British Kings Atrebates

Cities and Thrones and Powers
Stand in Time’s eye,
Almost as long as flowers,
Which daily die,
But, as new buds put forth
To glad new men,
Out of the spent and unconsidered Earth,
The Cities rise again
Rudyard Kipling

British Kings Atrebates

Introduction

Julius Caesar described the tribes in southeast Britain as being similar to Gaul (modern day France). He mentioned that some of the tribal names in Britain were identical as those in Gaul, but does not specify these. Much of the population was divided into named units in the order of tens of thousands of people which were called civitates, usually translated as ‘tribes’ or ‘states’.

Silberring von Trichtingen. A 28/61. Dm 29,4 cm. Laténezeit

Celtic Torc hung around neck

It is striking that most of the tribes that Caesar mentioned in his accounts vanished by the time of Claudius’ invasion in 43 AD. Archaeological finds, particularly coins minted by the British kings, suggest great instability and volatility in the ever-expanding dynastic states. Coin evidence is no substitute for detailed political accounts. Nevertheless, it provides us with the earliest names of the players in the political struggles. Coins also provide a crude indicator of tribal territories, alliances and the political geography of southern Britain. The power struggles between pro- and anti-Roman factions play a crucial role in triggering the Roman invasion in 43 AD.

Celtic Tribal Territories in Southern Britain

Celtic Tribal Territories in Ancient Britain

The previous two posts on APOLLO’S RAVEN describe the political struggles of the northern Catuvellauni dynasty that overtook the Trinovantes. To the South was the powerful Atrebates who shared their name with a tribe in Gaul. King Commius fled to Britain after Caesar’s conquest in Gaul to establish this powerful dynasty.

Below is a tabular summary of British kings who minted coins in the southern and northern dynasties.

British Kings in Southeast Britain

Date Rome Southern Dynasty Northern Dynasty
50 BC Civil War, Murder of Caesar;
40 BC Commius
30 BC Octavian and Mark Antony Civil War Addedomaros
20 BC Augustus Tasciovanus
10 BC Tincomarus Dubnovellaunos
1 AD
AD 10 Epatticus Cunobelin
Vodenos
AD 20 Tiberius Eppillus
AD 30 Verica Adminius
AD40 Caligula Caratacus
AD50 Claudius

Commius of the Atrebates

Alliance with Caesar

Julius Caesar considered Commius one of his strongest Celtic allies and made him King of the Atrebates in Gaul. In 55 AD, Caesar sent Commius as a diplomatic emissary to Britain to win their loyalty to Rome. The tribes Caesar had in mind were those who had fled from Gaul during his military campaign. The moment Commius disembarked on the shores of Kent and announced his mission, he was taken prisoner. Later that summer, he was handed back to Caesar in his first expedition to Britain. Commius then went with Caesar on his second expedition to Britain and helped with the peace negotiations.

Celtic Chariot

Celtic War Chariot Used in Fights Against Caesar

Resistance with Vercingetorix

In spite of winning Caesar’s favor, Commius allied with Vercingetorix and was appointed one of the chief officers in a united Gallic resistance against Caesar in 52 BC. After Caesar’s great victory over Vercingetorix at Alesia, Commius escaped the battle with the aid of the Germans.

Statue of Vercingetorix

Statue of Vercingetorix

Caesar sent a special team to execute Commius, but he managed to escape with a severe head wound. He avoided yet another encounter with Roman executioners at a party. After that, he sailed to Britain with a band of his followers. Again, he eluded Romans ship that were pursuing him.

Ancient Roman Ship Frieze

Roman Ship Image on Frieze

Atrebates Southern Dynasty

Commius landed on the British Sussex coast and established himself as King of the Atrebates. He established his capital at Calleva (Silchester). There may have already been an Atrebates tribe in Britain that accepted Commius as their king. Commius coinage was widespread, suggesting his authority spread over a large area north of the Thames, Hampshire and Sussex.

