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Approximate territory of the Brigantes
Capital Isurium Brigantum (Aldborough)
Location Yorkshire (NR and WR) - Lancashire - North East - Nottinghamshire - Derbyshire - East Cheshire - Staffordshire Moorlands
Rulers Cartimandua, Venutius

The Brigantes were a Celtic tribe who in pre-Roman times controlled the largest section of Northern England and a significant part of the Midlands. Their kingdom was known as Brigantia, and it was centred in what was later known as Yorkshire. The Brigantes were the only Celtic tribe to have a presence in both England and Ireland, in the latter of which they could be found around Wexford, Kilkenny and Waterford.[1]

Within England, the territory which the Brigantes inhabited was bordered by that of four other Celtic tribes: the Carvetii (to whom they may have been related) in the North-West, the Parisii to the East and, to the South, the Corieltauvi and the Cornovii.



The name Brigantes (Βρίγαντες) is cognate to that of the goddess Brigantia.[2] The name is from a root meaning "high, elevated", and it is unclear whether settlements called Brigantium were so named as "high ones" in a metaphorical sense of nobility, or literally as "highlanders", referring to the Pennines, or inhabitants of physically elevated fortifications. (IEW, s.v. "bhereg'h-").

There are several ancient settlements named Brigantium around Europe: there was also a tribe called the Brigantes from what is modern day Betanzos, Spain falling within an area referred to as Celtic Gallaecia. Similarly the Brigantii from the Alps is another example, from settlements bearing the name Brigantium now known as Bregenz and Briançon.[2][3]

The Old Italian word brigante, whence English and french brigand, occurs in medieval Latin in the 14th century n the forms brigancii, brigantii, brigantini, brigantes (OED). The exact connection of the Italian term to the Celtic ethnonym is opaque. The Italian noun appears to derive from a verb brigare "to brawl, brabble", but the Latin forms show at least a secondary association with the Celtic tribe; during Roman times, the Brigantes were known as the most militant tribe in Britain.[4]


Brigantian Theatrical mask.

The origins of the Brigantes are obscure, however at least the leaders are thought to have been related to Continental European tribes, either the Brigantes of Celtic Gallaecia or the Brigantii of the Alps. According to an other opinion Brigantes came from ancient Thrace. The surrounding place of the cities of Maronea, Abdera and others was called Briantice or Gallaice (according to Herodotus). From there thracians colonists were expanded to the north and west Europe. Once a confederation of smaller Iron Age tribes in Britain which had become one large one, the largest in all of Great Britain, smaller septs or pagi within Brigantia included; Gabrantovices of coastal North Yorkshire, Setantii in coastal Lancashire, the Lopocares and Textoverdi far north near where Hadrian's Wall would be built and the Carvetii of Cumbria who would actually gain autonomy by the time of the Roman conquest of Britain of 43 AD.

In 47, the governor of Britain, Publius Ostorius Scapula, was forced to abandon his campaign against the Deceangli of North Wales because of "disaffection" among the Brigantes. A few of those who had taken up arms were killed and the rest were pardoned.[5] In 51, the defeated resistance leader Caratacus sought sanctuary with the Brigantian queen, Cartimandua, but she showed her loyalty to the Romans by handing him over in chains.[6]. She and her husband Venutius are described as loyal and "defended by Roman arms", but they later divorced, Venutius taking up arms first against his ex-wife, then her Roman protectors. During the governorship of Aulus Didius Gallus (52-57) he gathered an army and invaded her kingdom. The Romans sent troops to defend Cartimandua and Venutius's rebellion was defeated after fierce fighting.[7] After the divorce, Cartimandua married Venutius's armour-bearer, Vellocatus, and raised him to the kingship. Venutius staged another rebellion in 69, taking advantage of Roman instability in the Year of four emperors. This time the Romans were only able to send auxiliaries, who succeeded in evacuating Cartimandua but left Venutius in possession of the kingdom.[8]

After the accession of Vespasian, Quintus Petillius Cerialis was appointed governor of Britain and the conquest of the Brigantes was begun.[9] It seems to have taken many decades to complete. Gnaeus Julius Agricola (governor 78-84) appears to have engaged in warfare in Brigantian territory.[10] The Roman poet Juvenal, writing in the early 2nd century, depicts a Roman father urging his son to win glory by destroying the forts of the Brigantes.[11] It is possible that one of the purposes of Hadrian's Wall (begun in 122) was to keep the Brigantes from making discourse with the tribes in what is now the lowlands of Scotland on the other side. The emperor Antoninus Pius (138-161) is said by Pausanias to have defeated them after they began an unprovoked war against Roman allies,[12] perhaps as part of the campaign that led to the building of the Antonine Wall (142-144).

