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European Kingdoms

Aquitani Tribes


Basabocates / Basaboiates / Basavocates (Celts? / Aquitani?)

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 arrived to record their existence.

Their tribes could be found occupying much of modern Gascony in France, along with a swathe of territory between the central Pyrenees on the Iberian side, and westwards to the Bay of Biscay, very roughly between the modern counties of Aragon and Cantabria (home of the Cantabri).

The Aquitani were not Celts, and neither were they Iberians. The much-later-arriving Indo-European Gauls merely abutted the Aquitani and were not related to them, and neither were the Iberian tribes of today's Spain and Portugal. Strabo distinguished the Aquitani tribes from the Gauls in Western Europe both in their physical type and in their language, although the Aquitani were influenced by their Indo-European neighbours and, in turn, influenced them.

The Basaboiates, otherwise known as the Basabocates, are mentioned by Pliny (using the latter form of the name). Some modern historians tend to link them to the Vocates who are mentioned by Caesar in his commentaries. Most likely this largely unknown name is in fact the Vasates, with the Basaboiates being one and the same as the Basavocates who have also been linked to the Vasates. The name itself - 'basa' + 'vocates' - suggests they could have been a unit of the main tribe.

Others have linked the tribe with the Boiates (in part at least a division of the much greater Boii collective of Central Europe), and others in-between, with both the Vocates and the Boiates living within or near to the Gironde. This tribe is additionally, occasionally, linked to the region known as Bazas, upper Gironde, but they most likely lived between Bordeaux and Arcachon. Highly interesting is the claim that the name 'Burdigala' (Bordeaux) of the Biturices Vivisci is of Aquitanian origin.

The core name appears to be heavily altered or influenced by slang into shortened forms. As near as can be seen, the actual name is probably Basavolcates. The first element shows that variance (possibly due to a Belgic influence) in which a 'w' sound becomes a 'v' sound and was recorded by Romans as 'b' because, to a Roman, the letter 'v' is always a 'w' sound.

Possible original words for it include *wesu-, meaning 'good', *bossa or *bosta, meaning 'fist, palm of hand', or 'gwas', meaning 'servant' (the modern Welsh 'gwas' would indicate an older form of 'was'). The first two are not quite right, but the third possibility fits perfectly with known Celtic naming habits in Britain. A 'follower' of some deity would be a 'dog' ('cuno-') of [god], or a 'servant' ('magu-' or 'waso-') of [god]. The second element is *wolko-, *wolkā, meaning 'wolf' or 'hawk'. If we postulate an unrecorded wolf or hawk deity, then they could have been the followers of that deity.

Reconstructing from the known names an original form of 'Vasovolcates' (the 'b' in Basavolcates' would probably have been a Roman 'correction'), it can be seen that the name comprised the words 'vaso', meaning 'servant boy', and 'volc', meaning 'hawk' - but the human extended meaning is 'a rogue'. So they were the 'rogue (wild) servant boys' (which sounds remarkably like Wendy's 'Lost Boys' in Peter Pan!).

If, then, it can be taken that they were the servants of the rogues, could this infer that they were a sub-tribe of the Volcates, or were they and the Volcates one and the same thing? One has to suspect that it's the same tribe, but the two halves of the name are used as short forms, nicknames. The same practice can be seen in modern forms, such as 'The Red Hot Chili Peppers' being called either the 'Chilis' or the 'Red Hots'.

The tribe inhabited the aforementioned little territory of Bazadois, along the southern bank of the Garonne, extending southwards into the modern département of Les Landes. Their principal settlement was at Cossium, which became known as Vasatæ and is now Bazas, a commune in France's Gironde département.

They had migrated into Aquitania by the time they encountered the Romans. Knowing that Roman troops were approaching, the 'Volcates' and Tarusates sought aid from their Iberian neighbours and for the first time Romans faced troops who were trained in Roman tactics. Ultimately, however, the Romans were victorious and Aquitania's freedom was ended.

Pyrenees National Park in France

(Information by Trish Wilson and Edward Dawson, with additional information by Peter Kessler, from Research into the Physical History of Mankind, James Cowles Prichard, from Geography, Ptolemy, from Roman History, Cassius Dio, from Geography, Strabo, translated by H C Hamilton Esq & W Falconer, M A, Ed (George Bell & Sons, London, 1903), 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 The Natural History, Pliny the Elder (John Bostock, Ed), and Euskomedia (in Spanish).)

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 subdue the tribes of the Aquitani - although the Vascones seem not to be involved themselves - and prevent an all-out war against stretched Roman troops.

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)

The Petrocorii are subdued early, while auxiliaries are recruited from the (Gaulish) Bebryces, Sordones, and Volcae. The Sotiates attack the Romans in a drawn-out and vigorously-contested engagement in which the Romans are only just victorious, having outlasted their hot-headed Celtic opponents in terms of stamina.

The Vocates and Tarusates (and Basavocates) prove to be a rather more difficult opponent, outnumbering Crassus perhaps by ten-to-one and holding a very strong position. However, and despite the odds, the Aquitani are forced to surrender with heavy casualties.

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 Aquitani tribes such as the Benearni and Onesii - 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.

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

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.

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


In the early medieval period the Aquitani lands are first confirmed as a possession of the Franks, after a long struggle to wrest them from the hands of the Visigoths. A Merovingian duke by the name of Chramn is appointed to govern Aquitaine, which contains within it the region of Gascony.

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