In general terms, the Romans
coined the name 'Gaul' to describe the Celtic
tribes of what is now central, northern and eastern
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. By the middle of the first century BC, the Arverni were located in
southern-central Gaul, in the area around the modern Auvergne. They were
neighboured to the north by the
Bituriges Cubi, to the
north-east by the Aeduii, to
the east by the Segusiavi,
to the south by the
Gabali, and to
the west by the Cadurci and
Lemovices, and perhaps
also by the powerful Pictones.
The Arverni tribal name can be broken down relatively easily. It starts with
'ar' which means 'ar' ('at', or 'before', or 'next to'), plus 'vern'. The same
first part was used in 'Aremorio', a word used to describe
it is earliest days as a home for Celts. This may come from the proto-Celtic
*werno- or *wernā- which means 'alder'. The modern Welsh form is (noun)
'gwern', 'alder grove', perhaps producing a name that meant 'by the alder
grove'. One of the tribe's towns was Augustonemetum, and 'nemet' is a holy
grove. In full it was Augustonemetum Arvernorum, which means Augusta
Arvernorum, the civitas of the Arverni. Its modern name is Clermont-Ferrand
(in the Puy-de-Dome département).
The Arverni were formed as a confederation of minor Gaulish tribes, probably
including the Vellavi, whom Strabo says were once a part of the Arverni.
Before the arrival of the Romans, they were very powerful, contesting with the
Aeduii for nominal overlordship
of all of the Gaulish tribes for a period. They emerged victorious, but their
victory was short-lived, being very quickly usurped by Rome. However, in the
massed Gaulish revolt of 52 BC, it was the Arverni who supplied a commander who
was capable of taking on Julius Caesar. Despite his eventual defeat, the name of
Vercingetorix remains as potent to the modern French as that of Boudicca does to
the British. The Arverni were located in the Auvergne, to which they gave their
name, and their most powerful and important stronghold was Gergovia. This has
been identified as Merdogne, a village that since 1865 has been better known as
Gergovie, near Clermont-Ferrand.
(Information co-authored by Edward Dawson, and additional information by
Rhys Saunders, and from The La Tene Celtic Belgae Tribes in England:
Y-Chromosome Haplogroup R-U152 - Hypothesis C, David K Faux, from The
History of Rome, Volume 1, Titus Livius, translated by Rev. Canon Roberts,
and from External Links:
Works of Julius Caesar: Gallic Wars and
Digital Library. Other major sources listed in the 'Barbarian Europe' section of the
The first century BC writer, Livy (Titus Livius Patavinus), writes of an
of Celts during
the reign of Lucius Tarquinius Priscus, king of
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
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.
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. Bellovesus
heads towards Italy, inviting fellow settlers to join him from six tribes, the
Senones. The body of people
led by Bellovesus himself apparently consists mainly of
Insubres, a canton (or
sub-division) of the Aeduii.
200s - 100s BC
During the third and second centuries BC, the Arverni are
one of the most powerful Gaulish tribes. They reach the height of their
power and influence under the leadership of Luernios in the first half of
the second century BC. Unfortunately, his son, Bituitous, is not quite up to
the task, and is defeated by the
in one of their earliest conquests in Gaul.
c.180 - 167 BC
Ruled the tribe during the height of its power.
c.167 - 123 BC
Son. Captured by
123 - 121 BC
Allobroges come into direct conflict with
following the latter's defeat of the Salluvii. That tribe's king, Tuto-Motulus,
flees northwards and seeks shelter with the Allobroges. They welcome him in,
and when Rome demands that he is handed over, they refuse. Having declared
war, Rome sends Quintus Fabius Maximus to attack them in 121 BC. He is the
son of Quintus Fabius Maximus Aemilianus, consul of 145 BC, and is consul
himself during this year. He campaigns in Gallia Transalpina (the modern
Auvergne and Rhône-Alpes regions) with Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus, fighting
the Allobroges, Arverni, and
Helvii. They are defeated
and the consul is awarded the honour of a triumph which is famous for its
spectacle, with the Arverni ruler, Bituitus, being displayed in his silver
battle armour. The Ruteni,
Volcae Arecomisci are
subjugated at the same time.
The tribe becomes part of a Roman provincia as a result of its defeat.
