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Celtic Tribes

 

 

 

Index of Celtic TribesMapVeneti / Venedi (Belgae)

FeatureThe third wave of Celts appears to have been formed of tribes who were seaborne and lived along the North Atlantic and/or Baltic coastlines. Known as the Belgae, they were Celts who seem to have established themselves in Northern Europe, although precisely where is entirely open to speculation (not to mention some heated debate). The available evidence suggests a general settlement of areas of northern Germany and perhaps northern Poland too.

The Belgic dialect probably used a 'b' or a 'v' sound where their western cousins in Gaul used a 'w' sound, opening up different interpretations for their names. It is doubtful that all Belgae used the same dialect. Some may have used pure Celtic, some Celtic mixed with various Germanic or even Finnic influences. This alone suggests a wide ranging settlement across Northern Europe, and possibly not even a permanent one. Julius Caesar and other ancient authors certainly saw Germanic elements in many of them, but also affiliations to the Gauls. Those Belgae who were closer to the Rhine would have been less influenced by the proto-Germanic tribes than those who were in modern Denmark or along the southern Baltic coast.

For whatever reason, whether it was due to population pressures or population movements (the early Germanic tribes being a favourite here as they soon started expanding into Northern Europe themselves), or to climate change, the Belgae began to leave (or simply to continue their migratory pattern). Many migrated west, very likely following the Atlantic coastline as they went. Others (perhaps even most) seem to have gone east, doubtless following the Baltic coastline (and a theorised third group returned south to become the Taurisci). It is from this apparent divide that the tribes of the Veneti (in the west) and the Venedi (in the east) appear to have been formed.

The name of this people is shown in various ways by various authors, all meaning exactly the same thing. The most popular is Veneti or Venedi (both in Latin), but Ptolemy calls them Ouenedai (in Greek), while Venedae is an alternative Latin plural ('Veneti' also being a plural). It appears to derive from a common root for 'white' (ie. blond) found in Celtic or Italic tongues and related branches. The English word 'white' is a cognate, the 'n' having been dropped at some point from the 'wenet' or 'vined' or similar root. It is not known for certain if 'white' in Germanic languages was retained from proto-Indo-European, or imported from common Celtic. Most 'experts' seem to lean towards the former but the latter is preferable. As light-haired Europeans often have offspring with blonde hair regardless of the hair colour of their parents, the many tribes using variants of this could have gained their names from leaders who were born blond and named as such. It is only after the first few years that the blonde hair of many of those offspring turns brown. The Veneti were 'the blonds'. The white of 'winter' has the same origin.

(Information co-authored by Edward Dawson, and additional information from The La Tene Celtic Belgae Tribes in England: Y-Chromosome Haplogroup R-U152 - Hypothesis C, David K Faux, and from External Link: The Works of Julius Caesar: Gallic Wars. Other major sources listed in the 'Barbarian Europe' section of the Sources page.)

5th century BC

The Veneti are a tribe (or possibly confederation) of Belgae who occupy a swathe of territory in Northern Europe. Differences in their dialect from the La Tne Celts suggests that they have picked up some influences after settling here, most notably from the proto-Germanic tribes of Scandinavia. Although not universally accepted, generally it is thought that the Belgae begin to migrate around this time, one part heading west towards the Atlantic coast and the other heading east, probably following the Baltic coastline.

Jutland
Belgic settlement in, or migration across, Northern Europe almost certainly involved some of them entering the Cimbric Peninsula where they interacted with early German tribes there, influencing them and being influenced by them

The Atlantic coast division of Belgae settles on territory in the modern southern Netherlands, Belgium, northern France and Brittany (and are termed Veneti for the sake of clarity here). The Baltic division reaches the Vistula and founds permanent settlements along its east bank, in what the Romans later think of as Sarmatia (with Germania to the west). Also for the sake of clarity, they are termed the Venedi.

Index of Celtic TribesMapVenedi / Ouenedai / Wends / Vindi (Early Belgae)

A large area of Eastern Europe was occupied by people called the Veneti, Venedi, or Vendai. Today these are largely known as the Baltic or Vistula Veneti but for the sake of clarity here they are termed the Venedi (while the western population of the same people are called the Veneti). That they were Belgae is generally not doubted (except perhaps by individuals searching for Slav origins that predate the fourth to sixth centuries AD). The assertion that they migrated from the southern shores of the Baltic Sea around the fifth and fourth centuries BC, while the La Tne Celts were busy occupying much of central and southern Gaul, is open to debate.

