When Julius Caesar conquered Gaul he also had to
subdue the seaborne tribe of the Veneti.
The Romans bragged that they got them
all, killing or enslaving them. This seems to be a very convenient
piece of self-serving propaganda, and I for one do not believe it.
A tribe which specialised in ocean travel
and the use of boats would be difficult, if not impossible, to
bottle up. A good many of them would have been able to slip away in
the face of an attempted capture by the Romans.
A few centuries later the geographer
Ptolemy notes that the Venicones lived in north-eastern Britain (in
the region of Fife and on both banks of the Tay to the north), and a
tribe called the Venicnii in north Ireland (Donnegal). To my eye
this is quite obviously the same name, Venic + '-on' or '-n'.
Incidentally, the use of '-ion' is still used as a
plural by the Welsh, and the Venet tribe would probably have used
something similar, making the name Venet-on. The reconstructed
suffix '-on' is a plural and is also in genitive case (see the
Checklist of Proto-Celtic Lexical Items). The genitive case is
icing on the cake because genitive means here 'having its origin
in'. So the suffix '-on' with a tribal name indicates 'the ones
(plural) having their origin in [placename]'.
The name Venicones was pronounced 'Wen-ichones',
most likely due to a shift in the language. In the case of this
tribe, it is Venet (the 't'
becoming a 'ch') + '-on' (plural genitive) + the later addition of
'-es', which is another (and I think unnecessary) plural suffix.
The Romans would probably have mispronounced it and
they apparently added their plural suffix to the already-present
plural genitive, giving us Venicones.
The Venicones were occupying the same region that
the Romans needed to invade several times in order to quell attacks
by Picts in the east of the Highlands, including from the 'Pictish
navy'. A legionary fortress was built at Inchtuthill, Tayside (Pinnata
Castra), occupied during the late first century by the 20th Legion
One has to suspect that the Pictish navy was manned by people who
traditionally hated Romans, as they went out of their way to attack
Roman Britain. All of this seems to point towards a tribe of
experienced seaborne warriors with the same name (given natural
shifts in pronunciation) as another, previous, seaborne tribe in
One could easily postulate that the survivors of the Roman conquest
of the Veneti in Gaul climbed into their boats and settled in Fife
and Donnegal. And the rebuilt tribe that occupied Fife continued the
Once beaten in Fife by the renewed Roman attack on them, some of
them apparently joined the Roman side, and were later rewarded with
the Deceangli/Gangani territory in what is now north-west Wales,
which the new owners promptly named after their tribe.
Any of them which did
not join the Romans and were not thereby enslaved, probably were
absorbed into the nearby unconquered Venicones area which later went
by the name of Verturiones (Fortriu), with whom they shared a common
origin (see the map below).
A map of Britain of AD 80, showing the Roman occupation of
Scotland's eastern shores and the British client states of what
is now southern Scotland