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Celtic Kingdoms of the British Isles

Celts of Britain


Brigantes (Britons)
Incorporating the Carvetii, Gabrantovices, Lopocares, Setantii, & Textoverdi

FeatureIt was the Romans who coined the name 'Gaul' to describe the Celtic tribes of what is now France and Belgium, quite possibly based on an original form of the word 'Celt' itself (see feature link). When it came to the Celts of Britain, the name of the islands itself was used: Prydein (Latinised as Prettania or Britannia). Its collective people were Britons, although not all of them were Celts, let alone the same 'type' of Celts. Successive waves of immigration had left a vague mix of Bell Beaker folk, Urnfield proto-Celts, Hallstatt and La Tène waves, and Belgae, the latest arrivals. By the first century BC these latter people dominated the south and east of the isles, but not the north.

MapThe powerful Brigantes counted as their territory all of the north of modern England except Humberside. They seem in fact to have been a collection of amalgamated tribes which took their collective name from the Celtic goddess Brigantia (as did the Brigantii tribe in the Alps and the Brigantes of Ireland).

The Brigantes had few hill forts and their settlements mainly took the form of small hill crofts. Stanwick near Forcett in North Yorkshire provided one of the most important Iron Age sites for them. They were neighboured to the east by the Parisi, to the south by the Corieltavi and Cornovii, and to the north by the Novantae, Selgovae, and Votadini (see the map of most of Europe's tribes around the first centuries BC and AD to view the tribe's location in relation to all other Celts).

The Brigantes name is a relatively simple one to break down. The Gallo-Brythonic word 'briga' supplies the base, meaning 'hill, high'. In branches of the language which descended from P-Celtic this became 'bryn' in Welsh, and 'bre' in Cornish, Breton, and Cumbric. In Q-Celtic Gaelic it became 'beinn'. Long before the P-Celtic variations had assumed their final form (although it is entirely unclear at precisely which point!), the word had been appropriated by these northern Britons, either to describe their habitat as 'the highlanders', or their powerful military situation as 'the superior, elevated ones'. Add on a plural suffix and you have 'Brigantes'.

While the word originally referred to a hill, it was extended to include a fort in its meaning, as these were usually on hill tops. Then this was extended in turn to refer to the goddess of the home or main fort on the hill. The word is cognate with English 'burg, berg', and the German 'birg', all meaning 'mountain', although this was also later transferred to describe a fortified settlement ('bury' as in 'Canterbury' is the modern English form).

FeatureSubdivisions (or sub-tribes) seem to have existed, for instance, the later Elmetians in the district of Leeds, and others on the northern fringe of Northumbria, such as the Carvetii in the region of Carlisle (Roman Luguvalium, founded AD 79 - see feature link), who may themselves have only become distinctly separate when the Romans founded Luguvalium.

The Carvetii (pronounced car-vet-ee) appear to have been particularly prominent amongst the Brigantine splinter tribes or subdivisions. The tribe's name is cognate with 'cervus', meaning 'deer' in Latin. It can be speculated that they may have been followers of the god Cernunnos, the deer-antlered god. As 'cervus' is Latin, one would assume that the Gaulish equivalent would be 'carvus'. Then there is the Latin suffix '-id' ('descended from'), and this name indicates that the Gaulish equivalent is '-et'. So Gaulish 'carvus' plus '-et' is exactly cognate to the Latin 'cervus' plus '-it'. The Latin suffix, '-id', the stem of '-is', is a suffix of nouns which have the general sense 'offspring of, descendant of', occurring originally in loanwords from Greek ('Atreid', 'Nereid'). In addition, '-ita' is another form in Latin.

Although the Latin is apparently borrowed from Greek, it seems possible that it may also have been borrowed from Gaulish. The tribe formed the followers of a god with deer antlers, making the tribespeople his 'deer' (a similar example exists in the Picts of Fib).

