Last updated

King of the Catuvellauni
Successor Tasciovanus
OccupationChief commander of the British resistance during Caesar's second invasion of Britain

Cassivellaunus was a historical British military leader who led the defence against Julius Caesar's second expedition to Britain in 54 BC. He led an alliance of tribes against Roman forces, but eventually surrendered after his location was revealed to Julius Caesar by defeated Britons.


Cassivellaunus made an impact on the British consciousness. He appears in British legend as Cassibelanus, one of Geoffrey of Monmouth's kings of Britain, and in the Mabinogion , the Brut y Brenhinedd and the Welsh Triads as Caswallawn, son of Beli Mawr.


The Common Brittonic personal name Cassiuellaunos stems from the word uellaunos ('chief, commandant'). [1] The meaning of the prefix cassi- has been debated, but it possibly signifies 'tin, bronze'. Cassivellaunus may thus been translated as 'Chief-of-Tin', that is to say 'the inflexible'. The personal name Ver-cassivellaunus ('True-Chief-of-Tin') is related. [2]


A plaque in Devil's Dyke mentions Cassivellaunus Devil's Dyke Hertfordshire sign.jpg
A plaque in Devil's Dyke mentions Cassivellaunus

Cassivellaunus appears in Julius Caesar's Commentarii de Bello Gallico , having been given command of the combined British forces opposing Caesar's second invasion of Britain. Caesar does not mention Cassivellaunus's tribe, but his territory, north of the River Thames, corresponds with that inhabited by the tribe named the Catuvellauni at the time of the later invasion under Claudius.[ citation needed ]

Caesar tells us that Cassivellaunus had previously been in near-constant conflict with his neighbours, as was typical of the British tribes in this period, and had recently brought down the king of the Trinovantes, the most powerful tribe in Britain at the time. The king's son, Mandubracius, fled to Caesar in Gaul. Despite Cassivellaunus's harrying tactics, designed to prevent Caesar's army from foraging and plundering for food, Caesar advanced to the Thames. The only fordable point was defended and fortified with sharp stakes, but the Romans managed to cross it. Cassivellaunus dismissed most of his army and resorted to guerilla tactics, relying on his knowledge of the territory and the speed of his chariots.

Five British tribes, the Cenimagni, the Segontiaci, the Ancalites, the Bibroci and the Cassi, surrendered to Caesar and revealed the location of Cassivellaunus's stronghold. (Possibles sites include Hexton and the Devil's Dyke, Wheathampstead). Caesar proceeded to put the stronghold under siege. [3] Cassivellaunus managed to get a message to the four kings of Kent, Cingetorix, Carvilius, Taximagulus and Segovax, to gather their forces and attack the Roman camp on the coast, but the Romans defended themselves successfully, capturing a chieftain called Lugotorix. On hearing of the defeat and the devastation of his territories, Cassivellaunus surrendered. The terms were mediated by Commius, Caesar's Gallic ally. Hostages were given and a tribute agreed. Mandubracius was restored to the kingship of the Trinovantes, and Cassivellaunus undertook not to wage war against him. All this achieved, Caesar returned to Gaul [4] where a poor harvest had caused unrest. The Roman legions did not return to Britain for another 97 years.

The Greek author Polyaenus relates an anecdote in his Stratagemata that Caesar overcame Cassivellaunus's defence of a river crossing by means of an armoured elephant. [5] This claim may derive from a confusion with the Roman conquest of 43 AD,[ original research? ] when Claudius is supposed to have brought elephants to Britain. [6]


Historia Regum Britanniae

Cassivellaunus appears in Geoffrey of Monmouth's 12th century work Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain), usually spelled Cassibelanus or Cassibelaunus. [7] The younger son of the former king Heli, he becomes king of Britain upon the death of his elder brother Lud, whose own sons Androgeus and Tenvantius are not yet of age. In recompense, Androgeus is made Duke of Kent and Trinovantum (London), and Tenvantius is made Duke of Cornwall.

