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Celtic Tribes

 

 

 

MapParisii (Gauls)

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. By the middle of the first century BC, the Parisii were located in northern Gaul, along the valley of the Seine with a capital that survived them and which still bears their name - Paris. They were neighboured to the north by the Veliocasses, to the north-east by the Suessiones, to the east by the Remi and Catalauni, to the south-west by the Senones, and to the west by the Eburovices.

The Parisii name possibly derived from the proto-Celtic 'kwarjo' (a word conjectured by linguists and meaning 'kettle'). 'Kw' became 'p', in the form of 'Parjo', or 'people of the kettle'. In reaching this result, Edward Dawson questions whether the Parisii might be related to the Belgae. Given the similarity of their name with that of the Parisi tribe in Britain, he suggests that the latter group may have split from the Parisii and migrated from Gaul to Britain, a notion which is discounted by some scholars. Instead, this may have happened the other way around, with elements of the British Parisi arriving in Gaul, or (even more likely) the tribe dividing before arriving in either location. An alternative source of the Parisi tribal name - and especially its Quarisii name variant - may come from the proto-Celtic *karīso-, meaning a kernel of fruit'. This was altered in P-Celtic to 'pariso', and was cognate/ancestral to the Welsh 'ffrwyth' [-au, -ydd, m.] (n.), meaning 'fruit, outcome, produce, product; vigour, use'. It was probably used metaphorically rather than literally.

The tribe occupied their territory on the banks of the River Sequana (the Seine) from the middle of the third century BC. As far as can be seen, they were ceded the territory by the nearby Senones, to whom they may have been related. They created what was thought to be an oppidum at Lutetia Parisiorum, on an island on the Seine. This later became an important city in the Roman province of Gallia Lugdunensis (and survives today as Paris). However, recent archaeological excavations at Nanterre have revealed signs of extensive urbanisation and warrior tombs, which suggests that this was their oppidum. It would have offered a more easily defended location than Paris. The Parisii buried their warrior dead with their chariots, which was a practice that was part of the Arras culture. The deceased would be placed in a wheeled vehicle before being interred beneath a square barrow, and both branches of the Parisii (British and Continental) followed this practice.

(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 Links: The Works of Julius Caesar: Gallic Wars, and Paris Info. Other major sources listed in the 'Barbarian Europe' section of the Sources page.)

c.250s BC

The Parisii are known to be occupying the banks of the River Sequana (the Seine) from the middle of the third century BC. Who they displace (if anyone) is unknown but they appear to be ceded their territory by the Senones in a rejuggling of territorial holdings. The Parisi of Britain, thought by some to be a splinter of this group, seem already to be settled there before this date, perhaps making it more likely that the Parisii of the Seine are the splinter group.

1st century BC

By the beginning of the first century BC, and perhaps for an indeterminate period before it, the Aeduii are at the head of a tribal confederation that also includes the Ambarri, Aulerci, Bellovaci, Bituriges Cubi, Brannovices, Mandubii, Parisii, Segusiavi, and Senones. Against this confederation in the contest for supremacy in Gaul are the Arverni, to its immediate south, and the Sequani to its east. The Parisii and Senones also face regular warfare waged against them by the aggressive Remi to their east, who are in alliance with some of the Germanic tribes situated along the Rhine.

Map of Gaul 100 BC
The Aeduii confederation is shown here, around 100 BC, with borders approximate and fairly conjectural, based on the locations of the tribes half a century later - it can be seen that the Aulerci at least migrate farther north-west during that time, although the remainder largely stay put (click on map to show full sized)

c.60 - 50 BC

Gallo-Belgic F coins are also found in many coastal areas of Britain, introducing the triple-tailed horse design on the reverse that becomes widespread over the next few decades. The existence of so many coins that are linked to the Suessiones, or which ape their design, suggests to scholars that the Suessiones form a considerable portion of the Belgic peoples who migrate to Britain from the second century BC. These coins are also concentrated in the territory of the Parisii, forming another link between this tribe and the Belgae which perhaps backs up the theory that they originate as a splinter of the Parisi of Britain.

