History Files

European Kingdoms

Celtic Tribes


Veneti / Venedi (West Indo-Europeans) (Europe)

FeatureThe system which has evolved to catalogue the various archaeological expressions of human progress is one which involves cultures. For well over a century, archaeological cultures have remained the framework for global prehistory. The earliest cultures which emerge from Africa and the Near East are perhaps the easiest to catalogue, right up until human expansion reaches the Americas. The task of cataloguing that vast range of human cultures is covered in the related feature (see feature link, right).

IndexIt seems highly likely from detailed analysis that the first wave of Indo-European-speaking peoples to arrive in Western Europe were members of the West Indo-European proto-Italic branch. They displaced - and more often incorporated - early inhabitants who appear physically to have been Mediterranean prehistoric folk who spoke non-Indo-European languages from the Dene-Caucasian language group (see index link for a list of early cultures).

FeatureInto this mix was added the proto-Celtic Urnfield culture which greatly expanded Indo-European influence across many regions of Europe which previously had been populated entirely by indigenous Mesolithic or later-arriving Neolithic groups. The Urnfield was directly succeeded by the Hallstatt culture, the first truly Celtic culture (see feature link for a discussion on the origins of the name 'Celt').

This expanded outwards to fill much of the territory between modern France and Hungary, ancient Iberia, Germania, and Bohemia, and ancient Britain and the Anatolia of the Galatians. This expansion continued for about four hundred years before it expended itself, but it was immediately succeeded by its own offspring, the 'second wave' La Tène culture.

The 'third wave' of Celtic expansion appears to have been formed of tribes which were seaborne and which lived along the North Atlantic and/or Baltic coastlines. Known as Belgae, they were Celts who seem to have established themselves in Northern Europe, although precisely where is entirely open to speculation (not to mention some heated debate).

For whatever reason, whether it was due to population pressures or population movements (the early Germanic tribes being a favourite here as they soon started expanding into Northern Europe themselves), or to climate change, the Belgae began to leave (or simply to continue their migratory pattern). Many migrated west, very likely following the Atlantic coastline as they went.

FeatureOthers may have gone east into Eastern Europe, doubtless following the Baltic coastline (see feature link). This group most likely reached the mouth of the Vistula where it founded permanent settlements along the river's east bank, in what the Romans thought of as Sarmatia (with Germania to the west). It is here that a good deal of uncertainty surrounds them.

It was generally thought that they provided the origins of a people who were based along the length of the Vistula who were later known as the Vistula Venedi. Now it seems more likely that they simply intermixed with them to strengthen their population.

Around the same time, part of this Venedi population seems to have undertaken its own sea journey. It reached the Armorican peninsula where it was noted by Julius Caesar as being different from the Gauls of his time, but also different from the Belgae. These were the Armorican Veneti. There was also a third group of Veneti in Iron Age Italy, known as the Adriatic Veneti.

That name is shown in various ways by various authors, but they all mean exactly the same thing. The most popular form is Veneti or Venedi (both in Latin), but Ptolemy calls them Ouenedai (in Greek), while Venedae is an alternative Latin plural (although 'Veneti' is also a plural).

It appears to derive from a common root for 'white' (ie. blond) which is found in Celtic or Italic tongues and related branches. The English word 'white' is a cognate, the 'n' having been dropped at some point from the 'wenet' or 'vined' or similar root. It is not known for certain if 'white' in Germanic languages was retained from proto-Indo-European, or imported from common Celtic which itself had inherited it from former times (specifically during the Danubian phase of Indo-European migration). Most 'experts' seem to lean towards the former but the latter is preferable.

As light-haired Europeans often have offspring with blonde hair regardless of the hair colour of their parents, the many tribes or groups which used variants of this label could have gained their names from leaders who were born blond and who were named as such, or from a general disposition towards blond hair. It is only after the first few years that the blond hair of many of those offspring turns brown. The Veneti were 'the blonds'. The white of 'winter' has the same origin.

It is most likely that there were two main streams of West Indo-European migration (almost literally forming a river course and flowing along it for up to a millennium), with the Celtic/Italic one brushing the top of the Balkans, stopping for a while around the Hungary area, and then continuing more gradually. That's not two migrations, just two streams of migration and a gradual build-up at the headwaters before a further course could be established and again followed at a leisurely pace of progress.

Splintering would have been a natural part of the migration as various groups at various times followed the splinter they best fancied. Then these various groups of migrant communities would take control of regions and start to compete with their cousins and rivals to see who flourished best.

There were also northbound migratory streams (two, probably, plus minor tributaries), and it is one of these which may have supplied the original Vistula Venedi, founded by migrants who headed north from the Danube, or who turned right instead of left immediately prior to reaching the Danube from their original home on the Pontic steppe.

