History Files


European Kingdoms

Celtic Tribes




MapCarni (Gauls/Belgae)

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 Carni were a minor tribe that was located in the modern Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of eastern Italy and the westernmost edges of Slovenia. They were neighboured to the north by the Ambidravi, to the east by a pocket of the Boii, to the south by the Latovici and Veneti, and to the west by the Catubrini.

The first thing that comes to mind when thinking of the Carni tribal name is 'meat' or 'flesh'. But the proto-Celtic dictionary says, obliquely, 'hoof of a solid-hoofed animal'. Could this be some kind of metaphor for riders, as in [the sound of] hooves? If so, it would make this tribe something along the lines of 'the rumble of hooves' or 'the horse riders', although there is little to back this up at present.

The Carni were certainly Gaulish in origin - or perhaps Belgic (see the Taurisci for a detailed argument for this claim). Despite this, the tribe used to be linked with the Illyrians. More recently this has changed, with a link to the Adriatic Veneti being preferred. Given the presence of Celts to the south of the Danube for several centuries it seems likely that they developed links with both groups. They may well have exhibited Illyrian and Venetic traces in the same way that Celts that lived along the fluid border with German tribes exhibited German influences, sometimes a tribal name, sometimes a tribal elite ruling a Celtic majority (or vice versa), sometimes a Germanic tribe with a ruler who had a Celtic name, and very often in word and name interchanges. Given the fact that, like the German and Latin languages, Venetic exhibited affinities with Celtic, it seems only natural that the Celts would interact and thereby be influenced by their neighbours.

The tribe gave its name to the modern region of Carnia, which formed part of the medieval Lombard duchy of Friuli, as well as Carniola, and possibly Carinthia. The only two towns of any consideration that can be linked with certainty to the Carni are Julium Carnicum (modern Zuglio), and Forum Julii (modern Cividale). In the last days of the Roman empire, the latter town became a place of great importance, giving its name to the whole surrounding province. That name survives today as the Friuli, or Frioul. Pliny mentions two other towns, Ocra and Segeste, as belonging to the Carni, but these no longer existed even in his time.

(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 Links: On the Celtic Tribe of Taurisci, Mitka Guštin, and Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography, William Smith, and The role of Nauportus in the Romanisation process in the south-eastern Alpine region. Other major sources listed in the 'Barbarian Europe' section of the Sources page.

186 BC

The Celtic Encyclopaedia states that the Carni now cross the Alps from the Veneti territory in Noricum to the Veneti territory in Italy. As the first historical date given for the Carni, this would seem to be the point at which they gain their independence from the core Taurisci confederation of which they must have been a part since their arrival in the Noricum. Already used to wintering on the Veneti plains, around 50,000 armed men, women and children descend towards the plains, founding a permanent defensive settlement on a hill which they name Akileja.

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

183 BC

Somewhat alarmed at the sudden arrival of such a large body of Celts, Rome sends a force under triumvirs Publius Scipio Nasica, Caius Flaminius, and Lucius Manlius Acidinus. The Carni are forced back to the mountains, their settlement is destroyed, and a defensive Roman settlement is founded at the north-eastern border of Roman influence. It is named Aquileia, a Latinisation of Akileja. The Carni spend the subsequent years attempting to form alliances with the Histri, Iapodi, and Taurisci so that they might regain their prize. As a result there is probably skirmishing between the Carni and Rome along the frontier, but no further major clashes until 115 BC.

171 - 170 BC

The Taurisci are briefly mentioned as allies to the Norici (although such usage would seem to be from a later period). This takes place during the pillaging march of the Roman consul, Gaius Cassius Longinus, whose route passes partly through their territory. Cincibulus is the brother of the Norican king, and he complains to the Roman Senate about the devastation wreaked by Longinus during his march, not only on the Norici and Taurisci, but also on their neighbours, the Carni, Histri, and Iapodi. Compensation is supplied in the form of a licence to buy highly-prized horses from the Veneti.

c.140 - 129 BC

Gold is discovered in the territory of the Taurisci. The influx of this new potential lowers the value of gold in the Italian peninsula. When threatened with the rapid depletion of this resource, Italic miners are eventually banished from the territory, leading to a Roman reaction in 129 BC. The Roman consul Gaius Sempronius Tuditanus is sent on a punitive retaliatory march against the Taurisci and the adjacent tribes of the Iapodi and Histri. Presumably the Carni and Liburni are also involved.

c.115 BC

During the year of his consulship in Rome, Marcus Aemilianus Scaurus succeeds in defeating the Carni and probably also the Taurisci. Cicero mentions this briefly in his Orations, but provides no additional depth. It seems that this final defeat of the Carni has been driven by their continued wish to settle the Veneti plains and Rome's equally strong desire to keep the rich, fertile plains for itself. Now the Carni, accepting their defeat, appear to submit to Rome.

