Coritani Celtic Tribe

The Coritani or Corieltauvi and Corieltauvi tribe occupied territories now comprising the modern counties of Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire and part of South Yorkshire. Their neighbours to the north-east were the Coinage was usually struck by 2 or 3 rulers at once, which has led historians to conclude that the Coritani were not a unified tribe, but a collection of like-minded peoples sharing the same outlook and social practices. Pre-Roman tribal centres existed at Leicester and Old Sleaford.

The Realm of the Coritani according to Ptolemy

“Next to these [the Cornovii] are the Coritani, among whom are the towns: Lindum 18*40 56°30 Ratae 18*00 55°30.”

The Geographia of Ptolemy (II.ii)

Other passages in Ptolemy Book II Chapter 2 give the ancient names of a couple of geographical features within the territories of the Coritani:

  • Metaris Aestuarium (The Wash) – This large estuary, into which the rivers Witham, Welland, Nene and Ouse all empty (among others), separates the Coritani from their eastern neighbours the Iceni.
  • Abus Fuvius (River Humber) – This large river, one of whose tributaries is the Trent (see below), separated the Coritani from thier northern neighbours the Parisi.
  • Trisantona Fluvius (River Trent) – This river flowed through the western tribal lands. Not actually mentioned by Ptolemy, the name of this river was recorded by the historian Cornelius Tacitus in his Annales (XII.xxxi).

The Civitas Coritanorum The Principal Tribal Centre

Ratae Coritanorvm (Leicester, Leicestershire)

Although it is possible that a pre-Roman settlement existed here on the banks of the River Soar, the cantonal capital of the Coritani was not established at Leicester until Legio XIV Gemina abandoned their temporary ‘vexillation’ fortifications here to take up residence in their new legionary fortress at Wroxeter in Shropshire.

The Tribal πολεις (Poleis or Settlements)Assigned by Ptolemy

Lindvm: (Lincoln, Lincolnshire) – It is possible that an auxiliary or vexillation fort preceeded the known legionary fortress here. The existence of a pre-Roman settlement has only recently been discovered, evidently, a major Iron-age site existed here by the side of the river Witham. Originally the headquarters of Legio IX Hispana, later (c.ad95) became the second Roman colony in Britain, Colonia DomitianaLindensium.

Ratae: (Leicester, Leicestershire) – The cantonal capital (see above).

Characteristic Undefended Native Lowland Settlements

  • Ratae (Leicester, Leicestershire).
  • Old Sleaford (Lincolnshire) – On the banks of the River Slea. Evidently the site of a mint, as enormous quantities of mould trays were found during excavations. The coin-moulds were in three sizes, denoting three denominations; Gold, Silver and Bronze.
  • Cavsennae? (Ancaster, Lincolnshire) – An important early Roman military site on Ermine Street, was built on the site of an existing iron-age settlement. Later a small Romano-British town on Ermine Street between Lindum and Durobrivae (Godmanchester).
  • Dragonby, nr. Scunthorpe (Humberside) – A large, un-nucleated iron-age settlement, sited near the Humber estuary, at the confluence of the River Trent. Roman pottery kilns have been unearthed here.
  • Lindvm (Lincoln, Lincolnshire).

