Tuesday, 15 April 2014

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

Silver "unit" of the Sego type, VA 1851-1
found at Thurnham parish, Kent
Braughing, Hertfordshire -- or to give it its more precise archaeological designation: the Braughing- Puckeridge complex, is one of the most interesting areas for Celtic coin finds in Britain. Numismatically, it is especially interesting for the numbers of non-local coin finds, with coins of the Cantii (Kent) dominating all other "foreign" coins.

Especially interesting, are the numbers of ceramic tray moulds for coin blanks found at Ford Bridge.

It seems to be the location of an unenclosed oppidum, but there is also a hillfort there at Gatesbury. Skeleton Green seems to have had a number of rectangular buildings dating to the period in question. An undefended oppidum with some degree of "sprawl" suggests that its occupants were not terribly militant and the area shows signs of having a population more interested in trade. It seems to have gone into a decline during the early years of Cunobeline's reign, which is not too surprising.

Hertfordshire was where Cassivellaunus "surrendered" to Caesar, and Cassivellaunus' stronghold is thought (without any real evidence) to have been at Wheathampstead, just north of St. Albans, so we will start with what Caesar had to say (V,21):
"When they saw that the Trinovantes had been protected against Cassivellaunus and spared any injury on the part of the Roman troops, several other tribes, the Cenimagni, Segontiaci, Ancalites, Bibroci, and Cassi, sent embassies and surrendered. From them Caesar learnt that he was not far from Cassivellaunus' stronghold, which was protected by forests and marshes and had been filled with a large number of men and cattle."
There has been speculation that the Segontiaci  were a tribe in north Wales because of the presence, there, of a Roman fort called Segontium, but the fort takes its name from Afon Seiont (Segon's river?), and because Sego- is ubiquitous, the connection is little more than seeing horses in the clouds. We would really expect that those tribes mentioned by Caesar were fairly local. Similarly, the Cenimagni are often thought to have been the Iceni, but speculating about tribal identities based only on similarities of names is hardly an efficient method (Aulerci Cenomani -- a tribe around modern Le Mans, France, would seem to be even closer by that method!). Tribal names based on widespread deity names is likely to see many variations and perhaps some exact duplication between distant regions.

The sego- root appears soon after in Caesar's account (V,22):
"While these operations were proceeding in his territory, Cassivellaunus sent envoys to Kent ordering the four kings of that region, Cingetorix, Carvillus, Taximagulus, and Segovax, to collect all their troops and make a surprise attack on the naval camp."
Again, Segovax would be a name deriving from the sego- deity name root, and this, unfortunately, is the problem with Celtic tribal and personal names -- we need only add the Celtic Uer- to Cingetorix to get Vercingetorix, but no one would claim that they are the same person! When we translate many Celtic names we get statements like "fit to rule" (Antethirig), and ANTED as a coin legend can be found on both Dobunni and Iceni coins. Evans thought they were the same person, but that claim is certainly not made today. We also have a couple of Dubnovellaunus names in British Celtic coins. Remember too, that Dubno- or Dumno means "the deep" (the Celtic underworld). For a while, "world" was the given translation, but Delamarre has restored its darker meaning (tenebrae).  We might modernize Dumnorix in English to mean "The King from Hell" -- it would probably convey a closer meaning to the original impression upon hearing that name. We would hardly expect that these names were given at birth and it seems probable that they were more like Chinese emperor's reign titles.

Silver coin of the Cantii, VA 171-1
excavated by Ian Stead at Broughing
While it is rash to assume identities as given above, the Sego- element appears in Caesar and on the coinage coming from the same vicinity; The Sego coins are also found in Kent; A number of Cantii coins are also found at Braughing, and a "son" of Tasciovanus comes to rule at Silchester where Hercules Saegon is worshipped.

From Lucian, we hear that Ogmios was the local god of eloquence and that he is a "Hermes" given an identity of Herakles based on the strength of his words. Rhys tells us that Sego- really means strength and Delamarre gives "victory" and "strength". Incidentally, there is also a war god called Segomo from continental inscriptions (Rhys, op cit) and he would have been a Mars, rather than a Herakles or a Hermes. We must also seriously consider that abbreviating a king's name which incorporates the sego- element to that element alone would confuse just about everyone at the time, and we have no example of where such a thing was done.

Certainty is a luxury often denied to those who study the ancient Celts, but these Peircean cable threads add more weight to my argument than merely seeing similarities in names and making assumptions without any evidence whatsoever. It would seem that the Sego coins refer to a tribe or place rather than a ruler, and that tribe or place could well be at Braughing. The god in question would be a Hermes and about trade and money. The Cantii connection is easy to understand -- it was the tribe positioned at the most important shipping route at the time between Gaul and Britain, and even Roman ships could make the passage fairly easily.

Tomorrow, a new book on Celtic Art is about to appear, and it has a really terrific unifying theme...


  1. Seems to be a well researched history. Thank you. I was looking for a possible history to my family surname.


  2. I've been searching for some history of my surname. This appears to be well researched and historically, I may be of Celtic descent. Thank you.


  3. Great name to have, Rick! The sego element in Celtic place names is widespread: Segobriga, in Spain, for example. Perhaps your family history might localize your surname a bit more.