British Tribal Dynasties

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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 

2 Responses to "British Tribal Dynasties"
  1. Luciana says:

    Dear Linnea,

    You have to give it to the Romans for their skills in diplomacy and bullying! I know they tyrannical and dictators but they did influence a lot of the cultures in the Mediterranean.

    Your articles continue to intrigue and inspire me to want to learn more!

    Thank you
    Luciana

    • Hi Luciana,

      Thank you for your comments. As you indicated, Augustus was particularly skilled in diplomacy and most likely had influence on British politics. The interaction with Rome prior to Claudius’ invasion is fascinating. Most likely, some of the British rulers were education in Rome as children.

      Thank you for your support and sharing your love of ancient history and mythology.

      Regards,
      Linnea

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