Celtic Britons

The Britons, also known as Celtic Britons or Ancient Britons, were Celtic people who inhabited Great Britain from the British Iron Age into the Middle Ages, at which point their culture and language diverged into the modern Welsh, Cornish and Bretons (among others). They spoke the Common Brittonic language, the ancestor to the modern Brittonic languages.[1]

The traditional view that the Celtic Britons originally migrated from the continent, mostly across the English Channel, with their languages, culture and genes in the Iron Age has been considerably undermined in recent decades by the contention of many scholars that Celtic languages had instead spread north along the Atlantic seaboard during the Bronze Age,[2] and the results of genetic studies, which show a large continuity between Iron Age and older British populations,[3] suggesting trans-cultural diffusion was also very important in the introduction of the Celtic languages.

The earliest evidence for the Britons and their language in historical sources dates to the Iron Age.[4] After the Roman conquest of Britain in the 1st century, a Romano-British culture emerged, and Latin and British Vulgar Latin coexisted with Brittonic.[5] During and after the Roman era, the Britons lived throughout Britain. Their relationship with the Picts, who lived north of the Firth of Forth, has been the subject of much discussion, though most scholars now accept that the Pictish language was related to Common Brittonic, rather than a separate Celtic language.[6]

With the beginning of Anglo-Saxon settlement and Gaelic Scots in the 5th and 6th centuries, the culture and language of the Britons fragmented, and much of their territory was gradually taken over by the Anglo-Saxons and Scots Gaels. The extent to which this cultural and linguistic change was accompanied by wholesale changes in the population is still a matter of discussion. During this period some Britons migrated to mainland Europe and established significant colonies in Brittany (now part of France), the Channel Islands[7] as well as Britonia in modern Galicia, Spain.[4] By the beginning of the 11th century, remaining Brittonic Celtic-speaking populations had split into distinct groups: the Welsh in Wales, the Cornish in Cornwall, the Bretons in Brittany, the Cumbric speaking people of the Hen Ogledd ("Old North") in southern Scotland and northern England, and the remnants of the Pictish people in the north of Scotland. Common Brittonic developed into the distinct Brittonic languages: Welsh, Cumbric, Cornish and Breton.[4]

Map Gaels Brythons Picts GB
Great Britain and adjacent islands in the 5th century AD, before the invasion and subsequent founding of Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.
  Mainly Brittonic areas
  Mainly Pictish areas
  Mainly Goidelic areas
Ancient Britons - Description of Great Britain and Ireland (c.1574), f.8v - BL Add MS 28330
Drawing of two Celtic Britons (c. 1574); one with tattoos, and carrying a spear and shield; the other painted with woad, and carrying a sword and round shield.


Manor 014
Gritstone bas-relief of Romano-British woman

The earliest known reference to the inhabitants of Britain seems to come from 4th century BC records of the voyage of Pytheas, a Greek geographer who made a voyage of exploration around the British Isles between 330 and 320 BC. Although none of his own writings remain, writers during the time of the Roman Empire made much reference to them. Pytheas called the islands collectively αἱ Βρεττανίαι (hai Brettaniai), which has been translated as the Brittanic Isles; he also used the term Pretannike. The peoples of these islands were called the Πρεττανοί (Prettanoi), Priteni, Pritani or Pretani. The group included Ireland, which was referred to as Ierne (Insula sacra "sacred island" as the Greeks interpreted it) "inhabited by the race of Hiberni" (gens hibernorum), and Britain as insula Albionum, "island of the Albions".[8][9] The term Pritani may have reached Pytheas from the Gauls, who possibly used it as their term for the inhabitants of the islands.[9]

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which was originally compiled by the orders of King Alfred the Great in approximately 890, and subsequently maintained and added to by generations of anonymous scribes until the middle of the 12th century, starts with this sentence: "The island Britain is 800 miles long, and 200 miles broad, and there are in the island five nations: English, Welsh (or British, including the Cornish), Scottish, Pictish, and Latin. The first inhabitants were the Britons, who came from Armenia, and first peopled Britain southward." ("Armenia" is possibly a mistaken transcription of Armorica, an area in northwestern Gaul including modern Brittany.)[10]

The Latin name in the early Roman Empire period was Britanni or Brittanni, following the Roman conquest in AD 43.[11]

The Welsh word Brython was introduced into English usage by John Rhys in 1884 as a term unambiguously referring to the P-Celtic speakers of Great Britain, to complement Goidel; hence the adjective Brythonic referring to the group of languages.[12] "Brittonic languages" is a more recent coinage (first attested 1923 according to the Oxford English Dictionary) intended to refer to the ancient Britons specifically.

