Apart from the destruction of the Wrekin hill fort, there is little evidence of Cornovii armed resistance to the Roman invaders; the growth of Viroconium (Wroxeter) seeming to indicate a prosperous accommodation with their new rulers.

The name Viroconium literally means ‘The settlement of Viirico of the Cornovii tribe’. Virico is the Cornovian king who is believed to have founded the city.

The name of this Cornovian noble is derived purely from the notion that the later tribal capital of the Cornovii was originally named Viroconon or ‘Viroco’s town’. This possibly being the leader of the Cornovian resistance to the Roman advance, who died with his followers during the storming of the Wrekin hill fort, and that the original Celtic name for the settlement was later Romanised to Viroconium Cornoviorum i.e. The town of Viroco of the Cornovii.

Originally built by the Roman army as a fortified base for the attempted conquest of the territory. The often used phrase ‘Roman City’ is misleading, the city was a Cornovian settlement which continued to flourish after the departure of the Romans in 410 A.D.

The Cornovii were the only civitas of Roman Britain with a military commitment. The Notitia Dignitatum lists an auxiliary unit called the Cohors Prima Cornoviorum, stationed at a fort called Pons Aelius. This fort was situated next to the first Roman bridge from the sea over the river Tyne. The remains of the fort are under the Keep of the Norman castle in Newcastle upon Tyne.

The PENDRED coin has a standing figure on the obverse side. It has been suggested that the figure is of Diana, the Pagan Goddess of hunting.

Diana was common on Roman coins, but if the PENDRED coin is one of a batch made not for circulation but to pay the Pope in Rome Britain’s subscription for its membership of the Roman Catholic Church why an image of a Pagan Goddess? Or is it an oblique reference to a Cornovii Auxiliary Roman soldier? If the moneyer PENDRED was a Celtic Cornovii, he would have been well aware that the Cornovii were the only tribe in Roman Britain years before the Anglo-Saxons, allowed to make and carry arms and who provided the only British Cohort stationed in Britain in the Roman army. The Prima Cohort Cornoviorum were stationed on Hadrian’s Wall, where Newcastle upon Tyne is now. At that time the fort of Pons Aelius guarded the first crossing from the sea over the river Tyne, and originally the east most extent of the wall. It was later extended three miles east to what is now ‘Wallsend’.

The Prima Cohort Cornoviorum was not there in the early Empire; it is the only unit in the Roman army that took its name from a British civitas; and it is the only British unit recorded to have served in Britain at any time. The origin of the unit is readily explained. The territory of the Cornovii included a number of Roman forts in Wales, whose likely Roman garrison were not regular units, but the iuventus of the Cornovii, their men of military age. It was probably some of them who were raised to the status of a Cohort and posted to Pons Aelius a fort at the eastern end of Hadrian’s Wall guarding the crossing of the river Tyne (at the site of Newcastle upon Tyne) in the late third century or the fourth. This is recored in the Notitia Dignitatum.

It is likely that the Newcastle cohort continued to recruit amongst its own Cornovii people, and that with their iuventus and their cohort, the Cornovii had a long military tradition not shared by the other civitates.

It is due to this unique Roman military tradition that the standing figure on the reverse of the PENDRED coin may not be the Pagan goddess Diana but a Cornovii solder? We shall never know!

Following occupation by the Romans, the lands of the Cornovii became a centre of military and economic operations. Viroconium Cornoviorum became one of the most important cities in Roman Britain, and the fourth largest after London. Colchester and St Albans The Legion XIV Gemina was garrison at Viroconium for some time.

The Romans exploited metals such as copper, lead and silver in the area. After the end of Roman rule in Britain (circa 410 AD) Viroconium witnessed a substantial re-building programme in timber, with a covered marketplace and an imposing classical mansion which probably served as the Palace for the local Romano-British chieftain.

After this period, and with the relentless expansion of Anglian power in the British midlands, the Cornovian tribal area came under the rule of the Kingdom of Pengwern. Pengwern was later consumed by neighbouring Mercia (after 642 AD) The local Cornovii people may have continued to reside in the area perhaps as the Wrekensaete under Mercian rule.

Wrekensaete approximates in Old English to Wrekin-dwellers. The boundaries of the Kingdom are uncertain, but it was substantial as the ‘Tribal Hidage’ lists it as 7000 hides, equal to  the kingdoms of East Saxons (Essex) and South Saxons (Sussex). The evidence suggests that the Wrekinset were the most northerly of the three Mercian subject kingdoms facing Wales with the Magonsaete to their south. The chief place was still the former Roman town of Viroconium Cornoviorum (Wroxeter), and the former civitas of the Cornovii, and the kingdom may have covered much of modern Cheshire and Shropshire.

See http://www.roman-britain.org/tribes/cornovii.htm

Pengwern was a Brythonic settlement of Sub-Roman Britain situated in what is now the English county of Shropshire, adjoining the modern Welsh border. It is generally regarded as being the early seat of the Kings of Powys before its establishment at Mathrafal, further west, but the theory that it may have been an early kingdom (or a sub-Kingdom) of Powys itself has also been postulated. Its precise location is uncertain.

Little is known about the foundation of Pengwern although according to Welsh tradition it was part of the Welsh kingdom of Powys in the early Middle Ages. Early Powys, much larger in extent than the later mediaeval kingdom, seems to have roughly coincided with the territory of the Cornovii tribe whose civitas capital or administrative centre was Viroconium Cornoviorum (Wroxeter).