Tincomarus

Tincomarus, son and heir of Commius, ascended to power around 20 BC. Emperor Augustus scored a great diplomatic triumph winning over the son of the man who hated the Romans. Tincomarus  issued coins that more closely resembled the Roman types.

Based on the imagery used on his coins, Tincomarus may have been brought up as an obses (diplomatic hostage) in Rome during the early years of Augustus’ reign. It is conceivable that he gained experience in the Roman army before his return to Britain in 20 BC. He most likely established trading and diplomatic links with Augustus as evidenced by Roman pottery and other imports that have been dug up at Calleva.

Celtic Child in Roma Ara Pacis Procession Nord Particolare

Celtic child in frieze of Ara Pacis Augustae (Altar of Augustan Peace)

Augustus maintained diplomatic links in Britain to ensure the southeast stayed in the hands of friendly tribes. To the north, the Catuvellauni were ambitious and aggressive (their name means ‘Men Good in Battle’). To keep them in their place, Rome cultivated their southern rivals, the Atrebates. As far as the Romans were concerned, the rest of Britain and Ireland beyond the trading gateway were remote and thus irrelevant.

Caesar Augustus Marble Head

Caesar Augustus Marble Head

Some time before 7 AD, Tincomarus was driven out of his kingdom for unknown reasons and fled to Rome as a refugee. His expulsion may have resulted from a family dispute with his brother, Eppillus. Tincomarus appeared before Augustus as a suppliant king. Augustus recognized Eppillus as REX (king) rather than depose and reinstate Tincomarus. Augustus may have planned to use his ally’s ejection as an excuse to invade Britain but other, more pressing foreign policy matters took precedence.

Celtic Battersea Shield

Celtic Battersea Shield

Epillus and Eppaticus

Epillus’ rein over the Atrebates was short-lived. Eppaticus, the brother of Cunobelin, most likely expelled Eppillus with the support of the anti-Roman Druids. Eppaticus managed to establish himself over the Atrebates at the time Rome was preoccupied with its own troubles about 10 AD.

Verica, the grandson of Commius, regained the throne from Eppaticus who was subsequently killed.

Post-Augustus Policies and Trade

Upon his death in 14 AD, Augustus instructed his successor, Tiberius, not to expand the Empire. Tiberius accepted this policy, since he was weary of many years of frustration and denigration.

By then, Cunobelin most likely signed a formal treaty with Rome. This is implied by the Greek historian Strabo who states in 14 AD, “With important export duties, Rome receives greater profit than any army could produce.” Strabo listed British exports as grain, cattle, gold, silver, iron, hides, slaves and hunting dogs. The general philosophy was these treaties with client kings made Rome’s position in Britain so secure that there was no longer any need for Rome to invade.

During the campaigns on the Rhine under Germanicus in AD 16, some troop ships were blown across the North Sea and wrecked on the British coast. These were returned, clearly indicating a friendly gesture from one of the tribes, perhaps under a treaty obligation.

Tiberius Caesar Augustus

Tiberius Caesar Augustus

To be Continued

The next posts will provide an overview of the final political upheavals that triggered Rome’s Invasion of Britain.

References

  1. John Peddie, Conquest: The Roman Invasion of Britain; St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1997.
  2. John Manley, AD43 The Roman Invasion of Britain; A Reassessment; Tempus Publishing, Inc., Charleston, SC, 2002.
  3. David Miles, The Tribes of Britain; Phoenix, an imprint of Orion Books, LTD, London, 2006
  4. Graham Webster, Boudica: The British Revolt Against Rome AD 60; Routledge, London, 2004
  5. Graham Webster, Rome Against Caratacus; The Roman Campaigns in Britain AD 48-58; Routledge, London, 2003
  6. Graham Webster, The Roman Invasion of Britain; Routledge, New York, 1999.
Celtic Spirit Warrior

British Tribal Dynasties


Once having transversed the threshold, the hero moves in a dream landscape of curiously fluid, ambiguous forms, where he must survive a succession of trials.
–Joseph Campbell

 

Julius Caesar’s Impact British Tribal Dynasties

The most important impact of Caesar on the British scene was to divide the southeastern British tribal dynasties into pro- and anti-Roman factions. After Caesar’s expeditions in Britain, lucrative Roman trade was extended to Celtic British kings who were Roman allies. The kings of Kent without exception had been hostile and only made peace overtures after they were thoroughly beaten. The tribes on the north bank of the Thames and in Kent were forced to pay an annual tribute which sustained their festering hatred of Rome.

