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European Kingdoms

Celtic Tribes


MapCaerosi / Caeraesi (Belgae)

FeatureThe Caerosi were one of four tribes described by Julius Caesar as Germanic but with at least one leader who bore a Celtic name. These tribes were the Caerosi, Condrusi, Eburones, and Paemani. Another, similar tribe not mentioned by Caesar was the Segni. By the middle of the first century BC, the Caerosi were located in modern central-eastern Belgium, to the south of the River Meuse and the west of the Rhine, amongst the tribes of the Belgae. They were neighboured to the north by the Tungri and Atuatuci, to the south and south-east by the Treveri, to the south-west by the Segni, and to the west by the Condrusi.

The tribe's name can be rendered in at least two forms, but as is the case with most tribal names both stem from the same original meaning. It has been suggested that Caerosi means 'sheep people', but deer would be as likely as sheep - coming from the root 'karwo-' in the conjectural proto-Celtic word list. The other Celtic possibility is that they were named after a leader called Caros (meaning 'dear' or 'beloved' as a proper noun). Given the 's', that would seem more likely, making them 'the people [or followers] of Caros'. In Germanic the name appears to be the verb 'to care', 'caro' (pronounced 'charo'), which does not account for the 's'. This makes it unlikely that the tribe was originally Germanic, although it may well have integrated Germanic elements into its later make-up and language.

The Condrusi and Eburones, and quite possibly the Caerosi too, were subjects of the more powerful Treveri. All three of them, along with the Paemani, were Belgic peoples who are sometimes thought by scholars to be Germanic, although much of the evidence seems to suggest that they were either Belgic Celts, or were ruled by a Belgic nobility. The idea of the Belgae being a mix of Germans and Celts to some extent is firmly stated as being reported to Julius Caesar by the locals. It is a model that could also provide the basis for the foundation of the English kingdom of Wessex in the sixth century. Local Belgae, who were perhaps already semi-German, fusing with German foederati in late Roman Britain and then with Saxons to form the population of the new kingdom.

(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 Link: The Works of Julius Caesar: Gallic Wars.)

113 - 105 BC

A large-scale migration of Cimbri and Teutones passes through Central Europe, and along the way it picks up Celto-Germanic Helvetii peoples who at this time are located in central Germany (in territory which later becomes Franconia). Together this band enters southern Gaul and northern Italy, and comes up against the Roman republic.

As shocking as this invasion is to the Romans, according to the later writings of Julius Caesar, the 'Germani' tribes of the Caerosi, Condrusi, Eburones, and Paemani (and perhaps also the unmentioned Segni) have already settled in Gaul, along the eastern edges of Gaulish and Belgae territory around the modern Belgian and Dutch borders.

This suggests that Germanic tribes are already pushing outwards from their Northern European base around the Danish peninsula and the southern shores of the Baltic.

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 the Remi, on the Belgic border, instantly surrender, although their brethren, the Suessiones remain enthusiastic about the venture. The Bellovaci are the most powerful among the Belgae, but the confederation also includes the Ambiani, Atrebates, Atuatuci, Caerosi, Caleti, Condrusi, Eburones, Menapii, Morini, Nervii, Paemani, Veliocasses, and Viromandui, along with some unnamed Germans on the western side of the Rhine.

Battle of the Axona
The Battle of the (River) Axona (the modern Aisne in north-eastern France) witnessed the beginning of the end of the Belgic confederation against Rome

The Caerosi role in the war is not mentioned, but Caesar either faces down the other Belgic tribes in battle (especially at the Axona) or accepts their surrender during the course of a single campaigning season. With this action, northern Gaul has been brought under Roman domination, while the victorious legions winter amongst the Andes, Carnutes, and Turones.

55 BC

As recorded by Julius Caesar in his work, Commentarii de Bello Gallico, the Germanic Tencteri and Usipetes tribes cross the Rhine and attack first the Belgic Menapii and then the Condrusi and Eburones. Again the Caerosi are not mentioned.

53 BC

Ambiorix of the Eburones leads a failed rebellion against Rome, and is forced to flee. Despite this apparent capitulation, the country of the Eburones proves difficult for the Romans, being woody and swampy in parts. Caesar invites the neighbouring people to come and plunder the Eburones. After stubborn resistance from the tribe, Caesar burns every village and building that he can find in their territory, drives off all the cattle, and confiscates all of the tribe's grain. The tribe is destroyed by this action and no further mention is made of them in history. Their land is occupied by the Germanic Tungri.

The Caerosi seem not to be mentioned, either now or in the future. Could they be included in the devastation suffered by the Eburones, or have they already been dispersed or absorbed into a larger tribe, losing their identity?

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