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Celtic Kingdoms of the British Isles

Celts of Britain


Parisi (Britons)

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.

MapNext to their neighbours to the north and west - the powerful Brigantes - the tribe of the Parisi was insignificant in terms of the extent of their territory. However, they seemed to have been more advanced culturally in their North Humberside homelands, and had some civilising effect on the Brigantes. They were bordered to the south by the Corieltavi, who were more advanced still. Ptolemy's Geographia describes elements of their territory, including Abus Fluvius (the River Humber), which formed their southern border, and the Roman way station called Delgovicia or Delgovicium, probably near Millington in East Yorkshire.

Like many of their neighbours in the south-east, they were probably a Belgic tribe from the North Sea or Baltic coastlines, part of the third wave of Celtic settlers in Britain, although this strata of their society may have been a late addition - see below (and see the map of most of Europe's tribes around the first centuries BC and AD to view this tribe's location in relation to all other Celts). The centre of their territory is not known, but may have been Brough-on-Humber (the Roman civitas of Petuaria). The name Petuaria derives from the Celtic word for 'fourth', suggesting this area was only one of at least four regions within the territory. That being the case, there may be other tribal capitals to be discovered in modern East Yorkshire.

Edward Dawson suggests the Parisi territory was much smaller than is usually thought. Ptolemy says '...on the Opportunum bay are the Parisi and the town Petuaria', but taking 'on the bay' literally would place them only in the Petuaria district, the 'fourth' region mentioned above. This was the region which came to be known as Deywr by post-Roman Britons and which was given to the Deiran Angles when they were introduced to provide mercenary defence for the coastline. Were the Parisi rulers in fact only very late incomers who were fleeing Julius Caesar's conquests (along with Veneti and other refugees such as the Belgae)? Did they take over the fourth region of the already-established Parisi tribe's territory in the middle of the first century BC, taking their name in the process (or having their own name ignored or not recorded by Romans), or were there always links between the two groups, dating back to about 300 BC and the start of Arras culture burial practises in East Yorkshire?

The Parisi name possibly derived from the proto-Celtic 'kwarjo' (a word which has been conjectured by linguists and which means 'kettle'). The 'kw' became 'p', so 'Parjo', or people of the kettle (in Germany, the word for kettle, 'kessel', was extended from the word for copper, perhaps allowing the Parisii to be 'coppermakers'). In reaching this result, Edward Dawson also questions whether the Parisi were Belgic at all (which ties in with the theory above that the Parisi main body settled earlier than their first century Belgic rulers). Given the similarity of their name with that of the Parisii tribe in Gaul, he suggests a recent split from them or a migration from Gaul to Britain, a notion which is discounted by some scholars. Instead, this may have happened the other way around, with elements of the British Parisi arriving in Gaul, or (even more likely) the tribe dividing before arriving in either location.

Despite the lack of evidence to enable any firm conclusion to be drawn, the Parisi were certainly in evidence by the start of the first century AD. As mentioned, this potential first century (Belgic) influx may have settled amongst fourth century (Celtic) arrivals, which may also explain the division of the territory - into three quarters of the original people and one quarter of the latest arrivals. The territory re-emerged following the end of Roman Britannia as part of the Romano-British kingdom of Ebrauc.

Ancient Britons

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from The Oxford History of England: Roman Britain, Peter Salway, from Atlas of British History, G S P Freeman-Grenville (Rex Collins, London, 1979), from Geography, Ptolemy, and from External Links: The Geography of Claudius Ptolemy Book II Chapter 2, and Iron Age shield found in Pocklington (Yorkshire Post).)

c.300 BC

Judging by burial practises in the region, the early Parisi probably occupy their territory by this date. Whether they are related to the Parisii tribe in Gaul is unknown, but they seem to be a late arrival in the migration of those Celtic tribes which are dominant by the first century AD.

