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European Kingdoms

Aquitani Tribes


Incorporating the Apiates, Arenosi, Arenosini, Aspiates, Bercorcates, Bipedimui, Cambolectri Agesinates, Camponi, Datii, Onobrisates, Ptiani, Sassumini, Sennates, Toruates / Torvates, Vassei, & Vellates

Today's Basques of northern Spain have their historical origins in the tribes of the Aquitani. Akin in some ways to the general disposition of Iberian tribes, they straddled the Pyrenees by the time the Romans recorded their existence.

Their tribes could be found across modern Gascony in France, with the River Garonne (Garumna) providing their northern border, along with territory between the central Pyrenees on the Iberian side, and westwards to the Bay of Biscay, very roughly between the modern counties of Aragon (derived from medieval Aragon) and Cantabria (home of the Cantabri).

By the third century BC, a number of languages and dialects were in use in the area, including Celtic languages. However, the much-later-arriving Indo-European Gauls merely abutted the Aquitani and were not related to them, and neither were the Iberian tribes. Strabo distinguished them from the Gauls both in their physical type and in their language.

The prevailing language for the Aquitani tribes themselves, from at least the late pre-historic period to the arrival of the Romans, was an early form of the pre-Indo-European Basque language, hence an alternative label for them of proto-Basques.

This has been demonstrated by various Aquitanian names and words which were recorded by the Romans themselves, and which are currently easily readable as Basque. The 2021 archaeological discovery of the 'Hand of Irulegi' provided further evidence of a proto-Basque language (see 80 BC in the timeline below).

Currently it is not known whether this Aquitanian language (proto-Basque) was a remnant of a Vasconic language group (see the Vascones) which once extended much farther, or whether it was generally limited to the Aquitaine/Basque region.

The Kvens and possibly even Sámi of Scandinavia prior to their adoption of Germanic or Finno-Ugric languages are also candidates for having pre-Indo-European language(s), although it would be entirely theoretical to suggest a pan-European Palaeolithic language which may have survived for a time in a number of increasingly-isolated pockets.

One reason the language of Aquitaine is important is because Basque is now the last surviving non-Indo-European language in Western Europe (excluding Southern Europe's Maltese), and one which has had some effect on the languages around it, including Spanish and, to a lesser extent, French. Today's Basques who have descended from the Vascones live farther to the west than their ancestors of the Roman period, in the region known as Pais Vasco (Euskadi). Major Basque-dominated cities include Bilbao, San Sebastian, and Vitoria-Gasteiz.

The Greek name of 'Iberia' comes from the Basque source word, 'ibar' ('B G L LN'), a noun which means 'valley' or, more specifically thanks to Azkue and Sarasola (see sources), 'fertile low-lying land between mountains', and the confusingly similar 'íbar' ('Z'), meaning 'broad grassy plain'.

A link with 'barru' (and variants), meaning 'interior' has often been proposed but is phonologically and morphologically difficult. In essence, the source of Iberia is 'ibar', which means 'valley', while 'ibai' means 'river' in Basque.

The problem with studying the Aquitani is the same as that with the Gallaeci, some of whom until recently (twenty-first century) were only known through some relatively obscure Portuguese research. Some very large and prominent Aquitani tribes ruled large swathes of territory and thereby grabbed all the attention of Roman chroniclers, but many other tribes were quite small and insignificant and they were barely recorded at all.

The new century has seen a marked upswing in archaeological activity in south-western France which is turning up Iron Age and Roman finds which link to the Aquitani tribes.

Major Aquitani tribes or groups included the Ausci, Cocosates, Consoranni, Convenae, Elusates (or Elurates), Iacetani, Oscidates, Preciani, Sotiates, Suburates (or Sibulates, Caesar's Sibuzates and Pliny's Sybillates), Tarbelli, Tarusates (probably the same people as the Aturenses), Vasates (possibly), and the Vascones.

Minor groups which lived in the foothills of the Pyrenees, on both sides of today's border, included the Apiates or Aspiates, the Arenosi or Arenosini, the Basaboiates, the Belendi, the Benearni, the Bercorcates, the Bigerri, the Bipedimui, the Boiates, the Boii, the Cambolectri Agesinates, the Camponi, the Datii, the Garumni, the Gates, the Iluronenses, the Lactorates, the Monessi, the Onesii, the Onobrisates, the Ptiani, the Sassumini, the Sennates, the Sucasses, the Toruates / Torvates, the Vassei, the Vellates, and the Vocassae. For further details on any of these which do not have their own page, see the timeline, below.

Their people generally lived by raising sheep, cows, and horses, using practices which they had developed during the Neolithic period. Those who inhabited the Pyrenean valleys moved their flocks and herds between seasonal pastures, while those in the interior of Gascony prioritised wheat-based agriculture while also being proficient in ironworking and silver and goldsmithing (notably the Tarbelli of Chalosse). In general they are thought not to have been particularly belligerent, having failed to form any large confederations until the Romans arrived.

