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European Kingdoms

Aquitani Tribes


Boiates / Boii (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 Boiates (otherwise recorded as Boeates, or Boïates with the umlaut) were a division of the Biturices Vivisci. They occupied territory in the very north-western section of what became known as Aquitania in south-western France.

This was along the River Gers, a tributary of the River Garonne, in today's Occitanie. As neighbours they had the Tarusates and the Elusates to the west, the Lactorates to the north, the Tolosates to the east, and the Convenae and Bigerri to the south.

The name 'Boïates' is a variant of Boii, with the '-es' on the end being a Latin suffix. With that removed, the name is 'Boiat', which strongly suggests a small group of Boii, entirely possible given the presence in central France of a much larger group of Boii.

Elements of the Boii were known to have been involved in the Cimbric war farther east, but it seems highly possible that this is when a Boii pocket first appeared in Aquitania as part of the 'Boii Dispersal'. They were probably following along with the Cimbri and became detached in 107 BC, around the time of the Battle of Burdigala.

This smaller pocket of Boii are classed in some modern records as a tribe of the Aquitani, while other sources (and scholars) class them as being of Celtic origin (Gaulish), mixed with indigenous elements. The ending to their name, '-ate', is also found in the name of several Aquitanian peoples, but the root 'Boi-' is recognised in the name of the far greater Central European Boii collective.

The name Boii is perpetuated in the toponym Buch or, more properly, the Pays de Buch, a region which includes the Bassin d'Arcachon (the Bay of Arcachon) - Gironde - into which the River Eyre flows, along with the Landes Forest. Their arrival provided the earliest-known settlement in the Pays de Buch area.

Their capital may have been located at Biganos-Lamothe close to the Bassin d'Arcachon until the third century AD, which is where the remains of a Roman town have been discovered. According to late Roman historical records such as the Antonine Itinerary, the Pays de Buch was known as Boios, or civitas Boiorum or Boatium.

On a second century epitaph which was found in Bordeaux there is mention of a 'civis Boias'. Not far from the town and on the bay is Port-Biganos, which is generally regarded as being of some antiquity as it served as the port of the Boiates, and which now specialises in farming oyster beds.

Ancient Britons

(Information by Trish Wilson, Edward Dawson, and Peter Kessler, with additional information from the Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography, William Smith, 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, from Geography, Ptolemy, 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: Geography, Strabo (H C Hamilton & W Falconer, London, 1903, Perseus Online Edition), and 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).)

c.60 BC

The Bituriges Vivisci oppidum of Burdigala falls under Roman control. This apparently takes place around the same time as the Helvetii begin an invasion of the lowlands of Gaul, and Julius Caesar recruits two new legions to face the threat.

The landscape of Bohemia - the easternmost section of Boii territory and perhaps their core lands - is and was defined by wooded mountainsides and extensive farming land, a green and fertile area in Central Europe

Although Caesar doesn't mention the Vivisci in his writings, securing Burdigala could be a reaction to the invasion, a securing of lines of communication, as well as also securing important lead and tin supplies from this region.

The Boiates element which seems to be under their domination may well have been there for almost fifty years by this stage, divided away from a much larger Boii collective by the Cimbric War which is triggered by the Cimbri and Teutones tribes.

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.

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.

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 Vocates and Tarusates 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 are not mentioned directly but, as they 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.

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

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. 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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