History Files
 

 

European Kingdoms

Celtic Tribes

 

 

 

Index of Celtic TribesMapSexovii (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 Sexovii were located in Armorica (Brittany), although any precise details appear to be unknown. Given this uncertainty, it is impossible to declare with any certainly just who they were neighboured by, but the Aulerci certainly seem to be a strong possibility.

Disappointingly for schoolboys the world over, the tribe's name seemingly has nothing to do with sex. It may in fact mean 'the divided' or 'the half', given what appear to be Indo-European roots and branches. Compare with the Latin 'secāre', meaning 'to divide', and the proto-Celtic *ske, meaning 'to cut', and notice that the Latin 'sexus' is formed as a noun out of the verb 'secāre'; and 'sexus' originally meant 'half', which was extended to male half or female half. Postulated here is a similar verb to noun formation in Celtic.

Given their close allegiance to the Aulerci and Venelli during the Celtic revolt of 56 BC, it seems possible that the Sexovii were located close by, perhaps in the lower Cherbourg peninsula of north-western Normandy. Could 'Sexovii' have been a misreading or misunderstanding of 'Sesuvi', a tribe of the Aulerci confederation?

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

? - 56 BC

?

Magistrate. Killed by his people for refusing to fight Rome.

56 BC

Following his successful campaign against the Belgae in the previous year, 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.

With this action, northern Gaul has been brought under Roman domination, and the history of its population of Celts is tied to that of the empire.