History Files


European Kingdoms

Celtic Tribes




MapMediomatrici / Mednomatrici (Belgae)

FeatureIn general terms, the Romans coined the name 'Gaul' to describe the Celtic tribes of what is now central, northern and eastern France. To the north of these were the tribes of the Belgae, divided from the Gauls by the rivers Marne and the Seine. The Mediomatrici may have been included as Belgae, being located in the midst of them by the middle of the first century BC. They occupied a swathe of the valley of the Moselle, around Luxembourg and Metz. They were neighboured to the north by the Treveri, across the Moselle to the east by the Germanic Vangiones and Nemetes, to the south by the Leuci, and to the west by the Remi.

The Belgae would seem to be an eastern branch of Celts who migrated to the Atlantic coast some time after their Gaulish cousins had already established themselves to the south. Their dialect probably used a 'b' or a 'v' sound where their western cousins in Gaul used a 'w' sound, opening up different interpretations for their names. The Mediomatrici names breaks down into *medjo-, or *medi° which means 'middle' (in proto-Celtic), or *mātīr, for 'mother' (in proto-Celtic) The name is instantly understandable in Latin as the words are unchanged, making it common both to Latin and Celtic. The name means 'middle mother(s)', probably making them followers of the middle goddess of the three mothers ('matres' being Latin for 'mothers'). These were female goddesses who were worshipped across north-western Europe during the Roman empire period.

Julius Caesar stated that the Celts who lived nearest the Rhine waged continual war against the German tribes on the other side, and this probably included the Mediomatrici. They were united in a policy of mutual support by the nearby Catalauni and Leuci, and the latter may once have been a client unit of the Mediomatrici. The tribe occupied the modern département of the Moselle, with an oppidum at Dividunum, which under the Romans became Divodurum (and later was known as Mettis, modern Metz, probably as a contraction of the tribe's name). Once subdued by Rome in 52 BC, they remained loyal, and even supplied auxiliaries to aid in putting down the Batavi revolt of AD 69-70.

(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 from External Link: The Works of Julius Caesar: Gallic Wars. Other major sources listed in the 'Barbarian Europe' section of the Sources page.)

9th century BC

The Mediomatrici of the Celtic Hallstatt culture arrive in the Moselle valley close to modern Metz. At Spires they venerate Nantosvelta (meaning 'meandering brook'), also known as Nantosuelta ('winding stream'). She is variously represented as a raven or by a woman with a birdhouse mounted on a staff and is a triple goddess who encompasses birth, death, and regeneration. Her consort is Sucellos.

The tribe's apparent origins in the Hallstatt culture could be later concealed by a takeover by Belgic Celts in the fourth or third centuries BC, or they could be Belgic from the start, perhaps only little influenced at this early stage by the nearby proto-Germanic tribes. The spread of the Belgics in Northern Europe is far too uncertain at any stage before they arrive in Gaul and Britain to form a firm conclusion.

Gold and amber jewellery
This gold and amber jewellery unearthed from a Hallstatt culture burial reveal that very high levels of skill were involved in its creation in the first millennium BC

58 BC

Following Julius Casar's expulsion of the Suevi from Gaul, one of the confederation's constituent parts, the Vangiones, makes a separate peace with him. They are allowed to settle amongst the Mediomatrici, in the valley of the Moselle. Over the next half a century they gradually assume dominance in the settlement of Burbetomagus (modern Worms), making it their own capital.

53 BC

On 13 February 53 BC the disaffected Carnutes massacre every Roman merchant who is 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 is occupied in the lands of the Belgae, Vercingetorix has renewed the Arverni subjugation of the Aeduii. 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. The Lemovices are also amongst the first tribes to commit to joining Vercingetorix, contributing 10,000 men. The Mediomatrici send 5,000 men, and the Andes, Ruteni, and Turones are 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 (Mediomatrici included) 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.

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. Vercingetorix summons his people to arms but, 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.

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 five thousand men each from the Ambiani, Mediomatrici, Morini, Nervii, Nitiobroges, Petrocorii, and Suessiones. 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.

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

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.

AD 69 - 70

Gaius Julius Civilis leads a Batavian insurrection against a Rome which is distracted by the events of the Year of the Four Emperors. Supported by the Bructeri, Canninefates, Chauci, Cugerni, and Tencteri, who send reinforcements, he is initially successful. Castra Vetera is captured and two Roman legions are lost, while two others fall into the hands of the rebels. In AD 70 the Chatti, Mattiaci, and Usipetes join in, besieging the legionary fortress at Mogontiacum (modern Mainz).

Eventual Roman pressure, with aid from the Mediomatrici, Sequani, and Tungri, forces Civilis to retreat to the Batavian island where he agrees peace terms with General Quintus Petilius Cerialis. His subsequent fate is unknown, as is that of the brave Brinno, but the Batavi (and by inference the Canninefates) are treated with great consideration by Emperor Vespasian.