Julius Caesar Statue

Statue of Julius Caesar

 

Those that benefited, primarily the Trinovantes and the people of Verulamion and Braughing areas and their allies, were rewarded with political alliances and access to trade with Rome. As far as Rome was concerned, southeast Britain was conquered. The next stage was to allow the effects of trade and cultural contacts to prepare the way for full Roman occupation with all of the apparatus of government and law.

But any immediate plans were put aside by the serious rising of almost all tribes in Gaul (modern day France) united under one commander, Vercingetorix (whose name means ‘victor in 100 battles’). The whole of Gaul had to be conquered a second time. Of the six million people living in Gaul before Caesar arrived in 58 BC, one million were killed and one million were sold as slaves when he left in 50 BC. Caesar himself wrote in his Commentaries on the War in Gaul that peace had been brought to the whole of Gaul. This was the peace of a graveyard.

Statue of Vercingetorix

Statue of Vercingetorix

During the subsequent civil wars in the empire, Britain was forgotten except by Roman merchants using trading posts. As soon as Julius Caesar’s nephew, Augustus, established himself as the princeps in 27 BC, he realized there was unfinished business that needed attention. There was an indication that he was thinking about invading Britain in the autumn of that year, when he was in southern Gaul reorganizing the province. But any serious plans for an expedition the following year were swept aside by trouble in Spain. He was by nature cautious, preferring compromise as a solution.

Augustus of Prima Porta

Statue of Emperor Augustus Caesar

Trying to balance the needs of a large sprawling empire, he decided not to launch a campaign against Britain when there were other more pressing military operations elsewhere. Thus, he maintained Roman influence over the British rulers by diplomatic means. As long as Rome had strong allies along coastline Britain who controlled the main points of entry from Gaul, he did not feel there was a need for further action. Nonetheless, he kept a wary eye on Britain since changes in British tribal dynasties could upset the balance of power. He did not want coastal areas, important for trade and potential landing points, to fall into hostile hands. Augustus was reluctant to interfere with British politics, but there were times when this became necessary.

Ara Pacis: Processional frieze showing members of the Imperial household

Ara Pacis: Processional frieze showing members of the Imperial household

 

Polarization of the British tribal dynasties remained and a fascinating pattern of shifting inter-tribal relationships can be dimly perceived through the study of coinage that was minted by the Britons themselves. Coin evidence is no substitute for political detailed political accounts. Nevertheless, it provides us with the earliest names of the players in the 1st century British power struggle. They provide a crude indicator of tribal territories, alliances and the political geography of southeast Britain in the decades before the Roman invasion of AD 43. The following is a discussion of the political struggles of British tribal dynasties north of the Thames and Kent.

Map Ancient Britain 1st Center

Map Ancient Southeast Britain

Addedomaros

The first identifiable king to mint coins was Addedomaros. He became the ruler of the Trinovantes in approximately 25 BC and was probably the successor to Mandubracius—an ally of Caesar on his second expedition. At the time of his death, Mandubracius may not have had any heirs. Possibly Addedomaros succeeded to the throne after a brief struggle between the remaining Trinovantian noble houses. Addedomaros  moved his center of government from the eastern headwaters of the river Lea to a new site on the east coast which he named ‘the fort of the war god Camulos,’ known as Camulodunum (Colchester).  The reason for this move is that he may have felt increasingly under pressure from the growing strength of the Catuvellauni whose tribal base was situated only a few miles from the river Lea. Establishing a new capital offered the benefit of shortening the lines of communication with the continent.

