Silures
Overview
 
The Silures were a powerful and warlike tribe
Tribe
A tribe, viewed historically or developmentally, consists of a social group existing before the development of, or outside of, states.Many anthropologists use the term tribal society to refer to societies organized largely on the basis of kinship, especially corporate descent groups .Some theorists...

 of ancient Britain
Great Britain
Great Britain or Britain is an island situated to the northwest of Continental Europe. It is the ninth largest island in the world, and the largest European island, as well as the largest of the British Isles...

, occupying approximately the counties of Monmouthshire
Monmouthshire (historic)
Monmouthshire , also known as the County of Monmouth , is one of thirteen ancient counties of Wales and a former administrative county....

, Breconshire and Glamorganshire of present day South Wales
South Wales
South Wales is an area of Wales bordered by England and the Bristol Channel to the east and south, and Mid Wales and West Wales to the north and west. The most densely populated region in the south-west of the United Kingdom, it is home to around 2.1 million people and includes the capital city of...

; and possibly Gloucestershire and Herefordshire of present day England. They were bordered to the north by the Ordovices
Ordovices
The Ordovices were one of the Celtic tribes living in Great Britain, before the Roman invasion of Britain. Its tribal lands were located in present day Wales and England between the Silures to the south and the Deceangli to the north-east...

; to the east by the Dobunni
Dobunni
The Dobunni were one of the Celtic tribes living in the British Isles prior to the Roman invasion of Britain. There are seven known references to the tribe in Roman histories and inscriptions. The latter part of the name possibly derives from Bune, a cup or vessel...

; and to the west by the Demetae
Demetae
The Demetae were a Celtic people of Iron Age Britain who inhabited modern Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire in south-west Wales, and gave their name to the county of Dyfed.-Classical mention:...

.
According to Tacitus
Tacitus
Publius Cornelius Tacitus was a senator and a historian of the Roman Empire. The surviving portions of his two major works—the Annals and the Histories—examine the reigns of the Roman Emperors Tiberius, Claudius, Nero and those who reigned in the Year of the Four Emperors...

's biography of Agricola
Gnaeus Julius Agricola
Gnaeus Julius Agricola was a Roman general responsible for much of the Roman conquest of Britain. His biography, the De vita et moribus Iulii Agricolae, was the first published work of his son-in-law, the historian Tacitus, and is the source for most of what is known about him.Born to a noted...

, the Silures usually had a dark complexion and curly hair.
Encyclopedia
The Silures were a powerful and warlike tribe
Tribe
A tribe, viewed historically or developmentally, consists of a social group existing before the development of, or outside of, states.Many anthropologists use the term tribal society to refer to societies organized largely on the basis of kinship, especially corporate descent groups .Some theorists...

 of ancient Britain
Great Britain
Great Britain or Britain is an island situated to the northwest of Continental Europe. It is the ninth largest island in the world, and the largest European island, as well as the largest of the British Isles...

, occupying approximately the counties of Monmouthshire
Monmouthshire (historic)
Monmouthshire , also known as the County of Monmouth , is one of thirteen ancient counties of Wales and a former administrative county....

, Breconshire and Glamorganshire of present day South Wales
South Wales
South Wales is an area of Wales bordered by England and the Bristol Channel to the east and south, and Mid Wales and West Wales to the north and west. The most densely populated region in the south-west of the United Kingdom, it is home to around 2.1 million people and includes the capital city of...

; and possibly Gloucestershire and Herefordshire of present day England. They were bordered to the north by the Ordovices
Ordovices
The Ordovices were one of the Celtic tribes living in Great Britain, before the Roman invasion of Britain. Its tribal lands were located in present day Wales and England between the Silures to the south and the Deceangli to the north-east...

; to the east by the Dobunni
Dobunni
The Dobunni were one of the Celtic tribes living in the British Isles prior to the Roman invasion of Britain. There are seven known references to the tribe in Roman histories and inscriptions. The latter part of the name possibly derives from Bune, a cup or vessel...

; and to the west by the Demetae
Demetae
The Demetae were a Celtic people of Iron Age Britain who inhabited modern Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire in south-west Wales, and gave their name to the county of Dyfed.-Classical mention:...

.

Origins

According to Tacitus
Tacitus
Publius Cornelius Tacitus was a senator and a historian of the Roman Empire. The surviving portions of his two major works—the Annals and the Histories—examine the reigns of the Roman Emperors Tiberius, Claudius, Nero and those who reigned in the Year of the Four Emperors...

's biography of Agricola
Gnaeus Julius Agricola
Gnaeus Julius Agricola was a Roman general responsible for much of the Roman conquest of Britain. His biography, the De vita et moribus Iulii Agricolae, was the first published work of his son-in-law, the historian Tacitus, and is the source for most of what is known about him.Born to a noted...

