Commius of the Atrebates, fl.57-50 BC

Commius of the Atrebates, fl.57-50 BC

Commius of the Atrebates, fl.57-50 BC

Commius of the Atrebates (fl.57-50 BC) was a Gallic leader who supported Caesar for most of the Gallic War before switching sides and taking part in the final revolt under Vercingetorix. Commius first comes to our attention after Caesar's victory over the Belgic tribes on the Sambre in 57 BC. In the aftermath of the battle Caesar made Commius king of the Atrebates, having been impressed with his courage and conduct and in the belief that he would be loyal to the Romans.

Commius next appears in 55 BC when Caesar was planning his first expedition to Britain. Commius was sent across the channel with orders to visit as many states as possible and convince then to accept Roman protection. This mission ended before it began. Commius was captured almost immediately after he landed in Britain and was thrown into chains. He was only released after Caesar had successfully fought his way ashore. Commius then commanded a small force of 30 horsemen who had been part of his original entourage, using them to pursue the Britons after the failure of their attack on the Roman camp. Commius returned to Britian with Caesar in the following year. Towards the end of this second expedition he was used to negotiate the peace settlement with Cassivellaunus.

At the end of the second expedition to Britain Commius returned to Gaul. After Caesar subdued the Menapii tribe, in the Rhine delta, Commius was left in command in the area, at the head of a cavalry force. He was rewarded for his loyalty by being granted the lands of the Morini and his kingdom was made exempt from taxes.

During the winter of 53-52 BC Commius had a change of heart and joined the rebels. That winter Labienus commanded in Gaul while Caesar wintered in northern Italy, in the other half of his province. According to Caesar Labienus discovered that Commius was conspiring against Caesar and decided to attempt to trap him. Caius Volusenus Quadratus and a group of centurions were sent to meet Commius. The plan was for Volusenus to take Commius by the hand, an unusual gesture for the time. One of his centurions was to use this as an excuse to kill Commius, presumably in the hope that the death might have looked like a tragic accident and not a deliberate killing. This plan failed. Commius suffered a severe head wound, but was saved by his friends. After a tense standoff, the Gauls escaped. Commius vowed never to come within sight of a Roman.

Commius is next mentioned after the start of the siege of Alesia. When Vercingetorix called for a relief army Commius used his contacts amongst the Bellovaci to convince them to contribute 2,000 men to the army, although the rest of their army remained in the north. He was one of four men who shared the supreme command of the relief arm, a division of command that may have contributed to the Gaul's failure around Alesia.

After the fall of Alesia Commius returned to the north and joined Correus of the Bellovaci. The two men commanded the last major Gallic army to directly oppose Caesar, and for some time they managed to hold off the Romans, retreating into swamps and woods and avoiding battle. Commius travelled into Germany in an attempt to find allies, eventually returning with 500 cavalry. He survived the ambush in which Correus was killed, and when the surviving Bellovaci nobles decided to submit to Caesar he fled across the Rhine and took refuge with the same German tribe.

Commius soon returned to Gaul, at the head of a band of his surviving followers, and conducted a guerrilla campaign against the Romans, surviving on supplies captured from their convoys. The nearest Roman commander, Marcus Antonius (Mark Anthony), sent a cavalry force to catch him. After a series of minor clashes Commius suffered a serious defeat after a battle in which the Romans killed a large number of his followers after their own leader, Caius Volusenus Quadratus, was badly wounded. This convinced Commius that further resistance was useless, and he sent a message to Antonius offering to go wherever he was sent as long as he didn't have to come into the presence of any Romans. Antonius accepted these terms, and the last serious resistance to Roman rule came to an end.

At some point after this (possibly in 50 BC) Commius probably moved to Britain, where coin evidence suggests that he became king of an area south of the River Thames that included modern Hampshire and Sussex. Coin evidence also suggests that three of his sons also ruled areas of southern Britain.


Tincomarus

Tincomarus (a dithematic name form typical of insular and continental Celtic onomastics, analysable as tinco-, perhaps a sort of fish [cf Latin tinca, English tench] + maro-, "big") was a king of the Iron Age Belgic tribe of the Atrebates who lived in southern central Britain shortly before the Roman invasion. His name was previously reconstructed as Tincommius, based on abbreviated coin legends and a damaged mention in Augustus's Res Gestae, but since 1996 coins have been discovered which give his full name.

He was the son and heir of Commius and succeeded his father around 25-20 BC. Based on coin distribution it is possible that Tincomarus ruled in collaboration with his father for the last few years of Commius's life. Little is known of his reign although numismatic evidence suggests that he was more sympathetic to Rome than his father was in later years: the coins he issued much more closely resemble Roman types, and are made in such a way they may have come from Roman die-cutters. GC Boon has suggested that this technical advance was not limited to coinage and represents wider industrial assistance from the Roman Empire. Tincomarus's successors used the term rex on their coins and this indicates that Tincomarus had begun the process of achieving client kingdom status with Rome (see Roman client kingdoms in Britain).

John Creighton argues, based on the imagery used on his coins, that Tincomarus may have been brought up as an obses (diplomatic hostage) in Rome in the early years of Augustus's reign. He compares Tincomarus's coins to those of Juba II of Numidia, who is known to have been an obses, and identifies a coin found in Numidia which may bear the name of Tincomarus's younger brother Verica.

By 16 BC Roman pottery and other imports appear in considerable quantities at Tincomarus's capital of Calleva Atrebatum, today known as Silchester, and it is likely that the Atrebatic king had established trading and diplomatic links with Augustus.

Tincomarus was expelled by his subjects for unknown reasons around AD 8 and fled to Rome as a refugee and supplicant. He was replaced by his brother Eppillus whom Augustus chose to recognise as rex rather than depose and reinstate Tincomarus. Augustus may have planned to use his ally's ejection as an excuse to invade Britain but other, more pressing foreign policy matters probably persuaded him to postpone the move.


Enemy of Caesar

In 52 BC the Atrebates joined the pan-Gaulish revolt led by Vercingetorix, and Commius was one of the leaders of the army that attempted to relieve Vercingetorix at the Siege of Alesia. [8] After Vercingetorix was defeated Commius joined a revolt by the Bellovaci and persuaded some 500 Germans to support them, but this too was defeated and Commius sought refuge with his German allies. [9]

In 51 BC he returned to his homeland with a small mounted war-band for a campaign of agitation and guerrilla warfare. That winter Mark Antony, a legionary legate at the time, ordered Volusenus to pursue him with cavalry, something Volusenus was more than happy to do. When the two groups of horsemen met Volusenus was victorious, but sustained a spear-wound to the thigh. Commius escaped and sued for peace through intermediaries. He offered hostages and promised he would live where he was told and no longer resist Caesar, on the condition that he never again had to meet a Roman. Antony granted his petition. [10]

