The Celtic Tribes of Britain

Life was hard for the Celtic tribes. They were mainly farmers who grew, gathered or hunted for their own food. They were also fierce warriors who were often at war with each other. The following is a list of the Tribes of Britain.

The Celtic Tribes of Britain 43BC

The Celtic Tribes of England

Atrebates Celtic Tribe

The Atrebates are another Celtic tribe that share a name with a Gaulish tribe that inhabited modern-day Belgium. In this case the name of the tribe is suggestive of their nature, as Atrebates can be derived from the elements: *attrebƒ (settlement) and *atē (they who). Thus the Atrebates are ‘they who [form] settlements’, or more succinctly ‘the settlers’. It may well be that the Atrebates were peripatetic by nature, forming settlements as they traversed the breadth of Europe. Of these settlements only the ones in Britain and Belgium survived into historic times. The Belgic and British tribe may well have had strong links even into Roman times. It is certainly true that Commas, leader of the Belgian Atrebates fled to Britain during Julius Caesar’s Gallic wars and that a Commius then appears as the ruler of the British Atrebates. At the time of the Roman invasion they were second only to the Catuvellauni in terms of power and like their neighbours they minted their own coins and had numerous contacts with Gaul. At the height of their power Aterbatian lands stretched from modern-day West Sussex all the way up to Hampshire and Berkshire. The extent of their territory suggests that they were a conglomeration of tribes ruled over by a single dynastic family.Certainly, the peoples subsequently known as the Regni were part of the Atrebates prior to the Roman invasion

From about 15 BC, the Atrebates seem to have established friendly relations with Rome, and it was an appeal forhelp from the last Atrebatic king, Verica, which provided Claudius with the pretext for the invasion on Britain in AD 43. Because of the Atrebates’ support of the invasion (most notably by their leader, Togidubnus) their regionremained an independent client kingdom of the Roman province of Britannia, at least until Togidubnus’ death circa 80 CE when the territory of the Atrebates was divided into three civitae  with one region going to the Regni, and with Calleva Atrebatum (Silchester) being the administrative centre of the largest part (including modern Berkshire, Oxfordshire, Surrey and Hampshire).

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Belgiae Celtic Tribe

The Belgiae seem to present something of a mystery to us. The name itself is probably Roman, who applied the term Belgiae to almost all the tribes of north-western Gaul. As a result the Belgiae
of Britain were probably not a native Brythonic tribe, but rather may represent an influx of peoples from Gaul who were probably not of the same tribe but aggregated together because of shared language and culture. Even the territory occupied by these Belgiae is something of a mystery. In his Geography, Ptolemy records the territory of the Belgae as including the areas of modern Winchester and Bath as well as an unidentified settlement he called Ischalis. This would seem to give the tribal area a very strange shape and would squash it between the lands of the much stronger Durotriges, Atrebates and Dobunni. Yet, it is known that the administrative capital of the Belgae was at Venta Belgarum (Winchester) so that Ptolemy may be correct. Perhaps the lands of the Belgae represent a carve-up by the extant colonial powers (the Romans) and thus it may well have been an artificial creation (something similar happened to the realm of the Regni, as described below).

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Cantiaci Celtic Tribe

These were the peoples of northern and western Kent (and it is from them that Kent itself derives its name). The Cantiaci had very strong links with northern Gaul and they buried their dead in the Gaulish manner (the burial of cremated remains). It is quite possible that the Cantiaci were an admixture of native peoples and immigrants from northern Gaul, which would certainly explain the links between these peoples. Prior to the Roman conquest the Cantiaci became a member of the large confederation of peoples led by Cunobelinus and after the conquest they became an independent civitas centred around their principal settlement at Durovernum Catiacorum (Canterbury).

Read more about the VotadiniCantiaci Celtic Tribe[/link_post]

Catuvellauni Celtic Tribe

Catuvellauni, probably the most powerful Belgic tribe in ancient Britain; it occupied the area directly north of the River Thames. The first capital of the Catuvellauni was located near Wheathampstead, but after their defeat by Julius Caesar in 54 BC, they expanded to the north and northwest, building a new capital at Verulamium, near St. Albans. The Catuvellauni practiced agriculture extensively and apparently had a prosperous economy.