, the Silures usually had a dark complexion and curly hair. Due to their appearance, Tacitus hinted that they may have crossed over from Spain at an earlier date.

The Iron Age
Iron Age
The Iron Age is the archaeological period generally occurring after the Bronze Age, marked by the prevalent use of iron. The early period of the age is characterized by the widespread use of iron or steel. The adoption of such material coincided with other changes in society, including differing...

 hillfort at Llanmelin
Llanvair Discoed
Llanvair Discoed is a small village in Monmouthshire, south-east Wales, 6 miles west of Chepstow and 10 miles east of Newport.-History:The village is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 as 'Lamecare'. The name means Mary's church under the wood . The 'd' at the start of Discoed only appears...

 near Caerwent
Caerwent
Caerwent is a village and community in Monmouthshire, Wales. It is located about five miles west of Chepstow and eleven miles east of Newport, and was founded by the Romans as the market town of Venta Silurum, an important settlement of the Brythonic Silures tribe. The modern village is built...

 has sometimes been suggested as a pre-Roman tribal centre, but the view of most archaeologists is that the people who became known as the Silures were a loose network of groups with some shared cultural values, rather than a centralised society. Although the most obvious physical remains of the Silures are hillforts such as those at Llanmelin and Sudbrook
Sudbrook, Monmouthshire
Sudbrook is a village in Monmouthshire, south east Wales. It is located 4 miles south west of Chepstow and 1 mile east of Caldicot. It lies close to the Second Severn Crossing on the Severn Estuary, and adjoins the village of Portskewett. It was largely built in the late 19th century for workers...

, there is also archaeological evidence of roundhouses
Roundhouse (dwelling)
The roundhouse is a type of house with a circular plan, originally built in western Europe before the Roman occupation using walls made either of stone or of wooden posts joined by wattle-and-daub panels and a conical thatched roof. Roundhouses ranged in size from less than 5m in diameter to over 15m...

 at Gwehelog
Gwehelog
Gwehelog is a village settlement in Monmouthshire, south east Wales.-Location:Gwehelog is located two miles south of the village of Raglan and two miles north of the small town of Usk in very rural Monmouthshire .-History and amenities:...

, Thornwell (Chepstow)
Chepstow
Chepstow is a town in Monmouthshire, Wales, adjoining the border with Gloucestershire, England. It is located on the River Wye, close to its confluence with the River Severn, and close to the western end of the Severn Bridge on the M48 motorway...

 and elsewhere, and evidence of lowland occupation notably at Goldcliff.

The origin of the name "Silures" itself has been described as "utterly unknown". A 19th-century antiquarian source posits an etymological relationship with Welsh Essyllwg and other forms of identical meaning, such as Essyllyr, meaning "of Essyllt": however, this is now considered unlikely. A more plausible modern etymology would connect 'Silures' to the Common Celtic root *sīlo-, 'seed'. Words derived from this root in Celtic languages (e.g. Old Irish síl, Welsh hil) are used to mean 'blood-stock, descendants, lineage, offspring', as well as 'seed' in the vegetable sense. 'Silures' might therefore mean 'Kindred, Stock', perhaps referring to a tribal belief in a descent from an originating ancestor.

Fierce resistance to Roman forces

The Silures made a fierce resistance to the Roman conquest about AD 48
48
Year 48 was a leap year starting on Monday of the Julian calendar. At the time, it was known as the Year of the Consulship of Vitellius and Poplicola...

, with the assistance of Caratacus
Caratacus
Caratacus was a first century British chieftain of the Catuvellauni tribe, who led the British resistance to the Roman conquest....

, a military leader and prince of the Catuvellauni
Catuvellauni
The Catuvellauni were a tribe or state of south-eastern Britain before the Roman conquest.The fortunes of the Catuvellauni and their kings before the conquest can be traced through numismatic evidence and scattered references in classical histories. They are mentioned by Dio Cassius, who implies...

, who had fled from further east after his own tribe was defeated.

The first attack on the Welsh tribes was made under the legate Publius Ostorius Scapula
Publius Ostorius Scapula
Publius Ostorius Scapula was a Roman statesman and general who governed Britain from 47 until his death, and was responsible for the defeat and capture of Caratacus.-Career:...

 about 48 AD. Ostorius first attacked the Deceangli
Deceangli
The Deceangli or Deceangi were one of the Celtic tribes living in Britain, prior to the Roman invasion of the island. The tribe lived mainly in what is now north-east Wales, though it is uncertain whether their territory covered only the modern counties of Flintshire, Denbighshire and part of...

 in the north-east of what is now Wales, who appear to have surrendered with little resistance. He then spent several years campaigning against the Silures and the Ordovices
Ordovices
The Ordovices were one of the Celtic tribes living in Great Britain, before the Roman invasion of Britain. Its tribal lands were located in present day Wales and England between the Silures to the south and the Deceangli to the north-east...