The Kirkburn Sword
The Kirkburn sword was one of the greatest treasures to be unearthed from the East Yorkshire region. Dated to 300-200 BC, it comes from the grave of a Celtic man

The Parisi bury their dead under small barrows which are surrounded by square ditches. Some nobles are buried with their chariots, part of the Arras culture which is otherwise unusual in Britain. Farming the chalk hills of East Yorkshire, the tribe also trades by boat, with one longboat (later uncovered by archaeologists at Hasholme) bearing a cargo of wood and beef when it sinks in this period.

c.300 - 200 BC

Although there are few burials in Britain at this time, the Parisi territory is an exception (along with that of the Votadini). One burial in what is now Kirkburn involves a man who is in his late twenties or early thirties, something approaching late middle-age at best for this period. After his body is placed in the grave and a fine sword is placed alongside him, three spears are thrust into his chest as part of the funeral ritual. Another man of a similar age is buried in the same small cemetery, but with a dismantled chariot or cart.

c.100 BC

Although the site has been occupied since the fifth millennium BC, the hill fort of Burrough Hill begins its most intensive phase of occupation around this time. This lasts until around the mid-first century AD Roman imperial invasion of AD 43.

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)

Burrough Hill is eleven kilometres to the south of Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire, in the East Midlands, well inside Corieltavi territory at this time. In 2014, the University of Leicester announces that it has uncovered the remains of a chariot burial on the hill, an extremely rare find outside of the territory of the Parisi.

The burial dates from the third or second century BC and the chariot is either dismantled, or has never been assembled. It most likely signifies the passing of a high-status individual, seemingly suggesting a level of influence from the culturally-equal Parisi - possibly intermarriage and a mixing of customs, to expound just one theory.

1st century BC

There appears to be a further influx of people who go towards forming the Parisi tribe which is encountered by Rome in the following century. Given that the tribe as a whole had probably been formed by émigrés from or a division of the Parisii tribe of Gaul, then this influx is likely to be a late Belgic addition.

It is probably also these newcomers who occupy the Petuaria region (Brough-on-Humber), the 'fourth' region of Parisi territory, which is handy for its coastline, making it an idea place for new arrivals to land and settle.

Many Belgic groups showed marked Germanic influences, so were they Celts with German words and warriors, or Germans with Celtic words and warriors? The truth probably lies somewhere in between

AD 43 - 45

By this period, the practice of chariot burials has ceased, the only major aspect of Parisi culture which had matched that of many Celtic tribes in continental Europe. Now, the Parisi probably accept the arrival of the Romans as easily as their neighbours, the Brigantes.

Certainly there is no record of them offering any resistance to the invaders, and no leaders are recorded, making it unlikely that any armed conflict is involved. Perhaps the tribe is not even fully unified, which is a possibility given the four regions or more which may make up the territory.

46 - 47

The Romans under Roman Governor Aulus Plautius are apparently welcomed once they reach Corieltavi territory, although perhaps some persuasion is needed initially. It is also possible that the Corieltavi ruler, Volisios, moves his camp into Parisi territory and remains here for some years after the Roman capture of the Corieltavi territory.


The Roman city of Eboracum (modern York) is founded as the 'capital of the north' of Britannia, a sobriquet which it retains today. The city's name originates in a Celtic word which is Latinised by the city's founders. Today's version of the name is the same, altered only by pronunciation during language shifts and newly-arrived populations (Angles and Danes especially).

Sequential Maps of Roman Britain AD 43-425
The Roman invasion of Britain began late in the season, using three divisions which swiftly conquered the south-east before more slowly penetrating the west and north to bring all of England and Wales under their control, as shown in this series of sequential maps (click or tap on map to view full sized)


FeatureAs Roman administration of Britain is reorganised by Magnus Maximus in preparation for the invasion of the continental mainland, Coel Hen is apparently appointed Roman Governor of the north. He eventually comes to be styled king of Northern Britain (but perhaps only by later writers - see feature link).

The territory he commands becomes increasingly fragmented under his successors during the emergence of post-Roman Britain, with Ebrauc forming a kingdom which covers much of former Parisi territory, while also stretching up to Hadrian's Wall and over to the west coast. The former Parisi territory itself emerges as a region by the name of Deifr.

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