Directly east of the Carvetii along the line of the Wall were the Lopocares and the Textoverdi, while in Lancashire were the Setantii (or Segantii, or even Sistuntii), and on the North Yorkshire coast were the Gabrantovices. Some or all of these may only have become apparent after the Roman conquest of northern Britain. A recent discovery also mentions the Anavionenses, who are assumed to be part of the Novantae on their border with the Brigantes.

The Gabrantovices tribal name (pronounced gab-ran-to-we-ches) probably has 'gabros' at its core. This means 'goat', or even 'horse' (cognate with both 'capra' and 'cabal', 'goat' and 'horse'). 'Horse' seems more likely as this was a far more prestigious animal to the Celts. The second element may be *anatī-, meaning 'soul', which is related to *anatlā-, meaning 'breath'. And then there is the last element, 'vic', which may be *wīk-ā- (?), meaning 'fight', and *wik-ari- (?), meaning 'fierce', and *wik-e/o-, again meaning 'fight'. Since the Celts put modifiers after their nouns, this could be rendered into English along the lines of the 'fighting horse spirits' - dramatic enough for any Celts!

FeatureAs for the Lopocares name (pronounced lo-po-car-ees), the 'p' would be a 'k' in proto-Celtic roots, which leaves *lok- (?), meaning 'blame'. Oddly, this is very similar to the Norse god, Loki, raising the question of just how old this tradition may have been. Could he have been borrowed from Celts too (see feature link)? If so then the second element is 'dear' (beloved), which equates to 'cara', and would appear to give a meaning along the lines of 'beloved of Loki'. Admittedly, that's a bit of a stretch.

The Setantii name may be a misspelling (pronounced set-ant-ee), something which is entirely possible with ancient authors. If so, it may be 'sedos', meaning 'stag', plus 'anti' ('anati'), meaning 'soul', and providing the very eloquent 'souls of stags' as a name. And the Textoverdi name is a straightforward option between two choices (pronounced text-o-verd-ee). If 'verdi' is the proto-Celtic 'werdos' then it would be the verb 'to say', or a noun meaning 'speech'. If it is 'wertos' then it would be 'worth' or 'value'. That might make sense as '[they who] obtain valuables' (many colloquial variations of this are available), which would suit Celtic magpie sensibilities.

Overall, the Brigantes territory was vast, and probably formed of a looser confederation rather than a single political entity. The later Romano-British kingdom of Rheged was a west-coast evolution of this tribal territory, while Bernaccia, Deywr, and Ebrauc occupied much of the east coast, emerging initially as part of the 'Kingdom of North Britain' in the late fourth century AD.

Ancient Britons

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson and Rhys Saunders, from The Oxford History of England: Roman Britain, Peter Salway, from The La Tene Celtic Belgae Tribes in England: Y-Chromosome Haplogroup R-U152 - Hypothesis C, David K Faux, from Europe Before History, Kristian Kristiansen, from Castle Hill, Almondbury; A Brief Guide to the Excavations 1939-1972, William Jones Varley (Tolson Memorial Museum, 1973), from History of the Kings of Britain, Geoffrey of Monmouth, from Atlas of British History, G S P Freeman-Grenville (Rex Collins, London, 1979), from Roman and Anglian Settlement Patterns in Yorkshire, M L Faull (1974), from Life of Agricola, Tacitus, from Geography, Ptolemy, and from External Links: Brythonic Word of the Day, and The Celtic Iron Age, and Jones' Celtic Encyclopaedia, and Geography, Strabo (H C Hamilton & W Falconer, London, 1903, Perseus Online Edition), and Stanwick Iron Age Fortifications (English Heritage).)

c.555 BC

The hill fort of Castle Hill (in modern Huddersfield in Yorkshire) is constructed in the early Iron Age period, using a site which has been occupied for about fifteen hundred years previously, making its original inhabitants Bell Beaker folk. It covers the entire hill top, being made up of a triple system of ramparts and ditches. Unfortunately, much of the modern remains are not Iron Age. Instead they date from alterations made to the hill top in the Middle Ages.