This brings its glory days as a powerful nation to a definite end and allows
the Aeduii and
Sequani tribes, who have
yet to be subdued, to rise in its place.
fl c.118 BC
1st century BC
By the beginning of the first century BC, and perhaps for an indeterminate
period before it, the Aeduii
are at the head of a tribal confederation that also includes the
Senones. Against this
confederation in the contest for supremacy in Gaul are the Arverni, to its
immediate south, and the Sequani
to its east.
The Aeduii confederation is shown here, around 100 BC, with
borders approximate and fairly conjectural, based on the locations
of the tribes half a century later - it can be seen that the
Aulerci at least migrate farther north-west during that time,
although the remainder largely stay put (click on map to show
fl c.70s BC?
High king of Gaul? Slain by his people.
Celtillus breaks down into 'celt' and 'il', plus an '-os' or '-us' suffix.
The 'il' part is a diminutive. Celtillus would mean 'little Celt'.
According to Julius Caesar in his Gallic Wars, Celtillus holds 'the supremacy
of entire Gaul' which, if true, shows that they are still one of the most powerful
of the Gaulish tribes. Caesar describes him more fully as a man who "held the
supremacy of entire Gaul, and had been put to death by his fellow-citizens, for this
reason, because he aimed at sovereign power". In other words, Celtillus is slain
by his own people because he aims to cement his rule of the tribe by establishing an
hereditary kingship rather than obeying the elected process that the Gauls favour.
His son is Vercingetorix, in Caesar's words, a "young man of the highest
c.72 - 58 BC
71 - 60? BC
In this period, shortly before the arrival of Julius Caesar and a sustained
drive to subjugate all of Gaul, the Arverni win their battle for regional
superiority again the Aeduii,
subduing them in the process. Other subject tribes include the
is a leader of the Suevi
and other allied
Germanic peoples in the
second quarter of the first century BC, and at least up to 58 BC. Displaying
the interconnected nature of Germanics and
Celts at this time,
he is a fluent speaker of Gaulish, and one of his two wives is the daughter of
Vocion of the Norican kingdom.
As recorded by Julius Caesar, and perhaps also by Cicero (who writes in 60 BC
of a defeat for the Aeduii),
Ariovistus and his followers take part in a war in Gaul, assisting the Gallic
Arverni and Sequani to defeat
their rivals, the Aeduii. The reasons for the war are unknown, but they could be
related to the Sequani hold over a vital trading corridor in the Doubs river
valley which links to the Rhine. The Battle of Magetobriga results in a victory
for the allies, thanks to the Suevi troops, and the Aeduii become vassals of the
Ariovistus seizes one-third of the Aeduii territory in the Alsace region, settling
about 120,000 Germans there. However, with the Sequani now at his back, between him
and Germania, he decides to clear them out of their Doubs valley homeland. More
German settlers are introduced there, and a further third of Gaulish territory is
demanded for his allies, the
58 - 52 BC
Son of Celtillus. Defeated, deposed, and imprisoned by
Vercingetorix's name is pronounced with an initial 'w' sound according to
general Gaulish naming conventions. The 'rix' suffix on the end means 'king'
in exactly the same way as saying King Henry, for example. Rendered in
modern English he would be King Vercingetos. This can be broken down into
two parts, and the proto-Celtic/modern English wordlist has *kenget- (?),
meaning 'warrior' for the second part. Therefore it seems that 'cinget'
means 'a warrior'. The proto-Celtic wordlist has the first part, 'wer' as as
'werro', meaning 'raised'.
The order of the word elements is a little worrying though. Modifiers in
Celtic tongues come after nouns, not before, as shown above with 'rix'. So
'wer-' is the noun. Luckily there is a parallel use in
meaning 'high' as a noun. So the man's given name would be Vercingetos, meaning
'warrior of the high (raised, exalted)' plus his title of king.
? - 52 BC
Cousin and a commander of the relief force. Killed.
The revolt of Ambiorix of the
Eburones stirs up the
Gauls, with anti-Roman
sentiment strengthening in some quarters. However, despite the
Treveri joining the revolt,
it is eventually quashed. Although the situation is calmed by this victory,
Cavarinus of the Senones is
condemned to death by his people and is forced to flee to the Romans for
protection. This serves as a commitment by that tribe to oppose Julius Caesar
during his Gallic campaigns. The act seems to rally support from amongst most
of the Gauls, except the Aeduii
and Remi, who remain
loyal to Rome, although the Gauls are unable to encourage the
Germans to cross the
Rhine and support them due to the recent defeats of Ariovistus of the
of the Tencteri
expedition, something that has dissuaded them from a third attempt. Following
the death of Indutiomarus of the Treveri, no further action is taken against
the Romans in this year.
