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 Vellavi were
a minor tribe that was located in the Auvergne in south-eastern Gaul, around
Le Puy-en-Velay. They were neighboured to the north by the powerful
Arverni, to the east by the
Segusiavi, across the Alps
to the south by the Helvii, to
the south-west by the Ruteni,
and to the west by the
Breaking down the tribe's name is a relatively simple process, but potentially
a controversial one. It follows exactly the same lines as for the Continental
cousins, without the addition of the extra word 'cat' which means battle.
Perceived conventional wisdom in regard to the main element in the Vellavi
name, 'vel', is that it means 'leader', which means that the tribe would
be something like 'the leaders'. A problem here is that it is in the
German sequence, not the Celtic. In the latter language the modifier
comes after the noun. If this tribe were Belgics, this could be due to
heavy contact with the
Germanic tribes of
in the Iron Age, before the migration to Britain and the northern Atlantic
coast of the Continent. However, like the Alpine
it's hard to see how this tribe might have picked up Germanic influences.
The only easy answer is that they came from Germanic or Belgic tribes, most
likely during the
migration of the late second century BC.
Another possibility with this tribe's name is that linguists are wrong
about the meaning of 'vel', and that its original meaning is different.
'wæl' means slaughter, carnage, a shambles. In Latin 'bello' means 'war'
(conventional wisdom says that 'bello' is a mutated form of 'duello').
But perhaps 'vel' is a proto-Celtic-Italic word for a field of slaughter,
also adopted into Germanic, or perhaps it came the opposite way, from
Germanic into northern Gaulish (there's that potential Germanic influence
again). Perhaps 'vel' or 'wal' means slaughter.
This examination of both names produces a suspicion that the 'vel' element
could in fact be 'wallo' or 'wello', which is also the proto-Celtic noun for
'fight' or 'war' (or close to it), assuming that it is cognate in Latin as
'bell' (with the '-um' suffix from 'bellum' removed), and assuming that 'duell'
(with the '-um' suffix again removed) is from 'duo' plus 'vell' or 'bell',
meaning a fight between two parties. 'Vell' is a possibility because in
Oscan (the language of the
several other Iron Age Italic tribes), 'volloíom' means to destroy, which
supports the supposition regarding 'vell'. In
(PIE), *wal seems to mean 'strong', 'powerful'. This may have mutated into
multiple extended meanings. This gives us yet another possible meaning for
the Vellavi: 'battle' or perhaps '[the] battlers' - in other words 'fighters'.
Was 'vell' extended in early Q-Celtic to reference war itself, as it comes
down to us from Latin?
The tribe occupied territory around Le-Puy-en-Velay in the region of the
Auvergne (which was on the border with the Roman province of Gallia
Narbonensis. They had an oppidum at Roession (Ruessium, which means
'well situated'). Today this area is better known as Saint-Paulien. Julius
Caesar notes that the Vellavi were a client tribe of their powerful
neighbours, the Arverni. Strabo called them the Vellæi and stated that they
were once a part of the Arverni, their greater neighbours to the west, but
that they had since formed a people of their own. The fragmentation of the
once great Celtic tribes was an ongoing process even in Caesar's time, it
seems. Pliny describes the tribe as liberi, indicating that they
enjoyed a number of freedoms under the Roman system of government. It's
possible that their associations with the Arverni were severed in order to
reduce that tribe's power, and that the Vellavi were rewarded for being
(Information co-authored by Edward Dawson, and additional information
from External Link:
Works of Julius Caesar: Gallic Wars.)
While Caesar is tied down in
the Gauls begin their revolt, resolving to die in freedom rather than be
suppressed by the invaders. The
take the lead under Cotuatus and Conetodunus when they kill the Roman
traders who have settled in Genabum. News of the event reaches the
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
The remaining cavalry are dispatched back to their tribes to bring
reinforcements. Caesar begins a siege of Alesia, aiming on starving
out the inhabitants.
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
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 tose demanded from the tribes of Gaul are
thirty-five thousand men from the Arverni in conjunction with the
Vellavi, who are accustomed to following Arverni commands. 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
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
domination, and the history of its population of
is tied to that of the empire.