Castle Hill in Huddersfield
The scheduled ancient monument of Castle Hill in Huddersfield is dominated by its Victorian tower, but the site shows signs of settlement since at least 2000 BC

c.430 BC

The hill fort of Castle Hill is burnt, although the exact circumstances are unknown. The power of the Brigantes (or their fifth century BC antecedents) grows slowly throughout the north, indicating a mostly peaceful evolution, but this may be a rare example of armed forced being used to put down resistance. Unfortunately not much more is known about Brigantine evolution until the Romans arrive.

AD 30s


Unknown ruler of the Brigantes.

43 - 69


Dau? Queen of the Brigantes. Deposed and fled.

43 - 69


Husband and co-ruler. Deposed and rebelled.


Initially, the pastoral Brigantes accept the arrival of the Romans who are decimating the tribes in the southern parts of the island. Rather than opposing them or supporting what may be to them distant, possibly 'foreign' tribes (in the form of Belgic groups) they act as a client kingdom, although the defences of Castle Hill are improved. A great deal of effort in this century is also put into massively improving the defences at Stanwick.


An outbreak of violence amongst the Brigantes forces the Roman Governor to break off his campaign against the Deceangli and deal with the rebellious faction. The existence of an anti-Roman faction in the north is now clear, as is the fact that not all Brigantes are willing to accept subservience to Rome.

Map of Britain AD 10
By the end of the first century BC and the start of the first century AD, British politics often came to the attention of Rome, and the borders of the tribal states of the south-east were pretty well known (click or tap on map to view full sized)


Cartimandua is clearly still happy to tow the line with Rome. She betrays the British battle leader, Caractacus (or Guiderius - possibly unrecognised in the north as a high king), following his defeat in the territory of the Ordovices. Instead of providing him with shelter and support in his ongoing fight against the invaders, she hands him over to them in bonds.


Cartimandua's husband, Venutius, leads a rebellion against her, probably as a ring-leader of the anti-Roman faction. The Romans put down the rebellion, with Venutius and Cartimandua burying their differences and being reconciled. Venutius apparently retains his position as co-ruler until his wife replaces him in AD 69.



Second husband of Cartimandua and co-ruler.


Cartimandua deserts her husband for his armour-bearer, Vellocatus. The name shows again the 'vello' component which is common in Celtic names. Despite the general trend for linguists to give 'duello', meaning 'fight', as the origin of 'bello', meaning 'war', it seems much more likely that 'bello' / 'vello' is a Celtic-Italic root for 'war', and that 'duello' is formed from 'du' plus 'vello', which gives a 'fight between two'.

Note that the name Vellocatus uses the same elements as the name of Cassivellaunus of the Catuvellauni in southern Britain, but in reverse sequence. It seems likely that 'cat' means 'battle' and 'vello' means 'war'.

Queen Cartimandua hands over Caratacus
This print by F Bartolozzi which sits in the British Museum depicts Cartimandua betraying the movement for British independence in the face of the Roman invasion by handing over a chained Caractacus to the Romans

The infuriated Venutius foments revolt within their scandalised tribe and summons help from outside. Roman Governor Vettius Bolanus sends a force of Roman auxiliary cavalry and infantry which, amid some bitter fighting, can do little more then rescue the queen. Cartimandua disappears from history.

69 - 73


Former co-ruler and now sole independent ruler.

72 - 79

Faced with the fact that their northern border is now dominated by a hostile tribe (or confederation) instead of a cooperative client tribe, the Romans invade under new Roman Governor Petillius Cerialis (who had made a notable escape from total defeat during the Boudiccan rebellion in AD 61). Following a hard campaign, the Brigantes under Venutius are conquered in AD 73, but continued unrest leads to the Brigantine territory being annexed by Rome in AD 79.

