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Index of Celtic TribesMapNorici & Taurisci (Gauls/Belgae)
Incorporating the Belgites, Iasi, Serapili, Sereti, Sevarces & Varciani

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, and they also extended into Switzerland, northern Italy, and along the Danube. The Taurisci were a major tribe or confederation which also seems to have included the Norici (Strabo refers to the Taurisci as a tribe and the Norici as a collective). By the middle of the first century BC, both groups and their attached minor tribes were occupying central Austria, extending into western Slovenia and part of northern Croatia, with the Danube forming the northern border. The Norici and Taurisci were neighboured across the Danube by the vast homeland of the Boii, to the east by the Dacian Racatae and the Illyrian Azali, to the south by the Latovici, Carni, and Ambidravi, and to the west by the Ambisontes and a pocket of Alauni.

Putting aside the meaning of the names for the moment, the (adjective-forming) suffix, '-isc' (removing the Latin '-i') that is found in Taurisci, Norici, and Scordisci appears to be the Germanic suffix, recreated as '-iskaz' in proto-Germanic, and familiar in modern English and German as '-ish' and '-isch' respectively. The Latin and Greek cognates are '-icus' and '-ikos' respectively (it is uncertain whether the proto-Germans added the 's' sound or the Latins and Greeks lost it, but the latter option is preferred here as it provides a simpler explanation for another group of non-Germans in the form of the Taurisci and Norici using the '-isc' sound). The proto-Indo-European root is unattested but would have led to all the forms shown above. Both forms of the suffix are used in the names applied to the tribes here, Norici and Taurisci. The latter meant 'bull-like', while the former probably meant 'from the north' (all these are adjectives used as nouns).

The use of 'from the north' suggests infiltration from northern Europe, perhaps by a possible Germanic element but perhaps also by Celts migrating southwards to submerge an earlier population (whether this earlier population were Celts themselves or - almost certainly - something else, such as Raetians). The names all point to Germanic influence, though, so from just how far north did these Celts travel? Given the Germanic influence at such an early date, before Germanic migration outwards from Scandinavia and the Cimbric Peninsula, then it must have been from around this area, Northern Europe, in modern Denmark or the nearby southern shore of the Baltic Sea. If that's the case - and it would seem to be - then the Taurisci and their associated (and equally weirdly-named) tribes must have been Belgae, not Gauls. The date of their migration from the Baltic to their arrival on the Danube around 300 BC would give them time enough if they were part of the general movement of Belgic peoples, with many going east (to form the Venedi) and west (to form the Belgae of Caesar's time). This third group must have returned southwards to their ancient homeland in Central Europe, but kept on going, perhaps due to local resistance to their arrival. But for the naming peculiarities, this theory cannot be proven at all, but the naming peculiarities are extremely peculiar otherwise.

As mentioned, according to Strabo the Taurisci were an individual tribe while the Norici were a collective (he goes further to say that the Taurisci were also Norici). Therefore it seems likely that the Norici name was used for the confederation of Celtic tribes in this region, while the Taurisci were clearly the biggest and most powerful of the tribes. To muddy the waters somewhat, the Taurisci name is also used in earlier references for the confederation, or at least parts of it. Pliny states that the later name of Norici was synonymous with the earlier name of Taurisci, suggesting that 'Norici' was only used in later years to describe all the northerners together, whereas they had not used such a collective term themselves. By Ptolemy's time in the second century AD he was able to say that the Norici were the only people inhabiting the eastern part of the province of that name, making no mention of the Taurisci.

Once settled to the south of the Danube, the Taurisci maintained their own culture but also demonstrated a gradual assimilation of the traditions and a level of symbiosis with the native populations of the region. They did not directly replace the native population, but in the vacant plains of the major rivers valleys and formerly intensely inhabited mountainous landscape between Krka and Sava they underwent a degree of regionally-dictated developments in material culture which, when added to to influences from neighbouring tribes within the territory of the Taurisci, prompted the formation of yet smaller tribal entities.

