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European Kingdoms

Celtic Tribes




MapCariosvelites / Coriosolites (Gauls)

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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 Cariosvelites were located at the north-western tip of Brittany. They were neighboured to the south by the Osismii, to the south-east by the powerful Veneti, to the east by the Redones, and across the Channel by the Dumnonii.

The tribe's name is a complicated one. Julius Caesar called them the Curiosolitae or Curisolites (with perhaps slightly sloppy Latin and sloppy translation, respectively), while Pliny named them the Cariosvelites (possibly the more accurate version). It breaks down into 'cara-ios' plus 'vel-ites' to mean, possibly, 'lovers of slaughter'. The first part, 'cara', means 'loved' or 'beloved' in Latin (and in the modern Latin daughter languages), and the old Celtic dialects, and it is often used in the way that English speakers use 'dear' (as in 'dear to [something or someone]'). Alternatively, 'cario' could originate from the proto-Celtic *korjo- (army), making them the 'army of slaughter'. Yet another possibility arises if Celtic contained a cognate for the Latin 'curia', meaning 'a court'. The 'court of slaughter, perhaps? Whichever version is correct, there was a lot of slaughter involved.

In the second part of the name, 'vel' is traditionally taken to mean 'leader'. However, the Anglo-Saxon: 'wæl' (-es/walu), means 'slaughter' or 'carnage', and 'wæl gesléan' means 'to slaughter' or 'field of battle'. Additionally, the Latin version, 'bello', means 'war', 'to wage war' (rather than being the more readily accepted altered form of 'duello'). What if 'vel' does not mean a leader? What if it comes from a proto-Celtic word for 'slaughter' (and this would be very appropriate for two British leaders whose names both contain this; Cassivellaunus of the first century BC Catuvellauni, and Cadwallon of seventh century Gwynedd). The use of 'vell' here is breaking with accepted academic meaning and proposes a different meaning entirely. A possible reconciliation of the two meanings could occur if the meaning became extended in noun form to mean 'killer', and then that noun became the form of address for a leader.

The tribe was a small one. Its territory consisted of the eastern section of the modern Côtes-d'Amor, with an oppidum (chief settlement) at Arvil to start with. This was later moved to Fanum Martis ('Temple of Mars' - clearly a Latin name which was given after the conquest of Gaul by Rome), a village located between modern Dinan and Lamballe, and which even today seems to bear a derivation of the tribe's name, Corseul.

(Information by Peter Kessler and Edward Dawson, with additional information from The La Tene Celtic Belgae Tribes in England: Y-Chromosome Haplogroup R-U152 - Hypothesis C, David K Faux, from A Genetic Signal of Central European Celtic Ancestry, David K Faux, from Celts and the Classical World, David Rankin, from The Civilisation of the East, Fritz Hommel (Translated by J H Loewe, Elibron Classic Series, 2005), from Europe Before History, Kristian Kristiansen, from On the Ocean, Pytheas of Massalia (work lost, but frequently quoted by other ancient authors), from Geography, Ptolemy, and from External Link: The Works of Julius Caesar: Gallic Wars.)

c.325 BC

FeaturePytheas of Massalia undertakes a voyage of exploration to north-western Europe, becoming the first scholar to note details about the Celtic and Germanic tribes there. One of the tribes he records is the Ostinioi - almost certainly the Osismii - who occupy Cape Kabaïon, which is probably pointe de Penmarc'h or pointe du Raz in western Brittany. This means that the tribe has already settled the region by the mid-fourth century, probably alongside their later neighbours, the Veneti, Cariosvelites, and Redones.

Ptolemy's map of Britain
The details recorded by Pytheas were interpreted by Ptolemy in the second century AD, and this 1490 Italian reconstruction of the section covering the British Isles and northern Gaul shows Ptolemy's characteristically lopsided Scotland at the top

fl 56 BC


Single ruler of the Cariosvelites, Lexovii, & Venelli.

57 BC

The Belgae enter into a confederacy against the Romans in fear of Rome's eventual domination over them. They are also spurred on by Gauls who are unwilling to see Germanic tribes remaining on Gaulish territory and are unhappy about Roman troops wintering in Gaul. The Senones are asked by Julius Caesar to gain intelligence on the intentions of the Belgae, and they report that an army is being collected. Caesar marches ahead of expectations and, in a single campaigning season, the Belgic tribes are defeated or surrender to Rome. According to Caesar, the Aulerci, Cariosvelites, Osismii, Redones, Sesuvii, Venelli, and Veneti, all of whom are located along the Atlantic coast, are subdued by the legion of Publius Licinius Crassus. With this action, northern Gaul has been brought under Roman domination.

56 BC

Following his successful campaign against the Belgae in the previous year, Caesar sets out for Illyricum. Once he has left, war flares up again, triggered by Publius Licinius Crassus and the Seventh Legion in the territory of the Andes. With supplies of corn running low, he sends scavenging parties into the territories of the Cariosvelites, Esubii, and the highly influential Veneti. The latter revolt against this infringement of their lands and possessions, and the neighbouring tribes rapidly follow their lead, including the Ambiliati, Diablintes, Lexovii, Menapii, Morini, Namniti, Nannetes, and Osismii. The Veneti also send for auxiliaries from their cousins in Britain. Julius Caesar rushes back to northern Gaul, to a fleet that is being prepared for him by the (Roman-led) Pictones and Santones on the River Loire. The Veneti and their allies fortify their towns, stock them with corn harvests from the surrounding countryside, and gather together as many ships as possible. Knowing that the overland passes are cut off by estuaries and that a seaward approach is highly difficult for their opponents, they plan to fight the Romans using their powerful navy in the shallows of the Loire.

Before engaging the Veneti, Caesar sends troops to the Remi, Treveri, and other Belgae to encourage them to keep to their allegiance with Rome and to hold the Rhine against possible incursions by Germans who may be planning to join the Veneti. This works, with even the previously militant Bellovaci remaining subdued during this revolt. Crassus is sent to Aquitania and Quintus Titurius Sabinus to the Cariosvelites, Lexovii and Venelli, to prevent them sending reinforcements to the Veneti. Sabinus finds that their single chieftain, Viridovix, has joined the revolt, along with the Aulerci and Sexovii, who have killed their magistrates for wanting to remain neutral. Sabinus remains in his well-fortified camp, resisting the taunts of the Venelli and their allies until they venture too far forwards, allowing a Roman sally across the defensive ditch and into the fleeing Celtic ranks. This area of the revolt is instantly extinguished.

The campaign by Caesar against the Veneti is protracted and takes place both on land and sea. Veneti strongholds, when threatened, are evacuated by sea and the Romans have to begin again. Eventually the Veneti fleet is cornered and defeated in Quiberon Bay by Legate Decimus Junius Brutus Albinus. The Veneti strongholds are stormed and much of the Veneti population is either captured and enslaved or butchered. The confederation is destroyed and Roman rule is firmly stamped upon the region.

52 BC

While Caesar is tied down in Rome, the 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. His cavalry subsequently routed in battle, he 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.

The site of Alesia
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

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. Among those demanded from the tribes of Gaul are six thousand combined from the tribes of Armorica (including the Ambibari, Caleti, Cariosvelites, Lemovices, Osismii, Redones, Venelli, and Veneti). Together they attempt to relieve Vercingetorix at the siege of Alesia, but the combined relief force is soundly repulsed by Julius Caesar. 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.

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