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European Kingdoms

Celtic Tribes


MapCaleti / Caletes (Belgae)

FeatureIn general terms, the Romans coined the name 'Gaul' to describe the Celtic tribes of what is now central, northern, and eastern France. To the north of these were the tribes of the Belgae, divided from the Gauls by the rivers Marne and the Seine. By the middle of the first century BC, the Caleti were located in what is now north-eastern Normandy, between the coast and the Sequana (the River Seine). They were neighboured to the west by the Lexovii, to the south by the Eburovices and Veliocasses, and to the east by the Bellovaci and Ambiani.

The Belgae would seem to be an eastern branch of Celts who migrated to the Atlantic coast some time after their Gaulish cousins had already established themselves to the south. Their dialect probably used a 'b' or a 'v' sound where their western cousins in Gaul used a 'w' sound, opening up different interpretations for their names. The Caleti name was most probably another variant of 'Celt', just like the Callaici and Celtici in Iberia, the Caledones in Britain, the Anatolian tribes that grouped together in Galacia, and the Celtic survivors in Galicia. 'Caledones' breaks down as 'Caled' plus '-on' plus '-es'. The names all seem to occur along the edges of the Celtic area of expansion, and since the ancient Greeks named all of this ethnicity Keltoi, and Julius Caesar blandly remarked in his Commentaries that the Galli ('chickens' in Latin, a form of mockery) called themselves Celtae in their own language, then it seems possible that all of the above are variations of the original native name for the Celts.

Another interpretation of the tribe's name comes from the proto-Celtic dictionary, which provides an exact meaning of 'kaleto' to be 'hard'. In proto-Indo-European this is 'kal', again meaning 'hard', but it seems to have an alternate form of 'kel', meaning 'to hit', 'hew', or 'cut down'. It could be possible that this is the source of the origin of 'Celt' (or both forms could be, used in a punning context). Another meaning of 'kal' is usually 'hard' in the sense of 'callused'. The modern word 'callus' descends from a Latin form of the word which is from the same root.

The tribe occupied the Pays-de-Caux territory in the Seine Maritime of Normandy. They had an oppidum at Juliobona (modern Lillebonne). Local tradition says that the site was razed by Julius Caesar, a possible event that would have taken place during the tribe's involvement in the confederacy against Rome in 57 BC. It was later rebuilt by Augustus. The Caleti were a sea-faring people, trading along the Channel coast and across it to Britain, They were also strongly allied to the Veneti, another powerful sea-faring people.

(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.)

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 Caleti 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.

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. The Carnutes take the lead under Cotuatus and Conetodunus when they kill the Roman traders who have settled in Genabum. News of the event reaches the Arverni that morning, and Vercingetorix summons his people to arms. His cavalry subsequently routed in battle, he withdraws in good order to Alesia, a major fort belonging to the Mandubii. The remaining cavalry are dispatched back to their tribes to bring reinforcements. Caesar begins a siege of Alesia, aiming on starving out the inhabitants.

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 six thousand combined from the tribes of Armorica (including the Ambibari, Caleti, Cariosvelites, Lemovices, Osismii, Redones, Venelli, and Veneti). 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.

The site of Alesia
The site of Alesia, a major fort belonging to the Mandubii tribe of Celts, was the scene of the final desperate stand-off between Rome and the Gauls in 52 BC

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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