Trinovantes Coin Minted at Camulodunon

Trinovantes Coin Minted at Camulodunon

Addedomaros either warred with or was a client to the Catuvellaunian ruler, Tasciovanus. For a brief period from 15-10 BC, Tasciovanus issued coins from Camulodunum (minted mark CAMV[lodunum]. The circumstances of his brief reign over the Trinovantes and his sudden move back to his old tribal capital is not clear. His power over the Trinovantes may have been due to conquest or dynastic marriage.

Gold coin of_Addedomarus 35BCE_1BCE

Gold coin of Addedomarus 35BCE – 1BCE

Tasciovanus

Several small tribes came under the rule of Tasciovanus, whose center of power was at Verulamium (St. Albans). He ruled under the title of ricomus, the Celtic equivalent of the Latin rex, interpreted as ‘king. Several coin issued by Tasciovanus indicate he had a long reign. At the peak of his career, his coins spread south of the Thames to the Northwest. This young and energetic Catuvellaunian ruler could have overran the Trinovantes and surrounding tribes in his lust for power.

Celtic Gold Stater Minted by Tasciovanus, Catuvellauni

Celtic Gold Stater Minted by Tasciovanus, Catuvellauni

Another possibility is that he created an alliance with the Trinovantes by the means of a dynastic marriage. His mother may have been the daughter of Mandubracius and he went to war or formed an alliance with the Trinovantes on that pretext. Whatever the circumstances, he was able to bring together two powerful kingdoms for a short time and pass it on to Cunobeline, who claimed to be his son.

Remains Verulamium Wall

Remains Ancient Verulamium Wall

Dubnovellaunus

On the death of Tasciovanus, or towards the end of his reign, the throne of the Trinovantes was taken over by Dubnovellaunus. His coins were found in two quite separate areas, that of the Trinovantes and Northeast Kent, with very little overlap. The coins from Camulodunum closely follow the style of Addedomaros, which suggests Dubnovellaunus was his direct successor. The series of coins based in Canterbury, however, appears similar to Tasciovanus.

Based on limited Roman records, Dubnovellaunus was probably acting under Roman advice and economic pressure. Augustus, a skilled statesman, built up alliances with political forces in Britain which had pro-Roman leanings. Of these, the Trinovantes and their allies were the most important, as the control of East Kent by a Roman ally was paramount. By 15 BC certain British rulers made offerings in Rome, implying formal treaties were ratified with the empire. An inscription in Ankara, Turkey known as Monumentum Ancyranum said two British Kings, Dubnovellaunus and Tincommius, appeared as supplicants in Rome presumably after they had fled the kingdoms. The accepted date of this monument is AD 7, which means that their flight from Britain must be dated before this.

Monumentum Ancyranum; Temple of Augustus in Ankara, Turkey

Monumentum Ancyranum; Temple of Augustus in Ankara, Turkey

In conclusion, the records suggest a flurry of diplomatic activity by Augustus in 17 BC which can be linked with the sudden rise of Dubnovellaunus and the spread of Roman control over the Thames Estuary. This was reversed in  AD 1 when Cunobeline seized power and the Catuvellauni took control of the region.

To be continued

The next posts will provide an overview of the rise of Cunobeline and the political struggles in Southern Britain.

References:

David Miles, The Tribes of Britain Phoenix, Imprint of Orion Books, Ltd., London, UK, 2006.

Graham Webster, Boudica: The British Revolt Against Rome AD 60, Reprinted 2004 by Routledge, London.

Graham Webster, The Roman Invasion of Britain, Graham Webster, Reprinted 1999 by Routledge, New York, NY.

John Peddie, Conquest: The Roman Invasion of Britain, St. Martin’s Press, New York, NY 10010.

Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Bollingen Series XVII, 3rd Edition; New World Library, Novato, CA