British Iron Age Tribal Names
Here is a list of all the known British Iron Age tribal names, together with translations of their names where possible.
The language of the Iron Age in Britain.
Almost all the names are examples of the Brittonic language, with some showing Irish and possibly Germanic influences. Brittonic, or Old British, eventually evolved into Welsh, Cornish and Breton.
The names can be interpreted in most cases with a knowledge of modern Welsh. It is as well to bear in mind that many of the names may have been used by people who were outsiders relative to the tribes concerned and in some cases certain of the the tribes may have used an entirely different name from the one recorded. However, on the other hand, it is known from inscriptions that many of the names were actually used by members of the tribes cited below. The Cornovii is a good example.
The sources of the names
Besides those recorded on inscriptions, tribal names are mentioned variously by the Greek geographer Ptolemy and by Julius Caesar in his book Commentaries on the Gallic War. Some of the names can be deduced from the names of their tribal capitals as given in the Antonine Itinerary.
Atrebates - (the) inhabitants
Belgae - swollen (Welsh bolg = belly) with anger people, or maybe they tended to have fat bellies
Brigantes - highlanders or noble people
Caereni - sheep people (ie shepherds)
Caledonii - possessing hard feet, (tough, sturdy people)
Cantiaci - people of the white cliffs (people of Kent)?
Carnonacae - ?
Carvetii - ?
Catuvellauni - better in battle people
Corieltauvi - ?
Corionototae - army tribe
Cornovii - people of the horn (-god, -animal or salt)
Creones - ?
Damnonii - ?
Decantae - good people, or ten (sub-tribes?)
Deceangli - fair (haired?) Angles(!)
Demetae - sheep people (shepherds)
Dobunni - victorious ones
Dumnonii - dark, gloomy (place or people)
Durotriges - water (coastal) people
Epidii - horse people (affinities to the animal or a horse god)
Gangani - ? (in Ireland and the Llŷn Peninsula)
Iceni - no consensus, but I think it is cognate with Welsh geni = birth, ie 'those who are born together'
Lopocares - ? possibly incorporating 'army'
Lugi - Possibly worshippers of the Celtic god Lugus, the deity of shoemakers. The tribe's speciality might have been the manufacture of shoes. Interestingly, Lleu was a shoemaker in Welsh mythology. Lug is also connected with oaths, lawmaking and the moon, so some or all of these factors may be involved.
Novantae - ? seems to incorporate the element new, possibly mentioned in Y Gododdin (mediaeval Welsh literature)
Ordovices - hammer people?
Parisii - cauldron users, fighters, commanders - take your pick
Regnenses - the proud ones
Selgovae - the hunters
Setantii - no consensus, but a sept or sub-tribe of the Brigantes possibly
Silures - seed people, ie people of a common blood-stock
Smertae - providers or purveyors?
Taexali - ?
Textoverdi - just claimants (presumably of the tribal lands)
Trinovantes - newcomers? vigorous people?
Vacomagi - ?
Venicones - hunters with white hounds or kindred hounds, Maen Gwyngwn (area of white hounds), a region mentioned in Y Gododdin
Votadini - ? became Gododdin mentioned in early Welsh literature
© Julian Ward-Davies BA Hons 2018
Design, image editing and programming are the work of the author.
If you have any information, suggestions and/or photographs relating to the subject matter, no matter how trivial, please contact the author by one of the methods shown below.
Please revisit for additions, amendments and revisions.