The Celtic Tribes of Britain

The Catuvellauni

"Next are the Catuvellauni, among whom are the towns
Salinae 20*45 55°50 Urolanium 19*20 55°30."

Even though Ptolemy only assigns two Πολεις to the Catuvellauni, the tribe occupied the modern counties of Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire east of the River Charwell. The tribe was originally centred at Saint Albans in Hertfordshire but their territories were expanded in the years following Caesar excursions to the islands (in 55 and 54 BC) to become the most extensive tribal canton in Southern Britain.

Other passages in Ptolemy Book II Chapter 2 give the ancient names of a number of rivers and other geographical features within the territories of the Catuvellauni tribe:

The Civitas Catuvellaunum
The Principal Tribal Centre

Vervlamivm (Saint Albans, Hertfordshire)

The coins of king Tasciovanus were the first to appear with the mint-name VER[ulamion] c.20BC. The town became a Roman municipium c.AD50, whereupon its inhabitants were granted Roman or Latin rights in law. This possibly explains why none of the ancient geographical sources use the tribal suffix -Catuvellaunum in recording the name, even though it was the centre of administration for the tribe.

The Tribal Πολεις Assigned by Ptolemy

Vervlamivm(Saint Albans, Hertfordshire) - The cantonal capital (see above).
Salinae('The Saltings') - This saltworking settlement remains unidentified.

Known pre-Roman settlements

Posting Stations and Settlements from the Itineraries

Svlloniacis(Brockley Hill, Greater London) - A minor settlement, the centre of an important pottery industry.
Dvrocobrivis(Dunstable, Bedfordshire) - Minor settlement north-west of Verulamion, where Watling Street crossed the Icknield Way.
Magiovinivm(Dropshort, Buckinghamshire) - A Major settlement and road station at the crossing of the Ouzel.
Lactodvrvm(Towcester, Northamptonshire) - A small town, the 3rd Watling Street road-station north of Verulam.
Bannaventa(Whilton Lodge, Northamptonshire) - A 4th-century fortified town or burg, the 4th road-station on Watling Street north of Verulam.
Dvrobrivae(Water Newton, Cambridgeshire) - Town beside the river Nene succeeded an early fort. Centre of the flourishing Castor potteries and surrounded by a number of rich suburban villas.
Dvrovigvtvm(Godmanchester, Cambridgeshire) - Small walled town and road centre mentioned in the Ravenna Cosmography.
Dvroliponte(Cambridge, Cambridgeshire) - Mentioned in the Antonine Itinerary.

Other Settlements and Road-Stations

Alchester(Oxfordshire) - Walled town, replaced early Roman Fort.
Baldock(Hertfordshire) - Posting station on Ermine Street.
Bishop's Stortford(Hertfordshire) - posting station on the Colchester - Braughing road.
Braintree(Essex) - posting station on the Colchester - Braughing road.
Braughing(Hertfordshire) - Posting station and major settlement at the focus of several roads.
Dorchester-on-Thames(Oxfordshire) - Walled town, replaced earlier native settlement.
Duston(Northamptonshire) - Metal-working centre near Northampton.
Great Chesterford(Essex) - Walled town, succeeding an early military site.
Great Dunmow(Essex) - posting station on the Colchester - Braughing road.
Irchester(Northamptonshire) - Walled town.
Kettering(Northamptonshire) - An iron-working settlement of some importance.
Sandy(Bedfordshire) - Ermine Street posting station.
Welwyn(Hertfordshire) - Small roadside settlement.
Wimpole Lodge(Cambridgeshire) - Posting station.

Other Romano-British Sites

Industries in the Canton

Potteries were located at Castor, Brockley Hill and near Oxford, while pottery and tile-making also took place in the area south of Verulamium. Villa's are few in number, considering the size of the canton, and there are no notable concentrations. Rural Shrines have been identified at Great Chesterford (Essex), Woodeaton (Oxfordshire), Harlow (Essex), Barkway (Hertfordshire) and Stony Stratford (Buckinghamshire). Celtic Burials attributed to the Catuvellauni and bearing grave-goods of notable richness have been found in Hertfordshire at Welwyn, Hertford Heath and Welwyn Garden City.

General Notes

Cassivellaunus organised the British resistance against Caesar's second expeditionary force. The large fortress at Wheathampstead, north of St. Albans, was possibly the site of the decisive battle during which one Lugotorix, a Briton of noble birth, was captured by Caesar, and after which, Cassivellaunus sued for peace. Later the seat of government of Togodumnus, the son of Cunobelinus who himself ruled from Camelodunum.