In English, the terms "Briton" and British for many centuries originally denoted only the ancient Celtic Britons and their descendants, most particularly the Welsh, Cornish and Bretons, who were seen as heirs to the ancient British people.[13] After the Acts of Union 1707, the terms British and Briton gradually came to be applied to all inhabitants of the Kingdom of Great Britain, including the English, Scottish and some Northern Irish.[14]


Britons migrated westwards during the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain

The Britons spoke an Insular Celtic language known as Common Brittonic. Brittonic was spoken throughout the island of Britain (in modern terms, England, Wales and Scotland), as well as offshore islands such as the Isle of Man, Scilly Isles, Orkney, Hebrides, Isle of Wight and Shetland.[4][15] According to early medieval historical tradition, such as The Dream of Macsen Wledig, the post-Roman Celtic-speakers of Armorica were colonists from Britain, resulting in the Breton language, a language related to Welsh and identical to Cornish in the early period and still used today. Thus the area today is called Brittany (Br. Breizh, Fr. Bretagne, derived from Britannia).

Common Brittonic developed from the Insular branch of the Proto-Celtic language that developed in the British Isles after arriving from the continent in the 7th century BC. The language eventually began to diverge; some linguists have grouped subsequent developments as Western and Southwestern Brittonic languages. Western Brittonic developed into Welsh in Wales and the Cumbric language in the Hen Ogledd or "Old North" of Britain (modern northern England and southern Scotland), while the Southwestern dialect became Cornish in Cornwall and South West England and Breton in Armorica. Pictish is now generally accepted to descend from Common Brittonic, rather than being a separate Celtic language. Welsh and Breton survive today; Cumbric and Pictish became extinct in the 12th century. Cornish had become extinct by the 19th century but has been the subject of language revitalization since the 20th century.

Archaeology and art

Ideas about the development of British Iron Age culture changed greatly in the 20th century, and remain in development. Generally cultural exchange has tended to replace migration from the continent as the explanation for changes, although Aylesford-Swarling Pottery and the Arras culture of Yorkshire are examples of developments still thought to be linked to migration.

Although the La Tène style, which defines what is called Celtic art in the Iron Age, was late in arriving in Britain, after 300 BC the ancient British seem to have had generally similar cultural practices to the Celtic cultures nearest to them on the continent. There are significant differences in artistic styles, and the greatest period of what is known as the "Insular La Tène" style, surviving mostly in metalwork, was in the century or so before the Roman conquest, and perhaps the decades after it. By this time Celtic styles seem to have been in decline in continental Europe, even before Roman invasions.

An undercurrent of British influence is found in some artefacts from the Roman period, such as the Staffordshire Moorlands Pan, and it appears that it was from this, passing to Ireland in the late Roman and post-Roman period, that the "Celtic" element in Early Medieval Insular art derived.


Ancient Celt Playing Carnyx War Trumpet
A reenactor with a modern replica carnyx, a trumpet with an animal-headed bell, used by Celtic Britons during war.[16][17]

Throughout their existence, the territory inhabited by the Britons was composed of numerous ever-changing areas controlled by Brittonic tribes. The extent of their territory before and during the Roman period is unclear, but is generally believed to include the whole of the island of Great Britain, at least as far north as the Clyde-Forth isthmus, and if the Picts are included as Brittonic speaking people (as they more usually are),[18] the entirety of Great Britain and its offshore island groups. The territory north of the Firth of Forth was largely inhabited by the Picts; little direct evidence has been left of the Pictish language, but place names and Pictish personal names recorded in the later Irish annals suggest it was indeed related to the Common Brittonic language rather than to the Goidelic (Gaelic) languages of the Irish, Scots and Manx; indeed their Goidelic Irish name, Cruithne, is cognate with Brythonic Priteni. After the invasion of north western Britain by Gaelic speaking Celts from Ireland from the 6th century AD onwards,part of the Pictish territory was eventually absorbed into the Gaelic kingdoms of Dál Riata and Alba, which became Scotland. The Isle of Man, Shetland, Hebrides and the Orkney islands were originally inhabited by Britons also, but eventually became respectively Manx and Scots Gaelic speaking territories, while the Scilly isles and Anglesey (Ynys Mon) remained Brittonic and the originally Brittonic Isle of Wight was taken by Anglo-Saxons.

In 43 AD, the Roman Empire invaded Britain. The British tribes opposed the Roman legions for many decades, but by 84 AD the Romans had decisively conquered southern Britain and had pushed into Brittonic areas of what would later become northern England and southern Scotland. In 122 AD, they fortified the northern border with Hadrian's Wall, which spanned what is now Northern England. In 142 AD, Roman forces pushed north again and began construction of the Antonine Wall, which ran between the Forth-Clyde isthmus, but they retreated back to Hadrian's Wall after only twenty years. Although the native Britons south of Hadrian's Wall mostly kept their land, they were subject to the Roman governors, whilst the Brittonic-Pictish Britons north of the wall remained fully independent and unconquered. The Roman Empire retained control of "Britannia" until its departure about AD 410, although some parts of Britain had already effectively shrugged off Roman rule decades earlier.

