"You must know, till the injurious Romans did extort this tribute from us, we were free" -Cymbeline, Shakespeare
"Caesar's ambition, which swell'd so much that it did almost stretch the sides o' the world, against all colour here did put the yoke upon 's; which to shake off becomes a warlike people, whom we reckon ourselves to be." This is how Shakespeare presents Cunobelinos (Shakespeare, Cymbeline, Act II) addressing the envoy of Augustus, declaring Britain's independence of Roman foreign policy. "
"Come, said his advisor Lord Cloten, there's no more tribute to be paid: our kingdom is stronger than it was at that time", referring to 54BC when Julius Caesar, during the conquest of Gaul, first exacted tribute from the Britons. Cunobelinos ruled in Britain in the period between about AD10 and AD40, heir to the rulers of Caesar's time, and considered by the Romans as Rex Britannorum King of the Britons (Suetonius, Lives of the Caesars: Caligula, 44). His kingdom took in the sweep of tuatha extending from the Trinovantes, where he kept his capital, Camulodunum, through the Catuvellauni, of whose people he was heir, the Atrebates, Dobunni, Belgae and Durotriges, in other words most of the sweep of southern Britain.
His kingdom was the result of the British response to the conquest of Gaul. The great leader's name meant 'Hound of Belinos', Old Irish cú and Welsh cwn hounds (McBain, 1982) referring colloquially to 'defender'. This is an old term, as we find established for "Britius, king of the Allobroges [in 121BC Gaul] magnificently arrayed and followed by attendants likewise arrayed, and also by dogs; for the barbarians of this region use dogs also as body-guards" (Appian, Gallic History, Embassies fragment). The famous hero Cú Chullaind of the later Irish legend Táin Bó Cúalnge was likewise titled, "then myself will be the hound to protect his flocks and his cattle and his land" (The Cattle-Raid of Cooley, 7a). Belinos is the Celtic god of the sky, for whom the May Day summer fires at Beltaine are lit for protection, luck and abundance (Hutton, 1996, 218; McBain, 1982).
Belgic settlement in Britiain
Caesar noted in 54BC "the interior of Britian is inhabited by people who claim, on the strength of an oral tradition, to be aboriginal; the coast, by Belgic immigrants who came to plunder and make war - nearly all of them retaining the names of the tribes from which they originated - and later settled down to till the soil. The population is exceedingly large, the ground being studded with homesteads, closely resembling those of the Gauls, and the cattle very numerous. For money they use either bronze, or gold coins, or iron ingots of fixed weights" (Caesar, Bellum Gallium, 5,12).
The British Celts had long been in contact with Gaul and the Mediterranean world, tin from Cornwall being of demand and passing through the cities of Masallia and Narbo as described by Diodorus (Todd, 1997, 2). Strabo lists other products exported from Britain as "corn, cattle, gold, silver, iron...together with hides, slaves and hunting dogs" (Gardner, 1982, 13). Events in Gaul during the second century BC brought about permanent settlement in Britain of tuatha from Belgic Gaul, and Belgic minted coinage dating to the close of the second century BC is found about the south and east (Morris, 2005, 30). Caesar reports, for instance, "the Suessiones...had an extensive and fertile territory [and] had been ruled within living memory by Diviciacus, the most powerful king in Gaul, who controlled not only a large part of the Belgic country, but Britain as well" (Caesar, Bellum Gallium, 2,4). This was also the period of instability caused by incursions of Germanic tribes from across the Rhine.
The oral traditions of the Celts were told by bards, of whom we meet in Gaul attending Bituitus, described as "a musician...who sang in barbarous fashion the praises of King Britius [and] of the [visiting Roman] ambassador himself, celebrating his birth, his bravery, and his wealth" (Appian, Gallic History, Embassy fragment). The inland people of Britain included the Brigantes and to their north the Votadini, in whose large territories settlements dating to the sixth century BC have been identified (Todd, 1997, 48).
In the south, the establishment of trade ports, enclaves and settlements by Belgic tuatha opened the way for Belgic migration, and refuge following the conquest of Gaul. Coins were abundant in the Cantiaci, "by far the most civilized inhabitants [living in] a purely maritime district, whose life differs little from that in Gaul" (Caesar, Bellum Gallium, 4,14), and large settlements were established in the first century BC, the later cities of Rochester, Canterbury and Loose (Todd, 1997, 41).
The origins of the kingdom of Cunobelinos dates even to before the arrival of Caesar. At his arrival in 55BC, Caesar was met by envoys of the Trinovantes. They had recently been overwhelmed by Cassivellaunus, king of their western neighbours the Catuvellauni and their own king had been killed. Mandubracius, the Trinovantian heir "put himself under Caesar's protection [and] the envoys promised to surrender and obey Caesar's commands, and asked him to protect Mandubracius from Cassivellaunus and send him home to rule his people as king" (Caesar, Bellum Gallium, 5,20).