Early Military Sites from the Itineraries

  • Margidvnvm (Castle Hill, Car Colston, Nottinghamshire) – Claudian Fort succeeded by a Romano-British town on the Fosse Way.
  • Ad Pontem (East Stoke, Nottinghamshire) – Small walled town on the Fosse Way south-west of Ratae, preceeded by a Claudian fort.
  • Derventio (Littlechester, nr. Derby, Derbyshire) – Neronian? fort succeeded by a small walled town on the same site.
  • Danvm (Doncaster, South Yorkshire) – Early military site succeeded by a minor civil settlement.
  • Lvtvdarvm (Crich, Derbyshire) – Lead/Silver mines were possibly under military control.
  • Venonis (High Cross, Leicestershire) – Posting station and minor settlement at intersection of Fosse Way and Watling Street.
  • Tripontivm (Cave’s Inn Farm, Churchover, Warwickshire) – Watling Street posting station near border with the Catuvellauni, becoming a fortified burg in the fourth century.
  • Mandvessedvm (Mancetter, Warwickshire) – Small settlement and posting station. One of the 4th century walled burgi on Watling Street, north-west of Venonis with direct road link east to Ratae. A large vexillation fortress of the Fourteenth Legion.
  • Vernemetvm (Willoughby on the Wolds, Nottinghamshire) – Minor settlement on the Fosse Way north of Ratae.
  • Crococalana (Brough, South Collingham, Nottinghamshire) – Major settlement on the Fosse Way sohth-west of Ratae.
  • Bannovalvm (Horncastle, Lincolnshire) – Small, 4th Century Fortified town.
  • Segelocvm (Littleborough, Nottinghamshire) – Major settlement on the east bank of the River Trent, beside the road between Lincoln and Doncaster.

Other Posting Stations

  • Bourne (Lincolnshire) – Posting station or small settlement on King Street SE of Ancaster.
  • Broxtowe (Nottinghamshire) – Early auxiliary fort west of Margidunum.
  • Burgh-le-Marsh (Lincolnshire) – Posting station on the road from Lincoln to the ferry across the Wash.
  • Caistor (Lincolnshire) – Small, 4th Century Fortified town.
  • Great Casterton (Leicester) – Small town and garisson fort on Ermine Street near border with Catuvellauni to the south-east.
  • Grimsby (Humberside) – A possible Roman port on the Humber estuary.
  • Medbourne (Leicester) – Posting station and minor settlement south-east of Ratae on road to Durovigutum (Godmanchester) through the lands of the Catuvellauni to Camulodunum (Colchester).
  • Mablethorpe (Lincolnshire) – Coastal site, probably no more than a fishing village.
  • Osgodby (Lincolnshire) – Posting station on a branch road leading north-east from Owmby.
  • Owmby (Lincolnshire) – posting station on Ermine Street north of Lindum.
  • Sapperton (Lincolnshire) – Minor settlement on branch road of King Street S of Ancaster.
  • Skegness (Lincolnshire) – Possible site of a Roman port now engulfed by the Sea.
  • Sleaford (Lincolnshire) – Minor settlement on King Street NE of Ancaster.
  • South Ferriby (Humberside) – On south bank of the Humber nearby Winteringham, noted for a large hoard of Coritanian coins. A ferry operated from here to Petuaria (Brough on Humber) the tribal capital of the neighbouring Parisii on the north bank. A possible pre-Roman centre.
  • Stainfield, nr. Hacconby (Lincolnshire) – Suspected posting station or small settlement on King Street between Sapperton and Bourne.
  • Hibaldstow (nr. Staniwells, Humberside) – Ermine Street posting station and minor settlement north of Lindum.
  • Ulceby (Lincolnshire) – Posting station on the road from Lincoln to the ferry across the Wash.
  • Winteringham (Humberside) – Sited on the south bank of the Humber.

Rural Temples

  • Collyweston (Northamptonshire) – Group of shrines south of Great Casterton, near the frontier with the Catuvellauni.
  • Thistleton (Leicestershire) – Villa and Potteries north-east of Great Casterton also had a religious significance.


  • Scunthorpe (Humberside) – Iron-Working district and potteries.
  • Cantley, nr. Doncaster (South Yorkshire) – Centre of a large and important pottery industry.
  • Horkstow (Humberside) – Perhaps the only notable Villa in the canton, which includes a remarkable mosaic pavement depicting a chariot race.

A mild and agricultural people who were receptive to Roman rule, perhaps because the presence of the Romans on their territory deterred the raids by their neighbours, the aggressive and warlike Brigantes. Ostorius Scapula established the frontier zone delineated by the Fosse Way through the middle of the Coritani territory.