After his conquest of Gaul, Julius Caesar sets his sights on Britain, and sends a letter to Cassibelanus demanding tribute. Cassibelanus refuses, citing the Britons' and Romans' common Trojan descent (see Brutus of Britain), and Caesar invades at the Thames Estuary. During the fighting, Cassibelanus's brother Nennius encounters Caesar and sustains a severe head wound. Caesar's sword gets stuck in Nennius's shield, and when the two are separated in the mêlée, Nennius throws away his own sword and attacks the Romans with Caesar's, killing many, including the tribune Labienus. [8] The Britons hold firm, and that night Caesar flees back to Gaul. Cassibelanus's celebrations are muted by Nennius's death from his head wound. He is buried with the sword he took from Caesar, which is named Crocea Mors (Yellow Death).

Two years later, Caesar invades again with a larger force. Cassibelanus, forewarned, had planted stakes beneath the waterline of the Thames which gut Caesar's ships, drowning thousands of men. The Romans are once again quickly put to flight.

The leaders of the Britons gather in Trinovantum to thank the gods for their victory with many animal sacrifices and celebrate with sporting events. During a wrestling bout, Cassibelanus's nephew Hirelglas is killed by Androgeus's nephew Cuelinus. Cassibelanus demands that Androgeus turn his nephew over to him for trial, but Androgeus refuses, insisting he should be tried in his own court in Trinovantum. Cassibelanus threatens war, and Androgeus appeals to Caesar for help, agreeing to accept him as liege and sending his son as a hostage.

Caesar invades a third time, landing at Richborough. As Cassibelaunus's army meets Caesar's, Androgeus attacks Cassibelaunus from the rear with five thousand men. His line broken, Cassibelanus retreats to a nearby hilltop. After two days siege, Androgeus appeals to Caesar to offer terms. Cassibelanus agrees to pay tribute of three thousand pounds of silver, and he and Caesar become friends.

Six years later, Cassibelanus dies and is buried in York. Androgeus has gone to Rome with Caesar, so Tenvantius succeeds as king of Britain.

Welsh literature

Cassivellaunus appears as Caswallawn, son of Beli Mawr, in the Welsh Triads, the Mabinogion , and the Welsh versions of Geoffrey's Historia Regum Britanniae known as the Brut y Brenhinedd . In the Second Branch of the Mabinogi, he appears as a usurper, who seizes the throne of Britain while the rightful king, Bran the Blessed, is at war in Ireland. Using a magic cloak which renders him invisible, he kills six of the seven stewards Bran has left in charge, while the seventh, Bran's son Caradog, dies of despair at the sight of a disembodied sword killing his men. [9] [10] He then appears in the Third Branch, in which Bran's followers offer their submission to him to avoid fighting. [11] He is also mentioned in the tale Lludd and Llefelys , which features his two brothers Lludd Llaw Eraint (Geoffrey's Lud) and Llefelys.

Caswallawn is referenced frequently in the Welsh Triads. Triad 51 describes his conflict with "Afarwy" (Mandubracius/Androgeus) as described in Geoffrey of Monmouth, [12] while Triad 95 references the story of Caradawg son of Bran's death as told in the Mabinogion. [13] However, other triads (35, 36, 38, 59, 67, and 71) refer to a tradition about Caswallawn not drawn from either Roman nor existing medieval sources. [14] Triad 38 names his horse as Meinlas ("Slender Gray") and calls him one of the Three Bestowed Horses of the Island of Britain; [15] this is echoed in Triad 59, in which the decision to allow the Romans to land in Britain in exchange for Meinlas is called one of the Three Unfortunate Counsels of the Island of Britain. [16] Triad 35 indicates that Caswallawn left Britain with 21,000 men in pursuit of Caesar and never returned. [17]

Triads 67 and 71 portray Caswallawn as a great lover, who competed with Caesar over the beautiful Fflur. He is named as one of the Three Golden Shoemakers of the Island of Britain in relation to his trip to Rome seeking his love; context suggests he disguised himself as a shoemaker. [18] A later collection of triads compiled by the 18th-century Welsh antiquarian Iolo Morganwg gives an expanded version of this tradition, including the details that Caswallawn had abducted Fflur from Caesar in Gaul, killing 6,000 Romans, and that Caesar invaded Britain in response. [19] As with the rest of Morganwg's Triads, however, the provenance of these references is suspect. However, the 12th-century poet Cynddelw Brydydd Mawr knew of some version of the Fflur story, writing that Caesar's love for her was costly. [20]

Welsh scholar Rachel Bromwich suggests the fragmentary allusions to Caswallawn in the Triads relate to a narrative of the character that has been lost. [14] This may have been in the form of a romance detailing the king's adventures, but would have been largely uninfluenced by the classical accounts.


