Commius – King of the Atrebates

A noble of the Gaulish Atrebates tribe from Brittany? He became an aide of Julius Caesar sometime during 56AD?, accompanying him on both of his expeditions to Britain, where in 54BC he was instrumental in persuading the British king Cassivellaunus to come to terms. In 51BC, however, he joined forces with other Gaulish leaders in an attempt to relieve Vercingetorix during the siege of Alesia. His Atrebatean regiment along with all the other Gaulish relief forces were soundly repulsed by Caesar. The following year, realising that there would be no escape from Caesar’s retribution, he came to terms with his Legate, Marcus Antonius, and offered some of his own family as hostages. Still not satisfied that he could trust Antony, he later fled to Britain and vowed never to set eyes on a Roman again. He founded a dynasty among the existing Belgic Atrebatean settlers, possibly first at Chichester (Noviomagus Reginorum), then later moving to Calleva. In c.30BC there appeared the very first inscribed British coins, the name COMMIOS appearing on the obverse, and featuring a triple-tailed horse on the reverse. Recent numismatic evidence suggests that the staters inscribed COM COMMIOS were among the first to be issued. This suggests that Commius the Gaul, former friend of Julius Caesar, was succeeded by a son also named Commius who produced the inscribed coinages. (see also Commius the Younger.)

The first inscribed coins to appear in Britain closely resemble the uninscribed British Q staters (Spink#38). These gold coins bear, on the obverse, a much altered head of Apollo, facing right, and on the reverse, a stylized, triple-tailed horse, prancing to the right over a five-spoked ‘wheel’ with the legend COM MIOS appearing to either side of its fore-feet. Another coin issue was very similar but inscribed with an additional E symbol above the horse’s head on the reverse; perhaps a mint mark. The associated gold quarter-staters were emprinted on their otherwise blank obverse face with a ‘digamma’ sign and on the reverse a horse prancing left over a ‘target’ symbol. Silver units bearing a stylised Apollo facing left on the obverse, with, on the reverse, a horse prancing left with an E symbol above it, have also been assigned to Commios, on the strength of these supposed mint marks. Small minims were similar to the larger silver units but with the wheel symbol above the horse’s back instead of the mint mark.

Some of the gold staters found are stamped COM COMMIOS, probably “Commius [the son of] Commius”. Metallurgical analyses suggest that these coins are among the earliest, and it is seems on this evidence that the Commius who produced the inscribed coinage was, in fact, the son of Commius the Gaul. If this is accepted, then it is possible that the British Q-Type staters may be attributed to Commius the ex-confidante of Julius Caesar himself.

References to Commius The Gaul and the Atrebates

References in Caesar’s “Gallic Wars”

“When Caesar inquired of them what states were in arms, how powerful they were, and what they could do, in war, he received the following information: that the greater part of the Belgae were sprung, from the Germans, and that having crossed the Rhine at an early period, they had settled there, on account of the fertility of the country, and had driven out the Gauls who inhabited those regions; and that they were the only people who, in the memory of our fathers, when all Gaul was overrun, had prevented the Teutones and the Cimbri from entering their territories; the effect of which was, that, from the recollection of those events, they assumed to themselves great authority and haughtiness in military matters. The Remi said, that they had known accurately every thing respecting their number, because being united to them by neighborhood and by alliances, they had learned what number each state had in the general council of the Belgae promised for that war. That the Bellovaci were the most powerful among them in valor, influence, and the number of men; that these could muster 100,000 armed men, [and had] promised 60,000 picked men out of that number, and demanded for themselves the command of the whole war. That the Suessiones were their nearest neighbors and possessed a very extensive and fertile country; that among them, even in our own memory, Divitiacus, the most powerful man of all Gaul, had been king; who had held the government of a great part of these regions, as well as of Britain; that their king at present was Galba; that the direction of the whole war was conferred by the consent of all, upon him, on account of his integrity and prudence; that they had twelve towns; that they had promised 50,000 armed men; and that the Nervii, who are reckoned the most warlike among them, and are situated at a very great distance, [had promised] as many; the Atrebates 15,000; the Ambiani, 10,000; the Morini, 25,000; the Menapii, 9,000; the Caleti, 10,000; the Velocasses and the Veromandui as many; the Aduatuci 19,000; that the Condrusi, the Eburones, the Caeraesi, the Paemani, who are called by the common name of Germans [had promised], they thought, to the number of 40,000.”

