Parisi Celtic Tribe

The Parisi were a British Celtic tribe located in the north of England. Next to their neighbours to the north and west, the powerful Brigantes, the Celtic Parisi were insignificant in terms of the extent of their territory. However, they seemed to have been more culturally advanced and had some civilising effect on the Brigantes.

The Realm of the Parisi according to Ptolemy

“Near which¹ on the Opportunum Sinus² are the Parisi and the town Petuaria 20*40 56°40.”

The Geographia of Ptolemy (II.ii)
  1. i.e. the Brigantes tribe.
  2. Bridlington Bay, which formed the natural border to the east.

The Parisi tribe inhabited North Humberside and were surrounded to the north, west and south-west by the Brigantes and on the south by the Coritani. Rather more advanced than the former tribe, but culturally inferior to the latter.

Other passages in Ptolemy Book II Chapter 2 give the ancient names of other geographical features within the territories of the Parisi:

  • Abus Fluvius (River Humber) Formed the southern boundary of the tribe. Their neighbours the Coritani lived on the opposite (southern) bank.
  • Oceli Promonturium (Spurn Head) forms the north bank of the Humber Estuary.

The Civitas Parisorum The Principal Tribal Centre

Petvaria [Parisorvm] (Brough-on-Humber, Humberside)

The suspected cantonal capital and the only Πολις ascribed to the tribe by Ptolemy; its official status was only that of a vicus.

Other Places of Note

  • North Ferriby – nearby Brough, was the site of an old iron-age settlement and the northern terminus of a ferry over the Humber estuary to South Ferriby, in the territories of the Coritani.
  • Derventio (Malton, North Yorkshire) – Roman fort with attached minor settlement or vicus.
  • D ELGOVICIA ? (Millington, Humberside) – Minor settlement included a temple.
  • Rudston (Humberside) – Villa with crude but effective mozaics, on the road to the east coast near Bridlington.


Industry in the canton is represented by potteries at Norton, Crambeck, East Knapton and Throlam. It has been suggested that Eburacum (York) was originally attributed to the Parisi, but became detached from Parisian rule by the establishment of the colonia.

The Continental Parisii

The Parisii were a people of Gaul, who lived along the banks of the Sequana (Seine), and on an island in the river known as Lutetia; the island is nowadays famous as the site of the Notre Dame Cathedral in the centre of Paris, the capital city of modern France. Julius Caesar in his Gallic Wars, provides vital information on the political history of this continental Gallic tribe:

“… At the beginning of spring [52BC] a convention of Gaul was proclaimed, according to his [Caesar’s] practice. The arrival of all except the Senones, Carnutes, and Treveri¹ made him think this exception the beginning of an armed rebellion: and to give the impression that he counted all else of secondary importance, he removed the convention to Lutetia, a town of the Parisii. (These were the next neighbours to the Senones, and in the previous generation had formed one state with them; but it was believed that they had held aloof from the present design.) …”

Caesar De Bello Gallico vi.3
  1. The former two were powerful Gallic tribes from the Pleine de la Beauce region of the middle Loire valley, centered around modern Orleans in France, while the latter were a Belgic tribe from the Ardennes area around modern Luxembourg; Caesar by this action interposed himself between the Gallic and Belgic tribes, thus preventing them from joining forces and posing a formidable threat.

The continental Parisii were not to take Caesar’s bullying for long however, for they joined forces with their near neighbours the Suessiones and declared themselves against him in the general rising of Vercingatorix in 52BC. Caesar was thereupon forced to send his lieutenant Labienus with four legions to see to this northern threat, while he personally led his remaining six legions against Vercingatorix and the Arverni at Gergovia (La Gergovie) in southern France (vide Caesar G.W. vii.4, & 34 et seq.).

“While this was happening with Caesar, Labienus had left the draft of recruits newly arrived from Italy at Agedincum¹ to guard the baggage, and with four legions started for Lutetia, a town of the Parisii, situated on an island in the Sequana river [Seine]. …”

Caesar De Bello Gallico vii.57

Realising the formidable defences afforded Lutetia by the river, Labienus first turned his forces against the Suessiones, capturing their city of Metiosedum, which was likewise situated on an island in the Seine, though evidently less formidably defended. From this base the Roman tribune then led his army downstream along either bank of the river towards the Parisian capital. Hearing of the Roman’s imminent approach off refugees from the recently sacked town, the citizens of Lutetia were compelled to abandon their city and set it afire before withdrawing into the nearby marshes.

Suffering defeat at the hands of Caesar’s able lieutenant Labienus did little to subdue the spirit of the tribe, however, for when Vercingetorix called upon the peoples of Gaul to aid him during the siege of Alesia, the Parisii fielded eight thousands troops to answer the call (vide Caesar G.W. vii.75). The Gallic uprising of Vercingatorix was doomed to failure, and the Gallic leader was several years later led in Triumph through the streets of Rome and ceremonially strangled on the Capitol; of the continental Parisii, no further mention by Caesar is made.

  • Parisi Tribe of North Eastern Britain. Tribal Capital Petuaria. (22Dbc)
  • Parisii Tribe of Northern Gallia Lugdunensis. Tribal Capital Lutetia (Paris) on the Sequana (River Seine). Lutetia Parisiorum and Agedincum Senonum were the two major cities of the Province of Lugdunensis Senonia following the Division of Empire c.395AD. (23Ec, 29Fd)

References for The Parisi

  • Peoples of Roman Britain : The Parisi by Herman Ramm (Duckworth, 1978);
  • 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);