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Dobunni Celtic Tribe

The Dobunni (sometimes known as Dubunni) were amongst the largest tribes of Britannia, with a territory thatcovered large extents of the Severn Valley and the Cotswolds. They were another tribe that issued pre-Romancoinage and from these coins it can be determined that the Dobunni were divided into northern and southernsub-groupings. The Dobunni were a wealthy agrarian peoples who were already fairly Romanized by the time theRomans invaded. As a result they did not resist the invasion and may well have been amongst the first to submittoRoman rule. After the conquest the Dobunnic settlement of Bagendon in Gloucester (the largest in theirterritory) was supplanted by the Roman city of
Corinium Dobunnorum (Cirencester). Many of the Dobunni did very well from the Roman conquest, as can be attested by the large number of wealthy villas in the region. As an agrarian peoples the Dobunni seemed to have revered deities of agriculture and fertility above all, which may well explain the large number of dedications to the in their territory.

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Dumnonii Celtic Tribe

In terms of territory, the Dumnonii occupied one of the largest regions of Britain, with their territory occupying modern Cornwall, Devon and parts of Southern Somerset. As a peoples, they did not appear to use coins, nor didthey have any large settlements which might act as the political centres for the tribe and (until post-Roman times there is no evidence for a dynasty of Dumnonian kings. As a result most commentators believe that the Dumnonii were in fact a confederation of a number of smaller tribes. Archaeological evidence indicates that the Dumnonii lived in small farmsteads, often surrounded by large walls or ramparts. There is also evidence from pottery that the Dumnonii had strong links with Armorica (Brittany) a link that was maintained well into post-Roman times. Interestingly, the Dumnonii seem to have presented little resistance to theRoman conquest and as a result theregion was never heavily garrisoned. This may be one of the reasons that the Dumnonii never fully-adopted the Roman way of life. The Romans granted them civitas status and their administrative centre was at Isca Dumnoniorum (Exeter). In post-Roman times the Dumnonian line became one of the most important of the Brythonic royal houses and many of the early Brythonic kings (including ) claim descent from this royal lineage.

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Durotriges Celtic Tribe

The territory of the Durotriges was centred around modern Dorset (though it seems also to have included southern Wiltshire and Somerset as well). The Durotriges lived in a mineral-rich area and minted coins well before the Roman invasion. They also had varying burial practices with one group, centred around modern Dorchester employing inhumation (rather than the more typical cremation) cemeteries. This and the lack of any indication of a royal lineage has led to the supposition that the Durotriges were also a confederation of smaller tribes. Although atypical at the time, the Durotriges represent what we think of today as the archetypal Celtic peoples in that they still occupied hillforts. Indeed, many of the most famous hillforts (Maiden Castle, South Cadbury Castle and Hod Hill) were all occupied by the Durotriges. Though there was a major port at Hengistbury Head in the lands of the Durotriges (from which trade with Gaul was controlled) the Durotriges themselves seem to have been disdainful of these imported goods and tended to use local pottery produced at Poole Harbour. During the time of the Roman invasion the Durotriges put up aspirited opposition, and if Suetonius is to be believed then the Durotriges represent on of the two tribes that fought against Vespasian and the second legion. Despite their opposition, the Durotriges were made into a civitas after the conquest, with an administrative capital at Durnovaria
(Dorchester). About half a century later and a second Durotrigian civitas was created, this time administered from Lindinis (Ilchester).

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Iceni Celtic Tribe

Iceni, in ancient Britain, a tribe that occupied the territory of present-day Norfolk and Suffolk and, under its queen Boudicca (Boadicea), revolted against Roman rule.

