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Celtic Tribes




MapCenomani (Gauls)
Incorporating the Brixii

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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, and they also extended into Switzerland, northern Italy, and along the Danube. By the middle of the first century BC, the Cenomani were a minor tribe that was located in northern Italy, between Verona and Cremona. They were neighboured to the north by the tribes of the Raeti, to the east by the Veneti, to the south by the Roman republic, and to the west by the Insubres.

The Cenomani name appears to be a Germanic one. It seems to break down into 'cene' plus 'man' with a small Celticisation of the intervening 'o'. In Anglo-Saxon, 'cene' comes from 'céne' [ke:·ne] (adj), meaning something along the lines of keen, fierce, bold, brave, or warlike, in other words, the tribe were 'the keen men'. There is also a slight possibility that they were instead 'the kinsmen', but the proto-Germanic form of this is 'kun-', and its Anglo-Saxon descendant is 'cyn' or 'cun'. So 'keen' seems to be more appropriate, as in fierce or bold. Once again this name, as with several others, seems to present a Celtic tribe that has been taken over by a group of German warriors. Other such tribes include the Aulerci Cenomani in north-western France (and this particular Cenomani body was very likely a division of the Aulerci Cenomarci).

The tribe should not be confused with the Ligurian Commoni, who are also sometimes called the Cenomani, but who occupied land to the east of Marseille. The Cenomani tribe's home was in the Po Valley, in the triangle formed by Mantua, Cremona, and Verona and immediately to the south of Lake Garda. Despite it being likely that they were related to the Cenomani of Gaul, this is disputed. Even so, following their arrival in Italy they occupied an existing (and possibly ancient) settlement at Brixia (modern Brescia). Some modern sources seem to show them as the Brixii, perhaps based on the name of their chief settlement.

(Information by Peter Kessler and Edward Dawson, with additional information from The History of Rome, Volume 1, Titus Livius, translated by Rev Canon Roberts, and from External Link: Perseus Digital Library.)

c.600 BC

Bellovesus and his mass horde of people from the Bituriges, Insubres, and several other tribes, reaches the barrier of the Alps with an enormous force of horse and foot. This barrier is one that has apparently not previously been breached by Celts, and they make the crossing with some trepidation, heading through the passes of the Taurini and the valley of the Douro. Once across the mountain barrier, they defeat the Etruscans in battle not far from the Ticinus. Bellovesus and his mainly Insubres people settle around the Ticinus and build a settlement called Mediolanum (modern Milan).

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

c.400 - 391 BC

Following the route set by Bellovesus and the Bituriges around 600 BC, other bodies of Celts have gradually invaded northern Italy, probably due to over population in Gaul and the promise of fertile territory just waiting to be captured. The first of these is the Cenomani around 400 BC, under the leadership of Elitovius, very likely a division of the later Aulerci Cenomani. They 'found' settlements at Brixia (modern Brescia) and Verona (the former seemingly already an ancient settlement and the latter perhaps being captured from the Euganei). The Libui follow next, along with the Saluvii, both of which settle near the ancient tribe of the Laevi. Then the Boii and Lingones cross the Pennine Alps and, as all the country between the Po and the Alps is occupied, they cross the Po on rafts and expel not only the Etruscans but the Umbri as well. However, they remain north of the Apennines. Then in 391 BC the Senones, the last to come, occupy the country from the River Utis (or Utens) to the Aesis (near Ancona, which marks the border between the Picentes and the Umbri in Italy). It is this last tribe which Livy states comes to the Etruscan city of Clevsin (Clusium to the Romans), and from there to Rome, although whether alone or with the help of the Cisalpine peoples is unclear.

fl c.400 BC

Elitovius / Helitovius

Led a division of the Aulerci Cenomani (?) into northern Italy.

231 - 225 BC

The two most extensive Gallic tribes of northern Italy, the Boii and Insubres, send out the call for assistance against Rome to the tribes living around the Alps and on the Rhone. Rather than each of the tribes sending their own warriors, it appears that individual warriors are effectively hired from the entire Alpine region as mercenaries. Polybius calls them Gaesatae, describing it as a word which means 'serving for hire'. They come with their own kings, Concolitanus and Aneroetes, who have probably been elected from their number in the Celtic fashion.

