Thursday, 25 April 2013

See Vs!

Venutius …and Vellocatus - My two Vs  

 Two men who knew one woman very well!

My theme for the April A to Z Challenge is Celtic/Roman Britain AD 71 -84

Only a few more letters of the Alphabet to go now, and this post is more about Celts than Romans… and it starts a little bit before AD 71.

What do we know about the two characters in history called Venutius and Vellocatus? Mainly what the Roman historian, Tacitus, tells us about them in his writing.

Venutius was the husband of Queen Cartimandua of the Brigantes.  Some experts believe he was of noble birth (possibly of the Carvetii tribe) but Cartimandua’s lineage was higher, her tribe more important, and in typical Celtic fashion Cartimandua assumed the leading role as Queen of the Brigantes with Venutius as her consort.  

It’s possible she had already assumed the role of Queen of Brigantia when the Romans arrived in Britannia in AD 43, and that she surrendered to the Emperor Claudius along with many of her Celtic counterparts in the south of Britannia. She is recorded by Tacitus as being of Roman 'Client Queen Status' in AD 51. For a number of years it appeared both Cartimandua and Venutius bowed to the yoke of Rome, in return for which they were largely able to govern what was a very large tract of land in modern day northern England, with added bonus of the Roman Army to protect them from other marauding Celtic tribes on the warpath.

Matters seem to have deteriorated when King Caractacus of the Catuvellauni, fell foul of the Romans in the lands of the Silures and Ordovices (Modern day Wales). Caractacus had been conducting guerrilla warfare tactics against the Romans for many years, but found himself in a compromising position when the Roman Army overran the hillfort he was attacking from. His family members were captured but he fled to Cartimandua- her Brigantia being almost the ‘next door’ tribal land – but she bundled him in chains and packed him off to the Roman Emperor. In doing this she strengthened her loyalty to Rome.

Caractacus petitioned the Emperor Claudius and was allowed to live out his life in Rome.  

(Caractacus before the Emperor Claudius at Rome)

British Museum

I personally like this engraving for its interesting little the totally bored? or depleted? figures surrounding Caractacus.  What the Roman soldier is doing on the left is very interesting!

{{Information |Description= {{en|''Caractacus at the Tribunal of Claudius at Rome'' Engraving by Andrew Birrell of a painting by Henry Fuseli Original is a D size print.}} |Source= Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-pga-00226 (d

However over the next years it seems that Cartimandua and her husband Venutius were no longer of the same mind, Venutius becoming a leading light in leading the anti-Roman elements in Brigantian territory.

By AD 57 it appears that Venutius and Cartimandua separated, an official divorce possibly taking place. The problem with that was that each in their own right built up opposing factions which led to instability in Brigantia, skirmishes happening against each other, Rome supporting Cartimandua.

Things now got even murkier.

Vellocatus was a friend and armour bearer of Venutius, and his closest confidante. When Cartimandua made public the taking of Vellocatus as her lover, and gave the intention to declare him her husband,  her subjects seem to have become less enamoured of her. Whether that was because he was not fit, not highly enough born for the job; or whether he was not Brigantian; or even whether she was still legally married -  isn’t certain but it caused a high degree of resentment in her tribe.

Venutius took up arms against Cartimandua in AD 69. The best Rome could do for her was rescue her and leave Venutius to assume the kingship of Brigantia. What happened to her after that is unclear, but she disappears from the history books. 

(This is a good site for Cartimandua

Venutius continued to lead the anti-roman factions in Brigantia till AD 73 when the Brigantes suffered a huge defeat, possibly near the hillfort of Stanwick (in present day northern England). What became of Venutius is unclear but from AD 73 the Brigantes seem to have been leaderless as the Roman Army captured more and more of the Brigantian territory- though that process took many years.

The fate of Vellocatus is also unknown after AD 71. 

Following is a translation from the controversial, and most likely biased, writing of Tacitus.

"Inspired by these differences between the Roman forces and by the many rumours of civil was that reached them, the Britons plucked up courage under the leadership of Venutius, who, in addition to his own natural spirit and hatred of the Roman name, was fired by his personal resentment towards queen Cartimandua. She was ruler over the Brigantes, having the influence that belongs to high birth, and she had later strengthened her power when she was credited with having captured king Caratacus by treachery and so furnished an adornment for the triumph of Claudius Caesar. From this came her wealth and the wanton spirit which success breeds. She grew to despise her husband Venutius, and took as her consort his squire Vellocatus, whom she admitted to share the throne with her. Her house was at once shaken by this scandalous act. Her husband was favoured by the sentiments of all the citizens; the adulterer was supported by the queen’s passion for him and by her savage spirit. So Venutius, calling in aid from outside and at the same time assisted by a revolt of the Brigantes themselves, put Cartimandua into an extremely dangerous position. Then she asked the Romans for protection, and some of our auxiliary troops, cavalry and infantry, after meeting with indifferent success in a number of engagements, finally succeeded in snatching the queen from danger. The throne was left to Venutius, the war to us." Tacitus (Histories iii, 45).

So there you have my two Vs.

Venutius is mentioned briefly in my historical novel THE BELTANE CHOICE, but he features a lot more in the sequel to it - my current WIP. 



  1. Love it - Eastenders with togas and tribes. I have always thought that Cartimandua's story would make a great film and wonder why nobody has ever done it.

  2. Hi Cameron. I agree about Cartimandua. I've read a few books where she is featured and they've been very readable. :-)


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