Veneti Tribe - Importance





The Veneti tribe were based around present day Brittany.

They dominated cross channel trade, and had developed ships more suitable for use in stormy Channel and Biscay waters than Roman Mediterranean developed ships.

They also dominated Cross-channel trade at the time in Roman conquest of Gaul. This trade  was long established because the remains of substantial jetties and harbour-works dating to about 250BC have been discovered on the south coast of Britain. The main entry and exit point for Veneti cross channel trade was through Hengistbury Head from Brittany and probably Cherbourg.


Veneti ships were flat bottomed to help them navigate shallow coastal shoal waters or draw up on shore without being damaged. They were constructed of Oak, with cross members up to 12in thick fastened with iron bolts as thick as a man's thumb. Anchors were secured by iron chains rather than rope and sails comprised rawhide or thin leather. They had high bow and stern and the height of their sides above water meant Romans had great difficulty in boarding them during a sea battle. Their sole method of propulsion was by sail and not oars. The normal Roman tactics during sea battles was to close with the enemy, board and allow the superior fighting skills of the Roman soldiers to win the day. The relatively high gunwales of the Veneti ships made this difficult.


Veneti strongholds were often established at the end of promontories, which could be supplied from the sea if they were blockaded on the land side by the Romans. Then, if the Romans concentrated sufficient forces to force the land fortifications, the defenders would be evacuated by sea to another stronghold.

So when Caesar moved into northern Gaul the Veneti were not intimidated and obtained support from the maritime Morini tribe near present day Calais, the nearby Menapii tribe and also help from British tribes. This combined force fleet was eventually brought to battle at sea at Quiberon Bay with a fleet said to be 220 strong. During the battle the wind dropped allowing the oar driven Roman ships to gain control of the battle. Using sickles attacked to long poles the Romans were able to cut Veneti rigging, disabling the ships and winning the battle with the superior fighting skills of the Roman Marines.

By the end of the day the Veneti ships had been picked off and the Romans had won another victory and defeated another tribe.

There were three main consequences of this victory.

  1. The Romans had assembled a Fleet strong enough and with established techniques able to defeat other tribes ships around northern Gaul. 
  2. They defeated and acquired knowledge from a tribe with substantial knowledge of cross channel weather, local tides, cross channel trade routes and sailing conditions.
  3. They learned to construct ships more suitable to northern operations than Mediterranean types - especially ships suitable for merchant operations.


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This page last edited - 22 December, 2012.

Copyright Ian M King, except where otherwise indicated.