The Iceni made a treaty with the Romans at the time of Claudius’s invasion of Britain (AD 43), but they rebelled in 47 when the Romans attempted to disarm them. After quelling the revolt, the Romans controlled the Iceni through a complaisant client king, Prasutagus, until his death (AD 60–61). When the Romans then attempted to annex his realm, his queen, Boudicca, led a revolt of all East Anglia. The Britons were initially successful, but ultimately the Romans suppressed the rebellion harshly and reduced the Iceni to a small tribal community, or civitas, with its capital at Venta Icenorum (present-day Caistor St. Edmunds, near Norwich). The tribe’s economy was largely agricultural, with a thriving local pottery industry and evidence of trade in wool. The area was not poor, however, and excavators have discovered, for example, a series of silver and gold hoards at Mildenhall and Thetford (dating from the 2nd to the 4th century). German invaders found settlements in the early 5th century and began the era of Anglo-Saxon England.

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Regni / Regnenses Celtic Tribe

Before the Roman conquest the area of West Sussex occupied by the Regni during Roman times was a part of the lands of the Atrebates. Partly because of existing strong links with Gaul and partly due to the rise of a new ruler(Togidubnus) Chichester and the surrounding area became an important centre in the period just prior to the Roman invasion and also served as one of the bases for the Roman invasion itself. Because of the aid afforded tothe Romans by Togidubnus Chichester and the surrounding area became a client kingdom rather than a direct part of the Roman province of Britannia (until Togidubnus’ death at least). With the passing of Togidubnus the territory of the Atrebates was split into three separate
civitae with the Regni being the civitas centred on Chichester that administered West Sussex. It may be that the Regni were a separate tribe, a client of the Atrebates; though it is equally possible that this ‘tribe’ is a Roman invention.

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Selgovae Celtic Tribe

As a tribe dwelling beyond Hadrian’s wall little is known about the Selgovae. In his Geography, Ptolemy places the Selgovae in the Southern uplands of Scotland, though the precise extent of their territory is unknown .However, many modern scholars place them in the Tweed Basin, a site adjacent to the Votadini. Roman records tell us that the Selgovae were conquered in 79–80 CE, at the same time as the Votadini. As a result it is not entirely clear whether the Selgovae and Votadini were truly separate peoples or not. If the Selgovae can be considered a separate tribe then their main settlement was probably at Elidon Seat. The tribe’s name can be derived from the *selgƒ-(hunt). Thus the Selgovae were ‘The Hunters’.

Read more about the Selgovae Celtic TribeSelgovae Celtic Tribe[/link_post]

Trinovantes Celtic Tribe

The Trinovantes are first mentioned by Julius Caesar in his de Bello Gallico (on the Gallic Wars), appearing the account of his (abortive) invasion of Britain in 54 BCE. From Caesar’s account it seems as if by this time the Trinovantes were already engaged in a power struggle with the neighbouring Atrebates and the tribes that were soon to be forged into the Catuvellauni under the leadership of Tasciovanus to the west. Though there may already have existed some kind of relationship between the Catuvellauni, the Trinovantes and the Cantiaci in that they shared funerary practices, agricultural practices and used money as well as eating from plates and drinking from cups. The king of the Catuvellauni, Cunobelinos eventually forged the Catuvellauni, Cantiaci and Trinovantes into a single large kingdom, establishing Colchester as a new royal site. This was one of the reasons that Colchester became a major target for Claudius’ invasion of Britain in 43 CE. However, the alliance was disbanded after the Roman invasion and the Trinovantes were restored as a tribal entity, with a tribal capital at Camulodunum (Colchester).

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Iron Age Celtic Tribes of Wales

Demetae Celtic Tribe

These were the people of the fertile lands of south-western Wales. Like the Dumnonii they were an agrarian peoples living in small settlements and like most of the other agrarian tribes they both acquiesced to and adapted readily to Roman rule. The only real garrisons in the territory of the Demetae were those on their eastern border, which may well have been there to protect them from the far more aggressive Silures. The tribe was granted civitas status early during the conquest, with its administrative capital at Moridunum Demetarum (Caerfyrddin[Carmarthen]). Like the Dumnonii the Demetae also maintained close links with Armorica (Brittany) well into post-Roman times. The name of the Demetae is derived from that of their patron warrior deity and it is this deity (and the tribe named after him) that provide the name for the modern Welsh county of Dyfed. Thus they are the People of the God of Mead.

