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MapMorini (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. By the middle of the first century BC, the Morini were located along the coast of modern Belgium in the region of Flanders. They were neighboured to the north-east by the Menapii, to the south-east by the Nervii, to the south by the Atrebates, to the south-west by the Ambiani, and across the English Channel by the Cantiaci.

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. When it comes to breaking down the Morini tribal name, the highest probability is that it is simply 'mor', meaning 'sea' or 'ocean', plus a plural suffix '-in', influenced by contact with the Germanic plural '-en'. They were 'the oceaners' or perhaps, in less lofty terms, 'the seasiders'.

The tribe was centred around modern Calais, with a western border along the River Canache and one to the east on the River Scheldt. Their oppidum was Tarvenna (modern Thérouanne in the Pas-de-Calais departement). They also had a settlement at Gesoriacum (modern Boulogne-sur-Mer). This has also been identified with Portus Itius, the otherwise unlocated port which was used as an embarkation point for Julius Caesar's second expedition to Britain in 54 BC.

(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.)

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 the Remi, on the Belgic border, instantly surrender, although their brethren, the Suessiones remain enthusiastic about the venture. The Bellovaci are the most powerful among the Belgae, but the confederation also includes the Ambiani, Atrebates, Atuatuci, Caerosi, Caleti, Condrusi, Eburones, Menapii, Morini, Nervii, Paemani, Veliocasses, and Viromandui, along with some unnamed Germans on the western side of the Rhine.

Battle of the Axona
The Battle of the (River) Axona (the modern Aisne in north-eastern France) witnessed the beginning of the end of the Belgic confederation against Rome

The Morini role in the war is not mentioned, but Caesar either faces down the other Belgic tribes in battle (especially at the Axona) or accepts their surrender during the course of a single campaigning season. With this action, northern Gaul has been brought under Roman domination, while the victorious legions winter amongst the Andes, Carnutes, and Turones.

56 BC

Following his successful campaign against the Belgae, 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 Viridovix of the Venelli 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.

Romans attack a Veneti vessel
Roman auxiliaries in the form of the Aeduii attack a Veneti vessel in Morbihan Bay on the French Atlantic coast during the campaign of 56 BC

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.

Now only the Morini and Menapii remain in opposition to Rome, never having sent their ambassadors to agree peace terms. Caesar leads his army to their territory but they withdraw into the forests and marshes, having realised that head-on conflict will be fruitless. However, guerrilla warfare simply results in the Romans decimating the countryside and burning the villages, and the invaders return to winter quarters amongst the Aulerci and Lexovii and other recently conquered tribes, having seen off the latest threat.

55 BC

As recorded by Julius Caesar in his work, Commentarii de Bello Gallico, the Germanic Tencteri and Usipetes tribes are driven out of their tribal lands in Germania by the militarily dominant Suevi. This probably places them on the middle Rhine. Caesar, alarmed at this threat to the north of territory in Gaul that he has already conquered, takes a force into the region and attacks the Germanic tribes and drives them back into Germania with heavy losses. After a brief foray into Germania to show the tribes there that they can be invaded in return, he mounts his first expedition to Britain.

Germanic warriors
This romanticised illustration of Germanic warriors bore little similarity to the rough and ready warriors of the Germanic tribes along the Rhine

 

On his return, two ships carrying troops are blown off course and make port a little farther down the coast. The Morini, who had pleaded for peace with Caesar before his departure, now see the opportunity for some trophies and they surround the troops. Caesar sends cavalry to relieve them and the Romans manage to withdraw after about four hours of fighting. The Morini are subsequently quelled, and an attempt is made to do the same to the Menapii, although they avoid a confrontation by hiding in the woods.

54 BC

Commius of the Atrebates accompanies Caesar on his second expedition to Britain, which embarks from Portus Itius, which probably lies within the territory of the Morini. Commius is used to persuade High King Cassivellaunus, king of the Catuvellauni, to succumb to the Romans. Commius returns to Gaul with Caesar. In reward for his loyalty he is granted command of the Morini and his newly expanded kingdom is exempted from taxes.

53 BC

The expedition to Britain by Julius Caesar goes ahead, following which he is forced to winter his troops in different quarters in Gaul owing to the poor harvests of that year. One legion is given to Caius Fabius to be quartered in the territories of the Morini, while Quintus Cicero takes another to the Nervii, Lucius Roscius takes one to the lands of the Essui, and Titus Labienus goes to the Remi 'in the confines of the Treveri'. Three more legions are stationed amongst the Belgae and one with the Eburones who are commanded by Ambiorix and Cativolcus. The Morini appear to play no part in the subsequent rebellion by the Eburones and Treveri.

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 tose 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.

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.

4th century AD

By now, Gesoriacum is known as Bononia (modern Boulogne-sur-Mer) as its focus shifts away from its original centre. It has also been the home of the Classis Britannica, the Roman fleet of the north.