As in Gaul, acceding to Caesar had the twin advantages of protection against a local rival and immunity against the invader. Cassivellaunus in retort "sent envoys to Kent ordering the four kings of that region, Cingetorix, Carvilius, Taximagulus, and Segovax, to collect all their troops and make a surprise attack on the [Roman] naval camp [against which] the Romans made a sortie, in which...they killed a great many of them and captured Ligotorix, a leader of noble birth. On recieving news of this action, Cassivellaunus...sent envoys to Caesar to obtain terms of surrender...[which included] an annual tribute to be paid by the Britons to the Roman government, and strictly forbidding Cassivellaunus to molest Mandubracius or the Trinovantes" (Caesar, Bellum Gallium, 5,22). This is the tribute referred to by Cymbeline of Shakespeare's play.
The Catuvellauni in the next generation retook the Trinovantes, and their leader Tasciovanus ruling from his stronghold at Verulamium, moving from the nearby former fortress at Wheathampstead. He struck coinage on which TASCIO(vanus) is named RIGON ri minted at VER(ulamium) and CAMVL(odunum) dating to 15-10BC (Todd, 1997, 38,39) indicating the retaking of the Trinovantes (Morris, 2005, 35), perhaps into a confederacy including people to the west led by ANDOCO(veros) whose name also appears on Catuvellaunian coins (Todd, 1997, 39) in the period after Caesar and the conquest of Gaul. Included in the confedercy were the Nervii who had long been in contact with the British east coast and took refuge across the Channel after conquest, assisting in the development of pottery production (Morris, 2005, 37).
Further to the west, the tuath of the Atrebates, having originated in Belgic Gaul, recieved Commius in 50BC. He had been installed as ri of the Belgic Atrebates after their conquest in 57BC and in 55BC was sent as an envoy to Britiain, deemed by Caesar "a man [of] courage, judgement, and loyalty, and who was greatly respected in Britian" (Caesar, Bellum Gallium, 4,21).
Commius, having joined his Atrebates in the national cause of Vercingetorix in 53BC, resisted Caesar to the end with "the Bellovaci...under their own leader Correus and Commius the Atrebatian" (Caesar, Bellum Gallium, 8,6). After the capture of Uxellodunum in 51BC, "Commius escaped by the swiftness of his horse" (Caesar, Bellum Gallium, 8,48) and famously escaped to Britain shortly afterward, recorded by Frontius in his Stratagems 2,13,11, where his flotilla, though stranded on a sandbar, raised sail as though under way (Morris, 2005, 29).
He became ri of the Atrebates in Britian, commanding the region around the middle Thames and south through the Belgae to the sea. He issued coins inscribed COMMIOS with a triple tailed horse on the reverse, being the first inscribed Atrebatian coins (Todd, 1997, 35). His son, Tincommios issued a Roman styled coinage about 15BC inscribed TINC and the oppidum of Cavella (Silchester) developed into a successful centre of planned streets and Roman imports, reflecting the diplomatic foreign policy of Rome toward Britian in the Augustan period after 31BC (Todd, 1997, 22, 36).
Roman trade was active in the Catuvellaunian region, with an abundance of Italian wine amphorae, together with fine bronze drinking sets, silver drinking cups and high quality Roman and Gallo-Belgic pottery, and fine Catevellaunian metalwork was produced, as found in gravegoods of the aristocratic families from 20BC all the way through to AD40 (Todd, 1997, 39).
Roman traders had flourished under the Augustan peace; the Catevellaunian aristocracy became enriched. On the coins of Tasciovanus, as with Atrebatan coins, Roman themes appeared; but by the time of Cunobelinos, allusion to Roman myth and the representation of obverse portrait-busts became close in style to Imperial Rome (Todd, 1997, 41). Under the rule of Cunobelinos, the Catevellaunian influence spread. He moved his capital to Camulodunum, from which his territories spread to the west, and the Roman empire from beyond the river Coln.
Pottery and textiles, leather goods and perishables spread westward: the efficient production of goods and their marketability and the availablity of trade goods led to the spread of Catevellaunian coinage including smaller denomination coins (Morris, 2005, 37). The authority of Cunobelinos across the south, his economy funding the cost of war in the aquisition of mines in the west and tribute in the form of grain and cattle and of slaves for the markets in Europe; and augmented by the knowledge that a strong and united British kingdom was needed to withstand Roman expansion (Morris, 2005, 38-39).
The kingdom of Cunobelinos, incorporating several tuatha and drawing upon the rich resources thus available produced a powerful economy actively engaged in trade with the Roman empire. For almost a century after Caesar and the Roman conquest of Gaul, and for seventy years following the victory of Augustus and the founding of the Roman imperial monarchy, Britian had been at peace with Rome. His coins proclaimed he "be considered seriously by the greater power" (Todd, 1997, 41), and this is reflected, after a fashion, by Shakespeare in the closing statement by Cymbeline, "Laud we the gods and let our crooked smokes climb to their nostrils from our blest altars. Publish we this peace to all our subjects. Set we forward: let a Roman and a British ensign wave friendly together...seal it with feasts" (Shakespeare, Cymbeline, Act V).