Prasutagus was king of a British Celtic tribe called the Iceni, who inhabited roughly what is now Norfolk, in the 1st century AD. He was the husband of the most famous of British women, Boudicca, who he married in about AD 45.
Prasutagus may have been one of the eleven kings who surrendered to Claudius following the Roman conquest in 43, or he may have been installed as king followingthe Icenian War in 47AD, when the inter-tribal struggles between Anted[ios], who had been recognised by Rome, and the factions of Aesu[…] and Saenu[…], escalated into armed revolt against Rome, which was soundly crushed.
Client king of the Iceni of East Anglia in Britain, was renowned for his wealth (Tacitus Annales 14. 31).
As an ally of Rome his tribe were allowed to remain nominally independent, and to ensure this Prasutagus named the Roman emperor as co-heir to his kingdom, along with his two daughters. Tacitus says he lived a long and prosperous life and died in c.59AD. Nero, the Roman emperor refused to share power with Prasutagus’ daughters and orders were given to the Roman Army to take the kingdom by force. Kingdom and household alike were plundered by the Roman army. His widow Boudica was flogged and their daughters raped. Roman financiers called in their loans. All this led to the revolt of the Iceni, under the leadership of Boudica, in 60 or 61.
The name Prasutagus appears to be made up of two components: ‘pras-‘, meaning ‘body’, and ‘tag’, meaning ‘god’.
Literary References to Prasutagus
Prasutagus was Boudica’s husband. Unlike his more famous wife, he is only mentioned in one classical source, Tacitus’s The Annals of Imperial Rome (translation mGrant 1956):
Prasutagus, king of the Iceni, after a life of long and renowned prosperity, had made the emperor [Suetonius] co heir with his own two daughters. Prasutagus hoped by this submissiveness to preserve his kingdom and household from attack. But it turned out otherwise. Kingdom and household alike were plundered like prizes of war, the one by Roman officers, the other by Roman slaves. As a beginning, his widow Boudica was flogged and their daughters raped. The Icenian chiefs were deprived of their hereditary estates as if the Romans had been given the whole country. The king’s own relatives were treated like slaves.
Prasutagus or Esuprastus?
In 1960 a hoard of iron age and Roman coins was recovered from Joist Fen in Suffolk. It had been buried in the first century AD, in the region of Boudica’s tribe, the Iceni. There were some unique silver coins bearing the words SUBIDASTO and ESICO. They show a Romanised head on one face with a realistic horse on the other, quite unlike the highly stylised designs on other Icenian coins.
It was thought the legends were SVB TI PRASTO and on the reverse (back) ESICO FECIT, a mixture of Celtic and Latin to be read as “under king Prasto, Esico made me”: is interpreted as the Celtic word “ricon” or “rig”, which means “king” concluding that these must be the hitherto unseen coins of Prasutagus, king of the Iceni.
In recent years, a couple of new specimens in excellent condition have been found and the legends of these are now read as: SVB ESVPRASTO / ESICO FECIT. This suggests that the coins show the name of an individual called Esuprastus a previously unknown king, although the name could in theory still relate to Prasutagus. As the only source for him and his rule is Tacitus in the Annal, it is possible that the name of the king was not properly recieved by Tacitus or was erroneously copied at a later date.
Others interpret Esuprastus is a compound name, with “Esu-” deriving from the god Esus and meaning “lord”, “master” or “honour”, and “Prasto-” being an abbreviated personal name, the coin inscription thus meaning “under Lord Prasto-“.