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7 Ancient Britain Tribes


Territories and Tribes of Ancient Britain

Ancient Britain, also known as Britannia during the Roman occupation, was composed of various territories inhabited by different Celtic tribes before Roman invasion. Some of these tribes and their corresponding territories include:


  1. Brigantes - Inhabited the largest section of what we would now call Northern England and a significant portion of the Midlands.

  2. Iceni - Occupied what is now Norfolk, Suffolk, and Cambridgeshire.

  3. Trinovantes - Lived in the region now known as Essex.

  4. Atrebates - Inhabited the modern regions of West Sussex and Hampshire.

  5. Dumnonii - Lived in present-day Cornwall, Devon, and Somerset.

  6. Catuvellauni - Dominated the area north of the River Thames.

  7. Picts - Inhabited the areas of modern Scotland.


It's important to keep in mind that the territories and tribes of Ancient Britain had fluid and overlapping borders. Therefore, they should not be thought of as exact equivalents to the current political boundaries in the UK.


Ancient Brigantes Tribe of Britannia

The history of ancient Britain is filled with different tribes and societies. One of the most powerful Celtic tribes in ancient Britain were the Brigantes, who held a special place in the region. They had a stronghold that spanned the largest section of what we know today as Northern England and a significant part of the Midlands, and played a critical role in the history of pre-Roman Britain. The Brigantes were believed to be the "High Ones" or "Noble" among the Celtic tribes, suggesting their high status. During the Iron Age, they were the dominant force in the areas now known as Yorkshire, Lancashire, Northumberland, and Durham. Their vast territory extended from the River Tyne in the north to the River Mersey in the south, and stretched across from coast to coast. Based on archaeological finds, the Brigantes were a hierarchical society, led by a chieftain or king, with a warrior class that held notable influence. They were farmers, hunters, and skilled craftsmen who produced high-quality pottery, metalwork, and textile goods. Ritual and religion also played an important role in their society. They worshipped various Celtic deities, with a particular reverence for the goddess Brigantia, who their tribe is likely named after.

The Brigantes had complicated and evolving relations with the Roman Empire. Initially, they coexisted peacefully under the rule of Queen Cartimandua, who was thought to have been a client queen, allied with Rome. However, this changed after Cartimandua's husband, Venutius, staged a revolt against her and the Romans. Despite their initial resistance to Roman invasion, the Brigantes were eventually incorporated into the Roman province of Britannia, which led to a meaningful shift in their lifestyle and culture, with the adoption of Roman customs, language, and architecture. Today, the influence of the Brigantes can still be seen in modern Britain. Their settlements have become modern cities and towns, and their roads have formed the foundations for the country's transport networks. The Roman town of Eboracum, established in the Brigantes' territory, eventually became York, one of the UK's most historic cities. The Brigantes were more than just a tribe; they were a complex, organized society that made significant contributions to the cultural melting pot that is modern Britain. As we rummage deeper into their history, we gain a greater appreciation of the richness of the past.


Iceni Tribe of Ancient Britannia

Ancient Britain, a mosaic of distinct and powerful tribes, boasts a rich and vibrant history, particularly the period preceding the Roman Invasion. One tribe that stands out in this intricate tapestry is the Iceni, whose fame, legacy, and rebellion against Roman rule continue to reverberate through the annals of history.


Who were the Iceni?

The Iceni were a Celtic tribe inhabiting the area corresponding to modern-day Norfolk, Suffolk, and Cambridgeshire. The name ‘Iceni’ is believed to originate from a Celtic word for ‘horse’, reflecting their prowess and connection with horse breeding.


Society and Culture

The Iceni society was complex and organized, with a distinct class structure. At the top were the nobility and warriors, who played a crucial role in the tribe’s affairs and interactions with other tribes and invaders. Much of our knowledge about the Iceni comes from archaeological discoveries, such as coins, metalwork, and burial sites, showcasing their intricate craftsmanship. Their religion, like other Celtic tribes, revolved around nature and natural phenomena, with deities for elements like water, sky, and earth. The Iceni held druids in high regard, who served as intermediaries between the gods and the people, providing guidance on all aspects of life.


The Iceni and the Romans

The Iceni’s interaction with the Romans dramatically altered their history and made them renowned beyond their region. Initially, they adopted a peaceful approach towards the Romans, agreeing to a client-king relationship under King Prasutagus.

However, upon Prasutagus’s death, the Romans seized control of the Iceni lands, ignoring the late king’s will to share his kingdom between his daughters and Emperor Nero. This event triggered one of the most famous rebellions in British history, led by Queen Boudicca, Prasutagus’s widow.


The Boudicca Rebellion

In AD 60 or 61, Boudicca led an army of Iceni and their allies in a rebellion against the Romans. They devastated several Roman settlements, including Camulodunum (modern-day Colchester), Londinium (London), and Verulamium (St. Albans), killing thousands in the process. However, the Roman forces ultimately crushed the rebellion, and Boudicca is believed to have died shortly after, either by illness or suicide.


Legacy of the Iceni

The legacy of the Iceni, particularly Queen Boudicca’s rebellion, continues to resonate in British history. Boudicca, with her fiery spirit and steadfast resistance against oppression, is a symbol of freedom and defiance, immortalized in stories, plays, and statues, including the famous one near Westminster Bridge in London. The Iceni, despite their ultimate defeat, left an indelible mark on Britain’s landscape. Their lands evolved into bustling cities, their craft echoed in modern designs, and their tales of bravery continue to inspire. Indeed, their story is a testament to a period of resilience, struggle, and transformation in the face of domination, reminding us of the often untold narratives that shape our collective history.

Thus, the Iceni are more than just an ancient tribe; they are an integral part of Britain’s cultural identity, with their story serving as a beacon of resistance and a reminder of our rich and diverse past.


Trinovantes Tribe of Ancient Britannia

The vibrant tableau of ancient Britain is interspersed with tales of remarkable tribes, each possessing a unique cultural identity and historical significance. Among these tribes, the Trinovantes occupy a distinct place, primarily due to their strategic location and unique interactions with Romans.


Who were the Trinovantes?

The Trinovantes were a Celtic tribe that inhabited the area now known as Essex, and parts of Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. The etymology of their name is uncertain, but some researchers suggest it might mean “the very energetic people” or “the dwellers of the land”.


Society and Culture

Much of what we know about the Trinovantes comes from archaeological findings and Roman historical records. Their society was likely stratified, with tribal leaders, warriors, druids, farmers, and craftsmen each playing their distinct roles. The Trinovantes were known for their skills in farming and metalworking. Archaeological digs have unearthed coins, jewelry, and weapons, revealing their prowess in craftsmanship and their sophisticated economy. Their religious beliefs were in line with other Celtic tribes, worshiping nature and the elements, with druids often serving as religious leaders and advisors.


Interactions with the Romans and Other Tribes

The Trinovantes initially enjoyed a peaceful relationship with the Roman Empire. However, this changed when they were subjugated by their aggressive neighbours, the Catuvellauni tribe. This triggered an alliance between the Trinovantes and the Romans, resulting in the defeat of the Catuvellauni and a brief period of prosperity and peace for the Trinovantes. The relative peace didn’t last long. Upon the Roman conquest of Britannia, the Trinovantes were subjected to Roman rule and their territory became a part of the Roman province. Their capital, Camulodunum, became a major Roman town, eventually evolving into modern-day Colchester.


Legacy of the Trinovantes

Though the Trinovantes tribe may no longer exist, their legacy lives on. The coins they minted provide valuable insights into their societal structure, economic status, and artistic capabilities. Their capital, Camulodunum, has become an archaeological gold mine, with its Roman temple, walls, and theatre standing as testimony to a bygone era of transformation and Romanization. Moreover, the story of the Trinovantes offers a rich narrative of negotiation, alliance, and adaptation in the face of political shifts and foreign invasions. It tells of a tribe that strived for autonomy and prosperity amidst changing landscapes and imminent threats. The Trinovantes, therefore, continue to hold a spot in the history of ancient Britain. Their story continues to be untangled through ongoing archaeological work, shedding light on their culture, society, and their distinctive place in Britain’s historical narrative. Each finding serves as a reminder that beneath the hustle and bustle of modern life lies a rich history that continues to outline our present.


Atrebates Tribe of Ancient Britannia

Ancient Britain’s rich tapestry of diverse Celtic tribes presents a plethora of fascinating tales, each tribe lending its own unique hues to the historical panorama. Among these tribes, the Atrebates and their unique ties with the Roman Empire occupy a significant place.


Who were the Atrebates?

The Atrebates were a Celtic tribe who lived in the area that is now West Sussex and Hampshire. The name "Atrebates" is believed to refer to the people who lived in the hills made of chalk in Southern England.


Society and Culture

Very little information is available on the societal structure and culture of the Atrebates. However, some insight can be derived from archaeological findings and Roman records. The Atrebates were likely led by a chieftain or king, with druids playing a significant role in their religious practices. Their economy was heavily reliant on farming and livestock rearing, with some evidence of craftsmanship in metalwork and pottery. Archaeological digs have uncovered Atrebates coins, suggesting a sophisticated economic system.


Interactions with the Romans and Other Tribes

The Atrebates had a complicated relationship with the Romans. Their leader, Commius, was initially an ally of Julius Caesar during his invasions of Gaul and Britain but later had a falling out with the Romans. Commius led a rebellion against the Romans in Gaul and fled to Britain seeking refuge where he established the Atrebates kingdom. Under Commius and his successors, the Atrebates managed to maintain a level of independence despite the Romans' growing influence in Britain. Their capital, Calleva Atrebatum, was allowed to retain its status under the Romans and eventually became a bustling Roman city. Today, the remains of this city, known as Silchester Roman City, contain many archaeological artifacts.


Legacy of the Atrebates

The Atrebates may have faded into history, but their legacy lives on. Their capital, Calleva Atrebatum, is one of the best-preserved Roman townscapes in Britain, and it provides valuable insights into Roman urban planning, architecture, and everyday life.

One intriguing aspect of the Atrebates is their ability to maintain their independence while still adapting to Roman influence. This delicate balance of power and survival provides a captivating perspective into the dynamics of tribal Britain during the Roman conquest. The Atrebates still have a significant place in the history of ancient Britain. With each archaeological excavation and research project, we learn more about their story, which is filled with alliances, rebellions, and the delicate balance between independence and assimilation. As we continue to explore further into their past, we discover an intriguing segment of a bygone era that no longer exists but still has an impact on the world we inhabit today.


Dumnonii Tribe of Ancient Britannia

The riveting story of ancient Britain is interwoven with the history and culture of numerous Celtic tribes, each contributing to the vibrant tapestry of British history. Among these tribes, the Dumnonii offer a fascinating glimpse into the life and times of the pre-Roman era in what is now the South West of England.


Who were the Dumnonii?

The Dumnonii (or Dumnones) inhabited the regions of modern-day Cornwall, Devon, and Somerset. The name “Dumnonii” is believed to mean “worshippers of the god Dumnonos”, although the exact meaning and the nature of this god remain unknown.


Society and Culture

Like many Celtic tribes, the Dumnonii were likely a tribal society headed by a chieftain or king, with warriors and druids holding significant positions. Their economy was primarily agrarian, with farming and livestock rearing playing essential roles.

The Dumnonii were also skilled in metalwork, with numerous artifacts discovered in the region suggesting the existence of local production centers. Archaeological findings also indicate that they traded extensively with other tribes and regions, including the Mediterranean.


Interactions with the Romans

The Dumnonii were not entirely conquered by the Romans, likely because their location on the southwestern peninsula made them difficult to control. As a result, the Romans opted for a client-kingdom arrangement instead. The Dumnonii preserved their cultural identity and maintained independence during the Roman period, but archaeological evidence suggests the complex interplay of cultures at the time, including the presence of Roman-style buildings and coinage.


Legacy of the Dumnonii

The legacy of the Dumnonii is still visible in modern Britain. Their ancient hillforts dot the southwestern landscape, and place names in Devon and Cornwall often have Celtic origins. The Dumnonii also played a crucial role in the tin mining industry, which remained a cornerstone of the Cornish economy well into the modern era. Exploring the history of the Dumnonii tribe opens up a world where independence, resilience, and adaptability melded to create a unique cultural identity in the face of Roman expansion. Their story offers valuable insights into the complexities and nuances of cultural interaction and survival during one of the most transformative periods in British history. Indeed, the Dumnonii serve as a testament to the richness and diversity of our past, providing fascinating narratives that continue to shape our understanding of ancient Britain. As we delve deeper into their story, we rediscover the enduring spirit of a tribe that, while long gone, continues to resonate through the ages.


Catuvellauni Tribe of Ancient Britannia

The intricate mosaic of ancient Britain is composed of a myriad of Celtic tribes, each contributing their distinct narrative to the historical tapestry. Among these, the Catuvellauni have etched their mark as one of the most influential tribes in Southern England, known for their territorial expansion and conflict with the Roman Empire.


Who were the Catuvellauni?

The Catuvellauni were a Celtic tribe that inhabited areas now known as Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, and southern Cambridgeshire. While the meaning of “Catuvellauni” remains uncertain, it’s speculated that it might translate to “battle-experienced warriors,” a fitting title given their reputation.


Society and Culture

The societal structure of the Catuvellauni was likely similar to other Celtic tribes, with a king or chieftain ruling and a distinct warrior class. They were skilled farmers and traders, and their coins suggest a sophisticated economy. Archaeological discoveries showcase their craftsmanship in metalwork and pottery, while religious beliefs align with Celtic reverence for natural phenomena, guided by druidic influence.


Interactions with the Romans and Other Tribes

The Catuvellauni’s historical narrative is characterized by expansion and conflict. Under their ambitious King, Cunobelinus, often referred to as the “King of the Britons” by Roman writers, the Catuvellauni expanded their territory, even subjugating their neighbors, including the Trinovantes. This expansionism and the perceived threat they posed eventually led to direct confrontation with the Roman Empire. When the Romans invaded Britain under Emperor Claudius in AD 43, the Catuvellauni were one of their main targets. Despite fierce resistance, the tribe was ultimately defeated, and their lands incorporated into the Roman province of Britannia.


Legacy of the Catuvellauni

The Catuvellauni’s legacy continues to permeate modern Britain. Their capital, Verlamion, was developed into the Roman city of Verulamium, the ruins of which lie in modern-day St. Albans. This city’s archaeological significance offers insight into Roman urban design and the transition from Celtic to Roman lifestyles. Furthermore, the Catuvellauni’s story of territorial ambition and conflict with Rome paints a vivid picture of power dynamics in pre-Roman Britain. Their narrative, filled with ambition, resilience, and ultimate defeat, is a poignant reminder of the upheaval that accompanied the arrival of Rome. The tale of the Catuvellauni underscores the power struggles and territorial ambitions that characterized ancient Britain, providing a compelling narrative that contributes to our understanding of this transformative era. As such, the Catuvellauni, though now relegated to history, continue to provide an intriguing window into the complexities of the past, shaping the landscape and cultural tapestry of Britain.


Picts of Ancient Scotland

The tapestry of ancient Britain is interwoven with captivating tales of diverse tribes, each contributing to the unique and complex historical narrative. In the far north of Britain, the Picts, known for their distinctive art and warrior spirit, remain shrouded in mystery, intrigue, and the misty veils of time.


Who were the Picts?

The Picts, derived from Latin Picti meaning “painted ones”, were a collection of Celtic-speaking communities that inhabited the eastern and northern parts of Scotland during the late Iron Age and early Medieval periods. The term likely came from the Picts’ reputed practice of body painting or tattooing.


Society and Culture

The Pictish societal structure is believed to have been complex, possibly with a system of kingship, as evidenced by later historical records. Pictish society was likely agrarian, with hunting, gathering, and cattle herding playing crucial roles in their economy.

One of the most striking aspects of the Picts is their unique artistic tradition, seen in the intricate designs of their stone carvings, metalwork, and illuminated manuscripts. Their symbol stones, standing stones carved with various symbols and designs, remain some of the most enigmatic and beautiful remnants of their culture. Despite their clear linguistic and cultural connections to other Celtic groups, the Picts maintained a distinct identity. They were predominantly Pagan until their Christianization in the later centuries of the first millennium AD.


Interactions with Romans and Other Tribes

The Picts often found themselves in conflict with the Romans. They were among the tribal groups that resisted the Roman expansion into Scotland, their guerilla tactics being a significant challenge to the Roman forces. The construction of Hadrian’s Wall and later the Antonine Wall in part served as a means to manage the ‘Pictish threat'. Post-Roman period, the Picts frequently clashed with neighboring tribes and kingdoms, including the Britons, Angles, and Scots. Despite these conflicts, there were also periods of alliance and cooperation, painting a complex picture of political dynamics.