When this migration was triggered, it would seem that the Venedi tribe divided (probably in much the same way as the better-known case of the Bituriges around 600 BC). Possibly this division was due to over-population, or a political split, but clearly one group headed west as part of a Belgic migration while the rest headed east as part of another Belgic migration. By the first century BC this latter group were known to occupy a great swathe of territory that stretched from East Prussia to western Ukraine, largely following the east bank of the Vistula. Apparently dominated by the Venedi, whose name was applied to all the Belgic peoples of this region, the lack of any written evidence makes their history extremely uncertain and open to interpretation.

Important in the discussion about who the Bastarnae tribe were is their apparent connection to the Venedi. They appear to have enjoyed a migratory existence which took them from Pomerania on the southern Baltic coast to the Balkans. In fact, prior to the first century BC, it seems most likely that the Bastarnae controlled the area in which the Vandals, Scirii, and other Germanic tribes are shown on the great barbarian map (see the 'map' link at the top of this section). This can be stated because it appears that the Bastarnae took over most, if not all, of the Venedi territory. The Venedi appear to have been sailors (common with Belgic-type Celts). They seem to have sailed up, conquered and controlled the Vistula and its tributary, the Bug, and then crossed land to the Dniester and parallel rivers. This would account for Ptolemy's description of the Venedi as the farthest eastern tribe, occupying territory from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Later many of these river-based Venedi groups fell under Bastarnae domination when the Bastarnae were as Celtic as the Venedi were, with them taking over their entire river-based territory from north to south. They later lost the Baltic zone due to Germanic encroachment from Sweden, which is what the map shows. Such a view of events easily describes the Bastarnae journey southwards. It wasn't so much a migration, more of a dominance of remaining territory after they lost the north.

(Information co-authored by Edward Dawson, and additional information from The La Tene Celtic Belgae Tribes in England: Y-Chromosome Haplogroup R-U152 - Hypothesis C, David K Faux, Getica, Jordanes, from The History of the Baltic Countries (see the Sources page), from Byzantium and Bulgaria, 775-831, Panos Sophoulis, from Gesta Danorum: The History of the Danes, Karsten Friis-Jensen & Peter Fisher (Ed & Trans), and from External Links: The Works of Julius Caesar: Gallic Wars, and The Proto-Bulgars, and Hudud al-'Alam, The Regions of the World. Other major sources listed in the 'Barbarian Europe' section of the Sources page.)

1st century BC

By the first century BC the Venedi are known to occupy a great swathe of territory that stretches from East Prussia and modern Kaliningrad, to western Belarus and western Ukraine. They may even have absorbed other Belgic groups that have migrated with them, although the lack of any written evidence makes their history extremely uncertain and open to interpretation.

Vistula
For a seagoing people like the Belgae, it would have been a fairly simple process to sail along the southern waters of the Baltic and enter a wide river mouth such as the Vistula - settlement quickly followed, spreading south along the river's east bank between the fifth or fourth centuries BC and the first and second AD

AD 77

The Roman geographer Pliny the Elder mentions the Sarmatian Venedi, meaning the Venedi who live to the east of the Vistula, all of which is still Sarmatia to the Romans. Germania lies on the western bank of the Vistula.

98

By the later part of the first century BC, the Venedi are neighboured even farther east by a collection of Finno-Ugric tribes and to the north-east by the Aesti and Eastern Balts. To the west the situation is less certain, and is changing rapidly. Noted by Tacitus, a host of Germanic tribes have occupied territory on the southern coast of the Baltic Sea in the past century or so, including the Gepids, Goths, Heruli, Scirii, and Vandali. Farther south, in modern southern Poland, Czechia, Slovakia, Hungary and western Ukraine, the situation is even less clear, with elements of former Celtic tribes existing alongside encroaching Germanic tribes, including the Boii and Lugii for the former, and the Buri, Marcomanni, and Quadi for the latter.

Tacitus does not use the Vistula as a boundary, or even describe a boundary between Germania and the lands to its east. He does describe the Venedi as living along the eastern fringe of Germania, inferring some kind of borderland, but is uncertain of their ethnic identity. It is quite probable that the Venedi have not settled deep into Eastern Europe but instead occupy the lower Vistula on a permanent basis and simply raid further south and east, following the rivers and using seasonal bases. Tacitus refers to them as having borrowed from Sarmatians in their habit of plundering the mountainous and wooded country that lies between the Peucini to the south (in the Balkans) and the Finni to the north (generally accepted as being the Finns).

