History Files

Celtic Kingdoms of the British Isles

Celts of Britain


MapCreones / Cerones / Carnonacae / Caereni (Britons)

FeatureMapVarious Celtic tribes were attested for the far north of Britain during the Roman period. The Creones, between Fort William and Mull in western Scotland, were neighboured to the north by the Carnonacae, who were themselves neighboured to the north by the Caereni. To the east of the latter were the Smertae and Cornavii, while further down were the Caledonii, with the Epidii to the south of the Creones. In general these tribes, along with all the others in the Highlands, were lumped together by Rome as the Caledonii, and it is from these tribes and those of the eastern Highlands that Pictland emerged. (See the map of most of Europe's tribes around the first centuries BC and AD to view the tribes' locations in relation to all other Celts.)

The three tribes of the Creones (or Creones), Carnonacae and Caereni were probably either descended from a common, single tribe, or were a single tribe with various pronunciations of their name. Another option is that the tribe(s) lived in a region which already had such a name, and they adopted it in various pronunciations. It is possible that the neighbouring Cornavii were a branch of the same tribe, the Cornovii of western Cornwall, and the district of Cornouaille in Brittany (although all three lived on a 'horn' of territory surrounded by plenty of water, so 'Corn' or 'people of the horn' would be a common naming). Not far from them, Ptolemy reports a tribe of Decantae (of, or from, the Cantae, a possible offshoot of of the Cantii in Kent), and migrations to Scotland from the south, or from Brittany, are certainly possible given the history of tribal migrations across the whole of Europe.

The tribal area would be approximately the north-west Highlands, starting around northern Argyll and Mull, and extending some distance up the coast (perhaps opposite, and including, Skye), and extending an unknown distance east into the interior. The meaning of the name is unknown, but may come from the horned god, Cernunnos, either directly or through a leader named after the god. The alternative spelling for Cernunnos is Carnonos, which is perfect common Celtic, with 'carn' meaning 'horn', plus a plural suffix, and '-os', which is a male singular nominative suffix. The name means 'horns' as a name for a male individual. If the tribes adopted their name(s) from the region itself, then it could derive from a Celtic word for a prominent stone or pile of stones, a word imported into modern English as 'cairn'. A mountain range in the area is today known as the Cairngorms, after the prominent peak, Cairn Gorm.

This tribe or tribes would have been under the domination at various times of the high king of the Picts (ie. the king of Alba), and later the high king of the North Picts, before gradually being taken over by Dál Riatan Scots moving up from the south.

(Information by Edward Dawson, with additional information by Peter Kessler, from Atlas of British History, G S P Freeman-Grenville (Rex Collins, London, 1979), from Life of Agricola, Tacitus, from Geography, Ptolemy, and from the Ravenna Cosmography (compiled by an anonymous cleric).)

AD 83

Within the Pictish heartland, firstly north of the Firth of Forth (in AD 83) and then at Mons Graupius (or Mons Grampius, in AD 84), the Romans under Governor Agricola win victories over what they call the 'Caledonides' led by Calgucus (using the diminutive form of the name, perhaps to suggest that this is viewed as a minor group, perhaps without a recognised leadership). The idea is to pre-empt an intended attack by the Caledonians, but it almost proves disastrous in the first year as the Ninth Legion is surprised by a night assault.


The Roman fleet goes ahead along the coast to spread terror, and is accompanied by British allies. The location of the decisive battle they fight against the Caledonides has been strongly identified with the mountain now known as Bennachie in Aberdeenshire. It is reasonable to expect that the tribal grouping of the Creones, Carnonacae, and Caereni could be involved as members of what seems to be a tribal alliance.

Pictish hanging bowl
This Pictish hanging bowl dates from the sixth or seventh century and is indicative of later products from the Highlands of the Creones and the other tribes

The Caledonii/Caledoni tribal alliance has a name which is obscure but is rather suggestive of 'fortress' (-dun) in its second part. Another and more exciting possibility comes to mind, however. Given that the '-i' is a Roman plural, then '-on' would be the Brythonic plural, leaving 'Caled' as the actual name. This is another form of the most ancient known name of the Celts, which is reported variously as beginning with a 'g' or 'k' sound, followed by an 'a' or 'e', followed always by an 'l', and followed by either a vowel or not, and finally by a 'd' or 't'. So Kelt, Galat (as in the Galatian kingdom), or in this case, Caled all mean the same.


King Brudei of North Pictland faces a huge Northumbrian host on the plains of Dunnichen, in Angus, probably with descendants of the Creones tribe amongst his forces. The Battle of Nechtansmere (the English name which may originate from the same root word as the Caledonian one) is a turning point in which Brudei makes his name. The Northumbrians had previously defeated every force they had faced, and had occupied southern Pictland for thirty years, probably as part of the territory of Dunbar. Brudei defeats them and massacres the entire enemy host including its king, and proceeds to clear Pictland of the remaining Northumbrians who have settled there, killing or enslaving them.


The Ravenna Cosmography, written around the end of the seventh century, mentions a town called Credigone (Old Kilpatrick in Scotland) which might possibly be related to this tribe or tribes. More likely, there is the modern town of Crinan on the bay called Loch Crinan, which appears to derive from the tribal name. The Creones, Carnonacae, and Caereni themselves merge into the general Pictish population and kingdom, becoming indivisible from them, and eventually falling under the domination of the Dal Riadan Scots.