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European Kingdoms

Celtic Tribes


MapAulerci (Gauls)
Incorporating the Aulerci Cenomani, Aulerci Diablintes, Aulerci Eburovices, & Aulerci Sesuvi / Esuvii

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 Aulerci were located in a large area of territory in north-western Gaul, between the Seine and Brittany, and with Normandy immediately to the north of them. They were neighboured by the Redones to the north-west, the Venelli, Boiocasses, and Lexovii to the north, the Caleti to the north-east, the Veliocases to the east, the Senones to the south-east, the Carnutes, Turones, and Andes to the south, and the Namniti to the south-west.

The Aulerci were formed of a confederation of four tribes or divisions. The Aulerci Cenomani were the southernmost of the four, being located in western-central France, in the area around Le Mans (which is a modern contraction of their tribal name). They should not be confused with a small group of Cenomani who were located in northern Italy. The Aulerci Diablintes were to their north, in southern Normandy, around Alençon, while the Aulerci Eburovices were to the east of both, in eastern Normandy, around Falaise. The Aulerci Sesuvi are harder to place, and are known by several different names, including Essui, Esubii, Esuvii, Sessuvi, and Sesuvii, and perhaps even Sagii and Saii.

The Aulerci tribal name is itself a little obscure. A possible meaning is the proto-Celtic *alarko- which means 'swan'. In modern Welsh it is 'alarch', again 'swan' (noun). One possibility for its origin is that a leader of one of the constituent groups of the Aulerci was named Aularcurix (King Alarcus), and that he gave his name to the confederation that was formed when he united a number of smaller tribes. The name of the first of those smaller sub-units, the Cenomani, sounds suspiciously like 'Kenoman', a form that is much the same as Markoman (the Marcomanni), and is a very Germanic name. The Diablintes name is totally obscure, and a workable theory as to its meaning is yet to be formulated.

The Eburovices without its suffixes is *eburo- (?), meaning a 'yew'. It seems likely that 'wic' or 'vic' is a word in Celtic (which was also adopted by the Germans as well as being used by the Latins), indicating traders, commerce, a trading settlement, etc (and that the original meaning of 'Viking' stems from this to describe a trader). Modern towns in Britain still bear this trading place suffix, notably Norwich, Ipswich, and Harwich. The Eburovices name probably describes a trading settlement near or among the yew trees.

The Sesuvi or Esuvii names for the Aulerci Sesuvi are variants of the same meaning, although it's a rather odd one. All of the other variants mentioned above all come from the same root meaning. The opening 's' can be ignored. while the next section is 'es' which means 'be', and 'su' means 'good'. That suggests 'be good', although this may be the wrong case. Perhaps '[we] are good' would be more accurate. Alternatively (and still very similarly), 'se' is a demonstrative pronoun meaning 'that' or 'these', etc, while 'su' is 'good'. The tribe could be 'these good [people]'. Definitely a non-threatening people to know.

The Aulerci Diablintes and Aulerci Cenomani formed the two major components of the confederation. It was probably a division of the Cenomani who followed the migratory route into northern Italy around 400 BC to form a new Cenomani colony. It was the Diablintes that took part in the revolt of 56 BC, proving that the confederation's constituent tribes could act independently of one another if necessary. Their chief oppidum was Jublians (a name that was derived directly from 'Diablintes'), while Ptolemy also recorded the 'city' of Noviodunum for them in the second century AD. The Aulerci Eburovices resided in the modern French département of the Eure with a centre at Gisacum, a religious sanctuary which was itself close to the oppidum of Mediolanum (modern Le Vieil-Évreux, or Old Évreux, with Évreux being the modern form of this tribe's name). The Aulerci Sesuvi appear to have been centred around Sées, on the River Orne, which is given as the chief settlement of the Sagii (one of their many alternate names). The minor Boiocasses tribe may have been a sub-tribe of theirs.

(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, from Geography, Ptolemy, 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 (especially the Cenomani, who form a brand new division of the tribe in Italy), 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.

fl c.400 BC


Unknown ruler, or perhaps ruled by the Bituriges.

fl c.400 BC


Led a group of Cenomani to settle areas of northern Italy.

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)

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, in a single campaigning season, the Belgic tribes are defeated or surrender to Rome. According to Caesar, the Aulerci, Cariosvelites, Osismii, Redones, [Aulerci] Sesuvii, Venelli, and Veneti, all of whom are located along the Atlantic coast, are subdued by the legion of Publius Licinius Crassus. With this action, northern Gaul has been brought under Roman domination.

? - 56 BC


Magistrate. Killed by his people for refusing to fight Rome.

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, [Aulerci] Sesuvii, 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, [Aulerci] Diablintes, Lexovii, Menapii, Morini, Namniti, Nannetes, and Osismii (and probably the Boiocasses, smaller neighbours of the Aulerci and Lexovii). 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.

Now only the Morini and Menapii remain in opposition to Rome, never having sent their ambassadors to agree peace terms. Caesar leads his army to their territory but they withdraw into the forests and marshes, having realised that head-on conflict will be fruitless. However, guerrilla warfare simply results in the Romans decimating the countryside and burning the villages, and the invaders return to winter quarters amongst the Aulerci and Lexovii and other recently conquered tribes, having seen off the latest threat.

53 BC

The expedition to Britain by Julius Caesar goes ahead, following which he is forced to winter his troops in different quarters in Gaul owing to the poor harvests of that year. One legion is given to Caius Fabius to be quartered in the territories of the Morini, while Quintus Cicero takes another to the Nervii, Lucius Roscius takes one to the lands of the Essui (the Aulerci Sesuvii), and Titus Labienus goes to the Remi 'in the confines of the Treveri'. Three more legions are stationed amongst the Belgae and one with the Eburones who are commanded by Ambiorix and Cativolcus. The Essui appear to play no part in the subsequent rebellion by the Eburones and Treveri.

? - 52 BC


Aged, but with an extraordinary knowledge of military tactics.

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 Treveri support the revolt but are pinned down by German tribes.

Labienus marches with four legions to the Parisii town of Lutetia. Gauls from the neighbouring states immediately gather to oppose him, under the leadership of the aged but still very wise Camulogenus of the Aulerci. Labienus pulls back to Melodunum of the Senones, takes the town by force, and marches again against Camulogenus. The ensuing battle sees the Gauls defeated and Camulogenus killed. Labienus joins Caesar while Vercingetorix levies troops from the Aeduii and Segusiavi and eventually 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. Indeed, matters become so bad inside the fort that the Mandubian women and children are ejected (possibly in the hope that the Roman lines will part to let them pass), but Caesar effectively traps them in the no-man's-land between the opposing forces and allows them to starve.

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

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 five thousand men from the Aulerci Cenomani, and three thousand from the Aulerci Eburovices. 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. Marcus Antonius (Mark Anthony) and Caius Trebonius marshal the troops for the rearward defence. 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.

With this action, all of Gaul 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.

27 BC - AD 14

During the period of office of Caesar Augustus, the Aulerci Cenomani are given the status of a civitas stipendiaria within the province of Gallia Lugdunensis. In time, following the decline of the empire, the Cenomani territory forms the heart of the Breton March of the Franks, designed to keep the Bretons penned into their Armorican territory in what is now westernmost France.

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