Even so, he says that they should be classed as Germans thanks to their settled houses, the shields they carry, and their fondness for travelling fast on foot, as opposed to the horse-riding Sarmatians. Clearly he was linking them with the nearest, most similar people without being aware of their migration and relationship to the Belgae of the Low Countries.

c.140s

Ptolemy in his Geography confirms the traditional Roman idea that the Vistula divides Germania from the east, which they call Sarmatia. He places the Greater Ouenedai along the entire Venedic Bay which, when taken in context, can be located on the southern Baltic coast. The similarity between 'Ouenedai' and 'Venedi' is clear.

4th century

The Tabula Peutingeriana dates from the fourth century AD. It mentions Venedi who are located on the northern bank of the Danube, some way upstream of the river's mouth into the Black Sea. It also mentions the Venadi Sarmatae along the Baltic coast. The latter are the Venedi of Sarmatia, this being the main body of Veneti along the east bank of the Vistula. The Venedi near the Danube would appear to be a migratory group that has followed the Vistula into modern Slovakia and then has probably skirted the Carpathians by travelling through modern western Ukraine towards the Black Sea.

372 - 432

The Huns and Alans arrive in the territory north of the Danube and take control. The region is nominally under the control of the Ostrogoths, and is peopled by Gepids, Heruli, Illirs (called Pannons by the Romans, they later give their name to Illyria - the region at the top of the Adriatic Sea), Scirii, and Avars, plus some Saxons who had settled in Dacia (later Transylvania) and also the southernmost groups of Venedi. The Germanic Rugian kingdom in Austria is made a client state and the Quadi are effectively destroyed. The Huns eventually unify and only then begin to threaten the Western Roman empire. They start by clashing with the Ostrogoths, overrunning them, and in 376 they also defeat the Visigoths.

Huns
The approach of the Huns into Central Europe spread terror and fear not only in the Roman empire but in those great Germanic tribes that lay along the line of advance

c.376

The name of King Vinithar of the Ostrogoths is curious. It is commonly formed of three elements, 'vinith', plus '-ar', plus '-ius'. The first part, 'vinith' refers to the Venedi. The '-ius' is a Latin suffix which can be discarded, so the name was probably pronounced Winithara in East Germanic. The second element, '-ar', may just be indicating action, a doer (essentially describing him as a warrior in the style of the Venedi), or perhaps a compressed form of 'uari', meaning 'man of, men of' (perhaps producing 'man of the Venedi').

This implies that 'Vinith' has evolved to become the name of a military style of warrior. Since the Venedi style of travel is by water (their whole process of settlement has been driven by their exploration of river courses), an educated guess is that a 'vinith' is a boat-borne fighter. The early description of Slavs as boat-using raiders seems to occur because they have learned this from Venedi fighters amongst whom they had been stationed by their masters, the Avars. Naming Vinithar this way might be akin to a modern child being called 'SASer' or 'Navy Sealer' in the first instance or 'man of the SAS' in the second, although clearly this concept has lost something over time!

456 - 457

The Ostrogoths defeat and rout Attila's sons in their fight for independence. The central core of Huns apparently divides into the Kutrigur Bulgars and the Utigur Bulgars (the 'Bulgarian Huns'). The Ostrogoths reassert power over the region following their military victory, and most Huns drift back to Scythia (possibly taking elements of the Venedi with them as subjects, one of which seemingly reappears in 652 and another (or the same?) in 668). The bulk of the Venedi remain, probably in their traditional settlements, from which they provide mercenary services to the Ostrogoths.

550/551

The Gothic writer Jordanes, a bureaucrat in the Byzantine capital of Constantinople, completes his sixth century work at this time, entitled Getica. Among many other things, it provides an account of the origins of the Sclavenes or Sclaveni (Slavs, but various translations produce the two different plural suffixes seen here). In relation to them he mentions two other kinds of professional warriors, the Antes and 'Venethi' or 'Venethae', although he appears confused as to the exact relationship between the three groups.

This could be due to that relationship being a confused one in the real world, with the Venedi probably undergoing a gradual absorption by newly-arriving Slav groups and also by their various masters over the ensuing centuries (Huns, Goths, Avars, Magyars, etc). The Venethae (Vinidi, or Venedi) are associated with the great fourth century king of the Ostrogoths, Hermanarich, while the Antes (an early Slavic tribal polity) are linked with his successor, King Vinitharius. No specific deeds with regard to the Sclaveni are ascribed to any Gothic ruler, showing that they are essentially a post-Gothic institution.

652 - 653

The Arab General Salman in 652-653 campaigns through the Caucuses from Armenia, concentrating on the towns and settlements of the western coast of the Caspian Sea and on defeating the Khazars. A description of this campaign is based on a manuscript by Ahmed-bin-Azami, and it mentions that '...Salman reached the Khazar town of Burgur... He continued and finally reached Bilkhar, which was not a Khazar possession, and camped with his army near that town, on rich meadows intersected by a large river'. This is why several historians connect the town with the proto-Bulgarians. The Arab missionary Ahmed ibn-Fadlan also confirms this connection, as he mentions that during his trip to the Volga Bulgars in 922 he sees a group of 5,000 Barandzhars (balandzhars) who had migrated a long time ago to Volga Bulgaria.

According to Ibn al-Nasira, after capturing Belendzher-Bulker, Salman reaches another large town, called Vabandar, which has 40,000 houses (families?). M I Artamonov links the name of that town with the ethnicon of the Unogundur Bulgars, which is given as 'v-n-nt-r' by the Khazars (in the letter by their Khagan Joseph). It is shown as 'venender' or 'nender' by the Arabs, and as Unogundur-Onogur by the Byzantines. Variations of 'v-n-nt-r' appear in 668, 982 and 1094, and all suggest that elements of the Venedi have been pinpoined without the authors really knowing their identity. Could these Venedi be part of the backwash of Huns and others of 456-457?

The Caspian Sea around Dagestan
Could at least one group of peoples who lived close to seventh century Dagestan and the western shores of the Caspian Sea have been Venedi who had been dragged there by the returning Huns and their other associates?

668

Great Bulgaria disintegrates following a massive Khazar attack during their period of expansion in the second half of the seventh century. Bat Bayan and his brothers part company, each leading their own followers. The youngest, Asparukh, leads between 30,000 to 50,000 people westwards from the Ergeni Hills (the Hippian Mountains) in northern present-day Kalmykia (in Russia), towards the northern coast of the Black Sea. They soon reach the Danube and found a new kingdom of Bulgaria.

A number of other tribal names have been associated with that of the Bulgars. Some medieval documents mention that Asparukh also leads a people named 'v.n.n.tr' (in Khazar sources) or 'Unogundur' (in Byzantine sources). This ethnonym has been related by historians to the names 'Venender', 'Vhndur', and 'Onogur' that appear in other texts. This name in its Khazar form is very similar to references to the same people in 982 and 1094 - strongly suggesting that they are the Venedi. If they are migrating with Asparukh, then it means that this particular group has ventured far further east than has previously been suspected of any Venedi, possibly part of the backwash of peoples at the time of the collapse of the Hunnic empire. Also, the tribes of the Utigurs and Kutrigurs which appear in some narrative sources referring to the sixth century are associated by many historians with the Bulgars.

8th century

The Venedi gradually disappear between the sixth and ninth centuries. Pressure from Germanic groups to their west, but more especially from migrating Slavs from the east sees them assimilated. The northernmost parts of their territory are absorbed by various natives which include the Prussians and Lithuanians. The majority of the north is slowly amalgamated by early Poland.

Thanks to that assimilation, Germans largely see the new Slav masters of the Venedi as being of the same group, and the Venedi name is transferred to them (although they do not use it to describe themselves). In the German tongue they are called Wends (Wenden or Winden), while further south the early Carinthians and Styrians (later to form part of Austria) refer to them as Windische. This helps to show just how great a territory had been settled by the Venedi in the millennium or more of their settlement east of the Vistula.

Wends
A personification of the early Wends was presented by a gospel book of 990 which showed them as the Sclavinia (early Slavs, of which the westernmost groups were known as Wends), plus Germania, Gallia, and Roma, all of whom were bringing tribute to Holy Roman emperor Otto III

The vocabulary of the proto-Slavic language shows signs of adoption from multiple sources, with evidence of loan words from Indo-European languages of Eastern Europe. Naturally the Venedi have been suggested as one of those sources. Given the probable origins of the Slavs between the rivers Bug and Dnieper (the latter of which runs through Belarus and Kiev in Ukraine before draining into the Black Sea), the two groups have probably interacted long before the Slavs become dominant, in much the same way as Germans and Gauls interacted across the Rhine in the second and first centuries BC.

8th - 10th cent

The Veleti Union has formed on the western edge of Pomerania, on the southern coast of the Baltic Sea and the western bank of the Oder, in modern north-eastern Germany. The name is the same as 'Galati', but without the 'w' to 'gw' to 'g' shift that long ago produced Galati. Instead this 'Veleti' is either the original 'w' pronunciation (which seems most likely) or a Belgic-style 'w' to 'v' pronunciation. What this 'Veleti' means is that the Venedi and other Celts in this region are recorded not by tribal name but by ethnic identity. These Celtic descendants eventually adopt Slavic speech before being incorporated into the German empire.

fl 789

Dragovit

King of the Veleti. Conquered by the Franks.

789

Charlemagne leads an expedition against Dragovit, king of the Veleti (on the west bank of the Oder, with the Pomeranians on the other side). Charlemagne defeats him and makes him a vassal in the only venture he and the Carolingian Franks make into what are now Slavic lands - generally, at least. This expedition shows that some earlier groups are still recognisable.

c.850s

The Venedi are still recognisable as a people, although their situation is not particularly envious. Two authors describe their plight in 982 and 1094 respectively (see below). In general, after expanding southwards from the mouth of the Vistula along river valleys towards the Black Sea, the Venedi have settled and have gradually become subjected to later peoples. Various waves of nomads on horseback (and Goths too) have subsequently disrupted them, conquered, destroyed and co-opted them, with the result that they have disappeared in many places, or have fled to various mountains, or have joined their conquerors thanks to which they could end up being moved as far as the Caspian Sea as subordinates of those nomads. Of those that remain, many join incoming Slavs, and most have long since begun speaking the military language of the Avars which itself is Slavic.

Western Ukraine
Western Ukraine covers the modern Volyn, Ivano-Frankovsk, Lvov, Rovno, Ternopol and Chernovtsy regions, and its sweeping plains and gentle hills would have provided perfect farming territory for any Venedi that settled here

982 & 1094

References to Vnnd.r and N.nd.r. in 982 and 1094 respectively remark upon a Christian 'nation' of Rum that is located between the lands of the 'Madjghar' and the MIRV (M.rdt). The Pechenegs lie to the east (around the north-west corner of the Black Sea coast), while above them and leading north-eastwards are the Kievan Rus and the Bulgars of the Volga respectively. The references are Arabic, hence their obliqueness when written in English. The first comes from a geographical work entitled Ḥudūd al-ʿĀlam (from a Persian version of an originally Arabic phrase meaning 'The Limits of The World'), by an unknown author from Jōzjān, or Gozgn, in northern Afghanistan. This author writes in second-hand fashion, drawing his information from other tenth century works such as al-Istakhri's Book of the Paths and Provinces. The second comes from Ta‟rkh-i Gardz, in his history, again using earlier sources such as al-Muqaffaʻ. Both describe Eastern Europe around the 'nation' of the Magyars in the mid-ninth century.

The Madjghar are the Magyars, a people who contribute to the populating of Hungary. Rum is Rome, although the people are not specifically being labelled as Romans - they are simply more civilised than their neighbours in terms of being settled farmers with an element of presumed sophistication. Whether they are Christianised is questionable, but proselytising Byzantines (or, much less likely, Roman Catholics) may well have had an influence by this period. The MIRV are Moravians, living to the north, but seemingly not yet having fully migrated far enough to settle next to the more westerly Bohemians (Moravia being the modern eastern half of the Czech republic).

As for the Vnnd.r and N.nd.r, this is a more complicated question. They have been linked with the Bulgars, and could be the 'Venender', 'Vhndur', and 'Onogur' that appear in other texts (especially in relation to the Bulgar events of 668). The original version of the name, 'Vnnd.r' in 982 and an earlier version relating to 668, 'v.n.n.tr', strongly suggests a link to the Venedi, written as 'Vened' in Arabic and possibly with a suffix attached. They are described as cowards (badh-dil), weak, poor (darvīsh), and possess few goods (khwāsta). They sound very much like Eastern Celts who have long settled into an agrarian existence and have lost their fighting spirit. Their location between the Moravians and Magyars places them in modern northern Romania and western Ukraine, probably close to the thirteenth century city of Lviv in the former region of Galicia. This perhaps also ties them in with the headwaters of the ancient River Hypanis (the modern Southern Bug or Buh in Ukraine) and the northern bank of the Tyras (the modern Dniester), both rivers seemingly being close to the Venedi at the southerly extension of their migration down the Vistula.

