03:06. Cogidubnus.

What follows is very much a ‘work in progress’. I began writing what I thought might become a narrative history of Roman Britain in the late 1980s, and quickly realised that such a thing is not possible. The very best that could be done would be to build up a speculative history; which is to say a narrative that, to the best of my knowledge, could be the way things did actually occur. This, then, is neither fiction nor non-fiction, but intermediate between the two, in the same way that the sources are neither history nor prehistory but what can be termed proto-history. I left things to gather dust from about 2000 to 2011, but I have since taken matters up again and I have been pottering on. I have made additions and alterations, and I have straightened out the footnotes and bibliographies. If you are really interested, leave a message in the comment box below and I will email you an updated version of the text that you require.


Stephen Symons.

Britannia Capta Part 3.


Chapter 03.06.


3:06:01. Iuvenis.

The first of the native chieftains of Britain to gain treaty recognition from Claudius was Cogidubnus of the Atrebates, who inherited the rule of the last  remaining lands of the Commii in Sussex. The name is not entirely certain, and a version Togidumnus is possible, but Cogidubnus is by far the more widely used and recognised today [Barret 1979: p228, note 5]. The nature of his blood relationship, if any, to his predecessor Verica – son, grandson, nephew, great-nephew – is entirely speculative, but he was almost certainly a member of the royal family of the Commii. The legitimacy of his claim to the kingship of Verica’s realm is likewise speculative, the British and the Romans having rather different notions on the rights of succession in such cases. There is further uncertainty about his constitutional authority as the circumstances of Verica’s sudden flight to the court of Claudius are quite unknown. Was the old king fleeing from the encroaching Cattuvellauni? Or had he been ousted in a palace coup on the pretext that a young and vigorous king could better provide for the defence of the realm than an old and tired one? Was it a combination of the two? Or something else again. The possibility of a Roman-sponsored plot to depose him should not be ruled out. 

The years of 41 and 42 were very tense. There was bitter fighting across the south and east. The Cattuvellauni were sweeping across southern Britain, overrunning the old tribal aristocratic oligarchies and imposing a centralised regime run by a single royal family. The energetic and sharp-witted sons of Cunobelinos were dominating virtually all the tribes of the south east. Caratacos had taken control of the strategically vital Kent coast and between them the brothers controlled the entire Thames estuary. Hill-forts throughout the south, from the South Downs, through the Weald to the Chilterns, were being strengthened and put into repair. Such a one was the stronghold at what is now Garden Hill, 8km south east of East Grinstead, and in the heart of the iron-working area of the Weald. The east entrance was revetted with stone, and the roadway metalled; the ramparts likewise were revetted with stone, crowned with a stout palisade and fronted with a wide flat ditch [Money 1977: p344]. The long-standing detente between Cunobelinos and Rome had been torn apart, and there seemed to be general expectation amongst all parties, pro-Cattuvellauni and anti-Cattuvellauni, pro-Roman and anti-Roman, that war with the great power across the Channel was inevitable. 

Verica had been pushed further and further into a corner by the belligerent forward policies of the sons of Cunobelinos. His kingdom was reduced to a mere enclave based on the heavily fortified Selsey peninsula. The exact point of the last stand of the eastern Atrebates is moot as it could have been at what is now Chichester [Barrett 1979: p228], or it could have been at Selsey Bill, around a presumed oppidum that was long ago devoured by the sea. But come it did, and the king fled to Rome in 41 CE. In all likelihood, he was driven forth by external aggression rather than internal machinations, but it must be remembered that matters were becoming more and more pressing, and the possibility that a Roman hand helped to give him a final shove should not be ignored. Verica had been a long term ally of Rome and a faithful friend, but the Romans were not sentimental about such things and Claudius needed his casus belli urgently. 

The old man was received by Claudius and lived in exile in Rome for one or two years and without doubt laid contingency plans should he be unable to reclaim his rightful heritage. He would have provided for a chosen successor of his own blood, a member of the house of Commius [A Birley 1981: p209] should he personally be unable to return, but he was unable to take full responsibility for the choice and his nominee would have had to have been endorsed by the Augustus as well. The successful candidate would have had to have been acceptable to Rome and at minimum would have been both a native Briton and a Romanophile. A member of Verica’s house would command the respect and loyalty of the people, something an outsider could never expect, and a staunchly pro-Roman man would be a loyal ally and the most effective agent of Romanization in the new province. 

There is the intriguing theory [Cunliffe 1971: p24] that Cogidubnus, if not actually born in Rome, may well have been raised and educated there, possibly in the Imperial household. Such an arrangement would have dovetailed neatly into the two traditions. Fosterage was a time honoured Celtic custom, in which children of one powerful family were raised, semi-hostages, but accorded all the privileges of a child of the house, in the family of another. Claudius and his predecessors likewise sought the young of foreign potentates, collecting them like living insurance policies. The young people, sometimes hostages, sometimes refugees, were raised in Roman manners, customs and traditions, and eventually returned to their original homes to rule as pro-Roman princes. There are several such cases recorded, the most noteworthy being that of Italicus of the German tribe of the Cherusci [A Birley 1981: p209], the nephew of Augustus’ bane Arminius and grandson of the Chattan chieftain Actumeros, who was born in Rome, sponsored by Claudius and returned to his people as their chief in 47 CE. It is probable, indeed, that Italicus and Cogidubnus were well known to each other. 

