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European Kingdoms

Celtic Tribes


MapAeduii / Ædui / Haedui (Gauls)
Incorporating the Ambivareti & Brannovices

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 Aeduii were located in modern eastern-central France, Burgundy to the north of the Morvan Hills, and the Plateau de Langres. They were neighboured to the north by the Mandubii and a small pocket of Boii, to the north-east by the Lingones, to the east by the Sequani, to the south by the Ambarri and Segusiavi, to the south-west by the Arverni, and to the west by the Bituriges Cubi.

The Aeduii tribal name is one of the hardest to break down, and there seems to be extremely little discussion about it outside printed academic material. Words that started with 'h' were not popular with the Celts (as in Haedui), so the diphthong, 'ae' should be used as the only serious starting point for the name. It might have had something to do with time, and would therefore be cognate with Latin words: 'aetas' meaning 'an age', 'stage', or a period of life, a time, an era. Aeternus eternus means 'eternal', 'everlasting', or without end. However, this is pretty tenuous supposition. It could just as easily be a form of 'edo' or 'ede' which means 'to eat'. The tribe could have been 'the everlasting' or (rather amusingly) 'the eaters'. Perhaps the latter is a pun on the amount of territory held by the tribe.

Before the arrival of the Romans the Aeduii were very powerful. They contested with the Arverni for nominal overlordship of all of the Gaulish tribes for a period before defeat and subjugation both by their enemy and by Rome. Julius Caesar records that the Aeduii were led by a magistrate whom they styled the vergobretus, and who was elected annually with the power of life or death over his countrymen. The word 'vergobretus' in proto-Celtic breaks down as 'vergo / wergo: *werg-je/o- (?)', meaning 'work', with *werg-o- meaning 'lively'. Bretos derives from *brātu-, meaning 'judgment'. The title seems to mean 'working judge', and having to specify that a judge is a working judge means that there were other judges who didn't 'work'. Could it have been a prestige title perhaps? However, what really grabs the attention is the possibility that the 'Prettanik' islands (Prydein, or Britain) take their name from the cultural and social dominance held by the island's Celts and its subdivision of druids (speakers). Could it simply be that these people were named after their 'bretion' (the plural of 'bretos'), in other words, their judges? Could 'prettan' mean 'people of the judges'? (Note: 'prettan' appears to have been used primarily in the north but 'brettan' seems dominant in the south of the island. The use of the 'b' may be a Belgae pronunciation variant, as these people were later arrivals in Britain.) Back to the Aeduii and their own vergobretus: they had their oppidum at the hill fort of Bibracte on Mount Beuvray (close to modern Autun in Burgundy).

FeatureThe Ambivareti should not be confused with the similarly-named Ambivariti. Their name breaks down into 'ambi', meaning 'both sides' [of a river, for example]. The second part, 'varet' plus the plural ending '-i' would suggest a river by that name, pronounced 'waret'. This would make them the tribe 'on both sides of the [River] Varet'. The existence of the Varet is uncertain, but the Aeduii occupied territory that encompassed the headwaters of several large rivers, so there's every chance of an obscure tributary river name in the region (see feature link for more on river names).

Perhaps just as viable an option is a migration from farther north. Given the fact that their name is almost an exact match with that of the Ambivariti, this Gaulish tribe may have occupied territory around North Limburg in the Netherlands which they later abandoned in favour a group of later-arriving Belgae who adopted their name. Varet may be a swapped sound sequence, a switched 'r' and 't' which could have been 'vatir', meaning water. Simply 'on both sides of the water' - the Maas, perhaps.

The Brannovices were a minor tribe that was mentioned in passing by Julius Caesar but apparently by no other writer. Even their location is uncertain, with the eighteenth century cartographer and geographer Jean Baptiste Bourguignon d'Anville suggesting Brionnois, near the commune of Mâcon in the Saône-et-Loire département. The tribe's name has also been read from Caesar as Blannovicibus and Blannoviis, and 'Bran' is a Celtic word for a crow or a raven. It seems likely that, as a member of the Aeduii confederation, this small tribe or sub-tribe may have been fully absorbed by the Aeduii in the first century BC. Some modern writers bundle them in as part of the Aulerci confederation, but there seems to be no clear reason for this other than the claim that they probably lived somewhere south of the River Yonne. This river meets the Seine immediately south of Fontainebleau, which is nowhere near the Aulerci territories anyway. Quite the opposite. If anything this would help to confirm the tribe's relationship with the Aeduii.