Ratae was built on the site of a native settlement, and another major Iron-age site existed by the side of the river Witham at Lincoln. The great Oppida of southern Britain are not emulated here, and large hillforts are very rare, there being only three or four in the whole of the canton, and these limited to the area of the Soar Valley. The major settlements in the canton in the late iron-age appear to be large, open settlements, usually sited on low ground and having no discernible organization in their internal structures. Most known sites of this stature occur in Lincolnshire, and were succeeded by later Roman developments on the same locations. The most studied site of this type is at Dragonby near the Humber estuary, at the confluence of the river Trent.

Dragonby was occupied from c.500 BC to late Roman times, with a marked period of rapid growth and expansion of the settlement occurring in the late iron-age (c. late 2nd c. BC) connected with more intensive exploitation of the surrounding natural resources.

Several of these large, scattered sites exist, at Ancaster, Owmby, Ludford and possibly Horncastle and Spilsby, all in Lincolnshire. Further south in Northamptonshire are others at Duston, Irchester and Kettering.

None of these sites can be positively identified as being the centre of Coritani government, and it is possible that there was no centralized government as such. What is reasonably certain however, is that the Coritani maintained a number of septs, each with their own independent local government structure, with groups of settlements being ruled by a small number of leaders who minted and issued coin collectively.

The most prolific type of dwelling in the Coritanian canton, and one which has cultural connections with the Belgic tribes in the south, are small groups of round huts, often surrounded by banks and ditches, probably housing a single family and its dependents.

The most completely examined example of this type of farmstead being the one located at Colsterworth in south Lincolnshire. Here, a small group of five or six round huts with a central hut somewhat larger than the others, lay within an irregular enclosure of around half a hectare with a surrounding bank and ditch. The ditch in this particular example is surprisingly large, being 6 metres wide and up to 2.5 metres deep, enclosing a roughly elliptical area measuring 80 by 100 metres. This steading was occupied around the middle of the first century AD, probably by a single family group.

A large number of single farmsteads surrounded by enclosing ditches and field systems can be found throughout the canton in the river valleys, particularly in the south, the style of which have close cultural affiliation with those built by the southern Belgic tribes. It is postulated that a high percentage of the Coritani population lived in these humble farms, though cultural, economic and religious activities brought these communities together from time to time.

The region of south Lincolnshire and Leicestershire is rich with surface deposits of ironstone, and, as would be expected, a large number of small steadings are to be found in the area, making use of this natural resource. Another source of industry for the Coritani was the production of salt by the evaporation of sea water, along the coast in the region of Ingoldmells and Skegness.

Coinage and Rulers

The coin finds of the Coritani were at first, erroneously attributed to the Brigantes, but later studies of the distribution pattern clearly showed that these coins should be assigned to the Coritani. The two hoards of coins, found in S. Yorkshire that were the basis of this assumption are now thought to be the deposits of merchants or localised mintage’s of a Coritanian leader who moved north in the face of the Roman advance.

The earliest iron-age coins are based on earlier Gallo-Belgic gold staters, with equestrian designs on the obverse but no inscriptions and were first produced between 80-50 BC. The first issue of minted silver coins occurred around 50BC, which were also uniscribed, having horses on the reverse, but with the image of a Boar, perhaps a totemic device, on the obverse.

Throughout the region, especially in the south, large numbers of alien coins from southern Britain can be found, indicating strong commercial links with the Belgic tribes.

Around the turn of the first century, gold and silver coins bearing inscriptions started to appear. These contain a high proportion of paired names, and at least one issue with three names, showing that the Coritani were possessed of more than one tribal leader.

The recorded inscriptions are listed below, arranged in the order they were produced:

Coritanian Rulers

  • VEP

It is assumed that the Coritani were at first ruled by two rulers, and the corresponding coin issues are inscribed with the names of both of these magistrates. Later, the Coritani came to be ruled by a single, paramount leader, who issued coin inscribed with his name first, followed by the name of a subservient leader, who ruled over a part of the tribe. It can be surmised that Volisios, for instance was one of these paramount chieftains who issued coin around the time of the Roman invasion, under whom were at least three lieutenants; Dumnocoveros, Dumnovellau[nus] and Cartivel[ios]*. A large number of the coins of Volisios were found in the two hoards at Lightcliffe and Honley in south Yorkshire, and it is possible that Volisios and his lieutenants decided to move north to this area when the Romans began to occupy Coritanian territory in the south.

