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Celtic Kingdoms of the British Isles

Celts of Britain


Trinovantes (Britons)

FeatureIt was the Romans who coined the name 'Gaul' to describe the Celtic tribes of what is now France and Belgium, quite possibly based on an original form of the word 'Celt' itself (see feature link). When it came to the Celts of Britain, the name of the islands itself was used: Prydein (Latinised as Prettania or Britannia). Its collective people were Britons, although not all of them were Celts, let alone the same 'type' of Celts. Successive waves of immigration had left a vague mix of Bell Beaker folk, Urnfield proto-Celts, Hallstatt and La Tène waves, and Belgae, the latest arrivals. By the first century BC these latter people dominated the south and east of the isles.

MapThis Iron Age tribe held sway over the northern Thames Estuary, from the area around pre-Roman London to the east coast of modern England and northwards into lower Suffolk. The Trinovantes (or Trinobates) were probably divided from their Iceni neighbours to the north by heavily wooded country which was known to form a border between the later Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of the East Engle and East Seaxe. To the west lay the hated but powerful Catuvellauni, to the far south-west were the Atrebates, and to the south, across the great estuary of the Thames, were the Cantii.

Like their neighbours in the south-east, the Trinovantes were probably a Belgic tribe from the North Sea or Baltic coastlines. Their arrival would have been part of the third wave of Celtic settlers in Britain which followed the earlier Bell Beaker and Urnfield arrivals. Their style of burial certainly supports this supposition (see the map of most of Europe's tribes around the first centuries BC and AD to view this tribe's location in relation to all other Celts).

In the south-western corner of Trinovantes tribal territory, the city of London in its earliest form was founded as a settlement perhaps by circa 500 BC, and it was this small settlement which was probably used as the basis for the later Roman city. Legendarily at least, its name seems to stem from Llud Llaw Ereint, traditionally the founder of Venedotia and high king of Britain, in the form of 'Lud Dun', meaning 'Llud's fort' or settlement. Going back even further in traditional terms (and entirely unsupported by any written or archaeological sources), the city was first founded by Brutus, first high king of Britain, and was originally named New Troy.

Edward Dawson concurs that the Trinovantes name spelled with a 'v' sound should be accurate. In Latin the 'v' was originally pronounced as it appeared, but it softened in time to a 'w'. Once that had occurred, Latin speakers from Italy would probably write 'Trinobantes', while Roman citizens of Celtic provinces might continue using 'Trinovantes'. The name breaks down into 'tri-', meaning 'three', plus 'novos', cognate with the Latin 'novus', meaning 'new', plus a suffix which is unfamiliar. Note that the word 'Trinovantes' is directly related to the name of a tribe in the southern highlands of Scotland, the Novantae, with just the 'tri-' prefix removed. No connection between the two tribes is known, but the similarity does suggest a similar origin or naming concept.

No written records exist to detail any but the last of the tribe's rulers, whose names were recorded by the Romans. Pronunciation of the tribe's name is straightforward enough, breaking down into four segments - trin-o-van-teeze - and with a mild emphasis on the emboldened letters. Despite the later Latin switch from a 'v' pronunciation to a 'w' pronunciation (albeit well before any Latins met the Trinovantes), the tribe's name is always pronounced with a 'v' sound.

Ancient Britons

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson and Dave Hayward, from The Oxford History of England: Roman Britain, Peter Salway, from Roman Britain: A New History, Guy de la Bédoyère, from Towns of Roman Britain, J Wacher, from Place-Names of Roman Britain, A L F Rivet and Colin Smith, from History of the Kings of Britain, Geoffrey of Monmouth, from Atlas of British History, G S P Freeman-Grenville (Rex Collins, London, 1979), and from External Links: Colchester's Roman Circus, and Community Landscape Archaeology Survey Project, and British History Online.)

55 BC

During the first of his expeditions to Britain, Julius Caesar regards the Trinovantes as perhaps the strongest tribe in the region. Despite this strength, the Trinovantes may be one of only two tribes to obey Caesar's command to send him tribute and hostages after his departure.

John Deare's invasion of Julius Caesar
John Deare's late eighteenth century sculpture shows Julius Caesar and his troops on their beachhead in Kent, desperately fighting off the Britons

? - 54 BC

Imanuentius / Inianuvetitius

Killed by Cassivellaunus of the Catuvellauni.

54 BC

FeatureImanuentius' successor, Mandubracius, is exiled from Britain by 'High King' Cassivellaunus, ruler of the Catuvellauni. He goes to Julius Caesar in Gaul and wins support. When Caesar makes the second of his exploratory forays into Britain (see feature link), the Trinovantes reveal the location of the main Catuvellauni stronghold, which is then besieged by the Romans.

Mandubracius is reinstated following the Roman victories over Cassivellaunus, and the high king is ordered not to make war against the Trinovantes again (Mandubracius is claimed as a son of High King Lludd Llaw Ereint, but due to copying errors he is named Androgeus).