At least seven minor tribes are mentioned in connection with the Taurisci, two from their very arrival on the southern bank of the Danube around 300 BC. The Serapili and Sereti lived along both banks of the River Drava which flows into the South Tyrol near Lake Dobiaco. The Iasi and Varciani appear to be later sub-divisions of the confederation, while the arrival of the Ambisontes predated the Taurisci. The Sevarces were located on the south bank of the Danube, with the River Isar to their south in Bavaria, in an isolated north-western pocket of the Noricum. The Belgites were located in Pannonia, seemingly on the south-eastern edge of the Noricum. They seemed to play little or no part in history, and are scarcely even mentioned.

The Serapili and Sereti tribal names both start with the same element, 'ser-', and it has to be wondered just what this means. The proto-Celtic word list has *ser(φ)-ro-, meaning 'billhook', *ser-e/o-, meaning 'wander through', *sergo-, meaning 'illness', *ser-n-a-, meaning 'order', *serto- (?), meaning 'lewd', and even *ser-wo-', meaning 'theft'. None of those look promising except perhaps 'to wander' as a long shot? The evidence is not convincing in terms of being able to state that these are even Celtic names to begin with.

The Varciani name minus the suffixes sounds like 'wark'. This is close to 'warg', a wolf in Nordic. This is another unit that links back to the 'Taurisk', meaning 'bull-ish', a tribe with their Germanic suffix. Could the Varciani be a tribe from the Jutland Peninsula, with a mixed Celto-German ancestry that perhaps marks them out as true border Belgae or Germans with a Celtic leadership? They could have been dragged along (willingly or not) with the proposed Taurisci migration from Northern Europe to the Danube, as outlined above.

The Iasi name presents even more problems than the others. If an initial 'L' was dropped then perhaps this is related to an Old Welsh word, 'liaus' (noun), meaning 'multitude, host, crowd'. Modern Welsh has 'ias' [-au, f.] (noun), meaning 'boiling; shiver; thrill', and that makes no sense. If instead they were a native Illyrian or Venetic tribe that was subsumed by the Taurisci then all bets are off because their languages were as different from Celtic as were the Italic tongues. Checking Latin, Illyrian (with its very small known vocabulary), Umbrian, Oscan, and even Tocharian for possible cognates produces nothing. But perhaps the Welsh is accurate after all. The meaning would have to be a metaphor. Pokorny can supply several Indo-European root words that produce a meaning along the lines of 'to foam, boil', or 'cook, boil, simmer, seethe, boil', or 'scum, froth, foam', and so on. Were they 'the seethers', or 'the boilers' in terms of their temperament perhaps.

As for the Sevarces, there seems to be no viable match in Celtic. Could they have been a Vindelici or Veneti-type tribe with a language that was closer to P-Italic than to P-Celtic? If so then they would have been in place when the Taurisci and their confederates arrives, and were probably subsumed pretty quickly. There may be a cognate to their name in this Latin word, 'severitas', meaning 'severity, rigour, sternness, strictness'.

The Belgites name is a simple one. They are followers of the god Bel. This name occurs in many tribal names among the Celts, including the Belerion people who became the Cornovii, the Bellovaci in Gaul, the Velabri in Ireland, and of course the various Belgic tribes.

(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 Harleian Miscellany: A Collection of Scarce, Curious and Entertaining Tracts Volume 4, William Oldys & Thomas Park, and from External Links: On the Celtic Tribe of Taurisci, Mitka Guštin and the Indo-European Etymological Dictionary, J Pokorny. Other major sources listed in the 'Barbarian Europe' section of the Sources page.)

c.300 BC

By the Late Iron Age, the area between the southern edge of the Eastern Alps and the Northern Adriatic has long been inhabited by diverse prehistoric populations, such as the Raeti and Ligurians. Some newcomers arrive into the area around this time in the form of Celtic communities from north of the Danube, the heart of Celtic culture (possibly from so far north that they are in fact Belgae). The presence of the Celts in this area is first noted after 1829, when hoards of Celtic coins are discovered in the area of Celje, in Vrhnika and in Šmarjeta.

