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Cornovii. British tribe and civitas. The Cornovii are a surprisingly obscure tribe, given that they lay well within the boundaries of the Roman province and their civitas-capital was one of the largest towns in Britain. They share their tribal name—which means ‘the people of the horn’—with a Scottish tribe, but there is no reason to think they shared a common ancestry. Before the Roman invasion they issued no coinage and we know the names of none of their kings or chieftains. Equally there is no distinctive ‘Cornovian’ material culture by which to recognize them. Thus, the territory which we believe they occupied is effectively demarcated by the areas occupied by surrounding tribes rather than by any internal evidence from the Cornovii themselves. This suggests the civitas encompassed the modern counties of Shropshire, Staffordshire, and Cheshire. More or less at the heart of this territory lay the civitas-capital of Viriconium (Wroxeter), which may have replaced, and borrowed the name of, the nearby Iron Age hill-fort on the Wrekin. It was from Wroxeter that an inscription was recovered which confirmed the existence of the Civitas Cornoviorum, previously known only from the writings of the Alexandrian geographer Ptolemy.

Keith Branigan

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