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.

Julius Caesar Impact on Ancient Britain

Of the inhabitants, those of Cantium (Kent), an entirely maritime district, are far the most advanced, and the type of civilization here prevalent differs little from that of Gaul—Julius Caesar

Introduction

In 1st Century, Celtic maritime networks were revitalized in the northern Atlantic region as a result of Roman commercial activities in southern Gaul (modern day France). Celtic social ties on both sides of the British channel were strengthened and new alliances were formed.

When Julius Caesar marched into free Gaul in 58 BC, these maritime networks were disrupted as he conquered Gaul and put the region under Roman control. His forays into Britain in 55-54 BC introduced the Britons to the reality of Roman power and the consequences of sending their warriors to aid fellow Celts in Gaul.

Roman Eagle Standard

Roman Eagle Standard

Caesar wrote, ‘no one goes there [Britain] except traders, and even they are acquainted only with the sea-coasts and the areas that are opposite of Gaul.’ Prior to his first excursion in 55 BC, Caesar summoned ‘traders from these parts’ for information of Britain, but they told him nothing of value. This would seem surprising given the extensive trade between Gaul and Britain. A likely explanation is these traders chose to be highly selective with the intelligence they shared. The Gallic traders warned the Britons of Caesar’s intention to land on their island. As a result, several of the British tribes send envoys offering hostages and allegiance to Caesar while he was in Gaul.

Side-by-side Comparison of Celtic and Roman Chariots

Celtic Chariot Comparison to Roman Chariot


Commius, King of the Atrebates

Caesar pursued the offers made by British envoys by sending Commius—a chief of the Atrebates in Gaul and confidant of the Romans—to persuade the Britons not to resist the Romans when they landed in 55 BC. However, Commius was immediately imprisoned by the Britons. He was later handed back as part of of Caesar’s peace settlement with the Celtic leaders on his first expedition. During Caesar’s second expedition to Britain in 54 BC, Commius negotiated the surrender of the British leader Cassivellaunus (see below). Commius remained loyal to Caesar through the Gaulish revolts of 54 BC, and Rome rewarded him by allowing the Atrebates tribe to remain independent and to be exempt from tax.

Diplomatic Gift to a Chieftain ruling in Southern Britain, possibly Commius of the Atrebates.

Diplomatic Gift to a Chieftain ruling in Southern Britain, possibly Commius of the Atrebates.

Although Commius was at first an ally of Rome, he switched sides to join the revolt in Gaul led by Vercingetorix in 52 BC. He later escaped to Britain to join his people who had already settled there. He established a powerful kingdom based at Calleva (modern day Silchester). By about 30 BC, Commius had established himself as king of the Atrebates in Britain and was issuing coins.

Statue of Vercingetorix

Statue of Vercingetorix

Lessons Learned Caesar’s First Expedition

Caesar’s first expedition to Britannia had limited success. The main lesson learned was the ocean and its massive tides and racing currents was a more formidable opponent than the Britons. Natural forces wreaked havoc on the Roman logistics and destroyed several ships. Even though the native Britons were fierce fighters, they were totally unused to facing the disciplined Roman army. The various tribes were politically fragmented and made Roman diplomacy to divide them an effective weapon.

Overview White Cliffs Britain

Dover Cliffs Near Julius Caesar’s Landing in Ancient Britain


Mandubracius, King of the Trinovantes

To take advantage of the fragmentation between the tribal kings, Caesar negotiated a deal with Mandubracius, the son of the king of the Trinovantes. He had fled to Gaul to put himself under Caesar’s protection after his father had been killed in a conflict with his neighbor—Cassivellaunus, the king of the Catuvellauni. According to Caesar, the Catuvellauni were in a continual state of war with the other tribes in the area.

Celtic Horned Helmet

Celtic Horned Helmet Found at River Thames Date 150-50BC

Caesar’s campaign in early July 54 BC was on a more massive scale. Five legions and 2,000 cavalry –some 27,000 men—were transported in over 800 vessels. The landing was unopposed. Mandubracius proved to be invaluable as a source of intelligence about the complexities of local politics and the principal centers of power in eastern Britain. He helped Caesar navigate through the terrain he would fight on. Armed with this information, Caesar made a rapid, though heavily opposed advance through Kent that let him to the Thames, which he crossed, probably near London.

Roman Cavalryman in Ancient Britain

Roman Cavalryman in Ancient Britain

Mandubracius was a political pawn that played to good effect for Caesar. The Trinovantes, whom Caesar describes as the strongest tribe in southeast Britain, sent a deputation to discuss terms for their surrender. In this agreement, Mandubracius was reinstated as the tribal king who Caesar promised to protect his sovereignty. In exchange, the Trinovantes surrendered to Caesar, sending forty hostages as an assurance of their good behavior and providing grain for the Roman army. The concession by the Trinovantes was the major turning point and other tribes quickly followed. In all likelihood the basic deal had already been negotiated during the winter, when Mandubracius was under Caesar’s protection in Gaul. Knowing that he could rely on the Trinovantes to come over to Rome would have emboldened Caesar to make his rapid advance into hostile territory across the Thames, dangerously far from his supply base.