(Information by Peter Kessler and Edward Dawson, with additional information from The La Tene Celtic Belgae Tribes in England: Y-Chromosome Haplogroup R-U152 - Hypothesis C, David K Faux, from The History of Rome, Volume 1, Titus Livius, translated by Rev Canon Roberts, from A Genetic Signal of Central European Celtic Ancestry, David K Faux, from Celts and the Classical World, David Rankin, from The Civilisation of the East, Fritz Hommel (Translated by J H Loewe, Elibron Classic Series, 2005), from Europe Before History, Kristian Kristiansen, and from External Links: The Works of Julius Caesar: Gallic Wars and Perseus Digital Library.)

c.600 BC

The first century BC writer, Livy (Titus Livius Patavinus), writes of an invasion into Italy of Celts during the reign of Lucius Tarquinius Priscus, king of Rome. As archaeology seems to point to a start date of around 500 BC for the beginning of a serious wave of Celtic incursions into Italy, this event has either been misremembered by later Romans or is an early precursor to the main wave of incursions. Livy writes that two centuries before major Celtic attacks take place against Etruscans and Romans in Italy, a first wave of invaders from Gaul fights many battles against the Etruscans who dwell between the Apennines and the Alps.

Gauls on expedition
An idealised illustration of Gauls on an expedition, from A Popular History of France From The Earliest Times Volume I by Francois Pierre Guillaume Guizot

At this time, the Bituriges are the supreme power amongst the Celts (who already occupy a third of the whole of Gaul). Livy understands that this tribe had formerly supplied the king for the whole Celtic race, either suggesting a previously more central governance of the Celts that is now beginning to fragment or the typical assumption that one powerful king rules an entire people. The prosperous and courageous, but now-elderly Ambigatus is the ruler of the Bituriges, and over-population means a division of its number is required. Ambigatus sends his sister's sons, Bellovesus and Segovesus, to settle new lands with enough men behind them to put down any opposition. Bellovesus heads towards Italy, inviting fellow settlers to join him from six tribes, the Aeduii, Ambarri, Arverni, Aulerci, Bituriges, Carnutes, and Senones. The body of people led by Bellovesus himself apparently consists mainly of Insubres, a canton (or sub-division) of the Aeduii.

3rd century BC

At the end of the century, the hill fort oppidum of Bibracte is founded. It covers an area of two hundred hectares and is protected by an outer rampart. This could mark the tribe's initial arrival in the region.

121 BC

The defeat of the Arverni by Rome brings the glory days of this tribe to a definite end once it becomes part of a Roman provincia. The power vacuum caused by this shift allows the unsubdued Aeduii and Sequani to rise in place of the Arverni, and the two tribes quickly form opposing power blocs in central Gaul.

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 or tap on map to view full sized)

71 - 60? BC

The Aeduii, formerly vying with the Arverni for regional domination, are now subjugated by them.

fl 63 - c.53 BC

Diviciacus / Divitiacus

Druid, and perhaps 'magistrate' of the Aeduii.

63 BC

Despite being the only druid to have been recorded by name, Diviciacus also appears to be a leader, or at least a leading advisor, in the tribe (not to be confused with Diviciacus of the Suessiones). He survives the forthcoming events involving the Suevi and remains a leading figure in the tribe.

c.60 BC


Brother. Leader of the anti-Roman party.

61 BC

Dumnorix enters into a conspiracy with Orgetorix of the Helvetii and Casticus of the Sequani to seize control of their respective tribes and between them rule Gaul. The conspiracy is discovered by other senior members of the Helvetii and is quashed. The Helvetii have an impending migration to worry about instead. Despite the subsequent death of Orgetorix, his people decide to go ahead with their planned exodus. Aquitania seems to be their target, where they hope to tie up with the Boii who have settled there, close to the Atlantic coast.

Battle of Bibracte Romans
The Roman troops of Julius Caesar prepare to face the Helvetii and their allies (which probably include some Boii elements) at the Battle of Bibracte in 58 BC, outside the oppidum of the Aeduii tribe

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.

As recorded by Julius Caesar, and perhaps also by Cicero (who writes in 60 BC of a defeat for the Aeduii), Ariovistus and his followers take part in a war in Gaul, assisting the Arverni and Sequani to defeat their rivals, the Aeduii. The reasons for the war are unknown, but they could be related to the Sequani hold over a vital trading corridor in the Doubs river valley which links to the Rhine. The Suevi are able to enter Gaul largely due to the Helvetii migration and the resultant weakening of Gaulish borders. The Battle of Magetobriga results in a victory for the allies, thanks to the Suevi troops, and the Aeduii become vassals of the Sequani.

Ariovistus seizes one-third of the Aeduii territory in the Alsace region, settling about 120,000 Germans there. However, with the Sequani now at his back, between him and Germania, he decides to clear them out of their Doubs valley homeland. More German settlers are introduced there, and a further third of Gaulish territory is demanded for his allies, the Harudes.

fl 58 BC


Co-magistrate with Diviciacus.

58 BC

After some skirmishing, the Helvetii and the Romans face each other at the Battle of Bibracte in 58 BC, just outside the Aeduii oppidum of the same name. The Helvetii are mercilessly crushed by the six Roman legions and their shattered remnants are forced back to their homeland. Having been greatly reduced, they will be unable to fight off Germanic incursions that could also threaten Gaul, so Julius Caesar allows the relatively hospitable Boii contingent of the defeated Celts to settle as part of a buffer zone in the territory of the Aeduii, but even this shift leaves gaps for Germanic incursions, similar to that of Ariovistus in the north.