Thirty years or so after the time of the Roman departure, the Germanic-speaking Anglo-Saxons began a migration to the eastern coast of Britain, where they began to establish their own kingdoms, and the Gaelic speaking Scots migrating from Dál nAraidi (modern Northern Ireland), did the same on the west coast of Scotland and the Isle of Man.[19][20]

At the same time, some Britons established themselves in what is now called Brittany and the Channel Islands. There they set up their own small kingdoms and the Breton language developed there from Brittonic Insular Celtic rather than Gaulish or Frankish. A further Brittonic colony, Britonia, was also set up at this time in Gallaecia in northwestern Spain.

Many of the old Brittonic kingdoms began to disappear in the centuries after the Anglo-Saxon and Scottish Gaelic invasions; Parts of the regions of modern East Anglia, East Midlands, North East England, Argyll and South East England were the first to fall to the Germanic and Gaelic Scots invasions.

5th Century AD; The kingdom of Ceint (modern Kent) fell in 456 AD, Linnuis (which stood astride modern Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire) was subsumed as early as 500 AD and became the English Kingdom of Lindsey.

6th Century AD; Rhegin (essentially modern Sussex and eastern Hampshire) was likely fully conquered by 510 AD, Ynys Weith (Isle of Wight) fell in 530 AD, Caer Colun (essentially modern Essex) by 540 AD, The Gaels arrived on the north west coast of Britain from Ireland, dispossessed the native Britons and founded Dal Riata which encompassed modern Argyll, Skye and Iona between 500 and 560 AD. Deifr (Deira) which encompassed modern day Teesside, Wearside, Tyneside, Humberside, Lindisfarne (Medcaut) and the Farne Islands fell to the Anglo-Saxons in 559 AD and Deira became an Anglo-Saxon kingdom after this point[21]. Caer Went had officially disappeared by 575 AD becoming the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of East Anglia. Gwent was only partly conquered; its capital Caer Gloui (Gloucester) was taken by the Anglo-Saxons in 577 AD, handing Gloucestershire and Wiltshire to the invaders, while the westernmost part remained in Brittonic hands, and continued to exist in modern Wales.

7th Century AD; Caer Lundein encompassing London, St. Albans and parts of the Home Counties[22] fell from Brittonic hands by 600 AD, and Bryneich which existed in modern Northumbria and County Durham with its capital of Din Guardi (modern Bamburgh) and which included Ynys Metcaut (Lindisfarne) had fallen by 605 AD becoming Anglo-Saxon Bernicia.[23] Caer Celemion (in modern Hampshire and Berkshire) had fallen by 610 AD. Elmet, a large kingdom which covered much of modern Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cheshire and likely had its capital at modern Leeds, was conquered by the Anglo-Saxons in 627 AD. Pengwern, which covered Staffordshire, Shropshire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire, was largely destroyed in 656 AD, with only its westernmost parts in modern Wales remaining under the control of the Britons, and it is likely that Cynwidion which had stretched from modern Bedfordshire to Northamptonshire, fell in the same general period as Pengwern, though a sub-kingdom of Calchwynedd may have clung on in the Chilterns for a time.

8th Century AD; Novant which occupied Galloway and Carrick was soon subsumed by fellow Brittonic-Pictish polities by 700 AD. Aeron which encompassed modern Ayrshire[24] was conquered into the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria by 700 AD.

Some Brittonic kingdoms were able to successfully resist these incursions for some time; Rheged (encompassing much of modern Northumberland and County Durham and some areas of southern Scotland and the Scottish Borders) survived well into the 8th century AD, before the eastern part peacefully joined with the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Bernicia-Northumberland by 730 AD, and the west was taken over by the fellow Britons of Ystrad Clud.[25][26] Similarly, the kingdom of Gododdin, which appears to have had its court at Din Eidyn (modern Edinburgh) and encompassed parts of modern Northumbria, County Durham, Lothian and Clackmannanshire endured until approximately 775 AD before being divided by fellow Brittonic Picts, Gaelic Scots and Anglo-Saxons.

9th Century AD; The Kingdom of Cait, covering modern Caithness, Sutherland, Orkneys and Shetlands was conquered by Gaelic Scots in 871 AD. Dumnonia (encompassing Cornwall, Devonshire and the Scilly Isles was partly conquered during the mid 9th century AD, with most of modern Devonshire being annexed by the Anglo-Saxons, but leaving Cornwall, the Scilly Isles (Enesek Syllan) and for a time part of western Devonshire (including Dartmoor) still in the hands of the Britons, where they became the Brittonic state of Kernow. The Channel Islands (colonised by Britons in the 5th century) came under attack from Norse and Danish Viking attack in the early 9th century AD, and by the end of that century had been conquered by Viking invaders.