Roman Wagon

Roman War Wagon Used in Ancient Britain


Cassivellaunus, King of the Catuvellauni

But the danger still existed for Caesar despite his settlement with the Trinovantes. His army made for Cassivellaunus’ oppidium (fortified town) of Verulamium in the vicinity of St. Albans. It was protected by forests and marshes, and a great number of men. Cassivellaunus sought the aid of four tribal kings in Kent to attack the Roman base and supply lines. The attack ultimately failed and there was little Cassivellaunus could do but negotiate for peace.

As it was late in the summer season, Caesar was eager to negotiate terms so he could return to Gaul. It was agreed the Catuvellanuni would pay an annual tribute to Rome and hand over hostages. Further, Cassivellaunus agreed to leave the Trinovantes in peace. With his primary aims achieved, Caesar returned to Gaul with a great many prisoners.

Ancient Ruins of Verulamium Wall near St. Albans

Ancient Ruins of Verulamium Wall near St. Albans

Julius Caesar Impact on Ancient Britain 

Roman Domination

Whether these two brief excursions into Britain could be judged a Roman success is debatable since we do not know what Caesar’s true aspirations were for this isle. It is likely he had grossly underestimated the perils of the Channel crossing and the ferocity of the British resistance. He embarked on these expeditions with considerable risk and was lucky to escape with his reputation unscathed. What he did show, even if it was at a price, was the ocean could be mastered and that the distant island was accessible. He also claimed that the first step was taken to bring Britain under Roman domination. As far as Rome was concerned, southeast Britain had been conquered and treaty relationships had been established with the most powerful tribes. Britons were now paying an annual tribute to the Roman state. Others would have to complete the conquest.

Roman and Celtic Shields Used in Ancient Britain

Roman and Celtic Shields Used in Ancient Britain

Tribal Patronage to Rome

The Britons form the southeast gained not only first-hand experience of Roman military might, but, more importantly, they learned how the Romans had politically divided the tribes. Before the Roman invasion, the Celtic tribes were engaged in local conflicts and struck-up up allegiances for mutual benefit. Now these tribal rulers had a far more powerful force enter the arena. To gain patronage from the Roman world could offer them real advantages.

Celtic Gold Torc

Celtic Gold Torc Worn by Celtic Leaders

The most important effect of Caesar on the British scene was to divide the southeastern tribes into pro- and anti-Roman groups. Those who had suffered defeat, i.e. the tribes on the north bank of the Thames and in Kent were forced to pay an annual tribute which sustained a festering hatred of Rome. Those who benefited, the Trinovantes and the Catuvellauni, were rewarded with political alliances and access to trade.

Peoples of Southern Britain According to Ptolemy's Map

Peoples of Southern Britain According to Ptolemy’s Map

Lucrative trading monopolies were negotiated, and the hostages—usually young men from elite families—could be educated in Roman ways. Those who remained abroad maintained filial links with their tribe, while those who chose to return would bring with them new knowledge and a network of contacts that could benefit all. The desire to travel and to explore the world was deeply embedded in the psyche of the Britons. Patronage to the Roman cities was expanded.

Celtic Child in Roma Ara Pacis Procession Nord Particolare

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


To be continued

The tribes that Caesar encountered in his first incursion that are mentioned above became powerful tribal kingdoms, in part, due to favorable treaties negotiated with Rome and favorable trading treaties. The subsequent rulers of these powerful kingdoms will be discussed in upcoming posts.

References:

Barry Cunliffe, Britain Begins; Oxford University Press, 2013.

Graham Webster, The Roman Invasion of Britain, Reprinted 1999 by Routledge (Imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group), NY.

Julius Caesar, translated by F. P. Long, The Conquest of Gaul; United States: Barnes & Noble, Inc., 2005.

 

Celtic Spirit Warrior

Caesar Second Invasion Britain

‘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 considered Earth
The Cities rise again’
–Rudyard Kipling


Introduction

This is Part 3 in the series of posts that support Julius Caesar’s invasions of Ancient Britain in 55-54 BC helped establish powerful tribal dynasties in Britain that were loyal to Rome. The subsequent political unrest between rival tribal rulers in 1st Century Britain provides the backdrop to the epic historical fantasy, APOLLO’S RAVEN, the first unpublished novel in a series about a Celtic warrior princess and the great-grandson of Marc Antony.

Below is a continuation of Caesar’s second expedition after he learns several of his ships had been wrecked in a storm after landing.

Ancient Roman Ship Frieze

Image of Roman Warship on Frieze


Caesar’s 2nd Invasion Britain

March to Thames

Caesar’s primary objective in the second invasion of Britain was to march to the Thames and from there to Essex so he could barter with agents from the Trivovantes tribe for the return of their young prince, Mandubracius. Similar to his first invasion, his most formidable enemy was the forces of the English Channel. Two days after landing, several of his ships were wrecked  in an overnight storm off the southeast coastline.

