Carvetii Celtic Tribe

The Carvetii tribe occupied/inhabited all of Cumbria and parts of north Lancashire, south-west Durham and south-east Dumfries & Galloway (Scotland). At first the Carvetii were grouped together with the Brigantes but they were later granted their own tribal council.

Tribe Not Mentioned by Ptolemy

Interestingly, the Carvetii are not mentioned in the Geography of Claudius Ptolemaeus. This is very strange because the surrounding tribes, the Novantae, Selgovae Celtic Tribe and Votadini in Scotland, and the Brigantes of northern England, all have entries in the work. The Carvetian towns have not been attributed to the Brigantes or any of the other tribes by mistake; it would seem that there is a void in Ptolemy’s data and for some reason the Carvetii were missed out.

Although the Carvetii tribe is not recorded by Ptolemy, passages in his geographia give the ancient names of a small number of other geographical features on the periphery of the tribal territories:

  • Ituna Aestuarium (Solway Firth) – This body of water separated the Carvetii from their neighbouring tribe, the Novantae in Dumfries & Galloway.
  • Derventio Fluvius (River Derwent) – The ancient name of this river also survives in the name of Derwent Water in the Lake District. The fort and settlement of Derventio (Papcastle, Cumbria) lay upon its banks.
  • Moricambe Aestuarium (Morecambe Bay) – lay to the south of the Carvetian homelands, close to the borders with the Brigantes .

Unlike the situation in southern England, where Romano-British settlements sometimes sprang into being alongside Roman roads and at certain road junctions, without – it seems – the protection of a nearby auxiliary fort, this is certainly not the case in the uplands of the north of Britain, where substantial Romano-British settlements are always associated with a Roman garrison. This is never more evident than in the territories of the Carvetii, where there are almost forty auxiliary forts, around half of which have vicus settlements nearby.

The Evidence For The Tribe

The tribe’s omission from the work of Ptolemy, the major historical source of the names of indigenous tribes, has meant that the Carvetii were not certainly identified until an inscribed Roman tombstone was found in 1600 at Old Penrith. The stone, now lost, recorded that the deceased, one Flavius Martius, was … SEN[ator] IN C[ivitas] CARVETIOR[um] …, ‘a senator on the tribal council of the Carvetii’. This did not, however, prove the whereabouts of the tribe, merely the fact thet such a tribe had existed.

It was not until 1964 when a Roman milestone was found near Temple Sowerby in Cumbria that the whereabouts of the tribe was proven. This memorial bears the closing phrase … R[es] P[ublicae] C[ivitas] CAR[vetiorum], ‘… the Public Works of the Carvetian State’. This confirmed that the tribe’s territories lay in the extreme north-west of England.

Guide to the Following Entries

All of the entries on this page bear a colour coded letter which tells where the fort is situated, also its approximate construction date:

  • S Stanegate Fort – founded c.80AD by Gnaeus Julius Agricola, rebuilt c.100AD.
  • H Hadrian’s Wall Fort – built during the 120AD’s on the instructions of the emperor Hadrian.
  • W Western Sea Defences – a south-western extension of the defenses of Hadrian’s wall, perhaps 130AD’s.
  • # Border Fort; letter denotes direction N, S, NE, etc. – dating to the periods above, or to the 150AD’s or 180’s, during which times there were frequent uprisings in the north of Britain, instigated in the main by the Brigantes tribe.
  • C Carvetian Heartland – uncertain dating as above.

The Civitas Capital

Carlisle (Luguvalium) [S] – Civitas capital of the Carvetii, the only walled-town in the entire north-west of Roman Britain. It is reasonable to assume that the town must represent the tribal centre for this reason.

Minor Carvetian Settlements

If a Roman auxiliary fort was garrisoned for any amount of time, the regular salaries of the troops housed within the defences may attract a small collection of civilian tradesmen, and their associated workshops and dwellings, which would be arrayed to either side of the road leading from the main gate of the fort. The name given to one of these settlement was a vicus. All of the following auxiliary forts possess settlements in the form of vici:

Burgh-by-Sands (Aballava)  [H] – Three forts and a number of marching camps surround this small settlement. Four altars to Mars / Belatucader have been unearthed.

Aesica (Great Chesters, Northumberland) [H] – LEG XX V V The bath-house in the vicus outside this fort was supplied with fresh water via a two mile long aqueduct. Also of interest is the tombstone of a cornicularius, Aelius Mercurialis, dedicated by his sister Vacia (RIB 1742).

Maryport (Alauna) [W] – LEG II AVG ET XX V V Twenty-three altars to Jupiter Optimus Maximus were found buried under the parade ground of this fort.

Banna? (Castlesteads, Cumbria) [H] – LEG VI VIC a small vicus and a Romano-British temple lie on the southern hill slopes below this fort. Of great interest is the tombstone of Gemellus, who was custos armorum or ‘custodian of the armoury’.

Bravoniacvm (Kirkby Thore, Cumbria) [C] – Two marching camps and two milestones have been identified close to this settlement and auxiliary cavalry fort.

Brocavvm (Brougham, Cumbria) [C] – A small marching camp lies close to this infantry fort and settlement, near the confluence of the rivers Eamont and Lowther. An altarstone here was dedicated by a military tribune from the Eighth Augustan Legion (RIB 782) – very interesting!

