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Celts: The Catuvellauni

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In this article we will give a history of the Catuvellauni tribe of Prydain, that is Ancient Britain. One of the best known of the Celtic tribes in Britain the Catuvellauni dominated southern Prydain, and made the most impact on Rome.

The Catuvellauni were not as old as their neighbors. In terms of age the Catuvellauni were amongst the younger tribes of the Celtic world. In fact the Catuvellauni were not even a proper tribe, but the result of several tribes joined together following Caesar's second landing in Prydain in 54 BC. The principal tribe of the Catuvellauni was the Casse, from whom all of the kings came forth, and who lead the rest of this 'federation' for the duration of its history. The other members are unknown, with the exception of the Trinovantes, who were added to the federation by Cunobelinus in the early 1st Century AD. Of the Casse not much is known. We do know that they were Belgic Celts who had inhabited the area around the modern Thames at least as early as the 3rd Century BC. We also know that the Casse were considered the leaders of military innovation in Prydain and were wealthy by virtue of the tin trade that was so plenty in the British Isles. If the records are correct the Casse were also held to be skilled politicians and diplomats, a trait that the Catuvellauni inherited years later.

Rome sparked the creation of one of their worst foes. By the time Julius Caesar arrived in Prydain the second time in 54 BC he had attracted enough attention from the Brythonic and Belgic tribes to realize that they needed a kind of supreme commander to organize themselves if they were going to survive. They met and appointed Cassivellaunus, or more correctly Vellaunus of the Casse, to be their leader. At the time of Caesar's arrival Cassivellaunus had just finished a war with the Trinovantes, the virtual rulers of Prydain, defeating them and exiling Mandubracius, the heir of the Trinovantes. Mandubracius in turn fled to Caesar who thusly was already aware of Cassivellaunus by the time he reached the Thames area. It was not long before Cassivellaunus realized that conventional warfare was not going to work against the Romans, causing him to resort to guerilla warfare. This worked for a time but eventually Caesar pushed on and was able to cross the Thames and reach the territory of the Trinovantes, and thus to safety. Cassivellaunus was not done yet, but Caesar surprised him by attacking his great home fortress at modern Wheathampstead. But even then Cassivellaunus had one last trick. The four kings of Cantium, modern Kent, who had banded together for protection. The Kentish kings for the most part kept to themselves, but in the interest of unity they followed Cassivellaunus. He ordered them to attack the Roman naval base. This attack failed and Cassivellaunus, realizing he was outmatched, surrendered to Caesar. Caesar agreed and left for Gaul as quickly as possible, imposing only light terms and vassalage. Cassivellaunus, for his part, learned from the experience with the Romans and probably watched the Gallic Revolt as well, absorbing the lessons taught there. Melding all of these ideas together he unified the Belgic tribes along the northern shore of the Thames into one tribe and called them the Catuvellauni, the Smiters of Vellaunus.

The Catuvellauni would quickly dominate Prydain. Following the death of Cassivellaunus in 30 BC he was succeeded by his unnamed son, who married into the royal family of the Trinovantes to further solidify the peace enforced by Caesar's terms. This unknown king died after ten years and was succeeded by his son, Tasciovanus. This new king would oversee a long and glorious reign, ruling a total of thirty years. In the reign of Tasciovanus the capital was moved from the old fortress at Wheathampstead to the new un-walled city of Verlamio, or Verulanium. This move was meant to signal not only to Prydain, but also to Rome, that the Catuvellauni were going in a new direction. During this period the wealth of the Catuvellauni increased greatly, and their power grew with it. Even though this period of peace and prosperity brought the Catuvellauni to great heights not everyone was happy with the situation, even the king himself. Tasciovanus made it no secret he did not like the Trinovantes, even though his own mother was one. And he probably blamed them for the sad state of the Catuvellauni as vassals of Rome. But no one dared touch Caesar's favored tribe. That is until 9 AD, while Rome was distracted by the disaster of Teutoberg Forest. Led by Cunobelinus, the eldest son of Tasciovanus, Catuvellauni forces attacked and conquered the Trinovantes, and the city of Camulodunum became the new seat of power. Cunobelinus ruled the Trinovantes for a year, when his father died. Following his crowning the Trinovantes were absorbed into the great Catuvellauni federation, and the capital was moved to Camulodunum, which would become the largest and richest city in all of Prydain. Unlike his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, Cunobelinus sought the friendship of Rome and is now considered to be the First British Statesman. The Romans were greatly surprised by the wealth and power of the Catuvellauni, especially when they learned of the presence of not one, but two mints in Cunobelinus' territory. The reign of Cunobelinus was the golden age of the Celts in Prydain, even though the Brythonic Celts were left out in the great federation of Belgic tribes. Tiberius Caesar would go on to grant the title 'King of the Britons' to Cunobelinus, which started a series of military campaigns in the 20s AD. Cunobelinus there after was King of the Britons both in title and reality. In 35 AD the kingdom began to unravel when the king lost his brother and viceroy, Epaticcus. The kingdom was divided between the sons of Cunobelinus, to disastrous consequences. In 40 AD the old king suffered a stroke, and his younger sons Togodumnus and Caradoc seized control. This seizure prompted the eldest son, Adminius, to flee to Rome. Shortly afterwards Cunobelinus died, brining the golden age to a close.

Caradoc's reign was the end of Catuvellauni. With the death of Cunobelinus the eldest remaining son, Togodumnus, became the new king. But Caradoc was the true ruler of the Catuvellauni. Unlike their father, the two brothers were anti-Roman, and resented the increasing Roman nature of their kingdom. But first other matters drew their attention. The Atrebates, a new kingdom originally from Gaul, had earned the special hatred of the Catuvellauni when they killed Epaticcus. Caradoc focused all the energies of the kingdom on conquering the Atrebates. He succeeded and drove the king of the Atrebates, Verica, to Rome. In Rome the new Emperor Claudius was desperate to find some way to prove himself to the empire. The arrival of Verica, coupled with the continued pleas of Adminius, gave Claudius the opportunity he needed. In 43 AD the Roman Invasion of Britain began. Caradoc and Togodumnus rallied the tribes of Prydain to resistance, resulting in a situation eerily similar to their great-great-grandfather's when he confronted Caesar. The war went badly for the Catuvellauni, not even the chariots that worked so well in the last invasion could turn the tide. At the decisive battle at the modern Medway the Catuvellauni are broken by Roman arms, and Togodumnus fell in the battle. Caradoc assumed the kingship, now ruler in title and in fact. Caradoc would go on to fight one last field battle at the Thames, only to be defeated. Following this he returned to Camulodunum to try to get the populace to disperse into the woods and fight the Romans in a guerilla war. But they did not heed his words and the Romans conquered the jewel of Prydain shortly after Caradoc's departure with a small group of followers. This remnant followed Caradoc to Wales and there assisted the fugitive king in fighting a brilliant guerilla campaign from 47 AD to 50. In that year Roman authorities finally defeated the last Catuvellauni at the battle of Caer Caradoc. The king himself escaped capture for a while longer before he was betrayed by the Brigantes and sent to Rome in 51. After this we hear no more of the Catuvellauni as a separate people.

In conclusion the Catuvellauni were a major tribe of Prydain. Without a doubt the Catuvellauni are among the greatest of the Celtic tribes of Ancient Britain. They well earned their fame, and their kings were great warriors, diplomats, and leaders.

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