A 1st century AD source, Sextus Julius Frontinus's Strategemata, tells how Commius fled to Britain with a group of followers with Caesar in pursuit. When he reached the English Channel the wind was in his favour but the tide was out, leaving the ships stranded on the flats. Commius ordered the sails raised anyway. Caesar, following from a distance, assumed they were afloat and called off the pursuit. [11]

This suggests that the truce negotiated with Antony broke down and hostilities resumed between Commius and Caesar. However John Creighton suggests that Commius was sent to Britain as a condition of his truce with Antony - where better to ensure that he never again met a Roman? - and that Frontinus's anecdote either refers to an escape prior to the truce, or is historically unreliable, perhaps a legend Frontinus heard while governor of Britain (75 to 78 AD). Creighton argues that Commius was in fact set up as a friendly king in Britain by Caesar, and his reputation was rehabilitated by blaming his betrayal on Labienus (who deserted Caesar for Pompey in the civil war of 49 - 45 BC). [12]

Commius's name appears on coins of post-conquest date in Gaul, paired with either Garmanos or Carsicios. This suggests he continued to have some power in Gaul in his absence, perhaps ruling through regents. Alternatively, Garmanos and Carsicios may have been Commius's sons who noted their father's name on their own coins. [12]


Atrebates

Atrebates. A British tribe and civitas. The tribe seems to have either origins or close relationships in Gaul (France) where a tribe of the same name is recorded by Caesar. Indeed, the king of the Gallic Atrebates, Commius, fled to Britain and appears to have established a dynasty ruling over the British tribe. From about 15 bc, the Atrebates seem to have re-established friendly relations with Rome, and it was an appeal for help from the last Atrebatic king, Verica, which provided Claudius with the pretext for the invasion of Britain in ad 43. The tribal capital was Calleva (Silchester), which after the granting of civitas status in the later 1st cent. was known as Calleva Atrebatum. The tribal territory administered from here lay south of the Thames in Berkshire and the adjacent parts of Wiltshire, Hampshire, and Surrey. The name Atrebates means ‘settlers’ or ‘inhabitants’.

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The Atrebates in Gaul

The Gaulish Atrebates lived in or around modern Artois in northern France. Their capital, Nemetocenna (later called Nemetacum or Nemetacon too. See Nemeton), is now the city of Arras, Pas-de-Calais. [5] [6] The place-name Arras is the result of a phonetic evolution from Atrebates and replaced the original name in the Late Empire, according to a well-known tradition in Gaul (compare Paris, Amiens, Lisieux, Bayeux, etc.). The name Artois is the result of a different phonetic evolution from Atrebates.

In 57 BC, they were part of a Belgic military alliance in response to Julius Caesar's conquests elsewhere in Gaul, contributing 15,000 men. [7] Caesar took this build-up as a threat and marched against it, but the Belgae had the advantage of position and the result was a stand-off. [ citation needed ] When no battle was forthcoming, the Belgic alliance broke up, determining to gather to defend whichever tribe Caesar attacked. Caesar subsequently marched against several tribes and achieved their submission.

The Atrebates then joined with the Nervii and Viromandui and attacked Caesar at the battle of the Sabis, but were there defeated. After thus conquering the Atrebates, Caesar appointed one of their countrymen, Commius, as their king. Commius was involved in Caesar's two expeditions to Britain in 55 and 54 BC and negotiated the surrender of Cassivellaunus. In return for his loyalty, he was also given authority over the Morini. However, he later turned against the Romans and joined in the revolt led by Vercingetorix in 52 BC. After Vercingetorix's defeat at the Siege of Alesia, Commius had further confrontations with the Romans, negotiated a truce with Mark Antony, and ended up fleeing to Britain with a group of followers. However, he appears to have retained some influence in Gaul: coins of post-conquest date have been found stamped with his name, paired with either Garmanos or Carsicios, who may have been his sons or regents. [ citation needed ]

Ptolemy's 2nd century Geography refers to the "Atribati" living on the coast of Belgic Gaul, near the river Sequana (Seine), and names Metacum as one of their towns.


Julius Caesar Impact on Ancient Britain

Of the inhabitants, those of Cantium (Kent), an entirely maritime district, are far the most advanced, and the type of civilization here prevalent differs little from that of Gaul—Julius Caesar

Introduction

In 1 st Century, Celtic maritime networks were revitalized in the northern Atlantic region as a result of Roman commercial activities in southern Gaul (modern day France). Celtic social ties on both sides of the British channel were strengthened and new alliances were formed.

When Julius Caesar marched into free Gaul in 58 BC, these maritime networks were disrupted as he conquered Gaul and put the region under Roman control. His forays into Britain in 55-54 BC introduced the Britons to the reality of Roman power and the consequences of sending their warriors to aid fellow Celts in Gaul.

Caesar wrote, ‘no one goes there [Britain] except traders, and even they are acquainted only with the sea-coasts and the areas that are opposite of Gaul.’ Prior to his first excursion in 55 BC, Caesar summoned ‘traders from these parts’ for information of Britain, but they told him nothing of value. This would seem surprising given the extensive trade between Gaul and Britain. A likely explanation is these traders chose to be highly selective with the intelligence they shared. The Gallic traders warned the Britons of Caesar’s intention to land on their island. As a result, several of the British tribes send envoys offering hostages and allegiance to Caesar while he was in Gaul.

Celtic Chariot Comparison to Roman Chariot

Commius, King of the Atrebates

Caesar pursued the offers made by British envoys by sending Commius—a chief of the Atrebates in Gaul and confidant of the Romans—to persuade the Britons not to resist the Romans when they landed in 55 BC. However, Commius was immediately imprisoned by the Britons. He was later handed back as part of of Caesar’s peace settlement with the Celtic leaders on his first expedition. During Caesar’s second expedition to Britain in 54 BC, Commius negotiated the surrender of the British leader Cassivellaunus (see below). Commius remained loyal to Caesar through the Gaulish revolts of 54 BC, and Rome rewarded him by allowing the Atrebates tribe to remain independent and to be exempt from tax.

Diplomatic Gift to a Chieftain ruling in Southern Britain, possibly Commius of the Atrebates.

Although Commius was at first an ally of Rome, he switched sides to join the revolt in Gaul led by Vercingetorix in 52 BC. He later escaped to Britain to join his people who had already settled there. He established a powerful kingdom based at Calleva (modern day Silchester). By about 30 BC, Commius had established himself as king of the Atrebates in Britain and was issuing coins.

Lessons Learned Caesar’s First Expedition

Caesar’s first expedition to Britannia had limited success. The main lesson learned was the ocean and its massive tides and racing currents was a more formidable opponent than the Britons. Natural forces wreaked havoc on the Roman logistics and destroyed several ships. Even though the native Britons were fierce fighters, they were totally unused to facing the disciplined Roman army. The various tribes were politically fragmented and made Roman diplomacy to divide them an effective weapon.

