Friday, 18 April 2014

N is for Native Tribes of Britannia

N is for Native Tribes of Britannia

For my letter M in this series of A to Z posts, I used M for Maps. This post is my N for Native Tribes, some of whom ended up on my maps for Books 2 & 3 of my Celtic Fervour Series After Whorl: Bran Reborn and After Whorl: Donning Double Cloaks.

When I decided to make the maps, I had to come to terms with the fact that although I was using the descriptor for a Celtic tribe, the name I was using was a Latin one. That seems a bit’ off’ but  the fact remains that since the Celtic tribes of Britannia left us with no written evidence, we have to rely on the few Roman references left by men like Ptolemy and Tacitus.

Which tribes feature in my Celtic Fervour Series? The main ones are my Garrigill warriors- Brigantes - men of the area we now call northern England. Brigante refers to 'star',  so my warriors are of the 'star' tribe.

The Brigantes were a federation of smaller tribes who were named for the goddess Bridgid/ Brigantia. 

Some historians might put up a very credible argument that the Brigantes were the most powerful tribal unit around the time before AD 70 because it seems that, for almost two decades, the Brigantian queen Cartimandua had very good dealings with Rome. After the invasion of Claudian Roman troops in southern Britain things got very nasty for many Celtic tribes when they resisted the supreme forces of Rome. From accounts noted, Cartimandua of the north seems to have come to some ‘amicable’ terms with Rome which left her the ruler of a ‘client kingdom’. As ruler of the Brigantes this meant Cartimandua found ways to ensure her dues were paid to Rome, but that her people were largely unoccupied for many years after AD 43. 

It wasn’t till the unrest of the AD 60s that things went wrong for Cartimandua and her liaison with the Roman Empire. When her ex-husband, Venutius, became a thorn in her paw and encouraged many of her subjects to rise up against her, and her policies with Rome, the tide turned against Cartimandua. It also meant that the relative peace and stability of the north was no longer the case.

I found reading about that particular tribal unrest quite fascinating many years ago, so enthralling that I decided to make my warriors come from a Brigante tribe, and I decided that my series of novels would start just after the fall of Cartimandua. Though there must have been many names for smaller local tribal groups, I felt it might be too complex to use one of those in my first historical romantic adventure. I didn’t know enough local names, and didn’t want to invent them, so instead I chose to use the more universal term of Brigante for my warriors. 

In general, the Brigantes of the north were an agrarian, pastoral people who only took up arms against local tribes for petty infringements to boundaries but were otherwise focused on getting on with their lives within their tribal strongholds and environs. When faced with the threat of Roman advance, in huge numbers, on their precious soil, that was something quite different.

I wanted to write about tribespeople who faced such a devastating threat to their livelihood.

However, being Scottish, I couldn’t resist including something about a southern Scottish tribe who bordered on Brigante soil. What I read of the Votadini made me wonder about their loyalties since something I read seemed to raise a red flag. I now have no idea what the source was but there was a hint that just maybe the Votadini had also made some sort of ‘client kingdom’ status with Rome and who perhaps had not declared this to any of their neighbours.

 -  image from Wikimedia Commons. Pat of the earthworks of a Selgovae iron age hill fort- Castle O'er. 

Instead, my heroine of Book 1 of my Celtic Fervour Series, The Beltane Choice, is of the Selgovae tribe. The Selgovae were named 'hunters'. Also a border neighbour of the Brigantes, the Selgovae covered a large tract of land. Nara of the Selgovae is a feisty yet vulnerable woman who finds herself caught up in a despicable situation which, thankfully, she finds a way out of. In The Beltane Choice she doesn't come from Castle O'er but I named my Selgovae hillfort Tarras, simply because I liked the name and there is a small place named that on the appropriate current Ordinance Survey Map of the area. I'd love to say more about this tribal group who covered a large tract of land but sadly little evidence is known about them save that like most Celtic peoples of northern Britannia, they were mostly farming peoples who only took up arms when they really needed to defend their property or lands.

It's not known exactly where the Selgovae and Novantae towns were which Ptolemy refers to but this map has an educated guess.


It was encountering maps like the one above, attributed to the historian William Roy in 1793, which made me think about where to have my tribune- Gaius Livanus Valerius - stop off for a short while on the route I've chosen for the Agricolan forces to take on their trek northwards. Gaius becomes responsible for the supply chain of Roman goods coming from the south and spends a little time at the fort of Easg (perhaps not far from Eildon), the fort located on the northwards route laid down by the advance Agricolan forces. Gaius wants to be marching northwards with Agricola but his task is to ensure those forward troops want for nothing as they forge their way into unknown and potentially hostile territory in the north.

Interestingly, I found a reference to the fact that Ptolemy noted that Brigantes were in Ireland, the inference being that Brigantes tribespeople had arrived there having fled the Roman occupation of their land. I used that premise in Book 3 of my series, though the fleeing Garrigill Brigantes end up at Beinn Na Ciche, the site of my battle with Agricola. (This is my version of the battle Tacitus refers to against Calgacus, the Celtic Caledonian leader which I have sited in present day Aberdeenshire)

Look out for some other Celtic tribes in my remaining A to Z posts! (T is for Taexali, and maybe I'll find enough to write about the V for Votadini!)

all books available in print and ebook formats, also from Smashwords, B &N,,

The Beltane Choice   Amazon UK

After Whorl: Bran Reborn

After Whorl: Donning Double cloaks
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