The information on this page is made up of extracts from ‘Warriors, Saints & Lords’.
A publication produced by the Ancient Cwmbran Society.Compiled and edited by Robert Bender.
The story of the Silures was of great interest to the Ancient Cwmbran Society, due to their spread throughout South East Wales, and their resistance to the Roman invasion of Britain. The Silures were an incredibly active group in the area, who provided a very real and potent threat to the Romans for over a quarter of a century. Because the Silures were active in nearby Caerleon and Caerwent, they are relevant to the project as it is very likely that the Silures would have had an impact on Cwmbran.
The Silures is the name that the tribe was given by the Romans, and it is not known how the tribe would have called themselves. Although later evidence, such as inscribed stones, from the region do demonstrate the tribe referring to itself using the description ‘Silures’, it is not clear if they used this term prior to the Roman invasion. The Silures were an Iron Age tribe, and therefore would have been active in the area between about 700 BC and AD 100.
The nineteenth century historian John Rhys claimed that the Silures were one of the ‘earlier’ Iron Age tribes, and that as the Silures had been in Britain for so long, ‘whatever non-Celtic tribes that had managed to remain’ in South-East Wales were part of the Silures tribe ‘by assimilation and absorption’
There is little evidence relating to the Silures, therefore much of what can be studied about the tribe comes from comparing them with other Iron Age tribes. As was common with other Iron Age tribes, the Silures did not write about themselves. As a result of this, most of what we know about the Silures comes from what their enemies, most notably the Romans, wrote, which is likely to be rather biased. The Romans were describing an enemy, so when writing about the Silures, they would have attempted to portray them as uncivilised and barbaric, and in need of Roman rule.
Other information comes from archaeological excavations in South East Wales. Aerial photographs also illustrate the areas that may have been hillforts occupied by the Silures. However, with regards to the many hillforts that dot the area, only five have ever been excavated. The exact territory that the Silures occupied is unknown. However it is estimated that their territory ran between the rivers Wye and Tawe, and towards the Severn Estuary.
The Silures were not just a society of warriors. As with all Iron Age tribes, the Silures made most of their own products, and traded with neighbouring tribes to obtain the necessary products that the Silures did not make themselves. The Silures also traded further afield, and evidence of such trading has even been found as far away as Rome, where excavations have discovered items produced by the Silures.
Like so much else of the history of Cwmbran, the Silures remain somewhat of an enigma. Despite the vital work carried out by people such as Ray Howell, there is still a scarcity of evidence relating to this most interesting of Iron Age tribes.
In Howell’s book, Searching for the Silures, he notes that they wore red into battle. This point was picked up upon by the Western Mail, who drew a comparison between the Celtic tribe wearing red to fight against the Romans, and the Welsh rugby team wearing red to play against Italy in 2007. Whilst it was not claimed that the culture of the Silures survived from AD 78 until 2007, the link is rather a nice one.
The Silures had offered the invading Romans an incredible resistance, including a ‘humiliating’ defeat against a whole legion in AD 51. Under Caratacus they presented a unified force, and they continued to be a significant threat to Roman desires following his capture for well over a quarter of a century.