57 BC

The Parisii apparently play no part in the Gaulish battle against Julius Caesar and Roman domination in this period. With the conclusion of Caesar's various actions, that domination has been secured over northern Gaul, but the Parisii may welcome them as allies, offering no objection to their presence. Does this mark them out again as being different to their immediate neighbours, or does it simply show them following a different political path?

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. Despite being expelled from the town of Gergovia by his uncle, Gobanitio, and the rest of the nobles in their fear of such a risky enterprise, he gathers together an army. The Aulerci, Cadurci, Lemovices, Parisii, Pictones, Senones, and Turones all join him, as do all of the tribes that border the ocean. The Treveri support the revolt but are pinned down by German tribes.

Labienus marches with four legions to the Parisii town of Lutetia. Gauls from the neighbouring states immediately gather to oppose him, under the leadership of the aged but still very wise Camulogenus of the Aulerci. Labienus pulls back to Melodunum of the Senones, takes the town by force, and marches again against Camulogenus. The ensuing battle sees the Gauls defeated and Camulogenus killed. Labienus joins Caesar while Vercingetorix levies troops from the Aeduii and Segusiavi. These he places under the command of the brother of Eporedirix and orders them to attack the Allobroges.

Vercingetorix, his cavalry routed in battle, 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 eight thousand each from the Helvii (despite the tribe's pro-Roman standing), Parisii, Pictones, and Turones.

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

Together they attempt to relieve Vercingetorix at the siege of Alesia, but the combined relief force is soundly repulsed by Julius Caesar's remarkable strategy of simultaneously conducting the siege of Alesia on one front whilst being besieged on the other. 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.

52 BC

Following the defeat of Vercingetorix, the Roman subjugation of Gaul is renewed. The Parisii may willingly accept this, renewing their alliance. To back this up, their chief settlement grows into a major Romano-Celtic city. With Gaul having been brought under Roman domination, the history of its population of Celts is tied to that of the empire.

27 BC - AD 100

Now in Roman hands, Lutetia Parisiorum, on an island on the Seine, is developed into a city with a population of an estimated 8,000 or so people. It is not politically important, however. Agedincum (modern Sens, Yonne) remains the capital of the region, Lugdunensis Senona.

c.AD 250

Lutetia Parisiorum receives Christianity in this century, according to tradition when St Denis of the Roman Church becomes the city's first bishop. Around the middle of the century, St Denis and two of his companions are arrested and decapitated on the hill of Mons Mercurius during the persecutions of Emperor Decius. Roman foundations have been found here by archaeologists, and after this date the hill is better known as Mons Martyrum (Martyrs' Hill). The name survives today as Montmartre.

360

At the start of 360, Julian (the Apostate) is wintering in Lutetia Parisiorum when reports reach him that the Scotti and Picts have broken a previous agreement and are plundering lands close to the frontier in Britain. Given the critical situation on the Rhine, especially with the Alemanni, he is unable to leave, so he sends his magister militum, Lupicinus, along with some of his best units, the Heruli, the Batavi, and two numeri Moesiacorum. Lupicinus marshals his forces at London, but is recalled following Julian being proclaimed Augustus by his troops.

Around the same time, Lutetia itself is ravaged by a barbarian attack, but following Julian's acceptance of the imperial title the city is re-baptised as Paris. It is also around this time that the city quarter on the left bank of the Seine, which has previously housed the baths, theatres and the amphitheatre, is gradually abandoned with the population being concentrated on the island itself. This receives new fortifications at a time when much of Gaul is being fortified.

451

St Geneviève deflects Attila of the Huns from taking Paris. The city later proclaims her its patron saint.

Map of Paris
A medieval map of the city of Paris in the tenth century AD, under the rule of the Capetian king, Hugh. By this time Paris had declined from its two periods of greatness under the Romans and the Merovingians, but the map clearly shows the importance of the island at the city's heart

508

Clovis, king of the Franks, makes Paris his capital. The city is forever tied to the Franks from this point forwards, even though the city is allowed to decline under the Carolingian kings of the eighth and ninth centuries.