10th Century AD; The Kingdom of Ce which encompassed modern Marr, Banff, Buchan, Fife and much of Aberdeenshire disappeared soon after 900 AD. Fortriu the largest Brittonic-Pictish kingdom which covered Strathearn, Morayshire and Easter Ross had fallen by approximately 950 AD to the Gaelic Kingdom of Alba (Scotland). Other Pictish kingdoms such as Circinn (in modern Angus and The Mearns), Fib (modern Fife), Fidach (Inverness and Perthshire), Ath-Fotla (Atholl) had also all fallen by the beginning of the 11th century AD or shortly after.

The Brythonic languages in these areas was eventually replaced by the Old English of the Anglo-Saxons, and Scots Gaelic, although this was likely a gradual process in many areas.

Similarly, the Brittonic colony of Britonia in north western Spain appears to have disappeared soon after 900 AD.

11th Century AD; The kingdom of Ystrad Clud (Strathclyde) was for some time a large and powerful Brittonic kingdom of the Hen Ogledd (the 'Old North') which endured until the end of the 11th century, successfully resisting Anglo-Saxon, Gaelic Scots and later also Viking attacks. At its peak it encompassed modern Strathclyde, Dumbartonshire, Cumbria, Stirlingshire, Lanarkshire, Ayrshire, Dumfries and Galloway, Argyll and Bute and parts of North Yorkshire, the western Pennines, and as far as modern Leeds in West Yorkshire.[26][27] Thus the Kingdom of Strathclyde (Ystrad-Clud) became the last of the Brittonic kingdoms of the old north to fall in the 1090s, when it was effectively divided between England and Scotland.[28]

The Britons also retained control of Wales, Kernow (encompassing Cornwall, Dartmoor and the Scilly Isles) until the mid 11th century AD when Cornwall was effectively annexed by the English, with the Isles of Scilly following a few years later, although at times Cornish lords appear to have retained some sporadic control into the early part of the 12th century AD.

Wales remained free from Anglo-Saxon, Gaelic Scots and Viking control, and was divided among varying Brittonic kingdoms, the foremost being Gwynedd (including Clwyd and Ynys Mon-Anglesey), Powys, Deheubarth (originally Ceredigion, Seisyllwg and Dyfed), Gwent and Morgannwg (Glamorgan. Some of these Brittonic-Welsh kingdoms initially included territories further east than the modern borders of Wales; for example Powys for some time included parts of modern Merseyside, Cheshire and The Wirral and Gwent held parts of modern Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Somerset and Gloucestershire, but had largely been confined to the borders of modern Wales by the beginning of the 12th century.

However, by the early 1100's, the Anglo-Saxons and Gaels had become the dominant cultural force in most of the formerly Brittonic ruled territory in Britain, and the language and culture of the native Britons was thereafter gradually replaced in those regions,[29] remaining only in Wales, Cornwall, Scilly Isles and Brittany, and for a time in parts of Cumbria, Strathclyde, and eastern Galloway.

Cornwall (Kernow, Dumnonia) had certainly been largely absorbed by England by the 1050s to early 1100's, although it retained a distinct Brittonic culture and language.[30] Britonia in Spanish Galicia seems to have disappeared by 900 AD.

Wales and Brittany remained independent for some considerable time however, with Brittany finally being absorbed into France during the 1490s, and Wales united with England by the Laws in Wales Acts 1535–1542 in the mid 16th century during the rule of the Tudors (Twdyr), who were themselves of Welsh heritage on the male side.

Wales, Cornwall, Brittany and the Scilly Isles continued to retain a distinct Brittonic culture, identity and language, which they have maintained to the present day. The Welsh language and Breton language remain widely spoken, and the Cornish language, once close to extinction, has experienced a revival since the 20th century. The vast majority of place names and names of geographical features in Wales, Cornwall, Scilly Isles and Brittany are Brittonic, and Brittonic family and personal names remain common.

During the 19th century, a large number of Welsh farmers migrated to Patagonia in Argentina, forming a community called Y Wladfa, which today consists of over 1,500 Welsh speakers.

In addition, a Brittonic legacy remains in England, Scotland and Galicia in Spain,[31] in the form of often large numbers of Brittonic place and geographical names. Some examples of geographical Brittonic names survive in the names of rivers, such as the Thames, Clyde, Severn, Tyne, Wye, Exe, Dee, Tamar, Tweed, Avon, Trent, Tambre, Navia and River Forth. A large number of place names in England and Scotland are of Brittonic rather than Anglo-Saxon or Gaelic origin, such as; London, Manchester, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Carlisle, Caithness, Aberdeen, Dundee, Barrow, Exeter, Lincoln, Dumbarton, Brent, Penge, Colchester, Gloucester, Durham, Dover, Kent, Leatherhead and York.

See also


  1. ^ Koch, p. 291.
  2. ^ Review by Joseph F. Eska in Bryn Mawr Classical Review (2013.12.35) of John T. Koch, Barry W. Cunliffe (eds.), Celtic from the West 2: Rethinking the Bronze Age and the Arrival of Indo-European in Atlantic Europe. Celtic studies publications, 16. Oxford; Oakville, CT: Oxbow Books, 2013. ISBN 9781842175293.
  3. ^ Cristian Capelli; Nicola Redhead; Julia K. Abernethy; Fiona Gratrix; James F. Wilson; Torolf Moen; Tor Hervig; Martin Richards; Michael P. H. Stumpf; Peter A. Underhill; Paul Bradshaw; Alom Shaha; Mark G. Thomas; Neal Bradman & David B. Goldstein (2003). "A Y chromosome census of the British Isles". Current Biology. 13 (11): 979–984. doi:10.1016/S0960-9822(03)00373-7. PMID 12781138.; McEvoy; Richards, M; Forster, P; Bradley, DG (2004). "The Longue Durée of Genetic Ancestry: Multiple Genetic Marker Systems and Celtic Origins on the Atlantic Facade of Europe". American Journal of Human Genetics. 75 (4): 693–702. doi:10.1086/424697. PMC 1182057. PMID 15309688.
  4. ^ a b c d Koch, pp. 291–292.
  5. ^ Sawyer, P.H. (1998). From Roman Britain to Norman England. pp. 69–74. ISBN 0415178940.
  6. ^ Forsyth, p. 9.
  7. ^ https://www.uni-due.de/SHE/HE_GermanicInvasions.htm
  8. ^ Snyder, Christopher A. (2003). The Britons. Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 0-631-22260-X.
  9. ^ a b Foster (editor), R F; Donnchadh O Corrain, Professor of Irish History at University College Cork: Prehistoric and Early Christian Ireland (1 November 2001). The Oxford History of Ireland. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-280202-X.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  10. ^ "The Avalon Project". Yale Law School. Retrieved 10 August 2011.
  11. ^ OED s.v. "Briton". See also Online Etymology Dictionary: Briton
  12. ^ Online Etymology Dictionary: Brythonic
  13. ^ Roberts, Peter (2003). Bradshaw, Brendon; Roberts, Peter (eds.). "Tudor Wales, national identity, and British inheritance". British Consciousness and Identity: the Making of Britain, 1533-1707. Cambridge University Press: 8. ISBN 9780521893619. Retrieved 18 May 2017.
  14. ^ "Briton". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  15. ^ While there have been attempts in the past to align the Pictish language with non-Celtic language, the current academic view is that it was Brittonic. See: Forsyth (1997) p. 37: "[T]he only acceptable conclusion is that, from the time of our earliest historical sources, there was only one language spoken in Pictland, the most northerly reflex of Brittonic."
  16. ^ Corbishley, Mike; Gillingham, John; Kelly, Rosemary; Dawson, Ian; Mason, James; Morgan, Kenneth O. (1996) [1996]. "Celtic Britain". The Young Oxford History of Britain & Ireland. Walton St., Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 36. ISBN 019-910035-7.
  17. ^ Barber, Nicola; Langley, Andy (2009) [2007]. "Celts and Hillforts". Children's British History Encyclopedia. Bath: Parragon. p. 29. ISBN 978-1-4075-0419-3.
  18. ^ Forsyth 2006, p. 1447; Forsyth 1997; Fraser 2009, pp. 52–53; Woolf 2007, pp. 322–340
  19. ^ John E Pattison. Is it necessary to assume an apartheid-like social structure in early Anglo-Saxon England? Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 275(1650), 2423–2429, 2008 doi:10.1098/rspb.2008.0352
  20. ^ Pattison, John E. (2011) "Integration versus Apartheid in post-Roman Britain: a Response to Thomas et al. (2008)," Human Biology: Vol. 83: Iss. 6, Article 9. pp. 715–733, 2011. Abstract available at: http://digitalcommons.wayne.edu/humbiol/vol83/iss6/9
  21. ^ https://www.historyfiles.co.uk/KingListsBritain/EnglandDeira.htm
  22. ^ https://la.wikisource.org/wiki/Historia_Brittonum#VI._CIVITATES_BRITANNIAE
  23. ^ Koch, John T. (2006). Celtic Culture: a historical encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. pp. 515–516.
  24. ^ a b c d Bromwich, p. 157.
  25. ^ Chadwick, H.M.; Chadwick, N.K. (1940). The Growth of Literature. 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  26. ^ a b Kapelle, W.E. (1979). The Norman Conquest of the North: the Region and its Transformation, 1000–1135. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0-7099-0040-6.
  27. ^ Broun, "Dunkeld", Broun, "National Identity", Forsyth, "Scotland to 1100", pp. 28–32, Woolf, "Constantine II"; cf. Bannerman, "Scottish Takeover", passim, representing the "traditional" view.
  28. ^ Charles-Edards, pp. 12, 575; Clarkson, pp. 12, 63-66, 154-58
  29. ^ Germanic invaders may not have ruled by apartheid New Scientist, 23 April 2008
  30. ^ Williams, Ann and Martin, G. H. (tr.) (2002) Domesday Book: a complete translation, London: Penguin, pp. 341–357.
  31. ^ Young, Simon (2002). Britonia: camiños novos. Noia: Toxosoutos. pp. 123–128. ISBN 978-84-95622-58-7.


External links

Brigantia (ancient region)

Brigantia is the land inhabited by the Brigantes, a British Celtic tribe which occupied the largest territory in ancient Britain. The territory of Brigantia which now forms Northern England and part of The Midlands covered the majority of the land between the River Tyne and the River Humber forming the largest Brythonic Kingdom in ancient Britain. It was recorded by Ptolemy in the 2nd century AD to extend sea to sea, from the Irish sea on the west coast to the North Sea in the east.


The Carvetii were an Iron Age people and were subsequently identified as a civitas (canton) of Roman Britain living in what is now Cumbria, in North-West England.


The Catuvellauni were a Celtic tribe or state of southeastern Britain before the Roman conquest, attested by inscriptions into the 4th century.

The fortunes of the Catuvellauni and their kings before the conquest can be traced through ancient coins and scattered references in classical histories. They are mentioned by Cassius Dio, who implies that they led the resistance against the conquest in AD 43. They appear as one of the civitates of Roman Britain in Ptolemy's Geography in the 2nd century, occupying the town of Verlamion (modern St Albans) and the surrounding areas of Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and southern Cambridgeshire.

Their territory was bordered to the north by the Iceni and Corieltauvi, to the east by the Trinovantes, to the west by the Dobunni and Atrebates, and to the south by the Regnenses and Cantiaci.


The Corieltauvi (formerly thought to be called the Coritani, and sometimes referred to as the Corieltavi) were a tribe of people living in Britain prior to the Roman conquest, and thereafter a civitas of Roman Britain. Their territory was in what is now the English East Midlands. They were bordered by the Brigantes to the north, the Cornovii to the west, the Dobunni and Catuvellauni to the south, and the Iceni to the east. Their capital was called Ratae Corieltauvorum, known today as Leicester.


The Corionototae were a group of Ancient Britons apparently inhabiting what is now Northern England about whom very little is known. They were recorded in one Roman ex-voto inscription (now lost) from Corbridge, of uncertain date, which commemorated the victory of a prefect of cavalry, Quintus Calpurnius Concessinius, over them.Historians tend to categorise them either as a tribe or a sub-tribe of the Brigantes in the absence of any information. The name Corionototae appears to contain the Celtic roots *korio- meaning an army (Irish cuire) and *towta- meaning members of a tribe or people, thus it would appear to mean "tribal army" or "people's army" which might suggest rather a military or political formation opposed to Rome; T.M. Charles-Edwards suggests a tribal name based on a proposed deity *Corionos instead. On the basis of the similarity of the names, writers such as Waldman and Mason have suggested a link with the Irish Coriondi while other earlier writers, erroneously linking the name to the Gaelic Cruthin, thought it could refer to the Picts.


The Damnonii (also referred to as Damnii) were a Brittonic people of the late 2nd century who lived in what became the Kingdom of Strathclyde by the Early Middle Ages, and is now southern Scotland. They are mentioned briefly in Ptolemy's Geography, where he uses both of the terms "Damnonii" and "Damnii" to describe them, and there is no other historical record of them, except arguably by Gildas three centuries later. Their cultural and linguistic affinity is presumed to be Brythonic. However, there is no unbroken historical record, and a partly Pictish origin is not precluded.

The Romans under Agricola had campaigned in the area in 81, and it was Roman-occupied (at least nominally) between the time that Hadrian's Wall was built (c. 122), through the building of the Antonine Wall (c. 142), until the pullback to Hadrian's Wall in 164. Ptolemy's Geography was written within this timeframe, so his account is contemporary.


The Deceangli or Deceangi (Welsh: Tegeingl) were one of the Celtic tribes living in Wales, prior and during the Roman invasion of Britain. The tribe lived in Wales and west Cheshire but it is uncertain whether their territory covered only the modern counties of Flintshire, Denbighshire and part of Cheshire in what is now England or whether it extended further west into Gwynedd. They lived in hill forts running in a chain through the Clwydian Range and their tribal capital was Canovium.Assaults on the Welsh tribes were made under the legate Publius Ostorius Scapula who attacked the Deceangli in 48 AD. They appear to have surrendered with little resistance, unlike the Silures and the Ordovices who put up a long and bitter resistance to Roman rule. No Roman town is known to have existed in the territory of this tribe, though the auxiliary fort of Canovium (Caerhun) was probably in their lands and may have had a civilian settlement around it.

