The first inhabitants of Jersey

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The first inhabitants of Jersey

This article by C Oberreiner was first published in the 1919 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise. It has been translated from the original French by Mike Bisson


The megalithic monuments, it is said, go back not to the Celtic period, but much further to the era when the Ligurians inhabited not only the corner of the land generally assigned to them, but also countries where one did not suspect their presence.

Thus, according to C Jullian’s Histoire de la Gaule a Ligurian element persisted strongly in Normandy. The Ligurian appearance of certain tribal names, the Lexovii, the Esubii, the Unelli is for Mr Julian proof that the Ligurians lived in Normandy.

A coin has been found in Jersey on which is inscribed ESVVIOS. This coin was handed by Charles Robert to E Desjardins, the noted author of Geographie de la Gaule. It is possible that Mr Desjardins misspelt the word, as Rice Holmes believes. He suggests Esuvios’, a form which according to Eugene Hucher is the forerunner of Esuvius which is found on two coins of Tetricus.

No matter which spelling is accepted, the discovery of this coin in Jersey seems to prove that the maritime tribe living in Jersey formed a pagus or canton of Esuvii, like, for example, the Baiocasses.

There have undoubtedly always been collectors of coins and medals, of which long buried treasures are suddenly brought to light. Every discovery of ancient coins does not necessarily constitute an archaeological discovery implying certain conclusions.

But is this really the case of the coin in question? Another coin has been found at Rozel on which is written TET(RICUS). Edwin Cable described and reproduced it in the Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise in 1880.

It is true that other Gaulish and Roman coins have been found scattered at Rozel, also catalogues by this numismatist.


On the other hand, according to the different lessons of manuscripts of Commentaires of Julius Caesar on the Gaul War, the term Sesurii is found for Esuvii. Is this not the origin of the name Caesarea given to Jersey, particularly appropriate because it appealed not only to the aboriginals, by sounding like their tribal name, but also the Romans?

However, it is necessary to take account of the ancient boundaries of the dioceses, which in general corresponded to the administrative boundaries, and if at the same time one remembers that Jersey was formerly closer to the French coast than it is now, it was more likely to have been a Unelli or Venelli tribe which inhabited the island.

It’s a question of knowing if the iles de Coutances, that is Jersey, Guernsey etc, were really attached to Coutances, capital of the Unelli, before the creation of the diocese of Coutances, if they were not apparently occupied by the Esuvii.

The Romans in general respected the limits of the Gaulish tribes, but there were exceptions. Who knows if by a bizarre fate, which was at a given time detached from the diocese of Coutances to become part of an English diocese, was not detached from the Esuvii to be administered by the Unelli.

Jersey was also called ile des Venetes, according to Abbot Desroches in his Histoire du Mont St Michel, 1838, based on Pliny’s Ancient History. But Vannes is well away from Jersey. So we will call Jersey ’ile des Venelles or ile des Esuviens, but not ile des Venetes.

Corbieres and Gorey

We often refer to the terms Corbieres and Gorey. Les Corbieres, according to Elisee Reclus , have long served as a boundary between France and Spain because of the roughness of their rocks and the multiple walls of their chains. But it is a question of whether the name Corbieres is really old in Jersey, if it is not a recent import. Gorey could be Garay, which one finds in the Basque name Iribarnegaray, etc.

But we follow the circumspection of the linguist Luchaire, who has studied in depth the Iberians and the Basques and is reluctant to adventure too far.

Elsewhere the study of toponymic vocabulary does not lead to any certainty. We don’t know, says E Desjardins, if the Ligurians were only the depositors, the messangers of the geographic language of the Iberians. We also don’t know if in the turn the Celts did the same for the Ligurians, whom they hunted.

Besides, the Iberians perhaps did not arrive in Gaul until after the Celts and only occupied the south-west of France.

The terms asco, osco, Ligurian for Arbois de Jubainville, are according to Mr Philipon, common to the Ligurians and Iberians, peoples intimately linked. The names Rhodanus, Sqquana’, the names of tribes in ates are perhaps Ligurian, believes Rice Holmes, but this is not certain. There is so little difference between the Celtic vocabulary and the rare Ligurian terms that we know there is no neat dividing line.

Should we consider the scholarly discussions on the subject of Iberians, Ligurians and Celts as empty disputes about words? Not at all. There are, on the contrary, grounds to push the investigations still further, to lead the archeological, linguistic and numismatic research.

Perhaps our great-great-nephews will know if the first inhabitants of Jersey were really Iberians, Ligurians or Celts, and if they belonged to the Unelli or Esuvii tribe.

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