54 - c.30 BC


Son. His daughter married unnamed ruler of the Catuvellauni.

c.30 - c.20 BC


Name unknown, and may not even have existed.

c.30 BC

The next identifiable ruler after Mandubracius is Addedomaros, but nothing is known of any connection between the two. Indeed, it is not even known for sure whether they rule concomitantly. Some sources state that Addedomaros begins to rule the tribe between about 20-15 BC, indicating the possibility of at least one ruler whose name has been lost. Others place the start of Addedomaros' reign at about 30 BC.

Camulodunum (Colchester)
The tribal capital of the Trinovantes was Camulodunum from about 20 BC, which was adapted by the Romans as a city, and later as Colonia Claudia Victricensis, a settlement for discharged soldiers

c.20 - c.10 BC

Addedomaros / Addedumaros

Subservient to the Catuvellauni? Reigned for about 10 years.

c.20/15 BC

Almost as soon as he succeeds to rule the Trinovantes, Addedomaros (or Addedumaros, or even Addedmaros) moves the capital from Braughing (now in Hertfordshire) at the eastern headwaters of the River Lea (the tribe's westernmost border), relocating it to a new site named as 'the fort of the war god Camulos' - Camulodunum.

According to Edward Dawson, the name Addedomaros appears to mean 'one with the ocean' ('addo, addere, addidi, additum', meaning 'to add, join', plus 'maros', meaning 'sea'). This ruler's economic influence spreads far and wide. His coins are later found by archaeologists across Northamptonshire, with finds as far west as Evenley and Flore in that area. With deposits of Dobunnic coins in these areas as well, coupled with the identification of early east-west trading routes, there is strong evidence of intra-Catuvellauni/Dobunnic trade in Britain.

c.15 - 10 BC

A series of coins are issued by Tasciovanus of the Catuvellauni with a mint mark which shows that they are produced in Camulodunum, the Trinovantes capital. Tasciovanus later claims to be the rightful heir of the kingship of the Trinovantes, suggesting a possible family connection to Mandubracius. Tasciovanus is soon forced to withdraw, perhaps by pressure from Rome, restoring the Trinovantes to full independence.

Map of Britain AD 10
By the end of the first century BC and the start of the first century AD, British politics often came to the attention of Rome, and the borders of the tribal states of the south-east were pretty well known (click or tap on map to view full sized)

Curiously, this appears to be about the same time at which Dumnovellaunos also seems to become ruler of the Cantii and Trinovantes. Does he conquer the former tribe himself or is he placed in command of it by his possible overlord, Tasciovanus?

c.10 BC - AD 5


Son. Also king of Cantii (15 BC-AD 5). Claimed as High King.

c.10 BC - AD 7

Dumnovellaunos apparently travels to Rome where he pays tribute to Caesar Augustus (recorded in the Res Gestae), showing that the Trinovantes and Cantii seem to maintain links with the Romans which had been established by Julius Caesar.

fl AD 5


Known from coin evidence only.

c.AD 5

Diras is an obscure individual who is known to hold power north of the Thames around this time. He could be a successor to Dumnovellaunos (whether legitimate or a usurper), but scholars cannot even be sure whether he is of the Trinovantes or the Catuvellauni.

In 2003-2006, a hoard of coins is uncovered by degrees in a field in Kent, with the find mainly being comprised of coins which have been minted by the Cantii. One coin, buried along with the rest in the first century AD, carries Diras' name.

Dumnovellaunos coin
Two sides of this coin of Diras' predecessor, Dumnovellaunos, reveals the elaborate artwork which was usually contained on these small but beautiful coins, often with the name of the ruler himself stamped around the edge, many times this being the only surviving record of their existence

c.5 - 9

The Trinovantes appear to be defeated in war by the Catuvellauni, probably between AD 5-9. The most likely date is AD 9, immediately following the decimation of three Roman legions in the Teutoberger Forest by the Cherusci. After this, the Catuvellauni prince, Cunobelinus, seems to rule the subject Trinovantes as a sub-kingdom from their capital at Camulodunum until he succeeds as ruler of the Catuvellauni. The Trinovantes do not regain their independence.

c.5 - 41

Cunobelinus / Cunobelin (Cymbeline)

High King. Became ruler of the Catuvellauni in AD 10.

41 - 43

The succession appears to be uncertain for this period. Togodumnus, son of Cunobelinus, rules the Catuvellauni, but not necessarily the Trinovantes. His brother, Adminius of the Cantii, is expelled from the country around AD 39 or 40, and is not known to return, but the basis for the expulsion may relate to a power-grab by Togodumnus and another brother, Caratacus.


The Trinovantes are conquered by the invading Romans under soon-to-be Roman Governor Aulus Plautius and Emperor Claudius himself as their Catuvellauni overlords are defeated and pushed out of the east coast. Camulodunum (modern Colchester) becomes the Roman capital until AD 61.

