History Files


European Kingdoms

Celtic Tribes




MapPetrocorii (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 Petrocorii were a minor tribe that was located along the northern bank of the Garunna (the River Garonne) in south-western Gaul. They were neighboured to the north-west by the Santones, to the north-east by the Lemovices, to the east by the Cadurci, to the south by the Nitiobroges, and to the west by the Biturices.

The tribe's name seems to be relatively simple to break down. With the plural suffix removed it can be formed into two parts, perhaps as 'petro', meaning 'four', and 'cor', meaning 'a quarter', which would make them 'the four quarters', ie. their territory was formed from four parts. The difficulty is 'cor', which could be several different things. But modern Welsh still has 'cwr' [cyrrau, m.] (n.), meaning 'edge, border, quarter, skirt, margin (edge)'. 'Cwr' is the edge that is the outer limit of an area (a 'quarter'). 'Cwr' is a quarter that is a corner. But 'cor' might be something else such as the proto-Celtic: *korbo-, meaning 'wagon', or *kordā-, meaning 'band, host, family', or *korjo-, meaning 'army'. The only part that is certain is the first element, 'four'. They were the 'four [something]'.

The tribe occupied territory that probably matches the modern département of the Dordogne. They were known to dwell in the region between the rivers Dordogne and Vézère. Their original oppidum was at La Boissière, in the Dordogne region, but following the Roman subjugation of Gaul they moved to Vesonna or Vesuna (modern Périgeux, which itself is a rendition of Petrocorii). The Petrocorii acceptance of Roman authority does not appear to have been especially resisted, and they may have welcomed the safety and peace that was on offer.

(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 The Celtic Encyclopaedia Volume 4, Harry Mountain, and from External Link: The Works of Julius Caesar: Gallic Wars. Other major sources listed in the 'Barbarian Europe' section of the Sources page.)

c.200 BC

The Petrocorii migrate into the Dordogne region from the north, founding an encampment at La Boissière. The Celtic Encyclopaedia conflicts with this settlement date, sating that the sixth century BC is when the tribe arrives.

River Vézère
The River Vézère in France probably formed one of the territorial borders of the Petrocorii tribe following their arrival in the region

c.60 - 56 BC

Following the Roman invasion of Gaul under the leadership of Julius Caesar, the tribe leaves their encampment to move to a new one on the plain of L'Isle, creating the town of Vesonna (modern Périgeux). This is the location of a curative spring which is associated with Telo, the goddess of health. She is sometimes associated with another goddess named Stanna.

56 BC

When war flares up again in Gaul, triggered by Publius Licinius Crassus and the Seventh Legion in the territory of the Andes, Caesar has to turn back from his journey to Illyrium to handle the problem. Crassus is sent to Aquitania to subdue the tribes there and prevent an all-out war against stretched Roman troops. Subduing the Petrocorii along the way, he enters the territory of the Sotiates and barely defeats them in a campaign that will see all of Aquitania fall.

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.

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. The Petrocorii seem to settle relatively easily under Roman administration. As an agrarian people, their efforts produce a fairly prosperous and peaceful town and economy.

late 2nd cent AD

The town of Vesonna has gradually been embellished with amphitheatres, baths, temples, and a forum, and now it is surrounded by ramparts. To match its newfound grandiosity it is renamed Civitas Petrocoriorum. This becomes Petrocorios, and later the modern Périgeux.