1168

In his work, Gesta Danorum, Saxo Grammaticus describes the defeat of a group of Wends. They occupy the island of Rgen in the Baltic Sea, off the coast of north-eastern Germany. After years of pirate attacks by the Wends, King Valdemar of Denmark has been persuaded by Absalon, bishop of Roskilde and the chief royal advisor (and future archbishop of Lund), to launch a crusade against them. The Danes land on Rgen and besiege the capital city of Arkona. Once Valdemar's forces set fire to the city's walls and buildings, the residents of Arkona surrender.

The Danes conquer Rugen
The Danish conquest of Rgen ended more than a millennium of independence for the native people - a possible combination of Celts, Germanics, and Slavs - pulling down their gods in the process

Valdemar takes control of Arkona and receives hostages from the leaders of the Wendish people. Then he orders the statue of a local deity named Svantevit to be destroyed. The Danes receive word from the people of Karenz - another important town on the island - that they are also ready to surrender. Absalon travels to the town with thirty men, where they are met by six thousand warriors. However, the Wends prostrate themselves to the Christians and welcome the bishop. Karenz is the home to three pagan deities - Rugevit, Porevit and Porenut - which are believed to be the gods of war, lightning and thunder. Bishop Absalon destroys the temples to all three of these gods and Christianises the populace. Rgen, and also an area of the adjoining mainland, are taken into Danish control.

c.1200

The Chronicle of Henry of Livonia describes a clearly non-Slavic tribe called the Vindi (German Winden, English Wends). They live in Courland and Livonia in what is now Latvia, clearly the northernmost remnants of the Venedi. The tribe's name is preserved in the River Windau (in Latvian this is the Venta), which has the town of Windau (the Latvian Ventspils) at its mouth. It is also preserved in Wenden, the old name for the town of Cēsis in Livonia.

At the start of the second millennium, there are two countries or people occupying this region, called Ventava (the Ventspils area) and Vanema to its east. It is unclear whether these are names that relate to the Venedi or not, although given the location it seems likely. In possibly opposition to this is the fact that 'vene' words are in common use across the north both today and two thousand years ago, and even further south (witness the Vindilici of Rhaetia and the Veneti of Italy). Even the modern Estonian word for Russians is 'Vene', suggesting that the word existed before the Russians, perhaps being used to denote previous neighbours in the same territory - the Venedi.

Index of Celtic TribesMapVeneti / Venedi (Belgae)

In general terms, the Romans coined the name 'Gaul' to describe the Celtic tribes of what is now central, northern and eastern France. To the north of these were the tribes of the Belgae, divided from the Gauls by the rivers Marne and the Seine. By the middle of the first century BC, the Belgic Veneti were located in Gaul in what is now the southern coastline of Brittany. This area came to be known as Vannetais based on their name, located between Vannes and St. Nazaire. They were neighboured to the north-west by the Osismii, to the north-east by the Redones, to the east by the Diablintes, and to the south-east by the Namniti.

However, this powerful division of the Veneti was not the original tribe, or at least not all of it. A large area of Eastern Europe was also occupied by people called the Veneti, or Venedi. It would seem that this early Belgic Venedi tribe had divided at some point in its past (probably in much the same way as the better-known case of the Bituriges around 600 BC, and as part of a general Belgic population split in Northern Europe at that time). The western group arrived in the Low Countries and northern Gaul in the fourth and third centuries BC, although their initial arrival probably took place in the late fifth century. Fellow Belgae also landed on the east coast of Britain from about the fourth century BC (or perhaps a little later - providing an exact date is impossible), these groups obviously splitting away from the rest as they reached the Atlantic. These British Belgae slowly infiltrated the south-east of the country so that, by the first century BC, they had formed the Belgae, Cantii, Catuvellauni, Iceni, Parisi, and Trinovantes.

Not to be confused with the Veneti of north-eastern Italy, the Veneti in Brittany were the major seafaring nation on the Atlantic coast. Their ships were accustomed to crossing the Channel to their cousins in Britain in large numbers and they dominated the other peoples who were engaged in sea trade in the region. The scarcity of Venetic coins in Britain compared to those of other tribes of Armorica suggests that the Veneti themselves were carriers rather than merchants. The island now known as Belle-le-en-Mer (ar Gerveur in modern Breton, or Guedel in Old Breton), which is situated to the south of Brittany, was known by the Romans as Vindilis, preserving the link to the tribe. Following defeat by Rome, elements of the tribe may have fled to Britain and Ireland, where they formed two tribes of Venicones, one in Pictland and the other in Donegal, by AD 140. The tribe also appears to have had strong links with the Dumnonii tribe in Britain even before the Roman conquest, and this relationship seems to be maintained during the Roman period, so much so that Dumnonian Britons felt free to migrate to the region from the fourth century onwards to escape instability in Britain.