(de Bello Gallico: II,16) – Atrebates Support Nervii and Veromandui Against Caesar

“After he had made three days march through their territories, he discovered from some prisoners, that the river Sambre was not more than ten miles from his camp; that all the Nervii had stationed themselves on the other side of that river, and together with the Atrebates and the Veromandui, their neighbors, were there awaiting the arrival of the Romans; for they had persuaded both these nations to try the same fortune of war [as themselves]: that the forces of the Aduatuci were also expected by them, and were on their march; that they had put their women, and those who through age appeared useless for war, in a place to which there was no approach for an army, on account of the marshes.”

(de Bello Gallico: II,23) – Atrebates Driven into the Sambre by IX and X Legions

“The soldiers of the ninth and tenth legions, as they had been stationed on the left part of the army, casting their weapons, speedily drove the Atrebates (for that division had been opposed to them,) who were breathless with running and fatigue, and worn out with wounds, from the higher ground into the river; and following them as they were endeavoring to pass it, slew with their swords a great part of them while impeded (therein). They themselves did not hesitate to pass the river; and having advanced to a disadvantageous place, when the battle was renewed, they [nevertheless] again put to flight the enemy, who had returned and were opposing them. In like manner, in another quarter two different legions, the eleventh and the eighth, having routed the Veromandui, with whom they had engaged, were fighting from the higher ground upon the very banks of the river. But, almost the whole camp on the front and on the left side being then exposed, since the twelfth legion was posted in the right wing, and the seventh at no great distance from it, all the Nervii, in a very close body, with Boduognatus, who held the chief command, as their leader, hastened toward that place; and part of them began to surround the legions on their unprotected flank, part to make for the highest point of the encampment.”

(de Bello Gallico: IV,21) – Commius Made King of Atrebates and Sent to Britain by Caesar

“He sends before him Caius Volusenus with a ship of war, to acquire a knowledge of these particulars before he in person should make a descent into the island, as he was convinced that this was a judicious measure. He commissioned him to thoroughly examine into all matters, and then return to him as soon as possible. He himself proceeds to the Morini with all his forces. He orders ships from all parts of the neighboring countries, and the fleet which the preceding summer he had built for the war with the Veneti, to assemble in this place. In the mean time, his purpose having been discovered, and reported to the Britons by merchants, embassadors come to him from several states of the island, to promise that they will give hostages, and submit to the government of the Roman people. Having given them an audience, he after promising liberally, and exhorting them to continue in that purpose, sends them back to their own country, and [dispatches] with them Commius, whom, upon subduing the Atrebates, he had created king there, a man whose courage and conduct he esteemed, and who he thought would be faithful to him, and whose influence ranked highly in those countries. He orders him to visit as many states as he could, and persuade them to embrace the protection of the Roman people, and apprize them that he would shortly come thither. Gaius Volusenus Quadratus, having viewed the localities as far as means could be afforded one who dared not leave his ship and trust himself to barbarians, returns to Caesar on the fifth day, and reports what he had there observed.”

(de Bello Gallico: IV,27) – Commius Held Hostage by British Tribes

“The enemy being thus vanquished in battle, as soon as they recovered after their flight, instantly sent embassadors to Caesar to negotiate about peace. They promised to give hostages and perform what he should command. Together with these embassadors came Commius the Altrebatian, who, as I have above said, had been sent by Caesar into Britain. Him they had seized upon when leaving his ship, although in the character of embassador he bore the general’s commission to them, and thrown into chains: then after the battle was fought, they sent him back, and in suing for peace cast the blame of that act upon the common people, and entreated that it might be pardoned on account of their indiscretion. Caesar, complaining, that after they had sued for peace, and had voluntarily sent embassadors into the continent for that purpose, they had made war without a reason, said that he would pardon their indiscretion, and imposed hostages, a part of whom they gave immediately; the rest they said they would give in a few days, since they were sent for from remote places. In the mean time they ordered their people to return to the country parts, and the chiefs assembled from all quarter, and proceeded to surrender themselves and their states to Caesar.”

