Morgan Barnett

Boudica and Agrippina: An Analysis of the Representation of Female Power in Tacitus and Dio

April 2, 2021   /  

Student Name: Morgan Barnett
Major: Classical Studies
Advisors: Dr. Josephine Shaya, Dr. Monica Florence (second reader)

This paper argues that the representations of Agrippina the Younger and Boudica point out the faults of the empire and the men who rule it. By examining the characters of Boudica and Agrippina in Tacitus’ Annalsand Cassius Dio’s Roman History, it looks to establish the influence of gender and ethnicity of the representation of these two women, and to establish them as literary figures. It explores the reasons why Agrippina is characterized as a villainous mother and Boudica as a righteous heroine. Each woman is looked at individually and then together to find the similarities between the authors. The end goal of the project is to create a stepping off point to eventually find the historical figures from the literary.


Morgan will be online to field comments on April 16: 2-4 pm EDT (PST 11am-1pm, Africa/Europe: evening)

29 thoughts on “Boudica and Agrippina: An Analysis of the Representation of Female Power in Tacitus and Dio”

  1. Really well done! I enjoyed listening to your video and will be posting a few questions later today.

  2. Hi Morgan:

    Interesting Thesis! Nice Video, too.

    I wonder how much the characterization of these women is affected by historiographical tradition? Your very good point about the fact that Boudicca represents the edges of the empire, where different rules apply, reminds me so much of Herodotus’ portrayal of Tomyris, leader of the Massagetae, who finally put an end to Persian expansion and killed Cyrus the Great. The association of female power with peripheral places?

    I also wondered whether you were interested in deliberate exaggeration, in Agrippina’s case, for the sake of political motivations? Really, she tried to get her son to have sex with her? We are supposed to believe this? I wonder whether you found that the basic motivations behind each characterization have different political foundations?

    1. Thanks Dr. Foster,
      To answer your last question part of my interest in Agrippina was partially influenced by the fact that her actions seemed a little too horrific to be real. I think the differences in representation of the two women did stem from different political usages along with ethnic differences.
      I did not do a whole lot of research into how the historiography tradition possibly affected the characterizations, but that would definitely be an interesting thing to look into and I probably will when I hopefully expand this project.

      1. Well the whole women and eschatology theme might be something to look into for grad school; I think there’s quite a bit. Even in Thucydides, non-Greek women are more likely to exercise agency…

  3. Congratulations, Morgan. This is such an interesting topic. Very cool video too! Best of luck in graduate school, and remember us here at Wooster.

  4. Great job on the video! I just had a few questions:

    Why would Boudica’s status as a Briton make her less villainized than Agrippina, a Roman? Was it because they expected that behavior from a non-Roman? Or was it because it was easier to blame her perceived faults on the fact that she was a foreigner?

    Were Agrippina and Boudica used primarily as examples as they pertain to the propriety of women or were they used to take the fall for their husbands faults?

    Were they used to avert public anger at their husbands so that they would be the ones who took the fall for any issues?

    Aside from not hearing their own sides of the story and being able to publicize their characters themselves, what is so different from Boudica/ Agrippina to women of modern royal society who are painted as villainous by the media (ex: Princess Diana, Meghan Markle, Princess Charlene of Monaco, etc)?


    1. Thanks Taylor!
      Boudica’s status as Briton made her less villainized than Agrippina primarily because this was not unexpected for the northern foreigners, specifically the Britons. And so she was not stepping outside of the expectation as much as Agrippina who had the expectations of being a Roman Matron.
      I found that they were used for both. Agrippina and Boudica used to point out the faults of Claudius and Nero as these men can’t control them and pointing out the faults of different aspects of the imperial regime.
      I’m not actually sure. The text that I analyzed was written after the fact and therefore I’m not sure if they would be used specifically to take the fall. For the most part they were used as examples to point public anger to the emperors.
      I think they demonstrate that such villainization of women like Diana, like Meghan, are not remotely new.

  5. Good Job and Congrats Morgan. Not that I am particularly knowledgeable on ancient roman history, but I always viewed Agrippina as a tragic character. undoubtedly this is due to the being viewed through a modern lens but it makes sense that more contemporary historian would portray her as a Villain.

  6. Great presentation and congrats on finishing. You got me really interested in this topic, are there any books you’d recommend to read dealing with them or your topic? I was scrolling through and your title caught my attention. After this I’m interested to read some more on them or this topic some more.

    1. Thank you! A couple of texts I would recommend for further research would be Boudica: Warrior Woman of Roman Britain by Caitlin Gillespie, Agrippina: Sex, Power, and Politics in the Early Empire by Anthony Barret for the individual women. For Women in general Arguments with Silence: Writing the History of Roman Women by Amy Richlin is a good resources to begin with.

  7. This is awesome, Morgan! Congratulations! Would you like to continue this research with any other historical figures?

    1. Thanks Dante!
      I definitely plan on expanding this project to other women. I did originally want to look into Zenobia and Julia Domna as well as Agrippina and Boudica but that would have been too large a project. So I would probably start with them. I think it would be really interesting to see differences or similarities across them.

  8. Great video and thesis. I look forward to reading more :). Seems like there would be some interesting paths to explore this further. What was your favorite part or fact you discovered in the research? Was there anything you found particularly surprising?

    1. Thank you!
      There are some paths that I would love to explore that I didn’t have time for. There are too many interesting facts to pick just one. Honestly I can’t think of anything particularly surprising. The most interesting things I think came from the original texts. In particular how similar the stories were especially since the authors wrote over a century apart.

  9. This is a really interesting examination of separating literary representation from historical personality. I enjoyed the video and becoming aware of this topic. Congrats Morgan!

  10. Congratulations, Morgan! I love how you intersect these women’s gender with their ethnicity. It makes for a nuanced and complex conversation…and of course I am a fan of you trying to pull out women’s voices (as much as possible) from the original text!

    It’s interesting that Agrippina and Boudica were compared with one another by ancient authors. Do you have any ideas as to why secondary scholars would have started to analyze these women separately from one another?

    1. Thanks Erin! I think secondary scholarship separates them primarily because a majority only want to focus on one and if one were intending to tell a mere history of one they would not necessarily write of the other as their stories did not directly cross.

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