general terms, the
coined the name 'Gaul' to describe the
tribes of what is now central, northern and eastern
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
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 Nantuates, who were located
along the southern shore of Lake Geneva. They were neighboured to the north
by the Helvetii,
to the east by the Seduni, to
the south by the Veragri,
and to the west by the
Also called the Nantuatae, the difference is not actually in their name, but
in the plural ending added onto it. The Nantuates name appears to derive
from a word for valley. The proto-Celtic wordlist has *nanto, meaning
'valley', and modern Welsh has 'nant' [nentydd, f.] - (n.), meaning 'brook;
gorge, ravine'. The sense seems to be of a mountain valley. After this is
what at first glance appears to be the Latin suffix, '-atus' (the modern
'-ate'), but that is probably wrong. An intriguing possibility is a word for
'reclaim' or 'reacquire'. The proto-Celtic word list has *tu-ati- (Welsh),
[*dī-ati (Brythonic.) plus '-ande-so'], meaning 'reclaim' (?), so they
could have been the 'people of the reclaimed valley', perhaps? Switzerland
was part of the early Celtic homeland so, theoretically speaking, was this a
once-populated area that was being reclaimed after a period of abandonment?
Caesar noted the tribe's location in his Gallic Wars, close to
today's western Swiss border with France. The village of Morgins in the
canton of Valais in southern Switzerland claims to have been a Nantuates
border region with the Allobroges. The town's name is said to originate from
a Celtic word for border, something that is probably based on the
proto-Celtic *mrogi-, meaning 'border'. Around ten or eleven kilometres to
the south-west is the French town of Morzine, a very similar name that
probably has the same origins. The intervening le Pas de Morgins is still
the only road to link the French and Swiss resorts of the Portes du Soleil.
Strabo calls the tribe the Aetuatae, but he also placed them in the valley
of the Rhine.
(Information co-authored by Edward Dawson, and additional information from
Research into the Physical History of Mankind, James Cowles Prichard,
and from External Links:
Works of Julius Caesar: Gallic Wars, and
Defeat of the Vocates and Tarusates, J Rickard.)
Following his successful campaign against the
the previous year, Caesar heads for
He sends Servius Galba ahead with the Twelfth Legion and part of the cavalry
to secure the way. The pass through the Alps has been dominated by the
Nantuates, Seduni, and
making the route a dangerous one for
merchants, and now is the time to end that danger. Galba conducts a few
successful battles and storms several of their forts, until the tribes send
embassies and hostages, and peace is concluded.
Galba stations two cohorts among the Nantuates, and sets up camp with the legion's
remaining cohorts in the village of Octodurus, which belongs to the the Veragri.
The village is situated in a valley with a small plain, and is bounded on all
sides by very high mountains. Galba takes the unoccupied half of the village as
winter quarters for his troops, and fortifies it with a rampart and ditch.
The region around the Great St Bernard's Pass was a perfect mix
of fertile plains and protective high mountains for small but
aggressive Celtic tribes in the four centuries or so between
their settlement of the area and domination by Rome
Several days later, the Veragri tribe has vanished from the village and
has assembled in the mountains overlooking the valley with a very large
force of Nantuates and Seduni. The legion, which is reduced in size after
detachments have been made, appears vulnerable to the
Celts, who are convinced that the Romans want to conquer all of Gaul.
The Romans decide to defend their position, and are hard-pressed by the
superior numbers attacking them, perhaps 30,000 in all. The six hour battle
ends when the exhausted Romans make a last-ditch sally that takes the
Celts by surprise and inflicts heavy casualties on them, forcing them
to withdraw. Having survived the onslaught the Romans withdraw in good
order, heading westwards into the territory of the
where they settle into safer winter quarters.
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
is tied to that of the empire.