Thanks to contemporary evidence and respectable theorising, it can be seen that these Vistula Venedi most likely supplied the Armorican Veneti, but the origins of the Adriatic Veneti are less clear. They seem to have emerged from the general Danubian grouping of proto-Italic-type Indo-Europeans, so their name could be coincidentally similar. There are later tribes which use this same root in their name, notably the Vindelici.

If that postulated first Danubian stream of West Indo-Europeans contained a large central component which was using some form of the 'vend/vened' name then this could have spread via smaller migrations into Switzerland, Venice, and the Vistula. This would confirm the idea that the Venedi/Veneti/Vindelici all emerged from Danubian Indo-Europeans who spoke a proto-Italic language prior to the development of the dominating Celtic language. This would give them close linguistic and cultural ties to the later Italics and Illyrians.

Vistula lagoon, Poland

(Information by Peter Kessler and Edward Dawson, with additional information from The La Tene Celtic Belgae Tribes in England: Y-Chromosome Haplogroup R-U152 - Hypothesis C, David K Faux, from Geography, Ptolemy, from Roman History, Cassius Dio, from Research into the Physical History of Mankind, James Cowles Pritchard, from Geography, Strabo, translated by H C Hamilton Esq & W Falconer, M A, Ed (George Bell & Sons, London, 1903), from A Genetic Signal of Central European Celtic Ancestry, David K Faux, from The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World, David W Anthony, and from External Links: The Works of Julius Caesar: Gallic Wars, and The Beaker phenomenon and the genomic transformation of northwest Europe (Nature), and Massive migration from the steppe was a source for Indo-European languages in Europe (Nature.com).)

c.3300 - 2600 BC

Offshoots of the Yamnaya cultural horizon during the 'halt' at the River Danube around Budapest, groups of Indo-Europeans gradually trickle into the Balkans to found the earliest beginnings of Illyrians, Epirotes, some (southern) Italians and the like.

Central Asia Indo-European map 3000 BC
By around 3000 BC the Indo-Europeans had begun their mass migration away from the Pontic-Caspian steppe, with the bulk of them heading westwards towards the heartland of Europe (click or tap on map to view full sized)

At this point in time, it appears that the direct West Indo-European ancestors of later Italic and Celtic tribes form the bulk of this Danubian collective of tribes. It would be reasonable to expect that they develop their distinct cultural and linguistic characteristics whilst there.

From the Danube it appears that they begin to head west along the Danubian valley, with the initial wave developing (or remaining) as proto-Italics, while a secondary wave becomes the Q-Celtic speakers. The Bell Beaker is the first mass cultural phase of which they form an important part.

Others diffuse into the Alpine hills and mountains to integrate with existing peoples such as the Euganei, Ligurians, Raeti, and Vindelici, while it seems a northern branch forms the largest group of Veneti.

c.1183 BC

A Trojan War story provides an elegant introduction to the arrival of the Adriatic Veneti at the northern end of the Adriatic, but in reality they are probably migrants from the proto-Italic/proto-Illyrian fringe along the Danube who head outwards from there during the climate-induced social collapse at the end of the thirteenth century BC.

Map of Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and Greece 1200 BC
Climate-induced drought in the thirteenth century BC created great instability in the entire eastern Mediterranean region, resulting in mass migration in the Balkans, as well as the fall of city states and kingdoms further east (click or tap on map to view full sized)

The Hittites, Syria, and Canaan suffer especially badly from this collapse, but so do the Mycenaeans, and the South-West Indo-Europeans, who soon migrate southwards to populate much of the Balkans, including the Illyrian coast. It would also seem to be around this time that large populations of proto-Italics migrate into the Italian peninsula.

5th century BC

FeatureThe Veneti are a tribe, or confederation, or major grouping, or simply members of a naming tradition. They occupy a (semi-theoretical) swathe of territory in Eastern Europe (but see feature link). To their west are the Hallstatt Celts and the so-called Northern Celts who may be equated with the ancestors of the Belgae.

Although this idea is not universally accepted, generally it is thought that the Belgae begin to migrate around this time, with some heading west towards the Atlantic coast and potentially others heading east, probably following the Baltic coastline.

Belgic settlement in, or migration across, Northern Europe almost certainly involved some of them entering the Cimbric peninsula where they interacted with early German tribes there, influencing them and being influenced by them

The Atlantic coast division of Belgae settles on territory in the modern southern Netherlands, Belgium, northern France, and Brittany. They are joined by a group known as the Armorican Veneti who exhibit notable differences, according to Julius Caesar.

The Baltic division reaches the Vistula and founds permanent settlements along its east bank, in what the Romans later think of as Sarmatia (with Germania to the west). There they encounter and probably integrate with units of the widespread and probably highly-integrated Vistula Venedi.

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