Dover Cliffs Near Julius Caesar’s Landing in Ancient Britain

Mandubracius, King of the Trinovantes

To take advantage of the fragmentation between the tribal kings, Caesar negotiated a deal with Mandubracius, the son of the king of the Trinovantes. He had fled to Gaul to put himself under Caesar’s protection after his father had been killed in a conflict with his neighbor—Cassivellaunus, the king of the Catuvellauni. According to Caesar, the Catuvellauni were in a continual state of war with the other tribes in the area.

Celtic Horned Helmet Found at River Thames Date 150-50BC

Caesar’s campaign in early July 54 BC was on a more massive scale. Five legions and 2,000 cavalry –some 27,000 men—were transported in over 800 vessels. The landing was unopposed. Mandubracius proved to be invaluable as a source of intelligence about the complexities of local politics and the principal centers of power in eastern Britain. He helped Caesar navigate through the terrain he would fight on. Armed with this information, Caesar made a rapid, though heavily opposed advance through Kent that let him to the Thames, which he crossed, probably near London.

Roman Cavalryman in Ancient Britain

Mandubracius was a political pawn that played to good effect for Caesar. The Trinovantes, whom Caesar describes as the strongest tribe in southeast Britain, sent a deputation to discuss terms for their surrender. In this agreement, Mandubracius was reinstated as the tribal king who Caesar promised to protect his sovereignty. In exchange, the Trinovantes surrendered to Caesar, sending forty hostages as an assurance of their good behavior and providing grain for the Roman army. The concession by the Trinovantes was the major turning point and other tribes quickly followed. In all likelihood the basic deal had already been negotiated during the winter, when Mandubracius was under Caesar’s protection in Gaul. Knowing that he could rely on the Trinovantes to come over to Rome would have emboldened Caesar to make his rapid advance into hostile territory across the Thames, dangerously far from his supply base.

Roman War Wagon Used in Ancient Britain

Cassivellaunus, King of the Catuvellauni

But the danger still existed for Caesar despite his settlement with the Trinovantes. His army made for Cassivellaunus’ oppidium (fortified town) of Verulamium in the vicinity of St. Albans. It was protected by forests and marshes, and a great number of men. Cassivellaunus sought the aid of four tribal kings in Kent to attack the Roman base and supply lines. The attack ultimately failed and there was little Cassivellaunus could do but negotiate for peace.

As it was late in the summer season, Caesar was eager to negotiate terms so he could return to Gaul. It was agreed the Catuvellanuni would pay an annual tribute to Rome and hand over hostages. Further, Cassivellaunus agreed to leave the Trinovantes in peace. With his primary aims achieved, Caesar returned to Gaul with a great many prisoners.

Ancient Ruins of Verulamium Wall near St. Albans

Julius Caesar Impact on Ancient Britain

Roman Domination

Whether these two brief excursions into Britain could be judged a Roman success is debatable since we do not know what Caesar’s true aspirations were for this isle. It is likely he had grossly underestimated the perils of the Channel crossing and the ferocity of the British resistance. He embarked on these expeditions with considerable risk and was lucky to escape with his reputation unscathed. What he did show, even if it was at a price, was the ocean could be mastered and that the distant island was accessible. He also claimed that the first step was taken to bring Britain under Roman domination. As far as Rome was concerned, southeast Britain had been conquered and treaty relationships had been established with the most powerful tribes. Britons were now paying an annual tribute to the Roman state. Others would have to complete the conquest.

Roman and Celtic Shields Used in Ancient Britain

Tribal Patronage to Rome

The Britons form the southeast gained not only first-hand experience of Roman military might, but, more importantly, they learned how the Romans had politically divided the tribes. Before the Roman invasion, the Celtic tribes were engaged in local conflicts and struck-up up allegiances for mutual benefit. Now these tribal rulers had a far more powerful force enter the arena. To gain patronage from the Roman world could offer them real advantages.

Celtic Gold Torc Worn by Celtic Leaders

The most important effect of Caesar on the British scene was to divide the southeastern tribes into pro- and anti-Roman groups. Those who had suffered defeat, i.e. the tribes on the north bank of the Thames and in Kent were forced to pay an annual tribute which sustained a festering hatred of Rome. Those who benefited, the Trinovantes and the Catuvellauni, were rewarded with political alliances and access to trade.

Peoples of Southern Britain According to Ptolemy’s Map

Lucrative trading monopolies were negotiated, and the hostages—usually young men from elite families—could be educated in Roman ways. Those who remained abroad maintained filial links with their tribe, while those who chose to return would bring with them new knowledge and a network of contacts that could benefit all. The desire to travel and to explore the world was deeply embedded in the psyche of the Britons. Patronage to the Roman cities was expanded.

Celtic child in frieze of Ara Pacis Augustae (Altar of Augustan Peace)


To be continued

The tribes that Caesar encountered in his first incursion that are mentioned above became powerful tribal kingdoms, in part, due to favorable treaties negotiated with Rome and favorable trading treaties. The subsequent rulers of these powerful kingdoms will be discussed in upcoming posts.

Barry Cunliffe, Britain Begins Oxford University Press, 2013.

Graham Webster, The Roman Invasion of Britain, Reprinted 1999 by Routledge (Imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group), NY.

Julius Caesar, translated by F. P. Long, The Conquest of Gaul United States: Barnes & Noble, Inc., 2005.


Julius Caesar Impact on Ancient Britain

Of the inhabitants, those of Cantium (Kent), an entirely maritime district, are far the most advanced, and the type of civilization here prevalent differs little from that of Gaul—Julius Caesar

Introduction

In 1 st Century, Celtic maritime networks were revitalized in the northern Atlantic region as a result of Roman commercial activities in southern Gaul (modern day France). Celtic social ties on both sides of the British channel were strengthened and new alliances were formed.

When Julius Caesar marched into free Gaul in 58 BC, these maritime networks were disrupted as he conquered Gaul and put the region under Roman control. His forays into Britain in 55-54 BC introduced the Britons to the reality of Roman power and the consequences of sending their warriors to aid fellow Celts in Gaul.

Caesar wrote, ‘no one goes there [Britain] except traders, and even they are acquainted only with the sea-coasts and the areas that are opposite of Gaul.’ Prior to his first excursion in 55 BC, Caesar summoned ‘traders from these parts’ for information of Britain, but they told him nothing of value. This would seem surprising given the extensive trade between Gaul and Britain. A likely explanation is these traders chose to be highly selective with the intelligence they shared. The Gallic traders warned the Britons of Caesar’s intention to land on their island. As a result, several of the British tribes send envoys offering hostages and allegiance to Caesar while he was in Gaul.

Celtic Chariot Comparison to Roman Chariot

Commius, King of the Atrebates

Caesar pursued the offers made by British envoys by sending Commius—a chief of the Atrebates in Gaul and confidant of the Romans—to persuade the Britons not to resist the Romans when they landed in 55 BC. However, Commius was immediately imprisoned by the Britons. He was later handed back as part of of Caesar’s peace settlement with the Celtic leaders on his first expedition. During Caesar’s second expedition to Britain in 54 BC, Commius negotiated the surrender of the British leader Cassivellaunus (see below). Commius remained loyal to Caesar through the Gaulish revolts of 54 BC, and Rome rewarded him by allowing the Atrebates tribe to remain independent and to be exempt from tax.