  1. Delamarre 2003, p. 311.
  2. Delamarre 2003, pp. 109–110.
  3. A History of Britain, Richard Dargie (2007), p. 19
  4. Julius Caesar, Commentarii de Bello Gallico 5.8-23; Dio Cassius, Roman History 40.1-3; Orosius, Histories Against the Pagans 6.9 Archived 2006-08-11 at the Wayback Machine
  5. Polyaenus, Strategemata 8.23.5
  6. Dio Cassius, Roman History 60.21
  7. Geoffrey of Monmouth, Historia Regum Britanniae 3.20, 4.1-11
  8. According to Caesar's own account (Commentarii de Bello Gallico 5.18), the tribune who was killed in Britain was Quintus Laberius Durus; Titus Labienus was his legate in Gaul. The error can be traced to Orosius's Histories Against the Pagans, an influential 4th-century Christian history.
  9. The Mabinogion: "Branwen, daughter of Llyr"
  10. Jeffrey Gantz, The Mabinogion, p.80.
  11. Jeffrey Gantz, The Mabinogion, pp. 84–86, 88.
  12. Rachel Bromwich, Trioedd Ynys Prydein, pp. 138–145. This is the only triad which draws its content entirely from Geoffrey. References to the Welsh Triads use Bromwich's numbering; Bromwich's 51 forms part of #5 from the Red Book of Hergest.
  13. Bromwich, Trioedd Ynys Prydein, p. 242.
  14. 1 2 Bromwich, Trioedd Ynys Prydein, pp. 305–306.
  15. Bromwich, Trioedd Ynys Prydein, pp. 103 – 104. Hergest Triad 50.
  16. Bromwich, Trioedd Ynys Prydein, pp. 168 – 170. Hergest Triad 21.
  17. Bromwich, Trioedd Ynys Prydein, pp. 81–89. Peniarth Triad 32; Hergest Triad 5
  18. Bromwich, Trioedd Ynys Prydein, pp. 185–188. Peniarth Triad 32.
  19. Iolo Morganwg, Triads of Britain 8, 14 17, 24, 102, 124
  20. Bromwich, Trioedd Ynys Prydein, p. 354.

Related Research Articles

Caratacus 1st-century AD British chieftain of the Catuvellauni tribe

Caratacus was a 1st-century AD British chieftain of the Catuvellauni tribe, who resisted the Roman conquest of Britain.

Arianrhod is a figure in Welsh mythology who plays her most important role in the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi. She is the daughter of Dôn and the sister of Gwydion and Gilfaethwy; the Welsh Triads give her father as Beli Mawr. In the Mabinogi her uncle Math ap Mathonwy is the King of Gwynedd, and during the course of the story she gives birth to two sons, Dylan ail Don and Lleu Llaw Gyffes, through magical means.

Penarddun is a figure in Welsh mythology, the wife of Llŷr. The Second Branch of the Mabinogi names Bran, Branwen, and Manawydan as her children by Llŷr, and ascribes to her two additional sons by Euroswydd: Nisien, a good man, and Efnysien, a conniving troublemaker. The Welsh Triads call Llŷr one of the Three Exalted Prisoners of Britain for his captivity at Euroswydd's hands; this likely refers to a lost tradition of the birth of Penarddun's younger sons. The Mabinogi names Penarddun as a daughter of the ancestor Beli Mawr, but the genealogy is confused; it is possible she was meant to be his sister rather than daughter.

