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.
Where: Cunobelinus 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 origin: Cuno- is commonly, confidently, (and wrongly) translated as ‘hound, dog’, related to Irish cú 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 Prosper (2017) looked carefully at attested spellings and showed that belinus was the principal form, mainly used as an attribute of Apollo. At least 8 PIE roots might explain bel- in ancient names, with the most popular idea that it meant something like ‘strong, powerful’ (Delamarre, 2003:70-72). Or maybe ‘shining’, related to the Celtic bonfire festival Beltane and PIE *bhel- ‘to shine’. Or PIE *bhel- ‘to cry out, to bellow’ would suit a thunder god. A good parallel in the violent Iron Age is Greek βελος ‘arrow, dart, sword’, which showed up in ancient Βελεριον Land's End, possibly in Belisama, in Old English belene ‘henbane’ (a plant with arrow-shaped leaves), and in modern bolt and billhook, all with no certain PIE root. Βελος was related to βαλλω ‘to throw’, possibly from PIE *gwel- ‘to throw’.
Notes: Ramesses in Egypt ‘kin of the sun god’ might be a good parallel for Cunobelinus. Or maybe he was ‘kin of the thunderbolt’, ‘kin of the sword’, or whatever, appropriate for a mighty warrior. 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 12 December 2020 To main Menu