Parisi (Yorkshire)

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Approximate supposed territory of the Parisi

The Parisi were apparently a tribe located somewhere within the present-day East Riding of Yorkshire, in England, known from a single brief reference by Ptolemy in his Geographica of about AD 150. Many writers have connected them with the archaeological Arras culture and some with the more securely-known Parisii of Gaul.[1]

Historical sources and archaeology[edit]

The Parisi are known from a description in Ptolemy's Geographica (Geographica II, 3, 10) which locates them to near Opportunum Sinus ("Good harbour").[n 1] Ptolemy is presumed never to have visited Roman Britain, compiling his work from existing sources, probably in Alexandria.

The tribe are inferred to have been surrounded by the Brigantes, and with the Coritani south of them across the Humber. Ptolemy mentions the Parisi in association with Petvaria, a town thought to be located close to Brough, East Riding of Yorkshire.[5][n 2] Ptolemy also mentions a promontory Promontarium Ocellum, which may be either Spurn Head or Flamborough Head.[7]

The translation and interpretation of Ptomemy's work has not been consistent over time, with differing interpretations creating potential contradictions in the spacial relationship between Opportunum Sinus and Petuaria. A more recent interpretation (2005) places both the Parisi and Petuaria on the Opportunum Sinus which leads to the common interpretation of Opportunum Sinus to be impossible geographically - an alternative feature - the inlet near Brough to Walling Fen has been suggested.[4]

The Parisi are also mentioned in the forgery De Situ Britanniae originally credited to Richard of Cirencester (14th century AD): the Parisi's towns supposedly included Petuaria and a place Portus Felix, the locations of which were uncertain, and subject to speculation in the 19th century.[3][8][9]

Evidence for link with continental tribes[edit]

Burials in East Yorkshire dating from the pre-Roman Iron Age are distinguished as those of the Arras Culture,[10] and show differences from surrounding areas, generally lacking grave goods, but chariot burials and burials with swords are known.,[5] but are similar (chariot burials) to those ascribed to the La Tène culture of areas of western and central Europe, giving a potential link to the similarly named Parisii of Gaul. There is no other evidence for a link between the two tribes.[1] Writers of the late 19h century made a connection with the Frisians on the opposite side of the North Sea based on etymological speculation,[11] but the realism of these suggestions was promptly questioned.[12]


The origin of the name is uncertain; 19th century authors, in addition to a possible origin as a variant of 'Frisian',[11] speculated origins from "Par Isis" (of the wetlands),[3] and similar "Paür Isa" (low pasture) as well as "Porüys" (herdsmen).[8] John T. Koch in the encyclopaedia Celtic Culture (2006) states a Celtic linguistic origin, meaning "the commanders", similar to the Welsh language peri (to cause, command or have done).[1]


  1. ^ Thought to be Bridlington bay, though this is not certain,[2] also identified as Holderness or Spurn Head by 19th century authors.[3] The bay at Filey has also been posited as a possible location.[4]
  2. ^ The Roman settlement at Petuaria has been presumed to be at Brough, on the basis of an inscription found on a stone at an excavation as Bozzes (field) in Brough in 1937.[6]


  1. ^ a b c John T. Koch (2006), "Arras culture", Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia, Volumes 1–5, ABC-CLIO, p. 88 
  2. ^ Frank Elgee (1930), Early man in north-east Yorkshire, p. 201, The location of the bay round which the Parisi lived has always been doubtful.. 
  3. ^ a b c J.J. Sheahan; T. Whellan (1857), History and topography of the City of York, the East Riding of Yorkshire, and a portion of the West Riding: embracing a general review of the early history of Great Britain, and a general history and description of the county of York, 2, pp. 303, 305 
  4. ^ a b Halkon 2013, Chap.2 "The Landscape of Eastern Yorkshire".
  5. ^ a b "The Parisi",, retrieved 26 May 2012 
  6. ^ Halkon 2013, Chap.7 The Impact of Rome - The Larger Settlements.
  7. ^ Ramm 1978, p. 22.
  8. ^ a b Thomas Thompson (1824), Ocellum promontorium: or, Short observations on the ancient state of Holderness, with Historic facts relative to the sea port & market town of Ravenspurne, in Holderness 
  9. ^ John Walker (1834), "VIII. Observations to prove Filey Bay, in Yorkshire, the Portus Felixm or Sinus Salutaris; and Flamborough Head, the Ocellum Promontorium, of the Romans", Archaeologia: or miscellaneous tracts relating to antiquity 25, Society of Antiquaries of London, pp. 127–145 
  10. ^ Stephen J. Murray, "British Tribes",  |chapter= ignored (help)
  11. ^ a b Sources:
  12. ^ Sources
    • Wright, T. (1849). "On the Remains of a Primitive People in the South-East Corner of Yorkshire; with some remarks on the Early Ethnology of Britain". Proceedings of the Yorkshire Geological Society 3: 465. doi:10.1144/pygs.3.465.  edit
    • (also published in) Thomas Wright (1861), "On the Remains of a Primitive People in the south-east corner of Yorkshire", Essays on archaeological subjects: and on various questions connected with the history of art, science and literature in the middle ages 1, John Russell Smith (London), pp. 1–22, A not improbable suggestion has been made by our modern ethnologists, that the name of the tribe, Parisi, is only a corruption of that of Frisii, or rather that the two words represent the same original name, and that the primitive people who dwelt round the bay of Bridlington were originally settlers from the opposite coasts of Friesland. I mention this suggestion as being rather a happy one, for it seems agreeable to what we might expect in such a tribe so situated; but at the same time I would urge how extremely cautious we ought to be in accepting -arguments founded on, I fear, too often fanciful derivations of the old names of places and peoples, ascribed to languages of which we really know nothing, and which, sometimes, have existed only in the imaginations of those to whom we owe the derivations 


  • Ramm, Herman Gabriel (1978), The Parisi, Duckworth 
  • Halkon, Peter (2013), The Parisi: Britons and Romans in East Yorkshire, The History Press, ISBN 0752448412 

Further reading[edit]

  • Halkon, Peter (1989), New light on the Parisi, recent discoveries in Iron Age and Roman East Yorkshire, East Riding Archaeological Soc., University of Hull School of Adult and Continuing Education, ISBN 0905218035 

External links[edit]