Home of the Veneti

CIMG006456 B.C. was the third year in  Julius Caesar’s war of conquest against the many tribes of Gaul. The contestants that season were the residents of Brittany.

The most powerful tribe in the area (per Caesar), the Veneti, lived around the Morbihan Bay and controlled the tin and metals trade and all the shipping with Britain. They were a wealthy people.

And I read that Veneti is not a Gaulish word, although everyone accepts that this was a Celtic tribe. Possibly the Celts, hundreds of years before, had intermarried with another tribe in the area and kept the name.  That’s the idea behind Gorio and his people in my novel Death Speaker,  anyway.

Caesar stormed several of their towns on a trumped-up excuse, but the Veneti always escaped. They just loaded up everything onto their huge ships, and sailed to an island in the vast bay, or a peninsula that they could defend.

The picture above is of one of those islands, the Iles aux Moines.

The city of Vannes sits on the Morbihan Bay and I believe its name is an homage to the Veneti. But this is not where the Veneti lived. No one has ever found the site of their city, which Caesar called Venetia.

VenetiCoin1

That the Veneti had a pretty large town or oppidum (a fort) is certain. So much commerce would have to be warehoused and distributed. They struck coins, indicating a pretty stable currency. They had hundreds of large ships. We know about them from The Gallic Wars, written by Caesar. He was pretty proud of the way fortune delivered the Veneti fleet to him, and how his men responded.

He sent Brutus (yup, the et-tu Brutus) up the Loire River to build dozens of Roman ships. Brutus delivered: little Roman carvels that couldn’t even ram the larger Veneti ships. But, on the day of battle, as Caesar watched from shore (tradition puts him at St. Gildas) . . .

Our men had made ready in advance. . . sharpened hooks fixed into long poles, not unlike the kind of hooks used for pulling down walls in seiges. Using these hooks, our men seized the ropes binding the enemy yardarms to the masts and drew them tight: then our ship quickly rowed away, and the ropes broke.

The Veneti ships depended entirely on their leather sails for mobility; they didn’t have rowers. The Roman carvels disabled a few ships in this manner, but the Veneti caught on and kept their distance. Then a miracle happened:

. . . suddenly a dead calm fell, and they were unable to sail away.

No wind, no movement. One by one the great ships were surrounded and boarded. The Veneti fought hard but were slaughtered piecemeal.

All their warriors had been on those ships; there was no one left to defend the towns. Caesar executed their surviving rulers and sold all of the people into slavery.

RomanWall,MoatThe Romans built a city they called Darioritum, and the name Vannes came along in the 5th century. It’s got an interesting history and a Roman wall, so there’s been lots of excavations there–but nothing predating the Romans has ever been found in Vannes.

Hoards of Veneti coins have been found buried all along roads and near the coast over the past two thousand years. Once Caesar destroyed the Veneti fleet, merchants and tradesmen fled with all their wealth, hoping to escape. The one place that these coins have NOT been found is Vannes.

Because of all this, it’s clear that the city of Vannes is proven to be the one place not populated by the Veneti. Maybe the oppidum will be found one day, maybe not.

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4 Responses to Home of the Veneti

  1. David Wilson says:

    I love your pro Celtic/ Gaulish bias. I’m researching this exact era, do you think there’s any chance that the Venetii were the remnants of the Phoeneti forced out of the Meditteranean by the Roman determination to control trade ?

    • vickeykall says:

      Hi David, and thanks for stopping by. I honestly don’t have any idea about the answer to your question, and it would be silly for me to speculate since I’m not a scholar in this area. But– I wish you luck on your research.

  2. Trevor Lee says:

    I would like to know how the Boat of the Veneti, Morini and Manapii looked like. there is a place in central esCotti/Scotland which is Called Mannau Gododini which I believe should read Manapii Votani/Veniti.

    • vickeykall says:

      Trevor, there was an article in a journal about the Veneti ships, using several sources including (if I remember right) impressions of the boat on coins. I think it was in a British Archaeological journal–more than 10 but not more than 25 years ago. You could probably find it by search something like JStor for “Veneti Ship”.

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