Caesar receives a federation of chiefs from tribes that include the Aeduii and Sequani, all of whom are suffering thanks to this Suebic invasion (along with the Treveri). Now governor of Gaul, Caesar appears to pursue a diplomatic course with Ariovistus that will deliberately end in warfare. Caesar is also informed that a further hundred units of Suevi are about to cross the Rhine. The showdown happens at the Battle of Vosges following an unsuccessful face-to-face parley between the two leaders. Superior Roman tactics breaks the Suevi battle line and the Suevi host makes a run for the Rhine. Ariovistus makes it across, but many of his allies now turn on him and the Suebi.

? - 54 BC

Dumnorix / Dubnoreix

Formerly part of a conspiracy to seize leadership. Killed escaping.

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.

Battle of the Axona
The Battle of the (River) Axona (the modern Aisne in north-eastern France) witnessed the beginning of the end of the Belgic confederation against Rome

Caesar encourages his ally, Diviciacus of the Aeduii, to attack the Bellovaci and divert part of the Belgic forces. The remaining Belgae march against the Romans en masse. Rather than face such a large force with a reputation for uncommon bravery, Caesar elects to isolate them in groups using his cavalry. He confronts the Bellovaci at the Battle of the Axona, during which they learn that Diviciacus and the Aeduii are approaching their territories. They leave the battlefield in some disorder to attempt to head off the Aeduii, but Roman troops are able to follow them and cut down large numbers of men before breaking off.

Caesar leads his army into the territories of the Suessiones, to capture the town of Noviodunum. With this victory, the Suessiones surrender and Caesar marches on the surviving Bellovaci, who take refuge in their town of Galled Bratuspantium. Diviciacus pleads for the former allies of his people, whose leaders in the confederacy against Rome had already fled to Britain. With the Bellovaci subdued, Caesar receives the surrender of other tribes, or defeats them in battle, so that the whole of Belgae comes under Roman domination.

54 BC

Julius Caesar prepares his second expedition to Britain, leaving Titus Labienus in command of Gaul with just three legions and 2,000 cavalry. Although Caesar is fearful of a Gaulish uprising in his absence, he orders most of the Gallic tribal leaders to go with him, but Dumnorix attempts to flee from the Roman camp before he can be embarked. Dumnorix has already been guilty of conspiring against Caesar and is well known as the leader of the anti-Roman faction within the influential Aeduii, but this time he is pursued and cut down.

53 - 52 BC

The Aeduii are subjugated again by the Arverni as Vercingetorix begins his fight against the Romans. Aeduii support of the rebellion against Rome is mixed. The tribe contains both pro and anti-Roman factions, and has been a staunch ally of Rome for many years. One leading noble, Convictolitavis, is a perfect example of the careful game of politics being played by the tribe, neither leaning too much towards Rome or the rebellion.

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 which made him a leader not to be refused, and thousands of warriors flocked to join him

53 BC


Uergobretos (chief magistrate). Brother of Cotos.

52 BC

The position of uergobretos (tribal chief magistrate, the equivalent of a ruler within the tribal territory only, not outside it) is contested between Convictolitavis and Cotos (brother of the magistrate of 53 BC). The former wins, and becomes the Aeduii leader. Cotos contests the results of the election, despite being ineligible even to enter it because his brother has already occupied the post, and tribal law usually prevents family members from gaining too much of a hold on power. Julius Caesar is called upon to judge the matter so that a civil war might be prevented. Despite being preoccupied with Vercingetorix and the siege of the Arverni oppidum at Gergovia, he ratifies the result.

52 BC



52 BC

Now the chief of the generally pro-Roman Aeduii, Convictolitavis is free to end his equivocation and leads a force not in support of Caesar at Gergovia but against him. The Nitiobroges also send troops to aid Vercingetorix there. Caesar loses the siege after having to split his forces to face the unexpected threat, a rare defeat for him in Gaul.

Vercingetorix, his cavalry subsequently routed in 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.

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

Together they attempt to relieve Vercingetorix at the siege of Alesia, but the combined relief force is soundly repulsed by Julius Caesar's remarkable strategy of simultaneously conducting the siege of Alesia on one front whilst being besieged on the other. 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.

c.15 BC

The Romans dismantle the traditional Aeduii capital at Bibracte on Mount Beuvray and the site is gradually abandoned. A new town called Augustodunum (modern-day Autun) is built at a location twenty-five kilometres away to serve as the tribe's administrative centre. However, the temples of Bibracte are still used by practising cults, and the tribe's aristocrats maintain their residences there for some time. This division between the old site and the new could represent the tribe's divided loyalties in relation to Rome, and it takes several decades before Bibracte is fully abandoned, enough time for those anti-Roman elements who refuse to leave to die out.

AD 21

Julius Sacroviros

Revolt leader and Aeduii 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.

41 - 54

By the time Claudius comes to the imperial throne in Rome, the tribe's fortunes have recovered significantly. They are the first of the Gauls to receive from Claudius the distinction of jus honorum.

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