Roman mine workings of lead and silver are evident in the regions occupied by the Deceangli. Several sows of lead have been found in Chester, one weighing 192 lbs bears the markings: IMP VESP AVGV T IMP III DECEANGI. Another, found near Tarvin Bridge, weighing 179 lbs is inscribed: IMP VESP V T IMP III COS DECEANGI and is dated to AD 74. Both are displayed in the Grosvenor Museum.


The Demetae were a Celtic people of Iron Age and Roman period, who inhabited modern Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire in south-west Wales, and gave their name to the county of Dyfed.


The Gabrantovices were a conjectural group of Ancient Britons inhabiting the coast of what is now Yorkshire in Northern England. They may have been a sub-tribe or sept of the Brigantes or of the Parisi.

As with their proposed neighbours, the Lopocares, the Gabrantovices are not directly attested: the name is taken from Ptolemy's name Γαβραντουικων Ευλιμενος Κολπος, or in Latin Gabrantvicvm Sinus — the Gabrantovician Harbour. This is identified with modern Bridlington Bay or Filey Bay. The meaning of the name has been discussed as deriving from one of two Celtic roots, either *gabro- meaning a goat (Welsh gafr) or *gabranto- meaning "riding a horse" with second element meaning "fight", so "Goat warriors" or "Cavalry warriors".


The Gododdin (Welsh pronunciation: [ɡɔˈdɔðin]) were a P-Celtic-speaking Brittonic people of north-eastern Britannia, the area known as the Hen Ogledd or Old North (modern south-east Scotland and north-east England), in the sub-Roman period. Descendants of the Votadini, they are best known as the subject of the 6th-century Welsh poem Y Gododdin, which memorialises the Battle of Catraeth and is attributed to Aneirin.

The name Gododdin is the Modern Welsh form, but the name appeared in Old Welsh as Guotodin and derived from the tribal name Votadini recorded in Classical sources, such as in Greek texts from the Roman period.

Iron Age tribes in Britain

The names of the Celtic Iron Age tribes in Britain were recorded by Roman and Greek historians and geographers, especially Ptolemy. Information from the distribution of Celtic coins has also shed light on the extents of the territories of the various groups that occupied the island.

King of the Britons

The title King of the Britons (Latin Rex Britannorum) was used (often retrospectively) to refer to the most powerful ruler among the Celtic Britons, both before and after the period of Roman Britain up until the Norman conquest of England. The Britons were the Brittonic-speaking peoples of what is now England, Wales, and southern Scotland, whose ethnic identity is today maintained by the Welsh, Cornish and Bretons.The same title was also used to refer to some of the rulers of Brittany in the ninth century, but there it is best translated as King of the Bretons. This page concerns only rulers in Britain (with the exception of Riothamus, who may have ruled both in Britain and Continental Europe.)

At least twenty kings were referred to as "King of the Britons", while others were given related titles or descriptions. The table below also contains the paramount native Welsh rulers in the Norman and Plantagenet periods – by this time only Wales (or parts thereof) remained under Brittonic rule in Britain and the term "Britons" (Brythoniaid, Brutaniaid) was used in Britain to mean the Welsh people (Cymry in modern Welsh). This, and the diminishing power of the Welsh rulers relative to the Kings of England, is reflected in the gradual evolution of the titles by which these rulers were known from "King of the Britons" in the 11th century to "Prince of Wales" in the 13th.Although the majority of the rulers listed below had their power base in Gwynedd in North Wales, most insular Brittonic areas from the 7th century on are to be found in the list below, from Dumnonia in the West Country, to Strathclyde in southwest Scotland.


The Lopocares were a conjectural group of Ancient Britons inhabiting the area around Corbridge in Northumberland, Northeast England. They may have been a sub-tribe or sept of the Brigantes.

The Lopocares are not directly attested in any records: the name is reconstructed from the name of Corbridge as given in the Ravenna Cosmography, Corielopocarium, but this appears in another Roman source — the Antonine Itinerary — in a different form as Corstopitium. The "corie-" element is interpreted either as a Celtic word *korio-, army or host or as the Latin curia, but the meaning of the name Lopocares itself is unknown.


The Ordovices were one of the Celtic tribes living in Great Britain before the Roman invasion. Their tribal lands were located in present-day North Wales and England between the Silures to the south and the Deceangli to the north-east. The Ordovices were partially conquered by the Roman governor Gnaeus Julius Agricola in the campaign of AD 77–78.

The Celtic name *ordo-wik- could be cognate with the words for "hammer": Irish 'Ord', Welsh 'Gordd' (with a G- prothetic) and Breton 'Horzh' (with a H- prothetic).