Pyrenees National Park in France

(Information by Trish Wilson, with additional information by Edward Dawson and Peter Kessler, from Diccionario vasco–español–francés, Resurreción María Azkue (two-volume, trilingual dictionary, 1905), from Hauta-lanerako euskal hiztegia, Ibon Sarasola (Gipuzkoako Kutxa, 1990), from Mini hiztegia euskara-euskara, Ibon Sarasola (Lur, Editorial S, 1996), and from External Links: the Etymological Dictionary of Basque, R L Trask (available in PDF format via the Etymological Dictionary, Max Wheeler (Ed, PDF), and Aquitania (University of California), and Celtiberia.net (in Spanish), and Gran Enciclopedia Aragonesa (in Spanish), and The Works of Julius Caesar: Gallic Wars, and Euskomedia (in Spanish), and The Natural History, Pliny the Elder (John Bostock, Ed), and Hand of Irulegi (The Guardian).)

221 - 219 BC

A Carpetani alliance with a key Edetani city is a clear violation of Hasdrubaal's Carthaginian treaty so, assisted by the Turboletae, Hannibal Barca besieges the city until it surrenders eight months later. Rome affects outrage and plunges the Mediterranean into the Second Punic War.

Map of Iberian Tribes 300 BC
The Iberian peninsula prior to the Carthaginian invasion and partial conquest was a melange of different tribal influences (click or tap on map to view full sized)

According to Francisco Villar Liébana, the forerunner of the Basque language begins to spread from Aquitani territory into today's Basque Country only once the Romans have secured control of Iberia and Gaul, and especially during the confused and chaotic fifth and sixth centuries AD.

An analysis of place names in the area supports the hypotheses that there is a late infiltration of population from Aquitani lands into the Basque Country. The almost complete absence of ancient place names which have a Vascones-based etymology is explained by such a late infiltration.

Although the major Aquitani groups are recorded in some detail by contemporary Roman writers, and have relatively well-known histories, there are many minor tribes which remain almost entirely obscure, at least until twenty-first century research begins to uncover details. Those minor tribes include the following:

The Apiates or Aspiates are briefly mentioned by classical authors, but little else is known about them other than the fact that they occupy the Aspe Valley.

Pyrenees National Park
The Pyrenees National Park on the French side of the western-central Pyrenees reveals a level of lush terrain and grazing opportunities which can surprise anyone who thinks of the range as being pure, uninhabitable mountains

This name is seemingly connected to theirs, being located along the River Gave, one of three valleys in the Haut-Béarn. Bearn is an ancient principality in the north-western Pyrenees (later the Pyrenees Atlantiques, and today Nouvelle Aquitaine). Interestingly enough the modern local inhabitants are known as Aspois.

Not much at all is known about the Arenosi or Arenosini other than the fact that they live in the Val d'Aran, part of the Haute-Garonne area of the Pyrenees.

The Bercorcates are barely mentioned in history, other than by Pliny who notes that they live in the Vallee de Baretous, high up in the central Pyrenees (today's Haute-Pyrenees).

The Bipedimui (or Bipedumui) are again only known through Pliny and their position is pinpointed through neighbours and maps. This location is in the Haute-Pyrenees, along the lower slopes, possibly in today's Le Parc National de Pyrenees which straddles the French-Spanish border.

Map of European Tribes
This vast map covers just about all possible tribes which were documented in the first centuries BC and AD, mostly by the Romans and Greeks, and with an especial focus on 52 BC (click or tap on map to view at an intermediate size)

A tribe known as the Cambolectri Agesinates (with or without the second word), is not to be confused with the Cambolectri Atlantici or the Agesinates, or even the Agenisates.

They are mentioned only by Pliny but modern academics seem unendingly confused about their precise affiliations. They occupy the left bank of the lower Garonne, a river which seems to provide a general border between Aquitani and Celts.

The Camponi seem to generate further scholarly infighting, but the consensus seems to be that they are located in the upper valley of the Adour, around a place called Campan in the Hautes Pyrenees, albeit somewhat farther to the east than brother tribes.

The Datii are only mentioned by Ptolemy but, nevertheless, they can be located in the most easterly of the three valleys of the Haut Bearn (Pyrenees Atlantiques, la Vallee d'Ossau, and in civitas Tasta, known today as Montesquiou sur l'Osse.

