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
Italy, and along the Danube.
By the middle of the first century BC, there was a cluster of smaller tribes
in the Alpine region of western Switzerland and the French/Italian border.
This included the Medulli who were located in western Switzerland, in the
valleys of the Maurienne to the south of the Great St Bernard Pass. They
were neighboured to the north by the
Graioceli, to the east
by the Insubres, to the
south by the Ceutrones,
and to the west by the
The tribe's name can be interpreted in a number of ways, with perhaps the best
choices being 'middle' or 'power'. However, 'mead' and 'drunk' offer more fun:
*med-alo- (?), meaning 'soft'; *med-e/o- (?), meaning 'be able'; *med-e/o- (?),
meaning 'say'; *med-e/o- (?), meaning 'sin'; *med-je/o-, meaning 'measure';
*medjo-, *mediĆă, meaning 'middle'; *medjo-samīno-, meaning 'June'
(*middle of summer); *med-o- (?), meaning 'power'; *medu-, meaning 'mead';
and finally *medwo-, meaning 'drunk'. They appear to have been the party
animals of the Alpine region!
This tribe of the Medulli should not be confused with a division of the
which was also known as the Medulli. If there is any relation between the
two, then possibly it is this group that was the original core of the tribe,
while the Alpine group could have been a migratory splinter that formed part
of the Gaulish invasion of Italy in the fifth and fourth centuries BC.
Many of the Gaulish tribes who took up residence in the Alpine region are
poorly documented and perhaps mentioned in passing, literally, as Romans
proceeded from Italy to Gaul. The Medulli certainly fall into this bracket.
Strabo mentions them in his Geography as the tribe which holds the
loftiest peaks of the Alps: "At any rate, the steepest height of these
peaks is said to involve an ascent of a hundred stadia, and an equal number
the descent thence to the boundaries of Italy. And up in a certain hollowed-out
region stands a large lake, and also two springs which are not far from one
another. One of these springs is the source of the Druentia, a torrential
river which dashes down towards the Rhodanus, and also of the Durias, which
takes the opposite direction... The situation of the Medulli is, to put it
in a general way, above the confluence of the Isar and the Rhodanus."
Additionally, the Tabula Imperii Romani has the territory of the 'Meldi'
lying in the region where the Alpine Val d'Arc merged with the Val d'Isere
(fairly close to modern St-Jean de Maurienne), which may link to the Meldi
being one of the 'other tribes' of Polybius in his Histories who
in 218 BC. This Meldi group should not be confused with the
the Balkans in the first century BC.
(Information co-authored by Edward Dawson, and additional information from
Works of Julius Caesar: Gallic Wars.)
Writing in the mid-second century BC, Polybius provides both
the Allobroges and
with their first mention in history. The Allobroges are already established
on the western side of the Alps and control many of the important passes
through the mountains. They (and 'other tribes' which may include the Medulli)
unsuccessfully attempt to resist the passage of Hannibal and his
army which is on its way to attack
Rome during the Second
Punic War. Perhaps not unexpectedly, it seems to be fellow
Boii, who first show the
mountain passes to Hannibal, after the Segovellauni have escorted them through
the Allobroges' lands. Tribal politics often means using your enemy's enemy to
strike a blow against them.
The Celtic tribes of the Western Alps were relatively small and
fairly fragmented, but they made up for that with a level of
belligerence and fighting ability that often stunned their major
opponents, including the Romans
25 - 15 BC
Augustus determines that the Alpine tribes need to be pacified in order to
end their warlike behaviour, alternately attacking or extracting money from
who pass through the region, even when they have armies in tow. He wages a
steady, determined campaign against them, and in a period of ten years he
'pacifies the Alps all the way from the Adriatic to the Tyrrhenian seas'
(written by Augustus himself). Following this, the history of the Alpine
region's population of
Celts is tied to that
of the empire.