Diplomatic Gift to a Chieftain ruling in Southern Britain, possibly Commius of the Atrebates.

Although Commius was at first an ally of Rome, he switched sides to join the revolt in Gaul led by Vercingetorix in 52 BC. He later escaped to Britain to join his people who had already settled there. He established a powerful kingdom based at Calleva (modern day Silchester). By about 30 BC, Commius had established himself as king of the Atrebates in Britain and was issuing coins.

Lessons Learned Caesar’s First Expedition

Caesar’s first expedition to Britannia had limited success. The main lesson learned was the ocean and its massive tides and racing currents was a more formidable opponent than the Britons. Natural forces wreaked havoc on the Roman logistics and destroyed several ships. Even though the native Britons were fierce fighters, they were totally unused to facing the disciplined Roman army. The various tribes were politically fragmented and made Roman diplomacy to divide them an effective weapon.

Dover Cliffs Near Julius Caesar’s Landing in Ancient Britain

Mandubracius, King of the Trinovantes

To take advantage of the fragmentation between the tribal kings, Caesar negotiated a deal with Mandubracius, the son of the king of the Trinovantes. He had fled to Gaul to put himself under Caesar’s protection after his father had been killed in a conflict with his neighbor—Cassivellaunus, the king of the Catuvellauni. According to Caesar, the Catuvellauni were in a continual state of war with the other tribes in the area.

Celtic Horned Helmet Found at River Thames Date 150-50BC

Caesar’s campaign in early July 54 BC was on a more massive scale. Five legions and 2,000 cavalry –some 27,000 men—were transported in over 800 vessels. The landing was unopposed. Mandubracius proved to be invaluable as a source of intelligence about the complexities of local politics and the principal centers of power in eastern Britain. He helped Caesar navigate through the terrain he would fight on. Armed with this information, Caesar made a rapid, though heavily opposed advance through Kent that let him to the Thames, which he crossed, probably near London.

Roman Cavalryman in Ancient Britain

Mandubracius was a political pawn that played to good effect for Caesar. The Trinovantes, whom Caesar describes as the strongest tribe in southeast Britain, sent a deputation to discuss terms for their surrender. In this agreement, Mandubracius was reinstated as the tribal king who Caesar promised to protect his sovereignty. In exchange, the Trinovantes surrendered to Caesar, sending forty hostages as an assurance of their good behavior and providing grain for the Roman army. The concession by the Trinovantes was the major turning point and other tribes quickly followed. In all likelihood the basic deal had already been negotiated during the winter, when Mandubracius was under Caesar’s protection in Gaul. Knowing that he could rely on the Trinovantes to come over to Rome would have emboldened Caesar to make his rapid advance into hostile territory across the Thames, dangerously far from his supply base.

Roman War Wagon Used in Ancient Britain

Cassivellaunus, King of the Catuvellauni

But the danger still existed for Caesar despite his settlement with the Trinovantes. His army made for Cassivellaunus’ oppidium (fortified town) of Verulamium in the vicinity of St. Albans. It was protected by forests and marshes, and a great number of men. Cassivellaunus sought the aid of four tribal kings in Kent to attack the Roman base and supply lines. The attack ultimately failed and there was little Cassivellaunus could do but negotiate for peace.

As it was late in the summer season, Caesar was eager to negotiate terms so he could return to Gaul. It was agreed the Catuvellanuni would pay an annual tribute to Rome and hand over hostages. Further, Cassivellaunus agreed to leave the Trinovantes in peace. With his primary aims achieved, Caesar returned to Gaul with a great many prisoners.

Ancient Ruins of Verulamium Wall near St. Albans

Julius Caesar Impact on Ancient Britain

Roman Domination

Whether these two brief excursions into Britain could be judged a Roman success is debatable since we do not know what Caesar’s true aspirations were for this isle. It is likely he had grossly underestimated the perils of the Channel crossing and the ferocity of the British resistance. He embarked on these expeditions with considerable risk and was lucky to escape with his reputation unscathed. What he did show, even if it was at a price, was the ocean could be mastered and that the distant island was accessible. He also claimed that the first step was taken to bring Britain under Roman domination. As far as Rome was concerned, southeast Britain had been conquered and treaty relationships had been established with the most powerful tribes. Britons were now paying an annual tribute to the Roman state. Others would have to complete the conquest.

Roman and Celtic Shields Used in Ancient Britain

Tribal Patronage to Rome

The Britons form the southeast gained not only first-hand experience of Roman military might, but, more importantly, they learned how the Romans had politically divided the tribes. Before the Roman invasion, the Celtic tribes were engaged in local conflicts and struck-up up allegiances for mutual benefit. Now these tribal rulers had a far more powerful force enter the arena. To gain patronage from the Roman world could offer them real advantages.

Celtic Gold Torc Worn by Celtic Leaders

The most important effect of Caesar on the British scene was to divide the southeastern tribes into pro- and anti-Roman groups. Those who had suffered defeat, i.e. the tribes on the north bank of the Thames and in Kent were forced to pay an annual tribute which sustained a festering hatred of Rome. Those who benefited, the Trinovantes and the Catuvellauni, were rewarded with political alliances and access to trade.

Peoples of Southern Britain According to Ptolemy’s Map

Lucrative trading monopolies were negotiated, and the hostages—usually young men from elite families—could be educated in Roman ways. Those who remained abroad maintained filial links with their tribe, while those who chose to return would bring with them new knowledge and a network of contacts that could benefit all. The desire to travel and to explore the world was deeply embedded in the psyche of the Britons. Patronage to the Roman cities was expanded.

Celtic child in frieze of Ara Pacis Augustae (Altar of Augustan Peace)


To be continued

The tribes that Caesar encountered in his first incursion that are mentioned above became powerful tribal kingdoms, in part, due to favorable treaties negotiated with Rome and favorable trading treaties. The subsequent rulers of these powerful kingdoms will be discussed in upcoming posts.

Barry Cunliffe, Britain Begins Oxford University Press, 2013.

Graham Webster, The Roman Invasion of Britain, Reprinted 1999 by Routledge (Imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group), NY.

Julius Caesar, translated by F. P. Long, The Conquest of Gaul United States: Barnes & Noble, Inc., 2005.


Commius of the Atrebates, fl.57-50 BC - History

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Commius was a king of the Atrebates, initially in Gaul, then in Britain, in the 1st century BC

The Winchester Hoard (c. 50 BC). This jewellery might have been a diplomatic gift to a Chieftain ruling in southern Britain, possibly related to Commius of the Atrebates.