On 13 February 53 BC the disaffected
Carnutes had massacred every
who had been present in the town of Cenabum, as well as killing one of Caesar's
commissariat officers. This is the spark that ignites a massed Gaulish rebellion.
While Julius Caesar has been occupied in the lands of the
Vercingetorix has renewed the Arverni subjugation of the
He has also restored the reputation of Arverni greatness by leading the revolt
that is building against Rome.
Despite his former allegiance to Julius Caesar, in the winter of 53-52 BC
Commius of the Atrebates
uses his contacts with the
Bellovaci to convince
them to contribute 2,000 men to an army. This army will join other Gauls to
form a massive relief force at Alesia in the last stage of the revolt (this
being a major fort that belongs to the
Lemovices are also
amongst the first tribes to commit to joining Vercingetorix, contributing
10,000 men. The
5,000 men, and the Andes,
also amongst the first to commit.
The warriors of the
Pictones decide to supply
8,000 warriors, but their chief, Duratios, stands firm in his desire to maintain
his alliance with Rome, and this difference of opinion causes a split in the tribe.
The warriors join the chief of the Andes who heads for Lemonum to besiege Duratios.
The king sends a messenger to the Roman legate, Caius Caninius, who comes to his
aid from the territory of the Ruteni. This small force is soon backed up by a more
effective unit under Caius Fabius and a Pictonii civil war is averted.
Organising the various tribes of Gaul into a unified resistance
took some doing, but Vercingetorix of the Arverni appears to
have held a level of authority that made him a leader not to be
refused, and thousands of warriors flocked to join him
While Caesar is tied down in
Gauls begin their revolt, resolving to die in freedom rather than be suppressed
by the invaders. The Carnutes
take the lead under Cotuatus and Conetodunus when they kill the Roman traders who
have settled in Genabum. News of the event reaches the Arverni that morning, and
Vercingetorix summons his people to arms. Despite being expelled from the town of
Gergovia by his uncle, Gobanitio, and the rest of the nobles in their fear of such
a risky enterprise, he gathers together an army. The
Turones all join him, as do all
of the tribes that border the ocean. The
Treveri support the revolt
but are pinned down by German
He sends Lucterius of the Cadurci into the territory of the
Ruteni to gain their support, and
marches in person to the Bituriges.
The latter, under the protection of the
Aeduii, send to them for help to
resist the Arverni but are forced to join the revolt. Lucterius continues to the
and wins their support, collecting together a large force ahead of an advance
into the province of Narbonensis. Caesar gets there first and rallies the
garrisons among the Ruteni and
Volcae Arecomisci, and Lucterius
is forced to retreat. From there Caesar circles through the territory of the
generally pro-Roman Helvii (who
provide auxiliaries) to reach that of the Arverni, despite deep winter snows in
Vercingetorix, after sustaining a series of losses at Vellaunodunum, Genabum,
and Noviodunum, summons his men to a council in which it is decided that the
Romans should be prevented from being able to gather supplies. A scorched earth
policy is adopted, and more than twenty towns of the Bituriges are burned in one
day, although their oppidum at Avaricum is spared. The
Boii have little
with which to support the Romans, and the Aeduii are showing little enthusiasm
for it, but Caesar secures all the supplies he needs when he besieges and storms
Avaricum, despite a formidable Gaulish defence. From there, the two sides gravitate
towards an eventual confrontation at Gergovia, a town of the recently resettled
Boii. Now the chief of the generally pro-Roman Aeduii, Convictolitavis, is
free to end his equivocation and leads a force not in support of Caesar at
Gergovia but against him. The Nitiobroges also send troops to aid Vercingetorix
there. Caesar loses the siege after having to split his forces to face the
unexpected threat, a rare defeat for him in Gaul.
Labienus marches with four legions to the Parisii town of Lutetia. Gauls from
the neighbouring states immediately gather to oppose him, under the leadership
of the aged but still very wise Camulogenus of the Aulerci. Labienus pulls back
to Melodunum of the Senones, takes the town by force, and marches again against
Camulogenus. The ensuing battle sees the Gauls defeated and Camulogenus killed.
Labienus joins Caesar while Vercingetorix levies troops from the Aeduii and
These he places under the command of the brother of Eporedirix and orders
them to attack the Allobroges.
