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A.D. History Podcast

Boudicca Resists Rome & The Aeolipile: The Unknown FIRST Steam Engine | 51AD – 60AD

Boudicca’s resistance against Rome remains British legend. Yet the Aeolipile – the first steam engine 2,000 years ago – remains obscure.



The Celtic Iceni tribe’s resistance lead by Queen Boudicca against Roman dominance in ancient Britannia remains a founding pillar for modern British pride. The collaboration of Cartimandua, Queen of the Brigantes is far less known. Even less known is Hero of Alexandria’s inventing the Aeolipile, a proof of concept that is believed to be civilization’s first known steam engine.

Paul and Patrick explore the very different courses of action taken in ancient Britain regarding Roman domination. Foremost contrasting the immense fight to repel Roman occupation by Boudicca, against the outright cooperation and aid provided by Cartimandua. As well as looking at the Aeolipile, debating whether this overlooked concept at the time, under different circumstances, could have jump started the industrial revolution centuries before it actually did.

Cartimandua: A Case Study in Collaboration

Throughout history, there have been many facts in which a leader or peoples manage outright occupation by a foreign power. There are few examples as demonstrative in their contrast as that of Queen Boudicca of the Iceni, and Queen Cartimandua of the Brigantes. Theirs is a story that bares out many times in recorded history.

Cartimandua herself proves an interesting political case study, as her rule of the Brigantes was outright and total – given that she did not derive power from a king concurrently sitting on the throne with her. Cartimandua inherited the Brigantes throne from her late father, in circa 43AD. The Brigantes realm itself encompassed modern day Yorkshire, but is believed to have extended as far as modern Liverpool and Newcastle.

Cartimandua’s appeasement and collaboration with Roman rule most significantly began in 51AD, when she turned over to Roman authority King Caratacus of the Catuvellauni tribe who had fled into her protection after defeat at the hands of Roman legions.

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Cartimandua’s decision created significant animosity in her own people against her rule. Furthermore after leaving her husband Venutius for his armor bearer, Venutius acting upon his person scorn and her collaboration mustered a significant rebellion against Rome – a rebellion only temporarily quelled by Cartimandua due to requesting Roman military assistance.

Venutius managed to survive this defeat, and in 69AD rose up again to successfully depose Cartimandua when Roman assistance was unavailable due to other ongoing conflicts in the empire.

Boudicca: A Case Study in Resistance

Queen Boudicca of the Iceni undertook a very different course of action with the Romans, strongly contrasting that of Cartimandua. The Iceni were a fellow Celtic tribes who’s domain centered in East Anglia. The Iceni under her husband King Prasutagus initially formed a pact with the Romans, making the Iceni a client kingdom.

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Prasutagus in his death in 61AD, saw the Romans betray the aforementioned pact – occupying the Iceni realm over Boudicca’s protest. Boudicca and her daughter were forcibly taken into Roman custody, where they were brutally tortured. Upon Boudicca’s release, she raised an army of an estimated 200,000 troops. Before her eventual defeat and suicide, Boudicca razed the Roman provincial capital in modern Colchester, and Londinium (London) itself.

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The Aeolipile: Hero of Alexandria’s 2,000 Year Old Steam Engine

There is no invention more synonymous with the industrial revolution than the steam engine. The steam engine created countless possibilities through its novel harnessing of power that proved a game changer for human civilization, but it’s creation has far more ancient origins than most realize.

In circa 50AD, Hero of Alexandria sketched out a proof of concept called the Aeolipile, which in a compact design incontrovertibly demonstrated the reality of steam to do work. Yet beyond Hero’s small circle in the famed Library of Alexandria, no one else recognized the magnitude of Hero’s discovery.

When discussing the Aeolipile, many muse as well as lament the lack of understanding by Hero’s contemporaries, speculating that it could have jump started the industrial revolution almost two millennia prior to when it actually happened.

Paul and Patrick discuss this possibility, why the Aeolipile was seemingly overlooked, and debate the plausibility that it could ever have been harnessed by the Roman world in the way it did many centuries later.

Where to Find & Listen to the A.D. History Podcast

Learn more about the Iceni’s famous resistance against Rome under the command of Boudicca, Cartimandua’s infamous collaboration with Rome, and Heron of Alexandria’s legendary ingenuity designing the Aeolipile, all in the newest episode of A.D. History. The A.D. History Podcast is available wherever podcasts are found, and YouTube.


Hosted by Paul K. DiCostanzo, Patrick Foote

Anna Domini is voiced by Anna Chloe Moorey

Write to Paul and Patrick, co-hosts of the  A.D. History Podcast at

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The A.D. History Podcast explores the last two thousand years of world history in an innovative new way. Join hosts Paul K. DiCostanzo and Patrick Foote as they examine the past two millennia, beginning in 1 AD, and progressing forward ten years every episode until they reach the modern day. Within each ten-year installment, Paul and Patrick aim to share incredibly important, but often overlooked fascinating historic events and figures from around the world in prospective fashion; attempting to see history through the eyes and in the world of those who lived it. By identifying these sometimes lesser known - but in no way less significant aspects of history - the A.D. History Podcast endeavors to take these many disparate threads and weave a fuller, richer tapestry of true world history from 1AD to HD.