Camboglanna? (Birdoswald, Cumbria) [H] – Excavations here have unearthed twenty-two Altars to Jupiter Optimus Maximus, mostly dedicated by Coh I Aelia Dacorum. A large vicus settlement with extensive burial grounds straddled the ‘military way’ to either side of this Wall fort.

Castra Exploratorvm (Netherby, Cumbria) [N] – LEG II AVG later LEG VI VIC The only evidence for a settlement here is the gravestone of a woman, one Titullinia Pussitta from Raetia (RIB 984). There are many altars of classical deities, all dedicated by the Roman military; to Apollo, Fortune, Silvanus, Mars and Jupiter.

Gabrosentvm (Moresby, Cumbria) [W] – LEG XX V V This infantry fort was later converted for use by a part-mounted unit.

Galava (Ambleside, Cumbria) [C] – A very interesting ‘twin’ tombstone was unearthed at this fort (RIB 755a), of an actarius and an ordinarius, probably blood-related, one of which was killed in battle.

Maglona (Old Carlisle, Cumbria) [C] – The vicus here is quite extensive, and excavations have uncovered the tombstone of a sixty-year-old woman named Tancorix (RIB 908), whose name suggests that she was possibly of the native nobility.

Magnis [carvetiorvm] (Carvoran, Northumberland) [S] – LEG XX V V This fort was built for a unit of Hamian Archers, the only such unit in Britain, later moved to Housesteads on Hadrian’s Wall. Also of interest is a bronze corn-measure called a modius, which was found at the site.

Maia (Bowness on Solway, Cumbria) [H] – LEG VI V P F The second largest fort on Hadrian’s Wall, also the western terminus of the Wall itself, although the ‘Western Sea Defences’ continued from here along the coast to Ravenglass. This fort may have been named after one of the Pleiades.

Vxelodvnvm (Stanwix, Cumbria) [H] – LEG XX V later LEG VI VIC PF The largest fort on Hadrian’s Wall built to house the Ala Petriana, a unit of one-thousand horse which was the only such unit in Roman Britain. The commander of the Wall Garrison was stationed at this fort.

Voreda (Old Penrith, Cumbria) [C] – VEX LEG XX V V This fort was built to house a mixed unit of five-hundred foot and horse. Of great interest is the tombstone of a senator of the civitas Carvetiorum (RIB 933).

The Remaining Roman Forts

None of the remaining forts in Carvetian territory have been found to be associated with civilian settlements, being situated mainly in unproductive hill-country, although the Romano-British name of the Ravenglass fort suggests that there may have been a trading settlement nearby. Many of these forts are accompanied by one or more marching camps.

Alavana (Watercrook, Cumbria) [S] – LEG II AVG

Bibra (Beckfoot, Cumbria) [W] – single inscription recovered

Blatobvlgivm (Birrens, Dumfries & Galloway) [N] – LEG XX VICT later LEG VI VIC

Concavata (Drumburgh, Cumbria) [H] –

Derventio (Papcastle, Cumbria) [C] – LEG VI V P F An altarstone here was dedicated by the Formation of Frisians from Aballava (RIB 882; dated 19-20 October 241AD).

Epiacvm (Whitley Castle, Northumberland) [E] – VEX LEG XX V V REFEC and possibly LEG VI V P F

Fanvm Cocidi (Bewcastle, Cumbria) [NE] – LEG II AVG ET XX V V six altars to Mars / Cocidius

Glannoventa (Ravenglass, Cumbria) [W] Glannoventa ‘The Market on the Shore;’ possible settlement

Kirkbride, Cumbria [S] – no known inscriptions, fort recognised from crop-marks.

Ladyward (Dumfries & Galloway) [NW] –

Low Borrowbridge, Cumbria [SE] – probable cavalry fort, as indicated by a fragmentary tombstone, now lost.

Magis (Burrow Walls, Cumbria) [W] – probably housed a mixed unit of cavalry and infantry.

Mediobogdvm (Hardknot, Cumbria) [C] – superbly located auxiliary infantry fort in the uplands of Cumbria.

Nether Denton, Cumbria [S] – houses a succession of camps and forts.

Old Church, Cumbria [S] – ????.

Troutbeck, Cumbria [C] –

Verteris (Brough Castle, Cumbria) [E] –

Carvetian Nobles


Was the consort of Queen Cartimandua of the Brigantes, possibly since before she became a client of Claudius in 43AD. All was not well with this arrangement seemingly, for during the governorship of Aulus Didius Gallus, sometime between 52AD and 57AD, he divorced her. Cartimandua’s treacherous treatment of Caratacus in 51AD could have been one possible factor in his decision. Whatever the cause, Venutius proceeded to wage war on his ex-spouse with his own rival Carvetian faction. The new governor was forced to send several cohorts to her aid, until the forces under the able command of Venutius were eventually defeated in a decisive engagement. This story is related by Tacitus (Annals Book XII, chapter 40), although the Carvetii are not mentioned by name.

For further information on Cartimandua see the Brigantes tribal page.

References for The Carvetii

  • Peoples of Roman Britain : The Carvetii by Nicholas Higham & Barri Jones (Sutton, 1985);
  • The Geography of Claudius Ptolemaeus, trans. by E.L. Stevenson (Dover, New York, 1991);
  • Atlas of Great Britain by the Ordnance Survey (Country Life, 1982);
  • Historical Map and Guide: Roman Britain by the OS (4th Ed., 1990);