The Distribution of the Tribe

Catuvellauni Territories
This map demonstrates the maximum extent of Catuvellaunian influence in the south-east of England, prior to the coming of Rome.
Adapted from Iron Age Communities in Britain, by Barry Cunliffe (Fig.6:1, pp.76).

The Origins of the Catuvellauni

It is interesting to note that the Catuvellauni tribe are nowhere mentioned in any of Caesar's memoirs. There could be a number of explanations for this:

  1. During the time of Caesar's British expeditions, the tribe was too insignificant to have caught his attention - which is doubtful considering the area they were later to occupy.
  2. The tribe may have appeared disguised under a different name - which is possible considering Caesar recorded the name of the Iceni tribe of Norfolk as the Cenimagni.
  3. The tribe did not exist prior to the departure of Caesar from Britain.

We are given a clue in Caesar's Gallic Wars, in his narration of the expedition of 54BC.

'... by common consent they¹ had entrusted the supreme command and conduct of the campaign to Cassivellaunus, whose territories are divided from the maritime states by the river called Tamesis², about eighty miles from the sea.' (Caesar De Bello Gallico v.11)
  1. The British tribes.
  2. The River Thames.

Cassivellaunus was then, the leader of the combined British force opposed to Caesar during his second expedition to the island. The distance from the coast given above, would put the extent of Cassivellaunus' tribe north of the Thames well into the modern Shires of Buckingham, Bedford and Cambridge; remarkably similar to the known extent of the Catuvellauni.

'Having obtained knowledge of their plans, Caesar led his army into the borders of Cassivellaunus as far as the River Thames, which can be crossed at one place¹ only on foot, and that with difficulty. ...' (Caesar De Bello Gallico v.18)
  1. Probably at or near Brentford in Greater London.

It is apparent from the above extract that the tribe of Cassivellaunus inhabited the lands along both banks of the Thames, but with the majority of their territory lying to the north of the river; this description approximates that of the tribal lands later attributed to the Catuvellauni.

'When the Trinobantes¹ had been placed under protection and secured from all outrage at the hands of the troops, the Cenimagni, the Segontiaci, the Ancalites, the Bibroci and the Cassi² sent deputations and surrendered to Caesar. ...' (Caesar De Bello Gallico v.21)
  1. The Trinovantes were probably one of only two states who, as agreed, sent hostages to Caesar while he was wintering in Gaul (55/54BC), the other possibly being the people of Cantium or Kent (vide B.G. iv.38).
  2. Of these five British tribes, the Cenimagni have been identified with the Iceni of Norfolk and Suffolk, the Segontiaci may be identified with the later settlement of Segontium near Caernarfon in North Wales, the Ancalites and the Bibroci are otherwise unknown, and the Cassi are discussed below.

Adding all these extracts together leads one to concede to the possibility that the personal name Cassivellaunus has been misconstrued, and should be approached with different emphasis, i.e. 'the Cassi, Vellaunus', or in different case, 'Vellaunus of the Cassi'. If this interpretation of the British warlords name is accepted, and Caesar's previous statements regarding the extent of Cassivellaunus' own tribe are also taken into consideration, it stands to reason, that the Cassi occupied the lands about the north Thames. On this premise, the Cassi were the precursors of the Catuvellauni tribe which was probably formed shortly after the departure of Caesar from Britain, whereupon 'Vellaunus of the Cassi' became the progenitor of the Catuvellaunian ruling dynasty.

Could the name Catuvellauni be interpreted as 'The Followers of Vellaunus'?