The Ordovices farmed and kept sheep, and built fortified strongholds and hill forts. They were among the few British tribes that resisted the Roman invasion. The resistance was mainly organised by the Celtic leader Caratacus, exiled in their lands after the defeat of his tribe in the Battle of the Medway. Caratacus became the warlord of the Ordovices and neighbouring Silures, and a Roman public enemy in the 50s AD. Following the Battle of Caer Caradoc, where governor Publius Ostorius Scapula defeated Caratacus, the Ordovices were no longer a threat to Rome, probably due to heavy losses.

In the 70s, the Ordovices rebelled against Roman occupation and destroyed a cavalry squadron. This act of war provoked an equally strong response from Agricola, who, according to Tacitus, exterminated almost the whole tribe. No other mention of the tribe appears in the historical records, but in view of the mountainous terrain of the lands of the Ordovices, it is questionable whether Agricola could have wiped out the entire population.

The name of this tribe appears to be preserved in the place name Dinorwig ("Fort of the Ordovices") in North Wales.

The Ordovician geological period was first described by Charles Lapworth in 1879, based on rocks located in the lands of the Ordovices.

Parisi (Yorkshire)

The Parisi were a British Celtic tribe located somewhere within the present-day East Riding of Yorkshire, in England, known from a single brief reference by Ptolemy in his Geographica of about AD 150. Many writers have connected them with the archaeological Arras culture and some with the more widely known Parisii of Gaul.


The Regnenses, Regni or Regini were a British Celtic kingdom and later a civitas of Roman Britain. Their capital was Noviomagus Reginorum, known today as Chichester in modern West Sussex.


The Setantii (sometimes read as Segantii) were a possible pre-Roman British people who apparently lived in the western and southern littoral of Lancashire in England. It is thought likely they were a sept or sub-tribe of the Brigantes, who, at the time of the Roman invasion, dominated much of what is now northern England.


The Silures were a powerful and warlike tribe or tribal confederation of ancient Britain, occupying what is now south east Wales and perhaps some adjoining areas. They were bordered to the north by the Ordovices; to the east by the Dobunni; and to the west by the Demetae.


The Trinovantes or Trinobantes were one of the Celtic tribes of pre-Roman Britain. Their territory was on the north side of the Thames estuary in current Essex and Suffolk, and included lands now located in Greater London. They were bordered to the north by the Iceni, and to the west by the Catuvellauni. Their name possibly derives from the Celtic intensive prefix "tri-" and a second element which was either "novio" - new, so meaning "very new" in the sense of "newcomers", but possibly with an applied sense of vigorous or lively ultimately meaning "the very vigorous people." Their capital was Camulodunum (modern Colchester), one proposed site of the legendary Camelot.

Shortly before Julius Caesar's invasion of Britain in 55 and 54 BC, the Trinovantes were considered the most powerful tribe in Britain. At this time their capital was probably at Braughing (in modern-day Hertfordshire). In some manuscripts of Caesar's Gallic War their king is referred to as Imanuentius, although in other manuscripts no name is given. Some time before Caesar's second expedition this king was overthrown by Cassivellaunus, who is usually assumed to have belonged to the Catuvellauni. His son, Mandubracius, fled to the protection of Caesar in Gaul. During his second expedition Caesar defeated Cassivellaunus and restored Mandubracius to the kingship, and Cassivellaunus undertook not to molest him again. Tribute was also agreed.

The next identifiable king of the Trinovantes, known from numismatic evidence, was Addedomarus, who took power c. 20-15 BC, and moved the tribe's capital to Camulodunum. For a brief period c. 10 BC Tasciovanus of the Catuvellauni issued coins from Camulodunum, suggesting that he conquered the Trinovantes, but he was soon forced to withdraw, perhaps as a result of pressure from the Romans, as his later coins no longer bear the mark "Rex", and Addedomarus was restored. Addedomarus was briefly succeeded by his son Dubnovellaunus c. 10–5 BC, but a few years later the tribe was finally conquered by either Tasciovanus or his son Cunobelinus. Addedomarus, Dubnovellaunus and possibly Mandubracius all appear in later, post-Roman and medieval British Celtic genealogies and legends as Aedd Mawr (Addedo the Great) Dyfnwal Moelmut (Dubnovellaunus the Bald and Silent) and Manawydan. The Welsh Triads recall Aedd Mawr as one of the founders of Britain.

The Trinovantes reappeared in history when they participated in Boudica's revolt against the Roman Empire in 60 AD. Their name was given to one of the civitates of Roman Britain, whose chief town was Caesaromagus (modern Chelmsford, Essex). The style of their rich burials (see facies of Aylesford) is of continental origin and evidence of their affiliation to the Belgic people.

Their name was re-used as Trinovantum, the supposed original name of London, by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his Historia Regum Britanniae, in which he claimed the name derived from Troi-novantum or "New Troy", connecting this with the legend that Britain was founded by Brutus and other refugees from the Trojan War.

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