Isurium (Aldborough, near Ripon) appears to be a Roman creation at this time which serves as the administrative centre of Brigantine territory. Luguvalium (Carlisle) is also founded, while Stanwick fades out of use.

A Flavian date can also be ascribed to many original military sites such as Ambleside at the head of Lake Windermere, showing that the Carvetii had probably been involved in the Brigantine resistance. A Roman fort is also constructed on the River Lune. An associated town eventually springs up and the area becomes known by the combined name of river plus the Latin word for a fort: 'castra', eventually being shortened into 'Lancaster'.

Vindolanda Roman fort
Vindolanda, roughly at the centrepoint in the Wall, may well have fallen under the influence of the Lancastrian kingdom of Rheged following the primary division of the 'Kingdom of Northern Britain' around AD 450

73 - 79?


Unknown successor and Roman client king?

79 - 100?

Some archaeological evidence from the island of Lambay and a second century map by Ptolemy reveal the possibility that some Brigantine elements flee to Ireland and settle there. It is only towards the end of the century that Brigantine artefacts start to appear in Ireland, in the Cork/Waterford area of the later Munster. A potential Brigantine presence there may also inform the evolution of the Déisi.

80 - 82

Roman Governor Agricola leads two invading columns into what is now Lowland Scotland from the territory of the Brigantes. Over the course of three years the Votadini, Selgovae, and Novantae tribes are subdued and, in AD 82, the Romans secure the Novantae western coast up to the Clyde so that they can also contain the Damnonii tribesmen there and perhaps to prevent Irish landings. The 'crossing' mentioned by Tacitus into Novantae territory is probably a seaborne assault across the Solway Firth from the coast near Luguvalium in Brigantes territory.

c.100 - 105

The northern Brigantes apparently revolt, perhaps under the leadership of Arviragus, a possible candidate for high king (as is any British chieftain who refuses to surrender to the Romans). Arviragus seems to be responsible for the burning of the auxiliary fort at Corstopitum, as well as others, as the British tribes of Lowland Scotland stage a major uprising. By AD 100 the Romans give up Scotland, and fully establish their defences along the Tyne-Solway line. Geoffrey of Monmouth claims Arviragus as the father of Marius of the Silures.

Ilkley fort
This modern artist's impression of Ilkley fort and town (vicus) shows the Roman-era settlement which was rebuilt after being burnt down in the revolt of AD 154 and then lost to history following eventual abandonment, only to be rediscovered after 1865


The Brigantes in the north revolt again, although no other details are known. It is in this century that Ptolemy records the existence of Portus Setantiorum (the Port of the Setantii). The study of Roman roads suggests that it is located near the modern port of Fleetwood, which is off Rossall Point at the mouth of the River Wye, confirming the likelihood that the port has since vanished beneath the sea.

The Setantii are a sub-division of the Brigantes who are located in what is now Lancashire, possibly in territory reaching from the River Mersey in the south to the southern reaches of Cumbria, bordering the Carvetii, another Brigantine sub-division (see AD 72-79 for mention of them).


The Brigantes revolt as Emperor Antonius Pius is pushing north from Hadrian's Wall towards the line upon which his own Antonine Wall will be constructed immediately following this revolt. The revolt itself is quickly put down.

154 - 155

Despite over two generations of possible Romanisation (although the process is never fully effective outside of the south and east of Britain), the Brigantes revolt again against Roman domination, burning down Ilkley fort (Olicana). They are soon overcome and the fort is rebuilt. As a punishment, the Brigantes suffer the loss of their territories, which are subsequently broken up.