. Their resistance was led by Caratacus, who had fled from the south-east (of what is now England) when it was conquered by the Romans. He first led the Silures, then moved to the territory of the Ordovices, where he was defeated by Ostorius in 51 AD.

The Silures were not subdued, however, and waged effective guerilla warfare against the Roman forces. Ostorius had publicly said that they posed such a danger that they should be either exterminated or transplanted. His threats only increased the Silures' determination to resist and a large legionary force occupied in building Roman forts in their territory was surrounded and attacked, and rescued only with difficulty and considerable loss. They also took Roman prisoners as hostages and distributed them amongst their neighbouring tribes in order to bind them together and encourage resistance.

Ostorius died with the Silures still unconquered and, after his death, they won a victory over the Second Legion
Legio II Augusta
Legio secunda Augusta , was a Roman legion, levied by Gaius Vibius Pansa Caetronianus in 43 BC, and still operative in Britannia in the 4th century...

. It remains unclear whether the Silures were actually militarily defeated or simply agreed to come to terms, but Roman sources suggest rather opaquely that they were eventually subdued by Sextus Julius Frontinus
Sextus Julius Frontinus
Sextus Julius Frontinus was one of the most distinguished Roman aristocrats of the late 1st century AD, but is best known to the post-Classical world as an author of technical treatises, especially one dealing with the aqueducts of Rome....

 in a series of campaigns ending about 78 AD. The Roman Tacitus
Tacitus
Publius Cornelius Tacitus was a senator and a historian of the Roman Empire. The surviving portions of his two major works—the Annals and the Histories—examine the reigns of the Roman Emperors Tiberius, Claudius, Nero and those who reigned in the Year of the Four Emperors...

 wrote of the Silures: non atrocitate, non clementia mutabatur– "changed neither by cruelty nor by clemency".

Romanization

To aid the Roman administration
Roman Wales
The history of Wales in the Roman era began in AD 48 with a military invasion by the imperial governor of Roman Britain. The conquest would be completed by 78, and Roman rule would endure until the region was abandoned in 383 AD...

 in keeping down local opposition, a legionary fortress (Isca, later Caerleon
Caerleon
Caerleon is a suburban village and community, situated on the River Usk in the northern outskirts of the city of Newport, South Wales. Caerleon is a site of archaeological importance, being the site of a notable Roman legionary fortress, Isca Augusta, and an Iron Age hill fort...

) was planted in the midst of tribal territory.

The town of Venta Silurum
Venta Silurum
Venta Silurum was a town in the Roman province of Britannia or Britain. Today it consists of remains in the village of Caerwent in Monmouthshire, south east Wales. Much of it has been archaeologically excavated and is on display to the public....

 (Caerwent
Caerwent
Caerwent is a village and community in Monmouthshire, Wales. It is located about five miles west of Chepstow and eleven miles east of Newport, and was founded by the Romans as the market town of Venta Silurum, an important settlement of the Brythonic Silures tribe. The modern village is built...

, six miles west of Chepstow
Chepstow
Chepstow is a town in Monmouthshire, Wales, adjoining the border with Gloucestershire, England. It is located on the River Wye, close to its confluence with the River Severn, and close to the western end of the Severn Bridge on the M48 motorway...

) was established in 75 AD. It became a Romanized town, not unlike Calleva Atrebatum (Silchester
Silchester
Silchester is a village and civil parish about north of Basingstoke in Hampshire. It is adjacent to the county boundary with Berkshire and about south-west of Reading....

), but smaller. An inscription shows that under the Roman Empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

 it was the capital of the Silures, whose ordo or "county council" provided for the local government of the district. Its massive Roman walls still survive, and excavations have revealed a forum
Forum (Roman)
A forum was a public square in a Roman municipium, or any civitas, reserved primarily for the vending of goods; i.e., a marketplace, along with the buildings used for shops and the stoas used for open stalls...

, a temple
Temple
A temple is a structure reserved for religious or spiritual activities, such as prayer and sacrifice, or analogous rites. A templum constituted a sacred precinct as defined by a priest, or augur. It has the same root as the word "template," a plan in preparation of the building that was marked out...

, baths, amphitheatre
Amphitheatre
An amphitheatre is an open-air venue used for entertainment and performances.There are two similar, but distinct, types of structure for which the word "amphitheatre" is used: Ancient Roman amphitheatres were large central performance spaces surrounded by ascending seating, and were commonly used...

