Catuvellauni

Attested:  Ptolemy 2,3,21 Κατυευχλανοι (+variant Καπελανοι), a tribe with two πολεις, at Σαλιναι and Ουρολανιον;   Cassius Dio 60,20,2 Κατουελλανοι;   inscription catuvellaunorum;   inscription catvallauna

Where:  A powerful tribe who controlled a substantial area of southern Britain, with a tribal capital possibly at Wheathampstead, Hertfordshire, near St. Albans.

Name originCatuvellauni has been translated as‘excelling in battle’, based upon the assumption that these people spoke a Celtic language in which Catu- was ancestral to mediaeval Irish cath and modern Welsh cad ‘battle’.  However, there are huge problems with that argument: (1) Celtic scholars cannot establish a clear PIE root for *catu-; (2) it is naive to suppose that only one root contributed to all instances of Cat-, Caed-, etc in early names; and (3) the common feature of names beginning like Catu- (discussed at length here) seems to be geographical, so the best translation is perhaps ‘basin’ or ‘lowland’.  The second part, –vellaunus, meant something like ‘commanding, ruling’, but (as discussed under Velunia) its clearest descendants are in Germanic languages.  So Catuvellauni probably meant something like ‘ruling the lowlands’, appropriate to their location.

Notes:  There was a near parallel in the Catalauni Belgic tribe of northern Gaul.

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Last Edited: 04 October 2016