Roman client kingdoms in Britain

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The Roman client kingdoms in Britain were native tribes who chose to align themselves with the Roman Empire because they saw it as the best option for self-preservation or for protection from other hostile tribes. Alternatively, the Romans created (or enlisted) some client kingdoms when they felt influence without direct rule was desirable.

The beginnings of the system are to be found in Caesar's re-enthroning of Mandubracius as king of the Trinovantes, who had been de-throned by Cassivellaunus and then aided Caesar's second invasion of Britain in 54BC. The system further developed in the following hundred years, particularly under Augustus's influence, so that by the time of the Roman invasion in 43 AD several Roman client kingdoms had become established in the south of Britain.

These were also partially due to the expansion of the Catuvellauni under Cunobelinus in the southeast, and partly as a result of the invasion itself, and included Cogidubnus of the Regnenses, Prasutagus of the Iceni and Cartimandua of the Brigantes and, probably, Boduocus of the Dobunni. The antecedents of the Regnenses, the Atrebates, had (in their Gallic and British forms) been client kingdoms of Rome since Caesar's first invasion in 55 BC.

In the north of Britain, ongoing border struggles across the defensive walls led to the establishment of buffer states, including the Votadini in Northumberland.

Client kings would adopt Romanised names and titles, although the influence of Roman culture meant that these traits were exhibited to some degree by non-client kings also.

Client Kingdoms

Atrebates, later Regnenses or Regni

Client status: 55 BC-70s AD
Location: Roughly modern-day Hampshire and West Sussex (capitals now Silchester and Chichester)

After his defeat of the Belgic Atrebates on the Continent, Julius Caesar had employed their king Commius in his unsuccessful invasion of Britain in 55 BC. Caesar left Commius as a client (i.e., nominally independent) king in Gaul, giving him additionally rule over the Morini. Commius maintained his loyalty through the events of 54 BC, but later began to conspire against the Romans, and fled to Britain, where he established himself as a king. He ruled through roughly 20 BC, although there may have been a second king named Commius.

Commius was succeeded by three of his sons. First, Tincomarus, from 25/20 BC to 7/8 AD. He was more sympathetic to Rome than his father had been, and based on numismatic evidence styled himself rex, implying client kingship status under the Empire. He was expelled in 7/8 AD, seeking refuge with the Romans.

After Tincomarus, the emperor Augustus chose to recognize his brother, Eppillus, as the next client king. After ruling jointly with Tincomarus, he apparently became sole ruler c.7 AD, and may have been the one who drove out Tincomarus.

Eppillus was succeeded by another of Commius' sons, Verica, who reigned from Silchester. During his rule, the Atrebates were under pressure from the Catuvellauni to the east. After fifteen years of war, Caratacus of the Catuvellauni conquered the whole kingdom, and Verica was driven out of Britain in roughly 40 AD. As a Roman ally, it has been argued that the nominal goal of the Roman conquest of 43 AD to restore Verica to power.

Following the Roman conquest, Cogidubnus, who was at some point given the Roman names Tiberius Claudius, ruled what had been the lands of the Atrebates. His people were now referred to as Regni or Regnenses (see the Regnenses article for discussion of the name). Cogidubnus was notably loyal to the Romans (see, e.g., Tacitus), and after his death, probably in 73 AD, the kingdom became part of the Roman province of Britannia.


Client status: c.47-60 AD
Location: Roughly modern-day Norfolk

Prasutagus was possibly installed as king after the revolt of the Iceni in 47 AD. The Iceni were allowed quasi-independence, with the expectation that the kingdom would revert to Roman control on Prasutagus' death. The king instead tried to leave control of the region, at least in part, to his children. When he died in 60 AD, the Romans seized control, prompting a second Iceni rebellion under Prasutagus' wife Boudica. Following suppression of Boudica's revolt, the Romans simply administered the territory as part of Britannia.


Client status: c.140s-c.410 AD
Location: Southeast Scotland and northeast England, including modern-day Northumberland

The Votadini were a Brythonic people who lived under the direct rule of Rome between Hadrian's Wall and the Antonine Wall from 138-162 AD. When the Romans withdrew behind Hadrian's Wall in 164 AD, they left the Votadini as a client kingdom, a buffer zone against the Picts in the north. They maintained client status until the Romans pulled out of Britain in 410 AD. Through a series of linguistic changes, the Votadini became known as the Gododdin, and maintained a kingdom until their defeat by the Angles c.600 AD.

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