Demetae Celtic Tribe

During the Late Pre-Roman Iron-Age the Demetae tribe inhabited a territory roughly equatable with the modern county of Dyfed in south-west Wales. There are only two places of note in the Roman administrative district, both of which are attributed to the tribe by Ptolemy (vide supra). Their hillforts appear to share attributes with those found in the south-western peninsula of England.

The Realm of the Demetae according to Ptolemy

Below the peoples we have mentioned,¹ but more toward the west are the Demetae, whose towns are: Luentinum 15*45 55°10 Maridunum 15*30 54°40.

The Geography of Ptolemy

  1. The Silures tribe of South-East Wales and the Ordovices tribe of mid-Wales.

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

  • Leuca Fluvius (River Loughor) possibly marked the eastern border of the tribe with their neighbours the Silures. There was a Roman fort sited on the east bank near it’s mouth named Leucarum (Loughor, West Glamorgan).
  • Tuvius Fluvius (Afon Tywi) flows westwards through the tribal lands to Carmarthen and then southwards, emptying into Carmarthen Bay.
  • Octapitarum Promonturium (Saint David’s Head) is the most easterly point in Wales.
  • Stuctia Fluvius (Afon Ystwyth, ‘The Winding River) empties into Cardigan Bay at Aberyswyth and may mark the northern border of the tribe, separating them from their neighbours the Ordovices.

The Civitas Demetarum The Principal Tribal Centre

Moridvnvm (Carmarthen, Dyfed)

The only Romano-British settlement of note within the demesne of the Demetae was the vicus or roadside settlement outside the Flavian fort at Carmarthen. It has been suggested that the administration of the tribe was carried-out from here, under the watchful eyes of the Roman military. The town would thus have been known as Moridunum Demetarum, or the civitas Demetarum, the Romanized civitas capital of the tribe.

The Tribal πολεις (Poleis or Settlements)Assigned by Ptolemy

Lventinvm (Dolaucothi, Dyfed) – The site of the only Roman gold mine in the province of Britain (see below).
Moridvnvm (Carmarthen, Dyfed) – The probable cantonal capital (see above).

Romano-British Industries

The only industry of note within the territories of the tribe were the gold workings at Luentinum (Dolaucothi, nr. Pumsaint). These mines would have been under tight military control and completely out of the hands of the local tribal magnates whose ancestral lands had been requisitioned by the Roman authorities, probably with little or no compensation.

Other Romano-British Buildings in the Canton

  • Aber-Cyfor – Romano-British buildings here included a tessalated pavement.
  • Cwm Brwyno (Dyfed) – Native settlement in a loop of the Afon Rheidol, with an enclosing earthwork of a Romanizing form.
  • Ford (Dyfed) – Settlement on the Afon Cleddau. There are several native hillforts and raths in the neighbourhood of the crossing over the Afon Cleddau.
  • Parc-yr-Eglwys (Eglwys Cymmyn, Dyfed) – Roman buildings inserted into Iron-Age earthworks overlooking Carmarthen Bay, south-east of Tavernspite.
  • Trelissey (Treleddyd, nr. St. David’s, Dyfed) – Roman building within an Iron Age site.

A Demetaran Nobleman ?

Gildas, writing in the mid-6th century, mentions one ‘Vortipor, tyrant of the Demetae.’ (Ruin of Britain, xxxi.1)

References for The Demetae

  • Town and Country in Roman Britain by A.L.F. Rivet (Hutchinson, 1958);
  • 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);