History Files


Celtic Kingdoms of the British Isles

Celts of Britain




MapCatuvellauni (Britons)
Incorporating the Cassi and Segontiaci

MapThe Celtic tribe of the Catuvellauni emerged in the late first century BC to become one of the most powerful tribes in southern Britain. They were bordered to the north by the Corieltavi, to the east by the Iceni and Trinovantes, to the south by the Atrebates, and to the west by the Dobunni and Cornovii. Like many of their neighbours in the south-east, they were probably a Belgic tribe from the North Sea or Baltics, part of the third wave of Celtic settlers in Britain. They may have been related to the Catalauni, a Belgic tribe of Gaul. (See the map of most of Europe's tribes around the first centuries BC and AD to view the tribe's location in relation to all other Celts.)

The main territory of the Catuvellauni lay on the northern bank of the Thamesis (River Thames), and northwards from there (in modern Hertfordshire). This is the area of their origin powerbase, and also where Julius Caesar places a tribe he named as the Cassi in 54 BC. The tribe's early capital was at Wheathampstead, and under Cassivellaunus they expanded outwards to dominate Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire east of the Cherwell, Middlesex and north-east Surrey. The Segontiaci may have been a neighbouring tribe that was swallowed up by the expansion of the Catuvellauni.

They were one of the most prominent Celtic tribes of their time, and also one of the richest. They were good agriculturalists and had some of the best soil in the country on which to farm. Nevertheless, as with all the pre-Roman Celts, they left no written records. Their rulers are only noted after they began issuing coinage or came into contact with the Romans.

Breaking down the tribe's name is a long and complicated business, and one with no clear-cut outcome. In fact it seems to have at least four outcomes! The most likely explanation is perhaps the most straightforward one, as provided by Rhys Saunders. The meaning here is derived from a study of modern Welsh, which is certainly a descendant of Common Celtic. The tribe's name can be broken up into 'cat', plus 'vel' and -auni'. That much at least is undisputed. The first part, 'cat', means 'battle', while perceived conventional wisdom in regard to the second element, 'vel', is that it means 'leader', which would produce something like 'the battle leader'. However, Rhys contends that it stems from the Gaulish word, 'wello', meaning 'excelling, better'. Note that the 'w' in Common Celtic acquired a 'g' in front of it in modern Welsh. The Welsh 'gwell' (adj & adv) means 'better', while 'gwella' [gwell-] (v.) means 'improve, better, mend, rally, amend, reform, remedy, convalesce, ameliorate', and 'gwellwell' (adj.) means 'better and better', all serving to support this interpretation. So the tribe were probably something like '[those who are] excelling in battle'.

Edward Dawson admits that his supposition that the Common Celtic and Latin were close could be subject to some debate, but it certainly provides an intriguing (and somewhat complicated) breakdown that should in this case be seen as the second favourite in terms of its likely accuracy. The first element, 'cat', still means battle. This is universally accepted. As for 'vel', Edward also disputes its normal reading as 'leader'. The problem with the resultant 'battle leader' is that it is in the German sequence, not the Celtic. In the latter language the modifier comes after the noun. As this tribe were possibly Belgics, this could be due to heavy contact with the Germanic tribes of Scandinavia in the Iron Age, before the migration to Britain. The Belgae group would seem to be an eastern branch of Celts who moved west at a later stage. Their dialect probably used a 'b' or a 'v' sound where their western cousins in Gaul used a 'w' sound, opening up different interpretations for their names. Another possibility is that linguists are wrong about the meaning of 'vel', and that its original meaning is different. In Old English, 'węl' means slaughter, carnage, a shambles. In Latin 'bello' means 'war'. But perhaps 'vel' is a proto-Celtic-Italic word for a field of slaughter, also adopted into Germanic, or perhaps it came the opposite way, from Germanic into northern Gaulish. Perhaps 'Catuvel' means 'cat' or 'cad' (battle) plus 'vel' or 'wal' (slaughter). Similar complicated problems exist with an examination of the Belgic Veliocasses tribe on the Continent.