Midi du Bigorre in the French region of Aquitania
The territory into which the Garites and other Celtic tribes settled was typical of the Aquitani region, which was made up mostly of rugged foothills of the kind which border peoples normally use to survive invasions by later arrivals - the Welsh and early Scots held onto similar territory in Britain to enable them to survive the Anglo-Saxon invasion

The Onobrisates live in Nebouzan, a very small province in the foothills of Haute-Pyrenees (central). As neighbours they have the Benearni (above), not far from today's Lourdes, and also the Belendi. From available hints and maps they definitely occupy the foothills of the Hautes-Pyrenees, possibly in the region which contains the villages of Hauban, Argeles-Bagneres, Uzer, and Pouzac.

The Ptiani are a very minor tribe, mentioned only in Caesar's 'Gallic Wars' and reputed to live around Orthez in the Pyrenees Atlantiques.

The Sassumini are mentioned only by Pliny, who places them between the Bipedimui (see above) and the Vellates (see below), possibly another tribe which is living in today's Pyrenees National Park in the western-central Pyrenees.

The Sennates are virtually unknown apart from a mention by Pliny who places them between the Vassei (see below) and the Cambolectri (see above), with the latter reputed to be occupying territory on the left bank of the lower Garonne.

Vercingetorix and Caesar in 52 BC
Having surrendered with honour to Caesar in 52 BC, Vercingetorix remained a potent symbol of resistance to Roman domination, so his murder in 46 BC dealt a terminal blow to hopes of renewed Gaulish freedom

The Toruates (or Torvates, which is sometimes misspelt as Tornates) are only mentioned by Pliny as being neighbours of the Vellates (see below) and the Consoranni, which suggests a location in a region which is known as Couserans, a small former French province in the Pyrenees, today the western half of the Ariège département, around the towns of St Girons and St Lizier.

Of the Vassei absolutely nothing is known other than a highly brief mention by Pliny in his highly important work when it comes to cataloguing the tribes of the region. Most likely they are little more than a large clan which is absorbed into a larger regional tribe.

The Vellates (or Vellati - same name, slightly different plural suffix) is also only mentioned by Pliny. Some consider it most likely that they occupy territory around the Bidasoa Valley, close to the Belate Pass, although that would suggest territory on today's Spanish side of the Pyrenean border.

Aiako Natural Park in Basque country
Today's Aiako Harria Natural Park sits in the foothills of the Pyrenees, at the eastern end of Guipúzcoa, and contains three main peaks: Irumugarrieta (806m, Txurrumurru (821m), and Erroilbide (843m)

80 - 72 BC

The Sertorian War in Hispania causes the Celts of Mediterranean Gaul to be subjected to troop levies and forced requisitions in order to support the military efforts of Metellus Pius, Pompeius, and other Roman commanders against the rebels. In Iberia the Berones and Autrigones oppose Quintus Sertorius until he is driven out of Iberia. Celtiberian tribes also take part, such as the Arevaci, Lusones, and Pelondones.

The Vascones also oppose Quintus Sertorius, allying themselves with Gnaeus Pompeius Magna. In the winter of 75-74 BC he founds the city of Pompaelo in the heart of Vascones territory.

In 72 BC the combined forces of Pompey and Metellus Pius put an end to the war by besieging the city of Calagurris (Calahorra on the Navarra-La Rioja border) which had sided with Sertorius.

The Vascones capital of Iruña (modern Pamplona) may also be attacked. A nearby Vascones village is certainly burned. Archaeology which takes place from 2017 onwards shows this and the fact that the village is not repopulated afterwards.

The Hand of Irulegi
The 'Hand of Irulegi' was discovered by archaeologists in 2021 in the burned-out ruins of a pre-Roman Basque village which had been destroyed during the Sertorian War (80-72 BC)

In 2021 the find is made of 'The Hand of Irulegi', which until the fire has probably hung from a door to bring luck. This flat, life-size bronze hand is engraved with dozens of symbols which form the oldest written example (to date) of proto-Basque (aside from a few coin inscriptions). Basque therefore predates the arrival here of the Roman alphabet which had previously been thought to have provided the basis for Basque writing.

56 BC

When war flares up again in Gaul, triggered by Publius Licinius Crassus and the Seventh Legion in the territory of the Andes, Caesar has to turn back from his journey to Illyrium to handle the problem. Crassus is sent to Aquitania to subdue the tribes there and prevent an all-out war against stretched Roman troops. The Cantabri send assistance to the Aquitani.

Subduing the Petrocorii along the way, he recruits auxiliaries from the Gaulish regions of Tolosa, Carcaso, and Narbo (which includes the tribes of the Bebryces, Sordones, and Volcae) before entering the territory of the Sotiates.

River Garonne in France
The Garonne in south-western France provided a defining line between the lands of the Gauls to the north and those of the Aquitani to the south, although by the first century BC this definition had blurred somewhat

That tribe has gathered together a large force which attacks the Romans in a drawn-out and vigorously-contested engagement. The Romans are only just victorious, having outlasted their hot-headed Celtic opponents in terms of stamina.