Celtic warriors
While most of the Gauls of the third century BC fought fully clothed, their Gaesatae mercenaries tended to fight with nothing more than their weapons, and not even the trousers shown here

The Gaesatae are offered a large sum of gold on the spot and the wealth of Rome is also pointed out - wealth that can be theirs if they stick to their task. Rome has been informed of what is coming, and hurries to assemble the legions. Even its ongoing conflict with the Carthaginians take second place, and a treaty is hurriedly agreed with Hasdrubaal, commander in Iberia, which virtually confirms Carthaginian rule there. Such is Rome's haste that they approach the Gaulish frontier before the Gauls have even stirred.

It is 225 BC when the Gaesatae forces cross the Alps and enter the valley of the Padus with a formidable army, furnished with a variety of armour. The Boii, Insubres, and Taurini accompany them but the Cenomani and Veneti are persuaded to side with Rome, forcing the Gauls to detach a force to guard their flank. Despite this, their main army consists of about a hundred and seventy thousand foot and horse, which petrifies the Romans and reminds them of 389 BC. As well as the four new legions, they are accompanied by Etruscans, Sabines, Sarsinates, and Umbri, and more Cenomani and Veneti. Defending Rome and its territories are Ferrentani, Iapygians, Latins, Lucanians, Marrucini, Marsi, Messapians, Samnites, and Vestini, plus two more legions on Sicily and in Tarentum.

The first battle, when it comes, is near Faesulae, outside the subjugated Etruscan city of Clevsin. The Romans are decimated and routed by superior Gaulish tactics. A fresh army under Lucius Aemilius arrives, and Aneroetes counsels retreat with their booty and army intact, ready to launch a fresh attack when ready. Consul Gaius Atilius lands at Pisae with the Sardinian legion and the Gauls find themselves caught between two Roman armies. The battle is fierce, and the Gauls gain the head of Gaius Atilius. However, the battle turns against them and large numbers of Gauls are cut down or taken prisoner, including Concolitanus. Aneroetes is able to flee with his band of followers, and they commit suicide together.

224 BC

Buoyed by its victory, Rome attempts to clear the entire valley of the Padus. Two legions are sent under the command of the consuls of that year, and the Boii are terrified into submission. However, incessant rain and an outbreak of disease prevents the legions from achieving anything greater.

223 BC

Two fresh consuls lead two more legions into the Padus, marching through the territory of the Anamares, who live not far from Placentia (some readings of the original text translate this as the Ananes and their home in the Marseilles region, which would be impossible given the nature of this campaign). They secure the friendship of this tribe and cross into the country of the Insubres, near the confluence of the Adua and Padus. Some skirmishing aside, peace is agreed with this tribe, and the Romans head for the River Clusius. There they enter Cenomani lands, with these allies providing some reinforcements. Then the Romans return to the Insubres and begin laying waste to their land. The tribe is faced with no choice but to fight, and their defeat is all but inevitable.

222 BC

With peaceful overtures by the Insubres being firmly rejected by Rome, the tribe calls on the Gaesatae once more. Together they fight the Romans and withdraw intact to Mediolanum. The stronghold is stormed by the Romans and, following some hard fighting, the Insubres are left with no option but to surrender, their unnamed chief making a complete submission to Rome. This act effectively ends the Gallic War in northern Italy, as Rome now dominates all of the tribes there.

89 BC

Brixia (modern Brescia) is recognised as a civitas, a city of Rome, showing that the Cenomani have become fully integrated within the republican system and society.

Roman Brixia
Roman Brixia (modern Brescia) became a typical Latin city of temples, baths, a forum and a theatre, with its Cenomani population being thoroughly integrated into the empire

49 BC

In common with the rest of the peoples of Gallia Transalpina, the Cenomani are granted Roman citizenship. Rome itself, though, immediately becomes preoccupied with a civil war between Julius Caesar and Pompey, as the former crosses the Rubicon with his army.

27 BC

Augustus founds a civil colony at Brexia and in the next few years he and Tiberius construct a viaduct to supply it with water.  More building work further enhances the city, with a forum, theatre and no less than three temples being added. Baths and a fourth temple are built under Emperor Vespasian in the later years of the first century AD. Following their inclusion into the empire, the Cenomani lands later become part of the kingdom (and then region) of Lombardy.