This examination of both names leads back to a suspicion that the 'vel' element could in fact be 'wallo' or 'wello', which is also the proto-Celtic noun for 'fight' or 'war' (or close to it). This assumes that it is cognate in Latin as 'bell' (with the '-um' suffix from 'bellum' removed), and assuming that 'duell' (with the '-um' suffix again removed) is from 'duo' plus 'vell' or 'bell', meaning a fight between two parties (conventional wisdom says that 'duello' is a combination of 'bello' in its postulated older pronunciation of 'vello', with 'duo' meaning 'two', 'duo-bello', meaning 'two [men] fighting', which was contracted to duello). 'Vell' is a possibility because in Oscan (the language of the Opici and several other Iron Age Italic tribes), 'volloķom' means to destroy, which supports the supposition regarding 'vell'. In proto-Indo-European (PIE), *wal seems to mean 'strong', 'powerful'. This may have mutated into multiple extended meanings. This gives us yet another possible meaning for the Catuvellauni: 'strong in battle' ('battle strong' in its Celtic word order). Was 'vell' extended in early Q-Celtic to reference war itself, as it comes down to us from Latin?

Last but not least is the headache-inducing possibility that two thousand years ago, 'wal-' meant 'leader', 'well-' meant both 'battle' and 'best', and the Celts, being Celts, punned freely among the three, 'leader battle, best'. The Catuvellauni could be any possible combination of 'the best battlers'.

It is also possible that the tribe's famous king, Cassivellaunus, was in fact named Catuvellos or Catuvellus, and his people were therefore the Catuvellion or Catuvellon (the -ion or -on is the plural suffix). This would produce a typical Roman misunderstanding where they take the -on plural suffix indicating a tribe to be part of the name itself. They would change this to -aun, and then add their own plural suffix -i after it, producing Catu-vell-aun-i. The Cassi recorded by Caesar may just be nothing more than a nickname, something not unknown, as the Chatti or Hatti tribal region on the Rhine is now called Hesse - the 't' to 's' alteration is an easy one for people who tend to use slang.

Pronunciation of the tribe's name (and that of its most famous king) is a pretty simple matter of breaking it down into its constituent parts, exactly as shown above, and including every letter - katoo-vell-awnee - with a mild emphasis on the bold letters in the final syllable. The last section, 'awnee' is said with 'a' as in 'arson' rather than 'apple'. One thing to remember is that if a Roman recorded a name, their 'v' is actually pronounced as a 'w'. This is often ignored with many tribal names of this sort, but they should actually be the katoo-well-awnee.

(Additional information by Edward Dawson and Rhys Saunders, and from The Oxford History of England: Roman Britain, Peter Salway.)

c.60 - c.30 BC

Cassivellaunus (Vellaunus?)

High King of Britain. Fought Julius Caesar.

55 BC

FeatureCassivellaunus is the leader of the resistance to the first expedition of Julius Caesar to Britain, showing that he already holds a position of seniority amongst other tribal kings. This time, the resistance amounts to little more than regular skirmishes and a few minor battles in the territory of the Cantii.

54 BC

Cassivellaunus kills Imanuentius, king of the Trinovantes, but the dead king's son, Mandubracius, flees to the Romans in Gaul. He wins the support of Julius Caesar and the Roman general makes the second of his exploratory forays into Britain. Cassivellaunus organises and leads the coalition army against him but is defeated by Caesar's expeditionary force south of Thamesis, near modern Brentford.

The Catuvellauni and their allies fall back to the tribal capital at Wheathampstead in Hertfordshire (a little way north of St Albans) where the final battle is probably fought on 5 August. One Lugotorix, a Briton of noble birth, is captured by Caesar and Cassivellaunus subsequently sues for peace. Mandubracius is reinstated as king of the Trinovantes.

Iron Age swords within a burial
Objects placed in the grave of an Iron Age Briton include an iron sword in a scabbard of iron and bronze, and a set of iron rods or skewers (above the sword)

Intriguingly, Caesar fails to mention the Catuvellauni by name in his memoirs, but his description of them and their territories clearly tallies with later information. The fact that their king is the person who takes charge of the defence of the country clearly shows that he already holds precedence over the other tribal kings. Caesar does give an alternate name for the Iceni which is either a mishearing or an earlier version of the name. Similarly, he may refer to the Catuvellauni as the Cassi in 54 BC (see the introduction for an examination of the tribe's name).

