Tuesday, February 11, 2014

"Togodumnus" and "Cogidubnus" - Two Men or One?

by Mark Patton

Since the Nineteenth Century, English speakers have been accustomed to making the distinction between "history" and "prehistory." The French have an intermediate term, "protohistoire," the English equivalent to which is almost never used. There are good reasons why the French and the English should divide their past up in different ways. French protohistoire covers the period 600-55 BC and, for much of this period, cities on the southern coast of France were part of the literate classical world, whilst the northern half of the country remained essentially prehistoric. In Britain, on the other hand, prehistory endures until the Roman invasion under the Emperor Claudius in 43 AD. There are moments, however, when the British historian might find the French terminology more useful than his or her own.

We know the names of some of the pre-Roman rulers of Britain. Prominent amongst these is Cunobelinus (Shakespeare's Cymbeline), a king of the Catuvellauni tribe who ruled from Camulodunum (Colchester). Cunobelinus died shortly before 43 AD, and he seems to have had at least three legitimate sons.

Coin of Cunobelinus.
Photo: PHGCOM (image is in the Public Domain).

One of these, Adminius, is mentioned by the Roman historian, Suetonius, as having been expelled from Britain following an argument with his father, and having appealed for assistance to the Emperor Gaius (Caligula). A second brother, Togodumnus, is recorded by another historian, Cassius Dio, as having fallen in battle against the Romans during the invasion of 43 AD, leaving only the third brother, Caratacos, to escape to the Welsh hills to continue a guerrilla war against the Romans. An article by J.G.F. Hinds (Hinds 2007, "Aulus Plautius's Campaign in Britain: An Alternative Reading of the Narrative in Cassius Dio," Britannia 38, 93-106), however, has challenged this reading of Cassius Dio's Greek account, suggesting that it is ambiguous as to whether Togodumnus was killed, or merely defeated.

Cassius Dio's account of the military campaign describes battles fought at the crossing points of two rivers, conventionally assumed to have been the Medway and the Thames. The Roman landing point was, according to this view of events, at Richborough in Kent, where a later Roman fort incorporates a monumental triumphal arch. Hinds, however, suggests an alternative reading, according to which the Roman legions landed not at Richborough, but at Chichester Harbour. I have elsewhere discussed the likely significance of Chichester Harbour in the Roman invasion, but I don't go so far as Hinds, suggesting only that one of the four legions might have landed at Chichester to establish a supply route (it seems to me that the triumphal arch at Richborough needs to be explained somehow).

The Roman fort of Richborough in Kent.
Photo: Val Vannet (licensed under CCA).

The Roman historian, Tacitus, tells us that, after the invasion, certain territories were "given to King Cogidubnus, who has remained, down to our day, a most faithful ally." Since an inscription at Chichester mentions him as establishing a temple there some years after the invasion, it has often been assumed that he was the occupant of the nearby palace at Fishbourne, and that he was the heir to a separate British royal line, probably that of Verica (himself descended from Julius Caesar's sometime ally, Commius), who had fled to Rome under pressure from the Catuvellauni. Hinds, however, wonders whether, given the similarities between the two names, Cogidubnus and Togodumnus might actually have been the same person.

Coin of Verica.
Photo: Chaponniere & Hess-Divo (image is in the public domain).

We may never know the truth but, whilst historians are rightly obliged to highlight uncertainties in their work, writers of historical fiction have frequently to come down on one side or the other. Our characters need to do things and say things and, crucially, they have to know who they are, even if their writers may be unsure. In my novel, An Accidental King, I found my own way of squaring the circle of Cogidubnus's identity, a fictional solution that is nonetheless based on personal judgements on the available evidence (I thought it more likely that the main legionary force landed at Richborough rather than Chichester; and that Claudius would have bestowed his patronage on a long-standing ally rather than a defeated enemy). One archaeological discovery, however, could change the picture entirely, and that was a risk that I took knowingly.


Mark Patton's novels, Undreamed Shores and An Accidental King, are published by Crooked Cat Publications, and can be purchased from Amazon UK or Amazon USA.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you Mark. As a writer of historical fiction you have to make reasoned judgments following your research to bring your characters to life. We cannot underestimate the importance of our Roman heritage in Britain in shaping our towns, cities, roads and even who we are. It's wonderful that people like yourself will risk bringing that world to life for us all.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.