(Information co-authored by Edward Dawson, and additional information from The La Tene Celtic Belgae Tribes in England: Y-Chromosome Haplogroup R-U152 - Hypothesis C, David K Faux, and from External Link: The Works of Julius Caesar: Gallic Wars. Other major sources listed in the 'Barbarian Europe' section of the Sources page.)

c.325 BC

Pytheas of Massalia undertakes a voyage of exploration to north-western Europe, becoming the first scholar to note details about the Celtic and Germanic tribes there. One of the tribes he records is the Ostinioi - almost certainly the Osismii - who occupy Cape Kabaon, which is probably pointe de Penmarc'h or pointe du Raz in western Brittany. This means that the tribe has already settled the region by the mid-fourth century, probably alongside their neighbours of later years, the Veneti, Cariosvelites, and Redones.

Ptolemy's map of Britain
The details recorded by Pytheas were interpreted by Ptolemy in the second century AD, and this 1490 Italian reconstruction of the section covering the British Isles and northern Gaul shows Ptolemy's characteristically lopsided Scotland at the top

57 BC

The Belgae enter into a confederacy against the Romans in fear of Rome's eventual domination over them. They are also spurred on by Gauls who are unwilling to see Germanic tribes remaining on Gaulish territory and are unhappy about Roman troops wintering in Gaul. The Senones are asked by Julius Caesar to gain intelligence on the intentions of the Belgae, and they report that an army is being collected. Caesar marches ahead of expectations and, in a single campaigning season, the Belgic tribes are defeated or surrender to Rome. According to Caesar, the Aulerci, Cariosvelites, Osismii, Redones, Sesuvii, Venelli, and Veneti, all of whom are located along the Atlantic coast, are subdued by the legion of Publius Licinius Crassus. With this action, northern Gaul has been brought under Roman domination.

56 BC

Following his successful campaign against the Belgae in the previous year, Caesar sets out for Illyricum. Once he has left, war flares up again, triggered by Publius Licinius Crassus and the Seventh Legion in the territory of the Andes. With supplies of corn running low, he sends scavenging parties into the territories of the Cariosvelites, Esubii, and the highly influential Veneti. The latter revolt against this infringement of their lands and possessions, and the neighbouring tribes rapidly follow their lead, including the Ambiliati, Diablintes, Lexovii, Menapii, Morini, Namniti, Nannetes, and Osismii.

The Veneti also send for auxiliaries from their cousins in Britain. Julius Caesar rushes back to northern Gaul, to a fleet that is being prepared for him by the (Roman-led) Pictones and Santones on the River Loire. The Veneti and their allies fortify their towns, stock them with corn harvests from the surrounding countryside, and gather together as many ships as possible. Knowing that the overland passes are cut off by estuaries and that a seaward approach is highly difficult for their opponents, they plan to fight the Romans using their powerful navy in the shallows of the Loire.

Before engaging the Veneti, Caesar sends troops to the Remi, Treveri, and other Belgae to encourage them to keep to their allegiance with Rome and to hold the Rhine against possible incursions by Germans who may be planning to join the Veneti. This works, with even the previously militant Bellovaci remaining subdued during this revolt. Crassus is sent to Aquitania and Quintus Titurius Sabinus to the Cariosvelites, Lexovii and Venelli, to prevent them sending reinforcements to the Veneti. Sabinus finds that Viridovix of the Venelli has joined the revolt, along with the Aulerci and Sexovii, who have killed their magistrates for wanting to remain neutral. Sabinus remains in his well-fortified camp, resisting the taunts of the Venelli and their allies until they venture too far forwards, allowing a Roman sally across the defensive ditch and into the fleeing Celtic ranks. This area of the revolt is instantly extinguished.

Romans attack a Veneti vessel
Roman auxiliaries in the form of the Aeduii on board a Gaulish-built ship attack a Veneti vessel in Morbihan Bay on the French Atlantic coast during the campaign of 56 BC

The campaign by Caesar against the Veneti is protracted and takes place both on land and sea. Veneti strongholds, when threatened, are evacuated by sea and the Romans have to begin again. Eventually the Veneti fleet is cornered and defeated in Quiberon Bay by Legate Decimus Junius Brutus Albinus. The Veneti strongholds are stormed and much of the Veneti population is either captured and enslaved or butchered. The confederation is destroyed and Roman rule is firmly stamped upon the region.