When Julius Caesar conquered the Atrebates in Gaul in 57 BC, as recounted in his Commentarii de Bello Gallico, he appointed Commius as king of the tribe. Before Caesar's first expedition to Britain in 55 BC, Commius was sent as Caesar's envoy to persuade the Britons not to resist him, as Caesar believed he would have influence on the island. However, he was arrested as soon as he arrived. When the Britons failed to prevent Caesar from landing, Commius was handed over as part of the negotiations Commius was able to provide a small detachment of cavalry from his tribe to help Caesar defeat further British attacks. During Caesar's second expedition to Britain Commius negotiated the surrender of the British leader Cassivellaunus. He remained Caesar's loyal client through the Gaulish revolts of 54 BC, and in return Caesar allowed the Atrebates to remain independent and exempt from tax, and in addition appointed Commius to rule the Morini.

However this loyalty was not to last, as while Caesar was in Cisalpine Gaul in the winter of 53, the legate Titus Labienus believed that Commius had been conspiring against the Romans with other Gaulish tribes. Labienus sent a tribune, Gaius Volusenus Quadratus, and some centurions to summon Commius to a sham meeting at which they would execute him for his treachery, but Commius escaped with a severe head wound. He vowed never again to associate with Romans.

In 52 BC the Atrebates joined the pan-Gaulish revolt led by Vercingetorix, and Commius was one of the leaders of the army that attempted to relieve Vercingetorix at the Siege of Alesia. After Vercingetorix was defeated Commius joined a revolt by the Bellovaci and persuaded some 500 Germans to support them, but this too was defeated and Commius sought refuge with his German allies.

In 51 BC he returned to his homeland with a small mounted war-band for a campaign of agitation and guerrilla warfare. That winter Mark Antony, a legionary legate at the time, ordered Volusenus to pursue him with cavalry, something Volusenus was more than happy to do. When the two groups of horsemen met Volusenus was victorious, but sustained a spear-wound to the thigh. Commius escaped and sued for peace through intermediaries. He offered hostages and promised he would live where he was told and no longer resist Caesar, on the condition that he never again had to meet a Roman. Antony granted his petition.

Commius fled to Britain with a group of followers with Caesar in pursuit. When he reached the English Channel the wind was in his favour but the tide was out, leaving the ships stranded on the flats. Commius ordered the sails raised anyway. Caesar, following from a distance, assumed they were afloat and called off the pursuit.

This suggests that the truce negotiated with Antony broke down and hostilities resumed between Commius and Caesar. Commius may have been sent to Britain as a condition of his truce with Antony and set up as a friendly king in Britain by Caesar, and his reputation was restored by blaming his betrayal on Labienus (who deserted Caesar for Pompey in the civil war of 49 - 45 BC).

The Winchester Hoard (c. 50 BC). This jewellery might have been a diplomatic gift to a Chieftain ruling in southern Britain, possibly related to Commius of the Atrebates.

Commius's name appears on coins of post-conquest date in Gaul, paired with either Garmanos or Carsicios. This suggests he continued to have some power in Gaul in his absence, perhaps ruling through regents. Alternatively, Garmanos and Carsicios may have been Commius's sons who noted their father's name on their own coins.

By about 30 BC Commius had established himself as king of the Atrebates in Britain, and was issuing coins from Calleva Atrebatum (Silchester). It is possible that Commius and his followers founded this kingdom, although the fact that, when Caesar was unable to bring his cavalry to Britain in 55 BC, Commius was able to provide a small detachment of horsemen from his people, suggests that there were already Atrebates in Britain at this time. Coins marked with his name continued to be issued until about 20 BC, and some have suggested, based on the length of his floruit, that there may have been two kings, father and son, of the same name. However, if Commius was a young man when appointed by Caesar he could very well have lived until 20 BC. Some coins of this period are stamped "COM COMMIOS", which, if interpreted as "Commius son of Commius", would seem to support the two kings theory.

Three later kings, Tincomarus, Eppillus and Verica, are named on their coins as sons of Commius. From about 25 BC Commius appears to have ruled in collaboration with Tincomarus. After his death Tincomarus appears to have ruled the northern part of the kingdom from Calleva, while Eppillus ruled the southern part from Noviomagus (Chichester). Eppillus became sole ruler ca. AD 7. Verica succeeded him about 15, and ruled until shortly before the Roman conquest of 43.


Commius of the Atrebates, fl.57-50 BC - History

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This was a British Celtic tribe occupying modern Berkshire and Hampshire, along with areas of West Sussex, western Surrey, and north-east Wiltshire. They were centred on a site close to modern Silchester. To the south-west of them were the Belgae, a tribe which they seem to have subjugated or which was part of the same people as them, while the Dobunni bordered them to the west, the Catuvellauni lay to the north, the Trinovantes to the far north-east, and the Cantii to the east.

Originally from north-western Gaul they were at their most powerful in the first and second centuries BC. Due to their location in Britain, the Atrebates were one of the more successful and civilised Celtic tribes. They traded with the tribes in Europe right up until the Romans conquered Gaul, and saw the conquest as an opportunity to increase their regular trade in fine cloth, hunting dogs and military items. The process worked both ways, enabling them to absorb new ideas, giving them advantages in culture and technology which some of their neighbours did not possess. Their capital was Calleva Atrebatum, now near Silchester in Hampshire. A secondary, and earlier, capital could be claimed at Noviomagus, (Chichester) which belonged to a division of the tribe known as the Regninses. These people were thinly scattered north and south of the Weald and seem to have escaped true conquest or even much influence from the Atrebates.

The date at which the Belgic Atrebates arrive in Britain is unknown, but it may not be too long before the arrival of Commius, perhaps no more than a generation or two. They possibly migrate into the country from the south coast (most likely via Selsey in West Sussex, precisely the same point at which the later South Saxons also land). They found an early tribal capital at Noviomagus (Chichester in West Sussex). Over time they would migrate north-westwards, integrating with earlier Celtic populations in the region and founding a new settlement at Calleva, although this remains relatively minor until the late first century BC. However, coin distribution contradicts this picture, suggesting that the Atrebates arrive via the Thames, settling in the Upper Thames Valley and migrating southwards.

Commius is a member of the Gaulish Atrebates. Around 56 BC he becomes an aide to Julius Caesar, and helps theRomans during both expeditions to Britain, perhaps with a retinue formed from the British Atrebates. In 54 BC he persuades High King Cassivellaunus, king of the Catuvellauni, to succumb to the Romans.

Shown here are both sides of a coin that was issued by the Atrebates between 50-20 BC, either under the authority of Commius or his son, Commius the Younger

Commius flees the Continental Atrebates when defeated by the deified Julius, fled from Gaul to Britain, and happened to reach the Channel at a time when the wind was fair, but the tide was out. Although the vessels were stranded on the flats, he nevertheless ordered the sails to be spread. Caesar, who was following from a distance, seeing the sails swelling with the full breeze, and imagining Commius to be escaping from his hands and to be proceeding on a prosperous voyage, abandoned the pursuit.'