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Silures Celtic Tribe

The Silures were the tribe of the area that now covers the Brecon Beacons and the Valleys of South Wales. Living in the high ground the Silures, unlike their Dobunni relatives offered strong resistance to the Romans. Indeed, between 45–57 CE it is probably fair to say that they led the British opposition to the westwards advance of the Roman Empire. As a result, though we know little of how they lived day to day, many of the leading Roman writers (notably Pliny, Ptolemy and Tacitus) mention them by name. Tacitus describes them as a ‘strong and warlike nation’, but by the early 60s CE they had been occupied by the Romans. However, the Silures’ bitter and concerted resistance may explain why they were only granted self-governing civitas status during the early secondcentury CE with the administrative centre being at
Venta Silurum (Caerwent).

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Ordovices Celtic Tribe

The territory of the Ordovices covered most of what is today mid and west Wales. Their neighbours were theDemetae to the south, the Silures to the east and the Deceangli to the north. They were a war-like peoples living insmall fortified farmsteads. After the Roman invasion in 43 CE it was to the Ordovices that Caractacos fled to seek refuge. He managed to stir the Ordovices into rebellion and they successfully resisted the Romans for almost aquarter of a century. It was only in 77–78 CE that the Roman general, Agricola, finally defeated the Ordovices. Unlike the Silures, however, the Ordovices were granted civitas  status quite soon after their conquest.

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Gangani Celtic Tribe

The territory of the Gangani covered most of what is today the Llŷn Peninsula in North-West Wales. Theirneighbours were the Ordovices to the east. They were seem to have war-like peoples living in fortified farmsteads (a number of these stone-built forts still survive on the Llŷn Peninsula, most notably at Tre’r Ceiri). The tribe shares its name with an Irish tribe who occupied the region now known as Leinster. It seems that the Llŷn Gangani were an offshoot of the Irish Gangani as the name Llŷn is etymologically derived from the same root as the Irish Leinster. After the Roman invasion this tribe was probably kept in check by the garrison of the fort atPen Llystyn which may well mark the border between the lands of the Ordovices and the Gangani. The name of the tribe is contained in the Roman name for the Llŷn Peninsula, Ganganorum Promontorium, found in Ptolemy’s Geography, which literally means ‘The headland of the Gangani’.

Deceangli Celtic Tribe

The Deceangli were the tribe of what today is north Wales and Mona (Môn [Anglesey]). The Deceangli were targeted for conquest as the Romans considered the druids as playing a crucial role in encouraging the resistance against Rome. The centre for British druidry seems to have been in Mona, which is why the island was targeted. However, the Deceangli were a warlike tribe (as detailed in Tacitus’ Agricola) and it wasn’t until 60 CE (the timeof the Boudicca revolt) that Mona was invaded and the druids were slaughtered. The Deceangli were another hillfort people and this may be one of the reasons they fought the Romans for almost seventeen years

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Celtic Tribes of Caledonia

Novantae Celtic Tribe

The Novantae remain an almost total enigma as almost nothing of their culture before the Roman invasion has survived. They seem to have inhabited the region of south-western Scotland that in the post-Roman period would become the southern part of the Brythonic kingdom of Ystradclud (Strathclyde). The Novantae seem to have been primarily an agrarian peoples but there is little evidence for their settlements. As a people on the borders between Roman Britannia and Pictland there is little known about these peoples even from the Roman records.

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Votadini Celtic Tribe

The territory of the Votadini seems to have extended from the region of modern-day Edinburgh to Northumberland. Like their neighbours the Brigantes the Votadini seemed to have been formed as a confederation of many smaller tribes. Archaeologically the Votadini are separate from other northern tribes in that they used walls, banks and ditches to surround and defend their farms. They are characterized by offerings of fine metal objects made to the gods, but seem not to have worn the massive amulets which is a feature of the Brigantes. The Votadini also seem to have employed hillforts, with three massive versions in within the boundaries of their territory being Yeavering Bell, Eildon Seat and Traprain Law. By the time of the Roman invasion these hillforts had probably been in use for at least a millennium. The Votadini are the same people who later became the Brythonic Gododdin (derived from the Old Cymric Gwotodin the Brythonic peoples of he Edinburgh region. The name of the tribe may be derived from the elements: *wo-trīk-e/o- (stay, dwell)(stay, dwell) and *d 3no-(fort, rampart). Thus the Votadini are the ‘fort dwellers’.