Euroswydd is a figure in Welsh mythology, the father of Nisien and Efnysien by Penarddun, daughter of Beli Mawr. In the Second Branch of the Mabinogi Penarddun is the wife of Llŷr, by whom her children are Brân, Branwen, and Manawydan. The circumstances of Nisien and Efnysien's conception are not described, but one of the Welsh Triads mentions that Euroswydd had held Llŷr captive as one of the Three Exalted Prisoners of the Island of Britain; it is likely the traditions are connected.

Brân the Blessed Giant and king in Welsh mythology (18-70)

Brân the Blessed is a giant and king of Britain in Welsh mythology. He appears in several of the Welsh Triads, but his most significant role is in the Second Branch of the Mabinogi, Branwen ferch Llŷr. He is a son of Llŷr and Penarddun, and the brother of Brânwen, Manawydan, Nisien and Efnysien. The name "Brân" in Welsh is usually translated as crow or raven.

Trinovantes Celtic tribe between modern-day Anglia and the Thames Estuary

The Trinovantes or Trinobantes were one of the Celtic tribes of Pre-Roman Britain. Their territory was on the north side of the Thames estuary in current Essex, Hertfordshire and Suffolk, and included lands now located in Greater London. They were bordered to the north by the Iceni, and to the west by the Catuvellauni. Their name possibly derives from the Celtic intensive prefix "tri-" and a second element which was either "novio" – new, so meaning "very new" in the sense of "newcomers", but possibly with an applied sense of vigorous or lively ultimately meaning "the very vigorous people". Their capital was Camulodunum, one proposed site of the legendary Camelot.

King Lud Pseudohistorical king of Britain who was said to have founded London

Lud, according to Geoffrey of Monmouth's legendary History of the Kings of Britain and related medieval texts, was a king of Britain in pre-Roman times who founded London and was buried at Ludgate. He was the eldest son of Geoffrey's King Heli, and succeeded his father to the throne. He was succeeded, in turn, by his brother Caswallon. Lud may be connected with the Welsh mythological figure Lludd Llaw Eraint, earlier Nudd Llaw Eraint, cognate with the Irish Nuada Airgetlám, a king of the Tuatha Dé Danann, and the Brittonic god Nodens. However, he was a separate figure in Welsh tradition and is usually treated as such.

Beli Mawr was an ancestor figure in Middle Welsh literature and genealogies. He is the father of Cassivellaunus, Arianrhod, Lludd Llaw Eraint, Llefelys, and Afallach. In certain medieval genealogies he is listed as the son or husband of Anna, cousin of Mary, mother of Jesus. According to the Welsh Triads, Beli and Dôn were the parents of Arianrhod, but the mother of Beli's other children—and the father of Dôn's other children—is not mentioned in the medieval Welsh literature. Several royal lines in medieval Wales traced their ancestry to Beli. The Mabinogi names Penarddun as a daughter of Beli Mawr, but the genealogy is confused; it is possible she was meant to be his sister rather than daughter.

<i>Historia Regum Britanniae</i> Pseudohistorical account of British history (c.1136)

Historia regum Britanniae, originally called De gestis Britonum, is a pseudohistorical account of British history, written around 1136 by Geoffrey of Monmouth. It chronicles the lives of the kings of the Britons over the course of two thousand years, beginning with the Trojans founding the British nation and continuing until the Anglo-Saxons assumed control of much of Britain around the 7th century. It is one of the central pieces of the Matter of Britain.

The Thirteen Treasures of the Island of Britain are a series of items in late-medieval Welsh tradition. Lists of the items appear in texts dating to the 15th and 16th centuries. The number of treasures is always given as thirteen, but some later versions list different items, replacing or combining entries to maintain the number.

Welsh Triads

The Welsh Triads are a group of related texts in medieval manuscripts which preserve fragments of Welsh folklore, mythology and traditional history in groups of three. The triad is a rhetorical form whereby objects are grouped together in threes, with a heading indicating the point of likeness; for example, "Three things not easily restrained, the flow of a torrent, the flight of an arrow, and the tongue of a fool."