Commius brings with him just his own retainers, survivors of a heavy defeat in Gaul. The size and strength of the Atrebates tribe he joins in Britain is unknown. They certainly occupy their own territory in this period, and govern the Belgae and Regninses (and possibly even the Dobunni), who may all be constituent parts of the same tribe. They may not even be formed into a single tribal kingdom until Commius becomes their king.

Left the Gaulish Atrebates and founded a dynasty in Britain.

Unearthed by archaeologists in 2011 is what appears to be the first Iron Age planned town in Britain. The layer is found beneath the Roman remains of Calleva Atrebatum,( Silchester) the principle town of the Atrebates, and shows evidence of being built on a grid. The inhabitants also import wine and olive oil. This remarkably urbanised way of living seems almost certainly to be a product of the arrival and settlement of Commius and his followers, as they would have seen similar towns on the Continent, and would certainly want to bring the levels of sophistication they are used to with them.

The very first Atrebatean coins are tentatively dated to this period. The name 'COMMIUS' appears on the obverse while a triple-tailed horse is shown on the reverse. Commius rules the tribe from Calleva.

Son. Ruled jointly before becoming sole ruler.

It is possible that during the period of joint rule which lasts between five and ten years, Tincommius governs the southern half of the territory from the secondary capital of Noviomagus, which is within the territory of the Regninses. His brother, Eppillus, remains with their father to command the northern territory around Calleva, (Silchester) during which time the oppidum at Calleva develops into the main centre of Atrebatean power. When Tincommius becomes sole king, he apparently prefers to remain at Noviomagus (Chichester) while Eppillus governs the north from Calleva, (Silchester) issuing his own coins there.

Gained sole kingship following the death of his father.

Formal diplomatic ties are initiated between Tincommius and Rome when a treaty is agreed. Coinage issued at this time shows a more Romanised style, and carries almost exactly the same alloy content as contemporary Roman coins, suggesting that the metal comes from Rome, perhaps along with a moneylender. Atrebatean nobles, angered by the pro-Roman stance of Tincommius in direct opposition to the policy of his father and grandfather, possibly found or liberate the westernmost Atrebateans as the tribe of the Dobunni. However, coinage produced by the Dobunni would suggest that they have already made a claim for independence around 30 BC.

Shown here are both sides of a gold stater issued during the reign of Tincomaros, with an abstract, triple-tailed horse on the right, and the remains of the rider above and a wheel below (a chariot wheel?)

Tincommius is overthrow in a coup launched by his ambitious younger brother, Eppillus. He travels to Rome to plead before Emperor Augustus for reinstatement. This request is refused as Augustus is in no position to mount a military campaign in Britain at this time. Not only is Tincommius exiled from Britain, but Eppillus is officially recognised as king by Rome.

Brother. King of the Belgae & Regninses. Deposed by Verica.

Eppillus is in turn overthrown by his younger brother after the latter builds up a following of nobles disaffected by Eppillus' grab for power. He flees to the land of the Cantii, probably passing through Regninses territory along the way. Once in Cantii territory he overthrows the ruler and takes command.

Brother. Recognised by Rome.

The Catuvellauni expand their interests into the territory of the Atrebates. Verica is forced out of Calleva as a Catuvellauni prince takes the Atrebatean throne. However, it seems that Verica continues to fight his rival for some time, gradually being forced further south by his stronger opponent.

Brother of Cunobelinus of the Catuvellauni. Forced Verica out.

Continued to oppose the Catuvellauni invaders.

In around AD 35 Epaticcus dies, not necessarily due to warfare, and Verica makes some progress toward retaking his lost lands. It is probably he who is referenced by Dio as Berikos, which suggests that Verica is finally defeated by Caratacus of the Catuvellauni around AD 41 and flees to Rome. Arriving there around a year later, he gives the new Emperor Claudius the pretext for the Roman conquest of Britain.

King of the Cantii & Catuvellauni.

While Governor Aulus Plautius and Emperor Claudius are overseeing the conquest of the south-east of Britain, the Roman second invasion wing lands at a point along the south coast, probably close to the pro-Roman section of the Atrebates, who welcome them as an antidote to Catuvellauni domination. Part of the territory of the Atrebates is reorganised into the Roman client kingdom of the Regninses under the rule of Tiberius Claudius Cogidubnus, who may be Verica's son.

Shortly after the Roman conquest, the construction of a wooden town begins, with the wood in plentiful supply from the surrounding area. The town is named Calleva Atrebatum (modern Silchester) and is designated a civitas, or tribal capital. Its initial construction is irregular, with a regular street grid only being laid out towards the middle of the century.

Direct rule under the Romans follows the death of Tiberius Claudius Cogidubnus, client ruler of the Regninses, and perhaps the Atrebates too. The tribal territory is later organised into the civitates (administrative districts within a Roman province) of the Atrebates, Regninses, and possibly the Belgae.

Between this point and about AD 85, the town of Calleva Atrebatum (Silchester) gains one of the first oval amphitheatres in Britain, built to the north-east, outside the defences. Towards the end of the century, two Romano-Celtic temples are built inside the eastern gate, facing east. The first of them is the largest known temple in all of Britain, covering 495 square metres (yards). The walls are almost a metre thick, suggesting a half-timbered construction.

By the end of the century, the early wooden forum and basilica at the heart of Calleva Atrebatum have been rebuilt in stone. Some buildings which had been erected during the earliest phase of building, prior to a street plan being laid down, continue to exist and be developed.

An artist's reconstruction of Calleva Atrebatum showing the forum and basilica, along with the cattle market (at the front) and houses and shops

By the start of the third century, Calleva Atrebatum has gained defensive stone walls which are over 6.3 metres (yards) high. The town also contains an impressive forum, basilica, three temples, and a baths complex. and about 180 stone buildings. Large areas are still using wooden constructions, especially nearer the walls. Late in the century the town is razed by a catastrophic fire, probably triggered by a stray spark in the wooden suburbs. The town is subsequently rebuilt and continues to flourish.

Towards the end of the century, the large temple by the eastern gate falls into disuse. The second, smaller temple alongside it falls into disuse about the same time, probably due to the rise of Christianity in Britain. The city contains an early Christian church which is excavated in 1890 and 1961 and which in this period may be the seat of a bishop. A gold ring uncovered by archaeologists in the town bears the inscription 'Senicianus, live in God'.

By the fifth century the Romano-British Atrebates have probably regained some level of independent power in the form of the postulated territory of Caer Celemion.

Saxons begin advancing along the Thames Valley, and into the Chilterns, encroaching on the territory's northern border. Under overall command of first Vortigern and then Ambrosius Aurelianus from Gloucester the region probably gains more and more autonomy as the century progresses, with sub-Roman magistratum becoming princeps. Defensive dykes are erected which face towards the Thames, probably at the same time as the Wansdyke is constructed.

While the territory's main defensive focus has, until now, been to the north and the Thames Valley Saxons, a new threat emerges to the south-west in the form of the West Seaxe. With the initial conquest of their Hampshire heartland now complete, in this year their attention is turned more fully to expansion. None of the established defensive works has been designed to protect Caer Celemion from this direction.

