Cunobelinus

Attested:  Κυνοβελλίνος (Cassius Dio 60,20), Cynobellinus (Suetonius: Caligula 44), and numerous coins showing CVNOBELINVS and various abbreviations (plus other place and ruler names) listed here and discussed here.  The name survived into mediaeval Welsh chronicles to become Shakespeare's Cymbeline.

WhereCunobelinus appears to have ruled in the south-east, territory of the Catuvellauni and/or the Trinobantes, for several decades preceding the Roman invasion of Britain.  He was probably a son of Tasciovanus and father of Amminus, Togodumnus, and Caratacus.  See for example here about the coinage evidence.

Name originCuno- is commonly and confidently translated as ‘hound, dog’, related to Irish and Welsh ci, and descended from PIE *kwon-, like Latin canis, German Hund, Greek κυων, etc.  An alternative translation of ‘kin’, from PIE *genə- ‘to beget, give birth’, is more logical for most ancient personal and divine names that began with Cuno-, but has been disregarded because its main descendants are so Germanic (for example Cynewulf).  The -belinus part is commonly linked with a god Belenus, but modern scholars do not agree which of 8 or more PIE roots best explains bel- in ancient names, and how far ancient people merged several roots together.  One popular suggestion is that Belenus meant ‘shining’, related to the Celtic bonfire festival Beltane.  Or PIE *bhel- ‘to cry out, to bellow’ would suit a thunder god.  Possibly most relevant to a king in the violent Iron Age is Greek βελος ‘arrow, dart, sword’, which showed up in ancient Βελεριον Land's End, in OE belene ‘henbane’ (a plant with arrow-shaped leaves), and in modern bolt and billhook, all with no certain PIE root.  Whether Cunobelinus was ‘a son of the thunderbolt’, ‘kin of the sword’, or whatever, his name essentially meant that he was a mighty warrior.

Notes:  The ideas that (a) Cunobelinus spoke a home language ancestral to Welsh and (b) his name was primarily motivated by religion are assumptions for which there is no hard evidence.  It is at least as plausible that he belonged to a military aristocracy with roots across the North Sea and grew up speaking something ancestral to Dutch or Old English.  He appears to have been pro-Roman, and a struggle for the succession after his death may have precipitated the Roman occupation of Britain.

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Last Edited: 18 June 2017