History Files

European Kingdoms

Celtic Tribes


MapBebryces / Berybraces (Gauls)

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 Bebryces were a minor tribe that was occupying the territory in the far south-eastern corner of France, to the south-west of Narbonne, hemmed in between the Mediterranean and the eastern Pyrenees. They were neighboured to the north by the Sordones and to the south by the Indicetes tribe of Iberians.

The Bebryces tribal name appears to originate with another totem animal. King Brochfael of sixth century AD Powys in Britain also had a name that was linked with a totem animal. The core of Bebryces is *bebro-, meaning 'beaver' (in proto-Celtic) The name would break down as Beber (beaver) plus '-yc' or '-ic' (an adjective-forming suffix, shown in modern Welsh as '-ig') plus the Latin suffix, '-es' (added by the Romans). In modern parlance, they would be 'like a beaver', or beaverish.

This small tribe should not be confused with the better-attested Bebryces of Bythinia. Instead they were perhaps the most southerly-based of all Celtic tribes outside Iberia, although they had travelled a long way to get there. Also known as the Berybraces (or Beribraces), they were part of the early Hallstatt expansion of Celtic tribes of the sixth century BC. They headed south-west from central Germany or Bohemia towards the Pyrenees, and passing over the mountains, they entered Iberia. The Bebryces of the lower Narbonensis were the remnant of this migration.

(Information by Peter Kessler and Edward Dawson, with additional information from The Celtic Encyclopaedia, Harry Mountain, from The La Tene Celtic Belgae Tribes in England: Y-Chromosome Haplogroup R-U152 - Hypothesis C, David K Faux, 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 Link: The Works of Julius Caesar: Gallic Wars.)

6th century BC

The Bebryces belong to the Hallstatt culture of Celts, along with the Boii, Cotini, Harii, Helisii, Helveconae, Manimi, Naharvali, Osi, and at least some elements of the later Lugii. The Bebryces are to be found around the central German lands or in Bohemia. They and other Celts begin an expansion around this time that sees them migrate south-westwards, towards southern France, the Pyrenees, and into Iberia. As they are primarily cattle herders, they take their herds with them, greatly supplementing their diet with milk, fatty cheese, and beef.

The landscape of Bohemia is and was defined by wooded mountainsides and extensive farming land - a green and fertile area at the centre of Europe and of the Hallstatt culture

Once in Iberia, they settle around the headwaters of the Duero, Tagus, Guadiana, and Turia rivers, all along what is now the western Spanish border with Portugal. Fragments of the tribe are probably left along their route as groups drop out of the migration, largely being absorbed by other Celts. One group is large enough to survive in its own right, with its name intact, and it is this group that, in the first century BC, can be found living in the southern Narbonensis.

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. 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.

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).

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

Crassus marches into the territories of the Vocates and Tarusates. They prove to be a rather more difficult opponent. 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 Spain who 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 which prevents him from gathering supplies for his men.

The only option (aside from an unthinkable retreat) is to engage them in battle, despite the odds. Pinning them down at the front, he sends cavalry around to their rear to scout out any weakness. Their entirely unguarded rear is attacked and, with Romans pressing from two sides, 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.

With this action, southern Gaul and Aquitania have been brought under Roman domination, and the history of its population of Celts is tied to that of the empire.