History Files

Celtic Kingdoms of the British Isles

Celts of Britain


MapCaer Went / Venta Icenorum (Romano-Britons)

FeatureFollowing the expulsion of Roman administration from Britain, the Iceni do not appear to have re-emerged with a kingdom of their own. As with much of the south-east of the country, the region apparently remained under British central control for much of the fifth century, until the invading Angles took over. However, a possible territory or kingdom may have started to emerge in the form of the postulated Caer Went. Or the name may simply have been the Romano-British version of the town of Venta Icenorum. Unfortunately, there is no firm information for any conclusion to be reached, probably owing to the speed with which it was overrun by Angles.

Neglect of the Roman engineering works and land subsidence after AD 450 reduced drained fenland to marsh, isolating Ely and other islands in the west of the territory. Within these areas lived an independent people with dark-hair, called the Gywre (or Gyrwas), who were possibly Celtic in origin. One theory is that they were refugees from Caer Went. They survived on a semi-independent basis until at least the middle of the seventh century, and as late as the early twentieth century some Cambridgeshire folk referred to themselves as kin to the Welsh.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Geoffrey Tobin, from The Oxford History of England: The English Settlements, J N L Meyers, from The Oxford History of England: Anglo-Saxon England, Sir Frank Stenton, from History of the Kings of Britain, Geoffrey of Monmouth, from the Historia Brittonum (The History of the Britons), Nennius (J A Giles, Ed & Trans, 1841, published as part of Six Old English Chronicles (Henry G Bohn, London, 1848)).)

c.475 - 495

Angles arrive and begin to take over control of the region, settling first in the north. They intermingle with the Saxon descendants of Roman foederati. It is possible that the defenders of Venta Icenorum carry out some ditch-digging to construct an enclosure in the north-west of the town. Elements of this ditch have been found to cut through the Roman road there. The marks in the ground made by possible structures are visible here.

Venta Icenorum
The Roman town of Venta Icenorum shown at its height, which was probably short-lived and perhaps not as prosperous as shown here. The unusual diagonal road leading to the north-east can clearly be seen

c.495 - 560s

The Angle settlers secure their hold on the region, forming into two main groups in the north and south (North and South Folk). There is the possibility that the Iclingas may be the first to gain any form of power in the region, as they appear to take their name from the Iceni themselves. If this is correct then it shows that the Iceni name does in fact survive this far (the Cantware are another example of the new arrivals taking an existing British name for themselves).

Subsequently the Romano-British administration collapses in the region and Venta Icenorum is abandoned (possibly following a massacre of its people). The Anglian tribes form their own settlements, ignoring the Roman city and most British place names, too. Only a half-dozen Romano-British place names remain today in the region, such as Girton, Comberton and Chatteris. During this period the Angles coalesce into the East Angles.