This artistic reconstruction shows the amphitheatre at Caer Celemion (Calleva Atrebatum, modern Silchester), which was built outside the walls, to the north-east of the town itself

Although a dating cannot be applied to a possible ruler called Einion, the appellation of 'giant' could equate a strong or particularly tough warrior, appropriate for a British enclave that holds out against the West Seaxe, even though it is becoming increasingly isolated.

Caer Celemion's southern neighbour, Caer Gwinntguic, falls to the West Seaxe, making the territory very vulnerable on its less well-defended southern border. Now in its final phase, in the walled city of Caer Celemion itself the basilica in the town centre is turned into a substantial metal-working area, producing arms and armour. On the territory's north-eastern border there is a former Roman temple at Lowbury Hill, on the Berkshire Ridgeway, overlooking the upper Thames basin. During this period it is apparently converted to serve as a look-out point related to the territory's outer boundary defences.

Ceawlin and Cutha of the West Seaxe defeat Æthelbert of the Cantware at Wibbandun.(somewhere on the Hampshire Berkshire border) This is notable as being the first recorded conflict between two groups of invaders, rather than a battle against the native British. Ceawlin is securing his rear before mounting renewed attacks against the British to the west.

The sub-divided state of Caer Gloui and its daughter kingdoms, Caer Baddan and Caer Ceri, all fall to the West Seaxe. The defeat is a disaster not only for all Britons of the west of the country, dividing as it does those of Gwent and Pengwern from those in Dumnonia - it also leaves Caer Celemion totally isolated, surrounded on all sides by Saxons.

The state or kingdom that governs Caer Celemion is destroyed, probably by Ceawlin of the West Seaxe. It is the last British-held territory south of London and east of Dorset to fall. The city itself is abandoned and its wells are filled in to prevent its citizens from returning, with the Saxons preferring to rule from their existing centres at Winchester and Dorchester. The territory is absorbed into the West Seaxe kingdom.

About a century later, the twin Saxon towns of Basing and Reading are founded to the south and north respectively, along rivers on either side of Calleva (Celemion), leaving the city to decay in isolation. A Saxon village of Silchester also springs up about 1600 metres (yards) to the west, far enough away to be safe from any demons the ruins might contain. Today all that remains of Caer Celemion are parts of the defensive walls, in some places up to four metres high, within which is a church and a converted farmhouse in green fields, The town plan is still visible in cropmarks and a spring rises near the former baths and flows out to join Silchester Brook.


British Kings Atrebates

Cities and Thrones and Powers
Stand in Time’s eye,
Almost as long as flowers,
Which daily die,
But, as new buds put forth
To glad new men,
Out of the spent and unconsidered Earth,
The Cities rise again
— Rudyard Kipling

British Kings Atrebates

Introduction

Julius Caesar described the tribes in southeast Britain as being similar to Gaul (modern day France). He mentioned that some of the tribal names in Britain were identical as those in Gaul, but does not specify these. Much of the population was divided into named units in the order of tens of thousands of people which were called civitates, usually translated as ‘tribes’ or ‘states’.

Celtic Torc hung around neck

It is striking that most of the tribes that Caesar mentioned in his accounts vanished by the time of Claudius’ invasion in 43 AD. Archaeological finds, particularly coins minted by the British kings, suggest great instability and volatility in the ever-expanding dynastic states. Coin evidence is no substitute for detailed political accounts. Nevertheless, it provides us with the earliest names of the players in the political struggles. Coins also provide a crude indicator of tribal territories, alliances and the political geography of southern Britain. The power struggles between pro- and anti-Roman factions play a crucial role in triggering the Roman invasion in 43 AD.

Celtic Tribal Territories in Ancient Britain

The previous two posts on APOLLO’S RAVEN describe the political struggles of the northern Catuvellauni dynasty that overtook the Trinovantes. To the South was the powerful Atrebates who shared their name with a tribe in Gaul. King Commius fled to Britain after Caesar’s conquest in Gaul to establish this powerful dynasty.

Below is a tabular summary of British kings who minted coins in the southern and northern dynasties.

British Kings in Southeast Britain

Date Rome Southern Dynasty Northern Dynasty
50 BC Civil War, Murder of Caesar
40 BC Commius
30 BC Octavian and Mark Antony Civil War Addedomaros
20 BC Augustus Tasciovanus
10 BC Tincomarus Dubnovellaunos
1 AD
AD 10 Epatticus Cunobelin
Vodenos
AD 20 Tiberius Eppillus
AD 30 Verica Adminius
AD40 Caligula Caratacus
AD50 Claudius

C ommius of the Atrebates

Alliance with Caesar

Julius Caesar considered Commius one of his strongest Celtic allies and made him King of the Atrebates in Gaul. In 55 AD, Caesar sent Commius as a diplomatic emissary to Britain to win their loyalty to Rome. The tribes Caesar had in mind were those who had fled from Gaul during his military campaign. The moment Commius disembarked on the shores of Kent and announced his mission, he was taken prisoner. Later that summer, he was handed back to Caesar in his first expedition to Britain. Commius then went with Caesar on his second expedition to Britain and helped with the peace negotiations.

Celtic War Chariot Used in Fights Against Caesar

Resistance with Vercingetorix

In spite of winning Caesar’s favor, Commius allied with Vercingetorix and was appointed one of the chief officers in a united Gallic resistance against Caesar in 52 BC. After Caesar’s great victory over Vercingetorix at Alesia, Commius escaped the battle with the aid of the Germans.

Caesar sent a special team to execute Commius, but he managed to escape with a severe head wound. He avoided yet another encounter with Roman executioners at a party. After that, he sailed to Britain with a band of his followers. Again, he eluded Romans ship that were pursuing him.

Roman Ship Image on Frieze

Atrebates Southern Dynasty

Commius landed on the British Sussex coast and established himself as King of the Atrebates. He established his capital at Calleva (Silchester). There may have already been an Atrebates tribe in Britain that accepted Commius as their king. Commius coinage was widespread, suggesting his authority spread over a large area north of the Thames, Hampshire and Sussex.

Tincomarus

Tincomarus, son and heir of Commius, ascended to power around 20 BC. Emperor Augustus scored a great diplomatic triumph winning over the son of the man who hated the Romans. Tincomarus issued coins that more closely resembled the Roman types.

Based on the imagery used on his coins, Tincomarus may have been brought up as an obses (diplomatic hostage) in Rome during the early years of Augustus’ reign. It is conceivable that he gained experience in the Roman army before his return to Britain in 20 BC. He most likely established trading and diplomatic links with Augustus as evidenced by Roman pottery and other imports that have been dug up at Calleva.

Celtic child in frieze of Ara Pacis Augustae (Altar of Augustan Peace)

Augustus maintained diplomatic links in Britain to ensure the southeast stayed in the hands of friendly tribes. To the north, the Catuvellauni were ambitious and aggressive (their name means ‘Men Good in Battle’). To keep them in their place, Rome cultivated their southern rivals, the Atrebates. As far as the Romans were concerned, the rest of Britain and Ireland beyond the trading gateway were remote and thus irrelevant.