The production of coinage in small denominations is suggestive of a prospering economy, and a number of bronze coins of this type were found around the area of South Ferriby on the banks of the Humber estuary. The existence of another iron-age site at North Ferriby, on the directly opposite bank suggests that some form of water-borne communication link existed between these two settlements, and this was in all likelihood the site of a major commercial link between the Coritani and its northern neighbours the Parisii (and possibly the Brigantes). This is borne out by the existence of Roman pottery and trade goods in North Ferriby in the time before the occupation of the north bank of the Humber by the Romans.

[* The given endings of these names are my own suppositions only. ]

The Tribal Name

There exists considerable uncertainty as to the actual name of the tribe, as Ptolemy lists the name both in the form Coritani and Coritavi. According to Dr. Tomlin, re-reading a graffito found on a tile found at Churchover as Civitatis Corieltauvorum, suggests a tribal name of Corieltauvi. This is backed up, he says, by the entry for Leicester in the The Ravenna Cosmography which appears as Rate Corion, followed by the word Eltavori. Dr. Tomlin Suggests that the three words refer to a single entry, not two, the last word having previously been attributed to another place, perhaps a town named Eltavori[um], or even the name of a river, Fl. Tavori. The revised reading of the Cosmography entry for Leicester would be Rate Corioneltavori.

Roman Military Installations in Coritani Territory

Holme, nr. NewarkLarge Marching Camp.
Newton-on-Trent, Lincs.Large Marching Camp.
Newton-on-Trent, Lincs.Legionary Campaign Fort.
Ancaster, Lincs.Small Temporary Camp.
Ancaster, Lincs.Garrison Fort on Ermine St.
LongthorpeLegionary Campaign Fort, 11 Ha., E of Peterborough.
MartonAuxiliary Fort, nr. Newton-on-Trent.
Water Newton, Northants.Garrison Fort on Ermine St. nr. crossing of R. Nene.
Great Casterton, Leics.Garrison Fort on Ermine St. nr. crossing of R. Gwash.
LincolnFort ? Marching Camp ? On low ground to south of R. Witham.
LincolnLegionary Fortress, c.60AD.
OwmbyClaudian Fort ? N. of Lincoln.
Old WitheringhamClaudian Supply Base ? On S. shore of Humber.
KirmingtonAuxiliary Fort, 8.5 acres, 3.5 Ha., double-ditched encampment.
LeicesterClaudian base of some nature ?
Thorpe-by-Newark, Notts.Small 0.8 Ha. fort at confluence of Greet with Trent.
NewarkAt conf. of R. Devon, occupation evidence but nothing military.
Brough, Notts.Find-place of military helmet cheek-piece of c. 1st c.
East Bridgford, Notts.MARGIDUNUM
Strutts ParkLarge Fort, c.50AD, 2km N. of Derby town centre.
BroxtoweThree Forts on same site, largest c.5Ha., earliest c.55AD.
OsmanthorpeFort above R. Greet, nr. Southwell, c.8ha., probably >1 phase.
FarnsfieldMarching Camp, 3km W. of Osmanthorpe.
WarsopCampaign Fort, c.55AD, 10km N. Osmanthorpe, 8km NW R.Trent.
Rossington BridgeCampaign Fort, 9.3ha.
ChesterfieldSeries of forts, first in c.55AD.
TempleboroughFort, c.55AD, nr. Rotherham.
PentrichNeronian site, between Little Chester and Chesterfield.