Should Cogidubnus, like Italicus, have been born in Rome, he is likely to have been a son of Tincomaros and thus a nephew of Verica. This line of thought must also lead to the question of the timing of the bestowal of citizenship on Cogidubnus, and his full name may be a clue. It was customary for peregrines, when granted citizen status, to adopt a Romanised form of tria nomina with praenomen, nomen, and cognomen, taking their first two from their sponsor and retaining their original native name  as their cognomen. That Cogidubnus adopted the praenomen and nomen Tiberius Claudius indicates that he was granted citizenship by a Tiberius Claudius Nero. Unfortunately, there were three emperors of this name, those known, respectively, as Tiberius, Claudius and Nero. It is possible but unlikely that Tiberius made the grant before his death in 37, and Tiberius’ citizens usually styled themselves Tiberius Julius [Morris 1982: p61] as he was the adoptive son of Augustus, himself the great-nephew and adoptive son of Caesar. This would seem to rule out citizenship before 37. It is also possible that the grant was made by Nero after Claudius’ death in 54, but it seems unlikely that recognition should be so long delayed: the king would be unable to exert full authority in the province without it. On balance of probabilities, then, it seems most likely that citizenship was granted to Cogidubnus by Claudius in 43 when he crossed over to Britain to join the armies of Plautius at Londinium. 

If the two cases of Cogidubnus and Italicus are parallel there was, ready to hand, a young man with all the necessary qualifications to rule as a loyal and trustworthy client king in the new Province. Verica was too old to return to Britain when the time of Plautius’ invasion finally arrived, and he may well have been dead. If not, he was obviously prevailed upon to spend his few remaining years in comfort in Rome as a pensioner of Claudius. Rome needed a young and energetic man who could be relied upon to remain loyal to a mistress who was prepared to reward him generously for his pains. Verica was old, cautious and had too many axes to grind. Moreover, he was a loser, and Rome was not tolerant of failures. Cogidubnus, young and pro-Roman, would have been the natural successor. He was slipped into Britain shortly before the invasion as a fifth column, and he soon proved that he had been a most worthwhile investment. 

There was much cross-channel communication between Plautius and Cogidubnus just prior to the invasion, and the British aristocrat would have worked hard in the Roman cause. That there was no opposition to speak of to challenge Plautius’ legions when they first arrived speaks of a prodigious effort of political and diplomatic machination by Cogidubnus. Such an achievement could not have been reached without a very active effort and a very strong anti-Cattuvellaunian feeling by a large number of people over a considerable area. Without Cogidubnus’ effective proselytising, the Roman invasion of Britain could have had a very different history. Indeed, it may have failed, with unguessable results for the future.


Cogidubnus, having perhaps organised and headed something analogous to an anti-Cattuvellaunian resistance movement, was ready for the expeditionary force when at last it hove into the Solent. He gave the legions full support at their landings, undertaking to uphold the Roman cause completely, and to maintain obedience to Roman law throughout his domains. He certainly attempted, successfully, it would seem, to sway anti-Cattuvellaunian elements to Claudius’ cause, and he was probably instrumental in persuading Boduocus of the northern Dobunni to defect. Such efforts as he may have made to persuade the Durotriges and the western Atrebates obviously had less success, to the eventual grief of those peoples. Consequently, his territory was used as a springboard for the invasions both of Vectis – Vespasian’s transports would have sailed from the supply depot at Fishbourne in Cogidubnus’ territory – and of the Atrebates and Durotriges in nearby Wiltshire, Hampshire and Dorset. During this period, Cogidubnus and Vespasian, probably much of an age, would have worked closely together to each others’ mutual benefit, and it is reasonable, on the overall evidence, to suppose that the relationship was most cordial. It is not too fanciful to suggest that during this period a deep and genuine friendship sprang up between the two men, perhaps even a client-patron relationship [E Birley 1978: p245], a friendship that was to continue throughout their lives.




3:06.02. Rex.

Times had changed over the previous hundred years and the status of the rex socius was now very different to what it had been under Caesar. The final development of the term socius, as it was used during the early principate, was the bestowal of the title upon one who had done Rome good service as a subordinate [Sands 1908: 21:31]. This is confirmed when Tacitus recounts that “the allied kings were ordered to obey as the needs of war demanded” [Tacitus: Annals xiii:8]. Suetonius also, when speaking of Augustus [Augustus 48,60], regarded the rex socius as part of the Roman organisation and a subject of the Emperor. Clearly the term evolved to match changing political power and the degree to which the rex was in need of Roman patronage, and, like all Roman political decisions, was very flexible and applied on an ad hoc basis: the individual was accorded individual treatment without very much reliance on precedence.