Carinthia
The modern southern Austrian region of Carinthia marked the upper edge of the Adriatic hinterland which was first occupied by Celts towards the end of the fourth century BC

The tribes concerned are determined by the historian Albert Muchar to be the Latovici, Serapili, Sereti, and Taurisci. The Serapili and Sereti would appear to be minor units (or else they become so, dominated in time within the confederation by the Taurisci). The Norici are not mentioned, apparently because the term has not yet been formed. The native communities in the hinterland of the Adriatic between Carinthia and Carniola are relatively rapidly assimilated by the Celtic newcomers, soon losing their identity completely. Existing Celtic tribes in Carinthia are also soon dominated, including the Ambidravi and Ambisontes. The Celtic coins are classed as 'Tauriscan coinage' (also known as the Eastern Norican type). They display the motif of Apollo with a diadem on the adverse, and a horseman who is identified with the name of a prince on the reverse.

c.300 BC

?

Taurisci. Named on the reverse of coins.

fl 171 - 170 BC

?

Norici. His brother, Cincibulus, complained to Rome's Senate.

171 - 170 BC

The Taurisci are briefly mentioned as allies to the Norici (although such usage would seem to be from a later period). This takes place during the pillaging march of the Roman consul, Gaius Cassius Longinus, whose route passes partly through their territory. Cincibulus is the brother of the Norican king, and he complains to the Roman Senate about the devastation wreaked by Longinus during his march, not only on the Norici and Taurisci, but also on their neighbours, the Carni, Histri, and Iapodi. Compensation is supplied in the form of a licence to buy highly-prized horses from the Veneti.

149 - 146 BC

The Taurisci are affected by Cornelius Lentulus' invasion of Segestica, a town founded by a mixed Celto-Illyrian people who are probably now part of the Breuci tribe of Illyrians. By this stage, a Taurisci cremation burial site at Zvonimirovo is entering its latter phase of use. Archaeology has so far discovered sixty-three cremation burials at the site (by the end of 2013), which is at the height of its use between the early third and late second centuries BC. It is not completely abandoned, however. The initial archaeological work on the site is to examine a medieval cemetery.

Ritually destroyed sword
The Taurisci burial site at Zvonimirovo lies midway between Zagreb and Osijek in modern Croatia, and has yielded artifacts dating between the Middle Ages and the third century BC, including this ritually destroyed sword

c.140 - 129 BC

Gold is discovered in the territory of the Taurisci. The influx of this new potential lowers the value of gold in the Italian peninsula. When threatened with the rapid depletion of this resource, Italic miners are eventually banished from the territory, leading to a Roman reaction in 129 BC. The Roman consul Gaius Sempronius Tuditanus is sent on a punitive retaliatory march against the Taurisci and the adjacent tribes of the Iapodi and Histri. Presumably the Carni and Liburni are also involved.

c.115 BC

During the year of his consulship in Rome, Marcus Aemilianus Scaurus succeeds in defeating the Carni and probably also the Taurisci. Cicero mentions this briefly in his Orations, but provides no additional depth.

According to Strabo, in this century the Roman town of Nauportus in the soon-to-be province of Pannonia Superior (from 103 BC) is one of the most important Celtic trade centres to the east of the Italian peninsula. The significance of the trade route, which passes over Ocra (Nanos) to the Caput Adriae and along the River Nauportus (the modern Ljubljanica), is also described by Apollonius of Rhodes in his version of the voyage of the Mycenaean Argonauts. According to him, the Argonauts had sailed from the Black Sea, up the Istros (the Danube) and Sava (at the junction of which is the modern Serbian city of Belgrade) to reach the Nauportus. Pliny the Elder states that they had founded the trading port of Nauportus while they were there. Then they carried their legendary ship, the Argo, on their shoulders all the way to the eastern shore of the Adriatic, thereby demonstrating the effectiveness of the trade route.