, shops, and many comfortable houses with mosaic floors, etc. In the late first and early second century, the Silures were given back some nominal independence and responsibility for local administration. As was standard practice, as revealed by inscriptions, the Romans matched their deities with local Silurian ones, and the local deity Ocelus
Ocelus
Ocelus is a Celtic god known from three inscriptions in Roman Britain. He is twice invoked on dedications at Caerwent: one stone is the base of a state of which only a pair of human feet and a pair of goose feet survive. The invocation is to Mars Lenus or Ocelus Vellaunus and the "numen" of the...

 was twinned with Mars
Mars
Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun in the Solar System. The planet is named after the Roman god of war, Mars. It is often described as the "Red Planet", as the iron oxide prevalent on its surface gives it a reddish appearance...

, the Roman god of war.

Caerwent seems to have continued in use in the post-Roman period as a religious centre and the territory of the Silures later became the Welsh Kingdom of Gwent, Brycheiniog
Brycheiniog
Brycheiniog was a small independent petty kingdom in South Wales in the Early Middle Ages. It often acted as a buffer state between England to the east and the powerful south Welsh kingdom of Deheubarth to the west. It was conquered and pacified by the Normans between 1088 and 1095, though it...

, Gwynllwg
Gwynllwg
Gwynllŵg was a kingdom of mediæval Wales and later a Norman lordship and then a cantref.-Location:It was named after Gwynllyw, its 5th century or 6th century ruler and consisted of the coastal plain stretching between the Rhymney and Usk rivers, together with the hills to the north...

 and Glamorgan
Glamorgan
Glamorgan or Glamorganshire is one of the thirteen historic counties and a former administrative county of Wales. It was originally an early medieval kingdom of varying boundaries known as Glywysing until taken over by the Normans as a lordship. Glamorgan is latterly represented by the three...

. Some theories concerning King Arthur
King Arthur
King Arthur is a legendary British leader of the late 5th and early 6th centuries, who, according to Medieval histories and romances, led the defence of Britain against Saxon invaders in the early 6th century. The details of Arthur's story are mainly composed of folklore and literary invention, and...

 make him a leader in this area. There is evidence of cultural continuity throughout the Roman period, from the Silures to the kingdom of Gwent in particular, as shown by leaders of Gwent using the name "Caradoc
Caradoc
Caradoc Vreichvras Arm) was a semi-legendary ancestor to the kings of Gwent. He lived during the 5th or 6th century. He is remembered in Arthurian legend as a Knight of the Round Table as Carados Briefbras ....

" in remembrance of the British hero Caratacus
Caratacus
Caratacus was a first century British chieftain of the Catuvellauni tribe, who led the British resistance to the Roman conquest....


The term "Silurian"

Reference is occasionally made to this period of Celt
Celt
The Celts were a diverse group of tribal societies in Iron Age and Roman-era Europe who spoke Celtic languages.The earliest archaeological culture commonly accepted as Celtic, or rather Proto-Celtic, was the central European Hallstatt culture , named for the rich grave finds in Hallstatt, Austria....

ic history by the use of terms such as "Silurian". The poet Henry Vaughan
Henry Vaughan
Henry Vaughan was a Welsh physician and metaphysical poet.Vaughan and his twin brother the hermetic philosopher and alchemist Thomas Vaughan, were the sons of Thomas Vaughan and his wife Denise of 'Trenewydd', Newton, in Brecknockshire, Wales...

 called himself a "Silurist", by virtue of his roots in South Wales. The geologic period Silurian
Silurian
The Silurian is a geologic period and system that extends from the end of the Ordovician Period, about 443.7 ± 1.5 Mya , to the beginning of the Devonian Period, about 416.0 ± 2.8 Mya . As with other geologic periods, the rock beds that define the period's start and end are well identified, but the...

 was first described by Roderick Murchison
Roderick Murchison
Sir Roderick Impey Murchison, 1st Baronet KCB DCL FRS FRSE FLS PRGS PBA MRIA was a Scottish geologist who first described and investigated the Silurian system.-Early life and work:...

 in rocks located in the original lands of the Silures, hence the name. That period postdates the Cambrian
Cambrian
The Cambrian is the first geological period of the Paleozoic Era, lasting from Mya ; it is succeeded by the Ordovician. Its subdivisions, and indeed its base, are somewhat in flux. The period was established by Adam Sedgwick, who named it after Cambria, the Latin name for Wales, where Britain's...

 and Ordovician
Ordovician
The Ordovician is a geologic period and system, the second of six of the Paleozoic Era, and covers the time between 488.3±1.7 to 443.7±1.5 million years ago . It follows the Cambrian Period and is followed by the Silurian Period...

periods, whose names are also derived from ancient Wales.

External links

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