54 - c.30 BC

Following his defeat by Julius Caesar and the subsequent withdrawal of the Roman expeditionary force, Cassivellaunus begins to expand his tribe's territory from its core heartland north of the Thames in all directions, building up the larger kingdom that will dominate south-eastern Britain for the next century and the one which adopts the Catuvellauni name. Territory is subjugated in the modern counties of Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire east of the Cherwell, Middlesex and north-east Surrey.

Just who occupies these newly conquered territories beforehand is largely unknown, whether they are lesser tribes whose names have been lost or neighbouring tribes such as the Corieltavi. Three tribes of the five mentioned by Caesar as those who had surrendered to him in 54 BC are the Ancalites, Bibroci, and Segontiaci, who are otherwise unknown, perhaps making them ideal candidates for tribes that are subsumed within the Catuvellauni in this period. The king also founds a new, hopefully more defendable, capital at Verulamium (just outside modern St Albans and later possibly known as Caer Colun).

c.30 - c.20 BC


Name unknown. Possibly a son of Cassivellaunus.

c.20s BC

The unnamed successor to Cassivellaunus probably cements the conquests of the previous two and-a-half decades. He also marries a daughter of Mandubracius of the Trinovantes.

c.20 BC - AD 10

Tasciovanus / Tasciovantus

Son? Geoffrey of Monmouth's Tenvantius.

c.20 BC

The Catuvellauni issue their first coins under Tasciovanus with a stamp that shows the capital is now firmly set at Verulamium. Tasciovanus is also the first of the Catuvellauni kings to renew hostilities against the Trinovantes, despite the fact that his mother or aunt (depending on his relationship to his predecessor) comes from that tribe.

c.15 - 10 BC

A series of coins are issued by Tasciovanus with a mint mark that shows they are produced in Camulodunum, the Trinovante capital. Tasciovanus later claims to be the rightful heir of the kingship of the Trinovantes, perhaps confirming a family connection to the earlier ruler there, Mandubracius. For this period, the Trinovantes would appear to be occupied by the Catuvellauni. Tasciovanus is soon forced to withdraw, perhaps by pressure from Rome, restoring the Trinovantes to full independence.

c.15 BC - AD 10

Andocomius / Andocos / Andocoveros

Sub-king. Known only from inscriptions on coins.

c.15 BC

Andocomius issues coins over the space of about twenty-five years, either with his name inscribed alone or shown with the name of his overlord, Tasciovanus. The distribution of the coins suggests that he is a sub-king of what is perhaps a recently conquered territory on the western flank of the Catuvellauni territory. Other possible sub-kings are known only from individual coins, but all belong to the same period.

c.15 BC - AD 10


Sub-king. Incomplete name known only from coin inscriptions.

c.15 BC - AD 10


Sub-king? Incomplete name known only from a coin inscription.

c.15 BC - AD 10


Sub-king. Incomplete name known only from a coin inscription.

c.AD 5 - 9

At a point between these dates the Catuvellauni appear to conquer the Trinovantes again, taking their capital at Camulodunum and installing Cunobelinus to rule the territory as a sub-kingdom. When he accedes to the Catuvellauni throne, Cunobelinus retains his capital at Camulodunum. His name means 'dog' or 'follower' of the god, Belinus.

c.10 - 41

Cunobelinus / Cunobelin / Cymbeline

Son of Tasciovanus. High King. Also king of the Trinovantes (AD 5).


The Catuvellauni manage to gain control of the Cantii at some point between now and AD 35, perhaps starting with pressure being brought to bear on the existing king. Cunobelinus' brother, Epaticcus, also seizes the throne of the Atrebates but does not completely conquer the tribe.

c.35 - 41

Cunobelinus' son, Caratacus, takes over the task of conquering the Atrebates, completing it by about AD 41. The Cantii also seem to be fully subsumed by the Catuvellauni, with Cunobelinus placing one of his sons, Adminius, in command of the tribe.