(de Bello Gallico: IV,35) – Commius and Thirty [Atrebatean] Horse Assist Caesar in Britain

“Although Caesar anticipated that the same thing which had happened on former occasions would then occur-that, if the enemy were routed, they would escape from danger by their speed; still, having got about thirty horse, which Commius the Atrebatian, of whom mention has been made, had brought over with him [from Gaul], he drew up the legions in order of battle before the camp. When the action commenced, the enemy were unable to sustain the attack of our men long, and turned their backs; our men pursued them as far as their speed and strength permitted, and slew a great number of them; then, having destroyed and burned every thing far and wide, they retreated to their camp.”

(de Bello Gallico: V,22) – Commius Mediates Surrender of Cassivellaunus to Caesar

“While these things are going forward in those places, Cassivellaunus sends messengers into Kent, which, we have observed above, is on the sea, over which districts four several kings reigned, Cingetorix, Carvilius, Taximagulus and Segonax, and commands them to collect all their forces, and unexpectedly assail and storm the naval camp. When they had come to the camp, our men, after making a sally, slaying many of their men, and also capturing a distinguished leader named Lugotorix, brought back their own men in safety. Cassivellaunus, when this battle was reported to him as so many losses had been sustained, and his territories laid waste, being alarmed most of all by the desertion of the states, sends embassadors to Caesar [to treat] about a surrender through the mediation of Commius the Atrebatian. Caesar, since he had determined to pass the winter on the continent, on account of the sudden revolts of Gaul, and as much of the summer did not remain, and he perceived that even that could be easily protracted, demands hostages, and prescribes what tribute Britain should pay each year to the Roman people; he forbids and commands Cassivellaunus that he wage not war against Mandubratius or the Trinobantes.”

(de Bello Gallico: V,46) – Caesar Orders Gaius Fabius into Atrebatean Territory

“Caesar having received the letter about the eleventh hour of the day, immediately sends a messenger to the Bellovaci, to M. Crassus, quaestor there, whose winter-quarters were twenty-five miles distant from him. He orders the legion to set forward in the middle of the night, and come to him with dispatch. Crassus sets out with the messenger. He sends another to C. Fabius, the lieutenant, ordering him to lead forth his legion into the territories of the Atrebates, to which he knew his march must be made. He writes to Labienus to come with his legion to the frontiers of the Nervii, if he could do so to the advantage of the commonwealth: he does not consider that the remaining portion of the army, because it was somewhat further distant, should be waited for; but assembles about 400 horse from the nearest winter-quarters.”

(de Bello Gallico: VI,6) – Commius left by Caesar Among the Menapii

“Caesar, having divided his forces with C. Fabius, his lieutenant, and M. Crassus his questor, and having hastily constructed some bridges, enters their country in three divisions, burns their houses and villages, and gets possession of a large number of cattle and men. Constrained by these circumstances the Menapii send embassadors to him for the purpose of suing for peace. He, after receiving hostages, assures them that he will consider them in the number of his enemies if they shall receive within their territories either Ambiorix or his embassadors. Having determinately settled these things, he left among the Menapii, Commius the Atrebatian, with some cavalry as a guard; he himself proceeds toward the Treviri.”

[Commius was a prisoner !?]

