Romans. Boudica is portrayed by Ella Kenion.
  • The 2012 vampire novel Hide Me Among the Graves by Tim Powers depicts Boadicea as one of the two head vampires menacing Victorian Europe.Plays, Films and Television:
  • Bonduca, or the British Heroine is a 1695 musical play by Henry Purcell
  • Bonduca is a Jacobean tragi-comedy by John Fletcher. It was acted by the King’s Men c. 1613, and published in 1647.
  • Boadicea is a 1928 film, in which Boudica is portrayed by Phyllis Neilson-Terry.
  • Boudica (US title Warrior Queen) is a 2003 film written by Andrew Davies and starring Alex Kingston as Boudica.
  • Warrior Queen was a 1978 TV series, starring Siân Phillips as Boudica.
  • The Viking Queen is a 1967 adventure film set in ancient Britain, in which the role of ‘Queen Salina’ is based upon the historical figure of Boudica.
  • In the fictional world of Ghosts of Albion, ‘Queen Bodicea’ is one of three Ghosts who once were mystical protectors of Albion and assists the current protectors with advice and knowledge.
  • Television series Bonekickers dedicated an hour to Boudica in the episode named The Eternal Fire.

Video Games:

  • In 2013 video game Ryse: Son of Rome Boudica appears as a heavily fictionalized character.
  • She appears as a Rider-class Servant in the 2015 mobile game Fate/Grand Order.


Boudica has also been the primary subject of songs by Irish singer/songwriter Enya, Dutch soprano Petra Berger, Scottish singer/songwriter Steve McDonald, English metal band Bal-SagothFaith and the MuseMason and Róisín Murphy, and Dreams in the Witching House.

In Science:

In 2003 an LTR retrotransposon from the genome of the human blood fluke “Schistosoma mansoni” was named “Boudicca”.


The AnnalsTacitus

Roman History – Cassius Dio

Image credits:

Queen Boudica by John Opie” by John Opie – Easy Art.

Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Queen Boadicea2” by Anonymous – True Stories of Wonderful Deeds: Pictures and Stories for Little Folk.

Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Pictures of English History Plate IV – Boadicea and Her Army” by Joseph Martin Kronheim (1810–96)[1] – →This file has been extracted from another file: Pictures of English History – Plates I to IV.jpg.

Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Watling Street Northamptonshire” by Ian Rob.

Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons

Brigh Brigaid – c. 59 – Feisin, Ireland




Historical map of Ireland

Brigh Brigaid, (also Briugaid or Brughaidh), was a woman who held the office of Judge (Brehon) in ancient Ireland.

We know about Brigh from the Senchus Mór, a compendium of Celtic laws in Ireland. Her decisions were cited as precedents for centuries after her death.

The role of Brehons during this time was to administer the Brehon law. Brigh Brigaid was likely a very well educated woman who understood and interpreted these laws, often citing legal precedents from memory.

Studying the Brehon law in full took around twenty years, and they were written in the form of rhyming poems in order to make them easier to remember.

Redwood castle built by the Normans in 1200 CE and later used as a school of law for Brehons

Redwood castle built by the Normans in 1200 CE and later used as a school of law for Brehons

Legal disputes would have been mostly clan feuds over land or goods. Brehons were given land to live off as part of their roles and were respected members of the community. Over time, the position became hereditary, so it is possible that Brigh’s father passed the role onto her.


Ancient Laws and Institutes of Ireland vol.1

A Social History of Ancient Ireland

On Wikipedia:

Image Credits:

Wenceslas Hollar – Ireland (State 2)” by Wenceslaus Hollar – Artwork from University of Toronto Wenceslaus Hollar Digital CollectionScanned by University of TorontoHigh-resolution version extracted using custom tool by User:Dcoetzee.

Licensed under Public Domain via Commons

Redwood Castle” by Steve Ford Elliott – Steve Ford Elliott.

Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons