Northern History Maps

The history of Northern England in maps by David Simpson

This is an ongoing project to tell the story of Northern England’s history in maps. It’s a work in progress (a hobby) and I’ll keep adding new maps as I go along, refining the details – all when time allows.

Remember to open maps in new page or tab to see them in detail. Right click on PC or hold down finger on image on ipad etc.

Hope you enjoy them.

Languages in Britain Before the Roman Conquest

Languages in Britain around 55BC
Languages of Britain around 55BC. Graphic: David Simpson. OPEN IMAGE (right click on PC) in new tab or page to view map in detail.

The map above shows the languages or language groups that were spoken in Britain just before the Roman Conquest, English was NOT one of the languages as the Anglo-Saxons did not arrive on our shores (from Germanic northern Europe) until after the Roman departure around 500AD.

It has always been assumed that Celtic languages were spoken in what is now England at the time of the Roman conquest. In recent years this view has been challenged with compelling evidence, by Professor Stephen Oppenheimer of Oxford University but still remains open for debate.

Iron Age Tribes and Kingdoms of Roman and pre-Roman times

The tribes of Britain and Ireland around 50BC. showing the main hill fort zones.
The tribes of Britain and Ireland around 50BC. Graphic by David Simpson. OPEN IMAGE (right click on PC) in new tab or page to view map in detail.

Britain was made up of several tribal nations (shown above) at the time of the Roman invasion. One of the largest tribes was in fact a confederation of smaller tribes and was known to the Romans as the Brigantes.

The Brigantes occupied much of what is now Northern England including Yorkshire, much of Lancashire, County Durham and their territory is thought to have stretched to the north of the River Tyne.

Iron Age tribes of the pre-Roman era and the main hill fort zones.
Iron Age tribes of the pre-Roman era and the main hill fort zones. By David Simpson. OPEN IMAGE (right click on PC) in new tab or page to view map in detail.

The dominant tribe of our northern region was the Brigantes, a confederation of tribes stretching across the Pennine region and from the east to the west coast, covering what is now Durham, Yorkshire and southern Northumberland. The Carvetii of the Lake District may also have been part of their confederation.

Map showing what is now northern England in the Iron Age.
Map showing what is now northern England in the Iron Age. It shows the tribal areas of the Brigantes, the Votadini, the Parisi and others – all Celtic tribes. By David Simpson. OPEN IMAGE (right click on PC) in new tab or page to view map in detail.

The Parisi were another notable tribe in the north who displayed distinct cultural characteristics. Noted for their chariot burials, the Parisi displayed cultural similarities to tribes on the continent and shared their name with a tribe in France from which the city of Paris takes its name.

After the Roman departure the Parisi territory became the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Deira – the southern portion of Northumbria where the Kingdom of Northumbria was born. However this map is from a much earlier period, before the Romans.

What I find fascinating is that what is now northern Northumberland and southern Scotland was already clearly a volatile area of disputed territory even though the Scots (who actually came from Ireland) and the Anglo-Saxons (from Northern Europe) would not arrive in Britain for another three or four centuries.

At the time of this map, these regions (southern Scotland and Northumberland) were Celtic tribal areas like everywhere else in Britain. They would not become the borderland between England and Scotland until around 1018 and for centuries would have had the misfortune to be noted for their raiding, fortifications and reiving right the way up until Tudor times. It seems they have been a troubled zone in much earlier times.

The map only shows hill forts so it may be misleading as the areas where there were very few hill forts were also densely populated with many settlements and notable Iron Age archaeological finds. I aim to show this in a subsequent map.

Stanwick, by the way is a major ‘hill fort’ in a lowland setting only a couple of miles south of the River Tees between Darlington and Barnard Castle. It is thought to have been an Oppida, a tribal centre or capital.

Notice the southern border of the Brigantes near Sheffield and Manchester. It was similar to the later southern boundary of the Kingdom of Northumbria that came into being after the Roman departure.

The Votadini, also known as the Ottadini (of north Northumberland and the Scottish Borders) seem to have re-emerged following the Roman departure when their region and people were known as the Gododdin and held out against the invading Anglo-Saxons for a time. They would have spoken a language resembling Welsh.

The map above still needs some work, particularly in pinpoint accuracy of the positioning of hill forts. There may be some minor forts missing, but it still gives an overall impression of hill fort activity in the Iron Age north.

Roman Conquest of the North

Map showing the Roman invasion of Britain.
The Roman invasion of Britain. Graphic: David Simpson. OPEN IMAGE (right click on PC) in new tab or page to view map in detail.

This map depicts the Roman invasion of Britain. Caratacus, a Briton from the Catuvellauni tribe in the south of England was one of the key figures of this period. He took refuge in the north but was betrayed by the Brigantes’ queen, Cartimandua.

Map showing the stages of the Roman Conquest of Britain
Roman Conquest and the Brigantian Civil War. Graphic: David Simpson. OPEN IMAGE (right click on PC) in new tab or page to view map in detail.

The Roman Conquest divided the Brigantes tribe according to their support for Rome. Queen Cartimandua submitted to the Romans as a client kingdom but her consort husband Venutius decided to fight the Romans.

It seems that the northerners under Venutius put up a very good fight against the Romans and the Romans are known to have admired the Brigantes for their resistance.

Ultimately, the Brigantes would have been no match for the Roman fighting machine and its military expertise. It would be wonderful if we could identify the place at which the Northern leader, Venutius, met his end.

It has been suggested that the very significant Iron Age fort of Stanwick (near Darlington) was associated with Venutius’ campaign against the Romans, either that or it was associated with his former wife, the queen Cartimandua. Stanwick would not have been the place of Venutius’ demise however, as that should be identified with a Roman fort – the unidentified Venutio, possibly somewhere in what is now the Scottish Borders.

This map shows the advance of the Romans into what is now northern England and the Scottish Borders.
This map shows the advance of the Romans in the north. Note that there were two Roman forts at Piercebridge. ‘Holmes House’ was the earlier fort associated with the Roman military advance. Graphic: David Simpson. OPEN IMAGE (right click on PC) in new tab or page to view map in detail.

The map above shows the Roman advance and the routes that they took in their conquest of the North.  The name of Roman Trimontium near Melrose in the Scottish Borders comes from the distinct peaks of the three Eildon Hills one of which was the site of a major Iron Age fort.

The Roman North

The North of England region in Roman times.
The North in Roman times. Graphic: David Simpson. OPEN IMAGE (right click on PC)  in new tab or page to view map in detail.

The map above covers a vast period and is an overview of the main Roman features of the north. The Romans occupied the north for three and a half centuries and this map shows the Roman forts in the region (some of their Roman names are shown in bold). It also shows Roman roads, Roman civilian settlements (including the major cities or ‘Colonia’ that were occupied by retired legionaries.

Another important civilian town was Aldborough (Isurium Brigantum) near Boroughbridge in North Yorkshire which was the Roman capital for the Brigantes after they were brought under Roman control.

Signal stations on the Yorkshire coast are also shown (they would become significant in the later Roman period when Anglo-Saxon and other piratical raiding from northern Europe increased). On the Cumberland coast, a series of watchtowers supplemented the defences of Hadrian’s Wall.

Notice the marshland around Doncaster. It was a major border feature between the Kingdoms of Northumbria and Mercia in the era following the Roman departure. This was drained in later times but in the Roman and early medieval period formed a major boundary area between the North and the Midlands along with the River Humber, the Pennines and in the west, the River Mersey.

Map showing the continental origins of the soldiers who served in the various Roman forts of what is nor Northern England.
OPEN IN NEW TAB OR PAGE. Map showing the continental origins of the soldiers who served in the various Roman forts of the North, where known from stone inscriptions within the forts. Graphic by David Simpson OPEN IMAGE (right click on PC) in new tab or page to view map in detail.

You will need to open the above map in anew page or tab to see its full details. This map shows the origins of the Roman soldiers that served in the various forts across what is now the north of England – where the details are known from stone inscriptions.

Note that none of the Roman soldiers came from what we now know as Italy, let alone Rome. The underlined letters on the European map identify the cultural origins of the soldiers in the various forts on the northern Britain map.

The numbers in brackets identify the century in which this cultural group occupied the fort. Celtic/Gaulish people are shown in green, Belgic people in purple and Germanic people in red. People from the Balkan region are shown in blue and various other people in black. Some of the soldiers serving in the Roman army came from regions outside the Roman empire.

It was unusual for British tribes to serve as soldiers in British forts, though we can see that in the fourth century Cornovii tribesmen from what is now Cheshire served in the Roman fort at Newcastle upon Tyne. It also seems that in the fourth century soldiers at Malton in what is now East Yorkshire came from nearby Brough.

On the whole, however, the Roman forts in Britain were very much a multi-cultural affair and many of these soldiers would have occupied the region for decades at a time, perhaps intermarrying with the local population. They came from far and wide. At South Shields, for example, a unit of boatmen from the Tigris river in what is now Iraq operated.

One thing that intrigues me is that there was a very strong presence of Germanic soldiers (from the ‘Low German’ linguistic region covering areas like Frisia) along the Hadrian’s Wall zone from the Tyne to Solway. Belgic tribesmen were also very numerous in the Hadrian’s Wall region.

Although Latin was the lingua Franca for Roman soldiers, many of the Low German tribesmen would have used words and pronunciations in their own tongue like Hoose for house, Gan for go, Wife for woman, Bairn for child, Lang for Long and Strang for strong.

These words would be subsequently re-introduced by the closely related Anglo-Saxons as part of the English language following their invasion in the post-Roman Roman era. It is interesting that the old style ‘Old English’ pronunciations of such basic words persist in the North East especially in and around present day Tyneside.

Roman Roads in Northern England.
Roman Roads. Graphic David Simpson.  OPEN IMAGE (right click on PC) in new tab or page to view map in detail.

Roman Roads (above)  are an important and obvious legacy of  the Roman period of occupation. We don’t know the names that the Romans gave to their roads but many remained important thoroughfares in post Roman-times and from Anglo-Saxon times they acquired new names that are still remembered today. In Norman times many of the Roman roads were recalled by the word ‘street’ in various place-names.

Many of our river names were in existence before the Romans arrived with names going back to Celtic times (Iron Age or earlier).  River-names are usually amongst the oldest names you’ll find on maps of the region. This means that many of the river-names we use today would have been familiar to the Romans and this would be true of those shown in blue on the above map.  Most place-names and other topographical features that you see on maps of Britain today came into being after Roman times with the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons and later the Vikings.

River names in Northern England. Celtic, Anglo-Saxon and Viking.
River names of the ancient (Celtic and Indo-European) Anglo-Saxon and Viking periods. Respectively coloured blue, red and brown. Graphic: David Simpson .  OPEN IMAGE (right click on PC) in new tab or page to view map in detail.

The oldest river-names would have been familiar during the Iron Age, the Bronze Age and into even earlier times. For example, the river name Deerness is probably one of the oldest, if not the oldest place-name on a map of County Durham.

The oldest river-names in Britain go back to the Indo-European language period and derive from an early language or group of languages that gave rise to most of the languages in modern-day Europe, probably in the Bronze Age. In Britain these would have been followed later by Celtic names that predominated during the Iron Age.

On the map above the river-names shown in blue are Celtic and Indo-European river-names that are at least 2,000 years old and in most cases much much older.The other river-names, shown in red and brown came into being after the Roman era.

Those shown in red are Anglo-Saxon river-names and are probably around 1,500 to 1,000 years old and those shown in brown are Viking river-names that are approximately 950 to 1,100 years old. In some instances on this map I have shown the old form of the name and an explanation of its meaning.Many river-names have simple meanings like ‘water’.

More history maps will follow soon.

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