Damnoni Celtic Tribe

The Damnonii (also referred to as Damnii) were a  British Celtic who occupied territory in southern Scotland.  The Roman conquest of Britain certainly did not originally include the Damnonii territory. From AD 82 they the would occasionally fall under Roman administration although they were a source of trouble for the Romans over a long span of time. They formed one of the four kingdoms of ancient Scotland in the second century. A descendant of Caratacus of the Catuvellauni collected together a force of ‘free Britons’ in opposition to the ‘enslaved’ Britons and their Romans masters to the south.

The Realm of the Damnoni according to Ptolemy

“From these [the Selgovae] toward the east, but more northerly,¹ are the Damnoni, among whom are the following towns: Colanica 20*45 59°10 Vindogara 21*20 60°00 Coria 21*30 59°20 Alauna 22*45 59°50 Lindum 23*00 59°30 Victoria 23*30 59°00″ Above quote from the Geographia of Ptolemy (II.ii)

  1. Ptolemy’s coordinate system for the whole of Scotland is rotated 90° to the east, what he actually means here is ‘… toward the north, but more westerly, …’

The tribe was bordered on the north-east by the Venicones, on the north-west possibly by the Caledoni, to the west by the Epidii, on the east by the Selgovae Celtic Tribe and to the south by the Novantae. Other passages in Ptolemy give the ancient names of other geographical features within the territories of the Damnoni tribe:

  • Vindogara Sinus – Irvine Bay, the settlement of Vindogara (poss. Irvine, Strathclyde) lay nearby.
  • Clota Aestuarium – Firth of Clyde, the name from which the modern name of the river is derived.
  • Botis Insula – Isle of Bute, situated on the opposite shore of the Firth of Clyde just off the west coast of mainland Scotland, between the Damnoni tribal homelands and those of the Epidii in Kintyre.

The Tribal Territories

The Damnoni territories encompassed much of southern Strathclyde, comprising the old (i.e. pre-1974) counties of Renfrewshire, Lanarkshire and Ayrshire. Nowadays these lands are used for dairying and hill farming, with root crops being grown in a narrow coastal strip to the north and south-west of Ayr, also in the area of Glasgow to the north-east and along Clydesdale to the south-west; there is no reason to believe that the Damnoni did otherwise.

Geologically, the tribal lands are mainly carboniferous limestone with underlying coal deposits, effectively split in two by extrusive volcanic rocks, which run from Wemyss Bay on the Firth of Clyde south-eastwards to the central Southern Uplands, almost cutting-off Glasgow from the western coastal region. The tribal population, like today, was probably centered in these two areas; that to the north included the modern City of Glasgow and it’s outlying suburbs, stretching south-east along Clydesdale from Motherwell to Lanark, while the other settlement area lay along the coastal plain to the west, encompassing the modern towns of Ardrossan, Irvine, Kilmarnock, Ayr and Holmhead.

The Civitas Damnonorum The Principal Tribal Centre

The name of the principal tribal centre is unknown but is very likely to be listed among the six civil centres ascribed to the tribe by the geographer Ptolemy, who wrote in the mid-second century.

The Tribal Πολεις Assigned by Ptolemy

None of the following Romano-British towns, which are attested in the mid-2nd century, have been positively identified, but Ptolemy’s coordinates and the place-names themselves lend further clues as to their whereabouts. It should be noted, however, that the latter three towns are all located by Ptolemy to the north of the River Clyde and may have been within the territories of the neighbouring tribe the Venicones.

Colanica [unknown] This name is unique in Roman-Britain and does not occur in any other geographical source. It is placed by Ptolemy some distance inland and may possibly represent the military complex and associated civil settlement at Castledykes, close to the border with the Selgovae Celtic Tribe.
Vindogara [Irvine, South Strathclyde] Probably connected with the bay of the same name (see above), this settlement must have been situated close to the coast, more than likely at Irvine.
Coria [unknown] Ptolemy records another town of this name at Corbridge (Corstopitum) in Cumbria, and it’s name may be connected with the Welsh/Gaelic word for a valley or glen.
Alauna [unknown] The name Alauna occurs a few times in Roman Britain, usually denoting a riverside settlement.
Lindum [unknown] There are a couple of Romano-British towns of this name, which means ‘(place of) the Black Lake’.
Victoria [unknown] Possibly the site of a major battle sometime during the late-first or early-second centuries.

Roman Military Sites in Damnoni Tribal Territory

The The Antonine Wall has its western terminus on the Clyde at Old Kilpatrick and probably delineated the border between the Damnoni and their neighbouring tribe the Venicones.