Britons attack the Romans
The invasion of AD 43 was no repeat of the expeditions of Julius Caesar - this time the Romans came in strength and from at least two directions of attack

59 - 61

Once Prasutagus of the Iceni dies, the Romans begin to ignore the terms of the Iceni's client-statehood, while the Trinovantes may be bearing a grudge because their tribal lands have not been returned to them following the defeat of the Catuvellauni. Stirred up by imperial heavy-handedness, Boudicca leads a powerful Celtic uprising involving the Iceni, the Trinovantes and other tribes. It results in the loss to the Romans of lower eastern Britain.

After sacking and burning Camulodunum, Londinium, and Verulamium (St Albans), the Celts are confronted by a fresh Roman army under Roman Governor Gaius Suetonius Paulinus and are defeated. Boudicca's fate is unknown, but it is presumed that she commits suicide rather than allow herself to fall into Roman hands. The Trinovantes are fully subdued and absorbed within Roman Britain.

c.100 - 130

In 2005, archaeologists discover the only known example in Britain of a stadium, or circus, used for chariot racing. It is typically hairpin-shaped, and consists of a track running down both sides of a central barrier (spina). Banks of seats run all the way around, except at one end where the starting gates are located. Probably built in the first century, the outer walls are massive. At 250 metres in length it is the largest known Roman public building in the country. It remains in use until it is demolished in the late fourth century.

Camulodunum's Roman circus
The circus at Camulodunum is the only known example of its kind in Roman Britain, but its continued existence was under threat in 2012 due to a lack of funds for preservation and developers who wanted to build on the land

2nd century

The name of the Roman town is uncertain. A second century inscription refers to 'colonia Victricensis which is at Camulodunum', making a clear distinction between the Roman colony and the Iron Age fortress. It has been suggested that the official name had initially been Colonia Claudia, and that the colony had been renamed Colonia Victricensis during rebuilding after its destruction by Boudicca's followers. Later the town seems to have become known simply as Colonia.

c.170 - 175

Coastal raids by barbarians have developed into a serious problem. Archaeological finds for this period show a layer of destruction along a great deal of the North Sea and Atlantic coast of Europe, between Belgica and southern Gaul, and in eastern Britain, well inside the territory of the Trinovantes. The Chauci are prime suspects for the raids, and Rome responds with improved defensive measures over the following thirty years or so.

Fortifications are put in place at sites including the Iceni civitas of Venta Icenorum (modern Caistor-by-Norwich), the Trinovantes town of Caesaromagus (modern Chelmsford), and the civitas of the Canninefates, Forum Hadriani (modern Voorburg). This is the start of the system which in Britain will develop into the Saxon Shore.

Forum Hadriani
Forum Hadriani (the Market of Hadrian) was one of the Roman towns which required additional fortifications following the serious barbarian raids of the late second century

268 - 282

The threat of Saxon raids along the east coast appears to become serious in this period. Major improvements are made to the coastal defences in south-eastern Britain as a result. Two forts in the system, Bradwell-on-Sea and Walton Castle (in Suffolk) are near Camulodunum and probably belong to the second half of this period.

Camulodunum itself lies less than sixteen kilometres (ten miles) from the coast and, although protected to an extent by those two forts, is still vulnerable to sea-borne raiders, especially via the mouth of the River Colne. Three coin hoards from the Colchester area, all dating to about 275, attest to the widespread feeling of insecurity at the time.

Steps are taken to improve the town's defences. Initially the town ditch is substantially widened and a counterscarp bank is formed with the soil dug from it. Before the end of the century sterner measures have to be taken. The Balkerne Gate is closed when the town ditch is extended to cross in front of it, and traffic is diverted, probably through Head Gate. The smaller Duncan's Gate, in the north-east part of the town, may also be closed off by continuing the town ditch across its front.

The town's built-up area is shrinking at the same time. The change is at its most obvious in the extramural areas outside the Balkerne Gate and North Gate, where practically all the suburban buildings are demolished during the period 275-300, presumably as they occupy exposed positions. Most inhumations are now closer to the walls than most of the earlier cremations.

Caer Colun (Colchester)
The artist's impression of the Roman city of Camulodunum (Romano-British Caer Colun, modern Colchester) shows it in its heyday, before some gates were sealed up but after its walls - the earliest city walls in Britain - were erected in order to safeguard it from any further Boudiccan-style revolts


Three bishops of the British Church participate in the Roman Church's Council of Arles: Eborius of York (Brigantes territory), Restitutus of London, and Adelphius. Given that York and London are leading positions in the material which is later copied and expanded upon by Geoffrey of Monmouth, it is possible that these three bishops are the most senior members of the church in Britain.

No other Roman-era sees are known for the country. Adelphius is quoted as the bishop of Lincoln (Corieltavi territory) or possibly Camulodunum (Trinovantes territory), the last of which continues to be a highly important city in former Trinovantes territory. To the north of Londinium, Verulamium may also continue to bear connections with the Trinovantes.

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