Pliny the Elder in his Natural History comments that the Taurisci are sited on the western side (in tergo) of Mons Claudius (presumably modern Moslovačka Gora) and the Scordisci on the eastern side (in fronte). Inventories of contiguous tribes, the Carni, Norici and Boii, as well as the Histri and Iapodi, mean that the Taurisci can be located during the second and first centuries BC in an area that extends from Nauportus (Vrhnika) on the southern perimeter of the Ljubljana plain to the River Kolpa in the south-east, and from the Drava valley in the north-east to Mons Claudius in the east.

113 - 109 BC

Teutobod and Boiorix lead a large-scale migration of Teutones and Cimbri from their homeland in what later becomes central and northern Denmark. Along the way they pick up Celto-Germanic Helvetii peoples (in territory that later becomes Franconia). Their passage sparks a partial tribal movement by elements of the Boii who invade the Taurisci region south of the Danube. They assault the principal Taurisci settlement of Noreia and eventually settle in western Pannonia, to the south of the modern city of Bratislava in Slovakia. This places them on the Taurisci's south-eastern border, which means that they have cut through the whole of Taurisci territory to reach the south-east.

The Teutones wandering in Gaul
An illustration depicting the Teutones wandering in Gaul, part of a large-scale migration from modern Denmark into northern Italy

c.60 - 40 BC

From the latter part of the first century BC and into the next century, various historians mention a variety of tribes and their affiliates which are uniformly identified as being Taurisci, together with a variety of other Cisalpine tribes which include the Norici and Iapodi (not all of which are Celtic in origin). Strabo mentions the Taurisci in his Natural History as being strictly Celtic, as does Livy writing the History of Rome around 10 BC. Pliny the Elder, writing his own Natural History in the mid-first century AD, does the same, along with Apian and Cassius Dio in the second and third centuries AD, saying that the Taurisci are a warrior-like tribe that often plunders Roman territory in the hinterlands of Tergestica (modern Trieste). By this time, the Taurisci have picked up a good deal of local influence, partially from the Scordisci and partially from the remaining indigenous population.

The other tribes mentioned as individual groups of the Taurisci confederation include: the Carni, who occupy the Carnian Alps, on the edge of the south-eastern Alps; the Latovici between Krka and Sava; the Varciani along the Sava towards Sisak; the Serapili and Sereti along the River Drava on the edge of Pannonia; and the Iasi towards Varaždin.

Ancient authors also list several smaller indigenous communities, such as the Illyrian Colapiani along the River Kolpa, the Celtic Ambisontes in the Soča Valley, the Subocrini around Razdrto, and the Rundicti in the Kras and Notranjska regions. The Great Tauriscan tribal community with some identified smaller tribes (such as the Latovici) has never developed into a state formation, but it is becoming known collectively as the Norici.

fl c.60s BC

Vocion

His daughter m Ariovistus of the Suevi.

60 - 59 BC

Following a recent success in battle at Histria, relations between the Getae and their neighbours in the Balkans undergoes a notable deterioration. Suddenly, under the leadership of Burebista, who is apparently guided by a wizard called Deceneus, the Getae launch a succession of brutal attacks on their former allies. The Celts seem to be first on the list, although the Eravisci escape unscathed. The territory of the Boii and Taurisci are laid waste, with the Boii especially being almost genocidally exterminated by Burebista's brutal onslaught. Their territory is subsequently known as the deserta Boiorum (effectively meaning the Boii wastelands, with 'deserta' meaning 'empty lands', or at least land that is sparsely populated). The Scordisci in Thrace follow, their previously unassailable heartland laid open. Next to face Burebista's onslaught are the Bastarnae in Dobruja, who are apparently 'conquered', and then the largely defenceless western Greek Pontic cities.

56 BC

Following the establishment of secure Roman forts in northern Friuli, the Taurisci, together with the Liburni and Iapodi are forced to pay tribute to Rome.