Read more about the VotadiniVotadini Celtic Tribe[/link_post]

Damnonii Celtic Tribe

The Damnonii are a tribe that lived in the region of Scotland that today includes Glasgow and Strathclyde. The lands of the Damnonii were conquered by the Romans and occupied continually until the Romans retreated south to the line of Hadrian’s wall. Etymologically the name of the Damnonii is essentially a cognate of that of the southern tribe of the Dumnonii. The name of both tribes may be derived from the element: *dubno- (deep, world). Thus the Damnonii/Dumnonii are ‘we who are the world’. The land of the Dumnonii in the post-Roman period evolved into the Brythonic kingdom of Ystradclud (Strathclyde) which was sacred to the goddess.

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Epidii Celtic Tribe

Almost nothing is known about this tribe, save that they lived in the region that corresponds to modern Kintyreand the islands of Arran, Jura and Islay. Later subsuming of this tribe into the Celtic kingdom of
Ystradclud suggests that they were probably a client or (or at the very least allied to) the Damnonii.
reconstructed proto-Celtic reconstructed proto-Celtic reconstructed proto-Celtic Clōta.

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Caledonii Celtic Tribe

Beyond the tribes mentioned already we move into terra incognito as far as the Romans were concerned. Beyond the Strathclyde region we fall off the Roman map and enter the unknown realm. Which is not so say that we know nothing about this region. Ptolemy’s Geography gives us the names of many of these tribes (though his geography was often vague) and the northern forays of the Romans during the early days of the occupation does give us some information about a number of the tribes. Foremost amongst these are the Caledones or Caledonii. The Romans used this name both for a single tribe that lived in the valleys between modern Inverness and Fort William and for all the tribes living in the north of Scotland. The various other tribes of this region include the Cornovii and Smertae of Caithness, the Caereni of the western Highlands and the Carnonacae and Creones of the western Highlands. The Vacomagi lived around the Cairngorms. It seems that a leader called Calgacus arose to unite the warriors from all these disparate tribes at the battle of Mons Graupius in 84 CE. The Romans won the day, but mostly because of the terrain and the weather they were never successfully able to subdue the highlands. Tacitus describes the Caledonii as red-haired and long limbed and the Romans admired these barbarians for their abilities to endure cold, hunger and hardship.

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Taexali Celtic Tribe

This grouping lived in the Grampian region and were agrarian in nature, dwelling in small, undefended,farmsteads. They seem to share much in common with their southern neighbours, the Venicones, but appear tohave been a separate people. The Taexali were defeated by the Romans in 84 CE, but dwelling above the Antonine Wall (which became the de facto northern border) they were never permanently occupied.

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Venicones Celtic Tribe

This tribe lived in the region of modern Tayside. The lands of the Venicones were used by the Romans several times to create encampments as they moved northwards, but they were never permanently occupied. From the archaeological evidence they seem to be very similar to the Taexali in that they made offerings of decorated metal objects in bogs and lakes and possessed large amulets which could weigh up to 1.5kg apiece. Like the Taexali the Venicones seem to have been primarily agrarian, though little evidence of their settlements has survived.

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The Minor Northern Celtic Tribes

Geographer Ptolemy mentions some tribes without reference to any towns or settlements in a single passage. “Next to the Damnoni, but more toward the east near the Epidium Promontorium are the Epidi and next to these the Cerones; then the Carnonacae, and the Caereni but more toward the east; and in the extreme east dwell the Cornavi; from the Lemannonis Sinus as far as the Varar Aestuarium are the Caledoni, and above these is the Caledoni Silva, from which toward the east are the Decantae, and next to these the Lugi extending to the Cornavi boundary, and above the Lugi are the Smertae.”

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For the definitive ancient work on the Geography of Britain and the location of its Native Tribes: The Geography of Claudius Ptolemaeus, trans. by E.L. Stevenson (Dover, New York, 1991);