Caesar Augustus Marble Head

Some time before 7 AD, Tincomarus was driven out of his kingdom for unknown reasons and fled to Rome as a refugee. His expulsion may have resulted from a family dispute with his brother, Eppillus. Tincomarus appeared before Augustus as a suppliant king. Augustus recognized Eppillus as REX (king) rather than depose and reinstate Tincomarus. Augustus may have planned to use his ally’s ejection as an excuse to invade Britain but other, more pressing foreign policy matters took precedence.

Epillus and Eppaticus

Epillus’ rein over the Atrebates was short-lived. Eppaticus, the brother of Cunobelin, most likely expelled Eppillus with the support of the anti-Roman Druids. Eppaticus managed to establish himself over the Atrebates at the time Rome was preoccupied with its own troubles about 10 AD.

Verica, the grandson of Commius, regained the throne from Eppaticus who was subsequently killed.

Post-Augustus Policies and Trade

Upon his death in 14 AD, Augustus instructed his successor, Tiberius, not to expand the Empire. Tiberius accepted this policy, since he was weary of many years of frustration and denigration.

By then, Cunobelin most likely signed a formal treaty with Rome. This is implied by the Greek historian Strabo who states in 14 AD, “With important export duties, Rome receives greater profit than any army could produce.” Strabo listed British exports as grain, cattle, gold, silver, iron, hides, slaves and hunting dogs. The general philosophy was these treaties with client kings made Rome’s position in Britain so secure that there was no longer any need for Rome to invade.

During the campaigns on the Rhine under Germanicus in AD 16, some troop ships were blown across the North Sea and wrecked on the British coast. These were returned, clearly indicating a friendly gesture from one of the tribes, perhaps under a treaty obligation.

To be Continued

The next posts will provide an overview of the final political upheavals that triggered Rome’s Invasion of Britain.


Commius of the Atrebates, fl.57-50 BC - History

In 57 BC, they were part of a Belgic military alliance in response to Julius Caesar's conquests elsewhere in Gaul, contributing 15,000 men. Caesar, ''De Bello Gallico,'' 2.4 Caesar took this build-up as a threat and marched against it, but the Belgae had the advantage of position and the result was a stand-off. When no battle was forthcoming, the Belgic alliance broke up, determining to gather to defend whichever tribe Caesar attacked. Caesar subsequently marched against several tribes and achieved their submission. The Atrebates then joined with the Nervii and Viromandui and attacked Caesar at the battle of the Sabis, but were there defeated. After thus conquering the Atrebates, Caesar appointed one of their countrymen, Commius, as their king. Commius was involved in Caesar's two expeditions to Britain in 55 and 54 BC and negotiated the surrender of Cassivellaunus. In return for his loyalty, he was also given authority over the Morini. However, he later turned against the Romans and joined in the revolt led by Vercingetorix in 52 BC. After Vercingetorix's defeat at the Siege of Alesia, Commius had further confrontations with the Romans, negotiated a truce with Mark Antony, and ended up fleeing to Britain with a group of followers. However, he appears to have retained some influence in Gaul: coins of post-conquest date have been found stamped with his name, paired with either Garmanos or Carsicios, who may have been his sons or regents.

Commius soon established himself as king of the British Atrebates, a kingdom he may have founded. Their territory comprised modern Hampshire, West Sussex and Berkshire, centred on the capital Calleva Atrebatum (modern Silchester). They were bordered to the north by the Dobunni and Catuvellauni to the east by the Regnenses and to the south by the Belgae. The settlement of the Atrebates in Britain was not a mass population movement. Archaeologist Barry Cunliffe argues that they "seem to have comprised a series of indigenous tribes, possibly with some intrusive Belgic element, given initial coherence by Commius". It is possible that the name "Atrebates", as with many "tribal" names in this period, referred only to the ruling house or dynasty and not to an ethnic group Commius and his followers, after arriving in Britain, may have established a power-base and gradually expanded their sphere of influence, creating what was in effect a proto-state. However, during Caesar's first expedition to Britain in 55 BC, after the Roman cavalry had been unable to cross the Channel, Commius was able to provide a small group of horsemen from his people, suggesting that he may have already had kin in Britain at that time. After this time, the Atrebates were recognized as a client kingdom of Rome. Coins stamped with Commius's name were issued from Calleva from ca. 30 BC to 20 BC. Some coins are stamped "COM COMMIOS": interpreting this as "Commius son of Commius", and considering the length of his apparent ''floruit'', some have concluded that there were two kings, father and son, of the same name. Three later kings of the British Atrebates name themselves on their coins as sons of Commius: Tincomarus, Eppillus and Verica. Tincomarus seems to have ruled jointly with his father from about 25 BC until Commius's death in about 20 BC. After that, Tincomarus ruled the northern part of the kingdom from Calleva, while Eppillus ruled the southern half from Noviomagus (Chichester). Numismatic and other archeological evidence suggests that Tincomarus took a more pro-Roman stance than his father, and John Creighton argues from the imagery on his coins that he was brought up as an ''obses'' (diplomatic hostage) in Rome under Augustus. Augustus's ''Res Gestae'' mentions two British kings presenting themselves to him as supplicants, probably ca. 7 AD. The passage is damaged, but one is probably Tincomarus (the other is Dubnovellaunus, of either the Trinovantes or the Cantiaci). It appears Tincomarus was ousted by his brother, and from this point Epillus's coins are marked "''Rex''", indicating that he was recognised as king by Rome. In about 15, Eppillus was succeeded by Verica (at about the same time, a king by the name of Eppillus appears as ruler of the Cantiaci in Kent). But Verica's kingdom was being pressed by the expansion of the Catuvellauni under Cunobelinus. Calleva fell to Cunobelinus's brother Epaticcus by about 25. Verica regained some territory following Epaticcus's death in about 35, but Cunobelinus's son Caratacus took over the campaign and by the early 40s the Atrebates were conquered. Verica fled to Rome, giving the new emperor Claudius the pretext for the Roman conquest of Britain. After the Roman conquest, part of the Atrebates' lands were organized into the pro-Roman kingdom of the Regnenses under Tiberius Claudius Cogidubnus, who may have been Verica's son. The tribal territory was later organised as the ''civitates'' (administrative districts within a Roman province) of the Atrebates, Regnenses and possibly the Belgae. However it is possible that the Atrebates were a family of rulers (dynasty), as there is no evidence for a major migration from Belgium to Britain.

List of kings of the Atrebates

#Commius, 57 - c. 20 BC #Tincomarus, c. 20 BC - AD 7, son of Commius #Eppillus, AD 8 - 15, brother of Tincomarus #Verica, 15 - 40, brother of Eppillus #Claudius Cogidubnus #Full Roman annexation.


Watch the video: Commius u0026 Caesar