Taurisci Silver Tetradrachm
A Taurisci silver tetradrachm produced by the regionally-dominant Taurisci around 100 BC showing the stylised head of Apollo and a Celtic horseman throwing a spear

50 or c.41 BC

On or around one of these dates the Taurisci unite with the Boii under their commander, Critasiros, but are defeated by the Dacian King Burebistas. Some modern sources show this command system in the form of Critasiros ruling over both people, whereas he is simply commanding a joint force.

35 - 33 BC

Eastern Tauriscan tribes are defeated by Octavian between these dates, while the western tribes that border the Carni come under the dominion of the 'Kingdom of Noricum'. This means that the Norici name is starting to take over from that of the Taurisci as a description not only of that tribe but of all the region's Celts, probably as a result of the defeat by Rome.

The Roman state gradually absorbs the Celtic and indigenous populations and completely Romanises them through a combination of military force, economic pressure, political organisation, and their own way of life. The indigenous population survives in the towns and village settlements, whose names frequently denote the area of a specific tribal group (such as, for example, Praetorium Latobicorum (modern Trebnje), and Municipium Flavium Latobi-corum Neviodunum (modern Drnovo, near Krško).

16 - 15 BC

The Norican kingdom is subdued by Rome, at the hands of Drusus and Tiberius. Later in the Augustinian period Roman weaponry, such as the short gladii and Wiesenau-type helmets, appear in the territory of the Taurisci. Their presence indicates that the Celts, especially those above Gorjanci, frequently opt to serve in Roman auxiliary units and preserve some rights in the middle and end of the first century BC and into the beginning of the first century AD.

1st century AD

The interior of Croatia is dominated by tribal peoples, with the Celts and native Elyrs (modern Kosovars and Albanians) most significant just before the Roman conquest. The Celtic Norican kingdom, which covers modern Austria, Slovenia and part of northern Croatia, briefly survives the conquest as a Roman tributary.

According to the Annals of Passau, the Norici have the Gospel preached to them by St Laurentius about thirty years after the death of Christ, which would place this event around AD 63. He is followed by Syrus and Juventius, disciples of St Hermagoras.

Taurisci coins
A similar coin to the one above which was issued in the province of Noricum, again showing the stylised head of Apollo and a Celtic horseman

453

While the Norici have received Christian preachers in their past, it is now that St Severinus apparently brings about the conversion of the Norici.

456 - 457

In their fight for independence from the Huns, the Ostrogoths defeat and rout Attila's sons. They inherit control of Pannonia as a result, and absorb elements from other, smaller tribes, such as the Scirii. The Rugii avoid this fate by settling Bohemia and Lower Austria, to the north-west, areas that have recently been vacated by the Marcomanni. Their territory becomes known as the kingdom of Rugiland, but its creation helps in the collapse of the Roman province of Noricum. Roman troops begin to be withdrawn.

470s

Eugippius, in his Life of St Severinus (Vita Sev, 20, vi. 5, i) highlights the worsening picture in the Noricum as the empire gradually fades away. Payments to the troops have been severely disrupted, so units have begun to fall apart, the troops drifting off or disbanding themselves when it becomes evident that they are no longer going to be paid. There are still many regular units stationed at various cities in the province, but when their pay ceases to arrive they are disbanded, and the frontier is abandoned with them. One last unit dispatches a deputation to Italy to collect what is due, but when this fails to return, this unit also disbands itself. The province is abandoned.

6th century

Those areas of northern Croatia that had formerly belonged to the Taurisci now witness the arrival of migrating Slavs. A century later, a new group of Slavs arrives to found the early state of Croatia.

8th century

After having witnessed periods of domination by the Langobards and Bavarii, the central areas of the former Norican kingdom are drawn into the Carolingian empire of the Western Franks. The Treaty of Verdun of 843 sees the Western Franks secede from the Germanic empire, and Austria is controlled by the East Frankish rulers of the fledgling Holy Roman empire. In the tenth century a margraviate emerges in Austria. It bears no relation to the Norican kingdom, and is by no means a direct successor, but it will eventually dominate Central Europe.