Tacitus, in a speech put into the mouth of the Caledonian leader Calgacus, refers to the Brigantes, "under a woman's leadership", almost defeating the Romans.[13] This appears to be a reference to Boudica of the Iceni, attributed to the Brigantes in error. The Brigantes are attested in Ireland as well as Britain in Ptolemy's 2nd century Geographia.[14]


Ptolemy named nine principal poleis or towns belonging to the Brigantes, these were;

Latin name Modern name County
Epiacum Whitley Castle Northumberland
Vinovium Binchester County Durham
Caturactonium Catterick North Yorkshire
Calatum Burrow, Lonsdale Lancashire
Isurium Brigantum Aldborough North Yorkshire
Rigodunum Castleshaw Greater Manchester
Olicana Ilkley North Yorkshire
Eboracum City of York York
Cambodunum Slack West Yorkshire

Other settlements known in Brigantian territory include:


  1. ^ "Celtic Ireland in the Iron Age". 24 October 2007.  
  2. ^ a b "The Brigantes". 24 October 2007.  
  3. ^ "Brigantium". 24 October 2007.  
  4. ^ "Romans In Britain". 25 October 2007.  
  5. ^ Tacitus, Annals 12.32
  6. ^ Tacitus, Annals 12:36
  7. ^ Tacitus, Annals 12:40
  8. ^ Tacitus, Histories 3:45
  9. ^ Tacitus, Agricola 17
  10. ^ Tacitus, Agricola 20
  11. ^ Juvenal, Satires 14.196
  12. ^ Pausanias, Description of Greece 8.43.4
  13. ^ Tacitus, Agricola 31
  14. ^ Ptolemy, Geographia 2.1, 2.2

Further reading

  • Branigan, Keith (1980). Rome and the Brigantes: the impact of Rome on northern England. University of Sheffield. ISBN 0906090040.  
  • Hartley, Brian (1988). The Brigantes. Sutton. ISBN 0862995477.  

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

BRIGANTES (Celtic for "mountaineers" or "free, privileged"), a people of northern Britain, who inhabited the country from the mouth of the Abus (Humber) on the east and the Belisama (Mersey; according to others, Ribble) on the west as far northwards as the Wall of Antoninus. Their territory thus included most of Yorkshire, the whole of Lancashire, Durham, Westmorland, Cumberland and part of Northumberland. Their chief town was Eburacum (or Eboracum; York). They first came into contact with the Romans during the reign of Claudius, when they were defeated by Publius Ostorius Scapula. Under Vespasian they submitted to Petillius Cerealis, but were not finally subdued till the time of Antoninus Pius (Tac. Agricola, 17; Pausan. viii. 43.4). The name of their eponymous goddess Brigantia is found on inscriptions (Corp. Inscr. Lat. vii. 200, 875, 1062; F. Haverfield in Archaeological Journal, xlix., 1892), and also that of a god Bergans=Brigans (Ephemeris Epigraphica, vii. No. 920). A branch of the Brigantes also settled in the south-east corner of Ireland, near the river Birgus (Barrow).

See A. Holder, Altceltischer Sprachschatz, i. (1896), for ancient authorities; J. Rhys, Celtic Britain (3rd ed., 1904); Pauly-Wissowa, Realencyclopadie, iii. pt. i. (1897).

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Simple English

File:Map of the Territory of the
Where the Brigantes used to live - in red.
The Brigantes were a British Celtic tribe (people), that used to live in the North of Roman Britain; between the rivers Tyne and Humber.

Near-by Tribes

The tribes that used to live next to the Brigantes were the Carvetti, the Parisii, the Cornovii, and the Corieltauvi.

Related Tribes

There was a Brigantes tribe who used to live in the South of Ireland as well. They may both be related to the Brigantii of the eastern Alps.

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