The Catuvellaunian Nobility

CassivellaunusThe leader of the resistance to Caesar in both of his British campaigns. Cassivellaunus possibly formed the tribe later to become known as the Catuvellauni from a federation of smaller like-minded Belgic tribes living north of the Thames, specifically to counter Caesar. The next identifiable ruler of the Catuvellauni was Tasciovanus who came to power c.20BC, though whether he was the son or grandson of Cassivellaunus is not known. [It is possible that Cassivellaunus should be translated as 'Vellaunus of the Cassi', i.e. his tribe was the Cassi and his name was Vellaunus. It follows that the name given to the amalgamated tribe gathered under his command could mean 'the Followers1 or Smiters2 of Vellaunus'. 1 Latin caterva crowd, troop, company, flock. 2 Gaelic cath to smite.]
[...]This unknown ruler succeeded Cassivellaunus around 30BC when the old adversary of Caesar died, possibly marrying a daughter of Mandubracius of the Trinovantes. He died c.20BC leaving the Catuvellaunian kingdom to his son Tasciovanus.
TasciovanusWas the grandson, or perhaps the son, of Cassivellaunus, and the father of Cunobelin and Epaticcus. He was ruler of the tribe from c.20BC, and was the first Catuvellaunian monarch to issue inscribed coins, bearing the VER[ulamium] mint marks. He was also the first to renew hostilities towards the Trinovantes, flouting the long-standing agreement between Caesar and his own grandfather Cassivellaunus. Between 10 and 15BC he issued a series of coins bearing the mint mark CAMV[lodunum], indicating that for a time at least, he took posession of the Trinovantian capital, but it appears that he withdrew following the advent of Augustus in Gaul. His later coin issues bear the inscription TASCIO • RIGON where the word 'rigon' is usually translated as 'king'. If this is the case, it is probable that Tasciovanus did not have a treaty with Rome, otherwise he would have used the title 'REX'. A number of coins bear joint names; TASC • DIAS, TASCIO • SEGO, TAS • ANDO, while ANDO, ANDOCO and RVES also appear alone. The existence of these coin issues supports the suggestion that the Catuvellauni were originally a federation of like-minded Belgic tribes. Another alternative is that some of these names may be mint marks. He was succeeded by his brilliant son Cunobelin c.AD10.
AndocoKnown only from inscriptions on coinage, where his name appears singly as ANDO or ANDOCO, and jointly on one issue as TAS ANDO in which it is assumed that his name appears with that of his overlord, Tasciovanus. The distribution of these coins suggest that Andocos or Andocoveros ruled over a territory on the western flank of the Catuvellauni, and was issuing coin towards the end of the reign of Tasciovanus (c.15BC-c.AD10) at the turn of the first century AD. Suggested variatons of his name include Andocos or Andocoveros. (vide Dias[...], Sego[...] and Rues[...].)
Dias[...]A sub-king of the overlord Tasciovanus (c.15BC-c.AD10), is known only from a single coinage issue bearing the inscription TASC • DIAS. (vide Andoco, Sego[...] and Rues[...].)
Rues[...]Possibly a sub-king of the overlord Tasciovanus (c.15BC-c.AD10), is known only from a single coinage issue bearing the inscription RVES. (see also Andoco, Dias[...] and Sego[...].)
Sego[...]Apparently a sub-king of the overlord Tasciovanus (c.15BC-c.AD10), is known only from a single coinage issue bearing the inscription TASCIO SEGO. (see also Andoco, Dias[...] and Rues[...].
CunobelinSon of Tasciovanus, father of Adminius, Togodumnus and Caratacus. During the last years of his father's reign, he invaded the territory of the Trinovantes and subdued them, probably prompted by the news of Rome's loss of Varus' three legions in Germany in AD9, and therefore fairly confident that his action would go unpunished. He continued to rule over the Trinovantes from Camulodunum by dint of his own resources and retained his seat of government there when he succeeded to the Catuvellaunian throne upon the death of Tasciovanus in circa AD10. He became 'the first British statesman,' and through diplomatic means, probably had his kingship over the joint Catuvellaunian/Trinovantian kingdom ratified by Rome, for some of his later coinage bears the title 'REX'. He continued to rule the combined tribes from Camulodunum for many years, and his capital became the focal point of British politics, learning and trade. Suddenly, in c.AD40, he was enfeebled, possibly due to a stroke. Subsequent military actions by his sons Togodumnus and Caratacus, who swept throughout south-east Britain deposing first their own brother Adminius (who had pro-Roman tendancies) from Cantium, then their old adversary Verica of the Atrebates, brought the attentions of Rome. Cunobelin died shortly before the coming of Rome c.AD42.