The case of Bocchus, a century and a half before, may well be analogous to that of Cogidubnus. Lucius Cornelius Sulla, envoy of Gaius Marius, when addressing King Bocchus [Sallust: The War Against Jugurtha: 103] in the closing stages of the war against Jugurtha (106 – 105 BCE), was offering a relationship with Rome that amounted to societas, but clearly he was putting a price – the betrayal of Jugurtha – on the offer. Bocchus must first do Rome’s bidding before he received his price, even though he had offered a treaty of friendship at the outbreak of the war [Ibid 80] only to be declined thanks to the intrigues of a few men with ulterior motives. Amicitia and societas were doled out as and when it suited Rome, which would suggest that Roman friendship was, in this case at least, a thing to be earned by co-operation in war [Sands 1908: 17:24], and, moreover, this favoured position was accessible to Bocchus only when the overtures came from Rome [Ibid: 17:24], not the other way around.


Of interest also is the case of Adherbal of Numidia during the same conflict. In his letter to the Senate, he complained that “for more than four months I have been besieged by (Jugurtha) and it avails me nothing that I am amicus atque socius (a friend and ally) of Rome” [Sallust: The War Against Jugurtha 24]. The term socius was therefore, and so far as Numidia was concerned, justified only by the help which the princes rendered to Rome as friends and clients [Sands 1908: 17:23], making it appear that socius was no more than a title of honour and did not represent the binding force of an offensive or defensive alliance [Ibid: 17:23]. If the relationship between Rome and Numidia, a state with which Rome had had much and direct dealing, and which was an ancient and civilised state equal to Rome, could be so loose and one-way, what price the relationship between Rome and some petty chiefdom on the edge of the world?


Total commitment to the Roman cause. Absolute and unswerving loyalty to the Emperor. A complete rejection of any old alliances and loyalties as may have remained. He was the subject of a master who could dismiss him at any moment out of hand. These were the terms of recognition of the Roman client monarch. There can be little doubt that Cogidubnus understood his position quite clearly, but such was the price that the young king was prepared to pay in exchange for the rule of his ancestral lands, and he appears to have kept faith with his overlords to the very end. Tacitus reports that Cogidubnus “maintained his unswerving loyalty right down to our own times” [Tacitus: Agricola 14], id est the 80’s CE.


Claudius arrived at Rutupiae in due course and headed for Camulodunon, and quite probably Cogidubnus was there on the dockside to meet him, travel with him, and provide a running commentary on the way to the formal act of British submission in the Cattuvellaunian capitol. Certainly he was in Camulodunon to kneel with the other supplicants, there to formally receive his appointment as client king of the south of Britain. His accession to regal power was instantaneous, and is an example of the awesome authority of the princeps as well as the willingness of Rome to pay well for services rendered. Terrible were they to those who stood against them and lost: sadistically brutal were they to those who gave submission and later rebelled. By the same token Rome treated her faithful servants well. Cogidubnus was handsomely rewarded for his “unswerving loyalty”.


The precise extent of Cogidubnus’ authority is not known. All that is known is the “quaedam civitates Cogidumno regi donatae” [Tacitus: Agricola 14], which may be rendered as “certain domains were presented to King Cogidubnus”, a fact that is exasperatingly no-specific and we can now only speculate on the extent of his writ. Certainly he was rex of the area now known as Sussex (more or less), the heartland of Verica’s territory, with its centre at Noviomagus, and his Atrebatean subjects were known to the Romans as regni or regnenses, the people of the regnum. The extent of his greater authority is open to question, but it may well have eventually included all lands south of the Thames from the Kentish border to Devon. Surrey and the rich iron deposits of the Weald came under his control and he would have had concessions to mine this strategic metal: the workings were developed swiftly as soon as he came into possession of them, and they would have been a source of considerable wealth. The workings were extensive and heavily used, as evidenced by the widespread use of slag from the Wealdean furnaces for roading material. His authority almost certainly extended to the Atrebates centred on Calleva Atrebatum, and probably to that grouping of later immigrants subsequently designated by the Romans as the Belgae. Some Durotrigan territory also may have come within his ambit once the Flavii and II Legio had finished with it.


The Romans had built a supply base at Fishbourne at the head of the harbour to cater for the needs of the expeditionary force, and probably a large fort at Noviomagus perhaps 2 kilometres to the east. An efficient system of roads was built, converging on Noviomagus and linking it with the excellent port facilities at Fishbourne. The fort itself was the starting point of Stane Street, the arterial road linking Londinium with Noviomagus [Cunliffe 1971: p53]. Fishbourne, its harbourage and the roads linking it to the north and west were further improved by Vespasian as he prepared for his advance to the west, and there was much military activity there for some years. Where the army and the fleet go, so follow the battalions of camp followers and other tradesmen and merchants who supply the needs of large numbers of men with pay burning holes in their pockets, and to provide for the more conventional needs of the quartermaster’s department. The fort and its environs rapidly developed the physical and human infrastructure of a true civilian town.


The main native settlement and the old seat of Verica was on Selsey, and the ancient oppidum has long ago slipped into the sea. Perhaps the old settlement was even then beginning to be devoured by the waters of the mare brittanicum, while the bright lights of the new fort would have held more appeal as a centre of trade and commerce. Before too long, perhaps as early as the time of Aulus Plautius’ return to Rome in 47, the fort became obsolete as the front moved north and west and the rear became more secure. After the usual practice, the fortifications were demolished when the garrison moved on, and the street grid of the camp and any useful buildings became the basis for the new town. And ‘New Town’ it was called. Noviomagus, the name by which the civilian settlement became known, is a latinisation of a Celtic form *Nouiomagos [Jackson 1970: p77] meaning literally ‘the new plain or field’ (cf. Irish magh as in Armagh, and Welsh newyyd and ma), of which there were several in Gaul. But magos also has the sense of ‘clearing in the forest’, and ‘open space where people can gather’, and where people gather they are likely to do a bit of buying and selling. Hence magos can also mean ‘market’ [Boon 1974: p97]: the town became known as Noviomagus Regnensium, the new market town of the people of the kingdom of Cogidubnus. The old market of Verica was disappearing both figuratively and literally, and Cogidubnus received first a new and very much enlarged kingdom and shortly afterwards a nice, bright, shiny new capitol city to go with it.


