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The Morini were a Belgic tribe in the time of the Roman Empire. We know little about their language but one of their cities, Boulogne-sur-Mer was called Bononia by Zosimus and Bonen in the Middle Ages. Zosimus mentioned the Low Germanic character of the city (Bononia germanorum). Their civitas during the Roman Empire was Tarwanna or Tervanna, Thérouanne (Terwaan in Dutch), today in France.

Together with the Menapii they were mentioned in the Commentarii de Bello Gallico written by Julius Caesar.[1]



The tribe's name Morini is derived with suffix -no- (like other Celtic peoples Ruteni, Santoni, Turini or Tigurini) from the Celtic word mori "sea" , mentioned in The Vienna Glossary as more translated mare "sea" in Latin. Another derived word morici exists and is translated marini "sailors". Morini represents another variation and it means "those of the sea". The variation morici is found in Aremorici "those who live in front of the sea" (Celtic are "in front of", "along").[2] Mori is a close relative of Welsh môr, Breton and Cornish mor, Irish muir. The Indo-European prototype was perhaps *mori (or less probably *mari) that gave also birth to Germanic *mari or *meri : English mere, German Meer, etc..Old Slavic morje, etc.[3]


The Morini inhabited the low-lying plains and coastal wetlands washed by tidal forces of the North Sea in the historic Flanders region (the province of West Flanders) of western Belgium and the present-day departments of Nord and Pas-de-Calais of northernmost France. The word "Flanders" is a contraction of "flooded lands" and refers the north of the Morini territory.


The Morini lived in grass hut villages on seashores, on reclaimed land drained away for expandable farming, and on small islands surrounded by ponds. Because of their home range consists of this type of terrain.

The Morini built their houses on the edges of the wet polders, on reclaimed land drained away for expandable farming, and on man made hills in the polders called pol or terp. Remainders of those pols can still be observed.[4]

They were successful farmers as polders are very fertile. Traces were found of dikes and Roman ditches.[5] They traded with other tribes, like the ancient (Kentish) Britons of nearby England of Great Britain and the Batavi and Salinians of present-day Holland.


Caesar was very interested in that part of the Morini territory where the crossing of the sea to Britannia was "the shortest",[6] now known as the present-day region of Calais. The Morini had several harbours of which Portus Itius, the modern city of Boulogne, was only one of them.[7] Caesar wanted to induce mainly fear in the northern Morini so "that they wouldn't attack him."[8] The territory of the Morini and Menapii was well protected by marshes and woodland and suited for guerrilla tactics. The dangers outweighed the benefits of subduing those economically less interesting regions. In 55 BC Labienus tightened the Roman grip upon the strategically more important western side of the Morini tribal areas.[9] In 54 BC Caesar let one legion, under the command of legate Caius Fabius, hibernate there.[10] In 53 BC the Morini were joint most probably with the Menapii under the command of the Atrebate Commius.[11] During the great Gallic rebellion led by Vercingetorix, the Morini sent a contingent of some 5000 (or 7000?) men to the relief force which had to liberate Alesia.[12]

Caesar gave some interesting details: The tribe counted some pagi (subregions), which, apparently, could make their own decisions.[13] The Morini fled into or behind the "moeren" (marsh or morass) and became unreachable for the Roman army. In 56 BC, when autumn was very wet, this tactic worked. The year after, which was much dryer, it failed.[14] The Morini would have participated together with other coastal people (Lexovii, Namnetes, Ambiliati, Diablintes and Menapii) and tribes from Britain, in the uprising of the Veneti.[15] Theoretically, the named people were involved in trade and transport to south Britain, an activity Caesar wanted for himself.

Although Caesar fought the Morini, he managed to conquer only a part of their territory around Calais. The rest of the Morini were annexed by emperor Augustus between the years 33-23 B.C. and their tribal lands became part of the Roman province of Belgae.

They were converted to Christianity by Saints Victoricus and Fuscian, but the region was re-evangelized by Saint Omer in the seventh century.

Modern Morini

The tribe of the Morini persists today in the indigenous people of the modern Belgian province of West Flanders, which corresponds closely to the ancient territory of the Morini. They speak a particular and difficult dialect ("West-Vlaams") of Dutch. According to Stephen Oppenheimer their genetic signature is virtually identical to the people of south-east Britain (Kent).[16]

See also


  1. ^ Julius Caesar, Commentarii de Bello Gallico 2.4
  2. ^ fr:Pierre-Yves Lambert, La langue gauloise, éditions errance 1994. p. 34.
  3. ^ Xavier Delamarre, Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise, éditions errance 2003.
  4. ^ For instance near the natural reserve 'Uitkerkse Polder'
  5. ^ see above 'Uitkerkse Polder'
  6. ^ Caes., D.B.G., IV 21.3 - previously, Caesar knew only the crossing from the Veneti region
  7. ^ Caes., D.B.G., V 2.3; Strabo, Geographia IV 5.2. From Boulogne the crossing was the easiest, from Wissant (?) the shortest.
  8. ^ Caes., D.B.G., IV 22
  9. ^ Caes., D.B.G., IV 38.1-2
  10. ^ Caes., D.B.G., V 24.2
  11. ^ Caes., D.B.G., VI 8.4 en VII 76.2
  12. ^ Caes., D.B.G., VII 75.3
  13. ^ Caes., D.B.G., IV 22.1, 5. "apparently" because Caesar seems to believe initially all too easily that all of the Morini subjected to him, except some pagi. The last paragraph of book IV demonstrates that this was an illusion.
  14. ^ Caes., D.B.G., III 28-29; IV 38. In book III Caesar writes about "uninterrupted woodlands and marshes". In Book IV he notes that the Morini had withdrawn in the marshes and the Menapii in the woods (IV 38.2-3).
  15. ^ Caes., D.B.G., III 9.10
  16. ^ The Origin of the British (2006) by Stephen Oppenheimer

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