Julius Caesar Statue

Statue of Julius Caesar

When Caesar received the bad news about the catastrophic damage to the vessels, he had to abandon his speedy advance to the Thames so his troops could repair the ships. Working night and day for ten days, the Roman soldiers repaired the boats and dragged them high up the beach into a fortified encampment. The huge task of protecting the fleet required a defensive line of four to five miles. The loss of time cost Caesar a resounding conquest, as the Britons had time to forget their political differences and to ally under a supreme commander, Cassivellaunus—the  ruler of lands bounded by the north bank of the Thames River.

Ancient Roman Warship Model

Roman Warship Model

By now the Britons had seen enough of Caesar’s legions and their battle tactics to know they could not successfully fight them in open battle. Cassivellaunus resorted to guerrilla tactics to menace the Roman army as his Celtic warriors withdrew to dense woodlands north of the Thames. There they prepared to resist.

Celtic Horned Helmet

Celtic Horned Helmet Found at River Thames Date 150-50BC

Yet again, the Roman troops displayed their discipline and training by fording the river in neck-high water. Not willing to risk an open engagement with the enemy when they reached the other side of the river, Cassivellaunus disbanded most of his forces and kept only 4000 charioteers to harass the flanks and rear of advancing Romans. He must have been bitterly disappointed that his forces could not even hold the Thames.

Roman Legion

Soldiers in Roman Legion


Political Tribal Division

Caesar’s plunge into hostile territory that separated him from the main supply line might have seemed fool-hardy. That was not the case. The trump card was Mandubracius who turned out to be a valuable ally in negotiating with agents from the Trinovantes tribe. As previously discussed in the last post, Mandubracius had fled to Gaul requesting Caesar’s protection after his father had been killed in a conflict with his neighbor Cassivellaunus, the Catuvellauni king.

Celtic Sword

Celtic Sword and Scabbard

In exchange for Caesar’s recognition of Mandubracius as their rightful king, the Trinovantes supplied grain to the Roman troops and forty hostages to secure the agreement. Further, Mandubracius persuaded five other tribes that bordered the kingdom of Cassivellaunus to join him in submitting to Rome. Though very little is known about these other tribes, one was assumed to be the Iceni who were initially a political ally to Rome in the invasion by Emperor Claudius almost 90 years later in 43 AD. Ironically, in 61 AD, the charismatic Iceni warrior queen, Boudica, led an uprising that almost expelled the Roman expeditionary forces out of Britain.

Boudica Statue

Statue of Boudica

The political implications of these tribal defections to Caesar were dramatic. The tribal leaders informed him of the location of Cassivellaunus’ stronghold in the thick woodlands and marshes. The Roman legions promptly and efficiently attacked the resisting Britons that resulted in the slaughter of many of the people and confiscation of their cattle.

Celtic Village of Roundhouses

Ancient Celtic Village of Roundhouses


Final Surrender

In one last desperate attempt, Cassivellaunus ordered Kentish tribes along the coastline to attack the Roman naval encampment to cut off Caesar from Gaul. But the Romans were ready for this assault, and they subsequently inflicted several Kentish casualties and captured their tribal leaders.

Grassy Top Dover Cliffs

Dover White Cliffs in Kent, Southeast Britain

Cassivellaunus had little choice but to sue for peace, with Commius, the Atrebates king from Gaul who served as negotiator. Any plans that Caesar had for staying in Britain had to be abandoned when he learned of serious trouble in Gaul that demanded his attention. He collected several British hostages, levied an annual tribute on the hostile tribes, and ordered Cassivellaunus not to attack the Trivovantes or dispose of their king, Mandubracius.

Celtic Battersea Shield

Celtic Battersea Shield

Caesar’s decision to leave Britain seemed sudden because he waited in vain for additional ships from Gaul to ferry his army across the Channel. By the autumn equinox, he had to make two voyages with his repaired ship to transfer innumerable hostages, prisoners and Roman soldiers back to Gaul.

Conclusions

Ultimately, Caesar’s grand scheme of adding Britain to his lists of conquests failed due to the capricious weather and tides of the English Channel. Yet he ultimately vanquished Gaul and established treaties with power British leaders that directly impacted trading routes and internal politics on the island.

The next series of posts will piece together the rise of powerful tribal dynasties descended from Mandubracius, Cassivellaunus, and Commius in Britain that, in part, impacted Rome’s final decision to invade and conquer the island ninety years later in 43 AD.

Overview White Cliffs Britain

Dover Cliffs in Britain Near Landing Site of Julius Caesar

References:

Julius Caesar, translated by F. P. Long, 2005. The Conquest of Gaul; United States: Barnes & Noble, Inc.

John Peddie, Conquest: The Roman Invasion of Britain; Reprinted 1997 by St. Martin’s Press, New York.

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

Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey; 3rd Edition Reprinted by Sheridan Books, Inc., Chelsea, Michigan