History Files


European Kingdoms

Celtic Tribes




MapBigerriones (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. By the middle of the first century BC, the Bigerriones were a minor tribe that was located amongst the tribes of the Aquitani, on the northern side of the Pyrenees. They were neighboured by a swathe of Aquitani to the north and east who lay between them and the Celtic Boii, Biturices Vivisci, and Sotiates. To their west were the Celtic Oscidates.

Without the Latin suffix, the core of the tribal name is 'Biger' plus a plural or possibly also a possessive suffix '-ion' to denote a group. Who or what 'Biger' was is the problem, and one without a resolution so far. Taking a giant leap of faith, it may possibly be a contraction of 'bewa' (the verb 'to be') plus 'gerro' (meaning 'short'). Perhaps it was a nickname for a leader who was short in height?

The modern French region of Bigorre (a former medieval county) shows that the tribe's name survived, and that they must have remained settled in Aquitania following conquest by Rome. The tribe had their main settlements at Castrum Bigorra, modern Saint-Lézer, and Civitas Turba, modern Tarbes, although both may have been largely Roman creations. The tribe is mentioned only once, by Caesar in his Gallic Wars, before it disappears from history. Given its infiltration into the lands of the Aquitani, it was probably only a small tribe, one that had probably been created through the process of sub-dividing larger Celtic tribes, although which of the larger tribes was their starting place is unknown. The form of their name shows that they most definitely were not Basques, despite the claim of some online sources.

(Information co-authored by Edward Dawson, and additional information from External Link: The Works of Julius Caesar: Gallic Wars.)

56 BC

When war flares up again in Gaul, triggered by Publius Licinius Crassus and the Seventh Legion in the territory of the Andes, Caesar has to turn back from his journey to Illyrium to handle the problem. Crassus is sent to Aquitania to subdue the tribes there and prevent an all-out war against stretched Roman troops. Subduing the Petrocorii along the way, he recruits auxiliaries from the Gaulish regions of Tolosa, Carcaso, and Narbo (which includes the tribes of the Bebryces, Sordones, and Volcae) before entering the territory of the Sotiates. That tribe has gathered together a large force which attacks the Romans in a drawn-out and vigorously-contested engagement. The Romans are only just victorious, having outlasted their hot-headed Celtic opponents in terms of stamina. The tribe's oppidum is besieged and they eventually surrender, despite an attempt by Adcantuannus to lead his personal retinue into a death or glory attack and other Celts undermining the siege towers (thanks to the presence of copper in the region these Celts and their Aquitani neighbours are expert miners).

Midi du Bigorre in the French region of Aquitania
The territory into which the Bigerriones had settled was typical of the Aquitani region, which was made up mostly of rugged foothills of the kind that border peoples normally use to survive invasions by later arrivals - the Welsh and early Scots held onto similar territory in Britain to enable them to survive the Anglo-Saxon invasion

Crassus marches into the territories of the Vocates and Tarusates. They prove to be a rather more difficult opponent. The campaign against the Sotiates has given them time to raise troops from northern Iberia, many of which had fought with Quintus Sertorius, a rebellious governor of Spain who defied Rome for a decade, and they have learnt a great deal from that experience.

They outnumber Crassus perhaps by ten-to-one and hold a very strong position which prevents him from gathering supplies for his men. The only option (aside from an unthinkable retreat) is to engage them in battle, despite the odds. Pinning them down at the front, he sends cavalry around to their rear to scout out any weakness. Their entirely unguarded rear is attacked and, with Romans pressing from two sides, the Aquitani are forced to surrender with heavy casualties. When news of this defeat spreads, the majority of the tribes of Aquitania surrender to Crassus, including the Ausci, Bigerriones, Cocosates, Elusates, Garites, Garumni, Preciani, Suburates, Tarbelli, Tarusates, and Vocasates (and presumably the unmentioned Oscidates).

With this action, Aquitania has been brought under Roman domination, and the history of its population of Celts and Aquitani is tied to that of the empire.

28 BC

Despite submitting fully in 56 BC, it seems that the conquest of the Aquitani and the neighbouring Celtic tribes is effected only now, by Proconsul Marcus Valerius Messalla. The proconsul is awarded a triumph for his success, suggesting that some fighting had been involved. That further suggests that the submission of 56 BC had gained the tribes some sort of allied status, but that they had essentially been autonomous until now.

Triumph of Titus and Vespasian
The triumph of Marcus Valerius Messalla would have been similar to the one shown in Triumph of Titus and Vespasian, an Italian oil by Giulio Pippi (Romano) - very much a form of street party with a 'royal' procession, and usually held to celebrate a military victory

27 BC - AD 14

During the period of office of Augustus in Rome, the Aquitani tribes are incorporated into the newly-formed province of Aquitania. The province extends from the Liger (the modern Loire) to the Pyrenees, and is bound on the northern side by Mons Cevennus. This is one of the three divisions of the Gauls, the others being Gallia Lugdunensis and Belgica.

AD 555

Medieval Aquitaine is first confirmed as a possession of the Franks, after a long struggle to wrest it from the hands of the Visigoths. A Merovingian duke by the name of Chramn is appointed to govern Aquitaine.