When Julius Caesar landed on the Kent coast
in 55 BC, he had a basic knowledge of what to expect of the
south-eastern Britons from his dealings with their close relatives
on the Continent.
What he wasn't prepared for was the English
Channel, and some bad weather almost cost him dear. His expedition
doesn't seem to have made it out of Kent's borders on this occasion.
However, when he returned a year later, it
was with a much larger force and a much better idea of how to deal
with some of the problems.
He quickly defeated the Cantiaci and
advanced towards the Thames, crossing it at modern-day Brentford in
Essex. He received envoys and offers of friendship from six tribes
in the south, although the British tribal names that are mentioned
(not shown) cannot be tied in with any later information.
Then he marched on the Catuvellauni
stronghold near St Albans, and his victory over them would have
delivered him the entire south-east, had he stayed. Instead, he
decided to winter in Gaul, and events there conspired to prevent him
ever returning to Britain.
Rome maintained trading and political links
of a sort with the Britons, and were able to observe the slow
coalescence of the south-east towards the creation of a unified
The Catuvellauni, having already proved
themselves as national leaders in times of external threat, were
starting to make their presence felt far and wide.
By about AD 1 they had already placed a
Catuvellauni prince, Cunobelinus, as ruler of the Trinovantes,
and in circa AD 10 he became king of the Catuvellauni
themselves, uniting the two kingdoms.
In around AD 25 the Catuvellauni also seem
to have gained control of the Cantiaci, and Cunobelinus' brother
seized the throne of the Atrebates, fighting a war to dislodge the
ruling house from the southern half (the territory of the Belgae)
and gaining it all by AD 43.
The tribes further north and west had still
not been identified by the Romans in the form that they are shown
here, but whatever names they were using, they certainly existed,
and were becoming more sophisticated as Roman imports made their way
inland from the kingdoms on the coast.
On the eve of the Roman Conquest, the
south-east was dominated completely by the Catuvellauni. They, if
any, could claim the legendary High Kingship of Britain.
As well as having conquered the Cantiaci,
the Trinovantes, and the Atrebates and their subsidiary branch, the
Belgae (the Regninses may not have borne a separate identity until
after the Conquest), the Dobunni tribe also seem to have developed
a north-south divide thanks to their powerful neighbours.
The northern half was being heavily
influenced by the Catuvellauni, while the southern half was clearly
trying to retain some level of independence. But for the invasion,
it was an independence which was unlikely to last.
One wonders how long it would have been
before Britain was formed of just three kingdoms: the dominating
Catuvellauni; the Welsh-based tribes, having formed an alliance of
necessity in the face of the threat; and the Brigantes uniting and
ruling the north.
It may have taken another century but the
evidence suggests that it was a possibility. However, the Romans