EpaticcusA son of Tasciovanus, therefore probably the younger brother of Cunobelin, and apparently a favoured uncle of Caratacus. His coinage issues, from which we know his name and his filiation, bears the inscription TAS CIF to either side of a corn ear on the obverse, and a galloping horse and rider with the inscription EPATICCV round the edge on the reverse. The distribution of his coinage leads us to believe that he expanded the territory of his tribe at the expense of the Atrebatean king Verica, and installed himself at his capital, Calleva c.AD25. He continued to take Verica's lands to west and south until his death, probably on campaign in c.AD35, after which his expansionistic policies were continued by his nephews Caratacus and Togodumnus, probably in the late 30's AD.
AdminiusA son of Cunobelin, therefore brother to Togodumnus and Caratacus. He appears to have been given administrative authority over Cantium towards the end of the reign of Tiberius around AD35, replacing the old chief Vodenos who may have recently expired. This preferential treatment over his other two sons, may mean that Adminius was the eldest of the three. An issue of silver coinage appeared at this time in east Kent bearing the inscription AMM INVS on the obverse, the letters appearing to either side of a seven eared wheatsheaf, and DVN on the reverse, probably a mint-mark, possibly DV[roverno]N. Adminius was driven from Cantium by his two brothers, apparently with the approval of his father at around the same time as his enfeeblement c.AD40. This was presumably because of his acquired taste for things Roman, which had resulted from his governing that part of Britain closest to Gaul and thus closest to Roman influence. He escaped capture and fled to Gaul, thence to Germany where c.AD41 he sought audience with the mad Gaius Caligula and tried to persuade the emperor that Britain was 'ripe for intervention' at this time. The attempt of Gaius failed dismally, and Adminius no doubt accompanied the emperor back to Rome where he was subsequently repatriated with his homeland by the emperor Claudius AD43. It is possible that he was installed as the nominal governor of Cantium for his services, and possibly lived in the Villa discovered at Eccles near the crossing of the North Downs Way and the river Medway. (vide Amminus of the Cantiaci)
TogodumnusA son of Cunobelin, and brother to both Caratacus and Adminius. While his father ruled the joint Catuvellaunian/Trinovantian kingdom from Camulodunum, and his brother Adminius governed Cantium from Durovernum (annexed c.AD30), Togodumnus was given administrative authority over the Catuvellaunian heartlands and based at the old capital of Verulamium. This happened sometime around AD35, following the death of his uncle Epaticcus who had previously secured the western borders of the kingdom by his occupation of the Atrebatic capital, Calleva. When Cunobelin was suddenly enfeebled c.AD40, Togodumnus supported the expulsion of Adminius from Cantium by his younger brother Caratacus. Following his fathers death around AD42 and his subsequent accession to the throne, he empowered Caratacus to resume the campaign against the Atrebates, who eventually forced Verica to flee to the continent. He fought at least two major engagements against Aulus Plautius in AD43 and was either killed during the battle of the Medway, or died from his wounds shortly afterwards.
CaratacusProbably the youngest son of the British statesman Cunobelin, and thus the younger brother of Adminius and Togodumnus. He seemed to have formed an attachment to his uncle Epaticcus, for he based his own coin issues - silver minims inscribed CARA - on those of his father's brother, and their distribution in lands formerly of the Atrebates, is closely similar in pattern to those of Epaticcus. It is quite possible that he accompanied him during his campaigns against Verica of the Atrebates from c.AD25 until his death c.AD35. Following the enfeeblement of his father c.AD40, he supplanted his elder brother Adminius from his throne in Durovernon. He then joined forces with his other brother Togodumnus c.AD41 to renew the campaign against Verica of the Atrebates, who had caused the death of his beloved uncle. He fought several battles against Aulus Plautius during the invasion of AD43 before retreating to Wales, where he organised the tribes, particularly the Silures and Ordovices against Rome. During the change in Roman administration in AD47, Caratacus led the Silures in a well-timed attack deep into the Roman-held territory of Gloucestershire. The new governor, Ostorius Scapula, spent almost the entirety of his term in office fighting against Caratacus, finally beating him in an all-out confontation in mid-Wales in c.AD50. Caratacus fled into the territory of the Brigantes in the Pennines where he appealed for help from Queen Cartimandua. She betrayed and captured him, and honouring her agreement with emperor Claudius, dispatched him in chains to Scapula. He was sent in c.AD51 as a captive to the emperor, where he so impressed the Senate with his defiant speech that he was allowed to live with his family in Rome.

Bibliographical Links

See: Peoples of Roman Britain : The Catuvellauni by Keith Branigan (Sutton, 1985);
The Geography of Claudius Ptolemaeus, trans. by E.L. Stevenson (Dover, New York, 1991);
Atlas of Great Britain by the Ordnance Survey (Country Life, 1982);
Historical Map and Guide: Roman Britain by the OS (4th Ed., 1990);