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Roman Britain

Tribal Names: The Gangani & Deceangli

by Edward Dawson, 1 March 2009

The island of Britain was often referred to as Alba or Albion by ancient authors. In addition, various parts of the island's northern provinces, in what we today think of as Scotland, were formerly referred to as Caledonia.

The tribe or tribes which were located there were called the Dicalidones by Ammianus Marcellinus, while the ocean to the west of Scotland was named as the Oceanus Duecaledonius by the Roman geographer, Ptolemy.

This gives us a prefix of 'di-' or 'due-' which can be investigated.

  • Proto-Celtic:
    'di-', which means 'of, from'
  • Latin:
    'de' (prep + abl) which means 'down from, from, concerning, about'
    'duo', which means 'two'
  • Greek:
    'di-', a prefix in Greek which means 'two, twice, double'

So the prefix could either mean 'two', indicating a double land or double tribe; or it could mean 'from'. The latter is supported by the Welsh 'Coed Calydon' (Caledonia forest) to which Merlin was said to have fled [1].

If the Caledon region referred to the Scottish Highlands, then a tribe from there would be 'dicaledonii'. Keep in mind the fact that there was very little in the way of uniform spelling conventions until modern times.

Gangani and Deceangli

This discussion of Caledonia has a direct bearing upon another pair of British tribal names: the Gangani and the Deceangli. There appears to have been a tribe which was split between Ireland and Britain which was known as the Concani or Gangani in Ireland, directly across the Irish Sea from their Gangani or Deceangli cousins in Wales.

The addition or subtraction of 'di-' or 'de-' at the front of the tribal name seems to have a precedent in Caledonia and with the Dicalidones.

The possibility of a tribe being split between multiple locations is nothing new. Roman history is full of encounters with more than one group of Goths, Suevi, Belgae, etc. In and around pre-Roman Britain we find the Belgae and Parisi both in Britain and Gaul, Brigantes and Venicones both in Britain and Ireland, Cornovii around Chester or Wroxeter and in northern Scotland, and Dumnonii, Damnonii, or Domnann variants in Devon and Cornwall, the Clyde Valley of Scotland, and western Ireland no less.

Roman wall around St Cybi's Church in Holyhead

By the time the Roman wall had been built for a fort in Holyhead (now St Cybi's Church), the Deceangli had long since been defeated

[1] This Merlin is distinct from the fifth century companion of Arthur. He was attested by the Annales Cambriae (Annals of Wales). In 573 he went mad after the internecine Battle of Arfderydd between the British kingdoms of Ebrauc and Caer Guendolau in which the latter fell.


Main Sources

Greek references - Dictionary.com website

Latin references - Bantam New College Latin & English Dictionary by John Traupman, and the University of British Columbia Maths Department website

Ammianus Marcellinus - Res Gestae Libri XXXI available online at 'Early Church Fathers - Additional Texts' website

Ptolemy - Geographia

Map at Rootsweb (the main map is very silly because it has Concani and Gangani adjacent in the Thomond area, when anyone can see they are the same tribal name with different spellings)

Map perhaps not under copyright: Alexander G Findlay's Insulae Brittanicae, produced in 1849 in A Classical Atlas of Ancient Geography, available online at the University of Texas Libraries



Text copyright © Edward Dawson. An original feature for the History Files.