Thursday, 10 April 2014

The Sego legend on coins of the Catuvellauni -- part three

Gold stater of Verica (ruled ca. 10-40 AD)
Image courtesy of
Classical Numismatic Group, Inc.
One of the problems in accepting the "F" (filius) legend on British Celtic coins as meaning, literally, "the son of" is demonstrated with the coin to the right. Verica came to power in about 10 AD and here he is called "the son of Commios" (COM.F). After Caesar defeated the continental Atrebates in 57 BC, he made Commios the king of that tribe. Subsequently, Commios acted as an emissary for Caesar as he was widely respected by other tribes or their rulers. It would seem most likely that Commios already had such a reputation among his peers, and that is why Caesar made such an affiliation. After Commios' falling out with the Romans, Commios went to Britain, joining the Atrebates there and starting his own dynasty. Considering that his successors, Tincomarus, Eppillus, and Verica styled themselves as "sons of Commios" and the last of these was Verica, we have to ponder Commios' longevity. Even if Commios was only twenty years old when Caesar had made him king, that would put his birth at 77 BC. Commios died, apparently, in about 30 BC so (if my estimate is right), then he could not have been older than 47 when his last son was born -- not impossible, but extremely unlikely for that time and place when men mostly died before the age of 40. Of course, that would also mean that Verica had to have been at least 70 years old at his own death, and this is even more unlikely.

It would seem far more likely that the filius designation (if that is what "F" means) would be more akin to "Mac" or "Mc" as an early clan description before the existence of surnames, so that VERICA COM.F would then indicate something like "Verica of the Commios dynasty". It is also possible that the usage could have extended to affiliations between kings, so that when Cunobeline styles himself TASCIOVANI.F (VA- 20891), it perhaps indicates a political affiliation. Another possibility is that the filius designation can refer to an adopted son or chosen successor.

We can thus allow for the possibility that SEGO and the TASC.F varieties that Sego becomes affiliated with Tasciovanus. Now, such affiliations are not just always between two people, and affiliations between a tribe or settlement and a powerful leader also took place. This is the very basis of the clan system. A Scottish friend of many years ago had the surname "Wilson" , but he was a member of the Clan Gunn. The clan leader would host a great feast in order to persuade others outside of his family to become part of his clan. I know of an Iron Age site in Worcestershire (Dean Crawford, pers. comm.), that has been scheduled, but I think still not fully excavated, where a large number of coins appear scattered over the original ground surface, and is clearly not a plough-scattered hoard. This could well be a demonstration of conspicuous wealth at such a clan event. Its situation near springs also allows for the possibility of a sacred site, but we know from Caesar that councils took place at such sites as well as them being just a place for votive deposits. Celtic sacrifices in Britain are mostly associated with "watery places" such as rivers, bogs, and springs -- and the presence of springs near the site would make for a more attractive place of deposit. Like one or two similar sites, there is also evidence of metalworking with small pellets and ingots of silver being present, as well as a cut denarius of Antoninus Pius which  marks the end of the sequence which appears to have started in pre-conquest times. Much of what we know about the distribution of Dobunnic coins is owed to the efforts of the metal-detectorist Dean Crawford and his reporting of finds which includes both single specimens and hoards. He has quite the knack for finding things that others have missed.

So let us now turn to the name element Sego, which could be part of a personal name like the attested Segomarus (Xavier Delamarre, p. 188), or a town name, e.g. Segobriga, or a tribe name (Segontiaci), which might make for a settlement or fort being called Segontium. Yesterday, I gave a quote from Evans about an inscription to Hercules Saegon found at Silchester. Later, in 1886, Sir John Rhys had the following to say:
"... not only,was there a people in the south of this island called Segontiaci, who were of those who sent ambassadors to Caesar; but an inscription which has been taken to connect them with Silchester has been found there and discovered to have been a dedication Deo • Her\culi •} Saegon .... It is not certain what the dative of the god's name was in full ; but probably Saegono, or Saegoni, possibly a participial Saegonti. The stone is no longer to be found ; but the way in which it has been described by those who saw it, makes it difficult to read Segontiaco or Segontiacorum, as though the god derived his name from that of the people called Segontiaci. This leaves the conjecture that would connect the Segontiaci of Caesar with the town of Silchester much as it was before, since it is natural to suppose, that the god in question would occupy a place of honour in the pantheon of a people calling itself or its chief city after him. The weakness of the assumption lies in the probable fact, that more than one town, more than one people, took its name from the god ; and the more popular and general his cult is found to have been, the more clearly that weakness is seen. But it is a question of no immediate interest here,, as the fact not to be lost sight of is rather the identification of Saegon-, or Seon, with Hercules. (Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by Celtic Heathendom, p. 273)
Of course, we know that Silchester went by the name of Calleva Atrebatuum, and some Atrebates coins have REX CALLE as a legend. It would seem that, from the lost inscription, Hercules Segon was worshipped there, but did not give his name to the town.

All of this points to another problem with the SEGO coin legend, and that is how personal names incorporating a deity name are abbreviated on the coins: we have Cunobelinus (The hound of Belinus) abbreviated to CVNO, and not BELI.. with such a ubiquitous element as Sego- , if used as an abbreviation of a god's name, would really confuse. Also, we must wonder how enthused the population would be to see a king apparently taking on the name of a god which would date much earlier. Segomarus, which claims Sego as an ancestor is an entirely different matter. Cunobeline abbreviates his name to "hound", and perhaps the Irish Cúchulainn (the hound of Culann) points to a common mythological source that had been syncretized over a long period. It origins might indeed go as far back as the Neolithic, and the name later became Celticised.

Well, this is a convenient place to stop -- more tomorrow.

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