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The Catuvellauni were a Belgic tribe or state of south-eastern Britain before the Roman conquest.

The fortunes of the Catuvellauni and their kings before the conquest can be traced through numismatic evidence and scattered references in classical histories. They are mentioned by Dio Cassius, who implies they led the resistance against the conquest in AD 43. They appear as one of the civitates of Roman Britain in Ptolemy's Geography in the 2nd century, occupying modern Hertfordshiremarker, Bedfordshire and southern Cambridgeshire and based around the town of Verlamionmarker (modern St Albansmarker).

Their territory was bordered to the north by the Iceni and Corieltauvi, to the east by the Trinovantes, to the west by the Dobunni and Atrebates, and to the south by the Regnenses and Cantiaci.

The Catuvellauni may be related to the Catalauni, a people of Belgic Gaul attested in the region of Châlons-en-Champagnemarker. The name itself may be derived from the Proto-Celtic catuwali (nominative plural) meaning "battle lords" or "lords of battle".

Before the Roman conquest

Cassivellaunus, who led the resistance to Julius Caesar's first expedition to Britain in 54 BC, is often taken to have belonged to the Catuvellauni. His tribal background is not mentioned by Caesar, but his territory, north of the Thames and to the west of the Trinovantes, corresponds to that later occupied by the Catuvellauni. The extensive earthworks at Devil's Dykemarker near Wheathampsteadmarker, Hertfordshiremarker are thought to have been the tribe's original capital.

Tasciovanus was the first king to mint coins at Verlamionmarker, beginning ca 20 BC. He appears to have expanded his power at the expense of the Trinovantes to the east, as some of his coins, ca 15–10 BC, were minted in their capital Camulodunummarker (modern Colchestermarker). This advance was given up, possibly under pressure from Rome, and a later series of coins were again minted at Verulamium.

However, Camulodunum was retaken, either by Tasciovanus or by his son Cunobelinus, who succeeded him ca AD 9 and ruled for about thirty years. Little is known of Cunobelinus's life, but his name survived into British legend, culminating in William Shakespeare's play Cymbeline. Geoffrey of Monmouth says he was brought up at the court of Augustus and willingly paid tribute to Rome. Archaeology indicates increased trading and diplomatic links with the Roman Empire. Under Cunobelinus and his family the Catuvellauni appear to have become the dominant power in south-eastern Britain. His brother Epaticcus gained territory to the south and west at the expense of the Atrebates until his death ca AD 35.

Three sons of Cunobelinus are known to history. Adminius, whose power-base appears from his coins to have been in Kentmarker, was exiled by his father shortly before AD 40 according to Suetonius, prompting the emperor Caligula to mount his abortive invasion of Britain. Two other sons, Togodumnus and Caratacus, are named by Dio Cassius. No coins of Togodumnus are known, but Caratacus's rare coins suggest that he followed his uncle Epaticcus in completing the conquest of the lands of the Atrebates. It was the exile of the Atrebatic king, Verica, that prompted Claudius to launch a successful invasion, led by Aulus Plautius, in AD 43.

Dio tells us that by this stage Cunobelinus was dead, and Togodumnus and Caratacus led the initial resistance to the invasion in Kent. They were defeated by Plautius in two crucial battles on the rivers Medway (see Battle of the Medwaymarker) and Thames. He also tells us that the Bodunni, a tribe or kingdom who were tributary to the Catuvellauni, switched sides. This may be a misspelling of the Dobunni, who lived in Gloucestershiremarker, and may give an indication of how far Catuvellaunian power extended. Togodumnus died shortly after the battle on the Thames. Plautius halted and sent word for the emperor to join him, and Claudius led the final advance to Camulodunum. The territories of the Catuvellauni became the nucleus of the new Roman province.

Under Roman rule

Caratacus, however, had survived, and continued to lead the resistance to the invaders. We next hear of him in Tacitus's Annals, leading the Silures and Ordovices in what is now Walesmarker against the Roman governor Publius Ostorius Scapula. Ostorius defeated him in a set-piece battle somewhere in Ordovician territory (see Battle of Caer Caradoc) in AD 51, capturing members of his family, but Caratacus again escaped. He fled north to the Brigantes, but their queen, Cartimandua, was loyal to the Romans and handed him over in chains.

Caratacus was exhibited as a war-prize as part of a triumphal parade in Rome. He was allowed to make a speech to the Senate, and made such an impression that he and his family were freed and allowed to live in peace in Rome.

Verulamiummarker, the Roman settlement near Verlamion, gained the status of municipium ca 50, allowing its leading magistrates to become Roman citizens. It was destroyed in the rebellion of Boudica in 60 or 61, but was soon rebuilt. Its forum and basilica were completed in 79 or 81, and were dedicated in an inscription by the governor, Gnaeus Julius Agricola, to the emperor Titus. Its theatre, the first Roman theatre in Britain, was built ca 140.

An inscription records that the civitas of the Catuvellauni were involved in the reconstruction of Hadrian's Wallmarker, probably in the time of Septimius Severus in the early 3rd century. Saint Alban, the first British Christian martyr, was a citizen of Verulamium in the late 3rd or early 4th century, and was killed there. The city took its modern name from him. The tombstone of a woman of the Catuvellauni called Regina, freedwoman and wife of Barates, a soldier from Palmyramarker in Syriamarker, was found in the 4th century Roman fort of Arbeiamarker in South Shieldsmarker in the north-east of England.

List of leaders of the Catuvellauni

  1. Cassivellaunus, a military leader and possibly chieftain, often associated with the Catuvellauni c. 54 BC
  2. Tasciovanus, c. 20 BC – AD 9
  3. Cunobelinus, AD 9 – AD 40
  4. Togodumnus
  5. Caratacus

See also


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