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MapTreveri / Treviri (Belgae)

FeatureIn general terms, the Romans coined the name 'Gaul' to describe the Celtic tribes of what is now central, northern and eastern France. To the north of these were the tribes of the Belgae, divided from the Gauls by the rivers Marne and the Seine. The Treveri may have been included amongst the Belgae, being located in the midst of them by the middle of the first century BC. At this time they occupied a broad swathe of territory in the valley of the Moselle, in what is now the Ardennes region in south-eastern Belgium. They were neighboured to the north by the Caerosi, to the west by the Segni and Remi, to the south by the Mediomatrici, and to the east by the Germanic Vagiones between the Moselle and the Rhine, and the Tencteri, Usipetes, and Mattiaci on the Rhine's east bank.

The Belgae would seem to be an eastern branch of Celts who migrated to the Atlantic coast some time after their Gaulish cousins had already established themselves to the south. Their dialect probably used a 'b' or a 'v' sound where their western cousins in Gaul used a 'w' sound, opening up different interpretations for their names. The Treveri tribal name without its plural is Trever ('tre' plus 'wer'). It is an obscure name, but an educated guess would suggest 'Tre' or 'Treb', for 'house', plus 'wiro' for 'a man' using a Baltic 'wer' pronunciation in the German manner (as in werewolf, a man wolf). The use of 'were' in Germanic tongues is a direct borrowing from the common Celtic 'wiros', seen in 'werewolf' and 'weregild', and also in various tribal names.

The tribe occupied territory in the lower valley of the Moselle, within the southern fringes of the vast Arduenna Silva (the forest of the Ardennes). They had an oppidum at modern Trier in Germany. This was expanded by the Romans as Colonia Augusta Treverorum, by which time it was the provincial capital of Gallia Belgica itself. Julius Caesar stated that the Celts who lived nearest the Rhine waged continual war against the German tribes on the other side, and the Treveri certainly seemed to have their share of fighting. Known for their horsemanship which made them the best cavalry in Gaul, Julius Caesar relates that, although they spoke in a Celtic tongue, they claimed German descent. They could be yet another tribe with mixed heritage, but their belligerance would seem to mark them out as being more Germanic than Celtic. They managed to become overlords to the nearby Condrusi and Eburones tribes, and quite possibly the Caerosi too.

(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, from Commentarii in Epistulam ad Galatas II, 3 = Patrologia Latina 26, 357, St Jerome, 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.150 BC

The Treveri are thought to arrive in the Ardennes region around this time, or perhaps a little earlier. They later claim (to Julius Caesar) that although they speak a Celtic tongue, their ancestry is Germanic. This suggests a group of migrants from Scandinavia that had previously headed westwards to encounter a Celtic warrior group, with the Celts taking control. This is not an uncommon occurrence at this time, although in the first few centuries AD the pendulum swings the other way, with Germanic elites taking over Celtic tribes.

Ardennes Forest
The thick forest of the Ardennes formed part of the Treveri homeland when they arrived there in the early or mid-second century BC

60? BC

Ariovistus is a leader of the Suevi and other allied Germanic peoples in the second quarter of the first century BC, and at least up to 58 BC. Displaying the interconnected nature of Germanics and Celts at this time, he is a fluent speaker of Gaulish, and one of his two wives is the daughter of Vocion of the Norican kingdom. Ariovistus and his followers take part in a war in Gaul, assisting the Gallic Arverni and Sequani to defeat their rivals, the Aeduii. Ariovistus seizes one-third of the Aeduii territory in the Alsace region, and then clears out the Sequani to settle more Germans there, while demanding yet more land for his allies, the Harudes. This latter tribe go on to harass the Treveri to such an extent that they send an ambassador to Julius Caesar.

57 BC

The Belgae enter into a confederacy against the Romans in fear of Rome's eventual domination over them. They are also spurred on by Gauls who are unwilling to see Germanic tribes remaining on Gaulish territory and are unhappy about Roman troops wintering in Gaul. The Senones are asked by Julius Caesar to gain intelligence on the intentions of the Belgae, and they report that an army is being collected. Caesar marches ahead of expectations and the Remi, on the Belgic border, instantly surrender, although their brethren, the Suessiones remain enthusiastic about the venture. The Bellovaci are the most powerful among the Belgae, but the confederation also includes the Ambiani, Atrebates, Atuatuci, Caerosi, Caleti, Condrusi, Eburones, Menapii, Morini, Nervii, Paemani, Veliocasses, and Viromandui, along with some unnamed Germans on the western side of the Rhine.