(de Bello Gallico: VII,75) – Commius Pursuades Vercingetorix to Halve the Atrebatean Levy to 2,000

“While those things are carried on at Alesia, the Gauls, having convened a council of their chief nobility, determine that all who could bear arms should not be called out, which was the opinion of Vercingetorix, but that a fixed number should be levied from each state; lest, when so great a multitude assembled together, they could neither govern nor distinguish their men, nor have the means of supplying them with corn. They demand thirty-five thousand men from the Aedui and their dependents, the Segusiani, Ambivareti, and Aulerci Brannovices; an equal number from the Arverni in conjunction with the Eleuteti Cadurci, Gabali, and Velauni, who were accustomed to be under the command of the Arverni; twelve thousand each from the Senones, Sequani, Bituriges, Sentones, Ruteni, and Carnutes; ten thousand from the Bellovaci; the same number from the Lemovici; eight thousand each from the Pictones, and Turoni, and Parisii, and Helvii; five thousand each from the Suessiones, Ambiani, Mediomatrici, Petrocorii, Nervii, Morini, and Nitiobriges; the same number from the Aulerci Cenomani; four thousand from the Atrebates; three thousand each from the Bellocassi, Lexovii, and Aulerci Eburovices; thirty thousand from the Rauraci, and Boii; six thousand from all the states together, which border on the Atlantic, and which in their dialect are called Armoricae (in which number are comprehended the Curisolites, Rhedones, Ambibari, Caltes, Osismii, Lemovices, Veneti, and Unelli). Of these the Bellovaci did not contribute their number, as they said that they would wage war against the Romans on their own account, and at their own discretion, and would not obey the order of any one: however, at the request of Commius, they sent two thousand, in consideration of a tie of hospitality which subsisted between him and them.”

(de Bello Gallico: VII,76) – Commius Leads the Atrebates in Revolt …

“Caesar had, as we have previously narrated, availed himself of the faithful and valuable services of this Commius, in Britain, in former years: in consideration of which merits he had exempted from taxes his [Commius’s] state, and had conferred on Commius himself the country of the Morini. Yet such was the unanimity of the Gauls in asserting their freedom, and recovering their ancient renown in war, that they were influenced neither by favors, nor by the recollection of private friendship; and all earnestly directed their energies and resources to that war, and collected eight thousand cavalry, and about two hundred and forty thousand infantry. These were reviewed in the country of the Aedui, and a calculation was made of their numbers: commanders were appointed: the supreme command is intrusted to Commius the Atrebatian, Viridomarus and Eporedirix the Aeduans, and Vergasillaunus the Arvernan, the cousin-german of Vercingetorix. To them are assigned men selected from each state, by whose advice the war should be conducted. All march to Alesia, sanguine and full of confidence: nor was there a single individual who imagined that the Romans could withstand the sight of such an immense host: especially in an action carried on both in front and rear, when [on the inside] the besieged would sally from the town and attack the enemy, and on the outside so great forces of cavalry and infantry would be seen.”

(de Bello Gallico: VII,79) – … and Join the Arverni and Aedui against Caesar at Alesia

“In the mean time, Commius and the rest of the leaders, to whom the supreme command had been intrusted, came with all their forces to Alesia, and having occupied the entire hill, encamped not more than a mile from our fortifications. The following day, having led forth their cavalry from the camp, they fill all that plain, which, we have related, extended three miles in length, and drew out their infantry a little from that place, and post them on the higher ground. The town Alesia commanded a view of the whole plain. The besieged run together when these auxiliaries were seen; mutual congratulations ensue, and the minds of all are elated with joy. Accordingly, drawing out their troops, they encamp before the town, and cover the nearest trench with hurdles and fill it up with earth, and make ready for a sally and every casualty.”

(de Bello Gallico: VIII,6) – Commius Helps Correus of the Bellovaci to Raise an Army

“Caesar, being contented, at so severe a season, to disperse the gathering foes, and prevent any new war from breaking out, and being convinced, as far as reason could foresee, that no war of consequence could be set on foot in the summer campaign, stationed Caius Trebonius, with the two legions which he had with him, in quarters at Genabum: and being informed by frequent embassies from the Remi, that the Bellovaci (who exceed all the Gauls and Belgae in military prowess), and the neighboring states, headed by Correus, one of the Bellovaci, and Commius the Atrebatian, were raising an army, and assembling at a general rendezvous, designing with their united forces to invade the territories of the Suessiones, who were put under the patronage of the Remi: and moreover, considering that not only his honor, but his interest was concerned, that such of his allies, as deserved well of the republic, should suffer no calamity; he again draws the eleventh legion out of quarters, and writes besides to Caius Fabius, to march with his two legions to the country of the Suessiones; and he sends to Trebonius for one of his two legions. Thus, as far as the convenience of the quarters, and the management of the war admitted, he laid the burden of the expedition on the legions by turns, without any intermission to his own toils.”