The tribe's oppidum is besieged and they eventually surrender, despite an attempt by their king, Adcantuannus, to lead his personal retinue into a death or glory attack and other Celts undermining the siege towers (thanks to the presence of copper in the region these Celts and their Aquitani neighbours are expert miners).

Crassus marches into the territories of the Vocates and Tarusates. They prove to be rather more difficult opponents. The campaign against the Sotiates has given them time to raise troops from northern Iberia, many of which had fought with Quintus Sertorius, a rebellious governor of Hspania who had defied Rome for a decade, and they have learnt a great deal from that experience.

They outnumber Crassus perhaps by ten-to-one and hold a very strong position. However, and despite the odds, the Aquitani are forced to surrender with heavy casualties.

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

When news of this defeat spreads, the majority of the tribes of Aquitania surrender to Crassus, including the Ausci, Bigerriones, Cocosates, Elusates, Garites, Garumni, Preciani, Suburates, Tarbelli, Tarusates, and 'Vocasates'.

Smaller Aquitanian tribes such as the Benearni, Boiates, Iacetani, Iluronenses, Onesii, Sucasses, and Vocassae - and even larger ones like the Consoranni and Convenae - are not mentioned directly but, as the smaller ones generally sit within the shadow of the much more powerful larger tribes, their surrender is entirely to be expected. Today those on the western bank of the Garonne form part of the largely unofficial Basque Country.

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

Caesar Augustus
During his long 'reign' as Rome's first citizen, Augustus brought peace to that city and oversaw its transition from failing republic to vigorous and expanding empire

28 BC

Despite submitting fully in 56 BC, it seems that the conquest of the Aquitani and the neighbouring Celtic tribes is effected only now, by Proconsul Marcus Valerius Messalla. The proconsul is awarded a triumph for his success, suggesting that some fighting had been involved.

That award further suggests that the submission of 56 BC had gained the tribes some sort of allied status, but for the most part up until this point they had been able to remain essentially autonomous.

27 BC - AD 14

During the period of office of Augustus in Rome, the Aquitani tribes are incorporated into the newly-formed province of Aquitania (albeit being the case that the Preciani are no longer being mentioned at all).

The province extends from the Liger (the modern Loire) to the Pyrenees, and is bound on the northern side by Mons Cevennus. This is one of the three divisions of the Gauls, the others being Gallia Lugdunensis and Belgica.

Triumph of Titus and Vespasian
The triumph of Marcus Valerius Messalla would have been similar to the one shown in Triumph of Titus and Vespasian, an Italian oil by Giulio Pippi (Romano) - very much a form of street party with a 'royal' procession, and usually held to celebrate a military victory


During his reign, Rome's Emperor Diocletian oversees the formulation of the Notitia Galliarum. One of the cities which are included in its pages is the city of 'ciuitas Elloronensium' (with 'ciutas' meaning 'civitas'). This Latin name is understood to derive from that of the people who are living in the city of Iluro (today's Oloron-Sainte-Marie).

However, this population is labelled the Iluronenses, and this is their first mention in history. Their territory is in the same vicinity as the former territory of the Oscidates and Suburates, but neither of those tribes are now mentioned.

This suggests that they had never been full tribes in their own right (the Tarbelli are the greater host in this region and may have absorbed any individual identity), or that population or Roman organisational changes over two centuries have resulted in naming changes. The fact that units of the Tarusates undergo a renaming process around now and into the fourth century suggests that it is the latter.

Emperor Maximianus
Despite having been raised to office by Diocletian in AD 285, Maximianus seemingly couldn't avoid plotting and planning, even when having been forgiven and readmitted to high office

406 - 409

Led by Gonderic, three tribes, the Vandali, Alani, and Suevi, cause widespread devastation in Gaul. They head westwards and then southwards into Aquitania (soon to become Frankish Aquitaine). They are quickly ejected by the Visigoths, moving across the Pyrenees and into Iberia by 409 where they disrupt the Gallic empire of Constantine III and create their own kingdoms.


A treaty is signed which grants the Visigoths former Gallia Aquitania, the south-western portion of Gaul. At the same time, in the north of Gaul the Franks are increasing their influence and towards the end of the century will begin a southwards sweep towards the Pyrenees.

Crossing the Rhine
The main bodies of the Vandali, Alani, and Suevi tribes crossed the Rhine at the end of 406, resulting in panic and chaos within the Roman empire

More and more often Rome has to use barbarian foederati to solve its problems rather than Roman troops, and this problem forms part of its downfall. As for the Aquitani, their region becomes better known in the medieval period as Wasconia, forerunner to the Basque name.


Defeated by Clovis, king of the Franks, the Visigoths are pushed out of their holdings in southern Gaul and entirely into Iberia where they rebuild the kingdom, although they generally leave the large and powerful Vascones alone in their duchy of Vasconia.

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