Cunobelinus is suddenly weakened, with a stroke being one suggested cause. Suddenly his sons, Togodumnus and Caratacus mount a series of military expeditions that seem to be aimed at grabbing as much power as possible. Adminius, their brother, is expelled from his rule over the subject Cantii and flees to the Continent with a small band of followers, where he surrenders to the Romans. The emperor, Gaius (Caligula) may get his initial idea of mounting an expedition across this channel from this 'famous victory', as he has it proclaimed.

Togodumnus' name is a form of tribute to the British god Tagos (or something very close to this). This deity's name is more familiar in its Irish form of Dagda, or its Romano-British form of Dak or Dag (the 'g' probably being pronounced as a hard 'k'). The Old Welsh names of Ceredig and Carantoc both used it (meaning 'beloved of/dear to Dagda').

41 - 43


Son. High King. Killed in battle or died of his wounds.

by 43

With the stricken Cunobelinus dead by perhaps a year, the Catuvellauni seem already to have exerted some level of control over the north-eastern part of the Dobunni in their continuing and successful policy of expansion.


Togodumnus, with his brother Caratacus, is defeated in battle near the River Medway in the territory of the Cantii by Governor Aulus Plautius some time before the end of May. The subject Dobunni surrender to the Romans. Following a second defeat, this time to the north of the Thamesis, Togodumnus is killed soon after, or dies of his wounds, with the effect that the Britons become even more united in the face of the enemy.



Brother. High King. Formerly king of the Cantii.


As the most prominent tribe in the south of Britain and the leaders of the opposition against the Roman invasion, the Catuvellauni have to be defeated by the invaders before the region can be secured. The Romans under Governor Aulus Plautius hold off until the Emperor Claudius can join them before marching on the capital at Camulodunum (the former capital of the Trinovantes). Despite stiff fighting, the Catuvellauni under Caratacus are conquered and subjugated. Caratacus himself disappears for a time, possibly sheltering with the anti-Roman western Dobunni. He re-emerges in AD 47 to lead the tribes of the Silures and Ordovices in Wales against the Romans.

A descendant of his is to be found ruling the Dumbarton Damnonii in the second century, while the fifth century kings of the Guotodin also traced their lineage back to him, suggesting that his surviving family in Britain flees to the free British north of lowland Scotland, either in AD 43, or later, following the final defeat and capture of Caratacus.


Verulamium becomes a Roman municipium, with its inhabitants being granted Roman rights by law. It is possible that this grant explains why the tribal named is not suffixed to the canton, as in Verulamium Catuvellaunum.

Verulamium Roman theatre
An artist's impression of the building of the Roman theatre in Verulamium

60 - 61

The revolt of the Iceni under Queen Boudicca sees both Verulamium and Londinium sacked and burned. Both towns are subsequently rebuilt. The forum and basilica of Verulamium are completed between AD 79-81 and are dedicated to Emperor Titus.


In his work, Geographia, Ptolemy ascribes the towns of Salinae and Urolanium to the Catuvellauni, showing at least that they still retain their identity as a recognisable tribe in the second century AD. Around the same time, the first Roman theatre in Britain is built in Verulamium.

209 / 251 / 304

Although the date of his death is disputed between three dates, Alban or Albinus is martyred at Verulamium for his conversion to Christianity. He is the first-known Christian martyr in Britain. By the fifth century a cult already exists in his name in what has probably become Caer Colun, and the later St Albans Abbey is founded near the site.

In the late fourth century or early fifth century, following the expulsion of Roman administration in Britain and the gradual diminution of any subsequent British central administration, the heartland of the Catuvellauni territory re-emerges as the British kingdom of Cynwidion.

MapCynwidion (Calchwynedd)

FeatureAlthough the British kingdoms of the north and west of the country were established by the end of the fifth century, the structure of the south and east is much less certain, and the area could have been ripe for territorial gains. Some of the descendants of Coel Hen of the 'Kingdom of Northern Britain' appear to have moved south into this potential vacuum and made their mark on the British Midlands, probably once British central administration had collapsed (perhaps with the death of Arthur?).

