Who Were the Corieltauvi?

The Corieltaivi was an Iron Age tribe that occupied a region in the East Midlands of Britain. Their northern border appears to have been the River Humber, and their territory extended through Sherwood Forest to at least the Trent valley to the west or even the Pennines range. The Corieltauvi are not believed to have been a unified tribe, rather are recognizable as a collection of like-minded peoples sharing the same outlook and social practices as was recorded by Roman writers and subsequent archaeological findings.

The last forty to fifty years of excavations in Lincolnshire and the rest of Britain has greatly improved our knowledge of how Iron Age people lived. The people in this region minted their own coins, were highly skilled metalworkers, and many of their settlements were succeeded by Roman civitas.

The East Midlands seems to have witnessed a marked growth in the late Iron Age (c. late 2nd c. BC), perhaps connected with the more intensive exploitation of the resources of the land. The local production of salt along the coast in the region of Ingoldmells must have been in quantities sufficient to sustain trade of this commodity with other parts of Britain. The region of south Lincolnshire and Leicestershire is rich with surface deposits of ironstone, and, as would be expected, a large number of small steadings are to be found in the area, making use of this natural resource.

Major settlement excavations have not produced the field remains that would seem to indicate anything like a great oppida of southern Britain. Large hillforts are relatively scarce in this region. Enclosed sites and small hillforts are known from Nottinghamshire and south Yorkshire, but information on their context is slight. Hillforts are relatively uncommon in the tribal area as a whole. It is uncertain that any of the hillforts, of whatever size, were occupied in the later Iron Age.
At present, it appears that the major settlements here of the late Iron Age were large, open settlements, usually sited on low ground, and with no clear indication of careful planning in their layout. Smaller ditched enclosures of settlements and homesteads are known. Often these appear as single farmsteads with associated fields, a type of settlement known throughout southern Britain. The most prolific type of dwellings are small groups of round huts, often surrounded by banks and ditches, probably housing a single family and its dependents. A relatively high proportion of the population of the region may have lived in these humble farms.

The most completely examined example of this type of farmstead being the one located at Colsterworth in south Lincolnshire. Here, a small group of five or six round huts with a central hut somewhat larger than the others, lay within an irregular enclosure of around half a hectare with a surrounding bank and ditch. The ditch in this particular example is surprisingly large, being 6 meters wide and up to 2.5 meters deep, enclosing a roughly elliptical area measuring 80 by 100 meters. This steading was occupied around the middle of the first century A.D., probably by a single family group.

The most fully studied settlement of this region is Dragonby near the Humber estuary, at the confluence of the river Trent. It has a long sequence, from at least the fifth century B.C. and continuing into the Roman period. Dragonby has revealed a rich pottery series, and suggests a prosperous community through its range of metalwork and coins.

It is possible that the Corieltauvi had no centralized government as such during the Iron Age. What is reasonably certain however, is that the Corieltauvi maintained a number of septs, each with their own independent local government structure, with groups of settlements being ruled by a small number of leaders who minted and issued coins collectively. It is not entirely certain that this was the only tribe in the East Midlands duing this time. How far back into prehistoric times the Corieltauvi existed as a tribal entity, and whether their territory was the same, is unknown and probably will never be known.

After the capture of the most important settlement in southern Britain in A.D. 43 at Camulodunum (Colchester), the task of subjugating the people of the East Midlands fell to the Ninth legion. Changes to the local Iron Age and political settlement patterns could have been brought about by the Roman conquest and the founding of the veteren soildiers colony at Lincoln in circa A.D. 90. In the early Roman period, the principal towns in this territory were Lindum (Lincoln) and Ratae (Leicester).

May, J. (1976) Prehistoric Lincolnshire, History of Lincolnshire Committee, History of Lincolnshire, vol.1, Lincoln.
Todd, M. (1973) The Coritani, Duckworth, London.