(de Bello Gallico: VIII,7) – Commius Goes to Find Allies Amongst the German Tribes

“As soon as his troops were collected, he marched against the Bellovaci: and pitching his camp in their territories, detached troops of horse all round the country, to take prisoners, from whom he might learn the enemy’s plan. The horse, having executed his orders bring him back word, that but few were found in the houses: and that even these had not stayed at home to cultivate their lands (for the emigration was general from all parts) but had been sent back to watch our motions. Upon Caesar’s inquiring from them, where the main body of the Bellovaci were posted, and what was their design: they made answer, “that all the Bellovaci, fit for carrying arms, had assembled in one place, and along with them the Ambiani, Aulerci, Caletes, Velocasses, and Atrebates, and that they had chosen for their camp, an elevated position, surrounded by a dangerous morass: that they had conveyed all their baggage into the most remote woods: that several noblemen were united in the management of the war; but that the people were most inclined to be governed by Correus, because they knew that he had the strongest aversion to the name of the Roman people: that a few days before Commius had left the camp to engage the Germans to their aid whose nation bordered on theirs, and whose numbers were countless: that the Bellovaci had come to a resolution, with the consent of all the generals and the earnest desire of the people, if Caesar should come with only three legions, as was reported, to give him battle, that they might not be obliged to encounter his whole army on a future occasion, when they should be in a more wretched and distressed condition; but if he brought a stronger force, they intended to remain in the position they had chosen, and by ambuscade to prevent the Romans from getting forage (which at that season was both scarce and much scattered), corn, and other necessaries.”

(de Bello Gallico: VIII,10) – Commius Returns With 500 German Horse to Aid Correus

“Caesar had a double design in this fortification; for he both hoped that the strength of his works, and his [apparent] fears would raise confidence in the barbarians; and when there should be occasion to make a distant excursion to get forage or corn, he saw that his camp would be secured by the works with a very small force. In the mean time there were frequent skirmishes across the marsh, a few on both sides sallying out between the two camps. Sometimes, however, our Gallic or German auxiliaries crossed the marsh, and furiously pursued the enemy; or on the other hand the enemy passed it and beat back our men. Moreover there happened in the course of our daily foraging, what must of necessity happen, when corn is to be collected by a few scattered men out of private houses, that our foragers dispersing in an intricate country were surrounded by the enemy; by which, though we suffered but an inconsiderable loss of cattle and servants, yet it raised foolish hopes in the barbarians; but more especially, because Commius, who I said had gone to get aid from the Germans, returned with some cavalry, and though the Germans were only 500, yet the barbarians were elated by their arrival.”

(de Bello Gallico: VIII,21) – Commius Flees to the Germans and Correus is Slain

“This proposal having met with general approbation, Commius the Atrebatian fled to those Germans from whom he had borrowed auxiliaries for that war. The rest instantly send embassadors to Caesar; and requested that he would be contented with that punishment of his enemy, which if he had possessed the power to inflict on them before the engagement, when they were yet uninjured, they were persuaded from his usual clemency and mercy, he never would have inflicted; that the power of the Bellovaci was crushed by the cavalry action; that many thousand of their choicest foot had fallen, that scarce a man had escaped to bring the fatal news. That, however, the Bellovaci had derived from the battle one advantage, of some importance, considering their loss; that Correus, the author of the rebellion, and agitator of the people, was slain: for that while he lived the senate had never equal influence in the state with the giddy populace.”