Although Caesar defeats the Bellovaci and Suessiones, and accepts the surrender of the Ambiani. The Nervii, refusing any surrender, assemble with the Atrebates and Viromandui to offer battle. The Atuatuci are expected to join them, but the Nervii launch an early surprise attack at the Battle of the Sabis (probably the River Selle). The Romans are supported by auxiliaries sent by the Treveri, while the Nervii are backed up by the Atrebates. The attack surprises the Romans, but they rally and turn potential defeat into a near-massacre of the Nervii, although the Treveri are routed and fly home, crying that the Romans have been defeated. With this action, northern Gaul has been brought under Roman domination.

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.

? - 54 BC

Cingetorix

Pro-Roman faction leader and possibly chief.

54 - 53 BC

Indutiomarus

Anti-Roman faction leader and rival for power.

54 - 53 BC

An internal power struggle has developed between Cingetorix, who is pro-Roman, and Indutiomarus, who opposes him. Indutiomarus persuades his people to join the revolt led by Ambiorix of the Eburones, and declares Cingetorix to be an enemy of the tribe. His property is duly confiscated.

A legion under Quintus Titurius Sabinus and Lucius Aurunculeius Cotta is defeated by the Treveri and their allies during the revolt, with both generals being killed and the survivors committing suicide in their fort to avoid capture. Only a few men escape to relate the news to Caesar before Cingetorix presents himself to Caesar's legate, Titus Labienus. It is Labienus who goes on to defeat and kills Indutiomarus in a cavalry engagement. Cingetorix is forced upon the tribe as its new ruler, after a relative of Indutiomarus is selected by the tribe to lead it. The result is that leading groups of Treveri apparently cross the Rhine and settle amongst the Germanic tribes there, taking their own selected chief with them and effectively dividing the tribe in two.

53 - ? BC

?

An anti-Roman relative of Indutiomarus. Migrated across Rhine.

53 - ? BC

Cingetorix

Roman puppet ruler. Remained in Gaul.

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 (Belgic or western) Treveri support the revolt but are pinned down by German tribes. They play no further part in the events of 52 BC.

Romans versus Gauls
Organising the various tribes of Gaul into a unified resistance took some doing, but Vercingetorix of the Arverni appears to have held a level of authority that made him a leader not to be refused, and thousands of warriors flocked to join him

30 BC

The Belgic Treveri revolt again, a move that forces Augustus to focus his attentions on consolidating Rome's hold on Gaul. Once the Treveri have been subdued they are forcibly integrated into the Roman administrative system, removing any political independence they may retain. The reorganisation of Gaul places the Treveri in Gallia Belgica and Augusta Tevarorum (Trier) is established as a major provincial administration centre complete with its own legion.

AD 21

Julius Florus

Revolt leader and noble. Committed suicide.

AD 21

The somewhat divided Aeduii appear to have been neglected by Rome. The dissatisfaction of the tribe's people results in a revolt by them and the Treveri under the leadership of Julius Sacroviros of the Aeduii and Julius Florus of the Treveri. They seize control of Augustodunum, but are quickly put down by Gaius Silius. Sacroviros is forced to flee with a few of his followers and takes refuge in the Aeduii countryside. Soon afterwards they all commit suicide in the Roman fashion, by the sword. Julius Florus is defeated in battle against Gaius Sillius' lieutenant, Julius Indus. He commits suicide to avoid capture.

386/387

Remarkably, the Treveri still exist as a recognisable group after nearly four hundred years of inclusion within the Roman empire. The best-known piece of evidence for Late Gaulish is found in St Jerome's (331-420) commentary on St Paul's letter to the Galatians, written in the year 386/387 (the calculation is somewhat imprecise). In it he says that the language of the Treveri in the Belgica is similar to that of the Galatians. Apart from the Greek language, which is spoken throughout the entire east of the empire, the Galatians have their own language which is almost the same as that of the Treveri. It serves to confirm that, whatever their mixed origins, the Treveri (and by extension all Belgae) spoke Celtic, not Germanic