The Gabali and the easternmost Arverni cantons are sent to fight the Helvii,
and the Cadurci and Ruteni are told to lay waste the territories of the Volcae
Arecomisci. The Helvii are defeated and their leaders slain, including Caius
Valerius Donotaurus, the son of Caburus. The Allobroges manage to defend their
frontiers successfully, but Caesar finds that he is hard-pressed to counter
Vercingetorix's superiority in cavalry. He calls for cavalry and light infantry
from the loyal German tribes (which undoubtedly includes the
Ubii), and this helps him greatly in
the battle which follows.
Vercingetorix, his cavalry routed in that battle, withdraws in good order to
Alesia, a major fort belonging to the
Mandubii. The remaining
cavalry are dispatched back to their tribes to bring reinforcements. Caesar
begins a siege of Alesia, aiming on starving out the inhabitants. Indeed, matters
become so bad inside the fort that the Mandubian women and children are ejected
(possibly in the hope that the Roman lines will part to let them pass), but Caesar
effectively traps them in the no-man's-land between the opposing forces and allows
them to starve.
Four relief forces amounting to a considerable number of men and horses are
assembled in the territory of the Aeduii by the council of the Gaulish nobility.
Demanded from the tribes of Gaul are thirty-five thousand men from the Aeduii
and their dependents, the
Brannovices, and Segusiavi; an
equal number from the Arverni in conjunction with the Cadurci,
Eleuteti, Gabali, and
Vellavi, who are accustomed to
following Arverni commands; twelve thousand each from the Bituriges, Carnutes,
Ruteni (mostly archers),
Santones, Senones, and
thousand each from the Bellovaci,
and Lingones; eight thousand
each from the Helvii (despite the tribe's pro-Roman standing), Parisii, Pictones,
and Turones; six thousand combined from the tribes of Armorica (including the
thousand each from the
Suessiones; the same number from the
Aulerci Cenomani; four
thousand from the Atrebates;
three thousand each from the
substantial numbers sent by the Boii,
Of all of these the Bellovaci withhold their contribution, claiming that they would
wage war against the Romans on their own account, free of external command. However,
at the request of Commius of the Atrebates, they send two thousand men in consideration
of a tie of hospitality which exists between them and him. Commanders are appointed,
one of which is Vercassivellaunos, who teams up with Sedullos of the Lemovices.
The site of Alesia, a major fort belonging to the Mandubii tribe
of Celts, was the scene of the final desperate stand-off between
Rome and the Gauls in 52 BC
Together they attempt to relieve Vercingetorix at the siege of Alesia, but
the combined relief force is soundly repulsed by Julius Caesar's remarkable
strategy of simultaneously conducting the siege of Alesia on one front whilst
being besieged on the other. Marcus Antonius (Mark Anthony) and Caius Trebonius
marshal the troops for the rearward defence. Sedullos of the Lemovices is slain,
and Vergasillaunus of the Arverni is captured. Seeing that all is lost,
Vercingetorix surrenders to Caesar. The garrison is taken prisoner, as are the
survivors from the relief army. They are either sold into slavery or given as
booty to Caesar's legionaries, apart from the Aeduii and Arverni warriors who
are released and pardoned in order to secure the allegiance of these important
and powerful tribes.
During the revolt, the
Bituriges Cubi fall back
to their main oppidum of Avaricum. Although they put up a desperate resistance,
their hill fort ultimately falls to a Roman assault and all its surviving inhabitants
are put to the sword. The Carnutes make their own situation worse by attacking the
now leaderless and defenceless Bituriges Cubi, whom Caesar aids. As a reminder of
their part in the rebellion, the Carnutes town of Cenabum is left in ruins and
the location is garrisoned by two Roman legions.
Vercingetorix is imprisoned in the Tullianum in Rome for five years and Gaul falls
to the republic. After the surrender of Alesia, Commius of the Atrebates returns
north and joins Correus of the Bellovaci. The two men command the last major Gallic
army to directly oppose Caesar, and for some time they manage to hold off the Romans
until defeat finally ends their resistance.
52 - 46 BC
Imprisoned heroic figure & nominal leader of Gauls. Executed.
Following five years of imprisonment in the Tullianum, Vercingetorix
is publicly displayed at Julius Caesar's triumph. Afterwards, back in his cell, he is
executed by strangulation. This removes the figurehead of Gaulish independence and with
this action, Gaul's dreams of independence have been ended by
domination, and the history of its population of
is tied to that of the empire.