The SILURES were a powerful and warlike tribe or tribal confederation
of ancient Britain , occupying what is now south east
perhaps some adjoining areas. They were bordered to the north by the
Ordovices ; to the east by the
Dobunni ; and to the west by the
* 1 Origins
* 2 Etymology
* 3 Fierce resistance to Roman forces
* 4 Romanization
* 5 The term "Silurian"
* 6 References
Tacitus 's biography of Agricola , the
had a dark complexion and curly hair. Due to their appearance, Tacitus
believed they had crossed over from Spain at an earlier date.
"... the swarthy faces of the Silures, the curly quality, in general,
of their hair, and the position of Spain opposite their shores, attest
to the passage of Iberians in old days and the occupation by them of
these districts; ..." (
Tacitus Annales Xi.ii, translated by M. Hutton)
Jordanes , in his Origins and Deeds of the Goths , describes the
Silures have swarthy features and are usually born with curly
black hair, but the inhabitants of Caledonia have reddish hair and
large loose-jointed bodies. They are like the Gauls or the Spaniards."
Iron Age hillfort at Llanmelin near
Caerwent 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
a loose network of groups with some shared cultural values, rather
than a centralised society. Although the most obvious physical remains
Silures are hillforts such as those at Llanmelin and Sudbrook ,
there is also archaeological evidence of roundhouses at
Thornwell (Chepstow) and elsewhere, and evidence of lowland occupation
The Latin word
Silures is of Celtic origin, perhaps derived from 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. Patrizia de Bernardo Stempel hypothesises that the Silures
were originally silo-riks, 'rich in grain'.
FIERCE RESISTANCE TO ROMAN FORCES
Wales at the time of the Roman invasion. The modern
Welsh border is also shown, for reference purposes.
Silures fiercely resisted Roman conquest about AD 48, with the
Caratacus , a military leader and prince of the
Catuvellauni , who had fled from further east after his own tribe was
The first attack on the Welsh tribes was by the legate Publius
Ostorius Scapula about AD 48. Ostorius first attacked the
the north-east of what is now Wales, who appear to have surrendered
with little resistance. He then spent several years campaigning
Silures and the
Ordovices . 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 AD 51.
Silures were not subdued, however, and waged effective guerrilla
warfare against the Roman forces. Ostorius had announced 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 defeated the Second Legion . It remains unclear whether
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 in a series of campaigns
ending about AD 78. The Roman
Tacitus wrote of the Silures: non
atrocitate, non clementia mutabatur– the tribe "was changed neither
by cruelty nor by clemency".
To aid the Roman administration in keeping down local opposition, a
legionary fortress (Isca , later
Caerleon ) was planted in the midst
of tribal territory.
The town of
Venta Silurum (
Caerwent , six miles west of
was established in AD 75. It became a Romanized town, not unlike
Calleva Atrebatum (
Silchester ), but smaller. An inscription shows
that, under the
Roman Empire , it was the capital of the Silures,
whose ordo (local council) provided local government for the district.
Its massive Roman walls still survive, and excavations have revealed a
forum , a temple , baths, amphitheatre , shops, and many comfortable
houses with mosaic floors, etc. In the late 1st and early 2nd
Silures were given 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 was identified with
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 5th
century Welsh Kingdoms of Gwent ,
Brycheiniog and Gwynllŵg . Some
King Arthur make him a leader in this area. There
is evidence of cultural continuity throughout the Roman period, from
Silures to the kingdom of Gwent in particular, as shown by leaders
of Gwent using the name "
Caradoc " in remembrance of the British hero
THE TERM "SILURIAN"
Reference is occasionally made to this period of Celtic history by
the use of terms such as "Silurian". The poet
Henry Vaughan called
himself a "Silurist", by virtue of his roots in
South Wales . The
Silurian was first described by Roderick Murchison
in rocks located in the original lands of the Silures, hence the name.
That period postdates the
Ordovician periods, whose names
are also derived from ancient
Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica
article SILURES .
This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public
domain : Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "article name needed".
Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
* ^ BBC on Llanmelin
* ^ A B C Miranda Aldhouse-Green and Ray Howell (eds.), Gwent In
Prehistory and Early History: The Gwent County History Vol.1, 2004,
* ^ Patrizia de Bernardo Stempel (2014). García Alonso, Juan Luis,
ed. Continental Celtic Word Formation: the Onomastic Data. Ediciones
Universidad de Salamanca. p. 70.
Iron Age tribes in Britain
* Cornovii (Central)
* Cornovii (Northern)