Sunday, 12 February 2012


Recently I have found myself reading a lot about the history and archaeology of South Wales, particularly my own area 'Gwent' formerly known as Monmouthshire.  As usual my interest has been drawn to accounts of the ancient and early medieval history,  particularly accounts of the ancient Silurian 'Tribe' of South Wales. Our knowledge of these people is sketchy, though they are mentioned by a number of Roman writers. What we can be certain of is that though most of southern and eastern Britain sucumbed to conquest quickly in the the First Century,  as soon as the Romans entered South Wales they encountered many years of fierce resistance from a Celtic people who lived between the rivers Twyi and Wye, in South Wales. The Romans called these people the 'Silures'. Eventually in a policy of pacification the Silures were offered their own Roman Town/Market place, called Venta Silurium, and the ruins of this Roman City are still there in modern Caerwent.  Interestingly the Latin name 'Venta' lived on in the name of the Early Medieval Welsh Kingdom of Gwent. At Venta Silurium tribal elders were probably given some form of semi-autonomy over local affairs, but always under the watchful gaze of the Romans, who stationed an entire Legion - at least 5,000 men at arms, not far away at Isca (modern Caerleon). Prior to this forced or voluntary urbanisation (one suspects the former) the Silures created many hill forts in the last few centuries B.C. Prior to the Roman invasion, the Silures were unlikely to have had any kind of central political authority, but probably existed as a loose confederation of clans and kindred based around small agricultural and pastoral units, using the forts for temporary defence or perhaps cultural purposes. They almost certainly shared a common language, culture and religion
What was their religion? We can only guess it had much in common with that of other Brythonic peoples prior to the coming of Christianity. Their 'pagan' religion would have included the usual intellectual/priest caste of druids, seers and bards, and would undoubtedly have been polytheistic/animistic.
 The archaeological evidence at Caerwent includes a shrine to Mars Lenus Ocelus. It was the custom of the Romans to engage in religious syncreticism, associating members of their pantheon with local deities. Mars was of course the Roman war God, Lenus was a Gaullish deity, and Ocelus...well the guess is, this was a Silurian deity. With little other evidence available, the fact the Romans associated Ocelus with Mar indicates that he has attributes similar to that deity in the Religio Roman, but we don't know what 'aspect' of that deity.  Other intriguing archaeological evidence has suggested that the local inhabitants venerated a cat god or perhaps cats generally. Finally at the Roman Temple Complex at Lydney on Seven, one of the dedications is to Nodens, a well known Celtic God, associated  in inscriptions at Lydney with the Roman God Mars again and also Mercury, but the archaeology suggests his devotees perceived him as associated with sea faring and also with healing


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