(de Bello Gallico: VIII,23) – Commius is Tricked by Volusenus and Badly Wounded

“The night following the embassadors bring back his answer to their countrymen and prepare the hostages. Embassadors flock in from the other states, which were waiting for the issue of the [war with the] Bellovaci: they give hostages, and receive his orders; all except Commius, whose fears restrained him from intrusting his safety to any person’s honor. For the year before, while Caesar was holding the assizes in Hither Gaul, Titus Labienus, having discovered that Commius was tampering with the state, and raising a conspiracy against Caesar, thought he might punish his infidelity without perfidy; but judging that he would not come to his camp at his invitation, and unwilling to put him on his guard by the attempt, he sent Caius Volusenus Quadratus, with orders to have him put to death under pretense of conference. To effect his purpose, he sent with him some chosen centurions. When they came to the conference, and Gaius Volusenus Quadratus, as had been agreed on, had taken hold of Commius by the hand, and one of the centurions, as if surprised at so uncommon an incident, attempted to kill him, he was prevented by the friends of Commius, but wounded him severely in the head by the first blow. Swords were drawn on both sides, not so much with a design to fight as to effect an escape, our men believing that Commius had received a mortal stroke; and the Gauls, from the treachery which they had seen, dreading that a deeper design lay concealed. Upon this transaction, it was said that Commius made a resolution never to come within sight of any Roman.”

(de Bello Gallico: VIII,47) – Commius Harasses Antonius with Guerilla Tactics

“Having finished these affairs, he returned to his legions among the Belgae and wintered at Nemetocenna: there he got intelligence that Commius the Atrebatian had had an engagement with his cavalry. For when Antonius had gone into winter quarters, and the state of the Atrebates continued in their allegiance, Commius, who, after that wound which I before mentioned, was always ready to join his countrymen upon every commotion, that they might not want a person to advise and head them in the management of the war, when his state submitted to the Romans, supported himself and his adherents on plunder by means of his cavalry, infested the roads, and intercepted several convoys which were bringing provisions to the Roman quarters.”

(de Bello Gallico: VIII,48) – Commius Lances Volusenus and Escapes to Britain

Caius Volusenus Quadratus was appointed commander of the horse under Antonius, to winter with him: Antonius sent him in pursuit of the enemy’s cavalry; now Gaius Volusenus Quadratus added to that valor which was pre-eminent in him, a great aversion to Commius, on which account he executed the more willingly the orders which he received. Having, therefore, laid ambuscades, he had several encounters with his cavalry and came off successful. At last, when a violent contest ensued, and Gaius Volusenus Quadratus, through eagerness to intercept Comius, had obstinately pursued him with a small party; and Commius had, by the rapidity of his flight, drawn Gaius Volusenus Quadratus to a considerable distance from his troops, he, on a sudden, appealed to the honor of all about him for assistance not to suffer the wound, which he had perfidiously received, to go without vengeance; and, wheeling his horse about, rode unguardedly before the rest up to the commander. All his horse following his example, made a few of our men turn their backs and pursued them. Commius, clapping spurs to his horse, rode up to Gaius Volusenus Quadratus, and, pointing his lance, pierced him in the thigh with great force. When their commander was wounded, our men no longer hesitated to make resistance, and, facing about, beat back the enemy. When this occurred, several of the enemy, repulsed by the great impetuosity of our men, were wounded, and some were trampled to death in striving to escape, and some were made prisoners. Their general escaped this misfortune by the swiftness of his horse. Our commander, being severely wounded, so much so that he appeared to run the risk of losing his life, was carried back to the camp. But Commius, having either gratified his resentment, or, because he had lost the greatest part of his followers, sent embassadors to Antonius, and assured him that he would give hostages as a security that he would go wherever Antonius should prescribe, and would comply with his orders, and only entreated that this concession should be made to his fears, that he should not be obliged to go into the presence of any Roman. As Antonius judged that his request originated in a just apprehension, he indulged him in it and accepted his hostages. Caesar, I know, has made a separate commentary of each year’s transactions, which I have not thought it necessary for me to do, because the following year, in which Lucius Paulus and Caius Marcellus were consuls, produced no remarkable occurrences in Gaul. But that no person may be left in ignorance of the place where Caesar and his army were at that time, have thought proper to write a few words in addition to this commentary.”