According to Strabo, in this century the Roman town of Nauportus in the soon-to-be province of Pannonia Superior (from 103 BC) is one of the most important Celtic trade centres to the east of the Italian peninsula. The significance of the trade route, which passes over Ocra (Nanos) to the Caput Adriae and along the River Nauportus (the modern Ljubljanica), is also described by Apollonius of Rhodes in his version of the voyage of the Mycenaean Argonauts. According to him, the Argonauts had sailed from the Black Sea, up the Istros (the Danube) and Sava (at the junction of which is the modern Serbian city of Belgrade) to reach the Nauportus. Pliny the Elder states that they had founded the trading port of Nauportus while they were there. Then they carried their legendary ship, the Argo, on their shoulders all the way to the eastern shore of the Adriatic, thereby demonstrating the effectiveness of the trade route.

Nauportus was established as an important Celtic trading centre, and it was one that flourished under the later Roman administration, following the conquest of the Gauls

Pliny the Elder in his Natural History comments that the Taurisci are sited on the western side (in tergo) of Mons Claudius (presumably modern Moslovačka gora) and the Scordisci on the eastern side (in fronte). Inventories of contiguous tribes, the Carni, Norici and Boii, as well as the Histri and Iapodi, mean that the Taurisci can be located during the second and first centuries BC in an area that extends from Nauportus (Vrhnika) on the southern perimeter of the Ljubljana plain to the River Kolpa in the south-east, and from the Drava valley in the north-east to Mons Claudius in the east. He also calls the district around Aquileia the Carnorum regio (Carni Region).

c.60 - 40 BC

From the latter part of the first century BC and into the next century, various historians mention a variety of tribes and their affiliates which are uniformly identified as being Taurisci, together with a variety of other Cisalpine tribes which include the Norici and Iapodi (not all of which are Celtic in origin). Strabo mentions the Taurisci in his Natural History as being strictly Celtic, as does Livy writing the History of Rome around 10 BC. Pliny the Elder, writing his own Natural History in the mid-first century AD, does the same, along with Apian and Cassius Dio in the second and third centuries AD, saying that the Taurisci are a warrior-like tribe that often plunders Roman territory in the hinterlands of Tergestica (modern Trieste). By this time, the Taurisci and their fellow Celts have picked up a good deal of local influence, partially from the Scordisci and partially from the remaining indigenous population.

The other tribes mentioned as individual groups of the Taurisci confederation include: the Carni, who occupy the Carnian Alps, on the edge of the south-eastern Alps; the Latovici between Krka and Sava; the Varciani along the Sava towards Sisak; the Serapili and Sereti along the River Drava on the edge of Pannonia; and the Iasi towards Varaždin.

Ancient authors also list several smaller indigenous communities, such as the Illyrian Colapiani along the River Kolpa, the Celtic Ambisontes in the Soča Valley, the Subocrini around Razdrto, and the Rundicti in the Kras and Notranjska regions. The Great Tauriscan tribal community with some identified smaller tribes (such as the Latovici) has never developed into a state formation, but it is becoming known collectively as the Norici.

35 - 33 BC

Eastern Tauriscan tribes are defeated by Octavian between these dates, while the western tribes that border the Carni come under the dominion of the 'Kingdom of Noricum'. This means that the Norici name is starting to take over from that of the Taurisci as a description not only of that tribe but of all the region's Celts, probably as a result of the defeat by Rome.

The Roman state gradually absorbs the Celtic and indigenous populations and completely Romanises them through a combination of military force, economic pressure, political organisation, and their own way of life. The indigenous population survives in the towns and village settlements, whose names frequently denote the area of a specific tribal group (such as, for example, Praetorium Latobicorum (modern Trebnje), and Municipium Flavium Latobi-corum Neviodunum (modern Drnovo, near Krško).

Taurisci Silver Tetradrachm
A Taurisci silver tetradrachm produced by the regionally-dominant Taurisci around 100 BC showing the stylised head of Apollo and a Celtic horseman throwing a spear

16 - 15 BC

The Norican kingdom is subdued by Rome, at the hands of Drusus and Tiberius. Later in the Augustinian period Roman weaponry, such as the short gladii and Wiesenau-type helmets, appear in the territory of the Taurisci. Their presence indicates that the Celts, especially those above Gorjanci, frequently opt to serve in Roman auxiliary units and preserve some rights in the middle and end of the first century BC and into the beginning of the first century AD. While the Norici name survives to collectively describe the Celts of this region, the names of individual tribes fade except where they may describe general regions.