The Celtic Britons who inhabited Cornovii territory before the Roman invasion were farmers, and cultivated wheat and cattle. They lived in highly organised societies which traded with people from around the civilised world. The Cornovii controlled no routes to the south through Dobunni territorially. Their contact with the sea was at Meols on the North Wirral coast, near modern Liverpool. Archaeologists have found coins here from both Brittany in France and Carthage in Mediterranean north Africa .

It is thought that the majority of the Cornovii tribes wealth was in cattle and land, as opposed to metal working skills, and neither export or external trade was as important compared with elsewhere. Cornovii territorial was good farmland and well watered. There were natural brine springs at Nantwich, Middlewich, and Northwich, Salt, a valuable commodity for preserving both food and leather, which the Cornovii traded around the country. The majority of the surviving hill forts are in the area of south Shropshire, possibly reflecting the threat from the more warlike hill tribes to the west, or simply a different way of building settlements there.

The Romans came to Britain in force in 43 AD, and there was little resistance, British tribes had a long tradition of trade with Rome and the chance to start or continue trade with these new masters must have seemed attractive. Apart from storming and torching the hill fort on the Wrekin, (probably as a pincer movement from Watling Street to the north and Leighton to the south), the Romans did not need to use much force to subdue the Cornovii. These local Britons may have been quick to supply beer, cattle and wheat to the legions, and some Cornovii may well have found it advantageous to even join the Roman army. There may also have been liaison between Roman soldiers, many of whom were from Germany and local women, with offspring as a result.

A Roman geographer called Ptolemy recorded the approximate location of the native tribes of Britain but we do not know precisely where they were.

Inscriptions, like the one high on the end wall of the museum at Wroxeter, can sometimes confirm a tribe’s location.

We think the name Cornovii may show that they held lands up to the Wirral near Birkenhead. Cornu means ‘horn’, which describes the Wirral peninsula.

Cornovii tribal lands were eventually subsumed into the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia in the eighth century. 


Before the Roman invasion of Britain, many Celtic tribes populated all corners of Britain. http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=2146413209

On what are now the Welsh borders, Clwyd, Powys, all of Shropshire, most of Cheshire and parts of Staffordshire lived a tribe known as the Cornovii.

To the east were the Catuvellavni tribe and to the south the Dobunni.

Most Cornovii land was hilly and at that time the terrain was covered by light scrub that was easily cleared. For these reasons it was widely settled from the Stone Age.

The first mention of the Cornovii occurs in the words of Claudius Ptolemaells (or Ptolemy in the 2nd Century AD). The Cornovii had many hill forts. One of the largest being ‘The Wrekin’ in Shropshire. This overlooks the site of their later Romano-British tribal capital ‘Viroconium. For further information see the book ‘The Cornovii’ by Graham Webster.


Prior to the Roman invasion of Britain in AD 43, the most significant Cornovii hill forts were ‘Titterstone Clee’ near Billerly which is the only one so far excavated. ‘Chesterton Walls’ near Romsley and ‘Bury Walls’ near Weston-under-Redcastle. ‘Mediolanvm’ (Whitchurch, Shropshire) was a Romano-British settlement. The street plan suggests a small walled town. Lead and silver mines on Shelve Hill, Shropshire were likely to have first been controlled from the nearby Roman fort of ‘Levorinta’, Forden Gaer, Powys. Later possibly as a civil concern perhaps administered from the nearby villa at Linley, near More.

The Cornovii were defeated by the Romans at a decisive battle at the Wrekin Hill fort in AD 47 and that appears to be the only fight that the Cornovii put up. They readily adopted the Roman way of life and urban living. When the XXth. Legion left Wroxeter (Viroconium Corniovorum) to create Chester (Deva) The Cornovii took over Wroxeter (Viroconium Corniovorum) and kept the city going until the early 6th Century. A full two hundred years after Roman influence left Britain.

The Cornovii were distinguished as the only British tribe allowed to manufacture and carry arms. There are records of Cornovii auxiliary soldiers and campaigns in the Roman record known as the ‘Notarium’. There is one great pointer that the Cornovii were considered as a great warrior race, the fact that they were the only Civitas to have a Roman Legion named after them. ‘Cohors Primae Corniovorum’  who were stationed on Hadrian’s Wall at the site of Newcastle upon Tyne. What happened to them after Britain was left to defend itself? No one really knows. Did they go with Constantine III to their deaths in Gaul or did they go back to their tribal region to become the back bone of what was to become the Powysian Kingdom? Did some, (as generally accepted, but not proven), migrate to the southwest peninsular of Britain to defend the local tribes against Irish invasion and give their name to Cornwall (Cornovii of the Wall)?

There is another great mystery about the Cornovii. When did they stop being Cornov (Cornob) and become Pagenses (Powys)? If they did, it could have many ramifications, such as why the historical ‘Arthur’ was said to be from Kernyw (Cornwall). Could he in fact have been from the Cornovii.

After the end of Roman rule in Britain (circa 410 AD) Viroconium witnessed a substantial rebuilding program in timber, with a covered market place for local Romano-British craftsman. After this period, and with the relentless expansion of Anglian power in the British midlands, the Cornovii tribe fell under the rule of the Kingdom of Pengwern that was consumed by neighbouring Mercia after AD 642. The local Cornovii people may have continued to reside in the area, perhaps as Wrekensaete under Mercian rule. Wrekensaete approximates in Old English to ‘Wrekin-dwellers’.

For ‘The Tribal territories of the Cornovii’ Click here

The Cornovii. A Celtic Tribe in Britain