Roman defensive tower
Emperors Hadrian and Antoninus Pius had concentrated on defining the Roman empire's borders, defending the territory they had. That would have included building watch towers along the limes in the Danube region which the Marcomanni managed to break through

It seems possible that either two civitates are formed, or an imperial estate. For a time the civilian population is probably administered under direct military rule which is organised and overseen by the Roman Governor before a civil administration is appointed.

c.158 - 160s

Roman forts in the Pennines are reoccupied, most likely as part of the process of denying the Brigantes their territory. It could be at this time that the civitas Carvetiorum is formed out of north-western Brigantes territory, with a capital at Luguvalium (modern Carlisle).

This could also be the period in which the local British tribes in the vicinity of Leeds (Loidis) detach themselves from the Brigantes and form an alliance with the Romans, who have always found it convenient to rule by alliances with local chiefs. It is these Loidis Britons who later emerge as the Elmetians.


In 2013, a carved stone head of a possible Roman god is found in an ancient rubbish dump in County Durham (the north-eastern corner of Brigantes territory). The discovery is made at Binchester Fort, near Bishop Auckland, as a team is digging through an old bath house, close to the site of a small Roman alter discovered two years beforehand.

The twenty centimetre sandstone head dates from the second or third century and is similar to the Celtic deity, Antenociticus, who is thought to be worshipped in this particular area in times of war. A similar head with an inscription identifying it as Antenociticus has already been found in Newcastle in 1862.

A side view of the head of local deity Antenociticus, which measures ten centimetres from front to back and twenty from the top of the head to the base

Antenociticus is one of a number of gods who is known only from the northern frontier, a region which seems to have a number of its own deities. Antenociticus is not mentioned at any other Romano-British site or on any inscriptions from Europe, which is why it is identified as a local deity.

The name Antenociticus or Anociticus appears to be composed of the elements 'night', plus the prefixes 'ante-/ande-' (meaning 'against') or 'an-' (meaning 'not'). This would indicate an Apollo or Balder-type solar deity. Amusingly there is also the slight possibility that the noun is the word for 'naked' instead of 'night'. So 'not naked' or 'against nudity' in that case.

If that seems odd, it is worth remembering that the Roman and pre-Roman Prettanik Isles (Britain and Ireland combined) are known for their social mores against both nudity and hairiness. Caesar had already reported that the Britons shaved their whole bodies, leaving only the hair on their heads and upper lips, and those short.

Roman-era skull from the Walbrook
Even after the Roman occupation of Britain, a number of British customs seem to have survived, such as using human heads as ritual objects, with this skull being placed in the River Walbrook (which flows through the very centre of Londinium)


Three bishops of the British Church participate in the Roman Church's Council of Arles: Eborius of York (Brigantes territory), Restitutus of London, and Adelphius of Lincoln (Corieltavi territory) or possibly Colchester (Trinovantes territory). Given that York and London are regarded as being leading positions in the material which is later copied and expanded upon by Geoffrey of Monmouth, it is possible that these three bishops are the most senior members of the church in Britain. No other Roman-era sees are known for the country.



Romanmagister of the Brigantes (or Parisi).


Almost certainly as part of the rebuilding of Britain and the restoration of the army following the Barbarian Conspiracy of 367, a tower and fort at Ravenscar are built 'from the ground up', according to an inscription found there. The magister, Vindicianus, is responsible, but it is unclear whether the inscription refers to the original construction or its later rebuilding at this time.

4th century

During the later part of the century, the Roman military command in northern Britain gradually evolves into a Celtic military structure, presumably under the aegis of the figure known as Coel Hen.

Multangular Tower
The third century Multangular Tower in York (Ebrauc) lies at the western corner of the legionary fortress, which was probably the military HQ of fifth century 'Northern Britain'. The tower's remains are now part of York's Museum Gardens

FeatureEncompassing much of the Brigantes' territory, this military structure apparently emerges as the 'Kingdom of Northern Britain' (see feature link), which is governed from Ebrauc. As the military command evolves into a Celtic royalty, the kingdom soon breaks up into separate territories which eventually include Bernaccia, Caer Guendoleu, Dunoting, Elmet, Rheged, and The Pennines.

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