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The Iceni or Eceni were a tribe who inhabited an area of Britain corresponding roughly to the modern-day county of Norfolk between the 1st century BC and 1st century AD. They were bordered by the Corieltauvi to the West, and the Catuvellauni and Trinovantes to the South.

The Cenimagni, who surrendered to Julius Caesar during his second expedition to Britain in 54 BC, may have been a branch of the Iceni or it could be a corruption of Iceni Magni meaning "Great Iceni".

Archaeology

Iceni coin
Archaeological evidence of the Iceni includes torcs — heavy rings of gold, silver or electrum worn around the neck and shoulders.The Iceni began producing coins circa 10 BC. Their coins were a distinctive adaptation of the Gallo-Belgic "face/horse" design, and in some early issues, most numerous near Norwich, the horse was replaced with a boar. Some coins are inscribed ECENI, making them the only coin-producing group to use their tribal name on coins. The earliest personal name to appear on coins is Antedios (ca. 10 BC), and other abbreviated names like AESU and SAEMU follow.

Sir Thomas Browne, the first British archaeological writer, said of the Roman occupation, Boudica and Iceni coins:
Iceni coin.
That Britain was notably populous is undeniable, from that expression of Caesar. That the Romans themselves were early in no small Numbers, Seventy Thousand with their associates slain by Bouadicea, affords a sure account... And no small number of silver pieces near Norwichmarker; with a rude head upon the obverse, an ill-formed horse on the reverse, with the Inscriptions Ic. Duro.T. whether implying Iceni, Durotriges, Tascia, or Trinobantes, we leave to higher conjecture. The British Coyns afford conjecture of early habitation in these parts, though the City of Norwich arose from the ruins of Ventamarker, and though perhaps not without some habitation before, was enlarged, built, and nominated by the Saxons.
The Icknield Waymarker, an ancient trackway linking East Anglia to the Chilternsmarker, may be named after the Iceni.

The Roman Invasion

While the meaning of the name Iceni is unknown, it is tempting to see it as derived from a Proto-Celtic adjective cognate with Latin piceapine tree,’ the Italic tribal name Piceni, English picene, and with the English hydronym Itchenmarker. Icenian coins dating from the 1st century AD use the spelling ECEN [43456], which probably suggests a different etymology.

Tacitus records that the Iceni were not conquered in the Claudian invasion of AD 43, but had come to a voluntary alliance with the Romans. However, they rose against them in 47 after the governor, Publius Ostorius Scapula, threatened to disarm them. The Iceni were defeated by Ostorius in a fierce battle at a fortified place, but were allowed to retain their independence. The site of the battle may have been Stonea Campmarker in Cambridgeshire.
A second and more serious uprising took place in AD 61. Prasutagus, the wealthy, pro-Roman Icenian king, had died. It was common practice for a Roman client king to leave his kingdom to Rome on his death, but Prasutagus had attempted to preserve his line by bequeathing his kingdom jointly to the Emperor and his own daughters. The Romans ignored this, and the procurator Catus Decianus seized his entire estate. Prasutagus's widow, Boudica, was flogged, and her daughters were raped. At the same time, Roman financiers called in their loans. While the governor, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, was campaigning in Wales, Boudica led the Iceni and the neighbouring Trinovantes in a large-scale revolt, destroying and looting Camulodunummarker (Colchestermarker), Londiniummarker (Londonmarker) and Verulamiummarker (St Albansmarker) before finally being defeated by Suetonius Paulinus and his legions. Although the Britons outnumbered the Romans greatly, they lacked that superior discipline and tactics that won the Romans a decisive victory. The battle took place at an unknown location, probably in the West Midlands somewhere along Watling Streetmarker. Today, a large statue of Boudica wielding a sword and charging upon a chariot can be seen in Londonmarker on the north bank of the Thames by Westminster Bridgemarker.

The Iceni are recorded as a civitas of Roman Britain in Ptolemy's Geographia, which names Venta Icenorummarker as a town of theirs. Venta, which is also mentioned in the Ravennamarker Cosmography, and the Antonine Itinerary, was a settlement near the village of Caister Saint Edmunds, some five miles south of present-day Norwichmarker, and a mile or two from the Bronze Age Henge at Arminghallmarker.

