History Files


European Kingdoms

Celtic Tribes




Index of Celtic TribesMapSegusiavi / Segusiani (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 Segusiavi were a minor tribe that was located a little way to the north of the Rhone as it turns southwards after leaving Lake Geneva. They were neighboured to the north by the Aeduii, to the east by the Ambarri and, across the Rhone, by the Allobroges, to the south by the Helvii and the Vellavi, and to the west by the Arverni.

The tribe's name is an easy one to break down, and has the same meaning as that of the Segusini. Remove the 'siavi/siani' plural suffixes to leave 'segus'. The root 'sego-' is common Celtic for 'victory' (and is also used in all German tongues). The tribe were 'the victors', a very Celtic boast of prowess and success in battle. Given their location, they may have had an earlier relation to the relatively close Segusini.

The tribe inhabited territory that largely seems to match up to the modern Lyonnais and Forez areas. They had an oppidum at Forum Segusiavorum (modern Feurs in the Loire in the Rhône-Alpes region of France). This was part of the frontier of the Roman provincia that was established in 120 BC (on the unoccupied side of the frontier). Strabo gives them their first mention in history when he describes them as merchants who are practiced in river navigation. Records seem to indicate that they were a client of the Aeduii and that they followed the Aeduii lead in all of their dealings with Rome.

(Information co-authored by Edward Dawson, and additional information from External Link: The Works of Julius Caesar: Gallic Wars.)

123 - 121 BC

The Allobroges come into direct conflict with Rome following the latter's defeat of the Salluvii. The Romans fight and defeat the Allobroges, Arverni, and Helvii, while the Ruteni and Segovellauni are subjugated at the same time. Rome creates a province which uses the eastwards stretch of the Rhone as its border, which places it along the southern stretch of Segusiavi territory.

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.

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)

58 BC

Despite the death of Orgetorix, the Helvetii decide to go ahead with their planned exodus. Julius Caesar cannot put up with the idea of having such a dangerous force of Celts occupying the more peaceful plains of Gaul, so he force-marches two new legions from Italy to face the threat, although the Ceutrones, Graioceli, and Caturiges attempt to block his passage through the Alps. As he passes through the territory of the Vocontii to enter that of the Allobroges and then the Segusiavi, groups from several local tribes are joining the Helvetii, including the Latobrigi, Raurici, and Tulingi, making them one of the largest and most powerful forces in all of Gaul. Unfortunately, the Battle of Bibracte between Celts and Romans is a total victory for the latter. The Helvetii are mercilessly crushed and are forced back to their homeland. This act sets in motion a train of events that results in the eventual annexation of all of Gaul into the Roman state.

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. The Roman commander Labienus marches with four legions to the Parisii town of Lutetia and 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. The Allobroges manage to defend their frontiers successfully, but Caesar finds that he is hard-pressed to counter Vercingetorix's superiority in cavalry. He calls for cavalry and light infantry from the loyal German tribes (which undoubtedly includes the Ubii), and this helps him greatly in the battle which follows.

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

Vercingetorix, his cavalry routed in that 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 thirty-five thousand men from the Aeduii and their dependents, the Ambivareti, Brannovices, and Segusiavi. 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. The Segusiavi are now able to break with their Aeduii overlords and side firmly with Rome.