Tentative Interpretation of Military Activities

44ADRatae captured. Garrison fort of Legio IX at Ratae. Ermine St. Auxiliary Fort at Water Newton. Newark captured
45ADAncaster Marching Camp. Ermine St. Auxiliary Fort at Great Casterton. Marching Camp at Holme. Marching Camp at Newton-on-Trent. Lindum captured.
46ADNewton-on-Trent Legionary Campaign Fort. Ermine St. Auxiliary Fort at Ancaster.
47ADAuxiliary Fort at Lindum. Longthorpe Legionary Campaign Fort built to counter Icenian revolt.
48ADPossibly spent consolidating the territory gained south of the Humber and east of the Trent, and also policing the Iceni. During this period, Legio IX may have been split between the Campaign Forts at Newton-on-Trent and Longthorpe.
49ADA few tentative forays over the Trent may have been undertaken at this time. Marton Auxiliary Fort built, guarding new bridge over Trent.
50ADStrutts Park Fort built to north of Derby.
59ADLongthorpe reduced to Vexillation size.
60ADLegionary Fortress built at Lindum; Newton-on-Trent and Longthorpe dismantled.

The Coritanian Nobility Identified From Numismatic Evidence

Ast[…]Vide Aun[…].
Asu[…]Vide Esup[…].
Aun[…]The coins inscribed AVN COST / AVN AST probably denote the first of the dual magistracies of the Coreltauvi following those issued by Vep[…]. They were issued around 20AD and are found throughout the canton. The next issue of coins after Aun[…]/Cost[…] were those of Esup[…]/Rasu[…].
Cartivel[…]The name Cartivel[ios] or Cartivel[launus] appears in conjunction with that of Volisios, on issues apparently contemporary with others bearing the names of two more Corieltauvian nobles, Dumnocoveros and Dumnovellau[nos]. All of these coins wese issued as late as c.45AD and appear to have circulated in an area to the north of the canton and on the north bank of the Humber, in what is usually taken to be the territory of the Parisi.
Cost[…]Vide Aun[…].
Dumno[…]The name of this noble appears on the famous issue inscribed DVMNO ¢¬¢ TIGIR ¢¬¢ SENO, and its prominence feasibly denoted that he was the most senior of the three magistrates seemingly ruling over the Corieltauvi c.40AD, the other nobles mentioned, Tigir[…] and Seno[…] were in all likelyhood subservient. It is possible that the name of this king also appears on one of two later coin issues in association with the overlord Volisios, as either Dumnocoveros or Dumnovellau[nos].
DumnocoverosVide Dumno[…] and Volisios.
Dumnovellau[nos]Vide Dumno[…] and Volisios.
Esup[…]The coins inscribed ESVP ASV / ESVP RASV were issued by the dual magistrates of the Corieltauvi around 30AD. These issues were possibly preceeded by those of Aun[…] Cost[..] and Aun[…] Ast[…], and followed by the triple issue of Dumno[…] Tigir[…] Seno[…].
Rasu[…]Vide Esup[…].
Seno[…]Vide Dumno[…].
Tigir[os]Vide Dumno[…].
Vep[…]This ruler was possibly the first of the Corieltauvi to issue coins bearing inscriptions, notably; VEP, VEP ¢¬¢ CORF (possibly meaning Vep[…] the son of Cor[…]) and VEP OCI[.]ES. These coins appear at the beginning of the first century AD, and are found throughout the tribal territory. The latter of these three issues may bear the name of a subservient or co-ruler, Oci[.]es, and it should be noted that with the exception of the issues inscribed Vep[…] only, all of the Corieltauvian coinage bears at least two inscribed names. Whether Vep[…] first started this trend of dual – or in some cases, triple – magistracies is not known.
VolisiosThe name of this ruler appears in conjunction with that of three other nobles, Dumnocoveros, Dumnovellau[nos] and Cartivel[ios], each on separate coinage issues minted around 45AD. This is unprecedented within the tribe, who usually minted coins bearing the names of two – or in one case, three – magistrates. It appears that Volisios became the overlord of the Corieltauvi possibly just prior to the Roman invasion, and issued coin bearing the names of his three lieutenants who were to govern separate quarters of the tribal territory. In the face of the Roman advance it would appear that Volisios moved his court northwards into the land of the Parisi, and that his people continued to prosper in this region for several more years.

References for The Coritani

  • Peoples of Roman Britain : The Coritani by Malcolm Todd (Sutton, Rev. Ed., 1991);
  • 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);