The youngest son of King Arthuis of the Pennines, Cynfelyn is claimed as one of these possible northerners who headed southwards. He apparently controlled an area of the Midlands below Elmet, probably covering elements of what became eastern Pengwern and perhaps Cynwidion itself. His son, Cynwyd, found willing followers in the Chiltern Hills where he set up the eponymous kingdom, perhaps claiming territory that was still under some kind of central control, however tenuously. The appellation later changed to Calchwynedd / Calchfynedd ('chalk hills') during his son's reign. These surviving names for the kingdom are ninth century Welsh adaptations of a Northern British oral tradition that was itself cut off from the kingdom midway through the sixth century.

FeatureThough the exact borders of Cynwidion are not known at all, the territory certainly lay to the south of Powys (which at the time also encompassed Pengwern and extended well into the Midlands), and tradition ascribes to it the towns of Northampton and Dunstable. It may well have occupied the heartland of the former tribe of the Catuvellauni, especially in its later days, when it appears to have been compressed towards the south by Angle invaders. By this time it may well have been allied to the British enclave of Caer Mincip to the north of Londinium. Archaeological evidence indicates that the British held out here well into the seventh century, which seems highly likely as, not far to the north, Elmet also survived until 616-617, and Caer Celemion to the south lasted until circa 600-610.

(Additional information by Dave Hayward, from The Oxford History of England: Anglo-Saxon England, Sir Frank Stenton, from Mercian Studies, Ann Dornier (Ed), Leicester University Press 1977, and from External Links: Community Landscape Archaeology Survey Project, and St Catwg's Church.)


Archaeological investigation work undertaken by the CLASP group (see sources, above) between 2000-2012 on a site that lies immediately adjacent to Watling Street at Whitehall Farm in Nether Heyford reveals a small Anglo-Saxon cemetery with the earliest burial being dated to around this time (although the bulk of them date to the seventh century).

Curiously the cemetery is located next to a Roman villa and farm. The villa is a sophisticated one, with its own bath house complex, and is the centre of an agricultural estate that extends over about ten acres. If this is still active at this time then the first Saxons to arrive may even be employed as farm workers. The find that that bath house is fired for the last time around this period would suggest that the farm is indeed still active, if possibly in decline. In the sixth century a wooden hall is built over the site of the Romano-British villa, suggesting the farm's continuation, but in whose hands is unclear - advancing Saxon settlers or as a border post of the British.

Chiltern Hills
The Chiltern Hills contain territory that was probably easy to defend for the warriors of the post-Roman kingdom of Cynwidion, at least initially and in part, but Angles and Saxons who formed the Ciltern Saetan cut them off to the west and eventually forced their collapse

fl c.480

Cynfelyn ap Arthwys

King of Middle Britain. Son of the king of the Pennines.

c.480 - 500

The region comes under pressure from Saxons to the south who are infiltrating from the Thames Valley and settling as the Ciltern Saetan (Chiltern settlers). Separate Saxon groups from the advancing Middil Engle quickly push in the territory's northern borders, finding a way through the Vale of Aylesbury and compressing Cynwidion into the more defendable Chilterns and Buckinghamshire.

fl c.510

Cynwyd ap Cynfelyn

King of Cynwidion.


A comment by Wendy Davies at a conference on Mercia which had been held in Leicester in 1975 is collated with others in a book called Mercian Studies. Amongst other comments, Ms Davies mentions from the analysis of various early documents that there is an invasion from East Anglia into what becomes Mercia in the early sixth century - exactly at the time proposed here for the Iclingas. There is no indication of precisely where this invasion takes place or how far it penetrates to the west. Does it reach as far as Watling Street and also feed the creation of the Ciltern Saetan in Northamptonshire, on the borders of Cynwidion?

fl c.540

Cadrod / Cadrawd

King of Calchwynedd.


The change of the kingdom's name under Cadrod suggests that territory to the north may already have been lost, probably to the Middil Engle. The new name could be a more realistic reflection of the territory retained. Welsh sources refer to Cadrod using the later form of his name, Cadrawd, and calling him one of the Gwyr y Gogledd or 'Men of the North', a reference to his family background (although some have taken it to mean a northern location for his kingdom).

