History Files

European Kingdoms

Celtic Tribes


MapCaturiges (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, and they also extended into Switzerland, northern Italy, and along the Danube. By the middle of the first century BC, there was a cluster of smaller tribes in the Alpine region of western Switzerland and the French/Italian border. This included the Caturiges who were located around the headwaters of the Druentia (the modern River Durance). They were neighboured to the north by the Segovellauni, Tricastii, and Segusini, to the distant south by the Suetri, and to the west by the Vocontii and Helvii.

The tribe's name is a very straightforward one to interpret. It is formed of two words: 'cat', which means battle, being the first element. The second is just as simple, with 'rig' or 'rix' meaning 'king', cognate with the Latin 'rex'. The tribe were the 'battle kings'.

The Caturiges had an oppidum at Catorimagus (or Caturigomagus) in south-eastern France, close to the modern Italian border. This was an area which later became part of the Roman province of Alpes Maritimae. The centre's name became known as Caturiges (probably after incorporation into the Roman empire) and survives as the modern Chorges. It became a station on the Roman itineraries between Embrun and Gap. Apart from two brief encounters with historical events, the tribe itself was a very minor player Alpine politics.

(Information by Peter Kessler and Edward Dawson, with additional information from The March of Hannibal from the Rhône to the Alps, Henry Lawes Long, from Roman History, Cassius Dio, from Research into the Physical History of Mankind, James Cowles Pritchard, from Geography, Strabo, translated by H C Hamilton Esq & W Falconer, M A, Ed (George Bell & Sons, London, 1903), and from External Link: The Works of Julius Caesar: Gallic Wars.)

58 BC

Despite the death of Orgetorix, the Helvetii decide to go ahead with their planned exodus. Julius Caesar cannot put up with the idea of having such a dangerous force of Celts occupying the more peaceful plains of Gaul, so he force-marches two new legions from Italy to face the threat, although the Ceutrones, Graioceli, and Caturiges attempt to block his passage through the Alps.

Lake Serre Poncon
This picturesque Lake Serre Poncon likes just seven kilometres from Chorges, illustrating the fact that being an Alpine tribe was not all mountain passes and snow-covered hills

As he passes through the territory of the Vocontii to enter that of the Allobroges and then the Segusiavi, groups from several local tribes are joining the Helvetii, including the Latobrigi, Raurici, and Tulingi, making them one of the largest and most powerful forces in all of Gaul. Unfortunately, the Battle of Bibracte between Celts and Romans is a total victory for the latter. The Helvetii are mercilessly crushed and are forced back to their homeland. This act sets in motion a train of events that results in the eventual annexation of all of Gaul into the Roman state.

25 - 15 BC

Augustus determines that the Alpine tribes need to be pacified in order to end their warlike behaviour, alternately attacking or extracting money from Romans who pass through the region, even when they have armies in tow. He wages a steady, determined campaign against them, and in a period of ten years he 'pacifies the Alps all the way from the Adriatic to the Tyrrhenian seas' (written by Augustus himself).

14 BC

Emperor Augustus creates the province of Alpes Maritimae (the maritime, or seaward, Alps). It has its capital at Cemenelum (modern Nice, although this is switched in 297 to Civitas Ebrodunensium, modern Embrun). The history of the Alpine region's population of Celts is now tied to that of the empire.