The suggestion that Noviomagus was the capitol of Cogidubnus is based on the unprovable assumption that he actually had such a thing, and that the magnificent palace at nearby Fishbourne was his residence. Venta Belgarum could also have been a possible capitol, but Calleva Atrebatum, the old Atrebatean oppidum of Kaleoua, is a far more likely candidate. It would have had a strongly symbolic importance, being a Commian foundation that had been taken and occupied by the Cattuvellauni and was now restored to its rightful owners. This would have been reason enough for Cogidubnus to lavish attention on it, and lavish attention it received.


Calleva had a grid of streets laid out more or less on the Roman pattern but without the precision it would have had if surveyed by the professional Roman agrimensor, and in units that would appear to correspond to the pes drusianus (322mm), the ‘long’ foot of the Tongres region of northern Gaul, rather than the pes monetalis (296mm), the ‘standard’ foot as used by the legions [Boon 1974: p44]. The inference is that perhaps Romanised Gauls, perhaps Continental Atrebates, were brought over by Cogidubnus to lay out his oppidum on civilised lines. The trouble was simply that the civilian Gaulish surveyors were neither as accurate as their Roman masters, nor were they working to the same measurements, with the result that Calleva’s original street grid did not conform to the near perfect alignments of official Roman foundations. Whoever oversaw it, a street grid certainly was imposed and a public bath-house, that absolute sine qua non of Roman civilization, was constructed, possibly the first of its kind in Britain outside of a legionary fort. The town was the crossroads of several major arterial routes, linking Alauna, Londinium, Aquae Sulis, Corinium, Venta Belgarum and Noviomagus. It had a river port at Reading with water access from the nearby Lodden and Kennet streams, and it was no doubt a busy little town, with much coming and going through the substantial mansio, the military posting station-come-inn, at the south-east gate. A forum was built in the centre of town. Although it was a small place in the time of Cogidubnus, being home to possibly as few as 400 residents [Ibid: p62], it was obviously an important settlement both politically and commercially and it is possible that the king had two capitols, a northern one at Calleva and a southern one at Noviomagus.


But the most massive of the constructions was an earthworks enclosing some 32.5 hectares of land [Boon 1974: p45]. Alignments of the gates with ancient trackways to Noviomagus and Sorviodunum (Old Sarum), and its typically Brythonic construction, would indicate that it was built by British engineers, but the indications are that it was built after the invasion [Ibid: p45]. The only possible interpretation [Ibid: p45] to be drawn from this fact is that British allies of Rome, and very trusted allies at that, built it as a fortification in a forward territory that was still under dispute, id est between 43 and 50 CE, or even later in 60-61 CE. The further extension of this possibility is that it was manned by British fighting men commanded by one whom Rome trusted implicitly. Perhaps, it has been suggested [Ibid: p45], Cogidubnus owed his inferred title of legatus to his military contribution to the war effort, putting him on even footing with a legionary commander.


Cogidubnus’ own creature comforts were not ignored either. As the stores base at Fishbourne began to be decommissioned, a house was built for him on the site of one of the old military stores buildings [Cunliffe 1971: p24]. It was not a particularly remarkable place by Roman lights, and was obviously only ever intended as a temporary expedient, but by British standards of the time it was luxurious. It was in two parts, a northern building and a southern building. The south building was a rectangular range of seven rooms, the whole edifice being one hundred feet long by eighteen wide and fronted on the east by a verandah [Ibid: p54]. The floors were of mortar and clay, and the wooden walls plastered and painted red and white. To the north of the main building was a second complex of five rooms of roughly the same floor space but lacking the careful interior decoration. The second building contained ovens and a bronze-working shop [Ibid: p54], and the two buildings were connected by a passage. The whole complex had a tiled roof and a drystone street ran along the eastern front. Clearly the southern building was the first residence of Cogidubnus and the northern one the servants quarters and workshops.


While there is no positive evidence that the first wooden house, the “proto-palace” that followed it, and the magnificent Flavian palace that was finally built were the successive residences of Claudius Tiberius Cogidubnus, it is hard to think of anyone else who might have lived there. That they were built for the king as tokens of imperial gratitude and demonstrations of Roman fides is virtually certain.




3:06:03. Amicus atque Socius.

During the 40’s and 50’s, the Roman grip on lowland Britain grew tighter and tighter. Caratacos was taken, and the tribes of the West brought to an abrupt and shuddering halt. Cogidubnus, during these hectic years, no doubt worked long and tirelessly at the administration of his realm and the Romanization of his people. Prosperity returned, and Noviomagus grew swiftly in both size and sophistication. By 58 it was wealthy enough and civilised enough to have elegant stone buildings, one of which sported a handsome dedication of thanks to Nero. The port of Fishbourne flourished, attracting trade from Dumnonia, Armorica and the Channel Islands. The Regni would have been very pleased with themselves and their king.