Judging by the movements of the Middil Engle to the north-west, the Middel Seaxe to the south, the arrival and settlement of the first of the Ciltern Saetan to the west, and the perceived shrinkage of Middle Britain to Cynwidion to Calchwynedd, the kingdom is probably now cut off and isolated. Its presumed separation from Caer Ceri to the west also leaves that territory exposed to possible attack.

fl c.570?


Name unknown.


The Britons in the area of Biedcanford (possibly Bedford, near Luton) are defeated by Cuthwulf of the West Seaxe. Four towns - Lygeanburg (Limbury), Ęgelesburg (Aylesbury), Benesington (Benson), and Egonesham (Eynsham) - are captured. The valleys of the Thame and Cherwell are ruled by the West Seaxe, as is the upper valley of the Ouse. Cuthwulf dies in the same year.

This campaign has long puzzled historians, seemingly relating as it does to a much earlier situation when the Thames Valley Saxons were still establishing themselves in the area, and were only just starting to encroach on the southern borders of Cynwidion, which borders the area, with more Angles or Saxons advancing southwards from the Midlands. It has been proposed that its inclusion in the A-S Chron should be in the region of 441-471. The entry could be the sole survivor from a preface to the Ceawlin saga explaining how his ancestor Cuthwulf came to establish his rule in the Thames Valley. Alternatively, the campaign may be more or less correctly dated, in which case it is possibly one that is launched to regain territory lost to the Britons after the Germanic defeat at Mons Badonicus. If it is local Britons who have recaptured the plain beneath the Chilterns then it is likely that they belong to the kingdom of Cynwidion.

c.575 - 600

FeatureCaer Mincip (Roman Verulamium, modern St Albans) may be a southern outpost of Cynwidion's territory by this date. After the fall of Caer Lundein, the town may later have been divided from possible new masters at Caer Colun, before becoming attached to its northern neighbour, Calchwynedd. Projecting deep into the kingdom of the Middel Seaxe, it could represent the last gasp of Trinovantes independence. It survives until the end of the sixth century.


Tradition (in the form of the 'Lives' of the saints) states that Catocus, king of Gwynllg & Penychen and also a leading light of the British Church, is elected abbot of a large body of monks in what is traditionally known as Beneventum (Bannaventa) in Calchwynedd. The king and saint is run through with a spear and killed during a raid, presumably by the Ciltern Saetan or Middil Engle. It is one of the few more accurately datable events in the kingdom (if indeed it can be placed here - most sources state that the murder takes place 'near Weedon', which is only (five miles) from the then-ruins of Beneventum). The 'Lives' also state that Catocus had been living amongst Saxons in the area in order 'to console the native Christians who had survived the massacres of the pagan invaders'.

Beneventum has traditionally been identified with Bannaventa (modern Weedon), but this has been completed rejected by modern scholars. Instead the site has been positively located some five kilometres further north, between the villages of Norton and Whilton, straddling Watling Street. This is the site of a Romano-British town that appears to have originated as an Iron Age lowland settlement. As a Roman town it appears originally to have be undefended but, after a structured shrinkage, defences had been erected in the later third century. This would make it a useful location, and one which could still well be within Calchwynedd's borders.

Marston St Lawrence
The finds from a site at Marston St Lawrence in Northamptonshire which were examined by Sir Henry Dryden in 1884 seemed to point to a large number of burials of women and younger people rather than warriors, and could have been Ciltern Saetan who were integrating with local Romano-Britons


It seems likely that the names at least two kings have been lost. If Cadrod truly does flourish in the middle of the century, it is unlikely that he lives a long and peaceful reign, so perhaps a son takes over, descending with the kingdom into darkness as contact with relatives in the north is lost and the noose of Angle and Saxon pressure continues to tighten.

fl c.600?


Possible last king, lost to history when kingdom was extinguished.

c.610 - 630

Pressure from the Ciltern Saetan to the south and the Middil Engle to the north forces the kingdom into collapse around this time. The territory is subjugated by the rapidly growing power of the kingdom of Mercia, which in this period often shows signs of being partially British itself, either in its early ancestry in Britain or in its choice of allies and the people who probably form a good percentage of the population.