Legacy of the Picts

Despite their eventual disappearance, possibly due to assimilation into the emerging Kingdom of Alba (early Scotland), the Picts left an indelible mark on Scotland’s historical and cultural landscape.

Their intricate symbol stones, such as the famed Hilton of Cadboll stone, continue to captivate and puzzle researchers. Places across Scotland bear Pictish names, and tales of their bravery and artistry persist in the cultural memory. The Picts represent a fascinating chapter in Britain’s history, a chapter filled with intriguing art, resilient warriors, and enduring mysteries. Their story offers a compelling narrative of cultural uniqueness and resilience in the face of invasions and cultural shifts. Even as we continue to unravel the enigma of the Picts, their legacy serves as a reminder of a bygone era that continues to shape Scotland’s cultural and historical identity. As we delve deeper into their history, we discover a vibrant, complex, and captivating facet of Britain’s past.

 

Annotated Bibliography

1. Cunliffe, Barry. “The Ancient Celts.” Oxford University Press, 1997. - This book provides an in-depth look at the origins, culture, and societies of the Celts throughout Europe, including Britain. It offers valuable insights into the wider context of the Celtic world, which would later influence many of the tribes of ancient Britain.

2. Cunliffe, Barry. “Britain Begins.” Oxford University Press, 2013. - Starting from prehistoric times, Cunliffe paints a detailed picture of Britain’s early history. He covers the movements and interactions of different peoples across Britain and the formation of distinct cultures, including the tribes of ancient Britain.

3. Cunliffe, Barry. “The Celts: A Very Short Introduction.” Oxford University Press, 2003. - A concise but thorough overview of Celtic history and culture. It gives the reader a broad understanding of Celtic influence across Europe and Britain and helps contextualize the experiences of the ancient British tribes.

4. Cunliffe, Barry. “Iron Age Communities in Britain: An Account of England, Scotland and Wales from the Seventh Century BC Until the Roman Conquest.” Routledge, 2004. - This comprehensive account of the Iron Age in Britain offers a detailed examination of the various tribal groups before Roman rule. This would include the seven tribes of ancient Britain, providing an understanding of their societies and cultures.

5. de la Bedoyere, Guy. “The Real Lives of Roman Britain.” Yale University Press, 2015. - This book delves into the everyday lives of the people during Roman Britain. It illustrates the impact of Roman rule on the native tribes and explores the profound cultural transformations that occurred.

6. Riley, Bronwen. “The Edge of the Empire: A Journey to Britannia.” Head of Zeus, 2015. - Riley presents an engaging exploration of life in Roman Britain, following a Roman official’s journey across the island. It provides a vivid picture of the Roman rule impact on the local population, including the ancient tribes.

7. Blair, John. “The Anglo-Saxon Age: A Very Short Introduction.” Oxford University Press, 2000. - This book outlines the shift from Roman Britain to Anglo-Saxon England, providing essential context for the decline and transformation of the tribes of ancient Britain. It explores the factors leading to the establishment of Anglo-Saxon rule and its impact on the existing cultures.



Further Reading

1. “The Ancient Celts” by Barry Cunliffe: Although not exclusively about the seven tribes of ancient Britain, this book provides an essential background on the Celtic culture, which influenced many of these tribes.

2. “Britain Begins” by Barry Cunliffe: Again, while not specifically focused on the seven tribes, it provides valuable context on the origins and development of Britain from prehistoric times through the Roman period.

3. “The Celts: A Very Short Introduction” by Barry Cunliffe: This offers an easily digestible overview of Celtic culture across Europe, including Britain.

4. “Iron Age Communities in Britain: An Account of England, Scotland and Wales from the Seventh Century BC Until the Roman Conquest” by Barry Cunliffe: This book provides a comprehensive examination of the diverse groups that inhabited Britain before the Roman conquest.

5. “The Real Lives of Roman Britain” by Guy de la Bedoyere: This provides insights into the lives of people in Roman Britain, covering the period when many of the seven tribes came under Roman control.

6. “The Edge of the Empire: A Journey to Britannia” by Bronwen Riley: This book offers an engaging exploration of life in Roman Britain, including the impact of Roman rule on the native tribes.

7. “The Anglo-Saxon Age: A Very Short Introduction” by John Blair: This book can help you understand the transformation from Roman Britain to Anglo-Saxon England, providing context for the decline and transformation of the tribes.

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