In 60 the fabric of this bustling period began to unravel when Prasutagos of the Iceni died and the procurator, Decianus Catus, pounced on the old king’s wealth. His widow, Boudica, stood up to Catus and demanded a reckoning, for which insolence she was flogged and her daughters raped. The result was the War of the Iceni, which cost thousands of lives, both Roman and British, three cities and dozens of smaller Romanised settlements, and was the nearest that the Britons of the south would ever come to throwing off the Roman yoke by force.


Camulodunon, unwalled and ungarrisoned, was taken almost by surprise. The town was razed, the citizens massacred. Howling for blood, the warriors of the Iceni and their allies headed for Londinium, which shortly suffered the same fate. The citizens of the Romanised south were stricken with terror. Which way would the Boudican hordes turn? If they headed south west along Stane Street, they would have been at Noviomagus within three or four days. Calleva was even closer. All the legions were in the north and west. IX Legio had been severely mauled in Cambridgeshire and Petilius Cerealis had had to beat a hasty and undignified retreat to his base at Longthorpe. The main strength of XX and XIV Legiones was five hundred miles away in Mona. II Legio and its base at Isca Dumnoniorum were not too distant, but much of its strength was tied up in garrisons amongst the Durotriges and southern Dobunni. Besides that, Poenius Postumus, the Camp Prefect, could not even send aid to his Commander-in-Chief, being embattled by insurgents himself. He was hardly going to send help to Cogidubnus.


The king would have felt the chill of fear. Refugees fleeing the advancing hordes would have related horror stories of the slaughter and the atrocities committed by the tribesmen on defenceless civilians. Cogidubnus had long before planted his standard firmly and fairly in the Roman camp. There could be no doubt whatsoever of the fate of Cogidubnus and his family should Boudica and her Druids get their hands on them. With all effective military forces in the north and west, and the Roman Governor fleeing back up Watling Street, the defence of the realm fell firmly on the shoulders of the king. No doubt messages passed between Cogidubnus and Suetonius Paullinus, with the king begging for help but little imagination is needed to reconstruct Paullinus’ reply: defend yourself if you can.


This Cogidubnus did, quickly and effectively. Defences were thrown up at Calleva and Venta Belgarum, and the northern dykes of Noviomagus swiftly brought back into commission. Three smaller settlements in Sussex, at Hardham, Alfodean and Iping, were also fortified at about this time and, most probably, for the same reasons [Wacher 1978: p96]. Ships were assembled ready to evacuate the streams of refugees. As fate would have it, these preparations were not needed. The Iceni moved north, destroying Verulamium  as they passed along Watling Street. Shortly thereafter they met Paullinus and his legions near Manduessedum, after which the kingdom of the Iceni was a matter of history. Boudica and her daughters took poison and the hopes of the British died.


But as the hopes of the Iceni died in the Midlands, the hope of the Regni was kindled afresh. The danger, so quick to arise, had subsided as fast, and life could return to normal. Without doubt the king rendered such assistance as he could to the rebuilding of the shattered cities and the healing of so many wounds. Britannia was once again under the Roman thumb, even more firmly than before, but Paullinus pursued his revenge against the beaten tribes, killing and destroying far and wide. Such was the scope of the devastation and the intransigence of Paullinus that the new procurator, Classicianus, was moved to appeal to Nero to restore calm. Quite probably Cogidubnus now put his considerable weight and prestige behind the procurator. A return to calm and prosperity was in the best interests of all. It is even possible that he was personally known to Nero, and may have formed part of the delegation that went to Rome to beg the Emperor to intercede with his angry general.


Nero was most gratified that the Province has been held for Rome, and he fully recognised the part that Cogidubnus had played throughout the drama. His reward was typical of his grandiosity. A new building went into construction a little to the south of Cogidubnus’ home, a new and far more majestic residence, fit indeed for a king and a friend of the Emperor.


The second residence [Cunliffe 1971: pp64,65], a complex that is now known as the ‘proto-palace’, was, in true Neronian style, built of stone, of greensand blocks set in cream-coloured masonry. It was 60 metres by 45 metres, which, by British standards, was huge. It had a colonnaded garden, private rooms, servants quarters, and that absolute necessity of Roman civilization, a bath suite. The columns were in the elaborate Corinthian style, and many of the floors in the private area were of opus sectile mosaic. The interior decoration was of such a high standard that it it cannot be doubted that the designers and artisans were the most highly skilled Continental craftsmen [Ibid: p66], possibly members of Nero’s personal construction team. Without doubt the new building was the most elaborate private residence of its day in Britain. The old wooden building, Cogidubnus’ home for many years, was pulled down and the royal family and entourage moved into their new home, a residence that could only and by any definition be described as a palace. The complex was widely admired and envied, and it is likely that it was copied to a greater or lesser  extent by other local magnates, if the evidence of another local establishment at nearby Angmering [Ibid: p70] is anything to go by. The Imperial craftsmen were not short of commissions in southern Britain during the sixties.


