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Celtic Tribes

 

 

 

MapAmbidravi (Gauls)

FeatureIn general terms, the Romans coined the name 'Gaul' to describe the Celtic tribes of what is now central, northern and eastern France. The Gauls were divided from the Belgae to the north by the Marne and the Seine, and from the Aquitani to the south by the River Garonne, and they also extended into Switzerland, northern Italy, and along the Danube. By the middle of the first century BC, the Ambidravi were located on the north-eastern border of Italy where it meets modern central Austria. They were neighboured to the north by the Ambisontes, to the east by the bulk of the Taurisci confederation, to the south by the Carni and Catubrini, and to the west by tribes of the Raeti.

As with the similar Ambarri, Ambisontes, and Ambitouti tribal names, the best explanation for the origin of the Ambidravi name is that it breaks down into 'ambi', meaning 'both sides', and 'dravi'. In other words, they lived on both sides of a river with a name along the lines of Drava. The only river with a name like this is the ancient Dravus which has its source in northern Italy and proceeds into modern Slovenia. The tribe seem to have made the river's headwaters their home.

The tribe and its Ambisontes neighbours were clients or constituent parts of the Taurisci confederation which occupied territory between the southern edge of the Eastern Alps and the Northern Adriatic. They seem to have arrived earlier than the Taurisci, though, at least sometime in the fourth century BC, and possibly earlier if Livy's details about the Celtic invasion of Italy are correct.

(Information co-authored by Edward Dawson, and additional information from The La Tene Celtic Belgae Tribes in England: Y-Chromosome Haplogroup R-U152 - Hypothesis C, David K Faux, and The Harleian Miscellany: A Collection of Scarce, Curious and Entertaining Tracts Volume 4, William Oldys & Thomas Park, and The Celtic Encyclopaedia, Harry Mountain, and from External Link: On the Celtic Tribe of Taurisci, Mitka Guštin. Other major sources listed in the 'Barbarian Europe' section of the Sources page.)

c.600 BC

The first century BC writer, Livy (Titus Livius Patavinus), writes of an invasion into Italy of Celts during the reign of Lucius Tarquinius Priscus, king of Rome. As archaeology seems to point to a start date of around 500 BC for the beginning of a serious wave of Celtic incursions into Italy, this event has either been misremembered by later Romans or is an early precursor to the main wave of incursions. Livy writes that two centuries before major Celtic attacks take place against Etruscans and Romans in Italy, a first wave of invaders from Gaul fights many battles against the Etruscans who dwell between the Apennines and the Alps.

Gauls on expedition
An idealised illustration of Gauls on an expedition, from A Popular History of France From The Earliest Times Volume I by Francois Pierre Guillaume Guizot

At this time, the Bituriges are the supreme power amongst the Celts (who already occupy a third of the whole of Gaul). Livy understands that this tribe had formerly supplied the king for the whole Celtic race, either suggesting a previously more central governance of the Celts that is now beginning to fragment or the typical assumption that one powerful king rules an entire people. The prosperous and courageous, but now-elderly Ambigatus is the ruler of the Bituriges, and over-population means a division of its number is required. Ambigatus sends his sister's sons, Bellovesus and Segovesus, to settle new lands with enough men behind them to put down any opposition.

fl c.600 BC

Segovesus

Nephew of Ambigatus of the Bituriges. Settled Carinthia & Styria.

Following divination by the druids, Segovesus heads into the Hercynian Forest, on the east bank of the Rhine (this forms the northern border of the lands known to the ancient writers of the Mediterranean, and the modern Black Forest forms its western part). He ends up leading his groups into Carinthia (now in southern Austria) to found the Ambisontes and Ambidravi tribes. The Ambisontes develop a centre at Salzach (actually just north of Carinthia's modern regional border), while the Ambidravi settle on both sides of the River Drava to the south of the Ambisontes.

c.300 BC

By the Late Iron Age, the area between the southern edge of the Eastern Alps and the Northern Adriatic has long been inhabited by diverse prehistoric populations, such as the Raeti and Ligurians (and also apparently by the early Celtic arrivals mentioned above). More newcomers arrive into the area around this time in the form of Celtic communities from north of the Danube, the heart of Celtic culture (possibly from so far north that the majority of them are in fact Belgae). The presence of the Celts in this area is first noted after 1829, when hoards of Celtic coins are discovered in the area of Celje, in Vrhnika and in Šmarjeta.

Carinthia
The modern southern Austrian region of Carinthia marked the upper edge of the Adriatic hinterland which was first occupied by Celts towards the end of the fourth century BC

The tribes concerned are determined by the historian Albert Muchar to be the Latovici, Serapili, Sereti, and Taurisci. This seems not to involve the Ambidravi and Ambisontes, presumably because they are already settled. In addition, their clearly Gaulish names marks them out from the other Taurisci confederation tribes, which all bear names that could be Belgic.

25 - 15 BC

Augustus determines that the Alpine tribes need to be pacified in order to end their warlike behaviour, alternately attacking or extracting money from Romans who pass through the region, even when they have armies in tow. He wages a steady, determined campaign against them, and in a period of ten years he 'pacifies the Alps all the way from the Adriatic to the Tyrrhenian seas' (written by Augustus himself). The Ambisontes are included in this defeat after throwing in their lot with the Raeti and Vindelici, so the Ambidravi may also be associated with this defeat. Given the fact that the Catubrini lie between Italy and these tribes, they should also be included. Following this, the history of the Alpine region's population of Celts is tied to that of the empire.