After the Romans left Britain, it is thought that some of the Iceni migrated west away from settling Saxons into the inhospitable marshlands around The Washmarker known as the Fens. A minority of people believe that it is possible the Gyrwe, pronounced Yeerweh tribes of the Fens recorded in the Mercianmarker Tribal Hidage were formed by Icenian and other Romano-British refugees because there is a similarity in look, although not in sound, between the Old English name Gyrwa and the Gwyr meaning "men" or Gyrrwr meaning "drover" in Welsh, both theoretically Brythonic self-appellations. However, the majority of scholars believe that the name Gyrwa is related to the Old English word Gyrwum (variant: Gyruum) which means '"Fen-dweller" from the Old English gyr meaning "mud, fen" . Gyrwe is also the Old English name for Jarrowmarker.

In the Life of Saint Guthlac - a biography written about the East Anglianmarker religious hermit who lived in the Fens during the early 8th Century - it is stated that Saint Guthlac was attacked by people he believed were Britons living in the Fens at that time,200 years after the establishment of Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, although Bertram Colgrave in the introduction to The Life of Saint Guthlac states that is very unlikely due to the lack of evidence for British survival in the region and the fact that British placenames in the area are very few . The territory of the South Gyrwas included Elymarker. Æthelthryth founded Ely monastery after the death of her husband Tondberht, who is described in Bede's Ecclesiastical History as a "prince of the South Gyrwas".

References

  1. Julius Caesar, Commentarii de Bello Gallico 5.21
  2. Graham Webster (1978), Boudica: the British Revolt Against Rome AD 60, pp. 46-48
  3. Sir Thomas Browne (1658), Hydriotaphia, Urn Burial
  4. Tacitus, Annals 12.31
  5. Cambridge Latin Course Textbook, Unit 2
  6. Agricola 14-17; Annals 14:29-39; Dio Cassius, Roman History 62:1-12
  7. Ptolemy, Geography 2.2
  8. Ravenna Cosmography (British section)
  9. Antonine Itinerary (British section)
  10. http://www.bedesworld.co.uk/bedesworld-farm.php
  11. Mellows, William Thomas (ed. & trans.), The Peterborough Chronicle of Hugh Candidus, Peterborough Natural History, Scientific and Archæological Society, 1941, p2
  12. http://antiquity.ac.uk/Ant/008/0185/Ant0080185.pdf
  13. http://www.archive.org/stream/britishplacename00mcclrich/britishplacename00mcclrich_djvu.txt
  14. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=FkYOAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA73&lpg=PA73&dq=Gyrwe+Old+English+Fen-dwellers&source=bl&ots=4ezSEbHf4N&sig=Sg9sQnu1pJ57h1Meolw6k6w24U0&hl=en&ei=rdKvSsvTG-Sa4gagsoWtCg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=6#v=onepage&q=&f=false
  15. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=0Jf6LqG65uUC&pg=PA38&lpg=PA38&dq=Gyrwe+Old+English+Fen-dwellers&source=bl&ots=ctsQ0bFSt5&sig=flox_NYQa_LFCgDkFXuLNXlHuIY&hl=en&ei=rdKvSsvTG-Sa4gagsoWtCg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2#v=onepage&q=&f=false
  16. http://www.bedesworld.co.uk/bedesworld-farm.php
  17. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=4Gs4AAAAIAAJ&pg=PA1&lpg=PA1&dq=Britons+in+the+Fens&source=bl&ots=ej6L3GwPCN&sig=wRrqBzSG-C2gRGFSjNK3GdvZwSE&hl=en&ei=d86vStrALuaM4Abqm6GtCg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=10#v=onepage&q=Britons%20in%20the%20Fens&f=false
  18. Bede, Ecclesiastical History, iv, 19


Bibliography

  • Tom Williamson (1993), The Origins of Norfolk, Manchester University Press


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