As that decade passed, Claudius Tiberius Cogidubnus grew in wealth and prestige, and his regnum prospered. The profusion of early villas within the core area of the regnum indicates both the opulence that came quickly, and an extension of the old order into an atmosphere of peaceful integration into the Roman world. Taking the latter first, the villas would appear to have been the development of pre-conquest estates that remained in the hands of their British owners and aedificia evolved into villae. Many of the farmsteads had been settlements of some considerable area and this evolution is a natural progression as the native nobility became increasingly Romanised [Black 1987: p14 – 15]. The wealthy began to create the villas as the new order asserted itself and enabled the nobles to consolidate themselves on their estates, further enhancing their control over the peasantry [Black 1987: p16], many of whom now became tenants paying rent. The world was changing rapidly and other Roman practices, such as the census, may also have had an effect on land tenure. In the latter case it would have tended to entrench existing patterns more deeply, giving them more authority and legitimacy that may have otherwise existed. Taxation and the demands for regular tribute also changed the view of the land. Previously surpluses would have gone only to the local paramount and need only have been as sporadic as his personal needs and the demands of even higher superordinates may have directed. With the coming of Rome the land, for the first time, had to produce a regular and calculable profit [Lloyd-Jones 1984: p196].


Wealth was further increased by the presence of the army. The regnum, which had not suffered the depredations of war, was able to supply a constant and ample supply of corn to the legions. Tenant farmers paid their rents in kind to the villa owner, who in turn sold it to the negotiatores – military supply contractors – who then, having the infrastructures to deal with huge quantities of merchandise, on-sold to the legions, and there is no reason to assume that, in the early period anyway, the legions paid anything but a fair price. The Boudican War saw huge devastation outside the regnum, to the point, perhaps, where famine loomed in some areas, which ensured that the army’s need of the corn of the Regni was continued longer than it otherwise might have done [Black 1987: p18].


But storm clouds were once more on the skyline. In March of 68 Julius Vindex, the governor of Central Gaul, rose in revolt against Nero. In April Servius Sulpicius Galba, the Governor of Iberia, was hailed by his troops as princeps. Verginius Rufus, the Governor of Upper Germany and a supporter of Galba, marched his legions into Gaul and destroyed Vindex. Galba marched on Rome.


On the night of 9 June 68 CE, at the villa of the imperial freedman Phaon five or six kilometres outside Rome the last of the incredible Julio-Claudian dynasty of Roman Emperors vanished from the world, and a new era began. Muttering such things as “Dead! And so great an artist!”, and “How ugly and vulgar my life has become!”, Nero, with the help of his secretary Epaphroditus, stabbed himself in the throat and minutes afterwards died in the arms of the cavalry officer who had come to arrest him [Suetonius: Nero 49]. Immediately upon hearing the news of Nero’s death, Galba assumed the title of Caesar [Ibid: Galba 11]. That was the beginning of the Year of the Four Emperors, Tacitus’ ‘long but single year’, during which the Roman Empire threatened to fly apart in the most vicious civil war in its history. Galba was murdered before he had reigned seven months [Ibid: Galba 22], and was followed by Otho, who committed suicide after wearing the purple for only ninety-five days [Ibid: Otho 11]. Next came Vitellius, who reigned for a few brief weeks until Vespasian’s advance guard entered Rome unopposed and proceeded to the palace. Vitellius was discovered hiding in the cleaner’s quarters, seized, dragged along the Via Sacra to the Forum and put to death like a common criminal near the Stairs of Mourning. His body was dragged to the Tiber with a hook, and tossed into the river [Ibid: Vitellius 17]. Titus Flavius Vespasianus, dour old veteran of a dozen wars, and comrade in arms of King Cogidubnus, was absolute master of the Roman world.


Britannia had plenty of problems of its own without all the upheaval on the Continent. The current Governor, the greedy and unscrupulous Trebellius Maximus, managed to disaffect the entire army of occupation to the extent that mutiny flared and the venal Maximus was forced to flee to the current rising star, Vitellius. He was replaced by Vettius Bolanus, a courtier of Vitellius, which implied that the formidable British legions could be brought to bear upon the rivals of the new Augustus. By and large the army of Britain seemed to favour Vitellius save, perhaps, Vespasian’s old unit II Legio Augusta. It was not long before Vespasian’s legions were in Italy and, sure enough, the call came for reinforcements to come to the aid of Vitellius. Some units were despatched: vexillations from all three British legions were present at the second battle of Cremona in the army of Caecina Alienus [Tacitus: Histories ii:100]. But the help was nominal, and it is significant that although the warring contestants for the purple all tried to suborn the powerful British military establishment, whose weight, if used, would have been a decisive factor, they achieved little more than token success. Vettius Bolanus, although Vitellius’ man, sent little support to his master and it is worthwhile noting that, despite the circumstances of his appointment, Bolanus served out his full term as Governor under the new regime.


There could be many reasons for this lack of enthusiasm for any one particular Emperor. Rivalries between legionary commanders, for example, were endemic, and Britannia herself was hardly free of troubles. With the Ordovices of North Wales intransigent, Mona unsubdued, and open warfare in the north, the army did not have to cross the Mare Britannicum to find a use for their swords. Another reason could well have been the lobbying and machinations of a proven past master of the art of the manipulation of public opinion: Claudius Tiberius Cogidubnus.