Welsh mythology Folk traditions developed in Wales and by the Celtic Britons elsewhere

Welsh mythology consists of both folk traditions developed in Wales, and traditions developed by the Celtic Britons elsewhere before the end of the first millennium. As in most of the predominantly oral societies Celtic mythology and history were recorded orally by specialists such as druids. This oral record has been lost or altered as a result of outside contact and invasion over the years. Much of this altered mythology and history is preserved in medieval Welsh manuscripts, which include the Red Book of Hergest, the White Book of Rhydderch, the Book of Aneirin and the Book of Taliesin. Other works connected to Welsh mythology include the ninth-century Latin historical compilation Historia Brittonum and Geoffrey of Monmouth's twelfth-century Latin chronicle Historia Regum Britanniae, as well as later folklore, such as the materials collected in The Welsh Fairy Book by William Jenkyn Thomas (1908).

Mandubracius or Mandubratius was a king of the Trinovantes of south-eastern Britain in the 1st century BC.

The Battle of Arfderydd was fought, according to the Annales Cambriae, in 573. The opposing armies are variously given in a number of Old Welsh sources, perhaps suggesting a number of allied armies were involved. The main adversaries appear to have been Gwenddoleu ap Ceidio and either the princely brothers Peredur and Gwrgi or King Riderch Hael of Strathclyde. Gwenddoleu was defeated and killed. His bard, Myrddin Wyllt, went mad and ran into the forest. He is probably the origin of the Arthurian character Merlin. The Welsh Triads refer to this battle as one of the "Three Futile Battles of the Island of Britain", along with the Battle of Camlann and the Battle of the Trees.

Llŷr is a figure in Welsh mythology, probably originally a deity, probably derived from Irish Ler, father of Manannán mac Lir. Other than his progeny and odd titbits, his identity remains obscure.

Julius Caesars invasions of Britain Caesar‘s two invasions of Britain (55 and 54 BC)

In the course of his Gallic Wars, Julius Caesar invaded Britain twice: in 55 and 54 BC. On the first occasion Caesar took with him only two legions, and achieved little beyond a landing on the coast of Kent. The second invasion consisted of 628 ships, five legions and 2,000 cavalry. The force was so imposing that the Britons did not dare contest Caesar's landing in Kent, waiting instead until he began to move inland. Caesar eventually penetrated into Middlesex and crossed the Thames, forcing the British warlord Cassivellaunus to surrender as a tributary to Rome and setting up Mandubracius of the Trinovantes as client king.

Tegid Foel is the husband of Ceridwen in Welsh mythology. His name rendered into English would be "Tacitus the Bald". In folklore, Tegid Foel is associated with Llyn Tegid in Gwynedd and may have been the tutelary deity of that lake.

The Coraniaid[kɔˈranjaid] are a race of beings from Welsh mythology. They appear in the Middle Welsh prose tale Lludd and Llefelys, which survives in the Mabinogion and inserted into several texts of the Brut y Brenhinedd, a Welsh adaptation of Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae. The Coraniaid figure in the tale as one of three plagues that affect Britain during the reign of King Lludd. They are characterized by a sense of hearing so acute that they can hear any word the wind touches, making action against them impossible.

Talhaearn Tad Awen, was, according to medieval Welsh sources, a celebrated British poet of the sub-Roman period. He ranks as one of the earliest, if not the earliest, named poets to have composed and performed in Welsh. The better known poets Aneirin and Taliesin, who may have been slightly younger contemporaries, also belong to this early generation, the first of those known to modern scholars as the Cynfeirdd. Whereas medieval Welsh manuscripts preserve verse composed by or otherwise ascribed to the latter two figures, no such work survives for Talhaearn and in fact, his former fame seems to have largely vanished by the later Middle Ages.

Henwen, meaning "Old White", is in Welsh legend a sow which according to the Welsh Triads gave birth to Cath Palug, a monstrous cat depicted as combating with either Cai or King Arthur of Arthurian Legends.


Regnal titles
Unknown King of the Catuvellauni Succeeded by
Legendary titles
Preceded by
King of Britain Succeeded by