The curious thing about Celtic history is that it cannot be easily seperated from Celtic myth.
The historical Caractacus (or Caratacus) was the son of Cunobelinus and brother of Togodumnus. He was chieftain of the Catuvellauni during the rein of the Roman emperor Claudius, and lead a rebellion against the Roman propraetor Ostorious.
His guerilla war first gained the support of the Iceni (still stinging with the defeat of Boudicca), followed by the Silures and Ordovices, but not the most powerful confederation of Britain, the Brigantes, who were ruled by Cartimandua. When Caractacus lost a major battle and his family and brothers were taken in bondage, he escaped to the woods, later to seek refuge with Cartimandua. However, she was a client-queen to Rome, and seeing her own rule threatened by this upstart, promised to hand Caractacus over to the Romans. When he sought safety from the Romans, she let him in, only to bring the Romans to him.
Tacitus records a supposed speech given by Caractacus that so impressed Claudius that he gave that Caractacus was pardoned by the emperor, and his family was allowed to live in Rome.
Caractacus appears in the Mabinogion as Caradoc or Caradawg ap Bran, the son of Bedigedfran ap Llyr, the god-like king of Britain who is mortally wounded but possess a cauldron of rebirth. This Caradawg is betrayed by Caswallawn ap Beli, a rival for the throne of Britain in the Roman era--according to the Britons. History, of course, is at odds with this.
According to the triads, this Caradawg was taken prisioner by Eurowyssod (the real-life general and governor Ostorius, who defeated the real Caractacus), along with his father and grandfather, King Llyr (King Lear). Once in Rome, according to the triads, the three were converted to Christianity, and once released, brought the religion back to Britain. This is obviously a later confusion with the Joseph of Arimathia legend, wherein Joseph is imprisoned by the Roman emperor Valerian, only to be given the cup of the last supper and be released (c.f. The Gospel of Nicodemus). Robert de Boron's Le Roman du Graal later had Joseph traveling to Britain with his brother-in-law Brons, who became the Fisher King of the grail legend. This Brons is of course Bran (Bedigedfran).
Upon returning to Britain, Caradawg's aunt Branwen is married to the king of Ireland, touching off the events of "Branwen uerch Llyr" in The Mabinogion. While his father is at war in Ireland, Caradawg and his companions hide from the usurper Caswallawn ap Beli, who dons a magic invisibility cloak and kills his companions. Caradawg dies of a broken heart from all the destruction, and thus Caswallawn becomes king of Britain, as King Bendigedfran is now dead also, and Manawyddan is in the Otherworld.
The real Caswallawn--Cassibellanus--actually lived about a hundred years earlier than Caractacus, and was the chieftain who lost to Julius Caesar.
Back to "C" | Back to JCE
Mary Jones © 2004