Quite apart from at least friendship with Vespasian and possibly a client-patron relationship, the king may well have felt that Vespasian would have made a good emperor. He would have had to have been better that languid and effete Vitellius, certainly. The stolid, no-nonsense Vespasian, with his wide experience, universal respect, and sober middle-class habits was just the man to restore order and sanity to a world that, to most, must have looked to be on the verge of Apocalypse. The propaganda machine was cranked up again, there were discussions with the Governor, legionary commanders were lobbied, prominent people persuaded. However it was done, the battle-hardened units of the army of Britain remained largely at their posts. Their experience and reputation were such that, had they been thrown into the civil wars on the side of Vitellius, history would have had a different course. The credit for this result may well be placed with Cogidubnus.




6:04. Senator.

            Whether Cogidubnus did indeed actively campaign to keep the legions in Britain or not, two facts are definitely attested. Firstly, Vespasian, despite a perhaps ill-deserved reputation for meanness [Suetonius: Vespasian 16], was nevertheless capable of extraordinary generosity towards those who pleased him or had supported him [Ibid: Vespasian 17,18]. Secondly, as soon as the new Augustus had consolidated his position, a vast and presumably staggeringly expensive new palace began to rise beside the old palace that Nero had built at Fishbourne. This seems to be too apposite for mere chance.


Construction of the new palace began no earlier than 73 CE [Cunliffe 1971: p71] and would have taken at least five years to complete. The former Neronian palace with its bath house was incorporated into the south east corner of the new building and the main complex eventually measured roughly one hundred and fifty metres square, about 2.3 hectares in area. The palace was laid out on the standard square villa pattern, with four ranges of rooms surrounding a huge formal garden measuring roughly 75 metres by 100 metres [Ibid: p74]. The main access was through a colonnaded atrium which contained a small impluvium or decorative pool. This led through to the central garden, across which a path bordered by ornamental shrubs and flower beds led to the great audience chamber. Besides these main features there were literally dozens of smaller rooms, an aisled hall that may have been used for formal banquets, a southern garden, an indoor jogging track, and, of course, the baths.


The palace was the central point of a vast estate containing workshops, barns, sheds and farm buildings of all types. This huge and luxurious complex was the largest and most opulent known Roman residence north of the Alps, and a fitting seat for a king. Before proceeding further, however, a caveat must be inserted. The dating of the palace to the late Neronian – early Flavian period, a bracket neatly coincident with the present hypothesis, is based upon very slim evidence indeed. This bracket period of circa 65 – 75 is no more than the earliest possible date, and the artefacts that support it may well be intrusions placed down when workmen were levelling the site prior to and during the construction [Black 1987: p84-5]. This could mean that material attributed to the palace actually belonged to the proto-palace, and as there is no dateable material that can be assigned with certainty to the proto-palace [Black 1987: p85], the late Neronian – early Flavian date may perhaps apply to the latter and the palace proper could well date to the period 90 – 110 [Black 1987:p12]. Should this be the case, Cogidubnus would not have lived in the palace, and we must look for another reason for its existence. Perhaps he lived in the proto-palace, and the later magnificent residence belonged to some Roman tycoon. Barring any candidates for such a position, we shall for the moment assume that Cogidubnus was the owner of the most sumptuous residence in Britain prior to the Restoration period some sixteen centuries later.


But Vespasian did more than build his old friend and loyal ally a fine new house. Honours were heaped on the king, as is graphically illustrated in an inscription raised in Noviomagus sometime in the seventies of the first century, a plaque dedicating a new temple to the Roman deities Neptune and Minerva, which has been restored as:


“Neptuno et Minervae templum pro salue domus divinae ex auctoritate Tiberius Claudius Cogidubnus regis legati Augusti in Britannia, collegium fabrorum et qui in eo sunt de deo dant donante aream (?)ente Pudentini filio” [RIB #91 (restored)]


“This temple to Neptune and Minerva is dedicated to the well being of the divine house (ie the Imperial Family) under the authority of Tiberius Claudius Cogidubnus, king and legate of the Augustus in Britain. The Guild of Artificers and their associates paid for it. ?Pudens (or ?Clemens) the son of Pudentius donated the land.”


This document would imply an almost unparalleled status amongst the native potentates of the Empire. The combination of titles – rex and legatus augusti – is unique, identifying him both as a native prince and as a Roman citizen of senatorial rank and would suggest that his sphere was extraterritorial to the rest of the Province [Richmond 1955: p23]. The explanation of this extraordinary honour may be that he had been given some sort of magisterial rank during the Boudican revolt so that such military dispositions and counter-insurgency operations that he made would have enjoyed the authority of Imperial sanction. This would, collaterally, have elevated him to senatorial rank and given him authority equal to that of the Governor. It is possible, indeed, that in the confusion of the time, the central government believed Suetonius Paullinus to be dead and Cogidubnus may have been given temporary and perhaps restricted legatine authority as a stop-gap. It is significant that the title legatus augusti would appear to signify a direct and personal appointment by the Emperor as opposed to the usual legatus praetorius who was appointed through the more formal channels. Had this been so, his dignitas would have been hugely augmented and the title may have continued to attach to him as a token of honour, in a manner similar to the elevation to the peerage of modern former prime ministers.


