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European Kingdoms

Celtic Tribes


MapBoiocasses / Vodiocasses (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 Boiocasses were a minor tribe that was located on the coast of western-central Normandy, not too far from the west bank of the Sequana (the River Seine). They were neighboured to the east by the Lexovii, to the south by the Eburovices, to the south-west by the Redones, to the west by the Venelli, and across the English Channel to the north by the people of the Regninses.

The tribe's name has also been recorded as Baiocasses, and they are seemingly the Bellocassi of Julius Caesar, as well as being the Vodiocasses. Jones' Celtic Encyclopaedia has an interesting take on the origins of the Boiocasses or Vodiocasses tribal name. The Greek name given there has the usual Greek inability to handle a 'w' sound (spelled as a 'v' by the Romans): Uadikasioi. The '-oi' is the Greek suffix, so it should be pronounced 'wadikas'. It seems that the tribe gave its name to the area which is now known as Bayeux. 'Boiocasses' is possibly the cognate of Middle Irish 'buidechas', meaning 'blond-haired'. An alternative could be 'Boii' plus 'cass', (with 'cass' also being represented as 'cat'), meaning a battle. The 't' to 'ss' shift occurs often enough, and can also be seen in the transition from 'Chatti' to 'Hessi'. The Cassi tribe of Britain who were almost certainly the later Catuvellauni seem to show a transitional phase in this process in which both versions of the name may have been current.

The tribe is known primarily through its coinage, plus a brief mention by Caesar in his Gallic Wars when they sent a force that took part in the attempted relief of Alesia in 52 BC. They had an oppidum at Augustodurum (the Latin name given to it after the tribe had been subdued), but it seems that the tribe's own name for it has gone unrecorded. Later in the empire it became known as Bodiocassi, which almost certainly survived in the town of Bayeux and the region in which it lies, Bessin in the Calvados département, of which the tribe occupied the western part. A gold sater that was issued by the tribe carries one of the best-known images of the god Ogmios, indicating a probable tribal affinity with him. Charles Anthon states that the Boiocasses faced the Viducasses across the River Aroenus (the modern Arguenon). Although this seems to be same tribe, or perhaps two divisions of a once-united tribe, the Viducasses are usually categorised as Belgae. There is the suggestion in some modern work that the Boiocasses could have been a sub-tribe of the Esuvii, who themselves are better known as the Aulerci Sesuvi.

(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 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 Links: Jones' Celtic Encyclopaedia, and A System of Ancient and Mediaeval Geography, Charles Anthon, 1850.)

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, Esubii, 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, Diablintes, Lexovii, Menapii, Morini, Namniti, Nannetes, and Osismii. The Boiocasses seem not to be mentioned by Caesar in his recollections of this conflict, but they are almost certainly involved, probably alongside the Aulerci or Lexovii, their larger neighbours.

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 their single chieftain, Viridovix, 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. Once the main Veneti threat has also been extinguished, the invaders return to winter quarters amongst the Aulerci and Lexovii and other recently conquered tribes.

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

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. To relieve Vercingetorix, 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 three thousand men each from the Aulerci Eburovices, Bellocassi (almost certainly the Boiocasses), Lexovii, and Veliocasses.

Together they attempt to relieve Vercingetorix at the siege of Alesia, but the combined relief force is soundly repulsed by Julius Caesar. 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.

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