Elements of the tribe may flee to Britain and Ireland where they form two tribes of Venicones, one in what becomes Pictland and the other in County Donegal as the Venicnii, where both are attested by Ptolemy by AD 140. While this may seem a controversial assertion to some scholars, Julius Caesar's claim to have killed or enslaved all of the Veneti is clearly self-serving propaganda aimed at his Roman constituency. He has almost certainly got many of them, and quite a bit of their navy, but families with access to boats will have gone to sea at night and sailed to Britain or Ireland, both of which are outside Roman control. Families unable to escape to sea will have fled inland into the highland (arden) forest of Armorica. From hiding there they are able to re-emerge once the legions depart, and are able to re-inhabit their 'Vannetais'.

52 BC

While Caesar is tied down in Rome, the Gauls begin their revolt, resolving to die in freedom rather than be suppressed by the invaders. The Carnutes take the lead under Cotuatus and Conetodunus when they kill the Roman traders who have settled in Genabum. News of the event reaches the Arverni that morning, and Vercingetorix summons his people to arms. His cavalry subsequently routed in battle, he withdraws in good order to Alesia, a major fort belonging to the Mandubii. The remaining cavalry are dispatched back to their tribes to bring reinforcements. Caesar begins a siege of Alesia, aiming on starving out the inhabitants.

The site of Alesia
The site of Alesia, a major fort belonging to the Mandubii tribe of Celts, was the scene of the final desperate stand-off between Rome and the Gauls in 52 BC

Four relief forces amounting to a considerable number of men and horses are assembled in the territory of the Aeduii by the council of the Gaulish nobility. Among those demanded from the tribes of Gaul are six thousand men combined from the tribes of Armorica (including the Ambibari, Caleti, Cariosvelites, Lemovices, Osismii, Redones, Venelli, and Veneti). Together they attempt to relieve Vercingetorix at the siege of Alesia, but the combined relief force is soundly repulsed by Julius Caesar. Seeing that all is lost, Vercingetorix surrenders to Caesar. The garrison is taken prisoner, as are the survivors from the relief army. They are either sold into slavery or given as booty to Caesar's legionaries, apart from the Aeduii and Arverni warriors who are released and pardoned in order to secure the allegiance of these important and powerful tribes.

With this action, all of Gaul has been brought under Roman domination, and the history of its population of Celts is tied to that of the empire.

AD 140 - 143

The Romans move north to the Forth-Clyde line, roughly the southern Pictish boundary, reoccupying British Lowland Scotland and beginning construction of the more basic Antonine Wall. It is around this time that the geographer, Ptolemy, notes the tribes to the north of the wall. Some of them receive their one and only mention in history and it is thought that at least one or two tribes may have been created by refugees fleeing the Roman invasion of the south.

The tribes mentioned include the Caereni, Caledonii (along either side of Loch Ness southwards from the Moray Firth to Ben Nevis), Carnonacae, Cornavii (possibly formed by members of the Cornovii tribe fleeing from the south), Creones, Decantae (on the western side of the mouth of the Moray Firth, possibly formed by fleeing Cantii), Epidii, Lugi, Smertae, Taexalli, Vacomagi (on the eastern side of the mouth of the Moray Firth), and Venicones (on the peninsula between the Firth of Tay and the Firth of Forth, possibly refugee Veneti from the Continent).

c.390

FeatureAfter fighting off raids by the Picts, Cunedda and his branch of Romanised Venicones in Britain are transferred from the Manau dependency of the Guotodin kingdom, traditionally by Magnus Maximus. They are moved to the former territory of the Deceangli in western Wales to secure the region from Irish raiders, and it is here that they found the kingdom of Gwynedd where their descendants remain.

4th century

Starting in the late 300s, but picking up pace in the fifth and sixth centuries, the former Veneti homeland is colonised by Britons. The Dumnonii tribe in particular seem to have retained close links with the Celts of Armorica, in the form of the Veneti tribe. During the Roman period, those links have been used as trade routes. Now, as the political situation in Britain begins to become increasingly unstable, there is a drift of resettlement from the south-west into Armorica. This becomes much heavier in the late fourth century, and turns into a flood in the mid-fifth century. Initially the new kingdom formed by the Britons even retains a late form of the Veneti tribal name in the 'Kingdom of Vannetais'.