It is also possible that the title was awarded him by Vespasian as recognition for his services during the year of the four Emperors. It would mean that he was made a senator and effectively the ruler of a state within a state and responsible only to the Emperor – his old mate, Vespasian. Such an elevation to this exalted and jealously guarded rank may have aroused  some opposition, but perhaps not to much in this case. Vespasian was, after all, inclined to favour provincial candidates for the Senate, and he was known to view the rank as one of status rather than privilege [Suetonius: Vespasian 9], which would suggest that the title was a token of recognition rather than an appointment to an actual working magistracy. It has been suggested [Webster & Dudley 1965: p59] that, if he was to receive such an honour, this would have been the appropriate time. Cogidubnus was by then an old man and in his declining years. The appointment could well have been no more than a purely honorary one without actual authority, a way of bestowing a signal appreciation on an old and loyal friend.


Cogidubnus was now at the peak of his wealth and power, and there can be no doubt that his authority was extensive and his influence profound. The inscription above highlights his unique authority in that the guild of artificers referred to seems to be constituted under his authority rather than that of the Emperor [Wacher 1978: p172]. If so, he was powerful enough to exercise rights otherwise enjoyed solely by the Emperor: the Roman authorities, ever fearful of sedition and an assault on their own power by other organised groups, allowed societies of any sort only under the most stringent of conditions and their incorporation was a prerogative of the Augustus. Freedom of association was not a Roman concept. If Cogidubnus was able to recognise a society under his own authority, he had independence indeed.


There is no evidence that this cosy arrangement survived Cogidubnus, and it may be assumed that his territory was absorbed into the province after his death sometime in the 80’s. How long he lived is not known, but assuming that he was a young man in his twenties or thirties at the time of the invasion, he could quite conceivably have lived to the end of the century, by which time he would have been in his eighties of nineties. It is more probable that he was somewhat older when Claudius arrived. It has been conjectured [Boon 1974: p44] that the appointment of the two legati iuridici in the early eighties may have been to assist with the huge legal case load that would have arisen with the death of the king and the subsequent dismemberment of the regnum into the civitates of the Belgae, Atrebates and Regnenses. Upon his death his family reverted to the status of wealthy landowners of no particular official importance, although their dignitas as members of the old royal family would have assured them a place in public life for many years to come. No doubt Claudii Cogidubni sat on the ordones at Noviomagus and Calleva for a long time.


The evidence [Cunliffe 1971: p169] would suggest that the palace at Fishbourne, although it remained occupied for a further two centuries (it was finally destroyed by fire in about 295) and may well have been a family seat, began to show signs of decline from the end of the first century on. The upkeep of such a huge place would have been staggeringly expensive, and crippling to a private owner without access to the public purse. Perhaps the family, reduced to private status and without the backing of the Flavii, lacked the means to maintain it to its former glory. The army was moving further and further north where, for the sake of economy, they would have procured their corn requirements nearer to their positions. The need for huge amounts of grain was removed, and the economy of the burgeoning south began to taper off. Clearly also, official funds were no longer available after the death of the king. By the second century the family may have been beginning to feel something of a financial pinch.


Whatever else, there can be no doubt that Cogidubnus’ was a principal voice in the councils that shaped the future of the province. Chief amongst these was the decision to organise Britannia into political states or civitates, each equipped with a capitol town, on the model of Gaul, and to establish a chief town of the Province. As a consistently loyal native chief, his experience necessarily showed the way in which the precedents of Gaul might be adapted to the conditions of Britannia [Morris 1982: p62].


What was he? Hireling traitor or far-sighted visionary? Self seeker, or selfless seeker after the best possible arrangement for his people? The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive. The fact is that Cogidubnus was a prime piece on the chessboard of first century Britain, one who exerted enormous influence over the events of the time and who may have had more impact on the future development of his country than any other individual Briton. Tragically, the record fails us. The biography of Tiberius Claudius Cogidubnus can only be speculative, and the only known British native to have achieved the rank of senator of Imperial Rome remains a shadowy, tantalising figure who shall remain forever an enigma.



  • sergio sante baggio  On 03/01/2015 at 02:58

    Hi Stephen,

    My name is Sergio Baggio, I’m Canadian (Italian origin) but I’ve been living in Milan since 2002.
    This was a fantastic read for me!
    I’ve been researching Nero connected to Roman Britain and the client king Cogidubnus along with Roman governors and Procurators of that period. Up to now, I’ve picked up pieces here and there but your work really gave me a great overall snapshot of that moment in time.
    Please email me any updates on this.
    I would greatly appreciate it.

    Kind regards,

    • poddimok  On 03/01/2015 at 14:02

      Hello Sergio. I am afraid that Britannia Capta has no been ‘updated’ for many years, and involvement in other projects make it unlikely that I should resume any time soon. Never say never, of course, but time goes by and other matters arise. In the meantime, if you have not already delved into it, I would strongly suggest that you secure yourself a copy of “The Fasti of Roman Britain” by Anthony Birley. Published in 1981 it is going back a bit now, but it remains a magisterial work that has never been [and it unliekly to be] surpassed. Good luck, and happy new year. Cheers, Stephen.

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